Meet May’s peace pioneer: Holly Orange

Welcome to the launch of our new monthly feature, where one of YOU shares your story with fellow moms and stepmoms.

Meet Holly!

Her family tree is pretty wild, so we’ll let her describe it to you:

“I qualify as both a mom and stepmom. When I was 19, I became a stepmother to my husband’s little girl, who was then 4.

Her bio-mom and I never really argued or had any issues between us.

I divorced her father, but not my stepdaughter. We maintain a close relationship (she is now 19) and her mom and I are close, like sisters.

I had two children by my ex-husband (now 15 and 12). We have both remarried and at one point he was the custodial parent, due to his new wife’s insistence, before I regained my stability and my new marriage. I am now the custodial parent.

Stepmom and I have had times where we were friends, but that time is not now, as she is now divorcing as well (after she and my ex had yet another child).

If you’re keeping score, that’s three moms, four children and one man.”

NOTB: Welcome Holly! When was your situation at its best and at its worst — and what was that like for you?

Holly: It is hard for me to pinpoint when exactly the situation was ever at its best or worse, to be honest. Stepmom’s attitude towards me changed daily. At our best, she relied on me as support and comfort when her marriage was rocky, and she helped me deal with my husbands deployments.

At our worst, she flung insults and called me out using her Facebook or MySpace statuses, while I tried to privately communicate with her through email. Until this past fall, when she decided to end the marriage and I had resumed custody of the children, it was an emotional roller-coaster.

How was this for me?

Heartbreaking and frustrating. I have a pleaser personality and tend to try to avoid conflict. I wanted so much for us to be friends, to share these wonderful kids between us. I allowed her to walk all over me at times, hoping if I did, we would be at peace the next day.

NOTB: Tell us a story about when something went comically wrong between the families.

Holly: I have no comical stories to share. I would like to say… that even through all of this, I don’t blame her. If she were to contact me now and want to talk, or share, I would — willingly.

I place blame on Dad, who was unable to effectively communicate with either of us. I truly believe if he had stepped in and dealt with me, instead of leaving it to her, our story would have a much better ending. He was our common denominator, besides the kids.

It is hard enough for stepmoms, I imagine it was grueling without the support of her partner.

My big advice to all mothers would be to please make sure your husband or ex-husband remains involved.

It’s not fair to leave it to the women to sort out, we have too much emotionally at stake to be left blowing in the wind or going for each others’ throats.

NOTB: What changed?

Holly: Things changed when I realized I didn’t have to attend every argument she invited me to. When she was combative, I would remain passive and the situation would diffuse. We learn the age-old adage “Pick and choose your battles.” growing up. Employing that tactic was quite successful for me and I believe, it helped me grow into a much more patient person who is less reactive.

To demonstrate, I used to always say “It doesn’t have to be this way!” and get so angry and frustrated that we couldn’t get along. Then I had an “A-ha!” moment and realized, it IS this way, regardless if I like it or not. I must deal with how it is, rather than be frustrated with how it isn’t.

It was an enormous game-changer of a thought for me at the time.

NOTB: What are you most grateful for now?

Holly: Despite all the conflict, drama and strife, I remain grateful for this journey.

Oddly enough, this has made me respect and love other women all the more. I used to say, I didn’t really like other women, I had very few close female friends at the start of this. Now I find it easier to empathize and care. My cattiness gene has left the building, so to speak.

Perhaps it is corny and a little cliche, but it has made me a much better person, a much stronger woman, a more caring friend.

And of course, a better mother.

NOTB: What do you think other people might be surprised to learn about you? Hidden talents or crazy interests?

Holly: Hidden talents? Well… I can wiggle my ears, flare my nostrils in and out, raise one eyebrow, and do an Elvis lip curl, ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

I have a way with words and I’m trying to write a book about my life and journey, though given my tendency towards the verbose, that may not come as any big surprise.

Also, I did 3 years of synchronized swimming in elementary school (ya know, during the Middle Ages) and now every time I’m in a pool, I revert to doing our old moves in the water, rather than actually swim laps.

As exciting as I look on the internet, I’m actually rather boring, with no hobbies other then reading, writing and generally cracking myself up on an hourly basis.

NOTB: What is the best advice you can give fellow moms and stepmoms?

Holly: Advice? I have so much of it, but one thing stands out. Remember: it’s all about love.

The stepmom wants to love your children and in most cases, she wants them to love her back. The bio-mom is the Momma-bear, wanting nothing to come between her and her cubs, the protective instinct.

Break it down to its simplest form and it’s ALL about LOVE. We really don’t want to hurt each other do we? We just want to love these kids!

And it’s okay to be sad, or angry, or afraid, or all of those things too! Focus on the love.

You’re not better because you’re “biological” and she inherited them through marriage, you’re different. DIFFERENT does not translate into BETTER. (And if it does for you, then all you’re going to do is wind up BITTER and honestly how much fun or good is that!?)

NOTB: What is your hope for other divorce-connected families?

Holly: My hope for divorced families is that they end up better than MY divorced family.

My hope is that more and more women discover your website, and others like it, and realize they aren’t alone.

My hope is that men realize how much we need them to facilitate healthy communication between the mom and the stepmom, because it can only be to our children’s benefit.

My hope is that we all take a step back and realize that all of us share a common goal. That is for our children to grow up and become healthy, stable, LOVED adults — who then pass that on to their children, because that’s what they were taught!

NOTB: What prompted you to want to share your story?

Holly: Why do I want to share my story (other then me being my own favorite subject)?

I have experienced the best and worst aspects of divorce. My 20 year-old stepdaughter and I are like girlfriends now, her mother being like a sister to me, while stepmom and I haven’t spoken in six months.

It was important for me to know over the years that I wasn’t alone in this struggle. Feeling alone can lead to very dire situations. Rock bottom is a horrible place to be, and sadly I have been there. In 2006, when I didn’t have custody of my son and daughter and the stepmom called me to tell me she was pregnant, I stared down a bottle of sleeping pills.

The worst feeling in the world is to be alone and hopeless.

If I can share what I have experienced with all its ups and downs and prevent ONE MOM (stepmom or bio-) from hitting that bottom, I’ll type until I’m blue in the face.

Compassion, empathy understanding and LOVE not only saves marriages and relationships, it saves lives. Everyone always says, its all about the kids, but sometimes, it has to be about broken or tender-hearted women, just trying to make it through.

Jenna and Jen, thank you again for all that you do to support moms – of all kinds. I really hope more women stumble on your site and begin to understand that no one is the bitch, and we’re all in this together.

Holly, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us!

(Interested in being a featured peace pioneer? Email us at jenandjenna (at) noonesthebitch (dot) com. and let us know!)

© 2011 Jenna Korf and Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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  1. Debbie says:

    Amazing story, Holly. Thank you for sharing it with us. I can relate to some of the things you’ve shared both as a mom and stepmom.

  2. Thank you Debbie! It was kind of scary putting it out there and I appreciate your kind words!

  3. Jackie says:

    Holly your story is great, and putting it out there is also a wonderful thing, hopefully some other women can learn from your and also my exprenises and make life a lil better for all involved. Mainly the kids. I love you as my Co-Parent even after all these years. Like we always say, you may divorce the man but you dont divorce the kids <3

  4. Jesica says:

    Thanks for this story! I was actually going to post on the NOTB wall and ask if there is anyone that still communicates with their exes kids. It’s great to know that you’ve found a way to continue your relationship with you step child and I hope I can do the same. My situation is a bit harder tho because I have no children with my ex but have been around for almost 7 years and the kids are almost 8 and 9. In my situation I don’t have a child with my ex so seeing the kids is somewhat harder since he doesn’t have to let me see them. So far right now he is giving me visitation with them but for me it might change in the future. I like reading your post, it gives me some hope that I can continue to see the kids while ending my marriage with my husband.

  5. Also btw I had a question, how often did/do you see your step child? I’m trying to determine how often and how much time I spend is appropriate. Any suggestions or opinions would be great!

  6. Jesica..I split with SD’s father 10 years ago and sadly lost contact as I moved out of state and so did SD. It was a few years later when she found me on myspace. To be really honest, she was hearing stories about me from the new SM that weren’t entirely true so our communication was tentative and sporadic until I came back home last summer and saw her in person. It was an amazing and wonderful reunion.Everything just fell back into place and just a few months ago I flew her out to spend her spring break with us. So, she is much older then your SK’s. Are you civil with the bio mom? Would she be willing to let you use skype with them or have regular phonecalls if your ex decides he no longer wants to allow you visitation? How much would they like to see you? I really wish you the best of luck in your situation and hope that they can continue to have you as part of their lives.

  7. Jesica says:

    Hey Holly,
    Well I was close with the bio-mom and she had said that she would never take the kids away from me but now her tune has changed. The first chance she got to be upset with me over a small scenario she took it to use it against me and say to leave her and the kids alone. The kids miss me and want to see me. I split a little over a month ago but after 2 weeks i left the state to visit my girlfriend and am set to head home Wed.The Bio mom said that i basically ran off on them and for abandoning them, it meant that i didn’t care about them when in fact i just needed a little time away to clear my mind. While I have been here at my friends my husband had agreed to always let me see the kids being that i practically raised them up until 2 yrs ago when the bio-mom became more consistent. Now that I am 2 days away from heading home he has changed his story and now telling me that I am no longer allowed to see them either. Pretty much he doesn’t want a divorce but I do. I had already predicted that happening so emotionally I’m upset but it hurts to think that I won’t know how they will grow up or look like. It hurts because I have always said that they were my kids even though I didn’t give birth. It just hurts that in a situation where a divorce is in play, he would play with my emotions and take them away from me when I don’t want to. I have no rights towards them since they are not my own. If he were to tell me I could see them I don’t even know what to do because I could be setting myself up for a later situation of him revoking my visitation again and then what? I’m left hurt again. I’m glad and happy that you get to see your step child. I hope in the future that they will look me up or I find them and they welcome me when they are older and more capable of making their own decisions. I know it hurts them to not see me. It hurts me just the same………..:’/

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