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
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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condescending twatbags, divorce, domestic violence, Ex

Promoting the myth of “one big happy family”…

I’ve been a subscriber of The Atlantic since last year. I do read a lot of the articles. In fact, I read more of The Atlantic than I do a lot of the other periodicals to which I am subscribed. However, over the past year I’ve noticed a few things.

First off, a lot of the articles are recycled repeatedly on Facebook. Secondly, they keep nagging me to turn auto-renew on, even though I clearly made a conscious decision to disable it (big surprise– auto-renew is turned on by default). In their emails pleading with me “not to miss an issue”, they point out that they’ll tell me before they charge me, and I always have the choice to disable auto-renew. If that’s the case, why not just let me make that choice for myself and leave me the fuck alone about it? And thirdly, so many of The Atlantic’s articles are incredibly depressing, outright ridiculous, and/or overly and annoyingly “woke”. I’m not sure if I will resubscribe when my current subscription ends next month, but the emails pleading for me to let them automatically take my money are off putting.

Reading The Atlantic the other day kind of led to yesterday’s slow news day on my blog. I kind of had to take a mental health day and just write a book review. I went a little nuts on Tuesday. It started with the cannelloni I decided to make for lunch. I wanted some red wine to go with it, even though I usually try not to imbibe when Bill isn’t home. Well… I started enjoying the wine, then I got online and read an article in The Atlantic. It was another one of Lori Gottlieb’s Dear Therapist columns, dated from June 2019. The piece was entitled “Dear Therapist: I Can’t Stand My Fiancée’s Ex-Husband”. The sub title-explanation was, “He wants to take pictures with her and their daughter like they’re still one happy family—and I want him to stop.” Below is the letter in the article:

Dear Therapist,

I am engaged to be married to a wonderful woman who has a 6-year-old daughter with her ex-husband. They share joint custody. A major contributing factor in her decision to end their marriage was her ex’s controlling nature. Even now, after being divorced for more than two years, he tries to control her life.

One of the ways he tries to do this is by insisting on taking pictures of the three of them at every function where they are all present. First day of school, graduations, etc.—he has to have pictures taken of himself with my fiancée and their daughter as if they are still one big happy family.

Since the divorce, he has gotten engaged as well. I can only assume his fiancée must find these odd “not-a-family pictures” as strange as my fiancée and I do. The sole reason we haven’t shut him down when he insists on them is that we think maybe it is a nice thing for the little girl to have pictures of herself with her mom and dad. But we dread every event when we know he is going to expect this.

Will it do the daughter any harm to stop him the next time he starts insisting on this  awkward situation?

Lori Gottlieb’s advice to the letter writer who can’t stand his fiancee’s ex husband was to cooperate for the sake of the child. She explained that she has had many children of divorce in her office who have lamented about how their parents didn’t get along. She evidently sees nothing wrong with the letter writer’s ex husband insisting on family pictures, even though both his fiancee and the ex husband have found new partners and the fiancee, apparently, doesn’t like the forced picture taking either. I do think the letter writer is pretty classy for realizing that the photos with both parents might be nice for the daughter. Hopefully, it will mean that he doesn’t try to replace his soon to be stepdaughter’s father. Sounds to me like bio dad isn’t about to let that happen. I can’t blame bio dad for that, but I also don’t think bio dad should be pressuring his ex to do something she’s not comfortable with doing, for the sake of pushing a “one big happy family” myth.

Those of you who know me at all, might know that I automatically sympathize with the letter writer. I didn’t even have to read the guy’s letter to sympathize. Ex pulled that “one big happy family” bullshit on Bill, too… I would include myself in that comment, but she never asked or even considered how I would feel about pushing that narrative. And that was just one of MANY reasons why, over 18 years after my wedding day, I still can’t stand her and don’t want to be associated with her. I have very good reasons for not being able to stand her. At the very top of the list is the fact that my husband saw one of his daughters last year for the first time since 2004!

That’s right. She categorically denied Bill visitation for years while she happily took $2550 a month from him for three children– one of whom wasn’t even his kid (she denied eldest son access to his father, too). Early in our marriage, she tried to strong arm Bill into naming her the beneficiary of life insurance policies valuing $1,000,000, even though he was paying her about half his salary in child support and had already provided $500,000 in life insurance coverage to her. She told vicious lies about him (and me) to the children and even tried to turn his own parents against him. She also abused him in ALL ways– mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, sexually… you name it, she probably did it. He still bears the scars from the physical abuse. Through it all, my husband has been extraordinarily classy. To this day, he doesn’t trash talk his ex wife, although he does commiserate with his younger daughter about her. It turns out she treats her kids as badly as she does her husbands.

I, on the other hand, have absolutely no qualms about trash talking Ex. She totally deserves it, and I make no apologies for despising her. But it didn’t start out that way. Back in 2002, when I was blissfully ignorant about her, I imagined myself being kind and patient and understanding toward Ex and the children. I wanted to be a good stepmother, loving to Bill’s children and sharing access to him with his kids. I didn’t think I’d be friends with Ex, but I thought maybe we could be civil. I really try to be civil to most people unless they give me a good reason not to be. I encouraged Bill to stay involved with his daughters. I hoped and expected he’d visit them and be part of their lives. I hoped and expected I would be part of their lives, too, in whatever way. In those days, I probably would have been among the naive, glibly telling people in step situations that they must always do everything for the child’s sake, no matter what.

But, as some of my more regular readers know, I’ve only met Bill’s daughters once, back in 2003. I had no influence on their lives, because I wasn’t allowed to be part of their lives. I could have seen them at Christmas in 2004, which was when Bill last saw them together. That last meeting was, unfortunately, a trap, although Ex had tried to frame as a way to show the children that we’re “all one big happy family”. After that Christmas, Ex completely cut off access to the children and Bill lost contact with them for years. Yes, he could have tried going to court, and he did speak to a lawyer about doing that. But in those days, he simply didn’t have the money or the time to devote to child custody hearings. After his divorce, Bill was saddled with a bankruptcy and a foreclosure, and with the kids on the other side of the country, there was no way he could fight without courting financial and professional ruin– two conditions that would not have made him look good to a family court judge, anyway. It probably also would have ruined our marriage, because unlike Ex, Bill would have allowed his daughters total access to their mom. And we would have been fighting with her constantly.

As it stands now, only Bill’s younger daughter is speaking to him. We both feel fortunate that this happened– because for a long time, we never thought it would. And, personally, I had also gotten to the point at which I was trying not to care anymore and just wanted them to leave us alone. Of course, now I’m glad younger daughter is in contact with Bill. She’s turned out to be a good person. Older daughter remains estranged and, at this point, I’m beginning to think that’s the way it will always be. Maybe that’s the way it should be.

Bill had told me when we were dating that his ex wife could “rip me to shreds”. I kind of laughed at that… and it didn’t turn out to be true. I never let her get close enough to me to be able to “rip me to shreds.” I’m not afraid of her. I think she’s a pathetic loser, and I am pissed off that she was able to do the damage she’s done and continues to do. I’m truly sorry that she was abused as a child and is mentally ill, but that does NOT give her the right to harm other people And the fact that she has done SO MUCH HARM to SO MANY PEOPLE means that I can’t stand her, and will NOT cooperate with her, EVER. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my stance about Bill’s ex wife. She’s not a good person. Fortunately, the girls are now grown women, and I no longer have to worry about pushing the “one big happy family” myth for their sakes.

Anyway… on Tuesday, as I read that article, I visited the comment section and wrote, “Can’t blame him. There’s a reason they’re exes. I can’t stand my husband’s ex wife, either… actually, that is a massive understatement.”

I knew the reaction to my comment was probably going to be negative. I did immediately get one angry emoji. That person apparently blocked me, too. Oh fucking well.

But then I got this comment from some guy named Steve, who wrote… “but if your husband has kids with her, please encourage and support him in being civil for the sake of the children. Being a stepparent that appears against the children’s mother is going to make everything, including your relationship with the kids, much more difficult and stressful for everyone.”

Oh please. This tired screed again? So I responded to the guy, more aggressively than maybe I should have. I won’t lie. I found his comment pretty offensive and presumptuous. I mean, I guess one could assume that I’m the problem because I flat out stated that I can’t stand my husband’s ex. Not knowing anything about me, maybe I would make a similar assumption. It’s a human thing to do. Still, I just felt this overwhelming urge to speak up for people in my situation. It’s really tiresome when people glibly make suggestions like the one Steve made to me. Why would Steve or anyone else assume that someone who comes second or later is going to automatically be the problem when it comes to fostering relationships between divorced parents and their children? Why would he assume that I can’t stand the ex simply because she’s the ex?

There really is a reason why people become exes… and I don’t blame the letter writer for not liking the forced family photos. Those forced family photos are not a reflection of reality, and the ex husband’s insistence on taking them may, indeed, be due to his control issues. Not knowing the people involved, I can only assume they know each other and the situation better than any reader ever could. And while Lori Gottlieb does write that oftentimes, when she speaks to couples, she finds that both parties are equally to blame for problems in a relationship, there are also a lot of situations in which one partner really is a control freak or a narcissistic abuser. The ex insisting on something like taking family photos may seem very minor, in the grand scheme of things, but that might be part of a much larger issue that led to the couple’s split. In any case, I think the fiancee should have the right to veto the photos if she wants to, and no one should judge her for that. The letter writer should be supportive and understanding, no matter what his fiancee chooses to do.

I also agree that divorced couples with children should do their best to work together whenever possible. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to be civilized and occasionally “take one for the team”. But when people split up, they should not be expected to promote a false “happy family” image for the child’s sake. If they can do so realistically, that’s one thing. But it sounds like in the letter writer’s situation, at least two of the adults aren’t comfortable with promoting the charade. Their opinions should be respected, too.

Perhaps against my better judgment, I ended up explaining some of my situation to Steve. I’ll admit, my responses were pretty angry– remember, I’m currently lonely, stressed out, and at that point, had been drinking wine. Steve’s off the cuff “advice” had made me angry, because it’s the kind of useless shit I’ve been hearing for years. I’m tired of people assuming I’m the problem, simply because I’m not the mom and I happened to come second. I would have been delighted to have worked with my husband’s ex wife, if she had been similarly willing to cooperate. Unfortunately, that was not how the situation was when the girls were minors. She’s still spinning tales, and taking advantage of anyone who allows her to, and apparently, getting away with it… although younger daughter, at least, has figured her out and doesn’t want her near her children.

When I responded to Steve, I was thinking of the letter writer, as well as all of the other people I know who are in this very same boat. I know my personal story is probably kind of extraordinary. Most people’s exes aren’t as horrifying as Bill’s ex wife is. Most people are in a position to be able to enforce visitation rights, at the very least. Or their exes realize that by denying their children access to their natural parent (as long as there isn’t a damned good reason for them NOT to be), they are hurting the children. On the other hand, I do know some people who are dealing with truly awful, manipulative, controlling, abusive exes… and the people– especially the women– who subsequently get involved with them often end up being labeled as “wicked”, “homewrecker”, or “obstructive”, or they have to endure rude assumptions and questions like “Are you the reason they got divorced?”

Steve and I went back and forth a few times. He turned out to be a pretty okay guy, and I even ended up thanking him, because in the end, he was ultimately understanding and kind. And now that I’m reading my responses to him, sans wine, I realize that I was a bit triggered and, perhaps, more hostile than I should have been. The truth is, things are pretty stressful right now. Bill is on an extended TDY, so I don’t have anyone to talk to, other than online. This isn’t the first time I’ve spent weeks alone, but doing this routine during a pandemic, in a foreign country, and after having been “locked down” for months, is very trying.

I do know things could be worse. Bill is not in a war zone with a narcissist; he isn’t regularly fighting with his ex wife; we are both healthy; and we have plenty of money to pay our bills. I know there are many people out there who would laugh at me and tell me to get over myself. But even though I know things aren’t really that bad and have historically been worse, that doesn’t change the fact that the other day, it was like I’d run into a perfect storm of triggers that got me pretty wound up. The truth is, I kind of exploded… then imploded.

I ended up going to bed early on Tuesday, after a tense and very brief– and incoherent– chat with Bill. We had a much better chat last night and I apologized for the state I was in on Tuesday. He was understanding, as usual, reminding me that this is a “stressful time”. And it is… the boredom, loneliness, and hopelessness of the past fourteen months have taken their toll. It doesn’t help that my husband, who is half vaccinated, is on yet another business trip lasting weeks. I feel like we’re separated. There is a light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, though. In a few weeks, we’ll both be fully vaccinated, and it looks like the TDYs from hell may be over for awhile. And maybe we can do something enjoyable and spend some money on a trip somewhere. Hope springs eternal.

Anyway… I know I should avoid comment sections for the sake of my blood pressure and mental health. But, if I didn’t read comments, I probably wouldn’t have enough material to blog every day. Other people’s reactions and perceptions can make for fertile content mining. I also know that there are people out there who were glad I spoke up about that fake “one big happy family” falsehood. For a lot of us in these step relationships, that just isn’t reality… and I don’t think we do good when we try to present it that way.

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Ex, mental health, politics

When QAnon brings estranged family members together…

Yesterday, I read a sad article in The Washington Post about how people have lost family members to QAnon. It began with a compelling description about how 24 year old Tyler watched as his mom stocked up for an imagined armageddon. She brought home ammunition, a water purifier, camping gear, and shelf stable food. She started wearing a holstered pistol just walking around her house, believing that there would be days of power outages and civil unrest.

Tyler’s mom told him that on March 4, 2021, there would be massive chaos. That would be when Donald Trump would return to power. March 4, for your edification, is the original Inauguration Day prior to the passage of the 20th Amendment in 1932.

Tyler had been living with his mother since he graduated college in 2019. They were located about an hour north of Minneapolis. As the 2020 elections approached, Tyler watched as his mom became more and more entrenched in baseless conspiracy theories and outright lies. Based on the WaPo’s article, I can assume that she turned into someone he no longer knew. Complicating matters was the presence of Tyler’s stepfather, who is apparently just as entrenched in QAnon.

The confusion in the household and worry Tyler experienced prompted him to seek help online. Last month, Tyler found the Reddit group, QAnonCasualties, which was founded by people who had watched their families fracture over the political climate in the United States. He explained to the moderators of the group that his mother and stepfather have a lot of weapons and are convinced that World War III is about to commence.

Making matters worse is the fact that Tyler hasn’t been working. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a mild form of autism, Tyler had graduated from a local university with a degree in manufacturing engineering. He quit his job in early January because he hoped to find work that would make use of his newly minted degree. As of yet, he hasn’t found new work. As Inauguration Day approached, he watched his mom grow ever more unhinged.

An old friend had stopped by with a wedding present, since Tyler’s mom had just remarried. Noticing the pistol, the friend asked Tyler’s mom if she planned to shoot anyone that day. And Tyler’s mom reportedly replied, “You never know what’s going to happen with the Democrats. They stole the election.” The friend told WaPo reporters that Tyler’s mom had once been a “wonderful” person who had invited her over for tea and gone kayaking with her. But now, it seems she’s gone completely off the deep end. According to the article:

To protect his family’s anonymity, The Washington Post is only using Tyler’s first name. In an email, his mother blamed her son for the tension in the house, writing that he was disrespectful and refused to look for work after leaving his job earlier this year. She added that she “never even heard of Qanon until very recently” and doesn’t “follow it,” but declined to discuss why she had begun purchasing survival gear and whether she believed Trump would return to the White House in March. “My beliefs about Trump are actually none of your business,” she wrote.

Tyler said he and his mother discussed QAnon one time; a bizarre conversation in which his mother insisted that QAnon prophecies were the product of artificial intelligence. He described an atmosphere of growing conspiracy and fear that pervaded his home. “It started a month before the election,” Tyler said in an interview, “and it kept growing until it felt like she was preaching the Bible to me.”

At first she insisted that Trump, not Biden, would be inaugurated on Jan. 20, and for a while Tyler held out hope that Biden’s swearing-in would jolt his mother back into reality. She would put away her gun and life would return to normal. But, the ceremony in Washington seemed to make little difference at his house in Minnesota.

Tyler truly hoped his mom would be more normal once Biden was inaugurated. He even posted online that she had seemed more “normal” on January 21st. But very soon, she went back to her old ways, insisting that Trump would be back in the White House. So Tyler decided to confront his mom, and that confrontation ultimately led to his being ejected from her home. She even threatened to have her new husband “hurt” Tyler.

Which brings me to the title of today’s post… up until this point, it sounds like Tyler’s family fell apart due to QAnon. But he found help from his other parent– his biological father and stepmother. Tyler had lost contact with his dad when he was a child and they had only recently reconnected. And Tyler’s dad and stepmother were willing to take him in, once Tyler’s unhinged mom tossed him and his belongings out of her house. On February 3, 2021, Tyler texted his stepmother, Heather, and told her that he’d confronted his mom, telling her that he didn’t believe in QAnon or any of his mom’s whackadoodle theories.

Half an hour later, Heather picked up Tyler, who was waiting in the front yard. When he got into Heather’s car, Tyler started to cry. Tyler is now sleeping in his 7 year old half sister’s bedroom. She sleeps in her parents’ room. Not long after the confrontation with Tyler’s mom, Tyler was contacted by his new stepfather, who wrote “When your daddy gets sick of you living there (and he will) don’t bother calling us.”

Those of you who regularly follow my blog might already know that my husband lost contact with his daughters after he and his ex wife divorced. A few years ago, one of Bill’s daughters finally reconnected with him. The other one remains estranged, and is apparently hopelessly entrenched in her mother’s sick, culty world. Last year, just before COVID-19 shut everything down, Bill visited his younger daughter for the first time since Christmas 2004. When she opened the door, Bill said the two of them stood there and shared a long overdue hug. And then they spent the whole two days of Bill’s visit debriefing each other about the events of the fifteen years they had spent apart.

I don’t know anything about Tyler’s mom, but although Tyler’s mom’s friend describes her as a “wonderful” person, I have a feeling that she’s another one of those people who hates her exes more than she loves her children. I come to that conclusion, not just because she fell into the QAnon cult, but because of a comment Tyler made to his stepmother. When he texted Heather that his mom had threatened to have his new stepfather “hurt” him, he also explained that he wasn’t actually worried about his safety. He wrote, “I’ve been dealing with this for years. It’s normal for me.

When Bill and his daughter met last year, Bill heard in more detail what it was like to grow up with Ex. There were many threats and promises made. There was a lot of “culty” thinking, not just in terms of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which Ex had insisted on joining a few years before she and Bill split, but also in terms of her own mini narcissistic cult. The girls were forced to write Bill letters disowning him and demanding that he allow their stepfather, Ex’s third husband, to adopt them. Ex had reportedly stood over them and made them write the letters, which she sent Bill just in time for his 42nd birthday.

Something tells me that Tyler’s current stepfather is not his first, since he wrote to Heather that this was not a new thing. Tyler’s mom evidently has a history of coming unglued, and probably sees Tyler as an extension of herself. And when Tyler didn’t want to fall in with her QAnon fantasy, she cast him out… the same way Ex does to anyone who won’t play along with her fantasies. I don’t know enough about Tyler’s mom to say I think she’s a narcissist, but my guess is that she has a “high conflict personality”. And as Bill and I have observed with his ex wife, who also has a high conflict personality, these types of people often get sucked into things as they blame everyone else for their issues. With Ex, it was everything from multi-level marketing scams to the LDS church. Granted, the Mormons didn’t turn out to be all bad. They did help Bill’s daughter escape her mother. But the church doesn’t give things without strings attached.

Younger daughter no doubt feels indebted to the church, and believe me, it’s not unlike the leadership to capitalize on that human need for reciprocity— that is, feeling obligated to reciprocate “kind actions”. There’s nothing wrong with that on its surface. Sometimes, however, “reciprocity” can be abused, and people wind up trapped by the need to pay back a solid, even long after the “emotional debt” has been repaid. This is how groups get control over people and stop them from living their own lives and thinking for themselves. Pretty soon, the lovebombing that occurs at the beginning of the relationship can turn into something sinister and toxic.

I have long believed that my husband’s ex wife runs her life like a mini cult. Anyone in her sphere has to accept whatever her conditions are, no matter how nutty or destructive they are. She’s allowed to do anything she wants, even if it’s criminal, because she had a shitty childhood and no one recognized how “special” she is. She’s allowed to abuse her husbands and her children because she was abused, and she’s allowed to take that abuse as far as she wants with no repercussions, whatsoever. Meanwhile, those of us who have been affected by her behavior and dare to speak out about it get raked over the coals and smeared. She went as far as to alienate Bill’s children, but she also did her best to try to destroy his relationships with his own parents!

Like Tyler, Ex has at least a couple of children who are on the autism spectrum, which makes them more vulnerable to her toxicity. Bill’s older daughter supposedly has Asperger’s Syndrome, and younger daughter has said that Ex’s youngest child, a fourteen year old son, is non-verbal due to autism. Bill’s older daughter, who will turn 30 this summer, still lives with Ex and has supposedly devoted her life to caring for her brother, who will likely never be able to live on his own. Meanwhile, whenever Ex gets pissed off at older daughter, she threatens to throw her out of the house, even though older daughter does the heavy lifting involved with caring for Ex’s son. Sounds a lot like what Tyler went through with his mom.

Incidentally, Tyler went back to his mom’s house about a week after he moved out to pick up his stuff. All of his belongings were thrown out on the front lawn, where they soon became covered with snow. He still hopes that his mother’s Trump fervor will fade and he will eventually be able to reconcile with her. He said, “I just don’t see the humanity in this. I wanted my family back, not this hatred.”

For Tyler’s sake, I truly hope he can reconnect with his mom. I hope she is, deep down, a reasonable and decent person who can grow up and wise up, and see what she stands to lose by continuing to submit to the QAnon bullshit. I don’t know what made her fall down the rabbit hole, but it would not surprise me if Tyler’s mom had some trauma in her life that somehow made her feel ostracized and persecuted. And the siren call of QAnon, which is full of butthurt delusional people must have been much too hard to resist– so hard that she’s willing to kick her own son out of her life.

It’s not that I don’t empathize with the abused. I have no doubt in my mind that my husband’s ex wife was severely abused by many people when she was a child. I can understand why she’s so traumatized. What I can’t abide is her habit of throwing away family members and forcing her children and husbands to disconnect with those of whom she doesn’t approve. It’s possible, or even probable, that Tyler’s new stepfather is partly to blame for Tyler’s mother’s actions. However, reading that he has only now reconnected with his father and his father and stepmother, who have apparently been together long enough to have a seven year old daughter, have welcomed him into their home, gives me a feeling that Tyler’s mom has some serious issues. And those issues, like Ex’s, make her vulnerable to falling into cults from which they never escape.

Sadly, more often than not, the best thing to do in such a situation is go no contact and cut all ties. I don’t think younger daughter has gone completely no contact yet, but she has definitely come out of the F.O.G. since she moved away from Ex. As hard as that is, and as sad as it initially was, in the long run, it’s the only way to find peace, autonomy, and freedom from chaos and drama.

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social media

You can go now…

We had a pretty dull long weekend. Bill had Friday off because of the Fourth of July, but we didn’t end up doing anything special, despite Bill’s best efforts to get me out of the house. However, I did have a good guitar day yesterday, which I wrote about on my travel blog. My travel blog, by the way, is going to wake up again soon, because I have booked a short trip that starts in eleven days. We will spend three nights in the Eifel region of the Mosel Valley, which is about a two hour drive from where we live. There’s a lot of stuff to do outdoors, so I think we’ll be busy, especially if the weather is good. Bill has been a good sport about my stubborn refusal to venture out, although I think he’s feeling kind of tense.

I’ve mostly been trying to stay out of trouble on social media, although I’m still thinking that it may be time to move on from it. Last night, Red Peters, a hilarious comedian who writes and sings funny songs and promotes the songs done by other people, got really pissed off by one of Facebook’s recent censorship policies. He says he’s going to get off of Facebook by September 1st. I can’t blame him, as I was also recently wrist slapped by Facebook over something really stupid. Maybe I’ll follow suit… or maybe not. But one thing is for certain. Facebook may be a way to keep in touch with friends and family, but it’s also the source of a whole lot of annoyances.

Take, for instance, a recent trend I’ve noticed. Sometimes my “friends” send me private messages. The messages are almost never about anything important. They’re often videos or memes that, for whatever reason, they don’t want to post on their own page, and sometimes they send them without comment. Or they put them on their page, but they also send them via PM to their friends. Personally, I don’t like this practice. I understand that some people do it because it’s something obnoxious or controversial and they only want to share it with people who will appreciate it and not start a shit storm. I get that, and I do have a couple of friends who are very civilized, but have a good sense of humor and they know I’ll think something’s funny and even share it for them.

But– I also sometimes get these PMs from people I don’t know that well and/or engage with often. Sometimes, they’re the annoying “pass it on” posts– you know, like the ones that tell you to post what color your bra is (I rarely wear them anymore unless I’m going out). It’s supposed to be for breast cancer awareness, but it’s really just a stupid timewaster that doesn’t really do anything more than irritate people. Below is an excerpt about the bra campaign from a book entitled Online Activism: Social Change Through Social Media:

Yes, I got these messages. No, I did not participate.

Sometimes they’re just memes or videos sent without comment. If the sender is someone I know well and/or have engaged with more than a couple of times, I may have an inkling as to why they sent the message. Maybe I’ll even care enough to ask them. I still think it’s an irritating practice to PM these things, mainly because I think private messages should be reserved for items that really should be kept private and are actually important. Memes and videos don’t generally fall into those categories. Still, I’m more willing to cut more slack to people I know than people I don’t.

Last night, someone sent me this meme without comment:

How should I take this?

The person who sent this is a nurse. We “met” on a site for second wives and stepmothers, and there was a time when we interacted frequently. She lives far away from me, even when I’m stateside, so we have never met offline. Lately, we haven’t been chatting much at all. So last night, when I got a PM from her out of the blue, and it turned out to be the above image, I wasn’t sure how to take it. I’ve repeatedly stated that I’m not on the mask bandwagon. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t comply with the rules, nor does it mean that I don’t take the pandemic seriously. I SIMPLY STAY AT HOME. While I go many days between mask wearings, I also don’t go to places where I encounter people who could be adversely affected by my germs. On the rare occasions when I do go out, I follow the rules. I just don’t like or agree with them. Fair enough?

Lots of people disagree with me about the masks, and that’s fine. I figure that if I’m mostly staying at home, I’m probably doing more than they are to flatten the curve, anyway. The world doesn’t need me to preach about face masks. Plenty of people are already doing that repeatedly and annoyingly. I don’t need to add my voice to the cacophony. I don’t need to cheerlead about the masks, even if they do help slow the spread of the virus. They still suck. Nothing about wearing a mask is fun, and most people have the right and ability to make up their own minds about them. They don’t need my help any more than I need theirs.

Because there was no comment with my friend’s “meme”, and I have no idea if this person has been paying attention to my social media, I wondered if she thought I would like the meme, or if it was a dig. I suppose I could have responded to her. Maybe that would have been the right thing to do. Ultimately, I decided that the face mask meme wasn’t something I care that much about, so I didn’t comment. But since this is a common practice– for people to send unimportant stuff via PM without comment– I decided to ask my Facebook friends why people do it. I don’t PM people unless I have something important to tell them privately, but people PM me all the time. I try to be tolerant, but I must admit I get annoyed, and I just wanted to understand the rationale behind the PM blitzing. Some of my “regular” friends were having a nice discussion with me, with a few people agreeing with me that this is an annoying practice.

And then, I got a message from someone else I “met” on the same site for second wives and stepmothers. This person, who is now no longer a friend, probably interacted with me more often than the person who sent the meme, but we still didn’t talk much. When we did regularly used to communicate some years ago, we often disagreed.

For instance, she didn’t like that I was vocal about my disdain for Mormonism. She said it was “disrespectful”, although she isn’t herself LDS. I disagreed, since the LDS church was successfully used as a weapon against Bill’s relationship with his children, and that’s a problem that affects many people. She felt that I shouldn’t say out loud that I don’t like Mormonism, out of respect to a Mormon woman who was also in our group. The Mormon woman, by the way, was more than capable of sticking up for herself and her religion, and she did so vehemently and consistently. Besides, I felt that the purpose of the group was to discuss these issues and how they affect “steplife”. Like it or not, a highly controlling lifestyle religion like Mormonism does affect things, particularly when not everyone involved is LDS. But this now former friend felt I was out of line to bring it up, or she felt the way I brought it up was unkind. She had no trouble telling me so, even though it didn’t really change my opinion or behavior. She didn’t seem too interested in seeing my perspective, either.

Anyway, beyond that squabbling, which we hadn’t been doing in recent years, we rarely had much to say to each other, especially currently. Neither of us has a lot of steplife drama anymore. But she still felt the need to add her two cents to last night’s discussion.

She posted: Man, I never wanted to PM unexplained memes so badly in my life….

Again…. not really sure how to take this. So I posted that I would like to turn off the PM function entirely, or make it for certain people, to which she responded with a “laughing” reaction. At that point, I assumed that she was making a passive aggressive dig and trying to stir up shit. I figured that if she has something to say to me, but can’t be bothered to just say it, we probably aren’t really friends. Since I didn’t know how to take her comments, we were never close, and I don’t remember ever being particularly close to her even when we did used to frequently communicate, I decided to delete her.

I felt badly about it for a minute, because I grew up at a time when friends were people you knew face to face, and “unfriending” someone was a serious thing. But back then, being friends with someone was also a more serious thing; that’s why we mostly tended to have fewer of them then than we do now, in the age of social media.

As I recently wrote in a post, I’m getting to a point in my life at which I value quality over quantity. A lot of people don’t like me. Many people decide they don’t like me having never taken the time to get to know me. That’s up to them, of course, and I’ve gotten used to it. I still have some great people in my life who do love me for who I am and don’t mind that I speak my mind. We treat each other with basic respect and give each other the right to be heard. We don’t try to stir up drama on each other’s social media accounts or offline. And when we have something to say, we say it. We don’t do immature passive aggressive digs or make fun of each other. Those aren’t things a real friend does.

I’ve spent most of my life being discounted, belittled, berated, ignored and crapped on by people who don’t have any respect for me, some of whom were supposedly “loved ones”. Right now, things are stressful enough as it is. I figure at this point in my life, I don’t have to tolerate it anymore, especially from people I barely know. And, like I said, I’m getting pretty tired of Facebook, anyway. Maybe after we get our next dog, I’ll ditch it once and for all. Dogs are better and more genuine friends than most people are, anyway.

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