A Challenge: Just Meet Her!

(Audrey S. [mom] and Gina W. [stepmom] on Mother’s Day with their children.)

The problem of the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small.

-Mother Theresa

Our old grievances can change in an instant when we simply open to the other… and listen.

WHAT IF… the divorced mom or stepmom is just as baffled by you—as you are by her?

WHAT IF… you have more in common than you realize?

WHAT IF… her actions towards you are nowhere near as deliberate as you assume them to be—or vice-versa?

WHAT IF… you could erase years of accumulated tension and resentment with her in one short moment?

WHAT IF… she’s open to forming a connection with you—and that evokes the same in you?

Curious?

Perfect!

Because we invite you to meet the stepmom or ex-wife in your life this month during our “Just Meet Her!” challenge.

The purpose?

To see each other as human. That’s it. That’s your only goal. No hashing out of issues. No point-scoring. No validating past wounds.

Just meeting her, face-to-face, for coffee or tea.

If you’ve already had a few pleasant, respectful communications with her (by email, phone or in person), then this challenge is for you!

If you are in an actively high-conflict situation, then meet with another person who shares her role as a mom or stepmom.

Our challenge was inspired by Elizabeth Lesser’s beautiful and thought-provoking TED video “Take the Other to Lunch,” where she meets with someone who is seemingly her political opposite, only to discover that they both feel judged and misunderstood, and yet are still capable of building trust between them.

(video timeline notes)

  • Early background about her two conflicting selves: 0:01-1:54
  • What we miss by thinking we know it all: 1:54
  • How we so easily “demonize” each other: 4:35
  • Describing the initiative:  5:46
  • Her lunch and the guidelines she used:  7:06
  • Insights about her lunch:  8:25
  • Who should YOU take to lunch? What can you expect? 10:00-11:00

One of the fastest, most powerful ways to change this relationship is also one of the scariest.

Suddenly, you are two fallible, vulnerable people.

Both winging it.

Both at times hurt and confused by how difficult these roles are…

As Lesser said, it’s “–two people, dropping their weapons… dropping the pretense of being know-it-alls…”

Surely you can bring yourself to, as Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project suggests, deliberately suffer for 15 minutes for the good of humanity.

Or in this case, thirty.

What might your first steps be?

Here are the guidelines.

If you’re meeting with YOUR other, ask each other:

  • Describe a silly phobia you have.
  • Tell me about a happy childhood memory.
  • What’s a favorite movie, song, book or TV show?

If you’re meeting with AN other, ask each other:

  • What have you always wanted to ask someone from the other side?
  • What are some of the biggest fears stepmoms or moms have?
  • What are some of the biggest hopes of moms or stepmoms?

General Guidelines:

  • meet for a min. of 30 minutes
  • meet in a neutral location, such as a coffee shop or park
  • don’t persuade, defend or interrupt
  • avoid volatile topics, such as family, conflict-loaded situations, etc.
  • be curious, be conversational and be real… listen
  • meet for a maximum of 45 minutes and then end it, even if it’s going well

Communicate with us and your friends here on NOTB (on the blog, in our private forum or on Facebook):

Let us know your plan to meet and when.

Let us know how your meeting went!

If you are worried or nervous before your meeting, come to us for support. And then come to us after too, to decompress and process your experience.

Jenna has already fearlessly (gulp) ventured into a meeting with her counterpart — a woman she’s typically kept her distance from in the past….

How did it go? You’ll have to come back on Wednesday to find out!!

We know our readers are some of the bravest, ballsiest women out there.

So show us what you got!

We’ll all be cheering you on….

And we just might start a revolution that snowballs into something really big!

Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there…

- Rumi

© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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Comments

  1. I love TED talks! They have motivated me several times in my stepmom/mom struggle…. William Ury’s video comes to mind. There is so much wisdom to draw from delving into non-stepfamily resources because this really is a conflict not unlike any other conflict in any other setting. The one thing that is vital is de-escalating until we are to the point where we can not just talk but really hear one another. I’m spending more time these days with authors like William Ury and Marshall Rosenberg learning about conflict resolution where these consultants have operated in political hotspots around the world. I’m reading Harriet Learner – new and old, she has such insight into the “Dance” in which, without thoughtfulness and effort, we all participate, the dance that drives conflict and inhibits resolutions. And, then some time also with authors who are dealing with those issues all women deal with which are just below the surface influencing all of our interaction and deserve our attention… authors like Brene Brown and Rosie Molinary.
    But I will take the challenge and I’ll offer again to the mom in my life….. I’ll send the video. Of course, since she knows that I am a strong social and fiscal conservative, I’ll have to cross my fingers that I don’t get an email back berating me for calling her a idiot liberal with a clarification that she is indeed a conservative republican and therefore ineligible to be my “Other” – LOL, jk!
    Good work and good luck to all the moms that take the leap!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Thanks, Mary! Wise words on de-escalating the conflict and actually *hearing* each other. Hard to do when feelings run high, but we’ve seen it in action over and over again here…..

    And way to go on taking the challenge! Let us know what her response is, okay?

    I’ll have to look up William Ury, not familiar with him. Have you ever read “The Anatomy of Peace” by the Arbinger Institute? Whoa… Will blow your mind. (Jenna and I initially bonded over that book and that’s how we knew we were kindred spirits. :-)

    Harriet Lerner is a good ole standby. You’ve provided a lot of fodder for further exploration, thanks!

  3. I have not read it, but will check it out – I’ve been on the Arbinger Inst. website, but can’t recall exactly the path that led me there!! But, I do recall reading a few articles including the one on the Parenting Pyramid.
    Harriet Lerner’s book, “the Dance of Anger” was the first book of that kind that I took notes on! LOL, that was back in the day (showing my age?, I was in college. I hadn’t read anything from her since, until recently. She is mark on, huh?
    I stepped off the forum for a bit these last couple of weeks, I need to get back on. I’ll keep y’all posted! /thx

  4. Jennifer says:

    I was there, back in the day too! :-) Will see you on the forum!

  5. Great minds think alike….one of my first posts as a stepmom blogger was this:

    http://www.mysteplife.net/2011/01/27/take-the-other-to-lunch/

    Moms, if you can’t get to the place where you literally take the other to lunch, just commit to listening to the TED talk with an open heart and try your best to hear the spirit of the message. Life will be better for your kids/stepkids. And you may feel more bold and authentic.

  6. That’s awesome, Krista! I’m hoping we get a *few* people to take us up on this. We really do think it could change things :)

  7. I really hope your movement results in some change, Jenna.

    As a word of caution, the other mom and I went out for happy hour as one of our first one-on-ones. It was ok/good/not disastrous–in fact I credit it for much of the relationship and trust we have built–but I wouldn’t recommend that particular venue because you might overshare after a drink or two.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for your comments, Krista! Funny about the drink or two… :-)

  9. Krista, I was thinking the same thing when I read that you went out for happy hour. Baaaad idea! ;) Glad it worked out for YOU though :)

  10. Kelle Ann says:

    I just met with Martha!!! Martha is the SM in my children’s lives. We set up a date/time to meet and we got together and just talked like women do. We talked for about an hour about random things. We laughed and I cried and we apologized for past mis-deeds. I am very grateful for the challenge that was presented here and for my willingness to go against the current and do what is right instead. I am not one to follow a crowd, so this was perfect for the person I am. My family and friends all thought I was just about losing my mind. I hope that this blossoms into something better for both of us.
    Thanks again NOTB!!!!!

  11. Jennifer says:

    Kelle, CONGRATULATIONS!!! That’s fantastic! Did the segue into talking about deeper stuff come naturally? Who took the lead with that? So wonderful that you both felt called to make amends, I’m so happy for you. Is there anything else you’d like to share with folks about the experience (I asked you the same question on our Facebook pg, so feel free to cut and paste, if you do)?

    Way to go!!!! <3

  12. Kelle, we’re so thrilled to hear about your positive experience! You and her win our bravery contest! We know it must have been a nerve-racking experience, but look at the result! Such a wonderful opportunity for you and her to start over. Good luck, and please keep us updated! :)

  13. Kelle Ann says:

    Thanks so much Jennifer and Jenna! Really I wasn’t to nervous at all. I think she was perplexed at my invitation. I explained to her all the behind the scene stuff so she could feel more comfortable. We met at my home in our family room and just chatted about random things. I expressed to her how I felt that if we had met under other circumstances we would probably be friends. We are both of the same faith (LDS) and I think we have a connection through that, however different since everyone has a different level of commitment to thier faith I believe. Anyway, we chatted about things like her health since she has been in the hospital frequently. We chatted about my kids and her apprehensions as a step mom. She knows that I am a step mom too so if she needed to vent or had questions she doesn’t have to feel alone. I extended an invitation to her in that aspect. We talked about how in an eternal sense we are really “sisters” and how it doesn’t have to be awkward or anything between us. I will share with you all that all though I am the BM I do not have majority custody. Thier father does. This happened due to my military career (which by the way I no longer have as a full time basis). I shared with her how the court hearing in 2008 that decided the fate of my children has been my cross to bear in this life. It has not been easy at all. Nothing like getting your heart ripped out and stomped on over and over again…year after year, weekend afer weekend and the children I brought into this world spend most of thier time with another woman. Tell me that isn’t a hard pill to swallow???? It is…very hard. In any case I shared w/ her how that has been the most difficult thing in my life to learn to “deal” with and to “mourn” over. She didn’t say much…not that I would expect her to or to even understand the intense emotionally loss over that. She expressed w/ me her desire to have children of her own, but not yet. She feels her life is to busy presently. The whole thing w/ her and her husband have majority custody will probably raise an eyebrow or 2 but Im learning to find peace w/ it and I have to daily or I think my new address would be the looney bin. Seriously….I have to find some peace or I will just crack…and I think I have…but getting all the pieces back together has been a challenge in and of itself. I truly do thank you for your website / blog and I am so grateful to have stumbled upon it. It has helped me in ways I can not even begin to describe. Your book is just amazing and I am really grateful for it all. Thanks again for hearing me and being a support in my life.

  14. I love this post! I’m a stepmom, and I often wonder why, when two people are working so hard to reach the same goal they choose to be on separate teams. Because of that, I faced the “just meet her challenge” a long time ago. The first time she shunned me for no legitimate reason I responded asking her if it would help to meet one on one. I’m not sure how much it helped her, but I still think it was a good idea. For more on my experience, see my post:

    http://lifebeyondthewhitepicketfence.com/2011/01/29/the-stigma-of-stepmom-vs-mom/

    I hope your post inspires readers to take that leap. You’ve got to acknowledge that both mom and stepmom have so many emotions that are hard to deal with. You’re both basically put into positions that you have to deal with a complete stranger whose actions somewhat dictate your life. Why not take the opportunity to try to get to know them a little, maybe get some things out on the table that you’ve been holding on to. Or, simply sit face to face and get a better understanding of each other. Regardless of the results, you’ll know that you put yourself out there and did a very dignified thing.

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