Blended Family Teleconference Call

30 12 2008

Hi gals:

Join me for a live one-hour teleconference call with Emily Bouchard, a stepmom of two, blended family coach, and the founder of Blended-families.com on Thursday, January 15, 2009, at 6 p.m. PST / 9 p.m. EST as we discuss the challenges and joys of stepmotherhood!

The call is free (except for your local long-distance charges) when you sign up here and if you have a question you want answered during the live call, you can submit it to Emily who will be conducting the interview.





Stepmom Book Club

30 12 2008

Okay ladies, I’m starting a book club on this blog! I’m going to post reviews of books that portray or discuss stepfamily life and once you’ve read them I would love to hear your thoughts about the books. If you have suggestions for books you think we should read, please email me or leave a comment. I’ll also be doing some interviews of the authors here too, in the future. So watch for those.

package-dealThe first book is not even out yet, so I must apologize in advance that I’m going to give it a glowing review and you can’t even read it yet. But fellow stepmom blogger Izzy Rose over at www.stepmothersmilk.com has written a memoir called The Package Deal:  My (not-so) Glamorous Transition from Single Gal to Instant Mother that won’t be out until May. You can order it in advance though to make sure you get a copy and I highly recommend you do just that. It is hilarious and so heartfelt. I loved it.

To get a flavor of Izzy’s writing, check out her blog. Some of the posts she wrote there ended up in the book. If you love red wine and hanging with other stepmoms, you’ll love this book, too. When it comes out in May I’ll start up a book club conversation about this memoir and post an interview with Izzy.





Stepmoms Speak

30 12 2008

A New-Fangled Christmas
by Peggy Nolan

I grew up in a blended family (ok, a puree’d family) so Christmas with step-relatives was no big deal for me. In fact, growing up as a “step” kid (my mom later adopted me and my brothers) paved the way for my future as a step/bonus mom.
When I married my husband, I not only married him, his kids and his ex-wife, but I married into his ex-wife’s family. My “mother-in-law” is really my husband’s ex-wife’s mother…but she refers to my husband as her son and introduces me as her daughter-in-law. Kinda nice…but it does come with a separate set of “between my own ears” issues.

Putting my own personal issues aside, this family arrangement brings forth a realm of blessings that I can’t imagine a stepmom not wanting. My husband and I attended my mother-in-law’s family Christmas on December 20. This gathering included my husband’s ex-wife, her boyfriend, three of my husband’s semi-adult children, and all of “mom’s” children as well as her ex husband and his wife. All together, there was probably 25 people at mom’s. Five short days later, Christmas dinner was hosted by my eldest stepdaughter, and most of the same people who were at mom’s family Christmas were also at my stepdaughter’s.

The blessings are infinite and grow with each gathering. My husband’s children don’t have to split their time between parents. They don’t have to decide who they’re opening presents with, who they’re having dinner with, or how much time they spend at dad’s.

My husband and his ex-wife ended whatever battle they had going on in their marriage a year or two after their divorce was final. By the time I came into the picture, there was no animosity, no drama, no negativity. In fact, I was welcomed into her family as a sister and a daughter. And her kids are free to love me, like me, or leave me. Three of them have chosen to love me (the 4th chooses to leave everyone and be a victim).

My husband’s ex-wife and I are not best friends, but we are friendly toward one another. Her youngest son lives with me and my husband full time – and I know she appreciates where I’ve stepped in because her son is thriving.

Weather permitting, I will be spending New Year’s Eve with my husband, his ex-wife, her boyfriend, her sister, and at least one of her brothers and his wife. Originally, her sister invited my husband and I to join her for First Night…and we were going to spend the night at her place so that we wouldn’t have to drive home; however, with my husband’s ex-wife also joining in, we won’t be spending the night…all in good time, but not now. Even my husband is not ready for that!

Check out Peggy’s blog at: www.serendipitysmiles.wordpress.com





Stepmom Smackdown: Keep your friends close.

23 12 2008




Stepmoms Speak

23 12 2008

Ann Orchard, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist who provides individual, couple, and group counseling through her private practice in Edina, Minn. Ann has also published research on stepmothers and has led stepfamily support groups. She is a stepmother of two. www.drorchard.com

 Time Heals 

By Ann Orchard 

Who would have imagined 20 years ago that Bob, my husband, and I would be celebrating my stepdaughter Elizabeth’s 30th birthday with Bob’s ex? And happily so! Twenty years ago we were enmeshed in an acrimonious custody battle. Bitter words were hurled at each side, resulting in lasting hurt and anger.

My relationship with Bob’s ex – I’ll call her KB for short – had started amicably enough. By the time I came on the scene, KB had already moved east to Boston, leaving Bob with their two kids, Elizabeth (age 7) and Ben (age 5). When Bob and I became engaged after a year of dating, KB was one of the first to congratulate me and wish me the best. However, soon after Bob and I were married, the relationship between KB and me soured. Bob had been trying to amend the original divorce decree to reflect the change from joint custody to his now having sole physical custody. There would then be a legal record of his entitlement to child support.

All hell broke loose. After one year of an intense and expensive custody battle, I found myself depressed and extremely angry. The part I resented the most was her intrusion on my marriage and her contribution to making my first year of marriage the absolute worst year of my life. No honeymoon period for me. On our first anniversary, I even said to Bob, “We’ve been married for a year now- just you, me, Elizabeth, Ben, and KB.”

The custody issues were finally resolved, yet the bitterness remained while the kids progressed through middle school, then high school. The two sides were civil to each other (with some blowouts along the way), but no love was lost.

The “big thaw” started with high school graduations. Enough time had passed, and I felt it was just time to let go of my anger. I believe we each have a choice how we’re going to live our lives, and that anger is toxic. By the time we hit graduate degrees for each child, we all were having a good time at our joint celebration dinners. The dinners included the two kids, KB, KB’s second husband, Bob, me and other family members. Of utmost importance was the inclusion of KB’s mom and my mom – the “neutral parties.” A little bit of wine also helped.

Once we were done with graduate degrees (and no weddings in sight), I realized I genuinely missed our joint celebrations. So when Elizabeth turned 30 last fall, I was thrilled to receive KB’s invitation to travel east to help mark Elizabeth’s milestone birthday. It was truly an act of graciousness. Bob and I went and had a wonderful time at the celebratory dinner. No, I doubt KB and I will ever be best of friends, but I feel good about how our relationship has grown. As I said, who would have imagined?





Tis the Season!

15 12 2008

Hi Ladies:

The holidays can be seriously stressful for stepfamilies, but they can also be the time of year when the creativity and flexibility of blended families can really shine. Check out this archived post for some ideas. Then help us all out by answering a few questions:

How do you split up the holidays?

What special traditions do you celebrate?

Are you nervous about anything?

What do you find most challenging during this time of year?

What things are you grateful for?





The Power of Guilt

15 12 2008

journaldmIn blended families, there are few things more powerful than guilt. It is the emotion that fuels many of the negative things that happen in stepfamilies. It is the reason that Dads become permissive parents and allow their children to run wild. It  is often one of the reasons Moms are combative and challenging to co-parent with. In 2003, the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage published a study called Divorced Mothers’ Guilt. The study found that the guilt they felt for putting their children through divorce often kept them stuck in one emotional place and unable to move on with their lives.

Anecdotally, I can attest to this just from listening to moms during interviews. I have always been curious about the moms who originally ask for the divorce and then act as though they are the victims or become vindictive or angry later when they weren’t at the time of the divorce. It could be the guilt talking.

And so for all of us, how do recover from guilt? How do biological and stepparents move on from feeling guilty about an affair, or a divorce or a remarriage? If anyone has some good ideas, please feel free to comment. In the meantime, here are some of my thoughts:

Say your sorry. Take the children out for one-on-one time and apologize. Call or e-mail your former spouse and tell them you are sorry for everything that happened. Marriage researcher John Gottman describes in his books how repair attempts can reduce conflict in relationships. If the breakup of the marriage happened because of an affair, leave defensiveness behind, own up to your responsibility and say your sorry.

Look to the future. Instead of remaining stuck in anger and guilt about what happened in the past, focus on your hopes for the future.

Remember we’re alone. Each of us has our own particular path to walk in this life. A divorce and remarriage will affect children for their rest of their lives, but at the end of the day they will have to deal with it on their own. Give them the tools they need to move through their emotions in a healthy way instead of letting them manipulate you with your guilt.

Let go of what doesn’t serve you. Guilt is really a useless feeling. It doesn’t move you anywhere, just keeps you stuck in the past. Wouldn’t you rather choose to let go of the guilt? Challenging things happen to children. How they respond to it can build their character and yours if you allow everyone to move on emotionally.

Be true to your inner truths. Guilt can strip biological parents of their core values. For instance, if a parent would typically believe that boundaries are good for kids but lets them all go because he feels guilty, he is not only depriving his children of the parenting they need, he is abandoning his own belief system. Seriously, guilt is that powerful.

So what do you feel guilty about? How does the guilt of your partner or the ex affect the dynamics between all the members of your blended family?





Dating a divorced man with kids?

15 12 2008

A vast majority of newly married couples report they did not have conversations about important topics such as money, sex or the number of children each person wants before the marriage license is signed. Part of the conflict that arises in the first few years of marriage comes from problems in these areas that were never discussed during the courtship stage of the relationship. If you are dating a man with children it is absolutely critical that the two of you put everything on the table long before you decide to move in together or tie the knot. The fact is, remarriages have a higher rate of failure than first marriages because the stressors that come with stepfamily dynamics can erode the marriage. The more armed you are with information, the better!

You can find many conversation starters in my book at the end of each chapter in the Discussion Topics for Two sections. I also came across a free teleseminar that you might find of interest:

Yvonne Kelly, founder of The Step and Blended Family Institute and David Steele, founder of The Relationship Coaching Institute are presenting a free teleseminar on Thursday, January 22, from 9-11 p.m. EST. Register at www.stepdating.ca to reserve your spot and they’ll send you a copy of the Stepdating Report.





What stepmoms can do for dads and their kids.

10 12 2008

Before you read this post, please read the research by Constance Ahrons that sparked this list. In my book and on this blog, I have said many times how important the relationship between your husband and his kids is. Not only because I value my own relationship with my father, but also because much research has been done on how negatively impacted children are when they don’t have their fathers in their lives.

So what can we do to help foster the relationship our partner has with his kids?

Encourage one-on-one time. When your stepchildren are visiting, suggest that your husband take each one of them out at a time for a walk, a visit to the park, a meal, so they can have time together.

Support involvement. If your stepkids have school events, games, or concerts tell your husband to attend them with or without you. I clearly remember looking for my father at my sports games and feeling such deep disappointment when he didn’t show and joy when he did.

Let him do the parenting. As a stepparent, you play second fiddle to the biological parent when it comes to discipline. If Dad is showing signs of becoming a permissive parent because he feels too guilty about what he’s done to his kids to parent them, then show him this post. He needs to parent his kids for them to feel loved and safe. Disneyland Dads are harmful to their children’s development. And as the stepmom, you shouldn’t be asked to discipline his kids. It’s not fair and it has the potential to ruin your relationship with the children.

Create traditions. Because stepfamilies take so long to feel like family (7 to 12 years according to researcher Patricia Papernow) do everything you can to build traditions that are just for your new family. One tradition my stepmother started that I deeply appreciated was a gift she made. Every year she put together a photo album of each of us kids with our dad. Though she was a part of those albums, too, she stayed in the background. By putting together those albums every year she was fostering my connection to my father.  

Let go of jealousy. Your stepchildren will have a relationship with their father until the day he dies. So think big picture here. That relationship will affect graduations, weddings, funerals, the birth of children, etc. etc. etc. If you’re really in this relationship for the long-term, then you simply can’t be jealous of the time he spends with his kids. If you have your whole lives together, then there is plenty of time for Dad to spend with you, any children you have together, and your stepkids.

Do you have things you do to support your partner’s relationship with his kid(s) that have worked well? Let us know what you do so the rest of us can try it!





Remarriage causes stress for kids.

10 12 2008

Ladies, I’ve come across some research you have to know about. In fact there is so much in it that I will do several posts on the issues raised in the study. Stepfamily researcher and author Constance Ahrons published a study last year called Family Ties After Divorce: Long-Term Implications for Children in the journal Family Process. Click on the link if you’d like read the entire paper.

“Drawing on the data from the longitudinal Binuclear Family Study, 173 grown children were interviewed 20 years after their parents’ divorce. This article addresses two basic questions: (1) What impact does the relationship between parents have on their children 20 years after the divorce? and (2) When a parent remarries or cohabits, how does it impact a child’s sense of family?”

This passage struck me as particularly powerful because it relates directly to our role as stepmoms:

“Over the course of 20 years, most of the children experienced the remarriage of one or both parents, and one third of this sample remembered the remarriage as more stressful than the divorce. Of those who experienced the remarriage of both of their parents, two thirds reported that their father’s remarriage was more stressful than their mother’s.”

Two-thirds!!!!! This is deeply distressing. Why do these children find Stepmom and Dad’s marriage so stressful? And what can we stepmoms do to ease this transition not only for ourselves but for the children we take on in our remarriages?

Here are the findings Constance reports:

“When a parent remarries or cohabits, how does it impact a child’s sense of family? Twenty years after their parents’ divorce, most of the adult children had experienced the remarriage of at least one parent. Of the 89 families in this analysis, at least one remarriage occurred in 95% of them; 72% (n = 64) of the mothers and 87% (n = 77) of the fathers had remarried at least one time. In 64% (n = 56) of the families, both parents had remarried. In only 4 families had neither parent remarried. More fathers than mothers remarried, and they remarried more quickly after the divorce. In this sample, 24%, 60%, and 70% of the fathers had remarried at 1, 3, and 5 years postdivorce, whereas fewer mothers had remarried in each of the times, 12%, 38%, and 49%, respectively.

Remarriage represents another dramatic change in the divorced family’s reorganization, and children vary in their responses to this change. When asked whether the divorce or a parent’s remarriage was more difficult to cope with, more than half of the adult children reported that the divorce was most difficult, and approximately one third remembered the remarriage of one or more parents as creating more distress than the divorce. Of those who experienced the remarriage of both parents, two thirds reported that their father’s remarriage was more stressful than their mother’s.

The adult children’s reports of the impact of their father’s remarriage were associated with their reports of changes in father-child relationship quality. Specifically, those who reported that their father’s remarriage had a positive impact on their lives were more likely to report that their relationship with their father got better postdivorce compared with those who reported that their father’s remarriage had a neutral or negative impact on their lives. A disproportionately high number of those reporting that their relationships worsened with their fathers after divorce had experienced his remarriage within one year postdivorce (Ahrons & Tanner, 2003).

The majority of children in the study reported that at the time of the interview, they had good relationships with one or both of their stepparents. Most noted that this was not always the case in the beginning but that relationships had improved over time as they came to know their stepparents better. Some gender differences emerged, with two thirds reporting a close relationship with their stepfathers, and somewhat less than half felt close to their stepmothers. For those children who feel that their relationships with their stepparents were close, two thirds considered their stepfathers as parents, and somewhat fewer felt the same way about their stepmothers. The others, who felt close but did not consider their stepparents to be parents, describe their stepparents as friends or mentors. It is important to note that although there were some differences in their feelings toward their stepmothers versus their stepfathers, these differences were not related to the child’s gender. Boys and girls both viewed their stepparents in similar ways.

The age of the child, the personality match between a stepchild and stepparent, the relationship with each biological parent, and the amount of time spent with a stepfather are major factors that influence the role he takes in their lives. Because most mothers are still the primary residential parent, most stepfathers live with their stepchildren. Although some children who are close with their stepfathers have poor relationships with their biological fathers, others who have poor stepfather relationships are close with their biological fathers. Still others are able to maintain good relationships with both, and a small group of children have poor relationships with both.

The findings also show an association between relationships with their father and relationships with their father’s kin. When relationships with their fathers got worse over time, they reported poorer current relationships with their stepmother, her children (their stepsiblings), and their paternal grandparents. This was most salient when the father remarried shortly after divorce. Adult children who reported that their father’s remarriage had a positive effect on their lives also said that they had better relationships with their stepmothers, stepsiblings, and paternal grandparents. This is important because it relates to the long-term implications of the adult children’s sense of family after divorce. Because children have two sets of kin, whether and how they relate to them carries implications for the continuity of family relationships (Ahrons & Rodgers, 1989).”

So what does this mean in real terms? Clearly, helping to foster strong relationships between your stepchildren and their Dad is the most important action you can take. I will post separately about steps we can take on a daily basis to make sure that our families are the ones that have a positive effect on the children.