On the Sound of Silence

via Daily Prompt: Froth

When I first saw the word froth this morning as the daily blog prompt, images of cappuccinos and beer danced in my head. On the surface that is what I think of. Strangely, froth too is on the surface. Froth is mostly empty and provides little more than a fleeting pleasure to the tongue before it fades fairly quickly on its own. While it looks pleasant and inviting, it’s also hiding what is underneath.

When my husband Daren and I first moved into together with our four children, now well over 7 years ago; there was a noticeable difference between my two biological children and my two step-children. They had a lot to say and my two children and I did not. Often times when Daren and I were alone he shared that he felt uncomfortable with the silence and commented about how different it felt from being with his ex where there was non-stop chatter.

At first I felt motivated to talk more. The dinner table was usually dominated by Daren asking everyone questions with my two children providing short answers and my step-children providing very long detailed answers that dominated the rest of the meal. I tried to jump in and ask questions, but I felt very fake in doing so. When Daren would come home and ask how my day was I would say something along the line of ‘Good and how was yours?’ He would answer in detail about how wonderful the day was. Every day. To be honest I didn’t find this intriguing; I found it quite annoying.

It’s not a pleasant feeling to be annoyed with your spouse over a silly question about how the day was. I didn’t like myself for it and sort of felt embarrassed that I didn’t really care enough to hear about the wonderful day he had. Oddly he left out things that really mattered that would bug me or I needed to know– like that he drove to another state, had a paper published that he forwarded to his parents and kids but never thought to send it to me too, or that his ex asked him several days ago to switch an evening so the kids will be here tomorrow evening… and they need rides all over the state.

I was finding a lump in my throat when asked a question by my new family or when I even tried to consider a response. I started to become speechless. I never considered myself of my former family quiet by any stretch. I couldn’t quite put my finger on this. The blended family dinners were particularly of dis-ease. Daren would start to get desperate and go around the table with particular questions like what was your most favorite part of the day? My kids would look uncomfortable as his started talking. Eventually his children sensed this and became uncomfortable too. Everyone would clear their plates as soon as possible and ask to be excused no matter how many different attempts we made at having a conversation we could all enjoy.

I’m incredibly embarrassed to say that it took far longer than it should to even determine what the proverbial ‘bee in my bonnet’ was about the whole thing. It was almost two years later while listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Sound of Silence’ that I really heard their lyrics for the first time. I became teary eyed- “People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening”. What was bothering me wasn’t the amount of the conversation, it was the content. Or should I say lack there of?

The content remained very much on the surface and was full of air – like froth. The kids would sit at our dinner table politely waiting their own turn. No one was listening to nor cared what anyone else was saying Perhaps my kids picked up on that first and kept their answers short to spare everyone else the details. His children didn’t see the signs that no one was really listening and kept going. It was froth. You got to only show what you want to. It either felt like strangers waiting online at the coffee shop trying to make small talk, or two previous competing colleagues meeting up to catch up and notate each and every accomplishment and good thing in their life since they last met.

I started to notice the same conversations all around me outside of my home too. Conversations wrought with wonderful, just wonderful days. Days filled with accomplishments and learning experiences. The ‘engaged’ listener would mechanically ask the ‘right’ inquiring questions with a curious, well planted look on their face; smiling on cue and sitting on the edge of their seat. The edge of seat sitting wasn’t due to the amazing story the engaged listener was ‘hearing’, they were at the edge of their seat putting together their own story of how wonderful everything is and their own accomplishments. It seems as if everyone was “one-upping” each other. After all is said and done, there is an invisible pat on each other’s back – both acknowledging one another’s greatness. From my own experience in these types of conversations for a moment both parties feel confident and good about themselves. But moments upon walking away they are filled with emptiness.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the complainers. The co-workers who consistently sit around with a scowl on their face having something to say about everyone’s every move. Little tiny molehills that would never even be thought about are turned into major catastrophes. Opinions and platitudes without substance are just spewed out like lava erupting from a volcano at periodic, random times.

The newfangled observation of conversations that always took place really started to trouble me. Although I participated in them myself from time-to-time, I had to really stop and think about how I must be perceived. Do I complain too much? Is anyone really interested in my stupid stories that might have gone on for too long? If I didn’t find a person interesting or I found them to be entirely too caught up in themselves, but I sat with them for a long time acting very interested – doing all the right things; looking them in the eye, asking the right questions, throwing my hair back and leaning in…. then perhaps they didn’t find me interesting either. What a concept! Me not interesting? My complaints not valid?? Then it hit me, or course not. We are all actors in a very lonely play. Doing what we are supposed to on stage, but not really connecting at any human level. If you were really paying attention to me; I was probably glancing at my watch, looking around the room to find a way out, and dropping all types of conversation enders. All until the conversation turned back to me of course. How engaging… not!

At home at least I thought I had a respite. A place to kick back, be real and stay away from the superficial banter of the real world. Prior to my new marriage; my children, ex-husband and I had plenty to say around the dinner table, but the content was different. We shared funny stories that happened that day, talked about something in the news or something that happened to someone we all knew, or chitchatted about things we all liked such as our pets. Sometimes there was a lesson or dinner manner correction, but it flowed all very naturally and with ease. In my new family I felt like I was on stage, having to watch every word. Sound happy so the kids don’t go back to their other parent with anything negative. Be cheerful and say the right things even when I was being called names and ignored. It was too much and too too too fake.

I started thinking entirely too much about conversations and communication. While I heard many details about Daren’s great days, the more he shared; the less I wanted to. I didn’t always have a great day. It was too much mental energy to keep up with him to rehash my ‘best of Esterina moments’ and amazing learning experiences. It’s not that I didn’t have any, it’s just that they didn’t fill me up or bring me pleasure to share. Yes, I want my partner to be proud of me and to be proud of my partner, but not in this way. Don’t get me wrong, we did have deep conversations too. Many evenings when both sets of kids were with their other parents, we shared some wine and sat for long hours after dinner having the most intellectually stimulating conversations. I just didn’t like what we did at dinner or after work.

The Sound of Silence resonated with me. These surface conversations that I noticed I was having or hearing all the time didn’t feel like anyone was really listening or cared. I didn’t connect with the other person through these dialogues. The topics stayed light and empty. I almost preferred the [How are you? Good and you? Good] types of exchanges because at the very least they weren’t pretending to be anything that they were not. People just hearing without listening. I was craving something more. I realized how lonely this is and desired deeply to connect with others.

I did talk with Daren about this occasionally. He didn’t understand and took it the wrong way. It was a bit of a source of contention. When I thought I discovered the meaning to The Sound of Silence, I played it in the car with Daren. When it was over I asked him what it meant to him. He honed in on the line “Silence like a cancer grows” and said he was happy that I could understand what he meant when he comments about how he felt uncomfortable with the silence. As the song states, it creates a cancer between people.

UGH…. That isn’t how I interpreted it. I became annoyed and said something to the effect of ‘that’s not what it means’. For me it meant that the emptiness of the conversation is the silence. People have so much more richer, deep, meaningful things to say than they communicate; but don’t share them (writing songs they never share). Perhaps people are to busy to connect so they talk about only the good stuff, but that feels very empty and phony to both the speaker and listener. If you always hear others talking about good stuff and posting social media images and messages about good stuff; then we never cut below the real surface of life to what we truly experience. It’s a construct, an ideal. A neon god that we are worshiping.

As a society we generally stay silent about things that matter. Simon and Garfunkel were pre-social media, but we’ve taken that to the online streets as well. Afraid that posting strong feelings about anything that could be perceived as controversial might paint ourselves in a negative light to someone else. So we hide our passions, we don’t act or behave as we really are from deep down in the heart, and we only share our surface facade. It leads to not fighting for social justice, animal rights, gay marriage – or anything that might bring us closer as a human race to acceptance and compassion.

The more we open up about what is really going on with us, share our failures in addition to our successes and stop giving ourselves and everyone else a trophy for mediocrity; perhaps the more willing we would be to put our beliefs on the line to fight for what matters to us deep down- picket, participate in a sit in, or even just write a passionate letter to a Congressman.

To revisit that day in the car, I said many of these things – only with a much hotter head and louder voice. Daren and I debated about what the lyrics meant, and didn’t even agree to disagree – we just disagreed. Not long ago we listened to the song again in the car. Daren, forgetting the entire previous conversation we had said afterwards – “Wow that is deep!”. I asked again what it meant to him. This time we had a very cerebral, respectful discussion and I felt a real connection to another human.

Presently Daren and I’s post work conversations are far more real and down to earth. Communication about important logistical matters has gotten better but there are occasional, annoying lapses. Our dinner table dynamic never did improve. It has remained an uncomfortable staple in our home for years. Every once in while we will have an enjoyable, participatory family discussion; but those are way too few and far between. At least I now know it’s the froth that bugs me. The knowing allows me to step back and not engage in what isn’t me.

It’s been years since Daren has said anything to me about silence. I don’t talk any more or less than I used to, but our norm as a couple has shifted. Although he may be annoyed with me for over sharing here in this blog, I am confident that he too now has little tolerance for empty blathering covered in froth and would actually prefer the sound of silence to it.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Fools, said I, you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence

Unknown-2

 

If you enjoyed my writing, consider leaving a comment, sharing with others, or following my blog

https://esterinaanderson.com

The reputation of Stepmothers

images.jpeg

 

I post a lot of happy photos and experiences on social media. I have a pretty good life. One thing I almost never write or post about is Daren & my biggest struggle. The largest hurdle we haven’t gotten over and continue to learn about and navigate is having a blended family.

 

I’ve written countless journal entries over the years. We’ve written hundreds of heartfelt emails to one another, our kids and our extended family trying to explain where we are coming from. I don’t really know anyone in real life with a current blended family to turn to for advice or to vent. There are little to no resources.

 

Over the years in complete frustration I’ve turned to the Internet. It’s been helpful in learning how we are not alone, but as with many things in life the ‘tips’ (if you can call them that) are much easier said than done. In the past week I’ve been a bit selfish and have only been looking up information about stepmothers. In the past I ran across information and angry forums where biological moms and step-moms posted and complained about one another. It was all a bit too Jerry Springer for me, yet I kept reading the same kind of stories and threads over and over. This week I tried to stick with peer-reviewed information only. There is little to none. The closest thing I can find that has a lot of information are Psychology periodicals. The New York Times and Huffington Post had some articles too, but on average 1-2 a year– and they are more informational for the public to be aware of the struggles that blended families experience rather than a help to the blended family itself.

 

What shocks me is how ‘textbook’ we are. We fell hook, line & sinker into exactly what normally happens.

 

Stepmothers generally have such a bad reputation. It’s often long into adulthood, usually after grandchildren/step-grandchildren are born; that the relationship between a step-mother and her step-children starts to flourish. Until then it’s often contentious and it doesn’t have to be. These are 3 things in order that a family could do to speed up that process.

  • The parents should work together to establish the boundaries, rules and consequences in their home (father and step-mother).
  • Both biological parents should work together to maintain as many commonalities as possible between both homes and back one another up or at least check-in when the children complain about one home or the other.
  • The biological mother should give her children permission to accept the step-mother in their lives.

 

This is the bare minimum to ensure success. Taking it further might look like all 3 (or 4 if mom is remarried) parents working together, especially if either stepparent has children living in their home. Mature adults realize this is in the best interest of all kids involved. Without the above 3 factors in place the situation is practically a perfect set up for failure. However we are so quick to blame the step-mother when anything goes wrong. Why? The world believes the fairy tale evil stepmother fantasy. She is the easy target because she is the outsider and no one feels any loyalty to her.

 

This is a very lonely feeling. As a stepmother you wonder what is wrong with you. You lose part of yourself. You question every word you say. I felt really alone for so long. It’s comforting to now know that research shows that there is a high incidence of anxiety and depression among stepmothers. They’re often the lowest member on the stepfamily rung, the P.S., the annoyance, the person that everyone in the family “puts up” with and often wishes would just go away.

 

 

Taken from the article (The Evil Stepmother: Myth or Truth?) “Simple… as a stepmother, I’ve been called names, blamed for things I had nothing to do with, talked behind my back, badmouthed, lied to and about, used and abused, mistreated, misunderstood, and all because I actually tried to be exactly the opposite of the common perception of ‘The Evil Stepmom’. I never demanded or asked for anything. I never made anyone choose. I never lied about their mother. I never treated her unkind. I never forgot their birthdays or a holiday. I never whined about how much money we spent on travel, child support, court costs, lawyers, or on the children.”

 

Wow how that sits with me. So it’s not just me? It’s not something I did or our special situation?

 

I’ve been accused of thriving on drama, needing my husband’s ex as a common enemy to save my relationship with him, being verbally abusive, making capricious rules, being childish, having an eating disorder, trying to make the children into something they aren’t, the list goes on. To anyone who knows me in real life this sounds so ridiculous. But if you didn’t know me and heard I’m a stepmother you really might believe it – because you know step mothers are evil & all that.

 

Why do so many women have the same experience?

 

From what I read recently, the stepmother is the first to notice something isn’t jelling and starts to do research about how to make her family work. She becomes the authoritative figure at home trying to educate herself, her children, her husband and his children about the topic. This often breeds resentment and alienates her as a starting point.

 

I’ve also learned that stepfathers don’t have the same experience as their counter-parts (step-moms) because usually ex-husbands deal with a divorce in a more healthy way. According to The Real Reason Children (and Adults) Hate their Stepmothers it’s the ex-wife who is likely to hold onto anger, feel it for longer and have the kids act it out on her behalf. Additionally the mom usually will have stronger agenda about what happens in her ex-husband’s house “The stronger the ex’s agenda, researchers found, the more involvement across households–and opportunities for conflict. And high conflict situations between two linked households lead to greater resentment of the stepparent, who feels more expendable

 

The above is a real problem when the step-mom has her own children and is trying to treat everyone fairly. It’s so important that the kids feel at home – all of them. Due to ex-wives trying to exert control, the step-mother loses control of her own home, and if she has children of her own that live in the house; she can’t seem to make things fair for everyone – leading to a great divide between step-sibling.

 

Geez, if we could only all just co-parent that wouldn’t happen right? That takes maturity though. Sadly the one target everyone points to as immature, jealous, power hungry, etc is the stepmother.

 

These are some common myths that I find so absurd.

 

She is jealous of the children

That just such a weird accusation yet widely held belief. I’ve heard it long before I ever became a step-mother, I’ve heard it about myself, and see/read/hear about other step-mothers that are jealous of their step-children. They are so jealous in fact, that they do all kinds of crazy, secret, manipulative things to make the children look bad in the father’s eyes. Has anyone ever questioned this hypocrisy? Why would she be jealous of the children?

 

She tries to exert power over the blended family and make the children’s lives miserable

What kind of person wants to see children miserable? I really ask that with pure interest of what someone’s answer might be. Do you know many people like this? I can’t think of a single person in real life that ever exhibited signed of feeling such intentions (at least that I know of… I’ll give you that).

 

I think a lot of people know just a single story and are more apt to listen to angry ex-wives and the kids who have a distorted image of “what goes on in that house”. She isn’t super strict and making capricious rules when she asks the kids sit up at the table, not climb the furniture, use utensils properly and say please & thank you. These are common complaints (wow… again I’m not alone) 5 Good Reasons to be an Evil Stepmother.

 

In step-families where the husband is the biological parent, research shows that fathers are more likely to be permissive parents if their ex-wife is not remarried and works outside the home (The Real Reason Children (and Adults) Hate their Stepmothers). The biological mother will often start to let little things go at first, then big things. When the children get to their father’s house they are used to not having rules and the father fears that if he is too strict the children will not want to come back. The stepmother inadvertently becomes the menacing authoritative figure for wanting to instill a few simple boundaries that others would normally not question. In turn people look at her like she is on a power trip and wants to make the children miserable and unwelcome into their dad’s house. After this happens a few times the stepmother will often feel like she has no control of her household and has to walk on eggshells when the children are around. It only makes the situation worse which is why most blended families on the surface seem happier early on. It’s not because the stepmother’s true colors have emerged that she has been holding in all this time until she got her claws deep enough into the family. Life isn’t that simple or sinister.

 

She shouldn’t have any say when it comes to the children

This is a partial myth. She has a lot to say about a lot of things and nothing to say about many others. Does she have a right to be part of a negotiation about what time something should take place when it affects her and/or her own biological children, or her household? Yes. Should she have a say in how holidays are celebrated within the confines of her own blended family, especially when she has children of her own? Absolutely. Should she be part of schedule planning for breaks, summers, and vacations if they in any way shape or form will be part of her schedule, her own vacation or anything related to her children? Without a doubt!

 

Does she have a say about where a child goes to the doctor or to college? Absolutely not. Nothing at all. Is it ok for her to be there to look at school options on the table? Why not? If I weren’t married and my brother or a good friend came with me and my child to look at schools, no one would blink or question their motives. They may even be able to say something like – hey remember that great cafeteria at that place, I had a fantastic burrito! But the stepmother accompanies her husband to the physician or a college visit and she must want to manipulate an outcome for her own benefit right? She must think she is their parent and has a right to be involved in this decision. Ya… ok then.

 

What about discipline? This is a tricky one. It depends. Did the child do something at school or get a bad grade? Then she should have little to no say. That is up to the biological parents if they are communicating well enough. Did the child break one of the house rules that she and her husband had in place? Then she does have a say. Many might disagree with me, but I think she has more of a say and should work with the husband closer when there are more than 1 set of biological children in the house. If there are stepsiblings or half siblings and something happens under your roof or in your care; the adults should work as diligently as possible to keep the same consequences for all the children in the house. Toxicity is created when the rules are different for one set of children than another. The stepmother has a say about what happens in her house, especially when it affects her or any children she birthed.

 

If she is kind the children will warm up to her

Not necessarily. The odds are stacked against her. She is putting up with a lot more than you know. People don’t look at her and smile warmly. When the family is out in public and strangers start asking questions where she has to explain they are a blended family, there is subtle shift in the conversation where she is looked at like she is just a bit ‘lesser than’. She can feel this hostility from strangers, the kid’s friend’s parents, teachers, etc. The extended family often quietly or openly resents or blames her because things aren’t just exactly the same as before. The kids sense all of this. How can they like her?

 

Throw in “loyalty”. Many stepkids–and adult stepkids–suspect that liking stepmom would be a betrayal of mom. So they keep her at arm’s length–or worse. And there’s nothing she can do about that. Only mom can release them from the torturous loyalty bind and pave the way to a healthy stepmom/stepchild relationship, by saying, “I wish you’d give Jenny a chance. I won’t be upset.” Too often, no such permission is given” (The Real Reason Children (and Adults) Hate their Stepmothers).

It’s been found that the more warm & appealing a step mom is, the more conflict a child feels about liking her.

Culturally there is a double standard “Stepchildren are allowed to dislike and resent their stepmoms, while a stepmom must always show unconditional love for her stepchildren.

 

She isn’t immature and childish; she is human with little understanding on her part.

 

Are you a stepmother or know of any? Try looking at things from her perspective. Most little girls don’t grow up with dreams of marrying a man with children. Almost no woman on earth goes out seeking a man with children. Marrying a man with children means you really love him and accept all facets of his life, including his children. The day the couple says “I do” with smiles on their faces, she isn’t secretly plotting about how to systematically get the kids out of his life. I don’t disagree that there may be a few incredibly unstable females out there where this might be the case, but trust me in that they are the exception, not the norm.

 

If you enjoyed my writing, consider leaving a comment, sharing with others, or following my blog

https://esterinaanderson.com