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.

Holiday Coaching Special

1 12 2009

Dear Stepmoms,

Do the holidays have you down? If so, I can help. I’m offering a special gift to stepmothers who sign up for one-on-one coaching:

Purchase a coaching package in December 2009 and receive the Stepmom Survival Kit FREE! ($50 regularly) The Stepmom Survival Kit includes a signed copy of the award-winning book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom, the Meditations for Stepmoms CD with 8 guided mediations, earplugs so you can tune out the stepkids for a moment of peace, and more inspirational tools to help you keep your chin up.

“There is so much I love about this book! Jacque brings research-validated information to life through her own stories and the stories of the wonderful women you will read about.” -Francesca Adler-Baeder, the executive director of the National Stepfamily Resource Center

More about my coaching:

Stepfamily expert Jacquelyn Fletcher is now available for personalized, one-on-one coaching to offer you the support, education, and inspiration you need to begin creating the stepfamily life you desire.

“Last week I was feeling utterly helpless and ready to leave. This week because of the coaching with you, I have hope again.” – -Stepmom of three

Work one-on-one with Jacquelyn to discover the answers that can help you with your particular needs. She’ll help you develop stepfamily strategies that can give you a road map to peace. Jacquelyn can help you if you are struggling with:

  • Building a strong relationship with your partner
  • Bonding with your stepchildren
  • Stepparenting dilemmas
  • Managing anger, jealousy, and resentment
  • Dealing with the ex
  • Combining his and her sets of kids in the same house
  • Handling teenage and adult stepchildren
  • Adding a new child to a stepfamily
  • Preparing for your wedding day

Introductory Session: $250

(The first Get to Know You session is 1 1/2 hours in length and includes a FREE half hour.)

For more information about my approach or my rates visit my coaching page. Or email me at becomingastepmom@gmail.com.

Your Questions Answered: Stepdaughter Troubles

1 12 2009

Yesterday I was at my BF of 4 years house and his daughter was coming over for a visit. She is home from school (working on her masters) and has always been the center of attention. She EXPECTS everyone and everything to revolve around her. For Christmas she has already let everyone know she must have more presents than last year (last year she had 26). Nobody will ever say anything to her, they walk on eggshells and just say that is the way she is. She is 27 years old, has never had a fulltime job and I believe is a career student. I went to say hello to her and my BF had told me that she is upset that I didn’t make time to see her earlier in the week (I work a fulltime job) and I had sisters in from out of state.

So she is incredibly cold and just pats me on the back. She went upstairs and I followed her so that we could talk. What started out as a normal conversation to clear the air turned out to be ME attacking her and her mother. I ended up saying what nobody else would- she is a self centered brat. She actually ordered me out of HER house (it is her father’s) and then proceeded to tell me to get out of HER family. I ended up leaving, on my own accord, but today is a totally different story. She went back home this morning and now my BF is acting weird. Distant. I am suddenly the evil GF. The dtr did say that she hopes I will be out of his life by the time she gets back for christmas and I wouldn’t put it past her to make him choose- me or her.

Why is it that everyone KNOWS there is an elephant in the room but nobody wants to discuss it? Am I in a losing battle?

Dear Reader,

When I first began reading your letter I assumed your stepdaughter was a teenager. The fact that she is 27 years old is disheartening to say the least! But your story illustrates something that very few newbie stepmothers know: Stepchildren of ANY age will act out when a new stepparent comes on the scene. Even adult stepchildren in their 50s can have a tough time when a parent remarries. I do think you’re in a tough spot.

Dad is caught in the middle.
Even if your stepdaughter is a brat, her father is her father and loves her no matter what. By confronting her directly, you have given her ammunition she can use with her dad to put distance between the two of you. Usually the best way to handle a situation like this is to work with your partner so you and he are on the same page and then dad is the one who confronts his child.

Stepdaughter is feeling threatened.
This sounds like a territory battle. She clearly thinks her father’s house is hers and that her father is hers, too. In her mind, you are out to steal these things from her. In order to create a relationship with her you need to come at her with a no-threat message so she understands you’re not there to keep her from her dad.

Dad’s heart has closed toward you.
When a parent sees a girlfriend or stepmother fight with his children it triggers major guilt. He’s the one that caused this situation by bringing you into the picture. That can also trigger a trust issue with you. He can’t trust that you have his daughter’s best interests in mind and so he goes into protective dad mode. That means he begins closing his heart to you. There may be an elephant in the room, but it’s Dad’s responsibility to deal with it, not yours. To heal your relationship, you’ll both need to have an open discussion about what happened.

You are important, too.
Forming a new stepfamily is challenging to say the least. But when you have outright hostility and conflict like you do, it’s important that you consider you are bringing to the conflict. Why are you so angry at this girl? What about her makes you feel threatened?

You’re all going to need to do some healing of feelings and trust in order to move forward. I would suggest that you start with a conversation with your boyfriend about your feelings. Do everything you can to stay calm so you can be rational as you talk. I would also suggest that you apologize for putting him in the middle. Ask him what he thinks you could do to help his daughter feel more comfortable with you. Compassion and empathy are the most powerful tools a stepmother has.

And finally, make sure you have the support you need. Stepmothering is so hard. And if you’re not married it can make it even more challenging because there is a sense of impermanence. It’s critical that you have friends you can talk to so you don’t feel like you’re crazy or alone.


Your Questions Answered: First Family Blues

1 12 2009

My divorce is 15 years old. I’m on my second marriage since my divorce and I’m still not over #1. It’s more the first family ideal. I’m still jealous when the kids see him, and they do. My children are adults!!!!! I’m happily married, but still in mourning. Does anyone else have this problem?????? No one would guess, I’m a professional woman and appear to have it all together. YIKES!!!! I’m just sick of the pain!

Dear Reader:

Thank you for your honesty! This is a tough question because it’s about some deep rooted fantasies we all have. No one dreams of having a stepfamily or a second marriage when they are young. Society and our emotions tell us that we are supposed to want the perfect first family. Man and wife. Children. Until death do us part. The reality, of course, is FAR different than the fantasy. Very often we have a scenario in our minds that we wish could be. For remarried stepmoms like this brave reader, it can be the secret mourning of her first marriage. For stepmoms with no children of their own, it can be the secret mourning of the fact that they fell in love with a man who has kids. What you’re feeling is not unusual. You’re not a freak. You’re not alone. So then what, right? Here are a couple of ideas for you (and everyone reading this!)

Have a holiday plan.
This time of year is particularly hard on our fantasies. The holidays are when we’re supposed to celebrate our beloveds. We gather with our families and create traditions that give our family a sense of identity. These are the times when loving memories are made. It’s a lot harder to create loving memories when you’re schlepping kids all over town from one house to the other. And it can be pretty darn emotional to watch your children walk away from you and into their other parent’s house for the holiday. So have a holiday plan that will help you feel as supported and loved and yes, busy, as possible. Distract yourself. Instead of crying about what was, write a letter to each of your children (or stepchildren) about what they mean to you. Tell them what you’ve learned from them and what you hope your relationships will be.

Acknowledge your feelings and say goodbye.
Find some alone time and write down all the reasons that you wish your first family was back together. Then build a fire in your backyard or in the fireplace and say goodbye to that fantasy. Then make a list of all the reasons you love your current husband and your life together. Make a list of all the gifts your children have been given because they’re in stepfamilies. (Yes, there are gifts, too, m’ladies! As an adult child of divorce, I can attest to this fact.)

Create a behavior modification plan.
In my mid-twenties I lost 100 pounds. Yes, you read that right. When my parents divorced I turned to food, but when I hit my 20s I was able to turn things around for myself. (Read my book for more on that story). Even though most of my readers have not had to lose 100 pounds, I’m betting most of you have been on at least one diet in your lifetime. When you diet, you have to modify your behavior slowly but surely. Every time you want chocolate, you substitute something else to satisfy the craving. So. Every time you have thoughts of longing for your first family, jump on the treadmill and listen to REALLY LOUD music or call up a friend and go to a movie or organize your closet. If you fall off the wagon, don’t beat yourself up, just keep at it and eventually you will change your thought patterns.

Spend lots of time with your current husband.
Plan things to look forward to with your current partner. For instance, plan a trip together that you both are excited about. Volunteer together at a local charity that makes you feel good. Take a class together so you both learn something new. The best antidote for holding on to the past is enjoying your present.