Find Balance Within Chaos

27 03 2009

On my recent trip to Mexico I was reminded of the necessity of being able to be calm and balanced in the middle of a whirlwind of negativity. It was a yoga retreat and we did yoga for three hours every day. It had been a while since I’d done any power yoga so I was sore and tired. My muscles shook and my mind fought me the entire way. “You can’t do this! Give up! You’re too tired. You’re not strong enough!”

It reminded me of what happens in stepfamilies and to stepmoms. When you’re living in a home that is filled with challenges from the people you live with and those connected to them, it can be tough to maintain your cool. But it’s essential to learn how to find a place of peace in your heart or you will lose your balance in no time.

Here are some things I’m experimenting with to keep my balance:

Dealing with my own stuff.Since I am a player in this family, I have to be responsible for my own emotional baggage. It’s my job to realize why things are upsetting me. And I am the one who needs to communicate with my family if I am feeling marginalized in unacceptable ways. I also have to make sure that I’m not taking things out on my family that are my own issues to resolve.

Asking for help. I simply can’t do it all. I can’t be a good wife, mother, stepmother or friend if I am strung out all the time with too much to do. There is absolutely no shame in asking for the help you need.

Having a laugh. There’s nothing like laughter to heal the soul.


A Blended Family Quiz

19 03 2009

Hi Gals:

I’ve just returned from a week in the sun on the sandy beaches of the Mayan Riviera and I couldn’t possibly write anything serious. So here’s a quiz. Read the statements below. Can you identify which stepfamily member would have said them? Hee hee. 🙂

1. “You’re not the mother!”

a. A stepkid

b. The ex wife

c. Your husband

d. Your new in-laws

e. Your stepchildren’s school officials

f. Your church leaders, colleagues, neighbors, friends, and family

g. All of the above


2. “Well, you knew what you were getting into!”

a. A stepkid

b. The ex wife

c. Your husband

d. Your new in-laws

e. Your stepchildren’s school officials

f. Your church leaders, colleagues, neighbors, friends, and family

g. All of the above


3. “You’re in love with a man who has kids? Are you crazy?”

a. Your parents

b. Your colleagues

c. Your friends

d. Your family

e. All of the above


4. “How could you not love them? They’re kids!”

a. Your friends.

b. Your family

c. Your colleagues

d. Your doctor

e. Your mail delivery person

f. The girl at the checkout counter at the bookstore

g. All of the above


5. “I Do!”

a. Your spouse

b. You

c. The kids

d. All of the above

Answers: 1. g, 2. g, 3. e, 4. g, 5. a or b and sometimes c, but not usually.

Another TV Opportunity

19 03 2009

Hollywood is calling again. If you missed the three other reality shows looking for blended families, here’s another chance:

Production Company Seeking Large Blended Family For Reality / Documentary Television Show

Left/Right TV is a New York City-based production company currently seeking a step-family for a new reality television show. We are looking to find a large blended family. And it would be best if this family was newly formed, but we will consider all step families.

We are particularly interested in racially diverse unions. African-American father with African-American children married to White mother with white children, or any combination of different races in one household. But it does not have to be interracial: we are truly looking for real families dealing with real issues: step-sibling adjustments, financial stresses brought on from the current economy, distribution of labor and any other issues that come up in a modern American home.

We are looking for articulate, intelligent parents and children who live in
suburban environments and live middle-to-upper-middle-class lives any where

in the United States of America. We also would like to ideally find a family that has only lived this new and blended life for a year or less.

Please consider being a part of this exciting opportunity to tell the story
of a single family’s way of dealing with the issues that the entire country
is dealing with right now.

If you and your family are interested in being a part of this timely project
– please get in touch by sending a letter describing your family as well as
a recent photo of everyone to: And please feel free to send this notice to anyone you think may be interested in being a part of this opportunity.

Please call Michael Sutton 212-695-1625 ext. 340 if you have any questions or advice on how to find a great family.

LEFT/RIGHT • 145 WEST 28TH STREET, 7TH FLOOR • NEW YORK CITY • 10001 TEL (212) 695-2092 • FAX (212) 695-1625 • WWW.LEFTRIGHT.TV


The Ex – An Exercise

11 03 2009

Over at the Stepfamily Letter Project, the majority of the letters we’ve received so far are from stepmoms to bio moms. So I thought it would be fun to try an exercise. Answer the questions below in a notebook or word doc that you can burn or delete when you’re done. (I understand that you wouldn’t want this to fall into the wrong hands.)

Answer the following questions and fill in the name of the bio mom(s) in your life.  I did this one myself to test it out before I posted it for you and found it surprisingly revealing and cathartic.

I wish ______________ would:

I am angry with ____________ because:

I need ____________ to:

I am hopeful that _________________ will:

I doubt that ________________:

I contribute to the problems with ________________ by:

I can make the relationship with ______________ better by:

Now burn it!

The Doctor Is In: Emily Bouchard

11 03 2009
 emilyEmily Bouchard, founder of, is an expert in stepfamily issues with more than 20 years of experience in working with children and families dealing with adversity. She has a master’s degree in social work and a bachelor’s degree in child development. Emily is also a stepdaughter and a loving stepmother to two young women who were teenagers when she entered their lives. At www.blended-families.comyou will find archived articles such as this one, a free newsletter written by professional family coaches, and many other resources for stepmoms who want to thrive in their families.

A New Perspective on Dealing with Your Husband’s “Ex” 

By Emily Bouchard

One of the most persistent and common complaints I hear from stepmoms is their frustration with their husbands’ former spouses whose behavior is intolerable.

In my experience it is HOPELESS to wish, want, need, hope, pray – that THEY will change. I’ve heard clients report how they have tried all sorts of communication strategies that are supposed to be so effective with zero results. I’ve heard so many complaints about how the former spouse will agree to something and then turn around and do the opposite – and my clients are always so surprised EVERY time this happens.

I feel a need to repeat here Gertrude Stein’s definition of insanity that can be very helpful: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Here’s what I tell couples who are struggling with these issues – stop focusing on what is wrong about the “ex” and start focusing on what you do have control over – your responses to what the ex-spouse does in relationship to you and your family.

Oftentimes, when couples begin to shift their focus, they discover that it has been serving them to look outside themselves at what is so wrong about the other person – the one they cannot change. It allows them to feel victimized, helpless, hopeless, and righteously indignant. They get to feel superior, knowing better than the former spouse how to parent and deal with new families and new lives.

The remarkable paradox that occurs is that when couples shift to:

  1. compassion for the former spouse, and
  2. taking full responsibility for their participation and choices in relationship to the former spouse,

change does occur – it has to. When one aspect of the family “system” changes, all members have to shift as well.

When the new, second wife is able to release and let go of her resentments toward the former wife, she is able to be much more at peace with whatever the ex-wife is doing. By becoming a “lover of reality,” you get to actually enjoy the drama of life, instead of feeling only wronged, victimized, and hurt by life.

Freedom and peace come from meeting life fully with what it brings you instead of wishing, hoping, or needing life to be different than what it is.

Action Step: The next time a former spouse pushes your buttons and you feel frustrated, angry, or hurt –

  1. Acknowledge your feelings and seize the opportunity.
  2. Ask yourself what you “get” out of believing that you are being treated a certain way.
  3. Honestly appraise how you approach life when you hold onto your beliefs about the former spouse and why you think they are behaving that way.
  4. Ask yourself how you might be different if you did not believe those things about the ex-spouse.

This same process works for ANYTHING outside of your control in your life. Any time you feel out of balance, frustrated, angry, or irritated about a situation – be it about one of your stepchildren, the weather, your computer not working right, your partner, etc. – you can apply this simple strategy to determine, consciously, how you’d like to respond to what life brings you.

A Father Speaks

11 03 2009

Bill has three kids from a previous marriage. He sent in his list of things he needs from his wife and the stepmother of his children.

  • Understanding that sometimes the kids are going to have to come first.
  • I apologize for having an ex-wife.
  • Understanding that scheduling is going to be hell and it will be for years to come.
  • I think the father needs to be a buffer between the stepmother and the bio mother if that’s possible.
  • I understand frustration about bio mom but would appreciate it if you don’t make comments about her in front of the kids.
  • Thanks for being understanding about my relationship with my kids because I know you will never feel the same way I do about them.
  • Communication is very, very important.
  • Divorce is not an easy way out. Let’s work through this.

Stress Management

5 03 2009

Living in a stepfamily can create the kind of constant stress to the body and mind that astronauts and soldiers are trained to handle. But as far as I know there isn’t a boot camp for stepmoms that teaches you how to handle living with daily stress in the very place that most people consider a place to relax–home.

It can bring a good woman down.

We’ve had flair ups in our stepfamily lately and the stress has started to show up in my body. Tight shoulders, aching neck, shallow breathing, difficultly sleeping. And so, m’ladies, once again I offer you a list of stress busters because we all need them. If you have any you’d like to share, please do!

Read for total escapism. Whatever your favorite reads are, I say go for them, even if you feel like you have to hide them behind a book cover or in your Kindle. Buy the book cover. Download away. Right now I’m reading the classic Glitter Baby by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. It’s good old-fashioned fun.

Watch a movie. One you picked, not one the skids fought over or your husband thought you might like. Pick one that’s just for you.

Find out where stress lives in your body. Close your eyes and think of the most stressful thing in your life right now. What happens to your body? Where do you tighten up? Use breathing, stretching, or massage to get those knots out of your system.

Don’t try to pretend you’re okay when you’re not.If you’re feeling crappy, don’t slap a fake smile on your face. Tell your family you’re having a rough patch and need their compassion. Or if you don’t have that level of openness yet with your stepfamily, head out for a mini vacay to a place where you don’t have to put on your smile like a suit.

Play. Bring out your inner kid with a toy pottery wheel, finger paints, a trip to the ice skating rink.

Allow your anger. Get it out ladies. That stuff is poison if you let it sit. And as you all know, most of us have been trained since birth that anger isn’t lady-like. We’re supposed to be nice, play nice, share, bite our tongues, keep our voices down etc. etc. etc. With that kind of training how are we supposed to know how to deal with our anger in a healthy way? Try screaming at the top of your lungs when you’re alone in the house. Beat a pillow. Throw glassware. Trash your room. Rip something to pieces.

A Father Speaks

4 03 2009

I came across this essay a few days ago. It describes the pain one father feels when he is not allowed to be in the lives of his children. Hopefully I’ll remember this essay every time I’m mad at one of my stepkids. Check out John Doe’s blog Just Another Disenfranchised Father. (Used with permission.)

How to Talk to a Disenfranchised Father
by John Doe

“If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly imagine it.” -Lemony Snicket.

A disenfranchised father is an adequate father who has been unreasonably and unwillingly removed from his children’s life. By “adequate”, I mean a father like any other, a father who cares for his children, who sees himself as a valuable part of their upbringing and who has invested a significant part of his identity in his role in their lives. By “removed”, I mean that he no longer lives with his children, that he is reduced to a visitor in their lives or possibly prevented from seeing them altogether. He has no say in what happens to them. The mother works to keep him out, limits and controls their interactions, she likes it that way. To her, “the best interests of the child” are what she wants, period.

Many believe that the system is supposed to prevent this sort of thing from happening. That if such a father, loathed by his ex, can find no support in the courts, then there must be good and valid reason. These people are sorely mistaken. They have no understanding of the gaping holes in family law. By default they believe that the problem of absentee fathers must be the fault of the fathers themselves, single mothers are saints fighting the good fight against tragic odds and through no fault of their own.

A father who has gone through the worst of this may have “trust issues”. He has probably spent a lot of time among supposedly professional people who have examined him closely and found him wanting according to standards impossibly higher than those to which his ex is held (to which nor even should be held any typical parent). People he thought he could trust have lied to him, have given him false hope and have actively worked against him, only for him to realize too late and leaving him with only resentment.

He will have spent a lot of time in an environment where the only appropriate response is outrage and yet any sign of anger from him would have cost him dear. The stress may have been too much and he may have expressed that anger and then seen the satisfied looks of those who look for excuses to do their awful work. An angry word may have been enough, he didn’t need to actually get violent (although that would have produced all the more satisfaction and definitive result).

He may seem obsessed, only able to talk about one thing: the betrayal to which he has been subject. Alternatively, he may not want to talk about it, having learned that most people can’t take it, can’t accept the obvious pain he feels and melt away leaving him alone with it. “I’ve got my own problems, I can’t get involved with that”, or “I wish he’d just get over it”.

They wish he’d just get over the loss of his children.

He may be a strong enough person that it no longer shows at all. Until you dig a little, if you’re so inclined and if he is inclined to let you.

Sometimes, to lose a child like this, especially in the event of a complete lockout, is compared to the loss of a child to death. Not so. That would be what the philosophers call a category error. The circumstances and consequences are completely different. The death of a child is forever, it is final, it is by definition resolved even if the consequences are not, it must be survived, and those who are left behind must try to rebuild their lives without the dead child. Everyone with an ounce of humanity is sympathetic, tries to accomodate it.

Disenfranchisement, by contrast, is ambiguous. The child is not there, but is elsewhere. Many do not know if they should feel sympathy or not. They don’t think “there but for the grace of God go I” because they know they’re good parents, and there’s no risk and, after all, he must have done something wrong, mustn’t he? There is always hope, for those who have not had to spend years trying to maintain hope, even after years of no contact, because the child is not dead. If he does have contact, it may be difficult. He may have to run the gauntlet of the ex’s bile (as she pockets the child support check – you think she should thank him? That’s what the man says he owes her). He gets limited time, perhaps supervised, shoving down his feelings, to engage the child who would otherwise engage by default, whenever he or she was ready. How long do you think he should tolerate it? How long would you? Why should you have to tolerate anything? Why should he? Or his children?

The tiredest clichĂ© a disenfranchised father will hear and keep hearing as long as he lets on what has happened: “Don’t worry, they’ll come back to you, just wait and see”. This is poor comfort for two reasons. First, it’s a statement of faith, not fact, and his faith has taken a severe beating. He may have believed in justice, the good motivations of psychologists, the objectiveness of court personnel. But the system that was supposed to prevent this, either did nothing of the sort or actively caused it. The society that touts the value of family life proves itself a deranged lunatic by doing nothing to preserve it. You want him to believe that his children will somehow absorb the importance of a father in their lives while not actually having one around to show them? That it should be somehow instinctive and one day they will wake up and realize this, tell their Machiavellian mother where to shove it and run back into his arms?

The other reason for this “wait and see” being bad advice is that it takes no account of the lost years. In advance, it shrugs them off and resigns to their being lost forever. Not just the normal security that the children should have as they grow in knowing that their father is there by their sides, but also the satisfaction and love that a father should feel in having his children near so he can watch over them and calm and keep them from their fears. All this is lost, not fully appreciated until it is gone, and only really by those who have lost it.

How do you talk to such a man? It depends, in part, on your own resources. How much of his anger are you willing to explore? That may seem odd, why should he get angry at you? Once you show some sympathy, you may find that his anger comes to the fore. He can’t get angry at the people who deserve it. They have power over him and his children. Show him some sympathy and he may let that anger show, not necessarily at you, but in front of you. Are you man or woman enough to take it? It’s difficult to express anger without offending someone, will you take it at face value or look for the deeper meaning he hasn’t the lucidity to express?

Grief? He surely feels grief, and surely you’re old enough and experienced enough by now to have been able to comfort the grieving and to have felt some yourself. But what if that grief goes on for years? What if it never really goes away but becomes a permanent wound that won’t heal? He can’t visit a gravesite, he can’t really mourn. What, after all, does he have to mourn but the loss of something that, however improbably, could come back any day? Every time you see him, you will be conscious of his pain, even if he isn’t. We all assess each other by what we know to have happened to each other.

One thing he may need more than anything else (besides his children) is validation. His self-image as a man and as a father has been under sustained and ongoing attack. Powerful people have either found him wanting or not found the spine to help him when they could (or should). The erosion on his sense of self worth is inevitable. All around are conflicting indicators of what he must do – shrug it off, take it like a man, grow a pair, don’t give up on them, do everything that you can, fight!, don’t fight!, never give up, build a new life, keep calling them, give it up. Whatever he does, it won’t be the right thing (and there’s no shortage of judges), but he has to do it anyway.

Perhaps the most meaningful thing you can say is: “what has happened to you is wrong”, it’d be nice if you believed it.