Bitch, advice, ignore…repeat

This morning I woke up to a string of texts from my friend Jane, as I do most mornings. The topic, as it is most morning, Jane’s on-going frustration with Mary, Dick’s oldest daughter. It is Thursday and this is the third morning this week, because they have the girls, that I have had the same discussion with Jane. And not just this week, pretty much every other week for as long as I can recall. To be clear, I totally understand Jane’s frustration, if I were in her place I don’t think I would have lasted as long.  While the life of a step-parent is difficult, Jane’s is damn near impossible, especially when it comes to Mary.

I have touched on Mary in previous blogs, but let’s give this girl a deep-dive, shall we. She is about to turn 16 years old and while most “normal” girls her age are all about boys, shopping, spending time with friends and getting their driver’s license, Mary has no interest, in any of those things. She has told Dick she has no interest getting her license, hates to shop, and she has no real friends. Now, before anyone get all sappy feeling sorry for poor little Mary, she has no friends because she chooses not to. She is artistic, very talented in fact, but she has zero interest in taking classes to develop those talents. She makes zero effort to socialize and when she does, it is more with her sister’s friends who are a few years younger. She is smart and can told a conversation on a variety of topics, I know this for a fact, I’ve had conversations with her, but unless she is 100% engaged and in control of the discussion, she will sit, not just quietly, but uncomfortably awkward, to the point the at others are uncomfortable as well. She is hateful and rude to her sister, Jane and Dick, and due to her recent diagnosis of depression, no one will say anything to upset her. Now, I am not making light of depression or mental illness. I myself have suffered with bouts of depression and anxiety and have a family history of other mental health issues- but with Mary, I see more a manipulative teen working her parents and therapists against each other to keep anyone from really making her do anything to improve her situation and relationships.

For the past year Mary has been openly dismissive (at best), rude and hateful to Jane. The reasons have been analyzed in countless discussion between Jane and I, between Dick and the therapist, between Dick and Jane, even between Dick, Jane, myself and my husband- literally nothing has changed, other than Mary is more brazen and feels more in control of the adults in her life. Dick has voiced his frustrations with the main therapist that Mary has been working with, telling her that the suggestions to rebuild the relationship with his daughter are falling short and expressing concern for behaviors he is witnessing. Just last week in fact, he sent a detailed email about his concerns, to which the therapist replied that the process takes time and to be patient. This week, she tells him that Mary can cut back sessions to twice a month vs. weekly. Hmmmm, how odd that Dick sees no improvement, actually in some areas things are worse and now they are going to cut back on sessions. I have told Jane and Dick that I feel Mary is manipulating the therapist, telling her what she feels is the “right thing to say” to convince her that she is fine and doesn’t need therapy (which she has been against from the start, but it was ordered by the court due to the uncooperative nature of the family dynamic between the girls’ parents).

I feel like Jane is on a merry-go-round, an endless loop of bitching about Mary, asking for advice, ignoring the advice and repeating the same pattern day after day. I want to be there for Jane, as I know she has few, if any, other friends who understand the life of a stepmom, but it’s getting exhausting. I have told Jane to disengage. Mary is old enough to take care of herself, make her own meals, do her laundry and whatever else she needs. Anything more, she  needs to ask her father. If Mary can not be civil, then there is no reason for Jane to be her chauffeur or maid. I’ve suggested focusing solely on her relationship with the younger daughter, Sue. Make plans to do things outside of the house with Sue on the weeks the girls are home (as Jane does not work) vs. feeling you are a hostage in your own home. I said that maybe seeing the benefit Sue is getting from being decent may make Mary rethink her choices with regards to her attitude. Nope- day in and day out Jane sits at home fuming over how Mary will grunt if spoken to or literally hide to avoid engaging with Jane in any way (yes, Mary hid in the pantry the other day thinking Jane had left the house!). I couldn’t live that way. Life with “the girl” hasn’t always been easy, but there has always been civility in our home and my husband has always made sure I was treated with respect.

So, I’m at a loss. I want to be a good friend, but I’m literally worn out. I know that sounds selfish, Jane is actually living this nightmare, not just dealing with texts, calls and late nights with lots of talk and even more adult beverages. I guess I will continue to do as I have been, listen, offer encouragement and suggestions, then vent to you fine folks to I can purge until the next round. Cheers!

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The hell of a blended family

Let’s be 100% honest, even in the best of blended families, there is hell. The fact you are blended means something tragic happened in the past: be it a divorce, a death or some other circumstance that left a family/home broken. Even when all parties are working together to make life for the kids caught in the middle the best it can be, there will be moments that will try the best of relationships.

We are a blended family. My husband has a child from a previous marriage and the relationship with his ex-wife is far from ideal. Everything is a struggle and neither side ever wants to accommodate the other, at times to the detriment  of the child they share. For me, the new wife with no children of her own, there have been times I have wanted to flee in the middle of the night, never to be seen again. But that is not how Southern Belles react to a challenge. We call upon our inner Scarlet, we dig in and make it work and believe with all our hearts that tomorrow is another day and it will be better.

Last night we had dinner with my friend Jane & her husband, Dick. As you may recall from a previous blog, Jane has been pushing to address the situation in which Medusa (Dick’s ex-wife) shared with the girls an online rant of Jane’s that was not the most positive. The older daughter, Mary, has been the worst, her attitude and behaviors have been the most hellish of blended families and Jane truly felt that addressing this situation would help or at least, get it out in the open. Well, Dick and Mary had a discussion on the topic and as I feared, the truth did not set Jane free. Long story short, Mary admitted knowing, but claims it did nothing to change her feelings toward Jane. She claims that prior to that, when she had a loving and good relationship with her stepmother, she was faking it. She has never liked her, has nothing in common with her and sees no reason to foster a relationship or even be civil towards Jane.

This is the worst case in a blended family. When one parent actively works to alienate the children from the other parent. In Dick and Jane’s case, Medusa has done an effective job alienating Mary, a fragile teen who suffers from depression and is being treated with therapy and medication. What kind of mother could prey upon her weak child for her own selfish gains you may ask? A horrible mother. Since becoming a stepmother myself, I have heard so many stories like Jane’s. Some less extreme, some far worse. No matter the extreme, there are very clear patterns to these women:  They are narcissists. They  play the role of martyr. They lie. They have no problem using their child to benefit themselves. Their hate for their ex overshadows their love for their child.

What is a stepmother to do? Yes, we knew what we were getting into when we got involved with a man with kids. We realized, unless the mom had passed, it was a package deal: your man, his kid and the mother. Let me tell you, there is NO way of knowing what you are getting into with these women. Many will be welcoming at first, will thank you for all you do for their children (although that was NOT the way it happened in my case) and this will continue until your usefulness to them runs out. Things turn once you are “all in”, when its much harder to walk away. And why should we give up? We love our husbands and we want a happy life with man we love.  Why can’t these women just accept  that he is no longer theirs and let him move on? Why can’t they move on with their lives? So many questions, with no answers.

In my case I have removed myself from all dealing with the mother. There was a time when I tried to helpful, to communicate with her to make things easier for all of us, especially my stepdaughter. My efforts were thrown in my face and now I let my husband deal with the ex, which usually creates more drama but that is on them, not me. I do my best to manage my relationship with my stepdaughter independent from her mother. In our home its the three of us, no room for a fourth. I do not refuse to listen to my stepdaughter when she talks about her mom, things they do or plans they have, I smile, I nod and try to be excited for the child, with no regard for the mother. Is it hard, hell yes it is. I vent to my husband, to Jane, to other friends who have lived the blended family hell and I’m sure there will future blogs addressing issues  with “the ex”.

For Jane and many like her, more must be done to survive. I’m lucky in that my relationship with my stepdaughter is a good one, a very good one in fact. When the kids actively turn against the step-parent, more extreme measures must be taken. Disengagement from the child. Living under the same roof, but having zero interaction. They don’t speak, they don’t share meals, they simply co-exist under the same roof as if the other does not exist at all. Personally, I don’t see how this can work long term. Maybe its just me, the Southern Belle who feels you have to talk it out, ALWAYS. I can’t help but think that prolonged periods of disengagement breeds resentment, on both sides. And what of the parent in the middle? They are literally put in the middle between their child and their spouse. How long can that go on before things implode?

Being a blended family is hell, with the water being higher at times, sometimes to the point you do feel you will drown. The strongest keep treading water unless the tide turns.

Sometimes saying nothing speaks volumes

More with my friend Jane.

Jane is not a southern belle, but I love her anyway. Not being from the south I feel there are times where patience is not Jane’s strongest virtue. She is a “fixer”- in her world there is a problem, you fix it or you talk it to death. The ongoing issues with the kids and the resulting strain on her marriage with Dick they have a list of therapist on retainer like most southern belles have caters! There is one for the family, one for each kid, one for marriage counseling and now, one for Jane.

Now, one might thing with all these professionals and scheduled (and paid for) time to talk, there would be no need to have your issues consume your life. Well, the issues aren’t fixed, so guess what, the search for a fix continues. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of therapy- been down that road myself and found it very helpful. However, the key to good therapist/patient relationship is each party must know when to speak and when to LISTEN. Jane has a hard time with the latter.

What I didn’t share in my last blog was for the first several years of her relationship and marriage to Dick, she had positive and loving relationship with his two girls. Something happened that caused a shift, seemingly overnight. The theory is the girls’ mother, who will call Medusa, came up on some online venting of Jane’s (oh the power of social media) and shared it with the girls to prove Jane to the evil stepmother Medusa has painted her to be all along. There was no proof this actually happened (yes, she vented and yes, Medusa found it, but the part about the girls knowing)- but this is what Jane holds on to as the reason for everything that is wrong, especially with Mary, the older of the two. Rather than address it at the time, one of the many therapist said it should not be addressed, at least not with the children. Jane could not fully accept this and could never let it go. Without fail this is brought up in any conversation about girls or the current state of her relationship. I have told her she needs to move on, leave it in the past and look toward the future, both for her marriage, her relationship with her stepdaughters and her own sanity- but bless her heart, she just can’t. I have advised to just do as the therapists have suggested, to let the girls come to some peace on their own and not force the situation, but of course, keep a mental inventory of everything that is happening should you need it later. But God love her, she can’t. In no time at all she is wanting to bring it up or discuss whether or not it should be addressed in a session (we are going on YEARS with this now).

Personally- I see no good coming from addressing what Jane feels is the elephant in the room. I think the only thing that will come from this is her true (and negative) feelings about the girls and their mother will become the focus. I truly believe she will look like the bad guy, whereas now she is kind of looking like a victim of a bitter ex-wife and a bratty teenage girl. I wish I could get her to see the benefit of keeping her mouth shut, at least on this topic. She got caught, it sucks and feel for her, as we all need to vent from time to time and she thought she was in a safe space, but to rehash it now will only look like she is needing to defend and validate what happened so long ago. Medusa will come out smelling like a rose and Mary will have validation for her hateful behavior.

So, now we wait to see how this plays out. I hope Jane will find a safe place with her new therapist and in turn find some peace in her life, lord knows she deserves at least that!