What Have You Done for Me Lately

I can hear that Janet Jackson song in my head every single time I hear this story in my small group. A divorced dad who always paid support, attended events, bought Christmas and birthday presents ends up getting treated like an ATM only hearing from his adult kiddo when she wants something. She doesn’t seek relationship, time with her dad, visit on Fathers Day or offer to take HIM to lunch. She just calls when she wants him to fork over finances and gifts.

How do you combat this? You stop allowing yourself to be used. At some point later in life adult children should realize that the parent child relationship is more about advice, counsel and quality time spent together and that it is a two way relationship. Not simply a “hand out” what have you done for me lately ATM cash advance relationship.

There are at least 4-5 women in my small group whose stepdaughters are now adults and their husbands have put a stop to the handouts. And guess what? Most of the adult kids have stopped coming around. It certainly appears that unless the kids have something to GAIN, they aren’t interested.

If that applies to you, I’m sorry. It hurts. It’s sad. It’s disappointing. But it is not unusual or abnormal by any means. Hope for the best that later in life they will mature and gain a much bigger understanding of just how important their father truly is and they will seek relationship rather than material things … eventually.

Coffee cheers your way.

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Blended Families are Like Sonic Drinks

I saw a “first day of school” post on social media the other day where a woman who gets along very well with her ex went on a little rant about how she shared all of her back to school photos and experiences with her ex-husband and that’s how all divorced parents should be (because her way was the right way). That’s great and all but….  nah. I respectfully disagree and did not appreciate the lecture. It doesn’t always work that way. I’ve learned that blended families are like Sonic drinks. If one person is a Limeaid and the other is Cherry syrup and you blend them together and have a Cherry Limeaid, that’s GREAT!!! But I’ve also learned that blended families are not “one size fits all” and many blended families need a little more empathy, support and encouragement as opposed to some holier than thou, high and mighty judgmental outside opinion.

Let’s take my personal situation for example. My ex-spouse sexually abused one of my children, admitted it, plead guilty to it, spent 6-7 years incarcerated for the crime, and is a lifetime registered sex offender. Do you still think that “all families” should be like you and share back to school photos? Or did that added information that does NOT apply to your situation change your perspective about my situation and give you more understanding, empathy and clarity about why I DON’T include my ex in my life anymore. Don’t you think I would LOVE to have a good co-parenting situation free from abuse and trauma? Because I would. But I don’t. I have a very difficult, layered, muddled, complicated blended family situation that is more like mixing a Limeaid with Black Licorice. And sadly and unfortunately, many other blended families do too.

Please stop throwing stones at divorced parents who choose to disengage, set up boundaries, and parallel parent. Unless you know all of the facts and behind the scenes information, you have no idea what some divorced parents are going through or how sad they are that they DON’T have healthy, amicable, co-parenting situations.

Hugs to you all on this difficult blended family journey because like Stepmom Magazine says, “even when it’s good, it’s complicated”.

Coffee cheers your way. I hope your Sonic drink blends well. But if it doesn’t, I understand. No judgment here.

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Children are Not Assets for Wealth Distribution

I saw an article the other day that went on and on about parental equality post divorce. Some things I agreed with and some things I didn’t. But one of the statements that I really found to be profound was this: Children are not assets for wealth distribution. Oh my gosh YES!!! Working with a family law attorney for 20 years, I saw so many people who used their children as assets to (1) control or (2) for wealth distribution and in both cases it’s absolutely disgusting. Children are people. Human beings. And they did not ask you to bring them into this world and they should not be used as bait if your relationship with their other parent fails. I cannot tell you how many people – usually women – I’ve seen use their children in an attempt to gain or maintain control of their ex or to gain wealth from their ex spouse. So, I’m making this little journal entry so I can remember this phrase.

P.S. I’m not talking about child support or providing for the child. I’m talking about situations where a child is used for FOR money or to control the other parent. There is a very big difference.

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The Empty Promises Game

 I had a teenager tell me the other day that “my parent tells me all year long that they will do it for me on my birthday, but every year when my birthday comes around, they don’t do it”. I have a small group of about 30 women and MANY people in that group say their kids experience that with their ex-spouse as well. The ex-spouse promises things (a cell phone, vacation, movies, etc.) but then doesn’t do them. I think one of the biggest problems with that is that the kids start to see their parent as a liar. The parent loses all credibility and the child no longer believes anything you say. There really is no reason to try to win over a child with empty promises. They may be appeased temporarily, but I promise you that they do not forget. They may not bring it up in order to avoid confrontation, but they do not forget.

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Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts… Blended Family Edition

Though blended family life does have good parts, highs, and some great memories, those are not the seasons that lead to this blog. This blog and my book outline were created from the lows and the painfully difficult seasons of blended family life. Maybe the best way to describe my particular blended family situation is “death by a thousand paper cuts”. I love this online definition of Death by a Thousand Cuts: a figure of speech that refers to a failure that occurs as a result of many small problems.

You see, blended family life is not necessarily miserable because of 1 or 2 particularly difficult things. It’s the thousands of small (and often large), difficult things that continuously overlap and rarely seem to improve. Even when you think a difficult season has ended, it’s usually really just the beginning of another even larger event. It’s like labor pains. That painful one ended but just wait … it gets worse.

I’ve lived in poverty in the projects, have been dirt poor, have been a single mom, have had a child nearly die on me, have dealt with unbelievable family betrayal, and some other really difficult things that may be revealed later. But none of that was as hard as blended family life has been collectively this past decade.

Granted,  I am a perfectionist and want to get this right. But I’ve also learned that the blended family life game is simply not a game that can be mastered like Chess. It’s really more like The Hunger Games where the rules are ever changing and the situations get more difficult. Once you’ve mastered Level 1 and survived your first night in the wilderness, the sun comes out again but with a new set of increased challenges. Those fresh berries you thought would nourish you ended up to be poisonous and your district teammate and partner that joined the game with you often ends up becoming your opponent (especially where their respective biological children are involved).

If I look back at my inner child, the little girl that I used to be that had never ending hopes and dreams, I can honestly say that growing up, getting married and having children was never it. Even when I became pregnant in high school I sat for my GED, went straight to college and graduated in the top of my class as a young, single mom ready to join the workforce. I went back to work doing the work I loved when my third child was only 12 days old because we had a large case set for trial that I had worked on for 3 years. I loved my kids more than life itself but I balanced work and home, hobbies and fitness for years. Getting remarried a decade later and becoming a work from home stepmother did not change the fact that I am a career woman, not a homemaker, and nothing is going to change that. I have never wanted to be a SAHM. Not then with my kids. Not now with his kids. Yet I feel like that is the box that my spouse wants to check off of his list. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a bad@$$ stepmom. I encourage, support, chauffeur, chaperone, prepare meals despite hating it, buy clothes, decorate rooms like a boss, and attend nearly every single event they have, but in the back of my mind I have that nagging feeling that it’s still not enough and that my husband should have married someone else. Someone different. Someone less like me. Someone more like Susie Homemaker. Maybe I should have married someone more in line with my life who had grown kids or older kids or no kids so that I wouldn’t feel forced to fit in a box that was never suited for me in the first place.

I say all this because I know for a fact that I am not alone. I know that half of my small group feels now or has felt in the past that maybe they should not have gotten married and joined the blended family circus. Some have left the game. Some are still fighting for their marriages despite the difficult journey. And that’s what it is. A journey. And there are good times and bad times. We can choose to fight the fight or walk away but that doesn’t change where we are today, right now, in those tough moments.

Hugs, support and coffee cheers to each and every one of you that has “those days” “those seasons” or “those moments”. One way or another we are going to make it. We are going to survive. If it all works out, hopefully we will even get to see the view from the top of the mountain one of these days. Even if it’s not today.

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Why I Didn’t Want My Kids to be Stepparents

For YEARS I have taught, trained, and repeatedly told my adult children, “DO NOT date anyone with kids”. It simply adds too much unnecessary stress to your young adult life. You’ve never been married, you’ve never had kids, and you’ve worked very hard preparing yourself for adulthood and I just think it’s best if you avoid unnecessary trauma and stress and marry someone like minded who doesn’t bring so much extra, added baggage to the table. And by baggage I’m not talking about the kid(s). I’m referring to voluntarily adding a bitter, jealous, controlling, insecure ex spouse to your life. It’s just too much and I don’t want that for my kids. DISCLAIMER: I am aware that some people are amicably divorced, get along well, and won’t be controlling, manipulative or abusive post divorce. Some people will get divorced, get remarried and wear those cute shirts to little league games (you know like I’m the mom, stepmom, dad, stepdad, and they look so cute). I’d say it’s a very small minority group of divorced people who can all be mature enough to pull that off. And, in my opinion, it’s just too big of a risk to take.

So, guess what? Oh yes. It’s true and I cannot believe it. One of my kids is dating someone who has a young child. [Insert a gasp, face palm, and sweaty hands here]. There is not much I can do to change that, so I’ve edited my advice to include the following (and I’m aware many people will disagree with this advice and that’s okay because this blog is just one of many perspectives, but this is my perspective, my viewpoint and my advice so … here goes):

  1. Do NOT meet the child in a dating capacity (being introduced as a dating partner) for a very very very long time. Like, unless or until you are getting engaged and plan to marry this person. You have plenty of time to build your relationship with this person when the child is with their other parent. Enjoy the time you have with it being just the two of you without extra pressure.
  2. Do NOT meet the child’s other parent ever (ok, this is not realistic because if you DO get married and plan to attend the child’s events you will eventually meet the other parent at some point. But, if I had it my way I’d say- do not meet the other parent EVER – or at least not until you “have” to).
  3. If you do “have to” meet the child’s other parent, remain guarded. Of course, be polite. Use your manners. Say nice to meet you. But protect yourself at all times and remain guarded indefinitely. Remind yourself and understand that this person had a difficult relationship with your partner before you ever entered the picture. That was not your fault and you cannot fix it or change it. Being added to the mix of their already difficult relationship can make things harder and worse.
  4. Expect jealousy even though they are divorced. Hopefully that won’t be the case, but it could be and you need to be prepared for it. Often times, when the ex sees you living what was supposed to be their life (happiness, family time with the kids, the new house you get when you get married), the ex may very likely get jealous and jealous people will do some very crazy things directed at you, your partner and sometimes even the child (though I’d hope not).
  5. So many people will tell you that you knew what you were getting in for when you started dating (or married) someone with kids. That is a lie. Just like you WILL NOT know what you are getting into when you have kids of your own, you have NO IDEA what you’re getting into when joining an already existing family. You’re just riding the roller coaster of life along with everyone else. Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened because there are going to be tunnels, twists and turns that you NEVER expected. And that I can guarantee you.

I will continue to add to and update the list as things pop in my ADHD brain, but I think that covers it pretty well for now.

Iced tea cheers your way and enjoy your day.

 

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Life Lesson 2438 … Know Your Opponent

Have you ever heard the saying “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”? One of the BEST things about high conflict divorce and child custody situations is that you know your opponent and, over time, you learn their strengths, weaknesses and methods of manipulation.

One of the girls in my small group had always been very cordial and completely open with her ex-husband. Since her ex lives 4-6 hours away from her, she always allowed her ex to have her son every spring break, every Christmas, long summer visits, etc. Then one day the ex came out of nowhere (though I had warned her to be cautious because I’ve seen so many people get attacked out of thin air) and sued her for full custody. He lost. The Judge saw right through his games (lucky for her). But, it changed the dynamic of their co-parenting relationship forever. He provoked her which made her hold on tighter than ever before to her son. Now she follows the court order to a T and keeps her son with her for her holidays. Not to keep the child from his father, but because she had been so lenient for so long and her ex took advantage of it and of her. He seriously underestimated her, and now he’s playing the poor pitiful, woe is me victim game.

In blended family hell, you WILL be provoked. Sometimes often and repeatedly and sometimes simply out of thin air unexpectedly. What I’ve learned, is that the same people that provoke and cause so much damage are VERY quick to capture your response and play victim. The BEST thing you can do in that situation is LEARN your opponent as you would a chess game so that you can handle your response in the best way possible to avoid the victim game. Now, it’s a process. Trial and error lessons. But it is possible. With each life lesson comes wisdom and you can either grow from it or drown in it. Choose growth.

Hugs to each of you during this journey and be looking for my book hopefully in the summer of 2023. It may seem far away but it goes by fast. 9 years down. 4 to go.

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