Is This The Worst Thing You Could Say To A Divorcee?

difference between a divorce and a separation - 2houses

One of the most common responses that I receive when I tell others that I am divorced is: “Oh, I know how you feel. I just broke up with my boyfriend/girlfriend.”

I know that you’re trying to empathize with me, but I don’t believe that it is possible for you to know how I feel unless you have been divorced yourself. Yes, the end of a long-term relationship is horrible and devastating, but I don’t believe that it compares to the emotional trauma of getting a divorce, no matter how long the couple has been together.

Divorce is a loss unlike anything else that most people will experience in their lifetime. Divorce is hard emotionally, financially and socially; it’s heartbreakingly difficult. Many sources have said that divorce is the second-most traumatic life experience that a person can go through, after the death of a spouse. I fully believe that there is a good reason — actually, many good reasons — that they didn’t include the breaking up of long-term relationships on that list.

While some breakups do involve separating assets and legal paperwork, the majority of breakups of (childless) relationships don’t. All divorces require paperwork — even the ones that end amicably. Divorce brings out the worst in people. Lawyers get involved, fights start and animosity grows. Of course, not every relationship ends badly (for example, my ex and I are still good friends) but in general, having to argue over each book, every dish and every dollar acquired during the marriage is not a fun experience for anyone.

The biggest difference between a divorce and the breakup of a long-term relationship is the emotional and mental toll that it takes. When getting married, a couple stands in front of all of their friends and family — and in many cases, before God — and declares their never-ending love for each other. They promise to spend their lives together “for better or for worse”. After getting married, the two individuals become a family that works together toward common goals, hopes and dreams.

When a marriage ends, the sense of failure that both parties feel is overwhelming. Even if the reason for divorcing is valid, there is still a lingering feeling of having lied to everyone who mattered most. Divorcees often feel like they have let everyone down by not being able to “fix” their marriage.

Along with the incredible sense of failure comes extreme loneliness, because divorce represents the end of “us” and the return to “me, on my own again”. When a long-term relationship ends, there is still a sense of loss but, in most cases, the two individuals were able to keep their sense of self and maintain (somewhat) separate lives during the relationship; returning to their own life after a breakup isn’t as severe a transition.

So if your friend or family member tells you that they are getting a divorce, don’t tell them that you know how they feel, unless you actually do. Tell them that you’re sorry, that you’ll be there to support them, to listen to them, to drink with them, hug them and let them cry on your shoulder. Tell them that it will be tough (because you read it in an insightful Huffington Post article, not because you experienced it personally) but that they will make it through, and in many cases, they will be happier because of it.

Trust me. At the end of the grieving process, they will thank you for it.

by  Public Relations & Marketing Professional for

Divorce And Kids: 5 Ways Divorce Benefits Kids

divorce and kids - 2houses

Contrary to popular belief, divorce isn’t always negative for kids — sometimes it’s excellent for kids. Here are five ways that your children can benefit from your divorce:

1. When Mommy and Daddy are happier as individuals, their kids will be too. When there’s ugliness between the couple, no one’s happy. Once the halves of the couple move on and find their grounding, each one as an individual has the opportunity to be happier than ever. When children have a happy mom and dad, they’ll do much better.

2. When the tension dissolves out of the house, kids will be more relaxed.Children are like barometers. You can measure the level of tension in the air by their behavior. Once the split happens and the nasty intensity in the environment fades, watch how the children’s behavior follows.

3. When you model that you deserve to be in a satisfying and supportive relationship, you model something wonderful to your kids. If you stay in a bad relationship “for the kids,” don’t fool yourself that the kids will really benefit. Although there will be certainly be an adjustment when you divorce, the end result is positive. You’re showing your children not to settle for an unhealthy marriage.

4. With shared custody, kids have the opportunity to experience each parent as a full and competent parent. Usually when both parents are together, one of them takes on most of the nurturing and/or logistical planning. After a divorce, the children can have each parent completely focusing on them with the time they have together. They can also see each parent fully taking care of home business.

5. There’s the potential for your kids to either witness you being happy on your own or finding a better partner, both of which are a good thing.Whether or not you decide to pair up with another mate, your kids can benefit by watching your joyful independence or new positive relationship. Either way, your children will benefit.

So, if you were thinking this article would be about the horrors your children will experience if you divorce, at this point you’re either hugely disappointed or greatly relieved. What’s most important to remember is your newfound single life after divorce is what you make it — and your children’s attitude and well-being will follow suit.

By Dr. Shoshana Bennett for

Why Parenting Is Easier After Divorce

parenting is easier after divorce - 2houses

Emily and William have done everything right. They have been married for 15 years. They have three beautiful kids. They both work — he’s an analyst, and she’s an attorney for a nonprofit organization. His job pays better than hers, but hers provides a lot of flexibility, which is critical, since William’s job requires a lot of travel. They are not rich, and they do not live beyond their means. In many ways, they are the model American family.

But there’s one big problem: Emily is exhausted. I don’t mean she’s tuckered out and needs to catch up on some sleep — although some sleep would definitely help; I mean she’s running on fumes, living day-to-day and not sure how much longer she can take it.

Because William travels a lot, Emily is left to juggle her job as well as the three kids’ school and extracurricular schedules. She has to worry about trying to keep on top of the housework, making sure everyone’s getting three square meals a day, bird-dogging homework, baths and bedtimes.

Meanwhile, Emily’s doctor has told her that she has high blood pressure and has ordered her to make some lifestyle changes. Carrying out these orders requires commodities that are in short supply at Emily’s house: Time, for sure. And extra money for a gym membership and a house cleaner. And as long as we’re making a wish list, a magic wand wouldn’t hurt.

William has complaints of his own. He would much rather be at home than holed up in a hotel, working long hours and eating bad takeout several nights a week. While his complaints are legitimate, it’s difficult for Emily to feel very sympathetic these days. Getting a job that doesn’t require him to travel sounds like a logical solution, but jobs in William’s field are hard to come by.

Emily’s predicament made me realized how easy I have it. Sure, things get hectic for me sometimes — like for the entire month of December, for example. There’s my daughter’s birthday, Christmas and the year-end demands of my job. Because I’m not married, getting it all done ultimately falls to me.

But I still have it much easier than Emily. Why? Because I am divorced. And along with my divorce, I got a custody schedule. At first, I viewed this schedule as a penalty, because it required me to forfeit days with my daughter. But over the years I’ve come to see it as a consolation prize because it provides me with something I never had when I was married: regularly scheduled blocks of time to myself.

When Hannah is with me, I can cook dinner from scratch. I can put off laundry and other chores and read to her every night. I can blow off running errands that I know she hates. And I rarely get a sitter, because I don’t make social plans that don’t include her.

Then, when she’s with her dad, I get to plan (and even take!) trips with my boyfriend. I get to have dinner with girlfriends. I have uninterrupted personal phone calls. I can stay up late and sleep in on weekends. I can run a marathon of errands or do mountains of laundry without worrying that I’m torturing or ignoring my daughter.

I realize that the success of my situation depends on a couple of big assumptions. First, it depends on my having an ex-spouse that is not a deadbeat dad, and by that I mean one that pays child support and regularly and responsibly exercises his visitation. Second, it assumes that I have the discipline to manage my social life in a way that puts my daughter’s needs before my own whims. I don’t get to do whatever I want whenever I want, but I do have chunks of time to myself to spend as I wish.

I am not bragging about my situation. But the reality is that more than one study in the past few years has found that having kids can actually hurt your marriage. There is a big flaw in the system when it’s easier to be a good parent and a good partner when you’re not married to the father or mother of your kids. If we’re serious about our commitment to the continued viability of traditional marriage, we need to find ways to support those who are engaged in it. (And yes, both of the puns in that last sentence were intended.)

So, what can we do? The solution is twofold. Husbands and wives need to facilitate windows of time when the other one can have some time away. Whether it’s a night out with friends every other week or season tickets to football games, breaks like these are important to the health of the marriage. And it should go without saying that it doesn’t count as a break if the parent staying at home with the kids gives the other one grief about exercising this hall pass. Husbands and wives need to encourage these breaks, not harass each other over them.

Second, couples need blocks of time together without the kids around. Date nights are a good start, but they’re not enough. Couples need entire weekends to spend together on a regular basis — even if they don’t leave town. Maybe you have friends you can trade off with watching each other’s kids one weekend a month. Or perhaps you’re lucky enough to have parents close by who are willing to take the grandkids for the weekend on a regular basis. Or you can bite the bullet and spring for a sitter if you can afford it.

Weekends without the kids can do wonders for a relationship because they provide ample time to do things separately as well as together. Plowing through email, watching a game on TV, catching up on projects around the house, going to dinner and a movie together and sleeping in. Weekends like this probably resemble the way you spent time before the kids came along.
Weekends like this probably helped convince you to marry each other and have kids together in the first place.

Taking a marriage-preparation class before walking down the aisle is standard operating procedure these days. Parenting preparation class should be, too. And I’m not talking about a class that helps you know how to set boundaries for your kids — I’m talking about one that helps you set boundaries to protect your relationship.

Before having children together, couples should work out a plan both for having time away from their spouse and kids as well as having time alone with their spouse without the kids around. Having such a plan before the kids come along can help keep the relationship healthy rather than scrambling to give your marriage CPR after it has been damaged by neglect or built-up resentments.

From venue to menu and a million details in between, couples work hard to ensure that the wedding will be meaningful and memorable. If couples put as much thought and effort into managing their marriage as they do planning their wedding, it’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t pay off.

If you’re currently married and all of this sounds like so much work that you’re not sure it’s worth the effort, think again. Balancing your parenting obligations against other demands of your personal life might be easier when you’re a single parent, but managing your relationship with your child’s other parent is a whole different story.

by Christina Pesoli

The 3 Steps to Becoming a Super Stepmom

Becoming a super stepmom

Did you know that only about one-third of stepfamily marriages last? The statistic begs the question: What is the deciding factor between the families that make it and those that do not? I propose that if you have a Super Stepmom, your family will stay together.

A strong, focused stepmom can save the family. She is the secret weapon. Why do some stepmoms stick it out while others surrender? A Super Stepmom has three key attributes:

1. Resilience
2. A superpower: unconditional kindness
3. A magical uniform: the invisibility cloak

Resilience is staying power. It is the determination that says, “I will stay in this marriage! I will force those kids to like me! I will ignore that last remark!” There are four types of resilience: social, emotional, mental and physical resilience.

Stepmoms with social resilience have an ally — someone who has their back. The power of spending time with a dear friend who makes you smile and allows you to be yourself gives you superpowers. The Super Stepmom is strong and reaches her goals because she communicates with her BFFs daily.

Strong emotional resilience strengthens your willpower. Can a stepmom ever have enough willpower? The Super Stepmom has a good sense of humor and has a positive view on life. Having one of “those” days? Think a positive thought!

Your mental resilience is tied to strengthening your mental muscles. You do this by tackling challenges. They can be tiny challenges, like, “I won’t flip out when I see the kids’ messy bedrooms!” or big ones like, “I will run a marathon.” Either way, your focus and determination increases. The Super Stepmom screams, “I want this marriage and family to work more than anything in this world. I will commit my time and resources to this end.” She knows that goals that command laser-like focus get done.

The Super Stepmom exercises. She doesn’t need to fit perfectly in her leotard, but she does exercise in tiny bursts so that her heart, lungs and brain get a workout. When the Super Stepmom is at a family event and needs a break, she goes outside and does a few jumping jacks. She knows the power of her physical being.

Every hero has a superpower, and the Super Stepmom is known for her unconditional kindness. Unconditional kindness means we commit to kindness regardless of swords thrown at us. We are unfazed by nasty comments, rolling eyeballs or gossip. We are confident, and we can smile at anything. No matter what the children or society throw at us, we can repel any negativity with our smiling shields. The Super Stepmom understands that her family’s divorce leaves lasting scars, which can make her a reluctant villain.

The final ingredient to superhero status is the cool outfit. The invisibility cloak is granted to every stepmom upon her marriage. She wears it at any event where she is introduced. As soon as you hear the introduction, “This is my stepmom,” you will see the recipient’s eyes divert away. Conversations will shift to other people, and the stepmom never sees those people’s eyes again. Discomfort reigns. The invisibility cloak has come down. Rather than being upset by this, the Super Stepmom embraces her cloak and wears it proudly.

Stepmoms earn their wings by strengthening their resilience, exhibiting unconditional kindness and proudly wearing their invisibility cloak. When you see these qualities, you can be assured that this family is one that will last. They have a Super Stepmom.

by Barbara Goldberg (source:

What is Parental Alienation Syndrome?

parental alienation syndrome definition - 2houses

Parental Alienation Syndrome is the deliberate attempt by one parent to distance his/her children from the other parent.

The motivation is to destroy the parental bond between his/her children with the other parent. The alienation process develops over time and some of the symptoms of the syndrome include some or all of the following:

  • A parent will speak badly of or criticize the other parent directly to the child or children. Negative statements about the other parent may be direct or indirect. For instance, the parent may say, “We can’t afford a new dress for the school dance because your father/mother decided to spend the money on vacation with their new friend.” A more direct comment would be, “your father/mother left because he/she didn’t care enough about you to try and make the marriage work.” Either statement is meant to cause the child to feel anger toward the other parent. It is an attempt to use the child to get back at the other parent for causing emotional pain.
  • A parent will speak badly of the other parent within the hearing range of the child or children. There are parents who say they would never say anything negative to their child or children about the other parent. They don’t seem to have any problem saying negative things to other people though and if their child or children happen to be within hearing distance the better. These people hold themselves up as a “good person.” They want to instill anger in their children toward the other parent without looking bad. It’s easy to say they had no idea the child was listening so they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions. I like to say they are being very aggressive in a passive way.
  • A parent will make the child privy to the details of the divorce and the ongoing conflict between the parents. They discuss financial problems brought on by the divorce. Make the child aware of legal issues that are ongoing and make it appear that if it weren’t for dad or mom their life would be easier.Not only can this cause the child to feel anger toward the other parent it can also cause the child to feel responsible for your situation and want to take on responsibilities that are not theirs.
  • A parent will use body language to communicate their dislike of the other parent. The child may witness dad/mom roll their eyes or shake their head at something the other parent did or said. Such body language sends a negative message without a word being spoken. Children are smart and know that a roll of the eyes is a dismissive gesture. One clearly meant to send the message that the other parent is stupid or wrong in some way.
  • Refusing to be around the other parent or to co – parent with them sends the child a negative message also. Children may be told that their dad/mom is always angry and the other parent doesn’t want to be around the anger. The other parent might not be angry at all but, such accusations can cause a child to have unfounded hard feelings toward the other parent.
  • A parent may go as far as accusing the other parent of sexual, physical or emotional abuse. If you have, small children who are not yet able to communicate exactly what has happened such accusations can be very dangerous to the child/parent relationship. They may also have severe legal consequences. If a child is too small to talk and communicate what happened you should insist on a medical examination and an evaluation by a psychiatrist is you suspect abuse. If the child is old enough to speak for themselves and communicates to you that they have been abused then it is your responsibility to help them hold the other parent responsible.

Children who have to live with the unresovled conflict and anger of their parents suffer tremendously. Add to the normal stress of separation and divorce the feeling that the child should choose between the parents and you can cause damage that lasts a lifetime. A child is powerless when it comes to ending the conflict he/she is witnessing. They may feel that if they make a choice it will lessen the conflict they have to live with. One parent can cost their child the other parent and their only motivation is revenge, fear, anger or jealousy. It’s a terrible price for children to have to pay in an attempt to assuage a parent’s feelings.

It is imperative that parents be willing to parent cooperatively, that they put their child’s needs first and that their only concern is their child’s sense of security.

By Cathy Meyer

Divorce and Parenting: Teaching Valuable Life Lessons to Your Children

children and divorced parent - 2houses

As a divorced parent, what lessons and behaviors are you modeling for your children? The messages you convey will influence your children into adulthood. Here is valuable advice on leaving a positive imprint on your innocent children.

Bad things can happen to good people. Divorce is a prime example. Good people get divorced. Responsible people who are loving parents get caught in the decision to end a loveless or deceitful marriage.

The consequences of that decision can either be life affirming or destroying, depending upon how each parent approaches this transition. Parents who are blinded by blame and anger are not likely to learn much through the experience. They see their former spouse as the total problem in their life and are convinced that getting rid of that problem through divorce will bring ultimate resolution. These parents are often self-righteous about the subject and give little thought to what part they may have played in the dissolution of the marriage.

Parents at this level of awareness are not looking to grow through the divorce process. They are more likely to ultimately find another partner with whom they have similar challenges or battles and once again find themselves caught in the pain of an unhappy relationship.

There are others, however, for whom divorce can be a threshold into greater self-understanding and reflection. These parents don’t want to repeat the same mistakes and want to be fully aware of any part they played in the failure of the marriage. Self-reflective people ask themselves questions and search within — often with the assistance of a professional counselor or coach — to understand what they did or did not do and how it affected the connection with their spouse.

These introspective parents consider how they might have behaved differently in certain circumstances. They question their motives and actions to make sure they came from a place of clarity and good intentions. They replay difficult periods within the marriage to see what they can learn, improve, let go of or accept. They take responsibility for their behaviors and apologize for those that were counter-productive. They also forgive themselves for errors made in the past and look toward being able to forgive their spouse in the same light.

These parents are honest with their children when discussing the divorce — to the age-appropriate degree that their children can understand. (That doesn’t mean confiding adult-level information to children who cannot grasp these issues!)They remind their children that both Mom and Dad still, and always will, love them. And they remember their former spouse will always be a parent to their children and therefore speak about them with respect around the kids.

By applying what they learned from the dissolved marriage to their future relationships, these mature adults start the momentum to recreate new lives in a better, more fulfilling way. From this perspective, they see their former marriage as not a mistake, but rather a stepping-stone to a brighter future — both for themselves and for their children. When you choose to learn from your life lessons, they were never experienced in vain. Isn’t this a lesson you want to teach your children?

by Rosalind Sedacca

The 5 C’s of Divorced Co-Parenting

divorced co-parenting - 2houses

However you may feel about your ex-spouse, if you have kids, you are still co-parenting. That’s right: “Co”. As long as you both are committed to the welfare of your children, you have to be in regular communication with each other and have to cooperate with each other about their care. You need to coordinate schedules and collaborate about everything from childcare arrangements to how and where holidays are spent. That “co” says it all. It means “joined”. It means “together”. It means “mutual”. It means that you can’t just refuse to deal with each other because the kids need you both.

Here are the 5 C’s that will make divorced co-parenting go more smoothly than your marriage did:

1) Comply with your divorce agreement. Chances are you spent a great deal of time, emotional energy and money hammering out who is responsible for what and when. Stick with it! If you don’t, the kids will feel the tension and overhear the complaints. If you find that the agreement doesn’t work for you, be sure that you don’t take it out on the kids either directly (by not picking them up on time) or indirectly (by not sending the check). Set up some mediation with their other parent and deal with it like adults.

2) Convey important information. You don’t need to share your personal life, your successes or stresses, or your feelings. You do need to let the other parent know immediately if your child has a medical issue or if there is trouble at school or at home. Let each other in on your child’s successes so the next time they transition to the other parent’s home, they can be welcomed with congratulations.

3) Consult each other in advance when there needs to be a change in plans or an adjustment in schedule or a major change in how you intend to spend time with the children. Start thinking about the winter holidays around June. Talk about summer vacations in December. If the only dentist appointment you can get for your child is on the other parent’s time, make an immediate call to clear it. If your boss needs you to go to a conference during what is usually your week with the kids, get on the phone to talk about it. If the other parent has already made immovable plans, skip the conference. Kids’ needs come first. If you’ve always spent April vacation at home with the kids, let the other parent know before the kids do that you’re planning to take them on a special trip. Neither the other parent nor the child can cope with sudden changes or surprises. If you and the other parent can’t agree on a change, go back to your agreement (see #1).

4) Cooperate around transfers. There is nothing as sad as watching a child stand at the window, backpack at the ready, waiting for a parent to show up. Always show up. Always be on time. Always allow extra time for the inevitable traffic delay or other unexpected issue that might make you late. If you are unreliable about showing up or are consistently tardy, the parent waiting with the waiting child will be anxious, angry and upset. The child will be even more anxious, angry and upset. It’s not a great way for the weekly transfer to start.

5) Coordinate around the contents of the backpack (or duffle, or box — whatever the kids use to get stuff back and forth between houses). I’ve heard endless complaints from parents who feel like they are always replacing clothes, toys, or school supplies that the other parent “forgets” to send along with the child. It’s hard enough for children to be going back and forth between houses. Kids aren’t likely to remember everything they are supposed to remember. Have a clear agreement with the other parent about what stays at each home and what goes with the kids. Take the time — plenty of time — before the children leave your house to be sure they have the outfits, homework, books, or favorite toy that has to go with them. Rushed exits often mean forgotten items. It’s unfair to say to young kids, “Well, you should have remembered it” (whatever the “it” of the moment is). No. You’re the parent. It’s your job to oversee that they have what they need. With teens, a simple reminder to double-check before they leave is a way to both give them autonomy and yet be a caring parent.

by  (source:

Helping Children Resist the Pressure to Choose One Parent Over the Other

children between parents - 2houses

Some children of divorce naturally feel caught between their parents as they adjust to two homes, two sets of rules, possibly two neighborhoods, and two families. But what children really want and need is to stay out of their parents’ conflicts and to maintain healthy and strong relationships with both parents (unless, of course, one parent is abusive to the child).

Unfortunately, some parents take advantage of children’s difficulty navigating between two families and dealing with the complexity of parental divorce by creating in their children an expectation that they choose sides. These parents employ a range of strategies, known as parental alienation, in order to foster the child’s rejection of the other parent. 

Parental alienation strategies can take many forms but usually includes badmouthing the other parent, limiting contact between the child and that parent, and interfering with communication between the child and the parent.

Divorcing parents need to become educated about the primary parental alienation strategies so that they can effectively employ responses that challenge the child’s tendency to take sides while maintaining the high road as a parent (see Baker & Fine, 2008 for more details).

Parents concerned about parental alienation also need to help their children develop 4 capacities that will help them resist the pressure to choose sides. These are:

Critical Thinking Skills
When children think critically they are aware of their thoughts, where they came from and are able to examine the reality of them and change them accordingly. This skill will help the child question his or her ideas about each parent (i.e., one is all good, one is all bad; one is always right, one is always wrong). If a child is using critical thinking skills it is not likely that he or she can be programmed or brainwashed into rejecting one parent to please the other.

Considering Options
When placed in a pressured situation in which a child feels compelled to do as one parent asks (i.e., not spend time with the other parent, spy on that parent, and so forth), it is important for the child to slow down, not act right away, and consider his or her options. Doing so can prevent the child from automatically doing what the alienating parent is asking.

Listening to One’s Heart
When children learn how to be true to themselves and their values it is not likely that they can be manipulated or convinced to do something that goes against their best interest (i.e., cut off one parent to please the other) or something that betrays the other parent. Children need to be encouraged to identify their core values and to be attuned to when they are going against them.

Using Coping Skills and Getting Support
Children sometimes feel that they are the only ones who are dealing with a problem and that no one can understand what they are going through. Encouraging children to talk to other people such as friends, teachers, and other caring adults can help them feel less alone and can help them benefit from the wisdom and kindness of others. Children also have more internal resources (self talk, relaxation strategies) that they can develop and rely on in times of need.

by Amy J.L. Baker.

Why Does Society Hate Stepmoms?

Society hates stepmom - 2houses

Fairy tales are one of the oldest, and sturdiest, narrative forms our culture knows. We love to tell them, read them, share them, and, especially, retell and remake them — they form the backbone of an enormous variety of movies, cartoons, advertisements, and novels. Each era seems to have its own favorites — Disney’s Snow White ruled in the late 1930s, for example, and Cinderella in the ’50s. Both of these featured virginal domestic goddesses as their heroines, though in the ’60s and ’70s, feminist retellings began to take center stage. These days, a new crop of fairy tale retellings seems to be linked with a particularly nasty version of the Mommy Wars: rather than pitting stay-at-home mothers against those who work outside the home, these tales instead rehash the old story of the wicked step- (or adoptive) mother, implying that biological parenthood trumps all. 

The villain of Tangled, for example, is that nasty witch who steals Rapunzel: a kidnapper/adoptive mother. Mirror, Mirror depicts a comically evil Julia Roberts in the wicked stepmother role, and later this summer we’ll see Charlize Theron as a warrior stepmother-queen battling her stepdaughter in Snow White and the Huntsman. In the popular ABC series, Once Upon a Time, the villain is the evil stepmother of the Snow White story, now living in a world without magic as the domineering mayor of Storybrooke. Her name is Regina.

Regina’s control over Storybrooke is overbearing and oppressive in the extreme. Unbeknownst to the inhabitants (all fairy tale characters), their pasts are unknown to them, though they are destined to live out their fairy tale fates nonetheless. Regina relives her “stepmother” identity as an adoptive mother to Henry, whose biological mother, Emma Swan, is the heroine of the series.

Critics have argued over the implications of the evil stepmother trope for years. Bruno Bettelheim, a Freudian critic, saw the competition between the evil stepmother and the virginal daughter as a representation of the daughter’s inevitable separation from the mother in the Oedipal stage.

More historically-oriented critics note that maternal death was frequent in early modern Europe, when and where most of the fairy tales familiar to us originated, and that often a stepmother would indeed be competitive with her husband’s daughter for his affection and, perhaps more important, resources. (A stepmother with her own daughters, such as the one in Cinderella, might quite reasonably be expected to try to advance their fortunes over her husband’s daughter’s as well.)

Feminist critics see in the evil stepmother evidence of the way that a patriarchal system inevitably pits women against each other, sowing the seeds of competition in a system whereby women can only advance through marriage.

While all of these arguments are intriguing, they pose the question of why we still tell these stories, when our historical and cultural context is so changed, when so many marriages are remarriages and so many parents come to parenting through remarriage and adoption. Once Upon a Time and the other stepmother tales suggest that, as a culture, we may still harbor deep anxieties about non-biological mothers.

Once Upon a Time is both intriguing and disturbing in its depiction of mothering. The central conflict is not really a romantic one, as in most fairy tales, but a parental one. Regina, the evil stepmother, desires not to be “the fairest of them all,” but to be Henry’s mother, a status she vies for with Emma, his biological parent. The series actually takes a very conservative stand on motherhood. While neither Emma nor Regina is a stay-at-home mother, Regina’s ambition and her clearly time-consuming full-time job as mayor seem to distance her from her adoptive son. Dressed in sharp-edged business suits when not seducing the town sheriff or, later, the “Prince Charming” figure, Regina is in sharp contrast to her competition –her son’s biological mother. Emma, unlike Regina, is a free spirit, dressed most often in jeans and a leather jacket and possessed of seemingly unbounded time to spend with her son and his fantasies.

Clearly, our sympathies are supposed to be with Emma, despite the fact that she gave Henry up for adoption at age 18 (we still haven’t gotten the full story of his origins) and did not see him for the first 10 years of his life. Indeed, the series begins with that oldest of adoption tales — his search for his biological roots. We see him riding the bus from Storybrooke to Boston, where he surprises Emma on her 28th birthday and sets the plot in motion. We have also seen Emma “save” two children from the foster system, deploying another anti-stepmother type falsehood: that foster parents are only in it for the money.

It’s too soon to say where Once Upon a Time will go, and since it is an invention of the creators of Lost, it undoubtedly will become far more convoluted before it all comes clear (if it ever does). But in its depiction of maternal competition and its evident preference for the biological over the “constructed” family, and its stereotypical depiction of the powerful woman, it tells us nothing new at all.

And that’s a shame.

by Elisabeth Gruner

Why I Finally Stopped Lying To My Teenage Son About Dating

dating after divorce and telling your children - éhouses

I have an only child. He’s smart, funny, and wise beyond his years. I was 25 years old when I gave birth to him. I looked into his eyes as they handed him to me and I knew not only would he forever be my only child, he would also be the most important man in my life forever. That fact has never changed.

As his father’s work took him further away from home, the bond between mother and son grew stronger until my then-husband looked at us during a rare family dinner and said, “You two act as if I don’t even exist. You have your own little world.”

It was true. Not only do my son and I look alike, we have the same personality. Fire and passion run deep in us both. So as the marriage fell apart and my ex saw us even less frequently, our son shifted into what he considered his role of “Man of the House.” And, in one of many mistakes I’ve made in parenting, I let him.

Territorial and jealous, he was now suspicious of any man that gave me an approving glance or flirted with me. “How can that guy look at you like that? You are my mother!” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that angry remark from my son I wouldn’t be a struggling single mother any more.

Rather than confronting the issue, I chose to skirt it. For over two years I didn’t take phone calls when my son was nearby, my smart phone address book is full of bogus names that I used instead of the real names of the men that were interested in me. It became a bit tricky keeping track of “Bill” who was filed under “Barbara” vs the real Bill, my pest control guy. Although the latter did find it amusing when I sent him a text him asking what would happen if I was a bad girl. He replied that his contract only covered mischevious rodents, not their homeowners.
I felt as if I was having an affair that I was keeping from my son. My life was filled with lies of business meetings that were in reality were dates, supposed friends that were actually lovers, and made-up stories of boring nights on the couch alone while he was with his Dad. I remember sitting with the child psychologist as he was trying to explain what our son was going through. One a scale of 1 to 10, his discomfort level of seeing his father with another woman was at a 2, but for me, he chose an 11. Our son could not even discuss the idea of a man dating me without tears erupting. Tears flowed for me as well when I heard this news. As a mother, I knew what I had to do.

I gave up dating and any chance of a normal relationship. It was just too hard. I figured in a few years when he got older and interested in girls himself, I would broach the subject again. That was, until his father stepped in.

My ex-husband and I have what I consider a healthy divorced parenting relationship. We put our son first and have gotten past the hurt and anger that filled the last years of our marriage and first year apart. I also still consider him a confidant. He knows that it’s been difficult and at times lonely for me, which is why he sat me down a few months ago and said, “You need to start dating again, and you need to be upfront with him about it.” I protested that it was impossible. “He won’t be able to handle it,” I assured him. “Then we will tell him together, and I will give my blessing. Angela, you must do this. It’s not healthy for either of you.”

I wish that I could say our son’s reaction was positive. It wasn’t. He didn’t understand why I needed anyone else. Wasn’t I happy with the way our life was? “Yes,” I assured him, “But I need a social life and interaction with other adults. I needed to stare across the table at a beautiful man, one that was not wearing braces.

And so I started, cautiously, being honest regarding my whereabouts. Only a few weeks ago did I admit to having a “date.” My hands were shaking when I did so. He got quiet. “Mom, promise me you won’t… you know. I just worry about someone taking advantage of you.”

I stopped the car. “Sweetheart, I promise, I value being your Mother far too much to ever let anyone harm me. You have nothing to worry about.”

I saw his anxiety soften.

My son has only a few short years left under my care before he goes out to make his own way in the world. And while I know I shouldn’t sacrifice my life during those years, I also know that it is my responsibility to give him peace of mind.

I’m ok with that. He has nothing to worry about.

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