New Stepmom Circles Podcast: Dad!

28 10 2009

stepmomcircles3Listen to the new episode of my free Stepmom Circles Podcast. I interview Joel Schwartzberg, the author of The 40-Year Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad. We discuss divorced dads, fatherhood, and adding a stepmom. This guy has it right, ladies. He knows how to set his wife up for success with his kids! Check it out. And if you want to discuss today’s show join the Stepmom Circles group on FaceBook or comment here.

Click the link above to listen to this show or visit HERE to browse all the Stepmom Circles episodes.


Your Questions Answered: Age Differences

28 10 2009

Dear Jacque, I just finished reading your book and I thought maybe you could help me with a couple of things. I am on the path to becoming a stepmom – I found my soul mate and we live together. He is divorced and has joint custody of his fifteen year old son and unfortunately no contact with his 19-year-old daughter. We are not yet engaged, but we do plan to marry. I am trying not to guess when he will propose! Our relationship with his son has its ups and downs, it is going well now but we know there will be challenges in the future and we are prepared to do our best to keep communication with him free and safe.

His daughter is also an issue but we try to be as positive as we can about it. They were very close for most of her life – only after she met me did she divorce herself from her dad. She says that she won’t talk to him “as long as he is with that woman.”  She ‘allowed’ him to come to her birthday dinner, but only upon the condition that I not attend. He sends her messages occasionally that he still loves her and that he misses having her in his life, but there is not yet progress. Eventually, but the wait is hard on him.

What I am looking for is help with your ‘Rule of 20.’ My situation is a little different from what I can find in advice books. I am career minded, though right now I feel as if my work is in creating our family so I don’t actually work. I am also half the age of my significant other, 24 to his 52. It works because he thinks he is 12. 

I think we are doing a good job with his son, and the best we can with his daughter, but do you know of anywhere that I can look to learn about being in a relationship with such a drastic age difference? Advice, stories, message boards, books – I have always thought that the more you know about something the more successful you are apt to be. I value the ideas in your book and I look forward to your reply.

Dear Reader,

I’m so glad you’re out there reading books about stepmotherhood and learning about how stepfamilies work. It will serve you well if you become a stepmother! You mentioned that your relationship with your stepson is good. I’m glad about that, although I have to warn you that often the day of a marriage marks a change in the behavior of a lot of stepchildren. So heads up!

Now for the hard part. I fear that you will never have a good relationship with your stepdaughter. If you were older, you would probably have difficulty with her as it is but the fact that you are not very much older than her makes you a peer in her mind and not an authority figure. That doesn’t bode well. You didn’t mention the relationship this girl has with her mother so I can’t say if those dynamics are influencing this but it sounds like she does not approve of you because you’re so young and might also feel that you are replacing her in her father’s affections.

Since there are 28 years between you and your boyfriend’s ages I suspect that this stepdaughter is extremely uncomfortable with your relationship with her father. Your language about her was very respectful, which is great, but I urge you to think about your own relationship with your dad. It’s a sacred relationship in some ways and so your job as a possible stepmother is to help her feel safe and not threatened by you. Saying things like, “Your father is your father and he will always love you and need you in his life,” can help even though she’s 19.

Dad can also reassure his daughter that he will always love her and be her dad no matter what. He can tell her that he loves you and that you will be a part of his life and he wants her to accept you.

Stepmotherhood is challenging and when there is such a drastic age difference between stepmom and dad, it can make things even more difficult. Most likely the children will never accept you as any kind of authority figure so it would be better for you to approach them as a friend. The best thing you can do is make sure that you and he have a strong foundation for your relationship–a lot in common, communication skills, and of course, fun times.

Ultimately, you also must consider this difficult question: If your boyfriend never reconciles with his daughter because of his relationship with you, how will that pain he feels about that affect your relationship? As we know remarriages have a higher rate of divorce than first marriages and many people say that they divorced due to issues around the kids.

One idea that might help is for dad to have an open discussion with his kids about their inheritance. It’s not a topic many people like to discuss but if he is completely open with them about how he plans to provide for them when he’s gone, it can help ease their relationships with you.

I hope this hasn’t been to much of a downer! I’m so glad you’re employing the Rule of 20. Now check out what your other 19 people say. Best of luck to you!

From Single Mom to Stepmom

28 10 2009

Joanie Winberg, the host of the Blog Talk radio show Single Again? Now What! and the founder of the National Association of Divorce for Women and Children interviewed me on her show. The topic: From Single Mom to Stepmom. Check out the fun conversation we had about the biggest mistakes new stepmothers make and tips on how to blend two different sets of kids. Click on the link below to listen to the show:

From Single To Stepmom

Need Stepmoms and Bio Moms who Don’t Get Along

27 10 2009

Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Carol Marine, the Mom and Stepmom team and authors of No One’s The Bitch need our help, ladies! See Jennifer’s message below:

I need your urgent help! Can you help us absolutely plaster the internet with our request?

Carol and I have the opportunity to be on the Dr. Phil show next Tuesday and are doing a pre-interview with a producer today. We’re looking for two stepmom/mom sets of women who can’t stand each other who are willing to be on the show with us on Tuesday, Nov. 3rd. If the show/we can’t come up with an unhappy counterpart to “us,” then we won’t be on either! We’re trying to find someone as soon as possible.

I know the idea of baring your soul (and neck) on national television is kind of scary, but it’s a real chance at creating some movement and understanding in this relationship, and could potentially help a lot of folks as they vicariously share the experience. Mom and stepmom participants would have the opportunity to get some focused help from him… and us! Also, hotel and airfare for the trip would be covered by the show.

It sure would feel great to help contribute to a breakthrough between people — these relationships can be so painful and fraught, and yet, when you finally make a connection, so incredibly healing and supportive too. Think about it…. The benefits of a more cooperative relationship between stepmoms and moms, even if it’s simply more of a business arrangement, include:

a cohesive set of rules between the houses so that the children can’t manipulate the adults, escape consequences

stronger, more stable marriages with less gossiping, venting, negative focus

better parenting; more brainstorming and support from the people who know the kids best

happier children who have more of a contained “nest” for them

less stress for everyone all around

I’m sure we’re all in agreement about how important it is to increase media coverage for stepmom, stepfamily, and dual-family issues (including the single parents) after divorce and remarriage. Why is hardly anyone talking about the dynamics — and risks — of these two-family situations, or better yet, how to navigate them in a healthy way?? With an almost 75% divorce rate for stepfamilies, and a lack of “mended relationship” models for children to internalize (and draw from later as adults), there’s a lot at stake! Getting on Dr. Phil would be one way to encourage a larger dialogue.

Interested? If so, drop me (Jennifer Newcomb Marine) a line at:

Thanks in advance for your help!!



No One’s the Bitch: A Ten-Step Plan for Mothers and Stepmothers (Globe Pequot 2009)

~~Strengthening Families, One Mother/Stepmother Partnership at a Time~~

HEADS UP: Podcast Name Change

21 10 2009

stepmomcircles3Hello lovely ladies:

I have decided to change the name of my Becoming a Stepmom podcast to Stepmom Circles. The reason for this is because I realized that the shows are not only about becoming a stepmom, they are about the full life of a stepmother. I’ve started a Stepmom Circles group on FaceBook that you can join to connect with other stepmoms, discuss episodes of the show, or suggest topics for upcoming podcasts.  I hope you’ll join us.

New Podcast: A Grown Up Child of Divorce

21 10 2009

stepmomcircles3After stumbling across Carolyn Grona’s awesome blog The Grown Up Child, I knew I had to interview her for my Stepmom Circles podcast. Carolyn and I are both children of divorce and we talk about what it was like to be from two homes. Carolyn has created an online space for adult children of divorce where they can articulate how divorce and subsequent remarriages have impacted their lives.

Carolyn shares her tips for divorced parents and stepparents about how we can make our stepchildren and children’s lives a little easier.

We talk about Dads, Moms, Stepparents, Half-Siblings, and what happens when a kid has too much power.

This is an important podcast, gals. I hope you’ll check it out. And once you’ve listened, join us on FaceBook in my Stepmom Circles group to discuss your thoughts.

Click the above link to listen to this show or visit HERE to browse all the Stepmom Circles episodes.

Guest Post: Carolyn Grona of The Grown Up Child

21 10 2009

Wondering what your stepchildren are going through? I am not only a stepmom–today I have my ADOC hat on. (That’s adult child of divorce for you ladies from intact families of origin.) and I came across this post that Carolyn Grona wrote on her blog The Grown Up Child. She nailed it. I invited Carolyn to talk with me for my Stepmom Circles podcast, too. She talks about what her experience was like as a rebellious teenage stepdaughter. So make sure to check it out for another perspective that can help you understand your stepkids.

Feeling Wanted

by Carolyn Grona

As a child of divorce I’ve lived my life with one enormous fear. The fear of not being wanted. It still haunts me. I’ve seen it haunt others. Like a monkey on our backs that lays dormant for a while but wakes up at the slightest hint of confirmation. I wish it wasn’t so. I wish I could shake it. I’ve even thought I had from time to time until something has triggered my fear and the monkey has raised it’s head from my shoulder. Whispering in my ear, “See? You were right. You weren’t wanted after all.”

I’ve always tended to be logical; a linear thinker. It always made me pretty good in math and not so good in the creative arts. And as a young kid, my logic went like this: If my parents no longer love each other and don’t want the life they created together, how could they possibly want me? Wasn’t I basically the sole representation of the life they had created and now wanted away from? If it’s children that turn couples into families and my family was broken, didn’t that mean I was too? And who wants a broken kid to lug around? I wouldn’t.

Of course my logic was never supported. My parents would tell me outright how much they loved me. How wanted I was. But that damn monkey wouldn’t go away. And a toxic script would run through my head at the slightest trigger. A missed phone call. A raised voice. A scowl. An off hand remark.

My internal dialogue would sound like this: They loved each other and created me. I am half of each of them. But now they don’t love each other, so how can they possibly love me? Maybe half of me. That I could understand; but never all of me. Not the parts that come from the other. But I can’t be split in two, I can only be one whole person. And if they can’t stand half of me, it’s not possible for them to love all of me. Maybe I can hide. But I can’t help being the constant reminder of the marriage they didn’t want. I can’t help always requiring an explanation. Wouldn’t their lives be easier if I just didn’t exist?

And the monkey would agree wholeheartedly.

It’s a scary thing. Worrying that the only two people in the world that are required by nature to love you, might not. Because if your own parents can’t love you, than who can? These are questions no child really wants the answers to but also wants answered most of all. And so the dance begins. Pushing and pulling. Testing and trusting. Seeing if they will hit their breaking point and admit what you’ve been so afraid of hearing and then feeling the flood of love and admiration when they don’t. This is what kids who are unsure of their relationships do.

But as I got older I did something else. And I’ve watched a lot of my ACOD friends do it too. I pulled back as most teenagers do. But I never really came back. A defensive action. My internal dialogue changing. It became: One day they might realize I was a mistake and get tired of being reminded of the union they severed. Tired of seeing their ex partner in me. And when that happens I’ll be ready. I won’t want them as much as they won’t want me. I can’t let them hurt me like that.

I’ve seen this so often and I did it too. Trivializing my parental relationships. Forming insignificant attachments with my most significant others. I had to be strong enough; indifferent enough. Because if it all came crashing down, that’s what would make it survivable. I thought of it as a preparedness measure. No different from stocking up on water and canned goods in case of emergency.

And the monkey would agree wholeheartedly.

It’s incredible how comforting the feeling of being wanted can be for a child. And how destabilizing the fear of losing that feeling is. The feeling becomes like the ground beneath your feet. One can focus on so much more when not preoccupied with the idea it might turn to quicksand. I’ve tried to build strong relationships all around me. Things I can point to and say, see? Look at all these people who love me, my parents would be crazy to not do the same. Also serving as, See? Look at all this support that I have. I’ll do just fine without them. A feeble attempt to firm up my ground.

In my adult life I have had times when I’ve felt close to my parents and times when I didn’t. Times when I’ve felt embraced by them and times when I’ve felt rejected. I still find myself distanced; struggling to trust. Even when the monkey is silent I find myself analyzing their reactions to me. Questioning the solidarity of our bond. And those are the moments the monkey loves.

He says “Be careful. They could destroy you. Remember when? Don’t give them the chance.”

Sometimes the monkey wins. I agree and I put up my front.

But sometimes the relationship wins and I tell the monkey to just shut up and go back to sleep. Maybe one day if he gets told that enough, he’ll get mad and move out all together.

What a liberating day that would be.

Your Questions Answered: From a Stepdaughter

21 10 2009

Dear Jacque, My dad and stepmom have been married for 15 years. I am now 30 years old and she and I still have an entirely broken and bitter relationship. Can you recommend any books specifically for healing adult blended families (particularly with a long history together)? I am on the verge of giving up.

Thank you for sending in such a great question. I have to give you major kudos for wanting to work on your relationship with your stepmother. I don’t know of any books that speak directly to your question but you might check out Making Adult Stepfamilies Work by Jean Lipman-Blumen and Grace Gabe. It’s more about what to do when families get together later in life so it’s not an exact fit. If anyone has ideas of other books, please respond to this post and help our reader out.

I’m guessing that your early years with your dad and stepmom were challenging simply because you were 15 when they got married and that is a tough, tough age. (Correct me if I’m wrong!) You raise an interesting point that not only do children have to come to terms and with and heal from their childhood, so do parents who live through a high-conflict time. Here are a few things I would offer you wearing both my stepmom and stepdaughter hats:

Compliment her. Pointing out the positives about her role in your life can have MAJOR healing power. Compliment what she did for you and the positive parts of her personality or her relationship with your dad.

Ask your stepmother and dad what that time was like for them. It can be hard for adults to accept that their kids and stepkids have changed as they’ve grown to adulthood. They hang on to what we were like back then. Your stepmother could be holding on to the girl you used to be. Asking her what it was like for her and listening to her with an open heart can have a powerful effect on relationships that need healing. And of course, if you haven’t done so, share with her what it was like for you.

Apologize for your part and ask for an apology. Make the past the past by apologizing for your part in the conflict. It’s true that our parents “were the adults” and “should have known” to do things that would not harm us, but the fact is our parents are human just like we are. So apologize for your behavior. Then ask for an apology back so you can all put the past in the past and move forward.

Find common ground. Are there things you both like to do that have already provided you with a sense of camaraderie or at least a sense of peace? For instance, a lot of adult stepchildren and stepparents are able to heal the wounds of the past when grandchildren are born. Playing with a child or doing something fun together like attending a play or having a cup of coffee at a favorite coffee shop can provide a new way for you and your stepmom to bond.

Spend one-on-one time. Get your Dad out of the picture. Spend time alone with your stepmother and talk to each other. Learn about her life. Tell her about yours. Even if you’ve heard all the stories before, you’ll hear them differently now that you’re an adult and vice versa.

I hope you’ll keep us posted on how things work out for you and your stepmom! It can take hard work to let go of the hurts of the past but it’s worth it.

Live Chat Today, All Day!

19 10 2009

If you’ve got a stepmothering question head on over to Peggy Nolan’s blog The Stepmom’s Toolbox where I’ll be answering your questions all day today, Monday, October 19. Plus one lucky gal will win a signed copy of my book!

Keeping it Real

18 10 2009

How many masks do you wear? And why do you keep expending the energy it takes to keep them in place?

When I became a stepmother of three children, I thought I had to be perfect so I would not become the wicked stereotype in their eyes. I worked hard to be like Julie Andrews in the “Sound of Music”—always singing, loving, fun, and energetic. But living with your engines running 24/7 gets old fast. And since I wasn’t showing the kids my REAL self, our relationships were founded on a fake, always cheerful version of me who didn’t really exist. But there was no way my Inner Critic would let me be myself. No! The kids would never just accept me for me, I thought. And so I performed.

After I spent several Saturdays crying in the laundry room because I was so burned out from being on all the time, I realized I had to cut the act or I’d never find peace in my home. At first, I was scared to have a bad day when the kids were over at our house. Instead of being cranky around them, I would make plans to be out of the house when they arrived. But when my husband said, “You know, the kids are sad when you’re not here,” I knew I had to re-engage with the kids and be REAL with them if our family was going to work.

It’s now six years later and my stepchildren have seen me cranky and mad, grieving and happy, exhausted and strung out on pregnancy hormones. I discovered that when I expressed my feelings we were able to have a conversation that ended up deepening our relationships.

When my sister-in-law died, I insisted they come to the funeral so they could see that life includes death. They saw me cry and held my hands. When I vacuumed around everyone while they played video games, I exploded with, “I am not the maid of this family!” and we were able to talk about the responsibility we all had to keep our home comfortable. When I gave birth to their little sister, I told them how tired I was and we talked about both the wonderful and hard parts about having a baby in the house. I discovered that the more honest I was with them, the more they trusted me with their own feelings.

If I were to go back in time to talk to the single me before I moved in with three kids I would have only one thing to say: Show those children who you are, good and bad. Take off the mask. Be honest. Be REAL.

Want to read more? Check out my book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom.