Guest Post: Carolyn Grona of The Grown Up Child

21 10 2009

Wondering what your stepchildren are going through? I am not only a stepmom–today I have my ADOC hat on. (That’s adult child of divorce for you ladies from intact families of origin.) and I came across this post that Carolyn Grona wrote on her blog The Grown Up Child. She nailed it. I invited Carolyn to talk with me for my Stepmom Circles podcast, too. She talks about what her experience was like as a rebellious teenage stepdaughter. So make sure to check it out for another perspective that can help you understand your stepkids.

Feeling Wanted

by Carolyn Grona

As a child of divorce I’ve lived my life with one enormous fear. The fear of not being wanted. It still haunts me. I’ve seen it haunt others. Like a monkey on our backs that lays dormant for a while but wakes up at the slightest hint of confirmation. I wish it wasn’t so. I wish I could shake it. I’ve even thought I had from time to time until something has triggered my fear and the monkey has raised it’s head from my shoulder. Whispering in my ear, “See? You were right. You weren’t wanted after all.”

I’ve always tended to be logical; a linear thinker. It always made me pretty good in math and not so good in the creative arts. And as a young kid, my logic went like this: If my parents no longer love each other and don’t want the life they created together, how could they possibly want me? Wasn’t I basically the sole representation of the life they had created and now wanted away from? If it’s children that turn couples into families and my family was broken, didn’t that mean I was too? And who wants a broken kid to lug around? I wouldn’t.

Of course my logic was never supported. My parents would tell me outright how much they loved me. How wanted I was. But that damn monkey wouldn’t go away. And a toxic script would run through my head at the slightest trigger. A missed phone call. A raised voice. A scowl. An off hand remark.

My internal dialogue would sound like this: They loved each other and created me. I am half of each of them. But now they don’t love each other, so how can they possibly love me? Maybe half of me. That I could understand; but never all of me. Not the parts that come from the other. But I can’t be split in two, I can only be one whole person. And if they can’t stand half of me, it’s not possible for them to love all of me. Maybe I can hide. But I can’t help being the constant reminder of the marriage they didn’t want. I can’t help always requiring an explanation. Wouldn’t their lives be easier if I just didn’t exist?

And the monkey would agree wholeheartedly.

It’s a scary thing. Worrying that the only two people in the world that are required by nature to love you, might not. Because if your own parents can’t love you, than who can? These are questions no child really wants the answers to but also wants answered most of all. And so the dance begins. Pushing and pulling. Testing and trusting. Seeing if they will hit their breaking point and admit what you’ve been so afraid of hearing and then feeling the flood of love and admiration when they don’t. This is what kids who are unsure of their relationships do.

But as I got older I did something else. And I’ve watched a lot of my ACOD friends do it too. I pulled back as most teenagers do. But I never really came back. A defensive action. My internal dialogue changing. It became: One day they might realize I was a mistake and get tired of being reminded of the union they severed. Tired of seeing their ex partner in me. And when that happens I’ll be ready. I won’t want them as much as they won’t want me. I can’t let them hurt me like that.

I’ve seen this so often and I did it too. Trivializing my parental relationships. Forming insignificant attachments with my most significant others. I had to be strong enough; indifferent enough. Because if it all came crashing down, that’s what would make it survivable. I thought of it as a preparedness measure. No different from stocking up on water and canned goods in case of emergency.

And the monkey would agree wholeheartedly.

It’s incredible how comforting the feeling of being wanted can be for a child. And how destabilizing the fear of losing that feeling is. The feeling becomes like the ground beneath your feet. One can focus on so much more when not preoccupied with the idea it might turn to quicksand. I’ve tried to build strong relationships all around me. Things I can point to and say, see? Look at all these people who love me, my parents would be crazy to not do the same. Also serving as, See? Look at all this support that I have. I’ll do just fine without them. A feeble attempt to firm up my ground.

In my adult life I have had times when I’ve felt close to my parents and times when I didn’t. Times when I’ve felt embraced by them and times when I’ve felt rejected. I still find myself distanced; struggling to trust. Even when the monkey is silent I find myself analyzing their reactions to me. Questioning the solidarity of our bond. And those are the moments the monkey loves.

He says “Be careful. They could destroy you. Remember when? Don’t give them the chance.”

Sometimes the monkey wins. I agree and I put up my front.

But sometimes the relationship wins and I tell the monkey to just shut up and go back to sleep. Maybe one day if he gets told that enough, he’ll get mad and move out all together.

What a liberating day that would be.





Stepmom Book Club

14 04 2009

Good morning M’Ladies:

I recently came across a fantastic resource for stepfamilies (thanks Jen!) The Library Journal printed an article Stepfamily Ties, which includes reviews of several stepfamily books to help librarians build collections that will really help stepfamilies. Check it out for some great reads. Here are a few noteworthy reviews from the article by my blogger pals:

bitchNo One’s The Bitch: A Ten-Step Plan for the Mother and Stepmother Relationship. by Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Carol Marine 

“Bitch is a worthy, energetic workbook…Chatty and funny, it provides useful ideas (e.g., make small offerings) and sound how-to (e.g., greet each other when the kids swap houses). Fill-in-the-blank sections pose a defacement risk, though the positive tone outweighs it.”

package-dealThe Package Deal: My (Not-So) Glamorous Transition from Single Gal to Instant Mom by Izzy Rose.

“This candid, optimistic memoir readably recounts Rose’s journey from single San Franciscan to stepmother of two adolescent boys in Texas. Clear-eyed, funny observations complement 21 “rules of motherhood” (e.g., compromise but without sacrificing yourself) and show how real people blend.”

And they included my book, yay!

bookcoverA Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom: Expert Advice from Other Stepmoms on How To Juggle Your Job, Your Marriage, and Your New Stepkids by Jacquelyn B. Fletcher

“Fletcher’s excellent what-to-expect guide is perfect for women who were single with no kids before they married into stepchildren. Anecdotes and snippets from stepfamily experts are conversational yet illuminating.”





The Power of Guilt

15 12 2008

journaldmIn blended families, there are few things more powerful than guilt. It is the emotion that fuels many of the negative things that happen in stepfamilies. It is the reason that Dads become permissive parents and allow their children to run wild. It  is often one of the reasons Moms are combative and challenging to co-parent with. In 2003, the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage published a study called Divorced Mothers’ Guilt. The study found that the guilt they felt for putting their children through divorce often kept them stuck in one emotional place and unable to move on with their lives.

Anecdotally, I can attest to this just from listening to moms during interviews. I have always been curious about the moms who originally ask for the divorce and then act as though they are the victims or become vindictive or angry later when they weren’t at the time of the divorce. It could be the guilt talking.

And so for all of us, how do recover from guilt? How do biological and stepparents move on from feeling guilty about an affair, or a divorce or a remarriage? If anyone has some good ideas, please feel free to comment. In the meantime, here are some of my thoughts:

Say your sorry. Take the children out for one-on-one time and apologize. Call or e-mail your former spouse and tell them you are sorry for everything that happened. Marriage researcher John Gottman describes in his books how repair attempts can reduce conflict in relationships. If the breakup of the marriage happened because of an affair, leave defensiveness behind, own up to your responsibility and say your sorry.

Look to the future. Instead of remaining stuck in anger and guilt about what happened in the past, focus on your hopes for the future.

Remember we’re alone. Each of us has our own particular path to walk in this life. A divorce and remarriage will affect children for their rest of their lives, but at the end of the day they will have to deal with it on their own. Give them the tools they need to move through their emotions in a healthy way instead of letting them manipulate you with your guilt.

Let go of what doesn’t serve you. Guilt is really a useless feeling. It doesn’t move you anywhere, just keeps you stuck in the past. Wouldn’t you rather choose to let go of the guilt? Challenging things happen to children. How they respond to it can build their character and yours if you allow everyone to move on emotionally.

Be true to your inner truths. Guilt can strip biological parents of their core values. For instance, if a parent would typically believe that boundaries are good for kids but lets them all go because he feels guilty, he is not only depriving his children of the parenting they need, he is abandoning his own belief system. Seriously, guilt is that powerful.

So what do you feel guilty about? How does the guilt of your partner or the ex affect the dynamics between all the members of your blended family?





The Natural Order of Things: Stepfamilies add a layer of complexity to life’s transitions.

27 10 2008

When John and Emily Visher, the founders of the Stepfamily Association of America, now the National Stepfamily Resource Center, discovered in their research that successful stepfamilies are flexible, creative problem-solvers, they weren’t kidding. Problem solving is a survival skill we all need. Just because you’ve passed through the first years of chaos and into a family that feels more stable doesn’t mean you’re done working consciously to create a happy stepfamily.

With every natural life change, stepfamily dynamics are split wide open again as people decide how they will relate in this new phase – for instance, when a stepchild goes to college or gets married or has a child of his or her own. Of course, this happens in first families as well, but in stepfamilies transitions call into question the very nature and definition of the family, since some of the members are not related by blood.

We recently experienced a transition that revealed the fault lines in our family. I discovered I’m pregnant. When we told the kids, they reacted about as I expected they would. Two were happy, and one had a frown while we explained that their dad would always be their dad and love them. We talked about how this event could bring up all sorts of different emotions for them – excitement, worry, jealousy. We assured them that the baby would just bring more love into our family and wouldn’t take away love from anyone. They all started coming up with names for the baby and a list of must-have toys. We told the ex, and she congratulated us. Everything seemed picture-perfect.

Until I saw a picture of the baby in my belly and it became real to me.

Then the cracks in our family began to show. Most surprising of all? They came from me. I found myself less and less tolerant of my stepchildren. When they followed me around the house because they like being with me, I felt stalked and claustrophobic. I wanted them to leave me alone as I contemplated having my own flesh-and-blood child.

My first pregnancy meltdown was brutal on my poor husband. The words “No mother wants her innocent child born into a stepfamily” actually came out of my mouth. And I meant them, too. The grief that erupted after I said that was so deep it seemed to come from a molecular level. All I could think was that my child will have to cope with the dynamics of living in a stepfamily.

The lines suddenly cracked wide open in my heart. I could clearly see Us (my baby and me) and Them (my husband and his kids). Every time my husband was asked to spend more money, more time with his first children (and they suddenly became HIS children, not OUR family), I became more and more resentful as I imagined all of the resources my own child would not have because of the choices my husband made when he was young.

These feelings were all things I knew intellectually I might feel. I had heard other stepmoms talk about what it was like. I thought I was prepared to deal with the transition from stepmom to mom and stepmom. And yet…the power of my emotional response floored me.

If you’ve read A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom, you know that I am an action-oriented, let’s-DO-something-about-this kind of gal, but this time I don’t think there’s anything I can do but ride it out. The baby will come. Our family will react and settle into a new way of living together. The only thing to do is to be as open-hearted as possible. To allow the feelings to come. To acknowledge them and talk about them and let them be. Sometimes a good cry has amazing healing power.

And so do words. When I blurted that hurtful sentence to my husband, his response made everything suddenly seem bearable. “I’m so sorry that as a first-time mother you have to think about all these things.” I knew then we would be just fine.