Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Holidays, Ex's, Steps And More

Not that many years ago, I wrote about how Prince Charming and I managed to survive the holiday shuffle.
This year, I find myself struggling to shuffle a new custody schedule not only with Cinderella but with my own Hansel & Gretel now as well.
Since unofficially separating this past summer, Prince Charming and I have tried to work out an alternating custody schedule with the kids. One that attempts to give each of us equal time with ALL THREE kids and also follows the visitation stipulation that's been in place for Cinderella and Maleficent since 2006.
Simply put: If Cinderella is home with Prince Charming, then so are Hansel and Gretel.
Our primary goal is to keep our kids together with each other as much as possible.
In some ways, it's made figuring out the current schedule with Hansel and Gretel rather easy since all we have to do is use Cinderella's as our template.
So weekends, holidays and birthdays are all sorted.
(See, there is some benefit to all of those hours and dollars being spent in court with Maleficent afterall!)
The downside is this year I will not be with the kids on Christmas morning. I get to spend some of Christmas Eve with them (because it's fallen on my normally scheduled day) until 6pm. And then Christmas Day will have Hansel and Gretel starting at 12 Noon. At that same time, Cinderella will go off to her Mom's for three days.
I will miss out on tucking the kids in and putting out cookies for Santa and food for the reindeer. Miss their eyes filled with wonder on Christmas morning when they come down and find their presents under the tree.
Tonight, I will be at my Mom's celebrating Christmas Eve dinner. Something we don't get to do very often but hope to do more of in the future. Before I go, I will help Cinderella assemble the baked french toast that has become part of our Christmas morning tradition. (Time I am looking forward to spending just with her, since I will not see much of her during this holiday break.) We will all then listen to 'Twas The Night Before Christmas with our animated Thomas Kinkade Story House before I leave.
Tomorrow morning I will awaken at my Mom's and open gifts with her. Something I haven't done in a long, long time. Before I was married. Before I was a Mom.
I will then head down to see Hansel and Gretel (hopefully catching Cinderella before she leaves), exchange some gifts with them before bringing them back to Grandma's for Christmas dinner. Something they have never done.
I'm determined to welcome these changes in my Christmas traditions with a positive attitude.
There are unexpected gifts hidden within them - though one Mom will be without her children's faces on Christmas morning, another Mom gets to relive Christmas memories with her first born daughter.
And later on create new memories with (two of) her grandkids.

Keep Reading on The Wicked Stepmom

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A StepMom's View Of Custody Battles

By "MissyM"

Everyone who has been involved in a custody modification knows how stressful it can be. I figured that my court battles were over, once my ex-husband passed away. He and I went through our initial divorce/custody case, and he took me back to court five times after that, for things that I considered petty. We came to a decision toward the end that our child needed both parents, and decided to share our child 50/50.

When I met my current husband, he was just recently divorced. While we were dating, his custody arrangement wasn't my business. But it seemed as if he was able to see his daughter pretty frequently - every weekend and one night a week. After we got married, I asked to see his divorce decree. Since his daughter was not school age at the time of the divorce, it did not address school vacations, holidays, who would cover the child for medical expenses, etc. Neither of them had an attorney to ensure that these things were included.

Without sharing too many specifics, lets just say that his ex-wife decided at some point to "exercise her control" over the situation, since she was awarded primary custody in the initial decree. As their daughter grew older, my husband wanted more time with her...and she with him. The unfortunate thing was that almost anything would set off his ex-wife, and she would deny him any extra time with their daughter as a punishment.

The problems started when my husband and I got married in late 2000. His ex-wife was resentful of that, and did some hurtful things to try and throw a kink in our relationship. Then she started to deny him the extra time with their daughter, and eventually started following the court decree to the letter. It was at this time that we started to write the "Great American Novel", otherwise known as my husband's journal. Whenever there was interaction with his ex-wife, an entry was made. We decided a few months later that, since things were not getting better, he would file for full custody. After that, we both became super-sleuths, checking into whatever information we could grasp regarding the situation at his ex's home, and how it was detrimental to their daughter.

Because this whole thing can be so stressful to a relationship, we decided on some ground rules early on. If you are planning to take on a custody battle, you may find these rules helpful as well.

1. I would be the "journal, declaration, statement" writer. I had better writing skills than he did, and this was just a given. I would also be the "e-mail communicator" to his ex-wife, under his name, of course.

2. We put aside one evening per week when we would go out, whether it be to dinner, the local park, or the library. This evening was known as our "date night", and we still carry on this tradition. The only rule was that we not talk about the custody case. Also, no kids could accompany us on this night.

3. Our bedroom was the "custody case-free" room. We would not talk about the custody case in our bedroom, under any circumstances. My favorite line when either my husband or I would break this one was "This is an 'Ex's-Name" free zone", and both of us would stop what we were saying. I also enjoyed running into our bedroom when the conversation regarding the case would get to be too much for me.

4. We quickly learned that we could not control what his ex-wife would do. If she sent my stepdaughter over in tight clothing, we couldn't do anything about it but take the clothing out of the rotation. If she said bad things about my husband and me, we couldn't do anything about it. My dear mother taught me a valuable lesson during one of my many custody cases; she said, "Dear, you need to take the high road"; meaning, don't talk bad about the other party. This was, by far, the hardest rule for us to follow. It would have been so easy to sink down to her level, but we couldn't do it.

5. Financially, this battle was a HUGE drain. His ex-wife hired an attorney and filed first. My husband hired an attorney and his declaration was filed the day after his ex's was. We both agreed though that the financial aspect of it was secondary to trying to remove my stepdaughter from what we felt was an unhealthy environment. There were lots of things that we could have used that money for instead. But any couple undertaking a custody battle must agree on the financial issues BEFORE they are incurred.

6. Be ready for lots of STRESS, STRESS, STRESS. During the custody case, you will live and breathe the case. There will be something new happening almost every day, and it can consume you if you let it. We went by what we called the "24 hour rule" - we could talk about something for 24 hours, or be mad about it for 24 hours; and then we had to let it go. You can modify this down to 8 hours, or 12 hours - whatever works for you.

7. Talk to sympathetic people about your situation. I turned to my online support forums when things reach a point where I couldn't cope, and would get great advice and sympathy.

8. Don't think that other family members are those "sympathetic people". I found that my husband's family really didn't want to hear about this stuff. Neither did the people at work. So choose those "ears you will bend" wisely.

9. Remember the facts. Questions like "Why did you marry her?" and "Why is she such a B-word?" will not help relieve your stress. The fact of the matter is - He did marry her, had a child with her, and she IS a B-word. Nothing you can do to change any of that. Remember, you married him, with the baggage that came along. My husband says that, instead of baggage, he brought along a cargo ship to our marriage.

10. Remember that you have other children (if you do), who need your attention. Neither of our other kids (my son and our daughter) were involved in this mess, and they deserved our attention as well. Set aside time for them, without the other kids. My son and I had our "Starbuck's dates" twice a month after his church youth group. It gave us time to re-connect and also gave me time to truly enjoy his company, and get away from the custody case.

11. Do not have unrealistic expectations. If your husband files for sole custody and doesn't get it, don't be surprised. Be realistic and realize that any change in custody time can only benefit the child. Someone once told me that any change in your favor is good - it may be a "baby step", but still was good.

12. There are no winners or losers. Yes, I know. That's not a popular theory.

13. Once the custody case is over, remember that it is over - for now. Continue the journal entries, as they could become helpful in the future.

14. Don't think that the ex-wife has "turned over a new leaf" or has "changed"., especially if she becomes more agreeable or nice after the case is over. Because--what do they say? - "Leopards don't lose their spots". Neither do ex-wives. Or ex-husbands.

My husband's custody case lasted 2 years. It absolutely consumed our thoughts and lives for that long. And what was the final result? Some additional time with SD; from 25% to 33% of the time. Not a huge change, but it is better than no change. But the relationship between my husband and I changed dramatically, and actually for the better. We worked together on this, and even though it didn't turn out the way that we had hoped, it did result in a great deal of lifestyle changes for the better in his ex-wife's life, which will ultimately be good for their daughter.

Also, we both have learned to cherish the time that we have with his daughter, and involve ourselves in whatever we can to increase the time that we see her. Be creative - consider going to school to have lunch with your skid(s), or volunteer in their classroom. Be at their activities or practices. The bottom line is that the child will benefit greatly from your involvement in their lives, regardless of how much they are with you.

Remember what I said about it being over - for now? Well, 4 months after this court case was over, my husband went to court and got physical custody of SD. What happened? BM was abused by her former husband, had to go into a women's shelter and had every intention of taking SD with her. My husband had the good sense to contact his attorney, and they filed for full custody, which he received. It is now going on 2 years with us having SD 80% and BM having 20%. The custody arrangement has now taken on a different dynamic…but that is a story for another day!

"MissyM" is a Station member and lives in California with her husband of almost five years. She is the mom to her 19 year old son; her 12 year old stepdaughter; and a 3 and a half year old daughter. Feel free to contact her at

Keep reading on StepMomStation

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What Do You Call Your Step Mother?

Remarried couples often face a challenge in deciding what children should call step-parents, especially when biological parents are still in the picture.

Considering the Other Parent’s Feelings
When deciding what to call a step-parent, it’s important to consider the other parent’s feelings. Choosing a name for the step-mother or step-father that makes biological parents uncomfortable can put the child in a difficult position. This is especially important in situations with shared custody. Children should not have to watch what they call a step-parent when they are in a biological parent’s home. It is a very rare situation when calling a step-parent Mom or Dad is the best choice. Fortunately, there are other options.

Use the Step-Parent’s First Name
In some situations, the best option for remarried couples may be for the child to call a step-mother or step-father by first name. This option works well for older children, especially those who have left the home. As long as the child speaks to the step-parent with respect, being on a first-name basis can avoid a lot of the more difficult questions that can arise when selecting a name for step-parents.

First names don’t work for parents who do not feel comfortable with children calling adults by their given names. This is not necessarily the best solution in a home with younger children either.

Create a Nickname for the Step-Parent
For adults who prefer not to be called by their first names, creating a special nickname for the step-parent may be an option. Using a nickname reinforces the special relationship between child and step-parent without threatening the biological parent who has shared custody. The nickname should be something that the remarried couple, the child and step-parent are comfortable using. It can be a form of the adult’s name, a childhood nickname the step-parent once used or a generic nickname. Ideas for step-mothers include Missy or Mimi. Pop or Poppa may work for step-fathers if these terms aren’t being used by the grandparents.

Read more at Suite101: How to Choose Names for Step-Parents: Remarried Couples Face Challenge of What to Call a Step-Parent |

Keep reading here on

Monday, December 14, 2009

Who Gets Custody of the School Play?

As a stepfamily coach and counselor, I hear many single mom’s dread the times when they will have to be in the same space as their ex. Worse than that, they eventually have to share that space with the ex’s new wife. Here is one case scenario.

The School Play
Stephanie’s daughter Sarah is in a school play. Stephanie has been coaching Sarah on her lines. mother and daughter are very excited. However, as the night of the play approaches, Stephanie feels a knot growing in her stomach. Her ex-husband, Charles, will be there – with his new wife. She cannot bear to be in the presence of the woman who ruined her marriage. She does not plan on speaking to her. She will stay as far away from both of them as possible.

What Should Stephanie Do?
Stephanie’s feelings are understandable. It is painful to see her ex-husband with “the other woman.” But, it would be damaging to Sarah to see so much friction between her parents.

Getting Through the Night
Stephanie’s situation is similar to many that I have helped women get through. Here are a few ideas that have helped others.

Invite a friend or relative to accompany you to school events when your ex will be there. The friend serves as a buffer and support.
It is important that Stephanie does talk to her “ex” – and his wife. They don’t have to sit together, but civility is required. Children who fare best after a divorce are those whose parents make a real effort to form a co-parenting relationship.
After that very difficult task, Stephanie deserves a treat! A massage the next day, a good movie, or a night out with friends.
Dress Rehearsal for the Future
A school event is, in effect, a dress rehearsal for much bigger events. The time you spend at this event is a lot less than what lies ahead. Think graduations, taking your child to college, weddings, and grandchildren’s birthday parties. These will happen sooner than you think! They will be so much easier if you get used to being in the same space as your “ex” a little bit at a time.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up
It takes a long time to get over a divorce. Of course it’s hard to see the man you were married to with someone else. It will get easier over time. There are divorce support groups, single mom’s groups, and a lot of therapists and counselors who can give you the support you deserve. Remember, your well being is good for your child as well as yourself.

To read more from Brenda Rodstrom, visit or contact her at

Read more here on

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Surprise Step Child?

Dear Jacque,

A few months after I met my now husband, he discovered (through paternity testing) that he had a child from a relationship 9 years prior. The child’s mother waited for 9 years to seek child support and never established contact between my husband and her or the child (they lived 2,000 miles away).

This past year, the child’s (now 14) mother established contact with my husband and ultimately my husband has finally talked to his son online, over Skype and emails. Father and son seem to enjoy their talks and my husband is planning a trip to see him in the next few weeks. I don’t plan on going mostly because this boy hasn’t even met his father yet; bringing along an extra “mom-type” wouldn’t be fair to anyone.

I have done everything in my capability to be a good stepmom to the two kids that we share custody with with his ex-wife. In fact, some would say I’ve gone above and beyond the Stepmom call of duty. I love my stepkids and consider them like my own.

What perplexes me is that I can’t seem to wrap my head (or heart) around liking this third kid. I want to consider him part of our family, but I’m struggling with that. I admire my husband for stepping up and wanting to establish a relationship with this kid but I feel like a horrible person because I don’t want to deal with the new extension of our stepfamily.

Our custodial kids don’t know about their half-brother and we have no intentions of telling them at the moment. Both kids tend to have behavioral issues when confronted with major upheavals (as could be expected).

Any advice for how I can maintain my sanity while I warm up to an “extra” stepchild?

Read the answer on Becoming A Stepmom