New Stepmom Circles Podcast: Ron Deal and StepDads

21 04 2011

Finally!!! A new Stepmom Circles Podcast is ready. Ron Deal is one of my favorite guests. In this show we talk about Ron’s new book, The Smart Stepdad. There are even fewer resources for stepdads than there are for stepmoms. Ron always has so much wisdom to share and this podcast is not just for stepdads. It’s for moms who have kids and married a man who became a stepdad to their children. It’s for stepmothers because is the advice he gives is applicable to all of us. Find Ron at http://www.successfulstepfamilies.com

Enjoy!





Stepmothers: Forgiveness

9 02 2011

Yesterday afternoon I watched Oprah. It was a heart-stopping show about three young girls who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their father and older brothers. At the end of the show Oprah passed along advice to them that she received from one of her mentors. She didn’t mention who it was but it took my breath away so I wanted to share it here. She said, “Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been different.” Whoa. It’s not about condoning anyone’s behavior or inviting them back into your life or even wishing them love and peace.

Does that resonate or what?

Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been different.

For us stepmothers perhaps one place to focus this powerful thought is on our husbands. (Do you secretly wish he’d never been with another woman or had children with anyone else?) Another place: Our exes. Another place: Our own childhoods.

This week I’m meditating on that phrase: Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been different.





Marriage: A Petri Dish for Personal Growth

2 02 2011

When you meet the love of your life, it’s freakin’ great, isn’t it? My husband and I had so much fun in those early days before the pressures on us built. Little did we know then that our relationship would lead us to the darkest places we’d ever been. And how great we’ve been able to descend to the depths of ourselves to excavate all those unhealed places!! Marriage really is a Petri dish for personal growth. As a fellow stepmom said recently, you can grow disgusting moldy junk in there or a cure. You decide.

I also write novels (to be published soon, I hope!) and while taking an amazing seminar with Robert McKee, he said, “True character is revealed under pressure.” Isn’t that true of life, too? My character has certainly been revealed to me in the past few years as life pressed. And I’m so glad.

As another fellow stepmother friend once said, “Will you become bitter or strive to be better?”





Stepmothers: Getting to Yes

30 11 2010

I saw this today and thought of stepmothering. William Ury is the author of Getting to Yes and has helped navigate some of the most difficult conversations happening in our world today. His advice is something that we can use in our homes, my ladies! Conflict in your home? With a stepchild? An ex? Your partner? Then watch this. Ury believes the secret peace is to take the third side. Love it.

“In the last 35 years as I have worked in some of the most dangerous, difficult, and intractable conflicts around the planet, I have yet to see one conflict that I felt could not be transformed. It is not easy,  of course, but it is possible.” –William Ury

Stepmoms: Have you transformed conflict in your home? Share with us!





College-Aged Stepdaughter Moves in for the First Time

11 11 2010

Dear Jacque,

In your research and visits with others, have you come across the issue of a 21-year-old stepchild moving in for the first time after 18 years???? She is living with us while going to college part time. My step daughter and I have had a strained relationship for a LONG time. I gave it an honest effort in the beginning, but she and her mom have been best friends ever since she was in elementary school, besides the lack of boundaries between my husband and the ex. I won’t go into all the details of the strain things have been over the years. I just know that my husband is THRILLED to have his daughter living here on a daily basis and treats her like she is a china tea cup. Our 2 daughters get treated like the solid cappuccino mugs by dad. He even acknowledges that he treats her differently. He has much higher expectations of our daughters than his oldest. She only talks to me when I say “Hi” first or if I ask her a question. Other wise, she easily walks right by me without a word, or just leaves the room when I walk in. I am trying to be open with my husband on the issues at hand, but it just ends up putting a strain on us. I feel like I have to revert back to just not saying anything about his daughter, other than to my counselor. Working outside the home, or times when she is gone, has been my sanctuary. Thank you for your time on the website and podcasts. A friend of mine told me about them both, as well as the Stepfamily Letter Project.

Dear Stepmom,

You’re going through what many stepmoms endure during the first years of a new marriage but at a different stage in your life! Thank you for your letter. It’s a wonderful reminder for all of us that the most important thing in stepfamily life is: Flexibility. You just never know what’s going to happen. Once the first years of a new stepfamily are worked through, there are other challenges that will arise. That is the nature of life. How you respond to them is the real question.

In your case, I would go back to the basics of stepfamily development. Even though you and your husband have been together long enough to have two children together, you’re really back in the early stages of stepfamily life since your stepdaughter has never lived with you. Here’s my advice:

  • Work together. I know this is challenging territory for spouses. Dads get defensive. Stepmoms get hurt and angry. It can turn into a nasty cycle. But I believe it’s critical that the two of you work on this together. The Smart Stepmom by Ron Deal and Laura Petherbridge has devoted several chapters just to dads. It’s my favorite tool for dads who are having a tough time discussing a child with a stepmother.
  • Understand your stepdaughter. It is not unusual for stepdaughters to move in with their dads at some point during their teens or early twenties. In fact the research about this is pretty incredible. Dr. James Bray saw this in his work, which he describes in the book Stepfamilies.  It is a time in their development when they need a connection with their father. My guess would be that your stepdaughter has some emotional healing to do and that’s why she’s living with you right now.
  • Define boundaries. You have every right to define the boundaries in your home to a 21-year-old girl who has just moved in. Have a discussion with your spouse about the rules. You might have to bend on some and he might have to. But make them the house rules so that they can be upheld by anyone. You might also discuss how long your stepdaughter will be staying with you.
  • Focus on your relationship with your stepdaughter not the rules. You’re not ever going to be a parenting figure to this girl so instead, why not turn on your curious mind? Consider what it’s like to be her. Find out what she likes/dislikes. You mentioned there has always been tension between you and that’s usually due to one party feeling like the other party has taken something away of value or is threatening to. What kind of relationship could you develop with her if neither of you felt threatened?
  • Take responsibility for your responses to tough situations. When my stepchildren don’t say hello to me, I sing out, “Hello!” like I’m living in a musical for the day. It’s so ridiculous that I avoid getting mad and spiraling into toxic rumination (negative thoughts that repeat over and over and over again). And sometimes the kids will say “Hi” back or they will roll their eyes or whatever, but it doesn’t matter as much to me because I kept my body and mind in a calm place (on my good days).
  • Chill out! Have some fun with your spouse. Get a babysitter for ALL the kids and take a night off every single week so you are continuing to build a strong marriage despite the difficulties occurring at home. I MEAN IT. This is tough. You need to have a lot of fun to balance out the hard parts.

Thank you so much for your wonderful question! Hang in there!





Stepmothers: Do You Turn Toward Or Away From Your Partner?

28 09 2010

We all know that conflict is a normal part of any long-term relationship. You’re going to fight. You’re going to get on each other’s nerves. You might even call each other a few choice swear words in the privacy of your own heads.

But at the end of the day, do you turn toward each other or away?

Over the last three months my husband and I have been stressed out. Big time. A whole bunch of challenges hit us at exactly the same time. For the first month, we turned away from each other. We were polite, but we suffered from the stress in our own little worlds. The second month, the stress started coming out in arguments and nasty comments. This month, we turned toward each other.

We acknowledged that we’re both stressed and began exploring some questions. How can we address this together? How can we feel proactive instead of reactive? And most importantly, how can we protect our marriage from the outside stresses it must endure? That is the challenge many stepcouples face. Scratch that. It’s a challenge that ALL couples face.

We came up with some things that are working for us:

  1. Be aspirational. Work toward a goal together that is fun and exciting. We decided to meet once a month for a day to visualize our goals for our future.
  2. Deal with the stress head on. We didn’t just sweep the stressors in our lives under the rug. We built strategies to help us manage the stress and move to a more easeful place with benchmarks so we can track our progress.
  3. Take a break! I know I’ve nagged you all about this one before, but my gosh–having fun is so important. We certainly can’t talk about our problems all the time. We need breaks! We decided that our breaks should include activities that build a positive emotional connection between us.

How about you? Do you have any strategies that you and your partner use to keep connected during challenging times?





Stepmothers: Protect Yourself

14 09 2010

There is a lot of advice out there on blogs and in books (including my own) that tell stepmothers what they need to do to make a stepfamily run more smoothly. There are lots of people to tell you how to make things easier for the kids. There are experts to show you how to co-parent more successfully. I, myself, have given you some of that advice. I’ve told you to cultivate an open heart and let go of anger. This is all good. However: You must also protect yourself.

It goes against our expecations of what family life is supposed to be like to think that we should protect ourselves from our family, but in stepfamilies it’s a skill you must learn.

When you’ve given your all to your stepkids and they turn on you it hurts like hell. When you’ve busted your butt to make your home a wonderful place to be for everyone and they hate it, it stings. When you’re ignored for the billionth time or your birthday is forgotten or your meal is hated or your help is denied, IT HURTS. In those times it is CRITICAL that you protect your lovely heart. Arm yourself. Do the personal growth work it takes to have a healthy and strong self-esteem. Surround yourself with friends who remind you who you are. Go on those date nights with your spouse. Read books. Take breaks. Go out of town.

A caveat: I’m not talking about total emotional disengagement. I’m talking about being more proactive in situations you know are going to hurt you. If you know you’re going to get angry tonight because you’ve cooked a beautiful meal and the kids are going to complain, ask your husband to cook. Get takeout. Tell the kids to trade off nights and let them cook. Order pizza. Make peanut and butter a jelly sandwiches and save the cooking for nights when they’re not with you.  See what I mean?

Some very well-meaning people call this owning your emotional response or taking responsibility or acting like an adult, but using those words can make us feel ashamed or silly for feeling what we feel. I call it protecting yourself.

Protect yourself, dear stepmother. You’ll be a happier human being, a more loving wife, and a far better stepmother if you do.








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