Moms: you are the crux


At 46, I’m certainly not one of the greatest rock climbers around, but it’s a obsession I truly love that has changed me on many levels. Just like any sport that attracts die-hard followers, it has its own lingo and insider terminology.

“Beta” are the tips and inside scoop to help you successfully complete a route. If you want to challenge yourself a bit more, you can tell your friends, “No beta please, let me figure it out by myself.” To “dyno” is to actually jump and leave all contact with the rock for one or two brief, but terrifying seconds, as you hurl yourself to the next hold (hopefully).

One of my favorites is “crux,” which means the hardest part of the climb that’s most likely to throw you off the wall like a bucking horse. The crux will likely put you in a place where you think for a few seconds, This is impossible! Or Now I’m going to fall for sure! Or maybe even, I so suck at this stuff….

But when you get through the crux, when you hang in there, even though your forearms are burning and your legs are starting to quiver in an excellent imitation of a sewing machine for just. one. more. second — even though your fingers are beginning to melt and you know they’re going to fail at any moment — well, that’s when you feel your best.

It’s amazing. Euphoric. And addictive.

After that, the rest of the climb seems like a cakewalk (mostly).

One of my favorite parts about climbing is the camaraderie you find with friends, new and old. Because of the risks inherent in climbing stories off the ground, because of the fears you are all facing about yourself and your (lack of) abilities, you really end up bonding with your climbing buddies. You’re putting your life in their hands and they’re doing the same. We cheer each other on constantly.

I’d like to play around with the word crux here, because it has a double meaning. The dictionary defines “crux” this way:

a vital, basic, decisive, or pivotal point


something that torments by its puzzling nature; a perplexing difficulty

Back when Carol and I didn’t know each other and we avoided each other like the plague, I felt completely justified in blowing her off. I thought, “Who cares about making it work with her? Screw it. I didn’t ask her to be a part of my kids’ lives. They have two parents already. I’ll be damned if I’m going to make any room for her in our family, split up though it may be. I’m not going to bend over backwards to make life any easier for her, especially if I sense even the tiniest bit of competition from her.”

And there the situation stayed for several years.

I had my own angst to deal with whenever my kids traveled back and forth between houses during the weekends. There were the typical mishaps and misunderstandings. I thought I had enough shit on my own to handle as a single mom, but one day I was set on a path I never could have foreseen.

I saw something in my children’s faces that chilled me. They had just come back from a weekend with their dad and Carol, their stepmom, and they just looked… so… sad.

And strained.

It was as if they were being asked to carry a burden that was way too big for their tiny, little selves. Something that was beyond their understanding or ability to work through emotionally, like adults. They had to segment themselves, like pieces of an orange.

This was life at mom’s house. / And this was life at Dad’s.

Two separate worlds, with a barbed-wire fence down the middle.

It just killed me.

They were going to keep on accepting this reality (what other choice did they have?) like dutiful, miniature donkeys trudging up a hill. I think just knowing this is what made me snap.

Things had to change. This state of affairs could not go on. The problem-solver in me looked around at the external circumstances to see what could be adjusted, like moving furniture. Hmmm, nothing of any value.

The answer was internal. I would have to change the dynamic between our houses. I would have to figure out a way to dissolve the distance, or at least greatly reduce it. I would have to find a way to create a connection, create an even purely logistical, practical sense of partnership with their stepmom, because she spent a lot of time with the girls and did much of the hands-on stuff with them.

The very thought made my stomach clench up with fear.

Moms, did you know that about 75-85% of our readers are stepmoms? They are the ones who comment the most. Who post the most about their attempts to reach out to the mom, only to be rebuffed time and time again.

Are you turning away from the stepmom, as I once did?

You are the crux of the matter here…. In many ways, you are the key to this whole relationship even working at all. Or not.

How well do you know the stepmom? If you don’t, why not?

When moms set aside their justifications for increasing the separation between the households, it’s like the damn breaking in a strong river. The current can flow. Wounds can heal. Family nests can be remade. Please think about it. And next time, look a little deeper into your children’s faces when they come back from a weekend visit, or when you bicker with the other household.

What do you see?.

© 2011   Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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  1. Love the article Jennifer! It’s one every divorced mom needs to read!

  2. Thanks so much, Peggy! As both a divorced mom AND stepmom, I know you get it…. 🙂

  3. Jennifer, I love what you wrote. It really makes me think. I too am both the Mom and a SM. I have really struggled over the years with the SM, she does so many things that make me feel that I just don’t want to bother trying any more. It’s been 8 years! My daughter is 15 now, my son 12. Aren’t there situations where it just won’t work? Can not the crux of the problem sometimes be the SM and not the BM? of course it can and I feel that is my situation.

  4. Hi Rae, most definitely the crux can be the stepmom. But, as Jen wrote in her post, more often than not it’s the mom who’s not interested in making peace, or thinks it can’t be done.

    In my opinion, a core problem is that everyone feels they’re justified in NOT making peace with the other. We can all come up with reasons why it’s not worth it. We can all pull out our list of things the other woman has done that makes us say “NO freakin’ way. I’m done trying. She’s crazy and can’t be reasoned with”. In some cases that will be true. Not all mom/stepmom relationships will work. But in some cases it’s not true. In some cases, we just don’t know how to stop hating the other woman and start forgiving. In some cases, the other woman actually DOES want to work it out, and if given the opportunity and approached the right way, she might be willing to put her ego aside, stop defending herself and say “OK, for the kids, I’ll do what it takes. What will it take?”. But we’re all so stuck in believing that the other woman is SO awful, crazy, unreasonable and ridiculous, that we never give ourselves and the other woman the opportunity.

    You can ask a mom and a stepmom of the same dual-household family who’s the problem, and they’ll both point their finger at the other. They’ll both have legitimate reasons (in their minds) why the other is so awful. And until these women are willing to put down their complaints alongside their egos, let go of the past and move forward, the problems will continue.

  5. Maybe the problem lies in the notion of what “making peace” actually means. An important question may be “peace for whom?”

    Many divorced moms are remarried by the time the stepmom comes along, but that’s not a dynamic I know personally, so I’ll leave it to someone else.

    I’m several years out from divorce, and my life’s pretty stable. But suppose it wasn’t. Suppose I was nine, twelve, eighteen months out from divorce, and I had very young children, and was struggling to support them, get enough sleep, recover from divorce, and help them recover.

    Why on earth would I be interested in making nice with some chickie attached to my ex? All she’d be is another complication. I’d be under no compulsion to do anything for her. And while there’s an argument to be made for “do it for the children,” there’s a stronger argument to be made for “take care of the mother first.” After all, if mom’s not doing well, she can’t support the kids financially, physically, or emotionally. In which case I could totally see stiffarming the stepmom. It’s not that the stepmom’s a bad person, it’s just that her timing’s lousy.

    I think a lot of people underestimate how long it takes to recover from a divorce when there are also children to care for. Even good divorces tend to be adversarial, and they can be unbelievably destructive when they’re bad. And usually they follow years of hard, bad times. The usual male/female dynamic in divorce can have women questioning their sanity, wondering if the marriages they’d thought they’d had were ever real, because suddenly the man they loved is this heartless destructive fighter who behaves as though they’d never loved each other. The mom’s going to try to put a good face on things for her kids, but that doesn’t mean that she’s okay, or that she’s secure at work, where she’s had to pretend to be a fantastic, reliable worker in the midst of lawyer dates, sleepless nights, kids’ emotional crises, financial trouble (to which lawyer fees contribute), and — often — increased responsibility for school pickups, kids’ sick days, etc. Many women have lost jobs because their kids just got sick too often.

    It’s often years before a mother is really re-established in a new, reasonably stable life, if all goes well. If she’s got poor support, fragile emotional health, limited employment options, etc. — maybe longer.

    In other words, Miss Bouncin’ and Behavin’ Hair is totally not her priority.

    For the stepmom who’s wondering why this lady isn’t responding to overtures, I’d ask: Would you expect her to bother with you if she were going through chemo while trying to take care of her children?

    Probably not. She’s got more important things to do. Like get through the day while doing all she can for her kids and also fighting cancer and healing herself.

    I’d say two to five years is common for recovery, longer the less support the mom has and the younger the kids are at the time of divorce.

    Does this suck for the stepmom, sure. No doubt. Again, though, it’s something to be aware of when hooking up with a man who’s recently divorced. If the divorce was good and the parents are friends, great, but if not — as is common — you’re walking into a war-damaged land. It’s important to understand this. It may be years before the other woman is whole enough to deal with you in anything more than a cursory way. Remember, your life, your marriage — these things can’t be her priority. Her children are, and central to that is her own well-being.

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