Step Monster

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I am so tired. Emotionally. I do not want to get out of bed because I’m not sure I have the energy to be a step mom today. I feel like every few months I’m at my wits end, sobbing in the bathroom into a glass of wine, resisting the urge to call my own step mother, and best friend to tell her I just can’t do this anymore. I don’t know how she managed, how in the hell she didn’t run away. I think, actually at one point she did run away. I don’t blame her. I can’t say whether it was harder for her to not have her own children, it was definitely a piece that was missing, but maybe it was a blessing for my sister and I? We needed all of her heart.

When I came into this relationship I already had my daughter, and my husband had a daughter and a son. I liked his kids immediately, and they liked me. I was thrilled to become a step mom, having been raised by one, I felt like maybe it was preparation for my future as a step mom. Not everyone is lucky enough to be raised by a step parent that they actually look up to. (It certainly wasn’t always like this, there were times that I think we hated each other, and years that I made her life miserable.) It didn’t occur to me that my life would turn into a fight. A constant fight for the impossible. I had been a stay at home mom, an attachment parenting mom. I was and am deeply connected to my daughter. I had not thought a whole lot about how I would parent her as she grew up, because I was taking it one day at a time. (When she was three I was convinced she was possessed, turns out she was just three… But I spent hours on the phone and the internet trying to figure out what to do.) Suddenly I had a 7 year old and a 5 year old, and my 3 three year old. I figured I would keep doing what I was doing, I tried to fit into their life as best I could, but there really was no place for me. The family was so used to taking care of each other that I was only really needed as a babysitter. Feeling like a fish out of water I began to make small changes in our household, there had to be a way to make us a family. Initially it was health. I threw out all the packaged, boxed and canned food and worked tirelessly on changing their diet. I wasn’t comfortable feeding my child TV dinners, and I thought it was the loving thing to nourish my new family. Well, that backfired. I ended up becoming the enemy of the in-laws and extended family. Instead of backing me up, they decided to lie, and sneak around, teaching my kids that I do not deserve respect.

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That was 3 years ago, since then we have had similar struggles, and they seem to be worse and more frequent. Between encouraging my kids to lie to me and my husband, and actually lying to us, it’s impossible. My husband is so used to his family disrespecting each other that he doesn’t see the problem. Because he doesn’t see it, he thinks I overreact. He feels I should just let it go, because they will never change. I would do that if it didn’t directly effect the way his kids treat me.

You can see, my husband is generally more relaxed, he’s not a rule enforcer. The only time he really pushes it is dependent upon his mood, or what is necessary, like if we have to go and the kids are messing around, THEN the dad voice comes out and everyone scrambles. I prefer that the children are obedient and don’t require “dad voice”. I am aware that as parents, it’s our responsibility to raise our children and teach them to be decent human beings. (The jury for me is still out on The Lord of the Flies, but watching my step son, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t hesitate to eat his friend.) It seems I worry endlessly about who these kids will be as adults and I am scared. Honestly scared. I see a child with no conscience. And I believe it’s our job (and I mean EVERY adult) to teach children empathy. We are not all born with the gift of empathy, and if you grow up in a household where it’s every man for himself… and that’s kind of the environment I see. The problem is, I seem to be the only immediate family who sees a problem and I go back and forth between just letting it be, and then being horrified and feeling a deep seeded need fix the problem.

I wonder if I didn’t have my own daughter, and actual horse in the race, maybe I would just let it go, be a babysitter, and let their lives be the way they were. The problem is that I have a little girl that I have high hopes for, I see so much promise in her, and I won’t cut comers on parenting. Not with my little girl. I have seen the products of “non parent parenting”, and I am not going to be responsible for that. The problem is, I have a hand in parenting my step children, so I will have responsibility to take. What am I gonna say? I’m sorry I fought with your dad so much and taught you that it’s OK to undermine your partner? I’m sorry I was so inconsistent? I’m sorry you think I favor my daughter– I wasn’t allowed to be your mom. I’m sorry I gave up on you….

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I don’t want to give up. I love these kids. And I love my husband. I want us to be a family, but I don’t see how we are going to get through this with out royally fucking these kids up. At some point something has got to give. I’m tired of fighting. But I feel a moral obligation to these awesome littles. I feel a deeper obligation to MY little.

I am blessed because my daughter has a wonderful step mom who has become my friend and sometimes my therapist. I have 100% support from my daughter’s father and his wife. It’s refreshingly healthy. I can’t see why I don’t have that from my husband’s family.

I know I’m not an expert parent, but my heart is in it, and I work my ass off trying to do right by my little family. Often times it’s the hardest thing to do. And way too many times it turns into a fight. Where is the balance? What battles do I pick? How can I make this work? I have fantasies that I take my daughter and we just live together, and I spend weekends with my husband and the kids… wouldn’t it be easier if I only saw them all occasionally, and didn’t have a responsibility to parent? I would miss them, but I think I would be much more relaxed. It’s a huge responsibility being a parent. I do not take it lightly… I do not want to abandon them. But I do want to run away sometimes. Like today.

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No One’s The Bitch

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My daughter was playing with a friend a few weeks ago in our garage/converted play room and she says, “My other mom’s favorite color is green.” I almost dropped the broom that was in my hand. I heard that wrong… I had to have heard that wrong!

“Baby? Why did you call her your other mom? She is your step-mom.” (By the way, she has only carried this title for a few days at this point.)

Jo answered, “Because I have two moms now.”

My heart raced, inside I screamed “NO!!! You do not have two moms! I am your mama, you grew inside MY belly, I felt your first kicks, I kissed you first! I am your mama, I got up every night with you and sacrificed my body for 9 months to bring you to this world, and for another almost two years breast feeding. I am your mama, I slept on the floor next to your bed every night, every shower I took for 3 years was a shower slash bath so you could play and stay close to me because all you ever wanted was your mama. I am your mama, I fell in love with you, you were my first love, and I was yours.”

I didn’t say that. I walked away and cried. This new woman has been in my daughters life for about 5 months, and as far as I am concerned the title, “Mom” is earned. Not to say you have to birth children to become a mother, I have a step mom and she is one of my closest friends. I also had a somewhat absent mother. While I saw my mom on occasional weekends, she never really exhibited the “mom” role in my life. Nevertheless, she is still my mama. I refer to my step mom by her name, although I do consider her a parent. And coincidentally I am even closer to her than either of my biological mother.

I myself am a step mother, as well. My step children call me “Mom”… So you might think that I have a double standard? It took my stepchildren (my kids) about a year to start referring to me as their mom. It wasn’t something I asked or told them to do, it was organic. My husband and I are their primary care givers. Their biological mom passed away a few years before I came into the picture. For all intents and purposes, I am mom. I stay home, I help with homework, I clean, prepare dinner, read books, wipe away tears, ice boo-boos, bandage scrapes… you name it. they asked me if it was OK for them to call me mom. My biological daughter, Jo was excited to share her mama. Granted it took her about the same amount of time to become comfortable with me performing all of the maternal duties for children other than her. I know it was a hard thing for the grandparents to hear, and to get used to, but we all decided that we wanted the kids to know that we are a family, and and even though their biological mother can’t be here, I will be here. (We also do not refer to my husband as Jo’s dad, he is her step dad and she has nicknames for him.)

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Sometimes you have to do very uncomfortable things for the greater good. Hearing my daughter call her step mom her “other mom” put a few things into perspective for me. I had a lot of bitterness, and a part of me didn’t want to let go of it. Because if I let go of my bitterness, I couldn’t be angry anymore. Sometimes we hold onto our bitterness because it justifies the real feelings, the ones we don’t want to talk about. It took a long time for me to get to a healing place within myself in regards to my ex. (For an example check out my truce with daddies http://healthymama.net/?p=22) And most dads for that matter. Granted my ex and I are not BFFs, but at least I have worked through and owned MY shit. I honestly didn’t realize how threatened I would be by “The Other Woman”. My insecurities came flooding out, and I knew I had a BIG problem. My husband said, “It’s OK if you’re jealous…” Aaaannnddd I verbally ripped his head off. “Me? Jealous? I don’t get jealous! I’m not one of THOSE girls. I don’t want HER life, in fact she’s living my old life, the life I fled, wrote off, the life that scarred me.” (OK maybe it wasn’t THAT bad… in reality it just wasn’t right for me. And let’s face it… I have been through MUCH worse than an unhappy relationship. (See  http://healthymama.net/?p=38 for my cult back round and http://healthymama.net/?p=306 for physical and emotional physical trauma) I can think of a million reasons I am pissed not “jealous”.

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Luckily for me, a friend offered me a book called “No One’s The Bitch” (http://www.noonesthebitch.com/) and at this point I am desperate. I couldn’t live with these insecurities any more. I had to find some peace. It was really hard for me because I didn’t dislike Jo’s step mom… I honestly didn’t know her, I was just… Ok I’ll say it: I was jealous. Jealous that my daughter referred to her as a mom, and she seemed comfortable with it, jealous that she is living my old life, has my old friends, and probably has heard about all of my dirty laundry (and then some, knowing the vicious rumors I have heard about myself). Jealous that my baby is spending so much time with a stranger, and that my ex still wouldn’t communicate with me the way I needed. My insecurities were festering. Everyone told me not to bother with the book, that I should just “hate” the step mom because she will inevitably hate me. That she shouldn’t step on MY toes, and I have every right to be angry. I am the mom.

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But I was looking at this from a different point of view. I went to a place where I was happy and relieved that my ex found someone, that he seemed happy. My daughter obviously liked her, too. Jo has been through enough, and the last thing we need is for me to make everyone’s life miserable because I can’t handle my insecurities. I have always been very… judgmental of parents who do not put their kids first. Not to be mean, and I know judging is not OK, but I cannot respect a parent who puts their children in a dangerous situation out of selfishness or convenience. So how can I put my daughter in the middle of a territorial fight? How is that fair? It’s not like we can cut her in half! (Yes, that was a biblical reference) I had to find a way to share, a way that wasn’t going to break my heart.

So over the last few weeks I have been working through my shit, and it’s not an easy thing to admit where I need to change. I feel vulnerable. But I also feel lucky. Lucky that I found help so quickly, that the other woman is very respectful towards me, and we have found we have more in common than either of us expected. That we both have Joliene’s best interest at heart. We found that we communicate better with each other than I do with my ex!

I still don’t want to hear her referred to as Jo’s “other mom”, I am still protective of my title, and my relationship with my daughter. I am, however, working through these feelings, and learning to deal with them in a healthy way. No one has to be the villain. No One’s The Bitch. Except me, I was kind of being a bitch.