Day 111: There Are Points for Second Place (Guest Post)

Today, we have a guest writer. Her name is Kris, and she’s stepmom to two boys, currently aged 11 and 14. She’s been following my journey of divorce for a while, and offered to share details of her reality. I found it very enlightening, as my own children are weeks away from acquiring their own stepmother; a woman they were introduced to only six months ago.

So, say hi to Kris and feel free to leave her some lovely comments.

While I am not divorced, I am living with divorce on a daily basis. You see, my husband is divorced. And, as a result, I live with the realities of that event every day. In the beginning of our relationship, the divorce played a bigger part in our lives. It was fresh and left him with some very real consequences to learn to live with. As our relationship evolved, for me to learn to live with too. Most importantly, those involving the kids. His ex-wife was stay-at-home and their youngest was below school age. Therefore, under NY State Law, residential custody is automatically awarded to the stay-at-home parent. So, the divorce left him with no possibility of residential custody and only seeing his kids every other weekend and one night each week.

So, as you can imagine, it was not the easiest situation to walk into. So I’ve been learning to navigate these waters for eight years. Let me start by saying that I gained two wonderful stepsons in the process. They were two-and-a-half and six years old when I met them. I love them more than words can express. The experience of being a step-mother is what I’d like to share with you. To tell you about being a step-mother, it’s probably easiest to explain what I am not:

I am not their mother. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t motherhood. I could never, and would never want to take the place of their mother. She loves them, and while she wasn’t the right wife for my husband, she’s a great mother. This doesn’t mean I’m not a parental figure in their lives. I do all the things a Mom does. I love them, I am passionate about their well-being and how they grow up, I play, I make their meals, I wipe noses, I settle fights, I enforce bedtimes, I remind them to brush their teeth…my youngest doesn’t remember me not being in his life. As far as he’s concerned he’s always had a Mom, a Dad, and a Kris. And that’s pretty cool!

I am not a home-wrecker, wicked step-mother or any other stereotype that comes to mind. There is such a stigma about a second wife that sometimes it’s difficult to navigate or anticipate others’ reactions to you. They’ve varied from well intended, back-handed compliments like, “I can’t believe how much you do for those boys, it’s like they’re your own kids”; to passive aggressive, like the birthday party where the other moms stop talking to you (and actively keep their husbands from you) as soon as they find out you’re the step-mother; to outright mean, like the person who asked “How old are your step sons…oh good, they’re young enough not to know that they should hate you.”  Now I am prepared for the reactions, but at first I wasn’t. It’s really hard, because at the end of the day, I love my kids and that’s all that matters.

I am not a decision maker outside of the time when the boys are with us. I make small decisions involved with the day to day things (with my husband’s full support). But, when it comes to the big stuff…they have two competent parents. The big decisions for parenting are made by them. That’s so hard for me! While I accept it, and respect it, I don’t always handle it well. It doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion on decisions, and it doesn’t mean I don’t share it (with my husband). But ultimately, the two of them decide, and whether I agree or not doesn’t matter. It does impact my relationship with my husband though. I’m still learning here, and may never easily accept this part.

I am not a biological parent. We’ve made a decision not to have any more kids. We put the boys first and don’t want them or our children to have to compete for their Dad’s time. It was a decision we made together, but boy– it makes the above a whole lot harder.

I am not friends with his ex-wife but I am a co-parent. Had she and I met outside this situation, we wouldn’t be friends. We’re too different. But, we’re in it together. We are there for the kids and communicate well when we need to.  All that matters for the kids is that we’re both there for them. They don’t need to know our opinions of each other, and, I’m proud to be able to say that they don’t.\

I have no legal rights as a parent. That means if something were ever to happen with Jeff and I, I have no right to visitation, etc. That’s a scary loss to think about. I am fortunate to have a husband who does what’s right for the kids. Custody and visitation are legal rights for every parent (biological or adoptive) but not for a step-parent.

All of this may sound like a burden; it may sound negative. But you know what? I wouldn’t trade not being those things I described because it would mean giving up on what I am. I am a great step-mom! I love my boys and they love me! What parent doesn’t have hardships? It’s part of the journey. I am proud to be their “Kris”. I used to tell them, no one else has a ‘Kris’ and no one else will. That’s ours and I love it!

Day 95: The Cycle of Punishment

Last night, I received a private message on FB from a reader. She wrote:

Hey. I know this is none of my business but why aren’t you blogging lately? I gave your name and blog to a friend of mine going through an a narcissistic awful divorce a couple weeks ago. I told her you were writing some pretty great columns on divorce and life afterwards with kids.. I hope you know how important what you write is to people like me and her. I know you’ve got you’re own sh*t going on too, but I want to say thanks. For just being a voice and a resource for us all. Hope everything is going okay for you and kiddos.

Hmmm…why haven’t I been blogging lately? It’s not like there isn’t tons to say.

It’s because the kids, primarily Sydney, needed a break.

When I blog, things seem to get harder for them. Because my ex-spouse and I rarely speak in person anymore, there’s not as much of an opportunity for him to “hurt” me personally. We don’t trade insults. I haven’t seen any signs of the private investigator in a while. I’m slowly rebounding from the financial hardships he’s imposed. My lifestyle hasn’t changed in well over a year, so there isn’t anything blatant to fuss about. As the months and years pass, I’m developing a certain degree of resilience to this big black hole in our lives.

But the kids? They’re defenseless. They have no idea how to protect themselves emotionally. Therefore, making the kids’ lives harder is a super effective method of hurting me. Subjecting them to negative commentary about me, shaming them for their clothing choices, dragging them into adult decisions, probing them for details about my life…it all seems to get worse when I do something to displease him. From my perspective, he’s really struggling as a parent lately.

I call it the “cycle of punishment.” If Tara behaves, the lion sleeps. If she doesn’t, the claws come out.

Sydney calls it being “in trouble.” His reaction to the most recent blog post resulted in her saying to me, “Just don’t write anything that will get me in trouble, Mommy.” Or she’ll say, “But if you don’t _____, you’ll be in trouble with Dad.” Lately, there has been an aura of exhaustion in her that I hadn’t seen before. One I recognized from my reflection in the mirror.

So, we’re increasing the sessions with their support system, maintaining communication with the GAL, and Jack and I are doing our best to give them the most stable, accepting, attentive environment we can. No big changes. Lots of hugs, kitten snuggles, dance parties, and a much-welcomed therapeutic visit from Aunt Mer.

They’ll be okay. I can’t protect them from this dynamic. Not really.

But I can give them a break.

And so I did.