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.

Standard
condescending twatbags, language, modern problems

“Using that word to describe the woman in this article says a lot about you… and none of it is good.”

Last night, I read a post on God’s Facebook page that is very timely, as kids all across America head back to school. The article was derived from a lively Reddit thread, where poster BlueCarrot002 asked if she was the “asshole” for getting personalized stationery for her daughter.

I must admit, as a childless child of the 70s and 80s, this trend of parents being asked to buy extra supplies for classrooms is a strange idea to me. In my day, everybody brought their own supplies to school. And parents would put their child’s name on their stuff, so it wouldn’t get “borrowed” or redistributed. I’m sure it sucked back then for kids whose parents didn’t have a lot of money. But, if you think about it, we all knew whose parents had money, and whose didn’t. Hell, I used to be jealous of my classmates whose parents bought them Trapper Keepers for every subject, while I had cheap plastic binders with shitty plastic rings. Or they had those cool erasable pens, while I had some cheesy ballpoint pen my dad got from some business. My mom wasn’t one to pander to my desires for fancy school supplies, and we would usually shop for that stuff at AAFES. And AAFES, at least in the 80s, was not a high end store.

This was THE status symbol, when I was in the 4th grade.

Unfortunately, life isn’t fair. Some kids are more athletic than others are. Some are more attractive or musically talented or funny. Some kids are academic geniuses. And some have parents who have money, and can buy them pencils with dinosaurs on them, personalized stationery, or lefty scissors. Or they have parents who are willing to deal with the child’s sensory issues by getting them notebooks with plastic spirals instead of metal ones. Some people prefer to write with certain types of pens and pencils. If that helps them succeed in doing their work, what’s the big deal? Part of growing up is learning to accept that life isn’t fair, and doing the best you can with what you have.

I don’t remember this ad, but we liked our Paper Mates, too.

I can understand the reasons teachers might have for asking parents to contribute supplies. I also understand why they would want the parents to get things that are generic. However, based on God’s article, it doesn’t sound like the teacher specified that the supplies should be the cheapest available. She was likely fine with genuine Crayola crayons over the generic ones that are found at the Dollar Tree. It sounds like the mom in this instance simply wanted to provide the best available supplies for her child. I don’t blame her for that.

What really got my hackles up, though, was the fact that the teacher sent home what the Redditor describes as a “very passive aggressive note” inviting her to come in for a “talking to” with the teacher. Now, it could be that the teacher’s note wasn’t actually passive aggressive. Maybe it was a friendly note. But since the actual note isn’t provided to Redditors, I will just assume the mom’s assessment of the note’s tone is correct.

I don’t blame the mom for refusing the teacher’s request. I would do the same thing.

Generally speaking, I am very pro-teacher. I think they are underpaid and disrespected. I know they have a tough job, and they literally put their lives on the line working in education these days. I still think it would grind my gears to have a teacher dictate to me that I must buy extra supplies for the classroom, to cover the kids who don’t have what they need, and then tell me that I can’t provide the school supplies that work best for my own child. And I would not take kindly to a “request” to come in for a discussion about my kid’s perfectly good school supplies, especially after I contributed the “generic” extra supplies that were requested. In fact, I would probably end up complaining to a higher power. My response to the teacher’s “request” (which sounds more like a demand) would likely be a resounding “NO.” However… It does seem strange to me that the mom would buy “personalized stationery”. In my day, we all just used college ruled loose leaf paper.

No more chalkboards!

Most of the people on God’s page were all about the mom providing personalized supplies for her child. I see on Reddit, the commenters are offering good reasons why the policy of redistributing supplies is potentially traumatic, as well as unfair. One person wrote about how they were going through tough financial straits and sent their child with used supplies from their older siblings. The teacher sent the used supplies back, explaining that they weren’t appropriate. Why not? The used supplies work as well as brand new ones do. And then the poor kid was humiliated in front of their peers.

Others wrote about how they were asked to buy tons of supplies every year that never got used, or were items that should last for years, like scissors, protractors, rulers and compasses. Specifically, one poster wrote “those things will last for years, if you take care of them.” Exactly… and part of the experience of being in school should be teaching children to take care of their things, and maintain possession of their own stuff. So yeah, if I were the mom in this scenario, I would be raising some hell.

A pretty good representation of what it was like for us in the 80s.

I read some of the Facebook comments… and then I had to stop. I must be turning into an old lady now, because one comment literally made me cringe. A man from Minnesota (I checked to make sure he wasn’t a Brit or living in Britain), wrote something along the lines of, “That woman is just a cunt. She just wants to show off how much money she has. Fuck her!”

Wow. I’m not sure what prompted this guy– name of Ryan– to leave such a misogynistic and completely inappropriate response to that article. However, against my better judgment, I felt compelled to respond to him with what I think is a gentle rebuke.

I wrote, “Ryan, using that word to describe the woman in this article says a lot about you… and none of it is good.”

I fully expected Ryan to come back and call ME a cunt. Usually, that type of person has no qualms about spewing their nastiness on anyone in the strike zone. I did pause before I commented, because I don’t want to be called a cunt. Especially after I’ve had a beer or two, as was the case last night. But then I realized that I can always block Ryan if he lobs verbal abuse at me. Lately, I’ve been blocking people I haven’t even engaged with, simply because I can easily tell that they aren’t people with whom I wish to interact.

After I commented to Ryan, I had to sit and contemplate for a few minutes. I must be getting old. I have often stated, and I do actually believe, that all words are useful sometimes. I do think there are even some times when the word “cunt” is appropriate. However, in the United States, that’s generally a term that is saved for the end of an argument. Sure, if you’re a Brit, you might use it to describe a silly fool, or something. But that article was written for and mostly read by Americans, and to Americans, the word “cunt” is among the worst of the worst insults, especially to women. We would all be up in arms if someone casually dropped the n bomb on social media. So why is it okay for Ryan to call some mother he doesn’t know a “cunt”, simply because he has unresolved issues regarding women? I mean, I know I’m assuming, but why else would he go there so early?

Anyway… I was surprised at myself, because after I read Ryan’s comment, it turned me off of the comment page. I had to click off of it. I shared God’s post on my own page, and a few friends who are teachers chimed in. Most seemed to think the teacher’s policy of redistributing school supplies is ridiculous. I mean, I guess some teachers pass out and collect the supplies at the beginning and end of each session. I still think there’s value in teaching children that they have to keep up with their own stuff, and that labeling things, especially when you’re working in a group, is a smart policy.

Count me among those who also think that if a stranger’s behavior seems wrong or unfair, it’s better not to call them a name that connotes so much hatred for a group of people. The fact that Ryan felt perfectly fine in referring to a concerned mother as a “cunt” who is “showing off” her money, tells me that he has some serious issues with women, and probably people with money, too. It’s not a good look, as the orange turd would say.

Reading this story makes me glad I don’t have children.

Bonus video… this one is pretty funny!

Standard
ethics, Ex, family, healthcare, lessons learned, love, marriage

Moms really should be ready for the challenge…

Yesterday evening, I read a heartbreaking article in the Washington Post written by a retired pathologist from New Hampshire named Thomas Gross. The doctor wrote about having to perform an autopsy on a tiny four month old baby girl. It was his first time doing an autopsy on a baby, and the job was breaking his heart. But because the baby had died under somewhat mysterious circumstances, the procedure had to be done. So Dr. Gross began to explore the baby’s organs.

Dr. Gross described the ghastly condition of the baby’s pancreas, which was swollen to twice its normal size and covered with huge, angry looking, blood filled blisters. Her pancreas was abnormally rigid. The baby had previously been healthy. She’d started smiling and laughing spontaneously, and was even sleeping through the night. But then she suddenly got very sick, and spent her last hours vomiting, screaming, and crying inconsolably, in obvious pain. Dr. Gross soon had the answer as to why the baby was so sick. He discovered that the disease that had killed the four month old girl was pancreatitis. According to Dr. Gross’s editorial:

The condition was caused by a bacterium known as Haemophilus, type B (HiB), once a common threat to children. The epidemic stopped abruptly after 1985, when two American physicians patented an immunization for HiB. By 1987, the HiB vaccine was approved for use in all age groups. Cases of Haemophilus infection in children in the United States dropped precipitously in just a few years from more than 20,000 cases before the vaccine to just 29 cases in 2006. Deaths now occur almost exclusively among unvaccinated children.

The baby’s parents, no doubt loving and well-meaning, had chosen not to vaccinate their baby. They probably had never heard of Haemophilus, and it never occurred to them that she would get so sick that she would die. The girl’s parents probably weren’t around when babies routinely got sick and died of preventable infectious diseases like measles and polio. Besides, nowadays, everybody’s got the Internet, daytime TV, and social media to inform them, so they don’t always want to listen to what actual doctors recommend. Dr. Gross writes:

Many parents are too young to remember when young children died from measles, polio, smallpox, strep throat and influenza. They don’t remember when there was nothing that anyone could do about it except sit and watch. When the polio vaccine first appeared, mothers dragged their children to the public health clinic and stood in lines around the block to get them immunized. Before the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, pregnant women infected with rubella would invariably deliver horribly disabled and disfigured babies. Many children still die from measles; they are almost exclusively unvaccinated.

I could feel the palpable sadness this now retired physician still felt for the tiny patient whose memory still haunts him. Then I looked at the comment section on Facebook. At that point, there were only a few posted. One of the very first comments came from a guy named Chris who posted something along the lines of, “A lot of the people posting ‘sad’ reactions would have applauded the mother’s choice if she had terminated the pregnancy.”

It pisses me off when people– especially MEN– feel the need to conflate the abortion issue with every other issue even slightly regarding the welfare of babies. Chris wasn’t the only one who brought up abortion, either. So, although I know I shouldn’t have done it, I decided to respond. I wrote something along the lines of this:

A lot of “anti-choice” types are also against vaccines. If this baby’s loving parents had vaccinated her, she’d probably still be alive.

I noticed that Chris immediately responded to me. Another man gave me a “laughing” reaction. I decided to ignore them, because I didn’t want to get into a pissing match with them on such a pleasant June evening. I knew I’d be tempted to rip into him– in a much less delicate way– than the pathologist cut into the baby about whom he wrote his heartfelt editorial. Guys like Chris make me angry. They lack compassion, and they don’t see how sometimes terminating a pregnancy is actually the kindest thing a person can do. Aside from that, the story had NOTHING to do with abortion. It had to do with making wise and informed decisions for one’s offspring. In this tragic case, the baby’s parents, who obviously loved their infant daughter and hadn’t wanted to abort her, inexplicably chose not to vaccinate her. The unfortunate decision these parents made, on their daughter’s behalf, caused the girl to suffer needlessly. Ultimately, their baby paid with her life.

Being a parent is a huge responsibility. This baby’s parents no doubt wanted to embrace the challenge, yet they made a huge, fatal mistake that cost them dearly. This story, like so many others I’ve read, only underscores how very important it is to be ready for the job of parenting. Ideally, that job starts before an infant is even born. Prenatal care is so important, but we live in a country where access to healthcare is difficult and expensive. So many people focus on forcing others to gestate, but they don’t pay attention to whether or not the pregnant person is up to the challenge, and they don’t want to see to it that moms are ready for the awesome responsibility of raising children… or if they even want the job.

Of course, sometimes shit happens. I don’t want to dump on the parents in this sad story, because even years later, they probably still feel absolutely horrible about what happened. And they probably thought they were doing right by their baby, even though the whole sketchy “autism connection to vaccines” has been debunked for a very long time now. Dr. Gross wrote:

In 1998, the highly respected British medical journal the Lancet published a study suggesting an association between immunizations and autism. The author did not show immunizations cause autism. He merely pointed out that, in 12 cases of autism, all 12 autistic patients also received vaccines against measles. Incidentally, so did a hundred million other kids who had not become autistic.

The Lancet later admitted that the paper’s authors failed to disclose financial interests. The lead author was publicly discredited. The Royal Academy of Surgeons rescinded his license to practice medicine. The Lancet withdrew the article from publication.

But the damage was done. The loving parents of the baby on my table, well-educated and well-meaning, had chosen not to immunize her. Had they succumbed to the Internet hype that immunizations cause autism? Had they ever heard of Haemophilus?

Maybe the parents just didn’t know. The baby was just four months old. Timely vaccination might have just slipped their minds. Maybe they were planning to get her vaccinated at a later date. Who knows? What we do understand is that the baby developed a likely preventable life threatening disease that ultimately killed her in a painful way. If she’d been vaccinated, maybe things wouldn’t have turned out this way.

Continuing on this same theme, this morning I read another “Am I the Asshole” column. It was written by an older woman who came of age at a time when most women were expected to be wives and mothers. The letter writer explains that she wasn’t much into being a mom, but nevertheless, she had two children, a boy and a girl. Her children were “good kids”, and she did the best she could by them. But she admits that she was very relieved when they grew up and moved out on their own. She finally had the chance to do her own thing and discover herself.

The letter writer’s son, John, got married and had three children. Her daughter just has pets. Mom treats her daughter’s pets like grandchildren, which upsets her son. He thinks she should be more deferential to his human offspring over his sister’s dog and cat.

I don’t think the mom in this story is an asshole; however, I can empathize with John. John’s mom sounds a lot like my own mom. My mom had four children, and she often told me that she hadn’t wanted four children. Since I am the youngest, that means I frequently got the message that I wasn’t welcome. I remember watching my friends with attentive mothers and feeling painful surges of envy. My mom took care of me the best way she knew how, but she was never one to dote on me. My mom couldn’t wait for me to be on my own, and that was a message that hurt me a lot. She has also referred to my dogs as her “granddogs”.

I’m not saying my mom doesn’t love me. She does, in her own way. Our relationship is better now, too, since I don’t physically need her anymore. Now we can be friends. But I do remember what it was like to be raised by someone who was sometimes cold, and didn’t seem to care that much about me. Or, at least that’s how it seemed when I was a child. I see things differently now, and have come to respect and appreciate my mom more. It’s become easier to see her perspective now. There are a lot of issues I don’t have to deal with that my friends with more attentive moms do. I was also lucky in that I have always basically gotten along with my mom, in spite of her “hands off” parenting style. I think a couple of my sisters had a much tougher time with her than I did. On the other hand, my sisters got along much better with our father, while I had a lot of issues with him that still haven’t been resolved and probably never will be.

I think John should find a therapist and talk about these angry feelings he has toward his mom. He obviously still feels very hurt about how he was raised. He could tell his mom wasn’t that into raising him, and he knows she’s not going to be “super granny”. I don’t blame him for how he feels, but it’s not appropriate for him to punish his mom and try to force her to be someone she’s not. In the end, his kids will suffer, and when he inevitably loses his mother, he’ll still have a lot of unresolved angst, like I still do about my dad. I can’t help but realize that if my mom and the letter writer had been freer to make choices, John and I would have both been spared significant pain… and we would have been none the wiser, not having been born to mothers who would much rather be doing something with their lives other than mothering.

I’ll end this post with another personal story from last night. Regular readers might know that my husband, Bill, just became a grandfather for the third time. His younger daughter, who is an excellent mother, just had a baby last week. We sent her a package with treats from Europe. There was a Harry Potter hot chocolate mug from France that we picked up in March, but couldn’t fit in the last box we sent. There was chocolate from Germany, and a few gifts from our trip to Italy. In the box we sent were two books that I picked out for the two older kids. One was an activity book about Florence. Ideally, the kid would be in Florence as he or she explores the city, but I figured younger daughter and her husband could use the Internet to teach the kids about Italy and do the activities. The other book was a charming story I found about growing up independent.

I was wandering around in the bookstore at the Uffizi and this book caught my eye. It had really engaging illustrations featuring a baby zebra from West Africa. I don’t remember the book’s title, but I do remember the story was about an independent little zebra who wanted to try new things that he wasn’t quite ready to do. His patient and gentle mom told him that one day, he’d be on his own and he could then try all the things. But for now, she was there to guide him and teach him. It was a comforting, positive, and healthy message.

Unfortunately, Bill and his daughter have both been on the receiving end of Ex’s repeated manipulative ploys involving children’s literature. Ex has a bad habit of using books and music to make other people feel like shit. So Bill felt compelled to read the book from cover to cover in the bookstore, just to make sure there wasn’t a message in the story that would make younger daughter feel bad. Fortunately, he decided that I had made an appropriate choice, so he sent her the book. Hopefully, she’ll like it. It’s a book that I doubt her mom ever would have sent, since it’s about children growing up with a strong and protective role model who actually wants them to be independent and self-sufficient someday.

I think Ex loves being a mother, but only because it means she has family members who literally owe her their lives. She uses them as tools to further her own agendas. Her children aren’t stupid, either, because they can read between the lines. They get the messages she sends when she uses a book like Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree in her object lessons. She compares herself to the tree, and her children (and Bill) to the selfish little boy who takes and takes until there’s nothing left. But the reality is, the children are always giving to their mother, and she’s never satisfied. That has caused them pain, because obviously, their mother wasn’t up to the challenge. Her goal probably should have been to raise her children to chase their own dreams and live life on their own terms.

I’m not a mom myself. I always wanted to be a mom, but that wasn’t in the cards for me, for a lot of reasons. And because I barely know Bill’s daughters, I don’t feel like a mom to them… or a granny to younger daughter’s children. I do sort of feel like a mom to my dogs, though…

I don’t know if my overall message is getting across in this post. I know Bill is glad I’m here, warts and all. And I know my mom, ultimately, is glad she raised me. I do wish she’d wanted to do it from the get go, though… and I know enough people who haven’t had happy endings after being born into situations where the mom simply wasn’t up to the job. So that’s one of many reasons why I’ll always be in favor of allowing pregnant people to make choices, and that’s why I get triggered when losers like Chris conflate the abortion issue with any story about babies who die. Life is tough enough. Babies, especially, should be wanted, loved, and cared for by parents who want them. Pregnancy shouldn’t be an obligation or a punishment, and it shouldn’t be up to anyone to solve another person’s fertility issues. Moms, especially, should be ready for the challenge of motherhood before they accept it.

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love, marriage, narcissists, relationships

Short answer? Yes, you would be the asshole, but thanks for the warning!

This came up on Reddit Ridiculousness last night. I was a bit taken aback by it. Sounds like this lady is only interested in a fair weather marriage.

And I hope your man runs… because wanting to put something like that in your wedding vows is quite a red flag, in my opinion. You’re better off staying single, and hoping you never get seriously ill yourself.

I don’t have much time to opine about this at length, since I need to get dressed… but we did have a lively discussion about this scenario last night. I think, if someone gets so ill that taking care of them is untenable or dangerous or something like that, then okay… get a divorce. But to pre-emptively put that kind of a disclaimer in your wedding vows just makes you look like a narcissistic jerk. It’s a huge red flag. I hope her significant other is paying attention.

I think if someone is self-centered enough to want to tell all of her wedding guests that she only wants a healthy, happy husband, that’s a clue that divorce is down the road. We can see if from miles away, just like the Griswolds should have seen the Grand Canyon before they drove into it. My advice to the prospective asshole? Stay off that doomed road and find a safer path.

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Ex, mental health, narcissists, psychology, relationships

I am the “eye in the sky”…

Today’s mood music…

Back in 1982, a fantastic song by the Alan Parsons Project came out… and forty years later, it’s still relevant and cool. In fact, I never realized how prescient the lyrics for “Eye in the Sky” would be for me, personally. And the intro, “Sirius” just makes this an epic jam. “Sirius” is like the dramatic storm before the realization of what you’re facing. Listening to this live version, I can understand why Eric Woolfson did a lot of the singing for this band. Still… these lyrics are so meaningful when you’re dealing with a narcissist.

Don’t think sorry’s easily said
Don’t try turning tables instead
You’ve taken lots of Chances before
But I’m not gonna give anymore
Don’t ask me
That’s how it goes
Cause part of me knows what you’re thinkin’

Don’t say words you’re gonna regret
Don’t let the fire rush to your head
I’ve heard the accusation before
And I ain’t gonna take any more
Believe me
The sun in your Eyes
Made some of the lies worth believing

I am the eye in the sky
Looking at you
I can read your mind
I am the maker of rules
Dealing with fools
I can cheat you blind
And I don’t need to see any more
To know that
I can read your mind, I can read your mind

Don’t leave false illusions behind
Don’t cry cause I ain’t changing my mind

So find another fool like before
Cause I ain’t gonna live anymore believing
Some of the lies while all of the signs are deceiving

I am the eye in the sky
Looking at you
I can read your mind
I am the maker of rules
Dealing with fools
I can cheat you blind
And I don’t need to see any more
To know that
I can read your mind, I can read your mind

Sharing the official video, because this song just kicks ass.

I was an English major when I was in college. I wasn’t particularly good at being an English major, mainly because I didn’t enjoy analyzing fiction. A lot of the books we read didn’t interest me. I also didn’t want to be a teacher, and the program was really geared for English teachers. I probably should have changed majors. But, since I didn’t switch, I came out of college knowing something about looking at words and deciphering their meanings. One thing I learned is that you can make a strong case for a lot of things, even if your interpretation isn’t exactly what was meant by the person who did the writing. I think “Eye in the Sky” is one of those songs that can mean a lot of things to different people.

When I look at those lyrics, I think they mean that someone has either figured out how to manipulate someone else, or someone recognizes that they are being manipulated. Lately, I have been feeling a little bit like “the eye in the sky”, watching from afar what has been going on with my husband’s former wife and her sketchy dealings with his family. It turns out my instincts were correct. Ex went to see my husband’s stepmother because she was hoping to squeeze her for money.

Fortunately, it turns out that SMIL wasn’t as vulnerable as she might have seemed. My husband’s sister asked her mother about the visit, and she learned that yes, Ex did request financial help. SMIL wisely turned her down. But then Ex went out and bought a bunch of packing materials for SMIL and told her to use them to send her any items that she wanted to “pass down”. Naturally, this really hurt SMIL’s feelings. She was hurt that Ex so brazenly asked her to send her stuff, which, knowing Ex, would just end up being sold on eBay.

I admit that I was pretty upset with SMIL for trusting Ex and allowing her in her home, since she should have known full well what she’s about by now. I’m not close to SMIL at all, but I still don’t want to see her being taken advantage of, especially by my husband’s ex wife. I am very relieved that she didn’t give in… or, at least that’s what she says happened. I doubt she’s lying, though, since she admitted that Ex hurt her feelings by openly soliciting heirlooms from her ex husband’s family. Sheesh! The attitude of entitlement is just astonishing!

In any case, I’m not stupid enough to think we’re out of the woods. It concerns me that Ex was tweeting about her “mum”– a 71 year old woman who just visited the Golden Gate Bridge. That describes SMIL. And Ex was asking about how to buy a photograph to “send” to SMIL. I doubt she would actually send her anything, because Ex is very greedy. But, if by chance she ever did send her a gift like that, there would be an expectation of “reciprocity”.

Reciprocity is a concept I learned about when I was studying social work. It’s the idea that if someone gives you something or does something for you, you “owe” them something in return. Many people fall prey to this mindset, and people like Ex will exploit it to the hilt.

Don’t get me wrong. Reciprocity can be a very positive thing. It can help foster a sense of cooperation and community. Mutually beneficial relationships are at the heart of every successful collaboration where everybody wins. But– when someone toxic abuses that concept of reciprocity, it can be a very damaging thing. Suddenly, you might find yourself beholden to someone, even though you never asked them for “help”, or a gift, or anything else.

Narcissists can use reciprocity to get what they want. They extend a kindness and then, all of a sudden, they’re demanding a payback of some sort. You might hear things like “after all I’ve done for you” or “I gave you such and such; the least you could do is help me out with this”. Then there’s “negative reciprocity”, which is when someone “pays you back” with retribution of some sort. Ex is all about reciprocity, both the positive and negative types. Whenever someone has said “no” to her or held her accountable, her response is to do something damaging.

Take, for instance, Ex’s actions in 2006, after I sent her an angry email. She had gone on the warpath, having asked Bill to talk her son out of moving out of her house. She called up Bill and demanded that he withhold child support from former stepson. She didn’t want him to have the money, because he was planning to use it to move out of her realm of control. Bill refused, and then demanded to know what was happening with his daughters, since Ex had refused to allow him any contact with them. Ex’s response was to send a hateful email to Bill, along with all kinds of mean comments about me. At that point, I had only met the kids once– back in 2003 (and actually, to this day, that is the only time I was in their physical presence)– but she told Bill they hated me and thought I was a “bad influence”. Then she asked him not to tell me what she’d written, to “spare my feelings”.

Bill told me what Ex had written, so I wrote her back, and my email pointed out all of the toxic, horrible, abusive things she’s done. Ex’s response was to get her son to reconnect with his natural father. And actually, we weren’t that upset about that, since bio dad should have always had a connection to his son. But I think she was upset that this didn’t make Bill angry, so her next step was to get ex stepson to secretly reclaim his original surname, while he was getting child support from Bill (at age 21). I found out what was happening because, like I said, I am the “eye in the sky”. Bill busted the lad, whose response was to permanently cut off all communication. That was “payback” from Ex for not accepting her demands– negative reciprocity.

She is not above using positive reciprocity, though. Like, for instance, she will let SMIL see Bill’s long lost older daughter after years of no contact. But, in return, she expects to be treated like SMIL’s daughter. She expects SMIL to be loyal to her, instead of Bill, her stepson. She expects SMIL to give her money and heirlooms. And, if SMIL doesn’t comply, she will take Bill’s older daughter out of contact again. Older daughter, bless her heart, is at age 30, willingly going along with this. I suspect it’s because she knows that if she doesn’t, she will be cut off from her mom and Ex’s “severely autistic son”. And if older daughter isn’t there to look after her brother, who knows what might happen? Actually, I suspect that if older daughter ever leaves Ex, Ex will find a way to put him in some kind of permanent care. Sadly, that might actually be the best thing for him. Ex is just that toxic. Or maybe she’ll keep him at home and something terrible will happen. I suspect that Ex uses the fear of that to keep older daughter in line, even though her brother’s welfare is not her responsibility.

This situation could also be the beginning of Ex’s use of the “door in the face” technique, also known as “rejection-then-retreat” method. The “door in the face” technique is when a person makes an outrageous request that will almost certainly be turned down– say, asking for thousands of dollars for a new fence or a therapy dog– and then, after that, making a smaller, more reasonable request that might be granted, and that was the person’s actual target all along. Ex was rejected this time, but now that she’s given SMIL a taste of having older daughter back in touch, maybe she will weaken at some point and give Ex money or gifts. Or, it could be the beginning of the “foot in the door” technique, which is getting someone to agree with a moderate request (ie; allowing the visit), and then talking them into a larger request.

Personally, I think any exposure to Ex is dangerous for anyone who has ever given her supply. She is like an addict who is chasing a high. She’ll keep coming back for as long as she’s physically able. She doesn’t target Bill anymore, because she knows that he has me around to talk sense into him. Frankly, at this point, Bill would never help her again anyway, because his eyes have opened widely to who she really is. Even if I died or we got divorced, he’s DONE with Ex. He wants nothing to do with her. It wasn’t always like this. When we first married, Bill took pains to be kind to his ex wife. He wanted a civilized, amicable relationship with her. I remember him telling me on many occasions that he wished her no “ill will”. But then, as the years passed, and she treated him with contempt and did her best to ruin his relationships and sabotage his successes, he realized that their relationship was unsalvageable and could NEVER be amicable. And now that his younger daughter has told him what went on when she was growing up, that relationship is even more severed.

This morning, I read yet another AITA column on Reddit Ridiculousness. It was about a woman who had an affair, causing her to divorce. Her teenaged daughter was shattered by her mother’s infidelity. The woman married the man with whom she had an affair, then had a son with him. The daughter has been estranged for six years and has no desire to meet her brother or stepfather. She also shuns her mom, who has told her that she needs to meet her brother if she wants a relationship with her mom.

Yes… you are the asshole, Mom. Although I don’t think Daughter should hold Son accountable for their Mom’s actions. It’s not his fault Mom is an asshole.

Someone commented that she didn’t even need to read the responses, since her “narc” mom had done the same kind of thing with an ultimatum. Below is the comment she left, which really made my heart go out to her. Ex has the same “transactional” attitude, and is quite fond of the ultimatum– bartering valued family relationships for attention and supply, and money, of course.

I don’t even need to read this. My narc mother had a similar ultimatum with my whole family: they had to have a relationship with her in order to be allowed to have a relationship with us children. Everyone ended up having to choose not to know us kids anymore for their own safety. It caused me to have a HUGE extended family that I know nothing about, and now there are so many people that know and love me that I don’t feel like I can approach because even though they’re family and I know they’re great people, I just don’t know them.

I left the above poster a comment, and this was her response. It’s like these narcs have a fucking playbook! Tragic for her brother! Tragic for Bill’s older daughter, who is being held hostage and acts like a slave.

Yep. My dad lives across the country and we are slowly learning about each other every chance we get, and unfortunately my brother (who lives with mom in still another far corner of the country) hasn’t been able to make the choice to take any chances to try to do that.

Watching Bill reconnect with his long lost younger daughter has been a rewarding, yet heartbreaking, experience. Because she always had him… and if she was only allowed access to him, she could have had a very different life. Or, at least a very different childhood and adolescence. But, I am so heartened to see that younger daughter isn’t like her mom, and is determined not to be like her. She is stronger than Ex is. Ex used to complain about her adoptive mom using similarly damaging and abusive– transactional– tactics on her. But now, we see, she learned a lot from her mom. We also know this is learned behavior, as Ex was adopted. So, just because younger daughter has a narcissistic mother, she doesn’t have to follow in her footsteps. She has told Bill that she is not going to go that path. All I can say is BRAVO! Thank God she found better role models.

Well, once again, it’s time to bring this entry to a close. We have another lunch date today, and I need to get dressed. I am truly glad that Ex didn’t score any funding from SMIL, and I’m heartened to know that SIL is being vigilant. But I also know that Ex will try again. So I will continue to be the “eye in the sky”… although I would rather not be. Maybe it’s not my responsibility to be so vigilant… but I genuinely am concerned. Also, I genuinely despise Bill’s ex wife, and I want her to stay away from his family. If that makes me “mean” and “selfish”, so be it. I’m human, and I have personally had to pay for some of Ex’s bullshit myself, simply because I love her ex husband… a man who is, thankfully, very deserving.

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