New Podcast: Peggy Nolan of The Stepmom’s Tool Box

27 09 2009

stepmomcircles3This week’s episode of the Stepmom Circles podcast is ready to download. My guest is Peggy Nolan, a stepmom blogger whose blog The Stepmom’s Tool Box is a place you’re going to want to hang out during the month of October. Peggy is hosting authors on her blog all month who will be available to answer your questions and who will be giving away copies of their books and other fun prizes. (Yes, I’ll be one of the authors!) For a full schedule of who will be stopping by Peggy’s blog this month, listen in to today’s show or visit or blog.

Peggy is a mom of two and stepmom of four children. As you’ll hear most of the kids did just fine when Peggy and her husband got together three and a half years ago. However, Peggy’s youngest stepson has proven to be a challenge mostly because he is a special needs child.

Not long ago I received a letter from a reader who is a stepmother of a special needs kid and I thought it would be useful to my listeners to discuss this topic because if your partner has a special needs child or you do yourself, then the issues that are common in stepfamilies are made even more complicated. Even if you aren’t dealing with a special needs child, this show will give you some fantastic tools to help you develop  a stronger relationship with your partner and deal with the challenges that sometimes come with stepchildren.

The Stepmom Circles podcast is in an mp3 format. You can listen to it online or download it to your computer or mp3 player.

Do you have something you want to hear about on a future episode of Stepmom Circles? Join the Stepmom Circles group on FaceBook or leave a comment here.


Need Stepfamilies to Interview

27 09 2009

The respected journalist and author Maggie Scarf is looking for stepfamilies to interview for a new book she’s working on. Maggie Scarf is the author of many books including September Songs: The Good News About Marriage in the Later Years and Intimate Worlds: How Families Thrive and Why They Fail. Contact her at if you’re interested in participating. PLEASE NOTE: Maggye says she is looking for families in the New York-New Haven-Boston area. That includes Westchester County. Since she does her interviews face-to-face, the location of the stepmom and her spouse is vitally important.

Your Questions Answered: Weddings

27 09 2009

Hi, I am getting married next April to a man that has a six-year-old daughter. We are all excited about the trip we are going to be taking, except I am feeling disappointed with some thoughts I have been having about a few things for the trip.

First, I’m not a bridezilla at all, in fact I am very laid back. But the few things I do care about are the things that I can not change. For one, my fiance and I obviously won’t be able to have our own room during the trip. I’m sure his daughter will be able to stay with Grandma and Grandpa for a couple nights but mostly she will be sleeping with us….in our bed. That is one other problem we have been having, co-sleeping, which is a different topic all together. Anyway, I don’t feel like this wedding is as romantic as I’d like it to be due to that, which I see as a problem. I want this one time to be about us because we are always sharing everything with his daughter, which is fine and fun but, just not the bed.

Second, I feel that the time will be a little more stressful for me since I have a much harder time relaxing when she is with us. Whenever I do anything, she must do the same. I see this as a huge compliment but at the same time a burden. I can’t get away with anything, not even putting make up on without her wanting the same. Most times I don’t have a problem with it but it’s when I do have to say no, she thinks I am being mean and pulls out the “not very nice” card tricks. I feel that there will be many times like this during the wedding since there will be a lot of things that are special and different for a wedding and she might not be able to have every thing I have done. She’s an only child and is used to getting everything and she’s learning how to play it up too! 😀

How do I make us all feel together without having to feel mean during this happy time?! But how do I still make this feel special for my fiance and me and enjoy the one and only time something is about us!?

Can you please send me some thoughts on how to not feel like I’m the child during this whole process and enjoy our wedding day/trip?! I want a healthy and happy relationship with my stepdaughter, which I have most of the time, but I also want a relationship with my soon-to-be husband too! Thank you so much!

Dear Reader,

What you’re describing here are feelings many, many women who are joining a stepfamily have around the wedding. When you don’t have kids of your own the emotions that having to share your wedding day with a stepchild are even more challenging. So thank you for writing in! There are several things you can do to make this easier.

Create time together.
The first thing you need to do is sit down with your husband-to-be to discuss how you and he will create the time alone together that you need during this trip. Because it is your wedding day, it is important that you feel connected to him on that day. Ask your fiance to enlist the grandparents or another trusted family member to watch his daughter the entire day of your wedding and your wedding night. Yes, stepmothers do have to compromise when stepchildren are in the picture, but it is critical that you at least have the day of and your wedding night.

Start setting boundaries now.
The co-sleeping issue is a common one. Setting a boundary around your bedroom is not unreasonable when there is a new stepparent but it is challenging for biological parents and kids, especially if your partner and his daughter were on their own for awhile. Start transitioning your stepdaughter out of your bed now by having your husband take her back to her own bed and reading her a story there or snuggling with her for a few minutes before he returns to his own bed. That way you will reduce the chance of a meltdown on your wedding night.

Imagine her feelings.
No matter how well you get along, your stepdaughter is likely going to have some tough feelings on your wedding day. At the same time that your dreams are beginning, hers are coming to an end. Research tells us that most children harbor fantasies that Mom and Dad will get back together. But on your wedding day, that all comes to a crashing end. Don’t be surprised if she acts out on that day. Even if Mom has passed on and getting back together is not an option, your stepdaughter might feel she is losing her father to you and that you will be replacing her in his affection.

Do your homework now.
The transition into new stepfamily life has wonderful moments and challenging ones. If you know what is normal when stepfamilies get together then you won’t beat yourself up as much or think that a child is being outrageous when really it’s just part of the  development cycle of stepfamilies. Make sure you read up on what happens in the first few years of new stepfamily life. A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmomtalks specifically about this transition and gives information that is specific to single gals turned stepmoms. Books such as The Enlightened Stepmother and Stepmotherhood also do a great job of describing what life as a stepmother is like.

Know any good books for kids?

15 09 2009

Readers: I got this letter from a dad who is looking for help. Read on and if you know of any books, let us know by commenting on this post!

I’m having trouble trying to find something for my wife (a fantastic stepmom), and am hoping you can help me.

As I expect you’re aware, most children’s books portray stepmothers negatively (not even as ‘stepmoms’, etc.). I’ve been scouring the internet trying to find ones that portray stepmoms in a positive way (how I found your website) to expand our home library. So far the only thing I’ve found is one that does so but in the midst of a divorce situation. Since our daughter has never known her mother and I to be together (left her before pregnancy was known), I’m afraid it will introduce other issues.

We love reading together, and my wife & daughter have an excellent relationship, I can just see that it bothers her every time Cinderella comes off the shelf… Any help would be appreciated.

A Poll: Want to help other stepmothers?

15 09 2009


Since a few of you have asked, I am considering putting together an educational program called Becoming a Stepmom based on my award-winning book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom. If you are someone who likes to teach, coach, or counsel other people this might be something you’re interested in. I have plans to develop a teach-out-of-the-box program that you could offer in your town to as many groups of stepmothers as you can. That means you can make money teaching classes to stepmothers using this educational kit. My book has the full support of the National Stepfamily Resource Center (NSRC) and the foreword was written by Francesca Adler-Baeder, the head of the NSRC.

The kit would include:

  • Teaching materials and workbook
  • DVD with powerpoint presentations for each class
  • Audio recordings from me introducing the class that you can play to your students
  • A signed copy of my book
  • A CD of meditations for stepmoms
  • Designed print and web ads you can use to announce the classes you’re teaching to your community
  • Publicity for your classes on my websites

I’ve decided that in order to take the time to create the Becoming a Stepmom educational program, I need to know that there are at least ten people who would be interested in becoming teachers. If you’d like to learn more about this opportunity to help stepmothers in your area and make a little cash at the same time, you can comment on this post or send me an email at

With more than 1,300 new stepfamilies forming every single day, there are lots of women out there looking for help! Thanks for reading this and please pass this information along to anyone you think might be interested.

Best wishes,


New Podcast: Infidelity Prevention and Recovery

15 09 2009

stepmomcircles3Whether you have experienced infidelity in your partnership or not you can benefit from listening to this episode of my free Stepmom Circles Podcast. The reason I decided to do this show is because I received a letter from a reader in which she revealed her husband cheated on her with his ex-wife. You can read the letter at the end of this post. Instead of responding to her letter myself, I decided to consult two experts in the field of infidelity prevention and recovery.

My guest on this week’s show is Dave Carder, the author of Close Calls: What Adulterers Want You to Know about Potecting your Marriage and Torn Asunder: Recovering from Extramarital Affairs. Dave currently serves as the Pastor responsible for Counseling Ministries at the First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton in California. He’s a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and runs premarital education classes for stepfamilies.

I also consulted Peggy Vaughan of the Extramarital Affairs Resource Center for this show. She generously agreed to write an article for us called When Your Husband Has an Affair with His Ex Wife. Visit her website to read about infidelity issues or to check out her book The Monogamy Myth and the upcoming To Have and To Hold: A Personal Handbook for Building a Strong Marriage and Preventing Affairs, which will be published in February 2010.

Here is the letter from my reader:

I need some advice and you were the first person I could think to get in contact with. I’ve caught my husband red handed having an affair with his ex – he’s totally admitted it and taken full responsibility – and shown proof, in black and white in his sent and received items of facebook. She on the other hand denies she’s having an affair and there must be a case of misidentity. I did a very malicious thing and sent the proof via email/facebook and registered post to her husband along with a letter explaining what he’s seeing in his hands. I think he and I deserve better. All that she’s ever done in the 5 years my husband and I have been together is make my life a living hell – i was never brave enough to put a stop to it, it’s bloody 7 years my junior for goodness sake, why am I so darn scared of her?

She’s been to my home and shouted I’m a homewrecker rather loudly and clearly (not that I care what my neighbours think!) and generally shown herself up to be the one hurt in all of this – I’m breaking up a home and marriage and I should be sectioned on mental health grounds because I’m a malicious and devious person. I truely believe I’ve shown her that she has no power over me anymore, and I am strong enough to fight when she’s once again pulled my world around my ankles!

My husband is not off the hook – oh very far from it! I’m forcing a lot of thinking on his part – what does she have over you? Why do you keep going back to a person who refuses to give your son your surname, refuses to allow any decisions to be made by you about your son, and generally thinks she’s oh so powerful!

The reason I’ve come to you is, I’m not outwardly showing any emotion to this situation at all… I normally have a pretty fiery temper, but at the moment I’m so calm it actually scares me! What will happen with this damn breaks? I’m finding all the malicious things I did to hurt her and my husband is giving me a buzz that I’m feeding off…

I’m so confused, don’t know who to turn to for good sensible advice and essentially my petrified of what my reaction is going to be when the calm wears off!

Could you help?

The Stepmom Circles shows are available as mp3 files. You can listen to the show right on your computer or download them to listen to on your mp3 player.

When your Husband has an Affair with his Ex-wife

15 09 2009

Visit Peggy Vaughan’s website Extramarital Affairs Resource Center at or check out her book The Monogamy Myth and To Have and To Hold: A Personal Handbook for Building a Strong Marriage and Preventing Affairs, which will be published in February 2010.

By Peggy Vaughan

This can be a crazy-making situation as you try to comprehend why your husband would have an affair with his ex-wife? Maybe you could comprehend an attraction/temptation to someone ‘new-and-exciting.’ But what in the world would make him turn to the woman he divorced – when there must have been problems and/or hard feelings toward her at that point. What changed?

Well, there’s no ‘rational’ explanation – because this is not a rational action. But there are ways to gain some understanding of how/why it may have happened. While this naturally feels very ‘personal,’ his actions do not necessarily have anything to do with you or the state of your marriage. So the first step is to avoid ‘comparing’ yourself to the ‘ex.’

One way to think about this is to realize that what happened is based more on the difference between the role of being the ex-wife and the role of being the spouse – not about the particular people who fill those roles. For instance, if you had been the ex-wife and she had been the current spouse, he would likely have wanted to have an affair with you.

Understanding some of the factors that may contribute to this happening.

Their shared history:

Regardless of the feelings between your husband and his ex-wife at the time of their divorce, there was once a time when they loved each other. And as time passes, the ‘bad times’ may begin to recede, leaving them to recall the ‘good times’ when they were in love. (This is somewhat like the way we revise our thinking about a person who dies. Even though we may have become quite removed or even bitter about them when they were alive, after they die we’re more likely to recall the ‘good things’ about them.)

Also, most of us tend to always think ‘the grass may be greener’ in whatever alternative scenario might be in our heads. For instance, when you make a certain choice (like marrying the first time), you’re likely to gradually become more focused on the problems in the relationship and see some alternative as more desirable. Then if/when you make a different choice (like getting a divorce), you’re likely to gradually become focused on the loss you feel about being alone, leading you to fall in love with someone new and get married again.

As this pattern continues, the next step is that after some period of time in the new marriage, you again begin to be more focused on the (natural, inevitable) problems that develop in marriages over time – leading you to consider alternatives (one of which is recalling the ‘good times’ in the first marriage and feeling more open to the first wife. And for the ex-wife, it can be heady to see your ex-husband seeing you in this new, more favorable light. So (without rational considerations) both people can get caught up in the relationship that once was.

Their children:

Having children from the earlier marriage automatically means he will have a life-long relationship of some sort with his ex-wife. While that can be a difficult fact to swallow, it IS a fact. So the challenge is not how to avoid the contact, but how to manage it.

This means avoiding a situation where he ‘lives in two worlds,’ functioning as a father to his children from the earlier marriage completely on his own (as a separate world) from the one with you. Regardless of your feelings about his ongoing relationship with the children, they are the innocent victims of this situation. So it calls for treating them with kindness and compassion – both to their face and behind their back when talking to your husband about them. (As you know, all children can be ‘difficult’ at times, but the normal issues with children become greater when they’re dealing with the fallout from their parents’ divorce.)

But more directly to the point of not leaving your husband to lead two separate lives… the degree of ‘closeness’ between your husband and his ex-wife is affected by how much of their joint parenting is done separately from you. For instance, discussions about the children’s activities or issues involves all three of you, so (for the sake of the children as well as for maintaining the integrity of your marriage), you need to be involved in all of it. Granted, dealing with his ex-wife can be problematic under any circumstances, but especially once there has been an affair. But being ‘civil’ and ‘adult’ in dealing with her is still your best path to maintaining and rebuilding your marriage.

Important Note:

While in most instances, an important part of recovering is severing all contact with the third party, this is not a reasonable option when children are involved. This continuing contact does create a greater challenge for rebuilding the marriage; however it CAN be done. I’ve seen it happen many times – even when the child/children are conceived during the current marriage. I’ve been greatly impressed and inspired by the women who have successfully managed this kind of difficult situation.

As strange as it may seem, this focus on the child and the situation as a whole can sometimes lift people out of a very narrow focus only on their own personal pain. Also, perhaps surprisingly, it can become the “glue” that holds the couple together in their effort to recover and rebuild. This effort by both the husband and the wife in trying to deal with this enormous challenge can serve to draw them together. In fact, the most critical element in the recovery may be the degree to which the husband and wife can make a joint effort to face this challenge together and shift their focus to the future rather than dwelling on the past.

This doesn’t mean ignoring or denying the reality of what has happened. It just means following the guidelines that are generally helpful in recovery from affairs.

Here are some Key Steps Involved in Recovering:

(Each of these points is discussed at length in my book, The Monogamy Myth.)

—Accepting the fact that it happened (no more “if only…” or “why me?”)

—Understanding the complex reasons for affairs (not just “personal failure”).

—Deliberately focusing on dealing with it and talking openly about what happened.

—Allowing time to heal.

—Believing it’s possible to recover.

What about the Future?

A good marriage is a great blessing, not to be taken lightly or put at risk without a lot of patience and commitment to working through problems as they arise – even problems as difficult as this one. Life has many twists and turns, and the older we get, the more we realize that it’s more important to protect and preserve what’s good about the present.

It’s always a little dangerous to suggest that a marriage can actually become stronger after an affair—because some people will use this as a way of “justifying” an affair, saying that it “helped” the marriage. I have NEVER seen an affair “help” a marriage. What does sometimes happen (as happened with us) is that the work we did together—and the rock-bottom commitment to honesty that we made together—did force a stronger bond than we had had before. It wasn’t the affairs that helped our marriage—(they could just as easily have destroyed it)—it was the way we dealt with this crisis that made it possible for us to grow stronger as a couple.

This is true of any life crisis. It can destroy you or it can strengthen you. (Christopher Reeves, just one of many examples, comes to mind.) So it is with a marital crisis like affairs. It, too, can destroy your relationship—or it can lead to actions that wind up strengthening it.

When someone is in the early stages of dealing with the devastating emotional impact of a partner’s affair, it’s difficult to hear that it’s possible (with lots of time and effort by both people) to eventually come through this with a stronger marriage. On the other hand, it can be helpful to understand that it’s possible for this to happen. Recovery doesn’t have to mean simply “surviving;” it can actually mean “thriving.”

Once we worked through my husband’s affairs (a process that took 2 to 3 years), we developed a relationship that was stronger than it had ever been before the affairs—and probably stronger than it ever would been without having faced this and dealing with it together. This is NOT to say I would have voluntarily gone through this experience in order to have the relationship that we developed, but it certainly helps to put the whole experience in perspective.

Stepfamily Training For Counselors

10 09 2009

The folks at the National Stepfamily Resource Center have joined forces with two other groups to offer a training session for clergy, therapists, counselors, and coaches led by stepfamily experts Dr. Scott Browning, Dr. Patricia Papernow and one of the leading researchers in the field, Dr. Kay Pasley. If you haven’t been to one of their trainings and are working with stepfamilies, you really should. It’s worth it! Here’s all the info:

The National Stepfamily Resource Center, the Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative, and the Florida Association for Marriage and Family Therapy present an:


 October 2-3, 2009

Lake Mary Marriott Hotel Lake Mary, Florida (near Orlando)

The intense challenges created by stepfamily dynamics are woven through every clinician’s practice. Your clients may be stepfamilies, stepcouples, individual stepparents, kids, single parents who have recoupled, or adults who grew up in a stepfamily. Don’t miss this opportunity to hone your skills with this critical population with two of the country’s preeminent stepfamily clinicians, Dr. Scott Browning and Dr. Patricia Papernow and one of the leading researchers in the field, Dr. Kay Pasley.

$150 ($75 for students) 13.5 CEU’s (The NBCC has approved these CEU’s as core hours for both LMFTs and LPC’s in Georgia and Alabama)

You will learn about:

  • 5 normal challenges created by “stepfamily architecture” and the ways in which these challenges impact adults and children and their relationships with each other
  • Evidence-based strategies that meet each of these challenges.
  • What children need from adults to adjust to stepfamily living
  • “The Loyalty Bind Talk” and the “Toxic Ex-Spouse Talk.”
  • The differences between effective parenting and effective stepparenting.
  • Easy errors in working with people in step relationships.
  • Psychoeducational, interpersonal and intrapsychic levels of clinical work with people in step relationships.
  • Interpersonal skills that help stepfamily members meet their challenges.
  • The art of psychotherapy with stepfamilies.
  • The most current research findings on this important family form

The workshop includes live demonstrations of therapy with a stepfamily and a stepcouple by Dr. Browning and Dr. Papernow

 HOTEL RESERVATIONS: Lake Mary Marriott, 1501 International Parkway, Lake Mary, FL. Call 407 995-1100 and ask for Family Therapy Association special rate of $99 per night.

REGISTRATION: For more information and the registration form:,,  or

Your Questions Answered

10 09 2009

Hi, I am glad I came across your site. I am hoping for some insight. I had dated my husband for eight years before getting married six months ago. He has three children and our relationship has been nothing but full of love from the beginning. I do not have children and treat them as my own but understand and respect the fact that they do have a mother and I am not taking her place. However, just naturally, I have played the mother role when the kids are with us.

Everything has been great and six months ago before we got married, my middle stepson that lives with us, age 16, said that people said that things will be different and he said I don’t see how they will be different.

Well, he just returned from spending two months with his mom and I noticed since he’s been back something is different with him. He seems a little uneasy, very subtle changes but I am very intuitive of these things. On top of all this we are moving to a house and there is a lot of stress in the house which might be amplifying things.

Well, tonight things blew up he spoke disrespectfully to me, which he usually doesn’t do and my husband told him to apologize. He apologized and said that he is just going through something. It’s nothing that I am doing, he says it’s just that he is worried that I am going to become his mother. He is afraid of not being loyal to her and perhaps loving me as his mom since I am taking the mom roll day in and out.

I so feel for him and am not sure what to do to make him feel better and I dont know what roll to take. My instinct is to back off from him and be in outsider but I know that is not right. Please advise…

Dear reader:

What you and your family are experiencing are a completely normal part of stepfamily development. No matter how long you dated your husband before you married, things do change when you marry and live together as your stepson so wisely said. (He sounds very mature for his age, by the way! Few stepchildren can articulate what he did to you. What a gift!)

He is talking to you about what stepfamily experts call a loyalty bind. He fears that if he likes or even loves you it will be taking away love from his mother or make her hurt or even angry. The best way to deal with loyalty binds is for the adults in the situation to sit down with your stepson and say something like, “You know what, you can love me and you can love your mom and that’s totally okay. Your mom is your mom and always will be no matter what. She loves you. I’m your stepmom and that’s different. You and I get to figure out what that means to us together.”

If both of your stepson’s biological parents reinforce this message, it will make your stepson feel a lot better and quickly, too. Stepchildren are often discouraged to talk about their negative or challenging feelings out loud so the fact that you are already discussing this openly with your stepson is a BIG deal. Congrats to you.

As for your role. You are describing what is called role ambiguity. You are trying to find out what being a stepmother means to you and your family. Some women choose to occupy what Dr. Patricia Papernow calls an “intimate outsider” position. They are a part of the family, but they leave the bulk of the parenting to the biological parent. Some women choose a more active role. Some act like a teacher or a coach or an aunt figure.

How you configure your role in your stepfamily has a lot to do with what you are comfortable with, the level of involvement of the biological mother, the support you receive from your spouse, and what the children will accept from you. You can read more about this in my book where I devote quite a lot of space to the topic of role ambiguity.

 In the meantime, the best thing you can do is to continue to talk with your family about what it feels like for each of you to be a new member of a stepfamily. The more you can communicate in these early stages the better off you’ll be.

Class for Minnesota Stepmothers

10 09 2009

If you live in the Twin Cities and want to meet other stepmoms and learn about stepfamily dynamics from one of the best, check out Dr. Ann Orchard’s upcoming workshops for stepmothers. I took the class myself when my husband and I first discussed marriage and it was a life saver!

The class will be held on Tuesday nights from 6:30-8:00 p.m. at the Colonial Church of Edina in Edina, Minn. from September 22 to October 27.

If you’re interested, call 952-848-2297, email or visit Orchard Psychologists.