Monthly Archives: July 2010

Stepfamily forums and the Mean Girls effect

I just read this great post My Inner Masochist on Lady Justine’s Blog about her recent experiences with Mumsnet.

Now in my early days of stepparenting I admit I swung by Mumsnet a few times, hoping to get some answers to some of my “the known universe has fallen away!” questions.

Things like:

Why does my stepson keep shooting me with imaginary guns? Will it scar him forever if I tell him to stop?

Why did he court me when we first met, but now he rejects me?

and

What can I do about all the wee on the toilet floor?

Like Lady Justine, I was totally stunned by what I found at Mumsnet.

Women weren’t just giving constructive advice or support to each other, they were also ripping each other to shreds in a frenzy of high-tech bloodsports. Lady Justine and I don’t appear to be the only ones to have noticed this phenomena, either.

There are some hot button topics that seem to bring out many mums’ inner ugly.

The first time I was there, I happened to stumble a post by a woman who described her childbirth as less than painful. From memory, she said something like “I hypnobirthed, and while it was intense I wouldn’t call it painful”.

To my horror, this apparently unforgivable sentiment was followed by the commentary equivalent of about seven thousand vicious, post-natal mums beating their way through the offender’s computer screen to bitch slap her.

Sadly, stepmothering yet not appearing to experience candy sorbet-flavoured glitter delight at every single aspect of caring for someone else’s kids seems to be another of these hot button topics. I guess that hearing about stepmother challenges or unhappiness simply spotlights too many fears and resentments and resonant cultural stereotypes for the audiences of these generalist parenting forums to let offending stepmothers go unrebuked.

So anyway, my own piece of unsolicited advice to the universe today is:

Whatever happens, don’t go to a general parenting forum for advice or support about stepfamily issues.

If you do, you will be offered two starkly unpleasant choices:

1. Stay silent, and watch deserving people who are struggling to do their best with difficult situations (after all, they are asking for advice!) get slammed.

or,

2. Speak, and get slammed yourself.

In my experience, general parenting forums are frenzies of self-righteousness and deliberate hurtfulness. It’s so ugly.

Longer term stepmums quickly work this out for themselves, but I would always tell recent stepmother recruits:

If you ever want to seek or offer stepfamily support, you really need to go to a stepfamily-exclusive site.

Honestly, this is the only way to avoid all the trolling meanies with chips on their shoulders. Because, really, adjusting to stepparenting is hard enough without having interweb cave dwellers getting their judgement jollies at your expense.

A better choice than Mumsnet and its ilk is to try your local or national Stepfamily Association and see if it runs forums. They often need you to register and be approved before you can read or post, but once you’re in they are often the most wise, supportive and understanding communities you could ever hope to belong to.

Where do you go for stepfamily support?

28 Comments

Filed under Communication, Resources, Stepfamily Life

The Getaway

I’m spending a couple of much-needed days away at the moment while the Lovely Man takes a week’s “Boy Time” in the kids’ city.

As much as I support the Boys getting time alone with their Dad, it wasn’t a plan I was particularly happy about initially – there’s nothing like feeling excluded from what I consider my family (even if the other people in it don’t feel the same way about me!) to reinforce those inevitable stepmother outsider feelings. The Boys actually get a lot of time with their Dad without me there, and the timing of this particular trip certainly hasn’t felt ideal…

But now, looking out of my hotel window at the blue sky and glassy river beyond, I feel very glad to be here, catching up with myself as I am outside and beyond my stepmother role.

Part of the “shutting down” feeling that I get from being depressed (and just as a reminder, stepmothers suffer stress and depression at significantly higher rates than other stepfamily members, mothers without stepchildren or women generally) has included a kind of distancing from spending time with people I love, so it feels like a big step forward to have invited a couple of friends and my sister to each spend a night with me as part of this mini-holiday.

And in between their comings and goings I’ve got hours each day to myself for walking on the beach, shopping, reading and writing. I also carefully chose the cheapest hotel I could find that had a gym so I can keep up with the all-important exercise regimen that’s been so helpful in lifting my mood and cutting the dreaded rumination cycle off at the knees.

I’m very lucky to have this option – lots of other women wouldn’t be able to get away from work, or couldn’t spare the extra cash that three nights in even an inexpensive hotel costs. As much as I love our home, the Lovely Man’s long hours and extra travel to see the Boys without me for two weekends in four means I spend way too much time alone there, so actually being in a different environment is a big part of the self-care investment of this trip.

Especially for stepmothers without children of our own, there’s an enormous benefit in getting away from our usual routine and consciously connecting with the things that make us who we are beyond our partner and his kids.

Common sense tells us there are real benefits to getting away, even if the best you can manage is sending your man and the children out for a day of Dad-Kid time and consciously taking that few hours to do something enjoyable that you have let slide away under the pressure of stepfamily life. Or for some women maybe deliberately setting out to do something new and different might be more nurturing – what about packing a book, a blanket, a sandwich and a drink, heading to the prettiest park you can find and turning your phone off for a guaranteed two hours of solitude? I’ll stow that idea away for the next time the Boys come to visit…

I’ve put so much energy into cultivating my relationship with the Lovely Man and with his kids that the most important relationship I have got neglected. It feels so good to be gradually getting back together with me again.

32 Comments

Filed under Family, Self-Care Challenge, Stepfamily Life

The search string diaries bite back

Trawling through three months of blog statistics yesterday, I discovered what may well be the strangest search string ever.

(Subtext here: with the current mix of three rampant Boys in my loungeroom, the Lovely Man’s father and stepmother arriving this afternoon, a three course lunch for nine to cook for tomorrow and several appointments to attend in addition, this post would perhaps better be titled “Search String Cop-Out”. But that’s ok, as Boy C would say.)

Drumroll…….

“when you’re up to your ass in alligators”

!!!

All I could think was:

Alligators? We don’t even have alligators in Australia! Why would I write about alligators?

Then, belatedly, I remembered this post.

Mystery solved, Nancy Drew.

4 Comments

Filed under Family, Food, Kids, Stepfamily Life, The Search String Diaries, Writing