Stepmom In the Middle

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Speaker 1: Welcome to Mom and Dad are Fighting Slate’s parenting podcast for Thursday, August 4th. The Step Mom in the middle edition and Jamilah Lemieux, a writer contributor to Slate’s parent beating parenting column and mom to Naima, who is 90. And we live in Los Angeles, California.

Elizabeth Newcamp: I’m Elizabeth Newcamp. I write the homeschool and family travel blog, an excuse. I’m the mom to three littles. Henry, who’s ten. Oliver is eight and Teddy, who’s five. And we live in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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Courtney Martin: And I’m Courtney Martin, born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but currently live in Oakland, California, with my two kids, Maya and Stella, ages eight and six. I’m the author of a book called Learning in Public, and I write a substack newsletter called Examined Family.

Speaker 1: Well, welcome back, Courtney. We’re glad to have you.

Courtney Martin: Thank you so much. I’m really happy to be back.

Speaker 1: And the last time you were here, you were talking about your book Learning in Public.

Speaker 1: We will link to that episode in the show. Notes and Learning in Public is coming out in paperback soon, right?

Courtney Martin: Yes, August 22nd. And I’m so grateful that it’ll be more affordable and accessible. There’s kind of nothing better than an absorbing paperback. I feel like I just left a novel out in the rain and I insisted on reading it anyway. So it’s like, I love a paperback.

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Speaker 1: Everyone loves a good paperback. So congratulations to you on that, Courtney. We’re super happy to have you here. We have a listener question we want you to help us tackle. It’s from a step mom who has found herself in the middle of a housing situation. Her stepson wants to live with his mom full time, which is a change that is deeply hurt the bad. Now, a letter writer is exactly where she does not want to be. In the middle on Slate. Plus, we’re going to be talking about kids fighting and finding resolutions inspired by her wonderful piece that Courtney did for her newsletter. Here’s a sneak peek of what you’ll get to hear if you have Slate.

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Courtney Martin: Plus, there was a fistfight in the hallway between a few boys. And then she tells us that Miss Price basically sent these boys outside on the blacktop and said, like, solve it yourself. I do want to say the school has a lot of awesome restorative justice training and all the other stuff going on. So it’s not like this is always the tactic, but I think she just had the instinct that like these kids have something in them that can resolve this and they need to have the agency to do it. The boys come back with a contract they had created about the way they were going to interact with one another, which is just like wild.

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Speaker 1: If you want a weekly bonus segment from us and your other Slate faves, consider signing up for a Slate Plus two. Sign up. Now go to Slate.com slash mom and dad. Plus again, that’s Slate.com slash mom and dad plus.

Speaker 1: All right. We’re going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we will dive into our triumphs and fails from the week we’re back. And we’re going straight into sharing those parenting triumphs and bills we love to tell you about. Courtney as our guest. Please do us the honors of going first. Do you have it triumph or fail?

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Courtney Martin: Well, I feel like my whole summer is just a series of failures. Summer is just so hard to figure out. And ours was like very bumpy. I don’t know if other people had that experience this year. We’re weirdly starting school next week in California. Oh, wow. We’ll start August 8th. So, like, I’m sliding and I’m crawling to the finish line here. And I actually had a moment in the car with my older daughter, Maya. She’s eight. She’s going into third grade. She’s in the backseat and she says, Mom, I think this year I want to try out for the cheerleading squad.

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Courtney Martin: Okay. So you have to know me. I was like a big athlete. I played basketball in lacrosse. I, like have been trying to not so subtly turn her into a basketball player during COVID by making her dribble and pass with me in the driveway. And clearly, this is not really worked at all. Plus, I’m like, you know, kind of a hardcore feminist who is not sure I understand cheerleading can be athletic, but the idea that my daughter’s, like, first organized sports experience is going to be cheering on other people, probably majority boys, like it just doesn’t sit very well with me. But I did a really good job of like taking a deep breath and being like.

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Speaker 4: Okay, we.

Courtney Martin: Could consider that. Like, would you also maybe want to try out for the basketball team? You know what her answer was?

Speaker 4: No.

Courtney Martin: Another interesting layer of this is, you know, part of learning in public is the story of the fact that my two white girls go to this black majority school. And as many people know, when you have theoretically integrating schools, you often have like after school gets super segregated or like if there’s a gifted and talented that will get super segregated. So in our case, there’s no gifted, talented. But after school is this real moment where like the minority of white kids goes across the street to this like arts after school program. And my kids have done that. And the kids who stay are in the subsidized after school program, which is majority black. And that’s where cheerleading happens. So I’m in this interesting moment, like my triumph is I didn’t tell her like, no, you can’t travel for cheerleading. Like, I’m not going to have you. Just, like, looking cute and cheering for boys.

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Courtney Martin: It’ll be really interesting to see what happens because it’s like in, like the feminist part of me is not so into it. The, the part of me that’s like interested in integrating spaces and being like a force for integration is like, this is good. It means like my, it would be one of maybe like two white girls on the cheerleading squad and would be at the same size after school program, at least for part of the week, and like actually be having a truly integrated social life. So guys, it’s just so complicated. But all I’m saying is I’m really proud that I didn’t just, like, tell her, like, she couldn’t try out for cheerleading.

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Elizabeth Newcamp: My parents definitely were of the you may not try out for cheerleading, which is which is okay, because I would not have made a good cheerleader. So just I had a bunch of friends that were doing it looked fine, right? They got to like hang out and they got to wear their uniforms at school, which I also thought was very cool, like on uniform, because we had a uniform day. I had to wear the polo, the guys wear the uniform, like those kind of things, which turned out to not be good reasons to participate in a sport. But I.

Speaker 4: Think.

Elizabeth Newcamp: It’s actually good because there’s like this try out thing too. And so some of it is like not in your hands, you know what I mean.

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Courtney Martin: Right? Are you saying my daughter is not good enough to make the cheerleading team?

Speaker 4: Elizabeth Yes.

Courtney Martin: Now I’m going to get competitive.

Speaker 4: So I’m just you’re going to try.

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Courtney Martin: Out and prove Elizabeth, right?

Speaker 4: You got to look at it. No, I’m just saying that.

Elizabeth Newcamp: I think, like, if she makes it great, right. But there’s this like gate that you don’t have control over. And there’s something sometimes it’s nice to have those gates because it feels like, well, I’m on the fence about this, but there’s this thing that’s going to make the determination that has nothing to do with me. And so you’ve said like, yes, you. Yes, let’s try out. This is what you want to do. So if she makes it, you’re like, well, great, she made this team right? And we can be so excited for her in that. But if she doesn’t make it, you’re not the one who said no, even if it’s us. That’s the thing you wanted to have happened. I don’t know. It feels.

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Speaker 4: Like.

Courtney Martin: The only the only hitch with what you just said is you get to be so excited. I’ll have to figure out if I can be excited.

Elizabeth Newcamp: I can just be excited that she got the things she wants. I don’t I feel like a huge part of I wish there.

Courtney Martin: Was an Elizabeth. Part of me feels like I’m just going to be like, really? You’re going to, like, wear this cute costume and I’m going to drive you to, like, cheer on.

Speaker 4: The basketball team.

Courtney Martin: Like, this is. I’m, I’m, like, really being vulnerably here about, like, my worst, least supportive self, but I am going to have to like get on board. I don’t know. Jamila, what do you think? Do you think I’m a monster for not being more excited?

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Speaker 1: You’re not. And I would grapple with this too. I have a friend whose daughter does cheer and I’ve been kind of like bracing myself for my daughter to be like me too, you know, because I’m like, I don’t know how into that I would be, but I realize a big part of that is my selfish POV, which is I’d rather watch you play the sport, you know, play. I want somebody to cheer for you, you know what I mean? I want you to be the sexual attraction. But I will say cheerleading is damn hard work. You know, it is a true team sport. The girls, you know, and other kids that participate learn so much from it. You know, I think it can get yucky and weird when you get a little older. You know, on the adult level, professional cheerleaders making pennies and being sexually harassed even in high school. Just kind of social pressure around cheerleaders and football players. And what does this mean? You know, are you going to be respected or are you treated is like a jocks thing.

Speaker 1: But I think at a very small age, you know, parents can be impactful. You know, you can speak up about things that don’t feel right, that feel like you’re going into this. The girls are just here to make the day shinier for the boys. You can challenge that. And again, they just do so much on their own. It’s such, you know, incredible gymnastics worth that. I do think it is worth the little girls time.

Courtney Martin: Yeah. Wow. You just took me on a journey. I was like, yes.

Speaker 4: This is why I’m so against this. And then you came back and I was like, You’re right. It’s just.

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Courtney Martin: She’s eight. It’s fine.

Speaker 4: And that it’ll be fine.

Elizabeth Newcamp: That is parenting encapsulate.

Speaker 4: Yeah, exactly.

Courtney Martin: Well, thank you all for your support on this. I’ll keep you posted.

Speaker 1: What about you, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Newcamp: Well, I also have like a just like parenting fail, but also then like sort of is the life lesson we want to teach them. I don’t know. So we we went to Glacier National Park, which is very far from everything. It’s far from Colorado Springs. But we drove and part of the reason we wanted to drive was like to see some of these other places out west that we might not be able to see. We wanted to go to Craters of the Moon National Park, which is like legit in the middle of nowhere. Like you, you have to drive.

Courtney Martin: Out like it.

Elizabeth Newcamp: And it’s like volcanic. The kids had a great time. You can crawl around in these old lava tubes and just like to understand that there was a pretty recent volcano in the United States. Like they trained for moon missions. They’re like, super cool. We went to this experimental. Reader reactor, which is like a nuclear reactor from the 1950s, where they actually basically discovered that you can create more nuclear fuel than you consume in energy production. If you don’t know what that means, I don’t either. Geoff wrote that out for me because I went visited. Still, I’m confused. I think one of the three kids grasped that that was great.

Elizabeth Newcamp: But just like having all these experiences and part of that was we stopped in Butte, Montana, which is a huge mining town. Sometimes when we stop these places, we don’t really have a plan. So we kind of grabbed the brochure and it was like, Hey, you can pay $2 to go see this open pit mine. And we’re like, All right, so we go. We pay our $2 and you walk through this, like, glowing white tunnel, and you you come out and the pit is completely full of water. And there’s like it’s like blue, like turquoise blue. And then these huge yellow, well, like, looks like mountains, but are the side of the open pit mine.

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Elizabeth Newcamp: And there is nothing. There are no birds. There are no animals. There are like a huge barbed wire fence. Like, do not go here. There’s a couple little signs. And they talk about like, hey, the water is super acidic and there’s all these heavy metals in it. So we’re there and the kids are asking all of these questions like, why aren’t birds landing here? Like, This is a big thing of water. Why? Why isn’t this happening? And we don’t really have the answer.

Elizabeth Newcamp: So when we get back to the car, we are Googling. And I find this podcast called The Richest Hill that’s like about Butte, Montana. And so for the rest of this trip, we are listening to this podcast about Butte, Montana, and how it is like North America’s largest Superfund site, because the mining activity like in 1982, they turned off the pumps in the mining which flooded like thousands of miles of tunnels that are underneath, including the pit. Well, the pit now is gotten so high that had they not done something next year, it would have run into the groundwater. And the groundwater here is already a huge problem. This pit is is so acidic that like a group of Canadian geese landed on it and like thousands of them died almost instantly.

Elizabeth Newcamp: Yeah, there’s all these articles if you Google it. So I’m sitting here thinking like, okay, we took time out of our vacation to take our kids to this Superfund site. And now we have to like explain to them all this whole big situation, right. Which is that this is a huge copper mine. And in fact, right next to this oh, this pit that’s filling there is a new pit where they are mining copper, you know, and the kids are like, Well, why don’t we just stop mining? You know, like, why are we mining like this? And it’s like, well, if you want to use a cell phone, you need copper. If you want to run your car, you need copper, right? So like looking we were looking up things that copper were in. We were, you know, they were like, okay, well, why do we have to do it here? It’s like, okay, let’s look up the other places. Like, yes, it’s happening in other places. And we’re also destroying the environment and things there, you know, but having these kind of larger conversations about that, like things are not so easy.

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Courtney Martin: Well, I’m just so impressed with the the like systemic literacy that you helped them gather from all of that. That’s like what I’m hearing is you holding all of that complexity, both like the moral complexity that there’s like no simple perfect action to be a moral person and like a neo liberal, you know, like terrible environmental economy, but also just that you, like, held all the complexity and you let them keep like peeling back the layers through their questions. To me, that’s like a huge triumph. That’s really hard.

Elizabeth Newcamp: To triumph, but it’s hard when they’re, you know, laying in bed and like, why are we destroying the whole world? You know? And it’s like. Yeah.

Speaker 4: Yeah, yeah. Good. Know children in children. Sleep well. Enjoy your iPads. Exactly. Use those copper. You know how we saw that mine. Would you like your iPod? Yeah.

Speaker 1: And I also think it’s so great that when you travel, your kids learn so much, you know, like you really do educational trips, you know, whether that was your intention or not. And I think that’s so dope. Like, that’s really good. Most kids, it’s like, let’s see.

Speaker 4: Grandma and Grandpa. There might be a Superfund site near my grandma. You can go to probably.

Elizabeth Newcamp: Probably if you’re interested in this, though, seriously, the richest hill is is really interesting, particularly the first five episodes that kind of just talk about how how we got such a huge copper mine into a pit like I just found that thoroughly fascinating. It’s something I had not really given much thought to. So anyway, Jamila, how was your week?

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Speaker 1: Where? It was fine. So my fail is not a tremendous fail, but I did manage to ruin a little bit of a surprise, a big surprise for Naima.

Speaker 1: So Beyonce’s new album came out on Friday and about a week before it drops, I think on Tik Tok or somewhere she released like the list of songwriters, you know. And my friend saw it and he sent it to me like, is this name is that? And so I listed as a songwriter for one of the songs and so I hit him immediately. I mean, is a pretty to save man. I’m like, Rose, did you and I’ve never mentioned this before. Every name is there. I maybe I’ve maybe I have in the past but name is that is a rapper and producers they makes music in addition to having a regular job which I’ve always respected and thought that was really great, that he was able to balance, you know, his passion and, you know, make money doing it because he’s signed to a record label. But while still having, you know, a job and like being realistic about, you know, music and all that stuff.

Speaker 1: And so I was like, is this year? And he’s like, Yeah, but like, there was a lot going on. So like, we didn’t get to talk about it and I didn’t ask any other questions. I was like, Wow, it’s amazing, you know? And so fast forward a couple of days, Nyame is back with me. We’re going to the movies and I’m like, So Beyoncé, right. That’s crazy. And she’s like, What do you mean? I was like, Your dad? And she’s like, Huh? And it occurs to me that he had not told her. And so she was like, Wait. And I was like, Oh! And she was like, Well, Daddy told me that he was working on a song with somebody that was top secret and he couldn’t tell me who it was.

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Speaker 4: I was like.

Speaker 1: Oh, okay, well, pretend I didn’t say anything. So I did ruin the surprise for Naima a little bit that her dad was on the Beyoncé album, but she was still very excite, you know, because he didn’t say anything. She was with him. So I was like, Well, he’ll tell her, you know, like he knows.

Speaker 4: I know.

Speaker 1: Yeah, it’s been released. This is not a secret anymore, you know? But he waited until the album, like, came out and, you know, you posted about it and stuff. And it was still very exciting, very happy and proud for him. And of course, it’s huge for Naima. You can hear his voice on the record, you know, so super cool moment. Naima is a huge Beyoncé fan. So like to combine Beyonce and Daddy is just too much to handle.

Speaker 4: Unbelievable.

Courtney Martin: Wait, was he mad that you had told her? Was he planning to, like, reveal it in a certain way?

Speaker 4: I don’t know. He didn’t say anything to me.

Speaker 1: I don’t think he was upset. There was a lot going on. He lost his father in law this week, last week. So that was more of a focus for everyone, I think then, you know, the big exciting news. But I think he was just planning on telling her like when it was out, as opposed to me like a week later to be like so, you know, or a week before. But either way, you know, he seems very happy and excited about it and so does Naima. So it all worked out well.

Speaker 4: Oh, my God.

Courtney Martin: I am like freaking out. Which track is it.

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Speaker 1: Carlos? The the second song.

Speaker 4: That’s everybody’s favorite song.

Speaker 1: I know. It’s crazy, right?

Speaker 4: Oh, that’s amazing. That is.

Courtney Martin: Wild. I also love when you tell the story, you’re like, So then I was like, Hey, like, I saw your name on this. Like, you did this. And then we didn’t talk about imaginable. I’m like, I would have just been like freaking out, telling everybody if I had ever procreate. It was someone who worked with the I’m like, freaking out. I’m so impressed.

Speaker 1: You know, we dated when he was a struggling artist, if you will. And, you know, I’ve dated a lot of starving artists, so it’s very nice to see somebody, like, really do the thing. You know, I’m very proud of him.

Speaker 4: That’s amazing. I do feel like he.

Elizabeth Newcamp: Shares the blame with you because a little text being like, I haven’t told Naima.

Speaker 4: Yet. Right? No. It out to do, you know like.

Elizabeth Newcamp: Hey you obviously know you have this great relationship. It might come off. I you know.

Speaker 4: I so I don’t.

Elizabeth Newcamp: Feel that you should shoulder the entire.

Speaker 4: I know. I know you guys chatted about it.

Courtney Martin: When you guys chatted about it, he could have said, like, just so you know, I want to tell her.

Elizabeth Newcamp: Yeah, I want to be the one to tell her or I haven’t told her yet or she doesn’t know.

Speaker 4: Yeah.

Courtney Martin: Oh, my God. I’m also now thinking about all the kids who are going to think name is lying. Because I feel like that’s the kind of lie that like you go to school to be like, yeah, my dad helped produce that Beyonce track. People would be like, Yeah. And my dad like, you know, did this whatever thing that, of course my dad like, it just seems like too good to be true.

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Speaker 1: It is a classic playground. Tall tale. Yeah, sure. It does sound too good to be true, but I’m sure she’ll figure out. School starts in two weeks. I’m sure she’ll figure out a way to make sure all the kids know.

Speaker 4: What did you do over the summer? She’s like, Well, well.

Courtney Martin: This walk on to the playground with cozy. Just like, blasting like a speaker and just like that’s her walk on song for school this year.

Speaker 1: First day I wouldn’t be surprised if she has it has me use it as her drop off music because they have like a little lane where like parents drive up and you know, they have, you know, employees and parent volunteers like getting the kids out the car and so names that in the habit of like requesting like pull up music she was like I want to hear Bobby Brown turn around like really loud, play loud. I want to make sure everybody hears it. So like she arrives to music. So we maybe her.

Speaker 4: Rival.

Courtney Martin: Never thought about this, like play music. That’s amazing.

Speaker 1: All right. Well, we’re going to take another quick break. And when we come back, we’ll get into today’s listener question.

Speaker 1: We’re back. Celeste Hopkins, who? Our listener question of the Day. Dear Mom and dad, I’m a step mom to a 16 year old trans male teen. I’ve been in his and his dad’s life since he was just four. All the parents in his life have supported him through his transition, and he’s just started taking testosterone. The other day, our teen mom asked if we could get together and chat without my partner about a serious parenting issue. She wanted to talk to me first because she wasn’t sure how to approach my partner. Basically, our teen no longer wants to be shuttled between homes on a weekly basis and wants his mom’s house to be his primary residence. Starting testosterone is a big change, and he wants more control over his body and choices. His doctors recommended that we follow his lead and do whatever we can to make him feel safe and comfortable while going through this huge transition. I’m 100% on board with this. I’m okay with him making his own choices about where he wants to live. And I understand that this distancing is normal, healthy and developmentally appropriate.

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Speaker 1: However, my partner is deeply held by this change. He feels like he has been supportive throughout the gender transition and tried many times to connect and spend time with him, only to be rebuffed and rejected. He also ran his own small business, which means he works so much and so hard to provide that he missed out on some opportunities to spend more time with his child and deepen their bond, which he now feels huge amounts of guilt and shame for my partner, his child. A very similar in that when they are hurt or feeling hurt, they shut down and get stubborn. Neither will budge because they are waiting for the other person to make the first move. I am afraid this is going to lead to a larger and larger strange man, and I fear I’m going to have to take the role of mediator between the two for the foreseeable future. I’m in therapy and encouraging my partner to seek out therapy as well to help cope with these painful emotions. Besides therapy, how do I best support my partner, my stepson and myself? Any advice or insight would be extremely helpful.

Speaker 1: Courtney. What do you think?

Speaker 4: Oh.

Courtney Martin: I just like my heartbreaks for this whole situation because it’s so complex. And I think there are many times when I watch, for example, like my husband and my older daughter who have some similar, like, emotional, they’re both kind of like emotional black boxes. Like you don’t know what’s in there. And they’re like very stoic. Like, I’ve had all these experiences where my older daughter will look at me and she’s like tears filling her eyes. But she’ll be like, I’m fine, I’m okay. And I’m just like, Oh my God, you’re not okay. And you’re just like your father.

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Courtney Martin: And so, like, thinking about the two of them and their relationship and the way in which like it’s actually much easier to be in relationships. Oftentimes someone who’s unlike you because you can push back against each other emotionally and like one of you will be open, one of you is closed, and you can kind of like work with that. But I think when they’re two people who are so emotionally similar, you know, I just really worry as I watch them and I think about their relationship, but as it evolves is like how can they keep their dynamic open? I think my biggest takeaway, which is not going to be particularly comforting, is just like serenity, like they have to be on their own journey about that. And there’s only so much she can do. And it does sound like she’s done quite a bit to be so like kind and patient and like recommend therapy and all the things. So I guess I don’t know how helpful it is, but my, like, my real reaction is like, girl, you’re doing a lot. And I think you’ve had some good boundaries and I’m not sure you should do that much more, but I don’t know what you guys think.

Elizabeth Newcamp: That’s where I came down to for her, which is like being in the middle is a choice and she can choose not to be in the middle. And I think that she can choose not to be in the middle and still be a loving partner and be supportive and kind of be nudging him. You know, her partner, she can also be a loving stepmom at the same time and finding ways for her to connect with her stepson and being there for him.

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Elizabeth Newcamp: Right. And providing those opportunities. The partner, the stepson want to also participate in whatever she’s doing without it being like, I’m going to bring you together and I’m going to negotiate that or like you need to get together. The unfortunate news for the dad is that like, look, whatever damage was done, whatever has happened that you weren’t there, you’re going to have to do the work to get it back because you’ve now got a teen son who is going through a lot and it’s kind of not his job like, yes, it would be great if he also wanted this, but I would say his plate is full. And so it is your job as the adult in this relationship to to figure out how to be there in a way that he needs you to be there. And you may have to just ask that question, and it may be that I need space, and that can be a really tough, you know, option. And I think that if that’s the answer, then you have to continue to present yourself, like, how can I provide the love in a way that you need it?

Elizabeth Newcamp: And I talk a lot about the love languages because I think we get off base because we’re providing love in the way that we feel love. And to provide love to someone else is to say, how do you need it? And then provide it that way, even if it doesn’t come naturally to you. And it sounds like, you know, Dad, you can come to your partner, you can come, it sounds like, to to your son’s mom and say, are there things I can do to be helpful in this process? And I don’t know what that’s going to look like. Maybe it’s a weekly phone call, maybe it’s transportation, maybe it’s providing some physical things, like whatever that can be, that he feels loved and feels like I’m. Still here.

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Elizabeth Newcamp: Even though you’re doing all this and you haven’t chosen me, it’s kind of like I feel like the dad is taking you out of this. Like, well, I feel hurt. It’s like it’s kind of not about you at this moment. It’s. It’s about this kid and, you know, letter writer. I think you need to be there for your partner to say to work through the feeling hurt so that he doesn’t necessarily have to work through that with his son and can instead focus energy on just being a loving father.

Speaker 1: Any family, you know, that there’s a co-parenting situation like this kind of fears that one day the child will want to be in one household, you know, over the other, and you know that things will change. And it’s not terribly surprising that a teenager, particularly one who has as much going on as this one would want somewhere, it’s just that, you know, be stable without having to worry about, you know, I left my shoes. I left my homework. You know, I’ve got to go to this other place tonight. Ritualised quality time with your son. You know, that’s something that should have started while you were too busy working, you know?

Speaker 1: But I think it’s really important because this is really your last opportunity, you know, your husband’s last opportunity to build, you know, this sort of relationship with his son that he wants, because once he turns 18 and, you know, very likely moves out of his mother’s house, you know, and possibly away, things will only get harder for you all to connect.

Speaker 1: But to the step mom, I would just echo Courtney Elizabeth and just say remain empathetic and kind and being someone that, you know, these two people can turn to to talk about what’s going on and then you can help them understand each other’s POV without advocating so much for the other person. But just being someone who gets all sides and can talk about all sides I think could be really helpful to me.

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Elizabeth Newcamp: I really liked how you said that the contact needs to be significant.

Speaker 1: Yeah, they can go grab his favorite dinner on Friday nights. You know, every Friday night, Dad does school pickup. We get pizza. You know, I drop you off at your buddies house. That’s what you’re doing. But that we still have, you know, this ritual that’s about us every week.

Courtney Martin: Yeah, I think that’s so important. I also was thinking, as you’re both talking, that I, I read so much I hear so much grief in this letter. Like, I just think there’s a lot of grief over, like, what the dad felt like he didn’t do. Right. And that’s, I guess, grief that he needs to deal with on his own. Not like project on his kid right now. And the grief of transition like this could be a really beautiful, liberating transition for the kid, which is awesome, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t go with some grief for him and the people around him to be like, Wow, this is like a big shift and this is going to be really different than we imagined. And so I guess I just wanted to say, I think there’s like a big capital G grief thing going on here too, which is not the step mom’s job to deal with. But, you know, maybe she could just have some serenity knowing that that is deeply under this whole thing.

Speaker 1: I also just want to add quickly, you know, I think it’s great letter writer that you’ve encouraged your husband to seek therapy. And I think that’s something you should, you know, continue to encourage him to do. And it also may be useful for there to be some family therapy, you know, with your husband and his son. And I don’t know if it would needs to be the three of you or just the two of them. Perhaps the two of them would be, you know, ideal so that they can talk through some of their issues. And I would hope that your stepson is in therapy himself, considering everything that’s going on, because I think that would be very helpful and supportive for him, you know, during this period. But, you know, getting the two of them together to talk with the professional could really help if it’s something that your husband would be open to doing. All right. Well, Stepmom mediator, we hope that this advice was helpful. If anyone else out there has ideas on how to help out. Write to us. You can also send us your own parenting questions.

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Speaker 1: We can be reached at mom and dad at Slate.com. That’s it for our show. We’ll be back in your biz bright and early on Monday. Courtney will be joining us to answer another question. And of course, we’ll have recommendations, so be sure to tune in while you’re at it. Please subscribe to the show and give us a rating or review on Spotify or Apple. This episode of Mom and Dad of Fighting is produced by Rosemary Belson and Kristie Taiwo-Makanjuola. But Courtney Martin and Elizabeth Newcamp and Jamilah Lemieux. Thanks for listening.

Speaker 1: All right, Slate Plus listeners, let’s keep going. It’s getting to the point of the summer where kids are hot and bored and maybe getting annoyed with their siblings. We’ve seen a few posts on the parenting group on Facebook asking for some advice on fighting, and it reminded us that this wonderful post that you wrote, Courtney, in your in your examined family newsletter about kids resolving a fight. For those who haven’t read the piece, which we’ve linked in the show notes. Could you give us a rundown of what happened?

Courtney Martin: Sure. Yeah. I mean, first of all, I have no idea what these parents are talking about, about their children fighting with each other. That’s like not at all been a theme of my entire summer. So the piece is really about the ways in which I notice my own inability to meet kids, where they are when they’re fighting and witnessing other people who are doing that more skillfully, namely my kids at the time. A second grade teacher, Miss Price, shout out Ms.. Price, who you know. Maia comes home and tells us that there was a fistfight in the hallway between a few boys. And then she tells us that Ms.. Price basically sent these boys outside on the blacktop and said, like, solve it yourself. I do want to say the school has a lot of awesome restorative justice training and all the other stuff going on. So it’s not like this is always the tactic, but I think she just had the instinct that like these kids have something in them that can resolve this and they need to have the agency to do it. The boys come back with a contract they had created about the way they were going to interact with one another, which is just like wild.

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Courtney Martin: And then the other thing that happened that week was I had found this drawing my daughter Maya loves to draw and this drawing she’d done with her, it seems sort of alongside or in honor of her best friend, who is a very quiet person who like really struggles with conflict. And she had drawn these little bunnies that were interacting and it was essentially like she had re-invented couples therapy. Is this like cute graphic.

Speaker 4: Novel where.

Courtney Martin: They were talking back and forth to each other? One scenario was, This is what I think will happen. One scenario was, this is what I want to happen. And one scenario was, this is what would happen. Like these were the ways that these best friends were like dealing with their conflict. And I was like, Wow, I feel like my husband and I should like get a piece of paper and try to draw out these three scenarios again.

Courtney Martin: Biggest takeaway is I use too many words. I’m just like words, words, words. I’m a writer. I’m very verbal. I’m always kind of going at my girls fighting with words, trying to get them to talk it through. And both of these examples help me see that the verbal approach is just so wildly ineffective sometimes, and I over rely on it. So curious what you guys think about that. You know, do you kind of try to get your kids to talk things out? Elizabeth Or like, you know, when Naima has issues with her friends, like, you know, how do you see her inventively dealing with that kind of curious about your take on this?

Elizabeth Newcamp: I felt inspired reading this and I, like you, use me way too many words. In fact, we use this disciplinary system that I’ve talked about before where we draw these good habit cards and we came up with rules and how many could have a cards there? Words in like page. One of the book that it comes from is like you as the parents are doing one of these things, I’m like, number one is like, you talk too much.

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Speaker 4: You know, like, like you need to explain everything.

Elizabeth Newcamp: And tell them and try to get them to like process through like, do we want to have this relationship when you grow up like they do not care. They are mad about something. They want to resolve it. They’re going to resolve it by hitting each other. Right? So I feel like I am caught. Like the bad habit that I am fighting is exactly that, that I just want to say like, why would you do this? And when left on their own, they really do fix it themselves.

Elizabeth Newcamp: And an example is that today Oliver forgot his book bag. I have all three at summer camp, by the way, which is like and I don’t I don’t know that I’ve ever been in the house without any children. So Oliver, who has ADHD, left his book bag. My friend always says the minivan will provide. And so in the back of the minivan, it’s like I have I have a little bag, I have a water bottle, but I had to ask the boys to split up their lunch. And all of them were just like a total like, I don’t want to give up this, I don’t want to give up this. And I was so angry, particularly at Henry, like, because he kept saying, I’m going to be so hungry. And it’s like your brother has nothing, you know? And so I just, like, stopped. And I was like, okay, there was another mom there. We got him a sandwich in a bar, like between the two. Like enough. Well, the cam sent me an email and said that at lunch, Henry walked over with his lunchbox and got him a napkin and was like, Which of these things do you want? And I’m like, My instinct was just to be like, You are a terrible person.

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Speaker 4: Why are you being rude to.

Elizabeth Newcamp: A person when in fact, like in that moment he didn’t want to give up the stuff because no one wants to give up half their Cheez-Its, you know, like that’s not a fun thing, but they know the right thing to do. And without me there, they may be more likely to do that. And that’s work. It’s not like like you said, it’s not like this happened on their own. You’re not just sending any two children off like we’ll go go work it out, but kind of trusting some of that and knowing that like it’s in a supervised space. I don’t know Jamilah your house’s name and never fights with anyone, right?

Speaker 1: Of course not. You know, I don’t have as much experience with mediating conflicts for Naima because she’s my only child. What happens more frequently is, you know, me doing the work of helping her process something that happened at school, you know? So I get the story of the conflict between her and whichever bestie. And, you know, we talk a lot about empathy and thinking about her friend’s feelings. I really loved your pose, Courtney. Your daughter’s picture is the cutest thing you believe. It’s so cute and so intelligent, you know, like, it’s just so sophisticated. This is your six year old.

Courtney Martin: There’s no this is my eight year old.

Speaker 1: Still incredibly sophisticated thinking. You know, like, this is what I think will happen. This is what I want to happen. This is what could happen. You know, like we’re examining all the possibilities here. Ultimately, what I want is for you and I to say sorry to each other.

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Speaker 1: I also love that you linked to the Army Institute for Emotional Justice, which took me on a little journey because I hadn’t caught up with Esther in some years, but I’ve worked with her on some stuff in the past and she’s just so incredible. And the work that she’s done to bring the concept of emotional justice, which is largely used to help understand gendered and racial harm. But it’s incredibly important for kids, you know, I think to have a concept of emotional justice, you know, that like it is.

Speaker 1: Well, with my feelings like that, we care about how I feel inside. We care how other people feel inside, know we’re going to attend to that. And so that’s essentially what I try to do with Naima. You know, that we talk a lot about feelings, we talk about our feelings, we talk about other people’s feelings. We are constantly talking about feelings. And she is name is very, very clear that her feelings matter and she’s really, really articulate, you know, and she’ll say to me, I’m just a little girl, you know, if she feels like I’m being too heavy handed and my, you know, criticism of her or you just say, I’m just a.

Speaker 4: Child, I’m just a little girl, I love that. That’s so I mean.

Elizabeth Newcamp: We all need that reminder, right? Yeah. Sometimes that we’re the adult here.

Courtney Martin: Elizabeth was making me think that. I think one of our jobs as a parent, as always, is to, like, notice our own, you know, sort of like triggers and projections. And for me, I notice with my kids for the, you know, parents that are thinking about sibling fighting, I was a younger sister. And so I have this extra layer of like protection for my little one, Stella. And, you know, sometimes I think it’s warranted because I do think you have to look out for the little sibling. And I think there are horror stories of older siblings, like really terrorizing little kids. And we kind of make fun of it, but actually like it can cause some long term damage if little kids feel dominated all the time and like they, you know, and even worse. So I do I do have a little extra love for Sally sometimes in the fights between my two daughters. But I also have to, like, see that that’s about me and my own, like, little sister identity. And that’s like what I identify with more. And in your story, I also think about it. I get caught up in like my kids being good, you know, like your thing of like a generous person be a kind.

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Speaker 4: Of a.

Courtney Martin: Good person. Like I can get way too into that. And I’m like, they are generally kind and this is about me, this is about me. Young To like, you know, where the gold star of like I’m a good person and I think, you know, there’s race and that’s true of like the good white mom who’s raising a good, you know, kid and like, yeah, that there’s just a lot in there that of course, you know, when you’re in the minivan in a heightened moment of just trying to get your kitchen.

Speaker 4: Food.

Courtney Martin: It’s hard to unpack these layers, but, you know, stepping back every once while being like, okay, how much of this is about my need to be seen as good or my like little sister shit? That’s really not about yeah, about what’s happening between them.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Well, Slate Plus listeners, thank you so much for your support. As always.

Speaker 1: We really appreciate you and your patronage of the show. We would love to know how your kids are resolving fights. Got any tried and true tips to keep them from breaking out in your house in the first place? Send them on over mom and dad as slate.com. Thank you again for joining us and be sure to join us on Monday for a regular show and Thursday for another bonus segment by.