divorce, Ex, family, love, marriage

Proud to be a “good strong woman”…

Keb’ Mo’ has a new album coming out. I love his music, so I’ve preordered it. So far, two songs have been released. One is a remake of the Bill Withers’ classic, “Lean on Me.” The other is a song that features Darius Rucker. It’s called “Good Strong Woman”. I listened to that song this morning after having breakfast with Bill. He’s staying home again today, because he’s taking a couple more online classes at the Jung Institute in Zurich. Bill’s chance to study Jung directly from the source is one great thing that has come out of living in Germany. It’s really something he enjoys doing, which is as gratifying for me to see as it is for him to experience.

Below is the video for Keb’ Mo’s new song.

I love this song and its message. I try to be a “good strong woman” for Bill.

Our breakfast conversation was about a letter to advice columnist Carolyn Hax that was printed in today’s edition of The Washington Post. The letter writer is having a disagreement with her father over her treatment of his wife. Below is the letter in question:

Wow… my first thoughts? What a brat!

Regular readers probably know why this letter gave me pause. Technically, I am the stepmother to Bill’s two daughters. I’ve only met them in person one time. For many years, they were estranged from their dad, mainly because their mother is extremely toxic and immature and she was more interested in punishing Bill for not letting her continue to abuse him, than being a kind and attentive mother and a “good strong woman” to her current husband. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason why Bill and his daughters should have been kept apart, other than their mother’s warped and extremely petty vindictiveness. And if I sound bitter and snotty, so be it. I know Bill, and unfortunately, I know enough about his ex wife. I am definitely not the whole problem in our case.

Fortunately, Bill’s younger daughter has come around, and it’s plain that she’s not like her mother. So when Bill and his daughter Skype, I’m happy about it. Usually, unless I happen to be sitting in the room when they Skype, I give them their privacy. Almost two years ago, Bill finally got to see his daughter in person, after 15 years of separation. He met his grandchildren. They had plenty of time to talk privately, because when he was in Utah seeing his daughter, I was in Germany, hanging out with Arran. I encouraged this gathering, and was gratified when it went well. Bill’s older daughter remains estranged, but she’s 30 years old and has to make her own choices. So be it.

It should come as no surprise to my readers that I empathize with the letter writer’s stepmother. On the other hand, I also recognize that there isn’t a lot of information here. We don’t know how old the letter writer was when his dad married his second wife. We don’t know the circumstances of his split from the letter writer’s mother. All we know is that stepmom is only ten years older than her stepdaughter, and unlike my stepdaughters and me, this stepdaughter and her stepmom actually have a relationship. It sounds like their relationship, for whatever reason, isn’t a particularly good one.

I appreciated Carolyn’s response to this writer. I think she hit the nail on the head, too. Below is her take on this situation.

Stepdaughter: If the “so much more” resembles this, then you do owe your stepmother/dad’s wife/24-year family member that apology.

So many times with so many stories, things can go either way, depending on all the details I don’t have. And maybe this one still can, too; I obviously have little to work with.

But then, ooh, I get the Magic Aside, the throwaway scrap in a question that’s the comprehension equivalent of fumbling around in the dark and accidentally bumping a light switch.

“She’s only 10 years older than me.”

Ah.

How dare he.

Form a lasting partnership with someone younger than he is.

Right?

Think for a moment. If you had fallen in love with someone, a fellow adult, and your father was giving you grief because your partner was 20 years younger, would you be okay with that? I doubt you’d appreciate his being in a 24-year huff over it, and still imposing his huff on your family’s guest lists.

Could your stepmother have let this go? Maybe. But, 24 years. That’s how long she’s been part of your family, and you’re still pressuring others (successfully!) to treat her as an interloper. If you want backup for excluding someone from a gathering, then you need proof of malice on her part. Ookie age proximity or old wounds or not being your mom won’t cut it.

No, of course, you “shouldn’t be forced.” But your conscience, your better self, your love for your dad, your enduring peace of mind and your humanity are all inner voices that are overdue to exert some force.

Again, unless there’s malice — and I mean evident stepmotherly ill intent, not just missteps in a time of awkward transition — I urge you to hear the pleas, please, of your better angels for you to swallow your pride, let go, and respect her rightful place.

I know a lot of people who don’t know our story might want to “come at me”. I’ve heard many times over the years about how I should “be the bigger person” and “recognize that I’m an ‘interloper’ in an established relationship” and, even worse, some have even asked me if I broke up Bill’s first marriage. The answer to that question is a resounding “NO”. I didn’t even meet Bill in person until almost a year after his divorce.

In four days, Bill and I will have been married for 19 years. He’s almost eight years older than I am. If had been the mother of his daughters, I would have been a very young mom. But, at this point, Bill and I have been together about twice as long as he was with his ex wife. We are extremely compatible, which makes me very happy, because when I was in college, I went through seven roommates… and even that was with two semesters of living alone.

It’s not as bad as it sounds, though. One of those roommates basically kicked me out of the room after our first week of freshman year so she could bunk with the party girl across the hall. One moved in for part of a semester because she got kicked out of her room for being busted with pot. That roommate later got kicked out of school for not going to class. And another was a student teacher, who was only at school for a few weeks until she went home to student teach. I got along fine with three roommates, and barely tolerated a fourth. We simply weren’t compatible.

There are always extenuating circumstances, and things aren’t always as they seem at face value. Still, I had friends who found their besties during freshman year and roomed together the whole time we were in college. Some of them are now divorced, even if they’re still buddies with their former roommates. I, on the other hand, couldn’t find a really compatible roommate, but I did find a husband who is just about perfect for me. So what if I came second? Bill and I are married. We love each other. I am now part of his family, and he’s part of mine. And because we love each other and are family, neither of us has to be alone as we get older. I’m so glad that Bill’s younger daughter understands that, and supports it.

When I read the letter in Carolyn Hax’s column today, what really stood out to me was just how self-centered and petty the writer came across. The line about her father’s wife being “only 10 years older” reveals what I think is one of many bones of contention this lady has with her dad and his wife. She mentions there is “so much more to the story”, but chooses to mention the age difference instead of some other reason why she and stepmom aren’t friends. That, to me, is very telling. The age difference obviously really bugs her.

However, if stepmom was a legal adult when she and the letter writer’s dad got married, the age difference shouldn’t matter, especially since they have been married for 24 years. A marriage that has lasted that long probably works well on some level. If stepmom wasn’t a legal adult when she got married, then she was a victim, and shouldn’t be blamed. Either way, it sounds like dad and stepmom love and respect each other, and letter writer should, in turn, understand that, and grow the fuck up.

The fact that the letter writer’s dad is supporting his wife’s complaints about his daughter’s apparent toxic, petty behavior reveal that this isn’t a marriage strictly of convenience. I do know there are marriages that are like that– people get married solely for money, security, or some other commodity. For example, I suspect Ex and her husband have a loveless marriage, based on what I know about her first two husbands and the way she reportedly treats #3. But, based on the letter above, I don’t think that’s the situation for the letter writer’s dad and his wife. It sounds like the dad is supporting his wife. He has his wife’s back, not his daughter’s.

Oooh… now this would be exciting.

The daughter sounds like she is trying to dictate to her father the terms of their relationship. She’s trying to force him to choose between his wife and his daughter. It doesn’t sound like she’s considered the fact that he gets a vote, too. He may very well decide that his relationship with his wife, the woman with whom he shares a home, and presumably, a bed, is more important than a relationship with his grown daughter, who, at least in this letter, comes off as really petty and obnoxious. Like it or not, her dad has chosen to marry someone other than her mother. She should be grateful that he’s found love and isn’t alone. And yes, she should show some basic respect to her stepmother, just as she should to most people. Otherwise, why not simply go no contact?

The comments on this post are pretty interesting. Lots of people are on “team stepmom”. Lots of people are supporting the letter writer. It’s true that the dad/husband is responsible for the fact that his daughter exists. Many people feel that a person’s children should always come first. Personally, I disagree with that, since children usually grow up to be adults, and they need to learn that the world doesn’t always revolve around them.

If the dad decides that he’s willing to continue a relationship with his daughter without his wife’s involvement, that might work out fine. However, based on the way the dad reacted to his daughter’s behavior, it sounds like he’s putting his wife and marriage first. And that’s probably the best thing to do, in the long run. His daughter is grown up, now, so he should focus on living his life, making himself happy, and staying healthy. His daughter can fend for herself. If she doesn’t grow up and stop being so selfish, she may have to do that.

Divorce can really suck. It’s often expensive, painful, complicated, and heartbreaking. However, sometimes divorce is absolutely necessary. It was definitely necessary in Bill’s case. He couldn’t stay with his ex wife without risking his health, or even his life. And he should not have been expected to, especially not for the convenience of someone else– and certainly not for someone who is an adult. Bill’s stepmother had “issues” with Bill’s divorce, because it made it harder for her to see his kids, who technically aren’t even her grandchildren. She doesn’t know the whole story about everything that went wrong, or the most egregiously awful parts of the story, but she also didn’t have to live in that hellish situation. Bill did.

Maybe the letter writer had a legitimate gripe if she was a child when the divorce happened, and the stepmom was legitimately abusive to her in some way. She’s now a grown woman, though, and she probably needs to get over herself and accept her stepmother as a full member of the family. If she can’t or won’t do that, then maybe it’s time she went no contact. Of course, going no contact is a big decision, and it can come with significant consequences. But sometimes it really is the healthy thing to do for everyone involved. Either way, it sounds like dad is sticking with his wife, and she’s going to have to accept that.

I don’t know what went wrong in the relationship between the letter writer’s parents, but obviously, they couldn’t be together. Her dad has now found someone to love, and they’ve been together for a long time, in spite of the daughter’s disdain and disrespect toward their marriage. If the letter writer loves her dad, she should understand and respect that, and stop trying to divide the family with petty foolishness. It sounds like he’s found himself a “good strong woman”, and she should simply be happy for him and try to co-exist with her. I’m sure the letter writer’s dad would want the same kind of strong and supportive partner for her.

Below are the lyrics to Keb’ Mo’s new song, “Good Strong Woman”.

Mama said, “Son, listen to me
That girl is T-R-O-U-B-L-E
So watch out, I know you love her but she’s not your friend
She’ll only be there long as you got money to spend”

Life can be kinda hard on a man

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday
I’m talking ’bout a good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
Hm, a good strong woman (strong woman)

She will never leave you if you treat her right
She’ll be there in the morning till the late of night
She’s the kind that’s never gonna let you down
Makes you put the bricks on the world around

Life can be kinda hard on a man

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday
I’m talking ’bout a good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)

If you wanna make the bad times better
Make a good thing last forever

Life can be kinda hard on a man

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday

You’re gonna need a good strong woman that’s got your back
Fill you back up when you’re outta gas
A good strong woman goes a long, long way
Makes the right now better than the yesterday

I’m talking ’bout a good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
A good strong woman (strong woman)
Yeah, I’ll be a good strong woman

Oh, a good strong woman
She’s got your back, strong woman
Talking ’bout a good strong woman
(Good strong woman)

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music, musings

“A Mother for My Children”…

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I got a Homepod for Christmas. Yesterday, we spent the day listening to it. For the most part, it’s a pretty cool device, although I’m definitely going to have to figure out why the AirPlay drops out all of a sudden, even when I’ve changed screensaver settings and anything else that would encourage my computer to “time out”.

Anyway, as I was putting together the latest jigsaw puzzle– over a month in progress– a song by The Whispers came on. I’m not that familiar with The Whispers’ music. I must have downloaded a greatest hits compilation by them recently, because I heard a couple of their songs yesterday. One of them was a surprisingly upbeat number called “A Mother for My Children”. Edited to add: I see why I downloaded it now… it was for the 80s era song, “Rock Steady”. I like that one!

I think I know why the mother of his children left…

Here are the lyrics to this song:

I can’t stand to live alone
With two children and a home
When Mother’s Day comes along
They ask me where their mama’s gone

Left me here scrubbin’ floors

Never washed two dishes before
How can I tell two little boys

Your mama ain’t comin’ home no more

I’ve gotta find a mother for my children
Don’t need no sister, don’t need no brother

I’ve gotta find a mother for my children

We couldn’t see eye to eye
Packed her bag, said goodbye
Didn’t care if we lived or died
The kids they always ask me why

Left us on a rainy day
Begged her but she would not stay
Said she had to go away
Gotta find someone to take her place

I’ve gotta find a mother for my children
I don’t need no sister, don’t need no brother
I’ve gotta find a mother for my children

I’ve gotta find a mother for my children
I’ve gotta find a mother for my children
I don’t need no sister, don’t need no brother
I’ve gotta find, yeah, yeah, yeah, mother for my children

I got to and I got to, I got to find a mother for my children
Find a, gotta find a, gotta find a mother for my children
I don’t need no brother
Gotta find a mother for my children

Find a, gotta find a, gotta find a mother for my children, yeah
Find a, gotta find a, gotta find a mother for my children

At first, I wasn’t really paying attention to the song. It was unfamiliar to me. But then I caught some of the words. They’re about a man whose significant other– wife or girlfriend, I don’t know– has just taken off for parts unknown. And now, this man who apparently knows nothing about child raising, cooking, cleaning, or any of the other “wifely” or “motherly” duties expected of women in the early 1970s, feels compelled to find a “replacement” for the mother of his children.

I shared the song on Facebook as a joke, mainly because it just sounded crazy to me. I don’t hear the man lamenting that his woman left him sad or lonely. I don’t hear him missing her. I don’t hear him wondering what he can do to get her back, at least into their children’s lives. Instead, I hear a danceable song about how this man has to find a “replacement” for his children’s mother. I thought it was funny, so I posted “Why doesn’t he hire a nanny?”

A friend of mine is a man who is raising his daughter alone. His wife died a few years ago of lung cancer. Their child was days away from her first birthday when she lost her mother forever. My friend has understandably been sad about losing his wife and his child’s mother. I know it’s been hard for him. He posted, “Not the same thing.”

Of course, I know that. My point is that it’s very difficult to “replace” one’s biological parent, although some people do a great job of trying. And while I know there are situations in which it makes sense to find a surrogate parent for a child who has been abandoned by death or divorce, it’s still a very serious and difficult task. So I was confused as to why the song was so upbeat and energetic. You could dance to it… sing along, even. And I figured the flippant way in which this song was conceived gave a big clue as to why his woman “had to leave”, especially since his focus isn’t on finding a partner, but a “mother” for his children. The mood of the song comes off as insensitive, like the mother of the children was really more like a nanny/cook/maid who happened to share a biological bond with the kids. If he simply needs a replacement, why not simply hire a nanny? At least she’d be getting paid for that thankless job, and when the child raising was done, she could move on to the next people.

It’s not easy parenting another person’s children. It’s not even very natural. A lot of people expect stepparents to love their stepchildren as if they had created them. I never really had the ability to bond with my stepdaughters, but I would have tried to build a good relationship with them if I’d had the chance. I might have even grown to love them as if they were my own. However, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect a new partner to love their stepchildren as much as they might love their own kids. In many ways, love is a decision and a choice, but in the most fundamental ways, true love comes from the heart. And something that comes from the heart isn’t necessarily built on choices, reasoning, or necessity. Choices and reasoning are products of the mind. Expecting love to automatically blossom between stepparents and stepchildren is very unrealistic, even if it is the desired outcome. I think that a lot of things can get in the way of that relationship, even if everyone wants it to happen. In my view, it’s more realistic to hope for peaceful co-existence among steps than a parent/child relationship.

I think anyone who goes looking for a partner simply to be a mother or father to his or her existing children is dooming their relationship to failure. Yes, it’s important that a potential stepparent have the capacity to bond to existing children. At the very least, the relationship should be civilized and respectful. In time, when the relationship blooms, maybe real love will follow. I’ve seen it many times among my friends who are stepparents. But I’ve also seen stepchildren cast aside when the stepparent has their own biological child. I’ve seen natural parents do their best to sabotage relationships between children and their ex’s new partners. I’ve seen children resist their stepparents’ attempts to bond with them, especially when they are caught in loyalty binds.

Even though “A Mother for My Children” has a good beat and somewhat decent lyrics, I think the premise behind this song is ridiculous. You have lonely children who are upset because their mother left them. Did she really leave them for good? Is there a chance Mom might be back to claim her children? Is it wise to search for a “replacement” mom if the real mother isn’t yet dead? And if you’re focused simply on finding a “mother” instead of a “partner”, do you really expect the relationship to succeed? What will you do when the boys are no longer in such dire need of a mom? Will you then kick her to the curb because though she’s a good mom, she’s not a suitable partner?

Now, in my friend’s case, I can see why he’d want to find a “mother” for his daughter. His daughter’s mom is tragically never coming back again. She’s just turned seven years old, and it won’t be long before she’s in puberty. My friend will have to find some way to teach her about the things women have to know as they get older. I know he’s uncomfortable and totally clueless about it. I also think he’s lonely and would love to have a companion. I hope he’s considering his daughter’s feelings as he looks for a new significant other, but ultimately, he needs to find someone who is suitable to be his partner first. And given his attitude lately, I think that might be a tall order.

I have another friend whose wife– mother of their four children– died of cancer. He’s recently gotten remarried, and his wife now refers to herself as the “mother” to his children. They’re all apparently okay with it, although the children are old enough to remember the woman who gave birth to them. Personally, if I were in that situation, I wouldn’t feel comfortable calling myself the children’s mom, particularly if I hadn’t been married to their dad for very long. But it seems to work for them, and that’s great. Every case is different.

I just think it’s interesting that the songwriters of “A Mother for My Children” seem to think that this would be an attractive position for a woman to fill. When it comes down to it, being a mother to someone else’s children is a proposition that will likely fail as time passes. Real mom will probably come back at some point. Replacement mom will be pushed aside. And if she’s with the guy simply to be a “mother” to his children, the relationship will probably end very badly. Seems hardly the type of situation that would call for a catchy chorus and danceable beat. I do think this is a real situation that comes up and it’s good song material. I just think the mood for this particular song is very strange and if I were approached by this man on the hunt for a mother for his children, I would run the other way!

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