divorce, Ex, family, marriage, narcissists

Carolyn Hax says, “There isn’t enough hell for this no!”

This morning, as I was waking up to another Monday morning, I happened to read a letter to an advice column in the Washington Post (it’s unlocked for people who don’t subscribe). Sometimes letters to Carolyn Hax trigger me a little bit. And then I read other people’s comments, and I get triggered all the more. That’s what happened this morning. So now I need to vent in my blog. Below is the letter that got me all hot and bothered:

Dear Carolyn: I very recently had a baby with my boyfriend of several years. We were both married when we met, but after developing feelings for each other we divorced our spouses and committed to each other. Neither marriage was fulfilling, but I’m on very good terms with my ex as we co-parent our children as a united team.

My boyfriend’s ex-wife, however, has continued a pattern of manipulative and controlling behavior. For example, she told my boyfriend that the pastor at their church expects him to apologize to the church leaders for having divorced his wife. When my boyfriend sought to clarify this with the pastor, the pastor was stunned and assured him she never had a conversation like that with the ex-wife.

His 16-year-old, “Sam,” also refuses to meet the baby without his mother present. And JUST his mother present. My boyfriend is desperate to reconnect with his son (whose estrangement is enabled by the ex) and thinks meeting the baby will soften his son’s heart. I’m incredibly uncomfortable with the conditions. For context: I’ve learned his ex-wife has on multiple occasions made fun of the name we chose for our daughter. She also demanded to know all sorts of intimate details about me, such as my plans for breastfeeding.

His ex-wife has been pushing hard to meet the baby. My boyfriend says she and Sam are a package deal. But my mama instincts are screaming that my baby is not safe around this woman. She recently made it clear she expects to meet the baby soon, whether Sam does or not.

I am obviously sleep-deprived and hormones are crashing, but am I being unreasonable? I know she will someday meet her, but I don’t see why it’s necessary for her to have this experience with my newborn.

— Mama Bear

I actually liked Carolyn’s advice. Her first sentence summed it up nicely. She wrote, “There isn’t enough hell for this no.” I totally agree with her. I’ve never had a child, but I can plainly see how inappropriate this demand is. But other people didn’t see it Carolyn’s way at all. I probably shouldn’t be surprised, because we’re dealing with people in a culture who automatically see men and any subsequent female partners at fault when a heterosexual relationship falls apart. And some people seem to think that the jilted woman is automatically entitled to whatever she wants. Can you believe the ex wife in the above example thinks she’s entitled to meet the baby even without her son in tow?

To Carolyn’s credit, she simply looked at what was written in the letter. She didn’t attempt to recreate the letter from the ex wife’s perspective, as one reader did. It’s not that I don’t think it’s useful to consider the ex wife’s perspective so much, as that the person who did it added details to the situation that didn’t exist in the original letter. I saw a lot of people projecting their own opinions and experiences into this situation, complicating what, to me, looks like a pretty cut and dried situation. The letter writer has a brand new baby. It’s HER baby. She’s the mom, and she gets to decide who is around her newborn baby. Ex wife has ZERO standing to demand anything regarding the letter writer’s brand new baby, her son with the boyfriend notwithstanding. Below was one commenter’s take.

Um… did this person miss the part where the EX said her ex husband needed to apologize to church leaders for the divorce? And the church leader said the conversation never took place? Also, the original letter says that the couple had been together for several years, and made no mention of the mom’s age. And personally, I think gifts related to breastfeeding are inappropriate, unless it’s something the person specifically requested.

As for “Sam”, my comment would be that it’s regrettable that he evidently doesn’t want to meet his half-sister. He can meet her when he grows up, if he wants to. But his mom is not in this, and needs to butt out immediately. She has absolutely no right to demand to meet the baby, at all.

I write this from the perspective of a second wife whose husband was denied access to his daughters for many years. One of them finally came around five years ago, and we continually find out more about the total fuckery that went on during those years they weren’t talking and continues to go on today. I know, in our case, there really is a wacko ex involved. I also know that when there’s a wacko ex, you have to be careful not to give ’em an inch, or they will take a mile. The bit about the fabricated church leader story, coupled with the demands to know about breastfeeding habits, makes me think the ex in this story could be a bit looney.

I also write this as a woman who DID NOT have an affair with a married man, but many people assume that I broke up his marriage to his ex wife, simply because people often think that about second or subsequent wives and girlfriends. Many people commenting made the assumption that this couple had an affair. Nowhere in the letter does it say that. It’s entirely possible this couple met and had a platonic relationship until they got divorced. That’s how it happened between Bill and me.

We met online in a chat room back in late 1999. Both of us were lonely. I was single and in graduate school. He and Ex had separated because he had decided to rejoin the Army full time. She was already dating #3. Bill and I chatted for three whole months before he finally sent me an email explaining his situation. I was shocked by the email and sorry about Bill’s marriage breaking up, but I never expected to ever meet him in person, let alone marry him. I had never thought to ask him about his marital status, because we weren’t talking about or doing intimate stuff that would necessitate my knowledge of his marital status. Our relationship at that time consisted entirely of chatting online and emails. We also lived in different states and time zones, and at the time, I had never met anyone offline that I had originally met on the Internet.

A couple of months after Bill explained his situation to me, it was time for that infamous Easter confrontation in his father’s house, where Ex dramatically presented an ultimatum that Bill bend to her will, or dissolve the marriage. She knew nothing about me or my existence, and I had absolutely NOTHING to do with her ultimatum. She didn’t find out about me until we had been dating for about eight months; by that time, #3 was already living in the house Bill was still paying for, and had proposed to her a couple of times.

At the time Ex demanded the divorce, I was just Bill’s Internet acquaintance, anyway. We were completely platonic until after his divorce, which happened less than nine months after we encountered each other online. Bill decided to accept Ex’s divorce proposal because he knew his marriage wasn’t working and wouldn’t get better. He was tired of living hand to mouth, and wanted to have a job that paid better than factory work. He loved the Army; it’s his vocation. And he and Ex have nothing in common, other than their kids and where they went to high school.

To be honest, I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of meeting Bill when the idea first came up. When were still talking online a year later, I agreed to it. And even after the first in person meeting, I wasn’t sure where our friendship was going.

About three months after that dramatic Easter scene, their divorce was final. Bill and I met in person almost a year later, when the Army sent him on a work trip to the city where I was living at the time. That’s when we started dating offline, as Bill later relocated to Virginia, which is my home state. On long weekends, I would drive from South Carolina to Virginia to see him, and he would sometimes return the favor. We did not have a sexual relationship until two weeks after our wedding.

I know some people might not believe me, but I swear it’s the truth, and yes, of course it’s possible. Neither of us were much into dating when we were growing up. When I met Bill, he was my first boyfriend since high school, and he is my only sexual partner, ever. Besides Ex, I am his only partner. And if we can do it that way, anyone can.

I’m not implying that what happened in my case is what happened in the letter writer’s situation, only that it could have happened that way. There’s nothing in the letter to indicate that this couple had an affair before they divorced their ex spouses. All it says is that they were both in unfulfilling marriages, and that they had been together for a few years before their daughter was born. No, they aren’t married, but not everyone wants or needs to be married to have children. God knows, that happens every day, although personally, I would not want to have a baby out of wedlock. But that’s just me… and at my age, it’s no longer a possibility, anyway.

“Sam” is estranged from his dad. Regrettably, that’s not uncommon when parents divorce, and it’s often the fathers who wind up alienated. The letter writer’s boyfriend obviously loves his son and wants to be in his life. It sounds like his ex wife is not facilitating things, which is also a common and, perhaps, even an understandable reaction after divorce. A lot of people are bitter after a divorce, and that leads to asking other people to take sides, especially if they are the custodial parents of a child that came from the relationship. But you know what? In two years, Sam will be an adult, and he can make his own choices.

If Sam’s parents’ divorce is the most painful thing he ever deals with, he’s going to be lucky. Maybe his father is a jerk, but maybe he’s not. It will be up to Sam to decide if he really wants to jettison his father forever. He may eventually realize that this isn’t a decision that should be made lightly. But, it could turn out that after a few years and some perspective, Sam may come to realize that he was used as a weapon. Or maybe that isn’t the situation. Either way, it’s not up to him or his mother to dictate, if, when, or how he meets his half-sister. At age 16, he’s allowed to say no to visitation with his dad, even if it’s not the wisest decision. At age 18, it will be entirely up to him, legally speaking. Of course, if his mother is anything like Ex is, she might still make it extremely difficult for the wounds to heal. It might take a few years of adulthood before the blinders come off and Sam is ready to have a relationship with his father on his own terms.

In twenty years of marriage, I have only met my husband’s daughters in person once, and that was many years ago, because his ex wife refused to cooperate and actively sabotaged the loving relationship Bill once had with his kids. She did this for purely vindictive, selfish, narcissistic reasons. And now, younger daughter can see, plain as day, what happened, because she’s been treated in the same disrespectful way that Bill was. Now that they’re finally speaking, younger daughter is finding out things she hadn’t known, and I have a feeling that some of what she’s learning is very upsetting. Pieces of the puzzle are finally coming together… and if I’m honest, I worry what will happen when she finally understands just what she was denied when she was growing up. Her mother betrayed her by alienating her from her father and trying to force her to bond with #3, a man who clearly doesn’t care about her.

For Bill’s part, he now very much regrets not fighting much harder for his daughters. That was a terrible mistake. All he can do now is be there for the present and future, if they want him around. On the other hand, we’ve also learned that life continues to go on if there’s estrangement. There are some things you can’t control, like trying to force a horse to drink water. I would say reconnecting with estranged children often falls into this category. Sometimes these situations happen even when there hasn’t been a divorce. One person can’t control how another person feels or reacts. Ha ha… Ex actually said that to Bill once. “I can’t help how you feel.” Well, that goes for her, too… It goes for EVERYONE.

Another one of Ex’s expressions that Bill brought into our marriage is “Murder will out.” I had never heard that expression before I married Bill, but he’s said it many times over the years. And I can see by Ex’s very public social media accounts that she says it, too. Things are coming home to roost now, and I suspect they could get very dramatic soon. I probably shouldn’t read Carolyn Hax’s advice column, because letters like the one I read this morning are still very triggering for me. Our situation is extreme, but it’s been educational for me, and it’s taught me that stereotypical explanations of situations aren’t always accurate. Many commenters were assuming that the boyfriend in this letter was a spineless coward who cheated. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than that.

But… bottom line is, the ex wife in this situation has absolutely no standing to demand that the letter writer surrender her baby for a private meeting with the ex and “Sam”. As I mentioned up post, I have never been a mother myself, but I would imagine that those mama bear instincts are there for very good reason. Yes, she’s the girlfriend, but she’s also the MOM of that baby, and it’s her job to protect her child. So she should politely tell the ex to fuck off, if she deems it appropriate. If it means Sam doesn’t meet his half-sister for the time being, so be it.

Edited to add…. Sorry, this letter really got under my skin. Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of upsetting new information that has me a bit spun up.

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communication, controversies, divorce, family

“Wicked” stepmothers are people, too!

It seems to be a very popular thing these days to ask people on Reddit if one is “an asshole” for acting in a certain way. The popularity of the “Am I the Asshole” (AITA) posts has spun into people turning them into very active Facebook posts or people even writing articles about them. The comedian behind “God” is no exception. Yesterday, “God” posted an AITA article about a woman who refuses to share sanitary products with her stepdaughter. She wanted to know if that made her an “asshole”.

Below is the Reddit post in question:

To be honest, I would probably be annoyed about this, too. The stepdaughter should have asked for the pads instead of just taking them. The last bit about not wanting to share things might make the OP a little bit of an asshole… especially under the very personal circumstances involved with having periods.

God’s article seemed to try, at least on the surface, to be fair to the stepmom, allowing that it’s difficult to try to “parent” someone who is only 13 years younger. But the rest of the article is decidedly slanted against the stepmother, making her out to be immature, petty, and mean. So I went to the comments, which was obviously a mistake, unless you consider that the comments gave me fodder for today’s post. 😉

From the get go, lots of people were chiming in with stories about their own evil stepmothers. Since I am “technically” a stepmother myself, I see the role from a different perspective. I decided to ask, “So, any woman who marries a man with children is evil?”

I did not provide any information about myself. I didn’t explain that I have two stepdaughters whom I have only seen in person once. I just asked a question, and I didn’t target anyone in particular. People could have just ignored me, but of course, they didn’t.

The first response I got was this: “My stepmother tried to poison me, so I have a different perspective.”

I was a little troubled that the guy who wrote that didn’t clarify that he only meant HIS stepmother was evil, not that all stepmothers are, as his first comment seemed to indicate. I fought the urge to write something angry to him. Instead, I tried to be measured. I wrote something along the lines of, “I am truly sorry that you were apparently so traumatized by that experience that your overall view of stepmothers is negative. That’s too bad.”

That comment triggered at least three other people, who each decided to take me on. One immediately called me a “karen”. One gave me an angry reaction and said I was “proving” the guy’s point somehow. The other wrote, “No one said that, but you sure made a leap.” To each of these folks– all apparently women– I wrote “Have a nice day.” I was not going to get into arguments with people who immediately start off their communications with insults and assumptions, with no attempt to even try to be empathetic. I have learned that getting into arguments with strangers is pointless. They won’t understand, because they choose not to. You can tell by the way they lob insults like “karen” and go right for the proverbial jugular with verbal nastiness.

Listen– I get that stepparents– especially stepmothers– are a contentious topic. A lot of people are traumatized by their stepparents, especially the women who dare to marry their fathers. However, the fact remains that a whole lot of marriages end in divorce, and a lot of people will either marry subsequent spouses, or they will become stepparents themselves. No one I have ever met has ever said their life’s ambition was to be a stepparent. And dammit, stepparents– including and especially stepmothers– are people too!

While no one specially stated that women who marry previously married men with children are “evil”, that was definitely the attitude that was coming across loud and clear. Insulting and making assumptions about perfect strangers, simply because they don’t go with the comment flow, is pretty lame. Critical thinking and mindful responding are good things in a comment section, rather than just popping off with stale 2019 era insults like “karen” and assuming the worst about every person one meets online.

It just seemed to me that instead of responding to the specific case in question, people were using that space to comment about their own “wicked stepmothers”. I’ll bet the vast majority of them have never once tried to see things from their stepmothers’ perspective. But I know better than outwardly making that assumption about people I don’t know. It would only open up a huge, unpleasant can of worms. I think posting “Have a nice day.” to people who are determined to argue and are immediately rude is a good policy. I’m going to try to do it more often… or, even better, just ignore the haters completely.

It’s funny, though, that some of those folks apparently think I am a “wicked” stepmother myself. For many years, maybe I kind of was. You see, I was legitimately livid with my stepdaughters because of the truly awful way they treated their father. I was angry with them because I know and love their dad so much, and I saw the devastating effect the estrangement had on him. They would not so much as speak to him on the phone, send an email, or even tell him to kiss their asses. And, for years, younger daughter in particular seemed to have a haughty, mean-spirited attitude toward Bill that I found insufferable. She was the one who, as a nine year old, was emboldened to slap Bill across the face for having beer in his refrigerator. I couldn’t abide the disrespect, especially given that my bio father was in my life and often treated me with contempt. Here these girls were with a father who adores them, and they just threw him away.

In retrospect, I have since realized that my reaction to younger daughter was based on limited information, and I was wrong. I have since found out that she and her sister were pretty much forced to behave the way they did. When she later reconnected with Bill, I learned more about younger daughter when she’s not influenced by her mother’s toxic craziness. I then realized that she’s actually a very nice– and surprisingly mature– young woman. It makes me sad that she had to become that way so young, due to the way she was raised. Her mother’s immaturity made it imperative that she step up and be an adult many years before her time. But she’s clearly a great wife and mother, and she’s made it clear that she will not be raising her kids the way her mother raised her. She even lets her kids call Bill “Papa”, which is absolutely adorable!

But here’s the funny thing, though. After many years of being angry with my husband’s daughters, and finding out that younger daughter is really not as awful as she seemed, I’m now actually being appreciated by her– even though I haven’t seen her in person since 2003. This morning, Bill got an email from his daughter. In it, she included two photos taken nine years apart. The first photo was taken for her LDS missionary packet. She has a pretty smile, but it seems kind of forced and contrived. She looks a little bit uncomfortable. In the second photo, she’s smiling, obviously relaxed, and looks genuinely happy.

Younger daughter wrote that many people who knew her nine years ago and have seen her recently have commented on her improved “countenance”. She’s really happy now, and it shows. She says she likes to think it’s her husband’s genuinely loving influence on her that has made her appear to be genuinely happy. And then she wrote to Bill, “I’ll bet Jenny has had the same effect on you.”

In fact, I did once see a photo of Bill, taken when he was in his 30s, still married to Ex, and working at a factory where, all day, he supervised men making refrigerator doors. It was a job he hated, coupled with the misery of being in a toxic, loveless marriage to someone who didn’t appreciate him at all. I told Bill that he looked much older in that photo than he does now, as a man in his late 50s. Nowadays, he does genuinely look happy. And I know that apart from getting away from a disastrous marriage to a narcissist, he’s happy because we’re compatible, comfortable, and genuinely love each other. Our relationship is not parasitic in nature. We work together to build our lives. It’s too bad that he didn’t meet me first, because if he had, he would not have ever been through divorce. But then, the divorce helped make him who he is today.

This was taken a couple of months ago. We were enjoying local wines.

I really appreciate younger daughter’s kind words. I am grateful that she understands that, just like her, I love her dad, and I want him to be happy. I do my best to make him happy, so we can both live our best lives. I think he has a similar attitude. That’s why we’re still happily married after almost 20 years. Ex, on the other hand, lamented today on Twitter that she will never have “true love”, because no man looks at her with “awe”. I guess she and #3 aren’t a match made in Heaven, after all.

That experience of changing my mind about younger daughter also reminds me of a few I’ve had with dogs. Yesterday, I posted about meeting a dog who usually snarls at me because I have Arran and Noyzi with me. But, when I met her at the weekly market, without my big dogs, she was perfectly sweet and gentle. Kind of like years ago, when one of the neighborhood kids on Fort Belvoir commented that she hated my beagles, Flea and MacGregor, because she thought they were mean. She based her opinion on their loud barks and baying when they were on their walks, catching scents among the old trees on post. But then another neighbor kid– our next door neighbor who knew my dogs well– explained that actually, my dogs LOVED kids. And then Flea went up to the girl and stood stock still so she could pet him. She looked up at me and BEAMED. Her opinion was changed, because now she had personal experience to the contrary to what she had previously believed. Ha ha ha… given these examples of minds being changed due to dogs, maybe I am kind of like a “bitch”. 😉 But anyway, the point is, with more information, one’s perspectives can quickly change.

Now… getting back to the AITA case that prompted this post. I want to comment on something I noticed in God’s “responses”. The person who wrote that article wrote it as if the stepmother was the girl’s parent. I know that all situations are different, but the stepmom specifically wrote that she doesn’t see herself in a “mom” role for that young lady. And, assuming the teenager has a real mother out there somewhere, I think that’s entirely appropriate. She is, after all, only 13 years older than the girl is. Given that she doesn’t see herself as a “mom”, she probably lacks the empathy a mom would have for a girl who needs sanitary napkins. Personally, I don’t think I would have blown up at the teen, but she did explain that her “hormones” were everywhere. And while wacky hormones aren’t really an excuse to be nasty and abusive, I do know from personal experience that they can affect a person’s mood. If I were the stepmom in this case, I would not appreciate it if the girl was in my room, going through my stuff, and taking things without asking first. That shows a lack of common and basic courtesy that, by age 16, I would expect in someone. Moreover, it actually IS her father’s, and her mother’s, responsibility to provide for their daughter– or at least provide her the means to obtain those items for herself. I know a lot of stepparents do become de facto parents, but it doesn’t sound like that’s how it is in this particular case.

Was the stepmom an “asshole” for blowing up at her stepdaughter? Well, yeah, she probably was. But I can see why she blew up. I think perhaps they need to have a serious chat about respecting each other’s space and belongings, particularly since there isn’t a “mom/daughter” dynamic in that relationship. Maybe they need to try to define what the stepmom’s role is, and act accordingly. Is she expected to be a mom? Or is she just a friend who happens to be married to dear old dad? If she’s a de facto “mom”, then yeah, I can see her talking to her stepdaughter about things like periods and helping her out when she needs supplies. That would be a kind thing to do regardless. But if she’s really just more of a “friend”, and the teen doesn’t see or treat her as a “mom”, then I would expect the teen to stay out of her “friend’s” bathroom cabinets, right? She wouldn’t dare brazenly go through a peer’s cabinets without permission, would she? Besides, stepmothers can’t seem to win for losing. A lot of people would blame them for trying to act like a “mom” to someone who already has a mother. And others would blame them for NOT acting like a mom and loving their stepchildren instantly and unconditionally. While it’s wonderful when stepparents can bond like that with their partners’ offspring from other relationships, the reality is, that simply doesn’t always happen, for a huge variety of completely legitimate reasons.

I am, technically, a stepmother myself, but I don’t feel like a mom to younger daughter. I’ve only met her once in person. On the other hand, she has made it clear that I probably have been more of the kind of mom she would have chosen for herself, if only because I don’t say or do toxic things, and I don’t interfere with her budding reconnection with her dad. In fact, unlike the stepmom in God’s article and Bill’s ex wife, I am delighted to share!

Seriously, though… I do know that some stepparents are truly awful, and I sympathize with those who are traumatized. But you know what? Some bio parents are awful, too. Regardless, most of us would do well to try to see things from another angle from time to time. And everyone should stop using the derogatory term “karen” as an insult. It’s a very stupid and unoriginal thing to do.

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divorce, Ex, family, lessons learned, marriage

Repost: An open letter to angry adult stepchildren… 

I wrote this post on October 15, 2010. I am reposting it because I see that it got over 11,000 hits, and some people might find it useful. My personal situation has changed a lot since I wrote this piece 12 years ago, so please keep that in mind if you read this… For instance, one of Bill’s children now speaks to him. Sometimes things can turn out better given some time and perspective.

Before I start with today’s post, I want to explain that my thoughts today are not necessarily directed to my stepchildren. After all, in eight years I have only met my stepchildren once and, since then, have had absolutely no contact with them. No… today’s post is for angry stepchildren who still talk to both of their parents and, for whatever reason, hate one or both of their stepparents. 

Yesterday, I was hanging out at one of my favorite online communities when I noticed a post written by a guy who was very upset with his father. This fellow, who is very open about being a homosexual, had recently written a heartfelt letter to his dad about his homosexuality. He was asking his dad for understanding and support. His father, apparently, didn’t respond to the letter the way the writer had hoped he would. 

So my online friend was understandably devastated about this turn of events and, in the course of describing his pain, happened to refer to his father’s wife as a “heinous harpy”. He did not explain why he thought of his stepmother that way. In fact, most of his posts were about his relationship with his father. But I couldn’t help but notice that, for some reason, he seemed to hate his stepmother and felt the need to express his hatred in a post that, at least on the surface, had nothing to do with her.

Here’s what I’d like to say to that guy, along with anyone else who hates their stepparent(s), yet still loves their parent(s). You may have a very good reason for hating your mother’s or father’s spouse. Or you may not have a good reason for hating them. But have you considered the reasons why your parent married that person? Put aside your personal feelings for a moment and think about it. Just spend a few minutes looking at life through your parent’s eyes.

Divorce sucks. It sucks for almost everybody, including many stepparents. Yes, if you are a child of divorce, you absolutely have a right to be hurt, confused, angry, etc. But chances are, your parent is hurting too, and would like the chance to try to be happy with someone else. Do you really expect your parent to go through life alone, just because their first try at marriage didn’t work out? Would you actually want them to be alone as they get older and less independent? 

Like it or not, your parent made a choice to invite another person into his or her life. Your parent had his or her own reasons for doing so. Maybe you don’t agree with your parent’s reasons or taste. Maybe your stepmother or stepfather is cruel or hateful to you. Maybe you feel like he or she takes your parent’s attention away from you or tries to shut you out of your parent’s life. Perhaps your parent’s remarriage has destroyed any hopes that your parents might reconcile.  

All of these issues are valid reasons for you to feel the way you do. But I’m asking you to stop and consider your parent’s feelings. Think about why he or she made the choice to invite this new person into their life. Then, if you’re able, take an objective look at your stepparent. Is he or she really worthy of your hatred? Does your parent genuinely love his or her spouse? Have you taken a moment to see what your parent sees in their wife or husband? 

Then, think about this… Did you decide to hate your stepparent? Or did your other parent make that decision for you? Consider this. I have met my husband’s daughters just once. During our one meeting, which barely lasted 48 hours, my husband’s daughters and I seemed to get along just fine. One of them went as far as to give me a big hug and refer to me as her other mother. But not long after that meeting, my husband’s daughters mysteriously started distancing themselves from their dad until finally, in 2004, they stopped talking to him altogether and, in 2006, actually sent him letters demanding that he let their current stepfather adopt them.

Since I haven’t seen or talked to my husband’s kids since that one meeting which had seemed to go so well, I can’t help but think their mother was somehow threatened by me and told them they should hate me, as well as their dad for choosing to marry me. In other words, the girls didn’t decide to dislike me until their mother decided for them that I was a bad person. Incidentally, I have never met their mother, and she has very limited knowledge of me, so I’m not sure how she determined I was so evil. I try not to take it personally, since I have a feeling she would have hated anyone my husband had chosen to marry.  

Here’s something else to consider. Relationships are always a two-way street. You may hate your stepparent and that may be all very well and good. But your stepparent may also reserve the right to feel the same way about you, especially if you’re an adult. You might not care about how they feel, but if you want to have a good relationship with your parent, you might be wise to reconsider the way you treat his or her spouse. There may come a time when you’ll wish you were on better terms with them.  

Marriage is a dicey business at best. Statistics show that about half of all married couples eventually divorce. Many of those people will have children, so there are lots of people in the child-of-divorce boat. Moreover, a lot of those children-of-divorce will eventually grow up and be divorced themselves. If that ever happens to you, would you want to spend the rest of your life alone just to spare your child’s feelings? Would you want your child to have the right to choose your mate for you, especially since most kids eventually grow up and have lives of their own?  

In our society, most people reject the idea of arranged marriages decided by their parents or anyone else. Do you really think you should have the right to reject your parent’s choice for a spouse? Would you want your kids to overrule your choice of whom to marry? And would you be happy if your parent eventually divorced and remarried a third or fourth time? Remember, divorce sucks… and it’s very expensive. I think the only people who could possibly enjoy the process of divorce are those who get a paycheck from it. Chances are, if your parent divorces several times, he or she might not be as financially well-prepared to handle growing older. If he or she wants to remarry, it makes good sense to let them (hopefully) choose the right spouse, once and for all.

I know for a fact that my husband is less lonely and a lot happier with me than he ever was with his ex-wife. We are very compatible with each other. Certainly, things would have been less complicated had he and I met first. But that didn’t happen. We make each other happy and belong together. Most parents want the best for their children and hope they will be happy. I’d like to think that a loving child would want the same for their parent(s). I know my husband’s happiness has led to his being healthier and wealthier… perhaps giving his kids more time to reconsider whether or not they really do want to throw away their real dad for good.  

Life is pretty short and there may come a time when you’ll wish you had more time to spend with your mother or father. If you love your parent(s), I would expect you’d want for them what they, hopefully, want for you… health and happiness and freedom from loneliness.

It’s true that you may have all the legitimate reasons in the world to hate your stepparent(s). All I’m asking you to do is to take a minute to understand where your hatred is coming from and determine whether or not it’s truly valid. Maybe your stepmom is a harpy or your stepfather is a selfish bastard. But your parent chose them to be a part of their lives. They must have had a reason… And maybe you should try to have some respect for their reasons. I’m sure you’d wish for and expect the very same if you’re ever in their shoes.

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disasters, divorce, Ex, narcissists, royals

How petty, toxic, narcissists take revenge, and the estrangement that follows…

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from having been married to a man with an apparently very narcissistic ex wife, it’s that narcissists love to take revenge. Many times, over my almost twenty year marriage to Bill, I’ve observed Ex being spiteful to those who dare to cross her in any way. On a few occasions, Ex has tried to take revenge on Bill by using his children and other family members as weapons. She doesn’t seem to care that her attempts to get even are usually not just hurtful to her targets. They also hurt innocent people, like her children. And now that she has grandchildren, I fear that they could also be harmed, unless their parents keep them far away from her, and her toxic influence.

I’m reminded of this truism as I watch and read the news about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, abruptly flying back to California on a private jet before the Platinum Jubilee even finished. I think it’s safe to say that their return to Britain was not particularly triumphant, as Harry and Meghan were treated like they’re now second class. They weren’t invited to the balcony to wave to the public. They didn’t sit with the Prince Charles or Prince William when they were in church. And the public booed them when they arrived and left the Thanksgiving church service. The couple did get to introduce their daughter, Lilibet, to Her Majesty the Queen, and their son, Archie, also got to be reunited with his British cousins. But there were no photographs of the event, and the “Harkles” were reportedly not given close access to their family members. It’s been hypothesized that they weren’t allowed to get close because of their deal with Netflix and Harry’s upcoming memoirs. The family wasn’t wanting any private moments to be exposed on Netflix or in Harry’s expected book of woe.

After the chilly reception the “Harkles” got in Britain, the family didn’t bother to stick around for the grand finale of the Platinum Jubilee. Maybe they had other urgent business to attend to back in California, but my guess is that they were really pissed. Or… maybe only Meghan was pissed, and Harry simply went along with her to keep the peace. That was how it often was with Bill and his ex wife. He’d do what she wanted to avoid the pain of what she’d do to get revenge. On the other hand, I suspect that Harry has a bit of a temper and can be a little spiteful, himself. I obviously don’t know him personally, but I’ve read the news, and I pay attention to body language, too. It probably wasn’t a hard sell to get Harry on board, if Meghan was the one who instigated the abrupt departure from the festivities.

Jesus Enrique Rosas talks about the potential reasons why Meghan and Harry might have decided to curtail their brief return to Britain.

Consider the circumstances of this situation, though. The Platinum Jubilee was a huge party to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s remarkable 70 year reign. It wasn’t supposed to be a party to welcome back Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan. All of the working royals, to include Prince Charles and Prince William, their spouses, and the Queen herself, were going to be extremely busy. Also consider that the Brits can be delightfully snarky, and they have long memories. Did Harry and Meghan really think they could come back to Britain and not suffer some backlash? Of course people are upset with them, even if there is some truth to some of what they’ve said about the British Royal Family. To many people, Harry and Meghan are incredibly privileged people, and their behavior has come off as unbelievably petty and damaging. But– since I don’t know them personally, I will admit that it’s possible that Harry and Meghan felt the situation was toxic, and left only for that reason. I really doubt that’s what happened, though.

The Royal Grift’s video showing Peter Phillip’s chilly reaction to Meghan is referenced in Rosas’ video; I happened to see this two minute video yesterday, before I watched The Body Language Guy’s video today.

Narcissistic types don’t like it when people behave in ways they don’t expect, especially when they “push back” against the narcissist’s rude and entitled behavior. I suspect that the Harkles’ return to Britain was very humiliating, and it didn’t go off in the way they thought it would. And sadly, I think Meghan and Harry are going to try to make the rest of the British Royal Family “pay” for this treatment, which I think was probably deeply shaming to them. Why? Because I’ve seen the same shit in more ordinary circumstances with average, everyday people. And I know that narcissists, by and large, have a playbook that is uncannily familiar. It doesn’t matter if we’re discussing a royal family or trailer trash. Narcissists are capable of being unbelievably petty and spiteful.

Many years ago, when Bill and I were newly married, and Bill was trying to handle his business with Ex more assertively, he sent a “stern” and rather lengthy email to his ex wife. He was addressing the fact that she was alienating the children, insulting me, and being extremely greedy about money. She had demanded that he get another $500K life insurance policy, because she felt entitled to $1 million in coverage, in case he died before the children were grown. I wrote about that incident here, to include the actual emails that were sent. Bill was polite to Ex, but he made it clear that he wasn’t going to be her patsy anymore.

Ex was angry that Bill wasn’t going along with her demands without question. She sent a very brief and foreboding response, which I’ve posted below:

I would like to take a little while to absorb all that you have said.  It would seem my email to you was set in a very different tone that what I perceive is coming from you.  After all that you have done to the children, and me I find this …quite frankly …unbelievable and would prefer not to comment without having time to carefully choose my words.  You will hear from me again.

Bear in mind, this email was sent in 2003, just after the children had their one and ONLY unsupervised visitation with us. Bill saw them only once more when they were still children; that was at Christmas, in 2004. I famously opted out of attending that “celebration”, because I knew it would be a disaster, and I couldn’t see how my presence would make things better. We knew better than to tell Ex that I wouldn’t be attending the gathering, because my attendance was most of her whole purpose for setting up what amounted to a supervised visitation. She wanted to send me a message about my (diminished) place in the family, gather intel about me (the somewhat new and threatening wife), and still look like she was being generous by “sharing” the children. Most of all, she wanted to humiliate both of us, and shame us into doing what she wanted us to do. Of course, Bill had every right to see his kids, and now regrets not taking Ex to court and forcing her to allow visitation. But, unfortunately, that’s now water under the bridge.

As I figured it would be, that Christmas meeting was indeed a disaster. My conspicuous absence made things “weird” and awkward, and Ex ended up looking like a petty fool. Bill’s dad and stepmother were very embarrassed, although everyone basically fixed the blame on me for upsetting the apple cart. Ex decided to get revenge by completely severing Bill’s connection to his daughters and ex stepson. It didn’t matter to Ex at all that this would be very hurtful and damaging to her children. She just wanted to hurt Bill, and the children were the most effective weapons for that task.

A few years later, Ex wanted Bill to side with her, when ex stepson decided to leave home after turning 18. Bill was paying him child support directly, per the agreement he made with Ex in their divorce decree. As usual, Ex hadn’t thought ahead, and didn’t realize that having the kids paid directly when they became adults would give them the chance to rid themselves of her. So she called Bill in the spring of 2006 to ask– or really demand– that he not pay ex stepson any child support. Bill refused, and demanded to know about how his daughters were doing, since they refused to speak to him when he called.

Ex’s response was to send a nasty email that, once again, insulted me, even though I initially had nothing to do with ex stepson’s decision to leave home. Bill told me what she wrote, because although she had asked him to keep what she wrote about me a secret, Bill doesn’t keep secrets from his wife. I got very pissed off, and sent Ex an email of my own, which she promptly tried to weaponize. She spoke to Bill on the phone again, insulted me anew, told Bill that the kids hated him, and later sent him adoption paperwork, so that her loser third husband could legally adopt Bill’s daughters. She also forced her daughters to write letters disowning Bill, and sent several itemized packages of Bill’s possessions that she’d held on to for years. All of this landed on our doorstep, restricted delivery, as Bill and I were celebrating his 42nd birthday. It was very upsetting and TOXIC as fuck, but we handled it as best we could. Bill refused to sign the adoption papers, although he was tempted to for a minute. But there was no guarantee she would file them, and besides, he had no way of knowing if the girls had written those letters under duress (and younger daughter now confirms that they were, indeed, forced).

When her sick, manipulative tactics still didn’t work the way she’d expected, Ex doubled down even more, which led to ex stepson severing ties with Bill after we caught him changing his surname without telling Bill, as he was also accepting $850 a month in child support from him, and driving a used car that Bill gave him (as a 21 year old MAN, no less). That fiasco was, no doubt, very humiliating for ex stepson, who probably only did it because his mother influenced him to do it. Unfortunately, he hasn’t had a role model who has taught him that a little humility and contrition can go a long way in healing rifts. Instead of humbling himself, having an honest converstion, and apologizing to Bill, thus “mending fences”, he simply cut off all ties. The end result is that ex stepson is now quite estranged– not just from Bill, but also from the rest of his family. Younger daughter says he rarely has contact with Ex, or his siblings. He never liked #3, so it stands to reason that they wouldn’t speak. I don’t know if the estrangement makes him happy and gives him peace. Maybe, it does. Personally, I think it’s pathetic, especially since I know he once thought of Bill as his dad; but if being completely estranged from Bill pleases him, so be it.

When I look at Harry and Meghan, and the obvious estrangement happening within the British Royal Family, I can’t help but feel pings of familiarity. They may be a lot more famous than we are, but the petty dysfunctional narcissism playbook is very similar to what we’ve experienced. Sadly, in Her Majesty’s case, it’s all on display on an international stage, for everyone to see, and for everyone to speculate.

This is a pretty cheesy video that sounds narrated by AI, but it makes some sense. It sounds like her friends could see this coming.

I have great respect for Queen Elizabeth II. She has not had an easy time of it. She wasn’t even supposed to be the queen, and she had that duty thrust upon her at a very young age. She’s had to endure as her children and grandchildren and their spouses and exes have been embroiled in all sorts of embarrassing situations. Through all of the scandals over the years, the queen has managed to hold her head high with dignity. She’s a good sport, even appearing with Paddington Bear for the Platinum Jubilee. And even at age 96, when she’s no doubt easily tired, she still shows up for her people.

This is just adorable and makes me weepy every time I watch it… and I think I’ve already seen it a half dozen times. I used to own a Paddington Bear from the 1970s, complete with genuine Wellies. I wish I knew where he was.

I noticed that today, a new picture of Lilibet has been shared with the public. It’s a solitary photo, showing a smiling little girl with ginger hair and what appears to be blue eyes. She’s definitely adorable, and the public will eat up the coveted rare photo. I suspect that the Harkles’ children could wind up being their ticket to relevance, since it appears that neither the Royal Family, nor the British public, are going to stand for their manipulative bullshit. I suspect Meghan had visions of being like Harry’s mum, the iconic Princess Diana. Well, she’s no Diana… and it’s obvious that almost no one is going to indulge that fantasy for her.

Actions have consequences, and you don’t just marry into a hugely famous and powerful family, such as Harry’s, and think you can call the shots. That idea doesn’t always work for “normal” families, either. Especially when people have had enough bullshit and refuse to be indulgent anymore. Moreover, this behavior is clearly nothing new. Meghan’s own brother even tried to warn Prince Harry before the wedding.

I hope that Harry will eventually be able to reconcile with his family. Sadly, I suspect that if he does decide to go “home” again, he will probably have to sacrifice access to his children, on some level… and if it doesn’t happen soon, he may also lose his Granny. She’s 96, and no one lives forever. On the other hand, if anyone has access to good legal counsel, it’s the British Royal Family. So maybe Harry’s situation won’t be anything like Bill’s was. I sure hope not.

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divorce, Ex, lessons learned, mental health, psychology, YouTube

“Kicking the cat…” What happens when anger is displaced…

Many years ago, when I was a college student at what is now Longwood University, I took a course called Interpersonal Communication. I took it because I was pursuing minors in both speech and communications, and the course counted for both minors. I don’t remember being particularly excited about the class when I signed up for it, but it turned out to be an interesting field of study. I remember it to be an examination of how people communicate in different settings, and while it was not a psychology class, certain psychological terms and concepts were covered. In fact, even though I took Psychology 101 during my freshman year, I distinctly remember learning about the concept of psychological projection for the first time in my Interpersonal Communication course. It was also in that class that I first learned about “displaced anger”.

Although Dr. Nancy Anderson Haga, the professor who taught that class, has long since retired, I remember that she was among the very first professors I met at Longwood when I was a fresh high school graduate attending orientation. I was struck by how energetic, caring, and positive she was. Then a couple of years later, when I was about 20 years old, I was in her class, and she was teaching us about how we communicate with each other. I didn’t know then that one of her lessons would come back to me in bold relief, two weeks before my 50th birthday.

Last night, Bill watched a video his younger daughter sent to him. She was thanking him for a box of goodies he sent to her, with stuff we picked up on recent trips to France and Italy, as well as some very superior German chocolate. In the course of the video, younger daughter talked about how much she loves to cook. Bill also loves to cook. So do I… or, at least I did before Bill took over the job. I used to be a great cook, and always enjoyed it because it was a creative activity. There’s an art to making something taste good, look appetizing, and be nurturing. Actually, I’m not that good at making “pretty food”, but I am pretty good at making food that is comforting. Bill is also good at that, and he’s also a fan of good presentation. He’s been known to plate our dinners with flair.

Younger daughter talked about how one of her in-laws really loves fresh bread, and he likes to have it at every meal. She likes to bake, so she was thinking she might like to make some bread to take over to her husband’s family’s house. I like to bake bread too, especially when I’m in a bad mood and need to pound the shit out of something. Bread baking is great for that.

As she was talking about baking rolls from scratch, younger daughter stated that she wasn’t always sure if people appreciated her efforts. Then her face got very serious and pained, and she said, “The only person who has ever complained about my cooking is my mother.”

One time, she asked Bill if her mother (Ex) had ever complained about his cooking. Bill had replied, “Of course. All the time!” As he was telling me about talking to his daughter about this, he laughed. But I can imagine that when Ex criticized his cooking, it probably really hurt his feelings. Here he had taken the time and expended the effort to make something nourishing for his ex wife, and her only thought was to disdain it in a mean way. Younger daughter then related a story that, frankly, I found heartbreaking. I could also see that telling us the story was making her feel bad anew, even though the incident had happened years ago.

Younger daughter and her older sister were tasked to cook for the whole family. If they didn’t cook, food wouldn’t be made, and someone would probably get into trouble. She explained that Ex and #3 were going through a particularly lean financial period. Consequently, there was very little food in the house. And yet, it was younger daughter’s implied duty to make dinner every night. There she was, faced with the task of making dinner for seven people, but there simply wasn’t much food in the house to accomplish that goal.

Younger daughter looked around to see what there was on hand to make dinner. She found frozen pie crust, instant mashed potatoes, some frozen vegetables, and a single chicken breast. Perfect! She could make a shepherd’s pie, of sorts. That would have been what both Bill and I would have done in that situation. It was quite genius, and she was able to make something edible and probably even tasty.

Younger daughter put together the pie, and was feeling pretty good and accomplished. Then Ex came home from wherever she’d been during the day. Younger daughter proudly presented the pie she had created out of the few ingredients in the house. Ex’s response was to declare it disgusting, refuse to eat, and lock herself in her bedroom for the rest of the evening.

I could tell that relating that story was very painful for younger daughter. But then she brightened and said she was grateful for where she is now. Ex no longer has the power over her that she once had. Like Bill, younger daughter was able to escape the FOG (fear, obligation, guilt). But the scars remain, and I know how that feels. Sometimes, old memories still come up that bring on the pain from the past.

Of course, Bill was pretty angry when he heard that story. I don’t know exactly when the incident happened, but it sounds like it might have occurred when Ex was still being paid child support. I believe younger daughter got the hell out of her mother’s house as soon as she could after turning 18. Either way, it was Ex’s responsibility to see that there was food in the house, and to make sure her children had enough to eat. Complicating matters was the fact that she wouldn’t allow Bill to help his daughters. She was too angry with him for that. We didn’t know this was going on, because they couldn’t and wouldn’t talk to Bill during that time. If Bill had known about this, he would have taken action. In retrospect, we should have taken action when she refused to let him communicate with his kids, but it seemed like it would have been a waste of time, since they were teenagers.

And that’s where the lesson about “displaced anger” comes into play. I remember learning about the concept in that college class at Longwood, and that’s why I titled this post “kicking the cat”. Displaced anger– otherwise known as “misplaced anger”– is when a person deals with their anger by directing it at a less threatening cause. It can take different forms. For instance, a person who was raised in an abusive home, with a parent who beat them, might try to soothe themselves by saying that it was okay that their parent hit them, since “that was how things were back in the day”. Or they might say, “he or she was just trying to make me tougher.” Meanwhile, the righteous anger is boiling under the surface, and it comes out against someone or something that is less able to fight back.

I remember in my Interpersonal Communication class, as she was explaining “displaced anger”, Dr. Haga talked about a man who comes home from work, angry with his boss for acting like a jerk. Instead of addressing the jerk boss, since that doesn’t feel like a safe thing to do, the man kicks his cat. Or he gets drunk and verbally abusive, and beats on his wife. Or he snaps at his daughter that the dinner she made looks and tastes like shit. Or maybe, if he’s a really sick and violent person, he takes the family dog out to the desert and shoots it (sadly, I do remember hearing and writing about a man who did this when he was angry with his wife).

It doesn’t matter that expressing anger in this way is harmful to innocent people or animals. The anger feels like it has to come out, and it doesn’t feel possible for the man to direct it toward the appropriate person, so the man directs it at individuals who seem weaker and less threatening. I grew up in a home where I often got abused by angry people– especially my dad and one of my sisters. They would often take their anger out on me, because I was the youngest and, at least for a long time, the weakest. Usually, the anger doesn’t really dissipate, though, especially when there are consequences for expressing anger in such a way. I will also admit that I have expressed anger inappropriately by directing it toward the wrong source. I now try to do better, as much as I’m able. Therapy is a good thing.

Last week, I wrote a post about how I’ve gotten hooked on Code Blue Cam, a YouTube channel devoted to police work. In a lot of the videos, the perpetrators who get busted are clearly mentally ill or under the influence of something. A lot of times, they are also very angry and agitated. I watched a video this morning that featured a man who was extremely belligerent and defiant. The police were trying to be kind and helpful, but this man was consumed with rage. He was extremely abusive toward the police, as well as the civilians who were involved in the altercation which caused the police to be summoned in the first place.

This video begins with a drunk woman who gets hauled off to jail, but it ends with the belligerent man, whose tone goes from extremely rude and defiant, to desperate and pleading.

I found the above video kind of hard to watch… but it was also kind of fascinating, because before the guy was put in handcuffs, he was a complete asshole. I sat there wondering what in the world had happened to him that had caused him to seethe with so much rage. But then, when he was finally arrested and placed in handcuffs, his tone became pathetic. He openly said on more than one occasion that he hoped the police would just shoot him. This is a miserable person with deep problems and a lot of unprocessed anger, which was coming out inappropriately. It wasn’t that different than Ex being nasty to younger daughter for making something she didn’t want to eat for dinner.

Another video, this time involving young men who were in deep trouble and expressing negativity in a destructive way. One of the young men openly expresses disappointment in himself and how his life has turned out… and says he wishes the cops would kill him. He obviously needs help.

Maybe the teens in the above video were trying to be manipulative. I think the guy in the first video was very manipulative, and if these two young guys in the above video don’t get some real help, they will wind up like him and either spend a lot of time in prison or get themselves killed. But I could hear real anguish in their voices. Bad things happened to them that led them to where they are now, and unfortunately, they weren’t able to find the kind of help they needed to avoid ending up on the wrong side of the law.

I have no doubt in my mind that Ex has experienced some really terrible things in her life. I know that she suffered horrific abuse when she was growing up. I’m pretty certain that she’s an extremely angry person, and that anger stems from the people in her life who failed her when she was a child. I think she’s also angry with Bill. He probably had her thinking he could heal her and solve her problems. Bill is a very kind, nurturing, loving and gentle person. I know this for a fact, because I’m his second wife. He doesn’t have a mean or violent bone in his body. However, like most people, he does have a red line, and if you cross it, he’ll be done with you. I think Ex thought she would never reach that red line, because he is such a kind and patient man. But she did reach it, and he decided he was done. So, when she presented divorce papers to him in a very dramatic and manipulative drama held over Easter at Bill’s dad’s house, she never expected that he would agree that their marriage was over and offer to sign the papers. He went off script.

Ex was expecting Bill to say, “No, we won’t have any of that…” and try even harder to please her. That was what he’d done in the past. But, after almost ten years, he was just done. He had gotten away from her toxic influence while they were separated, and realized that there’s life beyond divorce. He found out that he didn’t have to live the way he’d been living. He knew he wouldn’t be alone, and that being broke was temporary. So he called her bluff, and fucked up her vision of what was supposed to happen. She had to adjust, and I think wound up with someone who was even less suitable for her. But she’s smart enough not to threaten divorce with #3, because it’s doubtful she’d find a #4. Or, at least she won’t be able to hook someone by having kids with them.

But she was still left with two tangible remnants from their marriage– their two daughters. So she decided to keep the girls away from Bill, as a means of punishing him for “abandoning” her. At the same time, she treated them particularly badly, because they probably remind her of Bill. As younger daughter got older, she started to develop the same kind of self-preservation skills that Bill has. She started to go off script, and she rebelled. Ex responded by being inappropriately angry. She “kicked the cat”– in this case, younger daughter– instead of finding a healthier and more appropriate outlet for her rage. Instead of being grateful that younger daughter had managed to cobble together dinner with very few ingredients, which were ultimately Ex’s responsibility to provide, Ex was angry and mean. And now, I think she’s paying a price, since it’s obvious that younger daughter is now alienated from her mom.

Younger daughter ended her video call on a happy note. She said she was so grateful to the other people in her life who are kind and considerate. She even said she was grateful to me, of all people. That made me feel really good. For years, I was angry with her and her sister, because I know their dad, and I know he was “kicked” by Ex for years. Now I have empathy for them, because I know they’ve felt the pain from Ex’s proverbial shoe, too. They have been on the receiving end of her misplaced anger. Thankfully for younger daughter, she’s managed to develop the skills to get out of the strike zone. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the people who have chosen to stay around Ex are paying for the independence of those who have left. I can only hope that someday, older daughter will get out of the strike zone, too.

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