The moment hell froze over

Do you feel it, the unexplained chill in the air. Yes, it’s still winter, since the ground-hog saw his shadow and we are looking at six more weeks of winter, but the chill I’m talking about is not weather related, my friends, hell has frozen over! For the past six and a half years, I have co-existed with Ursula, “The Girl”‘s mom, usually doing all I can to avoid her. She has always been that “fake nice” for show when we are in public, but 1:1 dealings have been short, judgmental and  self-serving, at that is the nicest way I can put it. As “The Girl” has gotten older, things have eased some, mostly because contact with Ursula is less frequent and when it happens it has an actual purpose, not just a way to maintain her control over my now husband and our lives.

However, over the past week thing have taken a rare turn in the blended family world. First Ursula was at my office meeting with a group completely unrelated to me, I actually had no idea she was here. She sent me a text, upfront admitted it was shameless and asked if I could validate parking for and a few co-workers. I told her sure, they work for a non-profit, I didn’t consider it a favor to her as much as a good deed for a good cause. Plus, when I meet her in the lobby, she was very kind in noticing and complimenting my weight loss, which was very nice to hear, especially from her given her history with struggling with her own weight issues.

The next day I got a call from her on my cell, which NEVER happens unless The Girl is with her and her phone is not handy. Also, The Girl was in school, so there was no reason to be calling me, but I answered thinking maybe it was an emergency of some sort and she couldn’t contact my husband. To my surprise, it was a very nice and civil heads up. The organization she works for is having a fundraising event and when The Girl was with Ursula at a planning meeting she mentioned to her mom that the work they were doing for the vent was right up my alley and that I was very good with the creative parts they need to finish. She asked Ursula if she could invite me to join the team or if that would be too awkward. Ursula, who for all her faults has always acknowledged how much her daughter loves me and the nice things I do for her, she said that was fine. The call was to let me know The Girl would be inviting me and that she had no issues at all, they would welcome my help.

I agreed to go. One, for The Girl, she was very excited I accepted and also thanked me for being so nice in helping with the parking. Second, I need to volunteer for a cause for my company’s wellness program, so this was an easy way to do that. Last night I picked the The Girl up after school and headed to her mom’s office. Ursula as very nice, made me feel welcomed and that my assistance was appreciated. Then, just when she thought I had let my guard down or become numb due to hell freezing over, she hit me with a zinger, her backhand way of insulting others with a sugar sweet spin or in a joking manner thinking people don’t notice. Some may not, I do. After complimenting my input, she added “too bad you have horrible taste in men”- a very obvious dig as my husband. I did not miss a beat, two belles can play this game, I smiled with a slight tilt of my head and said “Just following your lead Ursula”. We both gave a fake laugh and moved on. The rest of the evening was productive and dare I say, pleasant. I enjoyed the project and would do it again if asked.

When I got home I shared with my husband how the night went, horrible taste in men and all. I told him I really hope this is the new path we are on, for The Girl mostly, as it has to be nice to have your blended family together peacefully, and for the adult. Six years of tension is a lot to deal with and sometimes you just have to LET IT GO!  Yes, the song from Frozen is running through my head, guess it just goes with the icy territory.


The eternal struggle to be the bigger person

I try to be a good person, to treat others with kindness and respect, as I wish to be treated. However, for all my efforts, there are some people I struggle to show even the smallest amount of kindness. I know this is a flaw on my part and fully realize that giving into this pettiness makes me the smaller person, but honestly, I do not care. At the top of my list of people I can’t bring myself to be kind to is my husband’s ex-wife, we will call her Ursula, as in the villainous creature in the Little Mermaid, trust me, it’s a suitable name on many levels. I have mentioned in a previous post that I made attempts early on to be civil and try for the sake of my stepdaughter and my family, however I quickly learned this civility as one-sided and I opted to accept that Ursula was an evil presence in my life that I would have to find a way to manage. I’m not proud to say that my way of managing is to be petty and mock her when the opportunity presents itself, behind her back and NEVER in front of her daughter.

I could go on and on about the vile characteristics of Ursula, but if you know the Disney character you have a basic understanding. The character will stoop as low as she must to achieve her goals and  only agrees to help the less fortunate when she’s confident that she can gain something from them in return. This is very much how my husband’s ex lives her life. In addition, she has a very inflated sense of self, due in large part to a drastic weight loss, in which she went from literally looking like the Disney Ursula to more of an Ariel silhouette, thanks to weight loss surgery. I truly believe, although I did not know here then, that when Ursula was heavier she had to play nice in order to make and keep friends, as she loathed herself for being fat, she assumed others would as well. Now that she is thin, I truly believe she has cast aside much of her faux niceness, unless it serves an end goal.

At times my pettiness towards Ursula has come back to bite me. There have been misdirected emails sent to her by mistake with my most honest feelings of her included. Last week my husband was busted snapping a photo to feed my petty mocking ways. While these are mistakes on our part, to which she has every right to take the moral high ground, rather than take it and remain without reproach, she take it a bit too far in an attempt to make herself even more high and mighty. With the email, I accepted my fault and expressed not my regret, but more my need to vent to my friends about the toxic environment she creates for all of us in this blended family. I vent to my friends so I can work out my frustrations without taking them out on her daughter, who lives with me half the time and who I love. As for the photo, well, no real excuse there. He shouldn’t have done it and certainly not so carelessly. Its was not a the huge deal she made it to be, but that is her way. Rather than be embarrassed, when I read her email I could not help but roll my eyes. The martyr was in full force. She made it seem that everyone knew what he had done, that strangers were concerned for her safety and not only that their daughter knew, but she had cried to her mother about;  a week later. I don’t believe half that.  I think someone noticed and mentioned it to her and she opted to wait until the day before the next scheduled event to mention it. I’m not making excuses, as I said, she has every right to lash out when she has the ammo to do so, we do the same when the tables are turned, but at least be honest.

I wish I could be a better person, to not let Ursula get to me and make behave unlike my usual self. But some people just bring out the worst in you. So, no lessons learned, other than my husband will not be called upon to be a spy anytime soon. My stepdaugther will be home this evening, we will not address the situation as Ursula suggested, as I don’t believe for a second it was known to their daughter and there is no reason to make a bigger deal out of it. It was a picture, a single photo snapped to be petty and childish- nothing more covert than that. If she brings it up, we will handle it honestly, as we must own our role, but I won’t lie, it will be very hard to not roll my eyes and maintain a civil tone, it’s just how I deal with all thing Ursula.

The summertime blues

I’m not a fan of summer. There, I said it. Once you are past the point of a three-month vacation, the magic of summer quickly fades. I’m a fair-skinned ginger, so the sun has never been my friend. My ideal temperature is 72 degrees, maybe a bit warmer if you have a nice breeze, but once the temperature reaches upwards of 80 and stays there for days on end, I’m happy to stay in the comfort of the air conditioning.

Another reason I dislike summer, as a stepmom, are the endless summer scheduling battles. During the school year there is structure and no need to worry about the day-to-day plans for “the girl”, who is now 13 and not in a regular camp or childcare situation. My husband and I work in offices, with normal 8-5 office hours. We have some flexibility here and there, but can’t take off early every day for swim practice runs or other activities her mom signs her up for.  Then you have the scheduling of vacations, which never neatly work out on the scheduled weeks, we must always juggle. This battle is endless and while I should be used to it now, after all these years, the dread looms as the last day of school approaches.

I guess I should be grateful that we have gotten to a point in this blended family nightmare where summer is really the only time of year were constant communication with “the ex” is necessary, well, summer and holidays I should say. In the past it was endless and constant. And 97% was unnecessary. The ex is a controlling sort- no matter what my husband says she will twist it into an argument for no reason other than to control the situation, even if in the end she agrees with him, she has to take the longest route possible. I honestly think what she misses most about being married is making him miserable, so she takes her opportunities where she can get them these days.

In addition to the nightmare of dealing with the ex, we have teen drama and “I’m bored”. Heaven help me if I had said I was bored growing up. A list of chores to keep me busy all summer would fall from the sky. No suggestion is good enough, unless it requires us to take time off work to provide transportation to half the kids in town or a bank loan to fund an event. We are not wealthy and even if we were I’m not of the thinking that kids should be given everything without earning it. My stepdaughter has responsibilities around the house and when she wants money to do special things, we come up with additional chores for her to earn the money. I’m still shocked she didn’t call CPS on us for the suggestion she earn money for things she wants to do- how horrible we are!

I know I sound old when I say “kids today….”, but I do see a huge difference in the way kids are both treated and how they behave compared to when I was growing up. I didn’t expect the adults in my life to entertain me 24/7 nor did I expect to have activities planned for me. Summers were spent playing with my friends. We had family trips for a week or two and there were the occasional special outings with friends, but for the most part it was three months of heading out after breakfast, maybe coming home for lunch and back in for dinner. Often we would head back out after until dark. Yes, times have changed and many folks don’t have the same connection to their community we had growing up, however the suggestion of my stepdaughter to even sit outside or take the dog for a walk is met with shock and disdain. She has a phone, a laptop, every cable channel known to man and yet, she is BORED. Oh, and starving. House full of food and she is starving and thinks we should leave her money so she can walk to get fast food (that she will leave the house and walk for).

So, while some do countdowns for the start of summer vacation, I’m counting down to the start of school for next year…. 79 days 🙂

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.