New Workshop

25 11 2008

Dear stepmoms:

If you live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota area or feel like visiting, I have put together a new workshop you might be interested in. Though it doesn’t focus specifically on stepparenting issues, the things we’ll cover in the workshop certainly do apply to stepfamily life! Check it out and let me know what you think.

Best wishes,

S.M.A.C.K. Your Inner Critic and Live the Life of Your Dreams!

Now you can learn the proven strategies to smackdown your fears so you can identify and create the life you’ve always wanted to live.

 Dear Friend,

In 1994, I weighed 260 pounds. Late one night, I had a vision of what my life would be like if I continued on the path I was on. I saw health problems. I saw unresolved emotional pain. I saw loneliness. And that vision terrified me.

During that long night I made a decision that would change my life. I would stop listening to that voice in my head that said, “You’ll never lose the weight! You’re lazy! You can’t do it!” In that moment I decided I would learn how to be healthy and prove my Inner Critic wrong.

That’s when I first discovered the power of smacking down the Inner Critic. Each day my Inner Critic would attack me with its pessimism about my chances for recovery. And each day I would smack it down with a new technique. I lost 100 pounds.



Jacquelyn in 1994 and 2008

Since then I’ve gone on to use the same methods to combat my fear of public speaking, publish a book, and launch my own business. I even used the S.M.A.C.K. Your Inner Critic system to find the man of my dreams and create a relationship that I couldn’t have even imagined 15 years ago.

But I didn’t create these amazing changes in my life alone. I had help. When I met my best friend Clare X. Gailey more than a decade ago while attending Wellesley College, we had no idea we would embark on a journey together that would shape our entire lives.

Two years after college, we were both feeling restless and dissatisfied. I had just finished graduate school and moved home to Minneapolis from Boston with no job, no boyfriend, and a really bad haircut. Clare, still in Boston, was spending half her life reading and the other half temping. She had no particularly special talent, no ambition, no hobbies or specific interests; just a vague hope that something would change. We both felt lost – with absolutely no idea about how to get a life that included romantic partners, families, and careers that gave us a sense of purpose. 

In January 1998, at the height of feeling like clueless losers, we took a vacation together. The trip started with a tank of gas, but the real journey began with a proposition:

“What if we each choose one thing every year that we’re afraid of – one really big thing -and face it down?”

Would we become better at taking risks? Would we feel more comfortable asking for what we desired? Could we actually create lives we wanted to live?

And so we began an experiment to see if we could successfully create ways to smackdown our fears. There were hundreds of late-night phone calls with the latest epiphanies about new techniques to try when we were feeling shy with a boyfriend or unsure that we were walking the right career path. We brainstormed ways to work through our doubts, overcome procrastination, and ride out the times when nothing seemed to be happening.

“How do we develop the courage to create a life that has meaning?” On the tenth anniversary of the snowy January when we first asked that question, the S.M.A.C.K. Your Inner Critic concept came to be. Clare and I wrote a book, started the blog, and created this workshop, not because we had finished asking the question, but because we found ourselves looking back over the last decade with awe. So many of our techniques worked that we wanted to share them with others. 

So are you ready to begin creating your ideal life? Then let us help you. Because it’s easier when you’re not alone.

The S.M.A.C.K. Your Inner Critic and Live the Life of Your Dreams Workshop is for you if:

  • You have a dream but your Inner Critic keeps you from doing it.
  • You desire a life that balances inspiring work, deep friendships, and a loving partnership.
  • There’s something you’ve always wanted to do but have been too afraid to try in your personal or professional life.
  • You want to create a fulfilling and inspiring career.
  • You want to find ways to make money that allow you more time with your loved ones.
  • You have graduated or lost a job and don’t know what to do next.
  • You’re dissatisfied with your body, your job, or your relationships and you don’t know how to create change.
  • You want to develop a greater sense of self-confidence and ease.

Now you can learn the proven strategies that people just like you have used to Become Who They Want to Be and Do What They Want to Do. 


“I learned A LOT. Jacquelyn is everything it says in her bio – part cheerleader, part strategist. Thank you Jacquelyn!”

-former student

Here’s just some of what you’ll learn:

  • How to tell the difference between your Inner Critic and your gut instinct.
  • The art of the smackdown so you can achieve milestone after milestone.
  • Five steps to reaching your goals without succumbing to fear fizzle or burn out.
  • Three techniques you can use to sustain your energy while you create a balanced life.
  • The smartest methods for finding cheerleaders and mentors.
  • The secret to asking for what you want and getting it.
  • The best methods for motivating yourself.

“Jacquelyn strikes just the kind of balance one wants in a teacher: she provides relevant and incredibly useful information and is also an endless source of enthusiastic support. As an instructor and coach, Jacque lets you know what works and what doesn’t, and helps you both articulate your goals and believe that you can reach them.
You just can’t ask for more valuable help and inspiration.”

-Jennifer, former student

So, What’s An Inner Critic?

The Inner Critic is not your conscience, your gut instinct, your intuition, or your voice of reason. The Inner Critic likes to pretend it is all of those things, but there’s one big difference: The Inner Critic does not have your best interests at heart. Basically, the Inner Critic is the part of you that wants you to give up on your dreams. It’s your own worst enemy, and it’s trying to paralyze you with its pessimism.


And What’s A Smackdown?

The Inner Critic has a big, fat mouth. It’s a verbal abuser. So a smackdown is anything you do that quiets the Inner Critic. S.M.A.C.K.s are methods that combine deep knowledge of self plus optimism plus action. They are actions you can do to turn on the reticular activating system in your brain, which helps you see the solutions to problems so you can achieve your dreams.

The S.M.A.C.K. Your Inner Critic and Live the Life of Your Dreams Workshop addresses the crucial developmental dilemmas that people across the country struggle with daily and during major transitions in their lives: How do I identify what I want? How do I maintain the courage to go for what I want? How do I learn to listen to my instincts? How do I smackdown the inner critic that tells me I can’t do it, I’m no good?

You’ll learn battle-tested ways to knock out the excuses so many of us cling to while our dreams slip away.       

The S.M.A.C.K. Your Inner Critic and Live the Life of Your Dreams Workshop is a critical experience if you’ve ever wanted more – in your career, family life, friendships, intimate relationships – but have been too afraid to go for it.

To find out more visit:


Can romance last?

25 11 2008

The popular notion that romantic love fades after you’ve been married a while is so pervasive in our culture that we almost expect it. Ask people if they think married couples who have been together for several decades can still feel the powerful feelings fore each other that they had as newlyweds and I’d bet that most people would answer an emphatic no.

Journalist Sharon Jayson of USA Today recently reported on some new research that is just emerging that may prove that you can maintain those strong feelings over time. A team of scientists including lead author Bianca Acevedo, researcher Arthur Aron, at the State University of New York-Stony Brook, anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University, and neuroscientist Lucy Brown of Albert Einstein College of Medicine used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to scan the brains of people who said they were in love after two-plus decades of marraige.

According to a presentation the team did at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C., the brain scans of the people who had been married for a long time lit up in the same places as those of newlyweds. “If you ask people around the world whether romantic love can last, they’ll roll their eyes and say ‘probably not,’ and most textbooks say that, too. We’re proving them wrong,” says Helen Fisher.

This has major impact on stepfamilies, ladies. As I have said over and over again in my book, in radio and print interviews, our first priority is to develop a strong relationship with our partners. Why? Because the relationship between you and your husband is the weakest link in a stepfamily. Without maintaining that strong bond, you might as well sign the divorce papers now. Seriously. It’s that important.

So what are some things you can do to build a bond with your partner that can withstand the onslaught of stepfamily stress? How can you make your romance last?

Declare that you’ll always be newlyweds.
Arne and I did this early on. I know, I know. It sounds cheesy, but look! Now I have research to back me up! When one of our friends asked us how long we could call ourselves newlyweds, we answered, “Forever.”

Be civil to your spouse.
For a story I wrote called Civil Unions for Experience Life magazine, I interviewed P. M. Forni, PhD, author of Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct and cofounder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. Here’s what he had to say: “Many people think good manners aren’t needed among family and friends, that manners are like a formal jacket that you only put on when you leave home. This is unfortunate, because by using good manners – which is to say by being polite, considerate and kind – you show that your respect and love for your spouse are not just empty words but rather a daily commitment to action.”

Go beyond the golden rule.
Dr. Forni’s advice was so good, I have to include another one of his ideas here. We’re taught to “Do unto others as you would have done unto you,” as children, but there’s a problem. What I might want done unto me, might not be what my husband would want done unto him and vice versa. “Sometimes, for example, a husband may not have a clue that one of his behaviors is bothering his wife,” says Forni. “It doesn’t bother him, so from the point of view of the golden rule, he’s blameless. But he’s completely unaware that she has a different sensitivity.” Instead, listen to each other and found out how your partner wants you to show your love.

Take breaks from talking about stressful topics.
I mentioned this briefly in a post last week: Don’t let talking about the ex consume you and your partner. If you find yourself discussing bio mom repeatedly, reserve a specific time each week to negotiate issues that involve her. This is especially hard to do if you’re involved in a custody battle or fights over money as one reader commented on last week’s post. But if you’re in a high-conflict situation between households, this is important. A stepmom I interviewed for my book talked about how the first year of her marriage was so stressful due to a custody battle that she nearly didn’t make it to her first anniversary. Bio mom is not in your marriage. Don’t let her have that kind of power.

Spend time together.
This one is the most important. Need I say more?

So how do you make sure your bond with your partner is a strong one? What things do you do together? What rituals do you have? Share them with your stepmom sisters can we can benefit from your wisdom!


S.M.A.C.K.s for Stepmoms: Do you have a pleasure deficit?

25 11 2008

dec08_cvr1Yesterday, a series of things happened that made me realize I am experiencing a pleasure deficit. First, I had a lunch with some really groovy folks. Jocelyn Hale, the Executive Director of the Loft Literary Center, Dennis Cass, the author of the hilarious and fantastic book Head Case, and Pilar Gerasimo, Editor-in-Chief of Experience Life magazine. We were discussing an article that is coming out in the December issue of Experience Life called A Real Pleasure in which the staff of the magazine describe how all the latest research in the fields of positive psychology, neurology, and psychoneuroimmunology show that pleasure is good for us. Yet, each of us at the table admitted to not taking proper care of ourselves by doing activities that really gave us joy. For instance, I absolutely love massages but I haven’t booked one since before Eva was born. She’s 8 months old.

Then I ended up at the eye doctor yesterday afternoon with what turns out to be a case of episcleritis. My left eye is all red and it hurts. Why? Because I’ve been staring at the computer for too many hours in a row. You got it. I’ve been working too hard, with too few breaks for fun.

The final straw was a voice message from my co-author Clare. She admitted she was totally exhausted. She’s working two jobs and has to work through the Thanksgiving holiday without a break.

Consider this quote from the Experience Life article: “Pursuing pleasure and feeling stress, it turns out, are mutually exclusive – which means that embracing pleasurable experiences may present not just an opportunity for warm fuzzies, but a very real antidote to stress and a very necessary ingredient to sustained well-being.”

Instead of letting the Inner Critic freak out on me and tell me I can’t possibly get up from the desk since there is so much to do, I flipped it the bird. After a business phone call I must take at 10:30 a.m. CST, I am outta here! If you don’t hear from me for the rest of the day, you’ll know I am off visiting a flower shop and inhaling as deeply as I can. Or maybe I’ll be tasting a cup of joe in my favorite coffee shop. Or perhaps I’ll even book a massage for later this very day. The only errand I’ll run is to buy myself a pair of reading glasses – promise!

It seems to me that this post is really important for us stepmoms since the place where most of us go to relax – our home – produces serious stress in our lives. So what will you do today, right this minute, to increase the joy and pleasurable experiences in your life?

Visit for more about how to knock out your Inner Critic and live the life of your dreams!

Movin’ On In: From Singledom to Instant Family

25 11 2008

From girlfriend to stepmom, never-before-married women learn fast that dating and living with a man and his kids are two very different things. Here are some strategies to help ease the transition from single household to instant family.

So you’ve given up that outfitted urban apartment for a house in the suburbs. You’ve sacrificed clean and clutter-free living for a life filled with dirty socks, wet towels, and a million toys messing up your feng shui map. “Why?” is a question many formerly single stepmothers ask themselves in the dark moments when they’re learning how to live with another human being and his brood.

Career women who marry, move in with another person, and become a stepmother all at the same time have a gigantic learning curve-one that is so steep it buries many a successful businesswoman who can run a company or a department but feels powerless at home. “Women who are used to running things have a terrible time with this [joining a stepfamily]. I used to run a crew of seven people at work and all of a sudden I couldn’t run this family. It was stunning,” recalls Jeannette Lofas, president and founder of the Stepfamily Foundation of her days transitioning from a single woman to a stepmom of four.

Anne O’Connor, the author of The Truth About American Stepfamilies, was a single working woman before she married a man with a child. She remembers how difficult it was moving from her single life to living with a man who had full-time custody of his five-year-old son. “I didn’t realize what a big adjustment it was to make. If I could help anybody, it would be that person getting into the relationship. You have to realize just how much you have to learn. I thought I was being very slow, very steady, very smart. I wanted to be clear about what we were doing in our relationship before we dragged my husband’s son into it. But until you start living with people and your life is affected on a day-to-day basis, you can’t know how you will react.”

When a couple moves in together to form a new stepfamily, everyone’s emotions are running hot. So what can a new stepmother do when she is faced with what amounts to moving to a foreign country where she doesn’t know the customs or the language? According to all the successful stepfamily rules, there are so many things to learn and do it’s hard to know where to start-setting the household rules, deciding what your role is, defining and adjusting your expectations, getting to know the children one-on-one, standing up for yourself. So take one step at a time. Be gentle with yourself and remember that like every new job, it takes time to get the lay of the land in an unfamiliar environment. You can begin by trying some simple strategies as you’re setting up your home with a new stepfamily that will help ease the physical transition.

Do Not Disturb
Your home is your sanctuary. The first thing you must do is create a place where you can go to get away from the rest of the people now living with you, no matter if they are living with you part-time or full-time. It’s essential that you feel like you have somewhere to go when you’re not feeling up to the daily challenges of being a stepmom or wife. “I was living by myself in an apartment alone,” recalls Lynn Roberts, former head of the Minnesota chapter of the Stepfamily Association of America. “I am a very private person, and I like my own space. One of my requirements was that my bedroom was on a different floor from the children, or on the other side of the house. My stepchildren were not allowed in our bedroom. When I needed a retreat I had somewhere to go to.” Many stepmothers feel guilty about making a part of the house off-limits, especially the bedroom if her new stepchildren are used to being able to come in and flop down on the bed with dad on Saturday mornings. Get over it. Dad can get off his duff and they can snuggle on the couch in the living room and watch cartoons. Everyone will be better off if stepmom is not raging around the house with nowhere to go for downtime.

When I moved in with my husband and his three children, I requested that my home office and our bedroom become no-play zones, because I knew I would be a better stepmother if I had space to get away to. The kids aren’t allowed in my office unless I’m in it. With my husband’s help, I insisted that if the door was closed to our bedroom, they had to knock, and we promised to do the same if their bedroom doors were closed.

Now that the boundaries are established, we do let the girls come in and snuggle with us now and then. We occasionally let the oldest read with us in bed, but they know that the bedroom is ours. It is a not a playroom. If the door is closed, they may not come in. And in those first few months of living together, I had a place to go cry my eyes out as I grieved the passing of my single life, my fantasies, and dove in to the messy and rewarding work of creating a stepfamily.

Get Educated
Several stepmothers I have interviewed across the country have the same lament. “I didn’t know where to go for help,” they say over and over again. “I was so overwhelmed I didn’t even know where to start.” Because I grew up in two stepfamilies, I had an idea about some of the issues I’d have to face in my new family, but even I felt like I was dangerous because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I researched books about how to be married. I bought tomes about creating a new stepfamily. I purchased every book for stepmothers I could find and asked around for books about what kind of behavior I could expect from kids at different ages. By the time I was finished compiling the library of information I felt I would need, I looked at the towering pile and went to bed for three days. Then I started reading the books one at a time. I found a therapist who specialized in stepfamily relationships. I joined a stepmom support group.

It’s crucial to get educated about couple relationships and stepfamily life so you have tools you can use in the difficult days ahead, but at the same time, you don’t have to learn everything there is to know at once. Get one book. Read it. Get another. Read one article. Get another. Read it. Breathe. You don’t have to hurry. You’ve signed on for the long haul. You don’t have to learn everything overnight, but you do need to do your homework. Ask your husband for help. Your new mate needs to read the books, too. Get educated together. Learn about the strategies you can use to make your household run smoothly. “Would you start a new business venture without a business plan?” asks Jeannette Lofas of the Stepfamily Foundation. “That’s called the house rules. That’s how the two CEOs are going to run the house. Make sure you’re a CEO and not just an appendage. The most important thing women can do is get information.”

With education comes empowerment. One stepmother said she and her husband had trouble coming up with the house rules all at once because she had no idea what to put on the list until she lived it. Remember you can add to it as you go along and there are resources that can help you identify what should be on the house rules list from organizations such as the Stepfamily Foundation and the Stepfamily Association of America. The materials are out there so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Considering that there are 15 million stepmothers in America and 1,300 new stepfamilies forming every single day, you can rest assured that help is available. You and your mate just need to commit to accessing it.

Create Space
“I was so blind,” says Roberts. “I had these expectations that I was going to come in and make everything better. I think it was about eight months in when I said: ‘I can’t do this anymore. I need to go back to my old life.'” Those first difficult months while everyone is learning to live together, it’s crucial that a new stepmom works through the emotions she’s having. One way to make space for positive thoughts and growth within your new relationships is to clear out the negativity in a conscious way.

One technique I used in those dark moments when I was feeling zero optimism was to pour my negative thoughts onto a piece of paper. Then after I was done, I would burn it. I had to work through the grief, the unbelievable anger, and the sadness. I quickly found out I couldn’t talk to my friends or family about my feelings because they were as shocked as I was at the violent emotions this move brought up in my usually calm demeanor. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was reduced to feeling absolute rage over the fact that a six year old was talking with her mouth full of food at the dinner table. But I knew I had to allow myself to live those emotions fully and I had to get them out or they would eat me alive.

 Some stepmothers, including myself, join stepmother support groups to help them work through the negativity and fear that being a new stepmom can bring up. And it’s tremendously helpful to hear that you’re not alone. However, you don’t want the group to turn into a bitch session every time. In the support group I’m in we start every session with a positive thing that happened since we last saw each other, and it helps. We are not powerless. We joined this stepfamily for a reason.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy
In a recent New York Times story, it stated that happy people reportedly live longer. By consciously working to turn the negative thoughts and emotions into positive ones, things can begin to change. For instance, when I have an uncharitable thought about my husband’s ex-wife, I immediately send her thanks in my mind for training him to put the toilet seat down and for letting him go.

Try this: Write down all the reasons you’re with your husband. Write down all the wonderful things you’ve observed about the kids. Katharine in Minneapolis remembers the day her stepfamily experience changed for the better. “It’s hard enough to move in with someone without throwing a kid into it. It took a good year, at least, for me to get used to it. I had times when I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ I knew I wanted to be with my husband, but I had to realize that his son wasn’t just a part of the package, that his son was something special. I started to realize that I was getting something out of my relationship with his son.”

Remember the gifts the children have given you. If you need to, laminate your list and carry it with you at all times so you can get it out and look at it when you’re angrily scrubbing dishes that you didn’t dirty. Remember why you signed on in the first place when you’re picking up toys that have spilled over into your formal living room. Then work out your daily strategies so you don’t have to feel the anger. Ask the kids to do the dishes. Make common areas toy free. Make those things part of the house rules so you and your husband can uphold them together. As you’re working to get to know the children, let them know you. Be open to them. That man and those kids are here to teach you something. Why not let them?

ReMarriage Magazine Book Giveaway

22 11 2008

bookcoverReMarriage magazine is giving away free, autographed copies of my book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom. Check it out! And while you’re there, mark the website on your favorite list. ReMarriage will no longer be a print magazine and is moving online so look for more robust content on their website.



A Poll: Do You Get Along With The Ex?

18 11 2008

After you vote, if you do get along with your stepchildren’s bio mom, please comment on this post and share your advice about how you deal with the ex!

S.M.A.C.K.s for Stepmoms: Just You And Me

18 11 2008

I received a great question from a reader: Can you talk about your spouse’s ex too much with your partner? My response? YES. The ex can easily become the focal point of your new marriage if you’re not careful – especially if there is a lot of tension between the households, a court battle, issues over money, etc. etc. etc. I will do a bigger post on this topic in the near future, but for now remember this: Though it might feel like there is another woman in your marriage, there is only you and your husband. That’s it. No one else can come between you. No one else is in your relationship with each other. Sure, the ex and the kids pull on that bond and test your strength, but at the end of the day your marriage is between you and him. If you find yourself talking about the ex and her actions each day, then consciously decide to only discuss the ex and any issues pertaining to her once a week.

Visit for more about how to smackdown your Inner Critic.

A Stepdaughter Speaks

18 11 2008

Note from Jacquelyn: The following essay is about an extremely important part of stepfamily life that few of us talk about until we're in the middle of it-how we will work with our stepchildren as we age. In A Career Girl's Guide to Becoming a Stepmom I talk about how critical it is to do your estate planning for the sake of everyone in your family. But it's not just the money you need to think about, as this poignant essay by Janet shows.

Letter From a Stepdaughter

By Janet

When my father remarried ten years ago at age 74 (six years after my mother died), I didn't think much about becoming a member of a stepfamily. After all, my two siblings and I were in our forties, as were her two children, and we all lived in different states. We met at the wedding, toasted the new couple, had a group picture taken, and that was about the extent of our "family time." While it felt a little strange to see him with someone else after 45 years of marriage to my mother, I was relieved that he had found love and companionship again.

Dad sold the family home in Ohio and moved into his new wife's condo in Florida, which wasn't too far from her daughter's home. Life moved along, with yearly visits back and forth, until the health problems started.

A couple years ago, my father had some kind of surgery on his pancreas, although neither he nor my stepmother have been able to tell us for sure what it involved. (They come from a generation where doctors are revered and never questioned.) Since that surgery, he hasn't had much of an appetite, and when we saw him at my nephew's wedding a couple years ago, he was quite thin and frail and his memory seemed to be slipping. My stepmother wasn't able to attend that family wedding because her then-103-year-old father had come to live with them, and he didn't like being left alone with strangers to care for him. Because of the situation with her father, she also has not accompanied my father when he's flown to Ohio for Christmas the past few years-our family gathers at my sister's home to celebrate the holiday together. She is quite close to her grandson and prefers to celebrate the holidays with her daughter's family. Fair enough.

The "crisis" came last August, when we got a call from my father's neighbors in Florida telling us that he was in the hospital about to have an emergency triple bypass. He had been in for a routine physical and when the stress test results came back, they showed an almost complete blockage of two main arteries. He had been hospitalized immediately. In the meantime, though, my stepmother had left for two-week cruise in the Mediterranean, assisting her daughter, who is a travel agent, with a large tour. My father is not much of a traveler, so she and her daughter often go on trips together. She had made arrangements for two neighbors to check in on my father and her father (now 105) and hadn't mentioned to us (nor to the doctor examining my father) that she was leaving the country. While my siblings and I have no problem with her taking a vacation, we were concerned that she had gone off without letting us know-and that she had left our increasingly frail father to care for her now-105-year-old father.

My sister, who is retired and is battling breast cancer, immediately flew to Florida to be with my father during the surgery, but she was unable to stay more than a few days because of some medical appointments of her own. My brother then took a week off work and flew down to be with my father until our stepmother returned. We had contacted her onboard the ship with the news of the operation and, while we didn't expect her to cut her trip short, we did think it odd that she didn't call my father at the hospital while she was away.

When she returned and we expressed our concern about the way things had been handled, she confessed to being overwhelmed with caregiving, something she had never mentioned before. It appears my father has become increasingly forgetful and is losing his balance, so she doesn't feel she can leave him alone. Yet when her doctor said she needed a break, her daughter whisked her away on the cruise and she didn't protest.

When we spoke to her daughter (whom I have never thought of as a stepsister and hardly know), she was upset about her mother's health and mental state because of all the caregiving. She brought up the fact that we had not flown down to be with him years before for his pancreatic surgery. At the time, though, we had no idea about the severity of the operation, as both my father and stepmother downplay any health concerns.

Now it turns out my father may have vascular dementia, although we won't know until he's fully recovered from the bypass surgery. Although we've encouraged our stepmother to hire a home healthcare worker to assist her so she's not so burdened, she's reluctant to do so because her father is resistant to strangers in the home. Since we live far away and have responsibilities of our own, it is difficult to know what to do at this point. As my sister says, "If he lived near me, I could help him, but they made the decision to get married and live in Florida."

Sometimes when I talk with my father on the phone, he sounds fine. Other times, he sounds confused and unsure of what day it is. I know that my father is not the easiest person to deal with; we have never been close. Since he weighs so little now, for the past few years he's been unable to hold his liquor, which has led to some embarrassing scenes at parties. My stepmother has limited the number of drinks he can have, and we follow her guidelines whenever he's with us. All this to say that I doubt my stepsister has much love for him; she's concerned about her own mother. Her brother lives in another state with his family and doesn't seem to be involved much.

As we continue to deal with my father's decline and my stepmother's denial, I imagine that the day will come when my siblings and stepsiblings will have to make some difficult choices. I worry that our lack of connection and communication will complicate what are already sensitive matters. I think back to when my mother died, and I know it's hard enough dealing with end-of-life decisions when you just have your nuclear family to consider; adding almost-strangers to the mix is a factor that, frankly, I don't welcome. I can only trust that, deep down, we all want what's best for our parents. They made a vow ten years ago to love one another for better or worse, in sickness or in health. They had some good years together, though not as many as my parents had. Now comes the hard part. For all of us.

The Doctor is In: Cynthia D. Rudick, Ph.D.

18 11 2008

Guest blogger Cynthia D. Rudick, Ph.D., has been counseling stepfamilies in her private practice for 20 years. She’s a professional mediator and arbitrator in Canton, Ohio, who is also an adjunct professor in graduate counseling programs. For the past 16 years she’s been stepmother of two, now ages 23 and 28. She lives with her husband and two yellow labs. Contact her at 330-492-2941 or email her.

Bonding or Bondage in Stepfamilies: The Choice is Yours
One of the hardest challenges for stepmothers and women in general is to balance their needs with everyone else’s. We are taught from birth to care for others and feel guilty if we think about ourselves. Raising children is a full-time commitment. Raising stepchildren is an overtime commitment. The challenges are huge, the rewards are not immediate, and the conflict can be intense.

Perhaps the most difficult time to enter a child’s life is during their teens. If we are a good parent, we have a need to connect and nurture. Yet this child is experiencing a need to separate, a need to resist what is and find out who he or she is. Developmentally, we are on two different planets. Many battles and deep wounds can follow.

One of the only ways I can justify the slings and arrows of life is to be aware of my transcendent purpose. What I mean is to think about the lessons in this experience that are personal and dynamic for me in a spiritual sense.

Our expectations keep us in resistance to situations we encounter in the reality of our lives. Reality is occurring, but we think it should be different. Our peace of mind or lack of it is measured in the space between reality and our expectations.

Stepmothers are idealistic people. We believe we can create a family where there was already one. Idealistic people have a big space between their expectations and reality. Pain is the result of the distance we feel in the space between how things are and how things should be. We need to work on our growth as individuals instead of trying to get someone else to change.

Our childhoods mark us and we have ideas of ourselves formed early in life – what kind of person we have to be, how we think life should be, how we think others should be. We need to work on our core issues and our own growth if we are to stay married. Women who have done this deep work have developed good relationships over time with their stepchildren. I define a good relationship as an honest one. And we cannot be any clearer with others than we are with ourselves.

 Again, it takes so much time to form a family where there already was one. For example, women often enter a family and then things hit the fan when the stepchild becomes a teenager. The child resists the rules in the stepmother and dad’s home because the birth mother requires no rules. Thus, chaos ensues. The child threatens to go live with their mother. Stepmothers need to hold to the high ground and not be deterred by terrorist threats.

Setting an Example is the High Road
I think we model who we are and how we live by example. This is a much more powerful message than all the words we use. Later in life, when the immature teenager develops beyond the lacks of the birth parent they are tied to, they will understand the guard rail you tried to provide for them. Be proud of your mission here. It may be singular but it is a powerful assignment. Children need to learn these living skills from you even though they may offer extreme resistance.

Model Your Own Virtue in the Face of Powerlessness
Again, it is not so much what we say but who we are that provides such a powerful model for others. Believe in yourself. Teach by example. Yelling and fighting just increase your lack of power. In fact, the louder you yell, the more powerless you feel, and vice versa.

Patience is a Virtue in the Face of Powerlessness
Sometimes our timing is off. We want things to happen now. We want things to change now. These patterns in ourselves and others are firmly planted and it takes time and energy to shake them up.

Don’t Take It Personally Even Though It May Be Hurtful
It takes a long time to build trust. Stepchildren have been hurt by broken relationships and promises. Sometimes the person they lash out at is us – because we are there and we are safe. This is a very backhanded compliment. Behavior can be hurtful, even though it is not personal. Try to find a way to process your feelings. Try to find a method to detach from others’ projections when you have done little to cause the anger. Talk to yourself. Talk to others. Take a walk. Scream. Cry.

Journal, Journal, Journal
One of the safest most private ways to vent emotions is on the pages of a journal. This is a great tool for healing. Also, with enough unexpurgated, unedited journal writing, you will begin to see patterns in your life that you need to change.

Do Some Deep Core Work
Do some mining into your inner recesses with a trained professional. There’s a stigma about going to therapy. I see myself as a coach. We are Americans and we want a quick fix. But to really change, we need to work in the deep end of the pool. Some self-help programs and books only put “whipped cream on poop” and the original problems still smell. I encourage you to do the deep work necessary on your inner life. We change from the inside out. It will pay off in the end. And you are worth it.

Compassion Beats Competition

12 11 2008

Diane FrommeThanks to Diane Fromme, the author of Stepparenting the Grieving Child, for asking me to be a guest blogger at Mama J’s Parenting Posts. Here’s an excerpt from the post I wrote, “Compassion Beats Competition” about the tough relationship between stepmothers and stepdaughters.

“Studies show that girls often exhibit more anxiety than boys do after a remarriage. This is an important fact for stepparents to keep in mind. While conducting interviews of stepmoms across the country, I was told more than once that stepmothers were concerned that instead of bonding over shared interests with their stepdaughters, they were in a competition for Dad’s attention and affection.”

If you’ve got stepdaughters, check out the rest of the post at Diane’s blog.