A Holiday Message From Jacquelyn Fletcher

23 12 2009

In the 1980s, Patricia Papernow, Ph.D., a psychologist, stepmother, and author of the award-winning book for therapists, Becoming a Stepfamily: Patterns of Development in Remarried Families, identified seven cycles stepfamilies pass through as they build a life together. Starting with a fantasy and illusion period, they run through immersion, awareness, mobilization, and action as everyone tries to find their place in this new entity, and finally, in some cases after 12 years or more, end at resolution — otherwise known as stability and commitment. According to Papernow, the rare families who go through the stepfamily cycles quickest can successfully establish their new household within four years — but a majority of stepfamilies don’t even make it to the fourth year. And of those stepmothers who slog through years of hard work, many of them still hold deep resentment in their hearts. Is that really a successful stepfamily?

Something is not working. The current strategies and workbooks, the therapy and support groups are not working because most families don’t even know these resources exist. And to make matters worse, according to Margorie Engel, Ph.D., retired former president of the Stepfamily Association of America, stepfamilies don’t consider themselves a stepfamily until there’s a problem. Up to that point, they define themselves as simply a nuclear family. But overlooking the ways in which stepfamilies are different often leads to disaster and heartbreak.

The shiny happy family we’re all supposed to emulate is a complete fabrication. The instant love and feelings of connectedness and home are not automatic in a stepfamily, so we feel like failures. And yet, we stepmoms often are not willing to do the work it takes to succeed in building a strong stepfamily. We often are unwilling to feel uncomfortable in the moment as we work for long-term success. We sometimes act like victims and don’t take responsibility for our part in creating conflict in the early stages of stepfamily development. And in the chaos of the first years, it can be hard to put yourself in your stepkids’ or husband’s shoes.

Stepfamilies are here to stay, and it is crucial that stepmoms learn how to address their challenges in a way that promotes positive growth for everyone involved. In order for stepfamilies to thrive, it is imperative that stepmothers do not feel like strangers or prisoners or outsiders in their own homes. Women must feel like they have a say. However, that doesn’t mean steamrolling the stepfamily into doing only what the stepmom thinks is appropriate. It’s a balancing act — one that takes a great deal of maturity.

There is an upside. Stepfamily life can be a rip-roaring good time. Since none of the former models of family life are working, we get to create a new kind of dynamic in our homes — one that fits us and sustains us. Think of the power! All it takes is creativity, education, the willingness to look at the big picture and ride out the tough times, and the commitment to be present in each moment and each new experience. Easy, right?

Joining a stepfamily can be incredibly scary. The learning curve is so steep it can bury a woman. Consider this. In the first year of marriage, a stepmother feels she must learn how to live with another human being (or several), learn how to be married, learn how to be a stepmother, with all its thorny issues, find her place within a family that has already been together for years, figure out how to assert herself, learn how to support and communicate with people who are wounded, and learn to deal with the ex. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

So what’s the big payoff? Why do it? Why are there 15 million stepmothers in America and 1,300 new stepfamilies forming every single day? Why are we marrying these men with their broods and their ex-wives?

 Simple. Love and hope.

This holiday season I wish you and your family LOTS of love and hope. Blessings to you brave women.


Stepmom Circles Group Coaching: Still Time to Sign Up!

23 12 2009

There’s still time to sign up for the Stepmom Circles Group Coaching sessions that begin in January. Don’t miss your chance to join other stepmothers in a community of like-minded women led by Jacquelyn Fletcher whose inspiring and educational approach to stepfamily life has helped stepmothers all over the world.

Holiday Stress-O-Meter

16 12 2009

Dear Stepmothers: As holiday celebrations continue and you find yourself with stress on the menu more often than holiday cookies, take a break from the commotion to answer the following questions:

Who are you trying to please? Why?

If things are not exactly as you’d want them to be is that a bad thing? Why or why not?

Have you noticed any small victories?

How have you supported yourself during this time?

Can you build in time for just you and your partner each day this season even if it’s only to stand together alone in your room with your foreheads touching for two minutes?

Stepmom Magazine

16 12 2009

Stepmom Magazine is celebrating its first birthday in January! Congrats to publisher Brenda Ockun.

The magazine is offering a special holiday deal. If you buy a year’s subscription ($48) for 2010, you get all of the 2009 issues for free. I highly recommend the magazine. And I’d like to send out a big thank you to Brenda for creating such a wonderful resource for stepmothers.

Stepping Toward the Holidays

16 12 2009

There are few times of year as emotionally loaded as the holidays. For many stepfamilies the stress of figuring out how to navigate the traditions of each faction—his kids, her kids, our kids—can be exhausting and painful. Whether the kids are ages 5 or 50, conflict can arise about where to spend the holidays, whose rituals to follow, and who “counts” as a member of the family.

Listen to my top holiday tips for stepfamilies on Joanie Winberg’s fantastic Blog Talk Radio Show Single Again? Now What?!

You can listen to the free show online by clicking the link above to find out:

  • Why the holidays are so challenging for stepfamilies.
  • Strategies to make the holidays easier.
  • What stepmothers can do to make sure they aren’t too burnt out.

Enjoy! And thanks to Joanie for having me on your show again!

Overwhelmed? Remember the bird’s-eye view.

9 12 2009

Several stepmothers have told me recently they feel overwhelmed by all the things they feel they’re “supposed” to do to make their stepfamilies work. And understandably so. Not only do we have to learn how to live in the same physical space with children not our own, we have to figure out how to be married to the particular person we chose. We have to spend one-on-one time, conduct family meetings, find ways to bond with our husband and stepchildren, and somehow figure out how to become emotionally mature enough to handle the ex wife with grace.


On top of that we might have to maintain our jobs, our friendships or relationships with our families of origin. We need to exercise, plan menus so we can eat right, find time for self-care, visit our place of worship, and volunteer.


We need to run the household and keep tabs on the emotional lives of everyone in our home to make sure that everyone is getting along. We have to parent and stepparent in a way that helps to raise successful adults. If we have pets we must feed them, walk them, bathe them, and pet them.

It’s enough to drive a grown woman to her knees, right?

When I am feeling overwhelmed with the sheer number of things I feel I have to do, I take a moment to switch into my hawk vision. Like putting on a pair of magical goggles, I work to remember that everything doesn’t have to (and likely can’t) happen overnight. Stepfamilies take time to develop. People need time to get to know each other and figure out how they’ll live together. Wounds need time to recover and souls need time to grow. Knowing that I don’t have to figure everything out, solve all the problems, and bond all the time with everyone in my family makes it easier for me to relax and allow our relationships to develop organically.

I’m not superwoman. And neither are you.

So this year I’m going to take it easier on myself. Instead of trying to schedule alone time with each kid and my husband each and every week and then beating myself up because I missed a week while I was out of town , I’m going to commit to making sure I spend time with them THIS YEAR. Now that I can do.

Stepmom Circles Group Coaching Now Available!

8 12 2009

Have you ever felt:

Uncomfortable in your own home?
Discouraged because you and your husband can’t agree on parenting/stepparenting?
Angry at the ex-wife?
Hurt by a stepchild’s behavior?
Surrounded by loving family and friends who don’t understand what you’re going through?

If so, you’re not alone. And I can help. As many of you know I’ve been educating and inspiring stepmothers for years so my fellow stepmoms can create a more peaceful life that is sustainable over the long haul.

I recently started coaching stepmothers one-on-one, but for those of you who need a more affordable option I am offering the Stepmom Circles group coaching teleclass sessions beginning in January 2010.

I will be starting two new groups in January. Each Stepmom Circles group will meet for an hour and a half each week for six weeks over the telephone. Every week I’ll lead a half-hour discussion on a particular stepfamily challenge. (Creating a strong partnership with your spouse, dealing with the ex, bonding with the stepkids, handling your negative feelings, identifying common stepfamily mistakes, discovering what successful stepfamilies know). Then we’ll have an open talk for an hour about your particular questions and issues.

The cost of a six-week session is $197. That’s about $32 per week.

As a member of a Stepmom Circles coaching group you’ll receive

  • a FREE half-hour, get-to-know you consultation with me over the phone before the class begins
  • email access to me between group coaching sessions so you can ask questions that come up during the week
  • an autographed copy of my book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom

You can sign up for one of the following:

Tuesdays, 9:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m. CST, January 5-February 9, 2010


Saturdays, 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. CST, January 9-February 13

*If you’re interested in an evening class please email me at becomingastepmom (@) gmail (dot) com. If I receive enough interest I will consider adding a third group.

Group sessions will be limited to eight participants per group. Because space is limited, you’ll need to reserve your spot early.

Email becomingastepmom (@) gmail (dot) com for more information or to reserve your spot.