Sunday, January 18, 2015

When it's not the enemy doing the PASing

I've talked before about how PAS (Parental Alienation Syndrome) has done its number on our family in the form of Becca's mother, with Becca being the collateral damage. But the longer I've been a Step/Mom, the more I've realized that my experience with and knowledge of PAS makes me particularly aware of when I see it happening in other families. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it), God didn't grant me the grace to overlook PAS when it seeps into my own circle of friends and family. Having a friend or family member who actively PAS'es their child or children isn't like having different religious or political views from someone. I can overlook those differences, but actively and eagerly destroying your child's relationship with their other parent is not something I can overlook or forgive.

In my almost eight years of being a Step/Mom, I've come to surround myself with other women who are also stepmoms. All of my friends and I have started out as stepmoms without biological children of our own (childless stepmoms), but over the years, many women have come to have bio-children. Unfortunately through the years, some of these moms have also separated or divorced their partners. It's always sad to see a marriage fall apart, but one would think the experience of being a stepmom would make one more sympathetic and eager to encourage a relationship between their ex-partner and their child. Not so in some cases, unfortunately.

Many of us who have been fighting the Step/Mom fight have seen these types of mothers before. They're often our stepkids' mothers. These mothers are relentless in their battle to persecute and punish their ex-partner. They will stop at nothing to ensure everyone they come into contact with thinks their ex is a bad, bad man. Abuse claims are often made. Their weapon of choice is endless petitions to the family court overseeing their case. They also often claim their family court judge is biased against them, that they favor the father. Any reasonable person who has spent even a brief moment in family court knows this is a laughable notion at best. I've never heard of one custodial father who didn't face significant hurdles inside the courtroom in order to gain custody of his child/ren, even in cases where the mother was certifiable. But this type of mother, the one who seeks full custody of her child at all costs, will scream at the top of her lungs that her judge is unreasonable, biased, sexist, or all of the above.

Early on in my journey as a Step/Mom, I became friends with one such mother. We became friends long before her child was born; in fact, it was even before she married her now ex-husband. She was passionate about changing society's views on stepmotherhood and we also shared similar interests and political views. But, as these things sometimes go, she separated from her husband not long after her child was born. And suddenly, this man who had been proclaimed as an Amazing Father by her during their courtship and marriage was now Public Enemy #1.

I won't go into the details, mainly because I've tried to block most of them out. I don't doubt that her now ex is not the greatest guy on Earth, and he doesn't even sound like a particularly spectacular father. But, no one put a gun to her head and forced her to have a baby with him. Before a child is born, the woman has - for better or worse - all of the control. She willingly and eagerly chose to have a baby with him, yet now, because she was ready to move on and wanted her latest partner to be The Only Dad in Existence, she ramped up the PAS to ensure she would destroy any ounce of a chance her now ex had to exercise his right to be a father to their child.

She told me sob story after sob story as to why her ex was evil, why he was a terrible father who was causing permanent psychological harm to their child, why he was a horrible person, why she was most definitely not PAS'ing their child, and why she wished he would just take a dirt nap already and get out of their lives. She dragged him back to court endlessly, never satisfied with each court order that granted even less visitation and even more child support. She couldn't - or wouldn't - understand her role in all of this. That her dramatic sobbing at each exchange only made it even more traumatic for their child, that encouraging their child to call her latest partner Dad-like names was not appropriate, that her permissive parenting had a lot more to do with her child's acting out than anything that was happening at her ex's house. No, because that did not fit her narrative.

I finally had to sever my friendship with her because I could no longer support her. As much as I tried to separate my feelings about her PAS from my feelings about her as a friend, the fact remained that I simply could not overlook the extreme injustice she was doling out to her child. It would have been akin to me being friends with Becca's mom, despite all the hell she's put Becca and Ashley through, and that I would never be able to do. So, our friendship ended, but unfortunately from what I understand, her PAS'ing has not. And so another victim of PAS for the books.

Dear readers, if you truly love your child, that love will always outweigh your hate for your ex. If only some mothers would realize that and act accordingly.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The problem with being the present parent

So sorry for my extended absence, dear readers. I promise it wasn't intentional - it's just that 2014 was quite the busy year at Tara. But have no fear, as one of my New Year's resolutions is to blog more, especially after the encouragement I received from one of the editors I work with through my actual job to write more. So, here it is!

So...the problem with being the present parent, you ask? What's that supposed to mean? Well, it occurred to me as I yet again, for the umpteenth time earlier this week as I had to set boundaries on the electronics Jade and Gabby received for Christmas, that there are some perks to being the absent parent. Ashley and I have had a rather interesting few months as the girls thought they were being sneaky online, only to realize that Mom and Dad know a lot more about the Internet than they do. As a result, there have been groundings, extra chores and a lot of time spent being the rule enforcer.

Here's a dirty secret of parenting no one bothers to tell you before you get into it - no one actually likes being the rule enforcer. Well, maybe some authoritarian parents do, but not most of us. It's hard work to put your foot down, say no, and stick to it. It's even harder when you work all day, come home to cook dinner, do dishes, do the laundry, AND be the rule enforcer. It would be a lot easier for all of us if Jade and Gabby just followed the rules all the time. But of course, preteens - especially preteens who love to be oppositional - are practically required to break rules. Which is all the more reason why it's so important to enforce rules and boundaries.

But, I'm not a perfect parent. Especially after a busy few months at work, combined with some health issues I continue to face, it's quite exasperating to be the present parent most days. So, do I lose my patience at times? Yes. Are there moments that I look back and go, "Alright, Southern Step/Mom, you could have totally handled that better." Of course there are. All this means there are times where the kids don't see me at my best. Just as with spouses, when you live day in and day out with someone, you see all sides of them - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

But when you're the absent parent, like Jade and Gabby's bio-mom Maggie, you get to be whatever your bio-kids choose to see you as. Some kids see their absent parent for who they are, but as I saw plenty of times when I worked in child welfare, it's easy for many kids to sanctify their absent parent. The kid comes up with any and every excuse in the book as to why the absent parent is really the "good" parent, because it's easy to ignore the parent's faults when they aren't in your face every day. It's easy to think that life would be so much better with the absent parent because the absent parent never has to enforce rules, set boundaries, or....well, be a parent.

This is why I firmly believe it's so much easier to give birth to a child than it is to be a mother. Any woman, theoretically barring any physical issues, can give birth, but to actually stick it out through the next 18 years and raise that child? Well, childbirth sounds a lot easier than people would have you think compared to 18 years of active child-rearing. Maybe it's not as physically painful, but it surely can't be any more emotionally trying.

So do I expect the girls to appreciate all Ashley and I do for them and sacrifice for them now? No, but I do hope that when they are adults, they realize that despite our faults, being the present parents takes guts, determination and an inner strength that no one really explains before you become a parent, and that they cut us a little slack for being imperfect.

Monday, December 2, 2013

When you can't let it go......

As I've shared before, Becca's mom broke off her relationship with Ashley many years before I came along. She took Becca with her when she left. I won't get into the details of why she left as it's not my story to tell, but let's just say this was not a case of Ashley being a big jerk and she couldn't stand living with him anymore. Of course, she never explained to Becca why she left, and Ashley did not feel it was his place to tell Becca. I vividly remember one time when Becca and I were going to the store, Becca asked me why her parents broke up. I actually remember the exact intersection I stopped at when she dropped this bombshell. I told her it wasn't my place to tell her, and she should have that discussion with her parents. She became very upset, asking why it was fair for me to know and for her not to, even asking me if the scenario that actually happened is the story. I just kept repeating it was a discussion for her to have with her mom and dad, that I knew because it was a discussion between adults in a relationship to have, but that if she wanted to know, I would not be the one to tell her.

The sad thing is, Becca carried the burden of their breakup and the responsibility for her custody situation more than any child should have, because her mother put her in the role of friend and confidant rather than parent-child. Her mother openly bashed Ashley to her, allowed others to do the same, and actively cultivated relationships with members of Ashley's family that he made abundantly clear to her he did not want Becca interacting with them. Some of my in-laws are....well, difficult. That's the understatement of the century actually, but not the point of this post. Let's just say that as every family has their toxic members, Ashley has a bit more than most and we mutually agreed that these toxic members were dysfunctional and emotionally harmful enough to the girls that no contact was eventually the only option. We did not come to this decision lightly, mind you. Rather than respect Ashley's decision with his family members as he has with Becca's mom's family (we'll call her Laney from now on), Laney made it a point and has continued to do so to ensure Becca is surrounded by people who want nothing more than for Becca and Ashley's estrangement to continue because they know it is the easiest and most effective way to hurt Ashley.

I remember once Becca and I stayed up very late in deep conversation when she was at our house for one of our weekends, and she became very emotional. She confessed she blamed herself for not living with us full-time. She thought that because Laney asked her, a child too young to even be in preschool mind you, if she wanted to come with her when Laney walked out, that she chose her mom over her dad. Blinking back tears, I explained to her that she was a young child and it was no fault of her own, that Ashley did not blame her, and that we both loved her very much.

It broke my heart that Becca thought that any of it was her fault, and it also broke my heart that Laney's hatred of Ashley was and still is so deep that it actually overrides her love for their child. Of course, I have no doubt that Laney loves Becca very much, just as Ashley does. I'm sure in many ways, she is a good mother, and she certainly isn't the train wreck that Maggie is. But truth be told, I think that in many ways, Laney has done more damage to Becca than Maggie ever has to Gabby and Jade. While raising Gabby and Jade has been no walk in the park, they at least have had the benefit of being reared in a home with two parents who provide them with an example of a loving relationship. We don't badmouth Maggie to them or make them feel they should be ashamed of half of their genes or put them in a position where they feel they have to defend their other parent. They don't have to stay quiet about their positive feelings or feel that it's not OK to love their stepparent because Mom will be angry.

No, I don't care for Laney. She and I are so incredibly different from each other, we would never be friends in another life. We disagree on too many things to mention. But the difference is I never uttered an ugly word about her to her daughter. I encouraged Becca to have a good relationship with both of her parents and with her stepfather. I kept my personal opinions about Laney, her parenting style and her lifestyle choices to myself, even when Becca would occasionally bait me, because I love Becca more than I dislike Laney.

That's the message that gets lost when you can't let it go, when you continue to drag everyone in and out of family court for years, when you make snide comments about your ex in front of your child, when you scream at your ex in front of your child, all of which Laney was - and I have no doubt still is - a pro at doing. You don't have to be the Brady Bunch. No one has to be best friends or even like each other. You just have to keep that civil, business like tone. Put your child's best interests in front of your own.

That's what parenting is all about, right?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Holiday Time!

Sorry for being MIA lately. It's been a few months of highs and lows at Tara. We moved into a new house (yay!), Jade and Gabby are doing well even though Jade is in her last year of elementary school (YIKES!), I finally finished graduate school (YAY YAY YAY!), and all in all, it's been happy chaos. We did however lose a family member over the summer, and of course even though Becca is now 18, she is still in the throes of PAS. Every year, all I can do is continue to pray and hope she will eventually come around.

Thankfully, this holiday season doesn't bring forth any blended family drama. My biggest upset is that we will not be going home to our Southern roots for Christmas due to me and Ashley's work schedules. But I well remember the holiday uproar, the even-wackier-than-usual visitation schedules, the fact that holidays do not always bring out the best in people.

I know it's hard, and I don't mean to sound trite. Sometimes the best you can do is disengage during the holiday season, and be thankful for what is and try to ignore what is not even though it should be. I found the less I involved myself with Ashley and Becca's mom's disagreements at this time of year, the less worked up I got and the happier I was. Happy wife, happy life, right? If you refuse to engage, she can't win. Don't get involved in a text argument. If the visitation plan falls through because your husband waited until the last minute to make arrangements, let it be. If the kids won't shut up about "Mom this" and "Mom that," I found a nonchalant, "Oh mmhmm? That's nice. Did you know cats are night vision?" always worked wonders. It sounds overly simple, doesn't it? But if you don't rent out space in your head, it's a lot easier to get through this emotionally charged season.

Oh, and whenever possible, try to work with your husband to create your own family traditions. If he doesn't see the need for this, continue poking and prodding until he gets it. It's OK for you to do things differently at your house than what the kids do at Mom's - in fact, it's healthy and normal. I think it's great for kids to be exposed to different traditions and ideas. If your husband doesn't encourage your role as Lady of the House.....well, that might need to be a topic for another post.

Wishing you and yours a most wonderful Thanksgiving, and to my Jewish friends, a joyous Hanukkah!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Can it really be over?

Becca is 18 now.

Hold on, I'll let that really sink in for you.

Becca is an adult now. 18 years old. Legally the age of majority.

It is a surreal feeling. There is no active court order anymore. Ashley's days of paying child support are done. That (literally) Bible-sized file sitting in that horrid Family Courthouse is nothing more than documentation of 15 years of hell now. Becca's mom will actually have to terrorize her husband now instead of mine.

Heck, Becca's mom may actually have to get a job now since she can't live off my husband anymore. Imagine that!

Some old-timer Step/Moms will tell you it's never really over, that it never really ends. There are weddings, grandchildren, etc. that mean the bio-mom will always be there, lurking, trying to cause trouble.

I don't really believe that. I mean, I see the point. Evil never stops just being evil. But to not have to live through constant court sessions, threats of (more) false accusations, just hearing the shrill shrieking on the other end of the line anymore?

Hey, I'll take what I can get. Because if you take away court, you take away most of the power.

What's saddest to me is that 18 was no magic salve (at least yet), no truth serum for Becca to realize Dad and I are not evil people, that we're good people in fact who have continued to love her despite her mom's repeated and relentless attacks on what should be and once was a very good father-daughter relationship and stepparent-stepchild relationship.

This, simply put, is not how I envisioned we would spend her high school years. I still think of her as the young teenager she was when I last saw her. It does hurt when I realize just how much we've missed - Ashley, me, and her sisters.

If I could say anything to Becca now, it would be that I hope and pray she takes advantage of every opportunity that comes her way. To follow her dreams and not get sidetracked by boys, friends, and most importantly, what other people think. I would tell her that the sky really is the limit, and there's a whole big world outside her small town just dying to meet her, so she should take some time to travel and get to know herself.

And, I would tell her that there are two sides to every story, and it's time to hear ours.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Hot Mess Express

I have to admit that it's difficult, to say the least, for me to cut Jade and Gabby's bio-mom any slack. I'm a Christian woman, and my own mother often tells me I should love her for the sake of the girls, or that I should feel sorry for her because addiction is a terrible thing.

Addiction is a terrible thing. I'm certainly not trying to minimize the mental illness that it is. But Maggie, their bio-mom, goes so far beyond simple addiction. A pathological liar, a narcissist, a complete and total Hot Mess as I like to call it.

Her latest cry for attention is her incessant posting on Facebook, and she loves to act like Mother of the Year, in between her posts filled with profanity where she likes to go on about very motherly, mature things like sleeping around and dirty lingerie. Not to be outdone, she sprinkles those posts with how much she loves Jesus and how He has saved her life.

Basically, I would say she's an overgrown teenager, but I know teenagers that are better behaved than her.

I think my favorite recently was her post about how she's not just a mother, but a chauffeur, an alarm clock, a waitress, a referee, etc. She hasn't seen her children in almost nine years now, but yet she reposts a picture saying "Like if you will ALWAYS be there for your kids!" I often wonder just how far detached from reality she really is.

Don't worry, Maggie - you enjoy your Facebook time while I do the actual parenting. I've got it all taken care of.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

President Obama, what are you REALLY going to do to encourage fatherhood?

I've already outed myself as a Democrat, so you probably think I am a huge supporter of our President. While I like him and agree in general with many of his policies, there's one topic where he always seems to get it wrong - fatherhood. It feels like a Dan Quayle moment, where you just want to stop him from repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth, but it seems he really does believe what he preaches. Now, I do admire him as a father and husband; he and Michelle make a great parenting team. But the reality is I think he's very biased toward fathers and the "deadbeat dad" myth that it interferes with logic. Take for example his State of the Union address this year:

"...Because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child; it’s having the courage to raise one.”

I agree with the concept, but why not just say parent? Why the focus on dads? I could say the exact same thing about Jade and Gabby's bio-mom. Unfortunately, their bio-mom is not the only noncustodial mother who fits the "deadbeat" stereotype. I couldn't say it any better than the Fathers & Families organization, a nonprofit that promotes shared parenting, whose Facebook page asked, "How exactly are we supposed to do this with 4 days a month VISITATION?"

It's a valid question. 50/50 parenting doesn't work in every scenario obviously. But when neither parent is abusive or dangerous, and they live relatively close to each other, there's no reason why Dad should only get every other weekend. However, in most family court systems around the country where according to the U.S. Census Bureau only 1 in 6 custodial parents is the father, Mom almost always winds up with more time. This is, of course, assuming Mom even informs Dad that he is a parent at all.

If President Obama really wants to enact change in the United States that will encourage fatherhood, he will encourage Congress to pass federal laws that set standards for family courts across the country. Parenting doesn't differ from state to state; the laws governing families shouldn't either. Mothers should be forced to disclose paternity except for in extreme circumstances (e.g. documented domestic violence, rape victims) so that children are not illegally placed for adoption (more on that in an upcoming post). While all parents have the responsibility to support their children, custody and visitation orders should be as vigorously enforced as child support orders are in most courts. A situation like ours with Becca should never happen, where Ashley's feet are held to the fire on his child support payments but yet Becca's mother has been repeatedly charged with contempt of court for violating the custody order and she has never received more than a slap on the wrist. When you reduce a father's role to be nothing more than a paycheck, you are discouraging fatherhood rather than encouraging it.

"I wish I had had a father who was around and involved." - President Obama, February 22, 2013

So do thousands of children across America, Mr. President. Stop the rampant abuse and bias in the Family Court system so fathers and their children can be reunited.