Friday, May 7, 2010

Advice columns...

Did you ever spend any time reading an advice column?  When I was young, I used to read Dear Abby and Ann Landers religiously.  Then, as I got older and stopped reading print newspapers, I would catch an advice column or two in magazines or on the Internet. 

Slate.com has an advice column called Dear Prudence.  It's authored by Emily Yoffe, a writer I am familiar with because I read her book, What the Dog Did.  Like me, she adopted beagles from BREW (Beagle Resource Education and Welfare), so I had to read her book.

Anyway, I often enjoy Dear Prudence, because it seems like the editors pick the quirkiest letters for Prudie to answer.  I like the column, but I don't always agree with Prudie's advice, particularly when it comes to stepmoms.  Don't get me wrong... I barely qualify as a stepmom as it is.  But I have a lot of friends who are stepmoms and have daily dealings with their husbands' children from a prior relationship.  And, well, that's just made me feel pretty protective toward stepmoms as a group.  I think they're too often maligned and misunderstood, even though some of them deserve the derision they get.

Prudie seems to think that stepmoms should a): treat and love their stepchildren as if they were their own and b): never interfere in their stepchildren's relationship with their father.  And I want to tell Prudie that clearly she's never been a stepmom and probably has no clue what it's like.

In a perfect world, it would be possible for stepmothers to love and care for their husband's kids as if they were their own.  In a perfect world, bio moms and stepmoms would always work together to see that the children's interests always come first.  Fathers would take care of their kids and never ask their second (or third or fourth) wife to look after the child without giving her authority to discipline them.  Fathers would never allow guilt to dictate how they treat their kids and their wives when the kids are around.  Stepchildren and stepmoms would get along and respect each other; everyone would always be able to maintain perspective of where the other person is coming from.  No one would expect the stepmom to take any responsibility when she has no authority.  No one would ever step on anyone else's toes.

But the world isn't perfect and that's not reality.

In my case, my husband's ex wife has thus far only let the children visit once-- for about 48 hours.  After that, she claimed I was a "bad influence" and tried to force my husband to see the children only when she was present.  One year, she even tried to force us all to spend Christmas together at my in laws' house.  Now... I have never actually met my husband's former wife in the flesh.  I've never really had the opportunity, because she lives thousands of miles away from us.  But she never approached me and asked me how I felt about this forced holiday gathering.  She just expected I'd be there.  Incidentally, she and her husband stayed at my in laws' house; my husband was relegated to a hotel room.  I chose to skip the event because I thought it would be a disaster and I had no desire to spend the holidays with my husband's ex wife.  Besides, we were broke at the time and couldn't afford an extra plane ticket or boarding for our dogs.  So I stayed home and caught some hell for it.

My husband said the gathering was a disaster.  His younger daughter refused to speak to him and his older daughter was depressed and anxious.  Ex's current husband acted like a complete asshole to my husband in his own father's house.  Had I been there, I'm sure there would have been a big cat fight, too.  We would have paid good money for this experience.

A couple of years after that incident, Ex's son decided to move away from home... probably because he was hoping to escape the pressure to do a mission for the LDS church.  Ex called my husband and demanded that he talk to the young man, put some sense into his head.  Hubby refused to do it.  Next thing we know, she's telling us how much the kids hate me.  These kids have only met me once.  When they were with me and their father, they obviously had a good time.  No one cried-- plus, I'm told by my husband's father and stepmother that they spoke positively about us incessantly after their visit (they stopped by the in laws' house on the way back to their home state).  Moreover, Ex had once expected them to spend Christmas with me and they haven't seen me since, so I'm not sure that I'm responsible for them hating me.  And then, to add insult to injury, she told my husband not to share that information with me... "to spare my feelings".

I finally wrote Ex a letter--my first and only communication with her to date-- giving her a good sized piece of my mind.  I was extremely pissed, mainly because she kept dragging me into her communications with my husband, claiming that my presence was, in part, what was wrong with the kids and why they didn't want to see their dad.  The only thing I have done is marry a man who was legally divorced.  I have never stood in the way of my husband's kids seeing or talking to their father.  I have never interfered with his ex wife's communications with him, either, though I have expressed an opinion when he has shared them with me.  I told her that we would not be the friends she had claimed she wanted us to be, because she hadn't shown me any respect whatsoever.  I told her that I thought she was selfish and abusive and that I predict one day, her kids would know what a whackaloon she is.

Some months later, just in time for hubby's birthday, we got a bunch of boxes of hubby's stuff that Ex had been holding onto for several years.  Along with the stuff, there was an itemized inventory and hateful letters from my husband's daughters demanding that he give them up for adoption to their stepfather (Ex's third husband).  Ex also wrote a shitty letter.  And she enclosed the necessary paperwork for adoption.

I have to say... for a split second, my husband was tempted to sign those papers.  He was devastated by the letters his formerly sweet daughters had written.  But, in the end, he didn't sign for several reasons.  First off, stepfather had not shown any indication that he wanted to adopt the girls.  Secondly, it was clear that the girls didn't know what adoption meant.  Thirdly, even if he'd signed them, Ex wouldn't have to file them.  And fourthly, he had hope that his daughters would one day come around.

That was in 2006.  He hasn't spoken to his daughters since.  In the ensuing years, my husband's former stepson has also betrayed him.  I have had to sit by and watch all of this unfold.

So... when Dear Prudence tells stepmoms that they should love their stepchildren as if they were their own... and that they should never interfere with their husband's relationships with their kids, I can tell that she's never been there, done that.  And for that reason, in my opinion, she tends to give crappy advice when it comes to blended family issues.

I never wanted to be anyone's wicked stepmother.  When I married my husband, I fully hoped I could at least have a cordial relationship with his kids.  But, I have to say, after seeing where they came from and observing their behavior, I don't want to have anything to do with them.  I don't want to act as if they're mine and I'm sure as hell not going to let them influence my husband without having something to say about it.  Hate stepmothers all you want, but we're people too and we have rights.

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