Stepmothers: Getting to Yes

30 11 2010

I saw this today and thought of stepmothering. William Ury is the author of Getting to Yes and has helped navigate some of the most difficult conversations happening in our world today. His advice is something that we can use in our homes, my ladies! Conflict in your home? With a stepchild? An ex? Your partner? Then watch this. Ury believes the secret peace is to take the third side. Love it.

“In the last 35 years as I have worked in some of the most dangerous, difficult, and intractable conflicts around the planet, I have yet to see one conflict that I felt could not be transformed. It is not easy,  of course, but it is possible.” –William Ury

Stepmoms: Have you transformed conflict in your home? Share with us!

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Are You Addicted to Suffering? Stepmothers and Ex-Wives

17 11 2010

In the past month I’ve had several conversations with stepmothers who think about their partner’s ex constantly. They just can’t seem to stop obsessing about her. Please raise your hand if you’ve ever spiraled into negative thoughts about the ex that just won’t quit. Is everyone’s hand raised?

I always pay attention when I have the same conversation with more than one stepmom. And lately there’s been a lot of talking about the concept that we’re addicted to suffering. Having a challenging ex to deal with for some couples can feel like you’re charging into battle with your mate, ready to fight side-by-side. it makes you feel closer to your spouse. It can make you feel needed and give you a sense of control. But that is not a solid foundation to build a marriage on, my friends.

How many of you read every email the ex sends or talk to your husband about every conversation he has with her? I have two challenges for you this week.

#1. Take a week off having to know everything. Let your partner deal with the ex. If her emails make your blood boil because you’re so hacked off at her treatment of your spouse, I’m talking to you. Don’t read them for one week. You don’t have to read them. In fact, you’ll probably be happier if you don’t. And you can still support your partner emotionally as he deals with her challenging emails.

#2. Turn her into a human being instead of a monster. I wrote about this in my book, but it’s worth repeating a million times. We stepmoms often build up the ex (living or dead) into this monster or mythic being that has superpowers to make our lives hell. But the truth is, she’s just a regular old human being just like you. There could be many reasons for her behavior: fear, sadness, loneliness, etc. How can you turn her into a human being? Write her a letter? Imagine how she would describe her life to her best friend?

Rumination is something that I often struggle with. My thoughts get snagged on something and off I go down into the pit until I’ve made myself even angrier than I was to begin with. There is a part of me that is addicted to suffering, because the truth is, I could STOP those thoughts at any time. If you’ve read my book or listened to my Stepmom Circles podcasts you’ve heard my pineapple exercise. It works. I still use it sometimes.

What do you use to help you stop negative thoughts and end your suffering? The ex-wife is not ours to control, but our thoughts about her are!





Stepmom Magazine is Hosting Ask The Experts Day on FaceBook

17 11 2010

Tomorrow is Ask the Experts Day! Stepmom Magazine has gathered eight stepfamily experts to answer your questions. The online event is happening on Thursday, November 18, 2010 from 1 to 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on FaceBook.

Go to Stepmom Magazine’s FaceBook page and join the conversation! I’ll be there and so will some of my favorite esteemed colleagues!





College-Aged Stepdaughter Moves in for the First Time

11 11 2010

Dear Jacque,

In your research and visits with others, have you come across the issue of a 21-year-old stepchild moving in for the first time after 18 years???? She is living with us while going to college part time. My step daughter and I have had a strained relationship for a LONG time. I gave it an honest effort in the beginning, but she and her mom have been best friends ever since she was in elementary school, besides the lack of boundaries between my husband and the ex. I won’t go into all the details of the strain things have been over the years. I just know that my husband is THRILLED to have his daughter living here on a daily basis and treats her like she is a china tea cup. Our 2 daughters get treated like the solid cappuccino mugs by dad. He even acknowledges that he treats her differently. He has much higher expectations of our daughters than his oldest. She only talks to me when I say “Hi” first or if I ask her a question. Other wise, she easily walks right by me without a word, or just leaves the room when I walk in. I am trying to be open with my husband on the issues at hand, but it just ends up putting a strain on us. I feel like I have to revert back to just not saying anything about his daughter, other than to my counselor. Working outside the home, or times when she is gone, has been my sanctuary. Thank you for your time on the website and podcasts. A friend of mine told me about them both, as well as the Stepfamily Letter Project.

Dear Stepmom,

You’re going through what many stepmoms endure during the first years of a new marriage but at a different stage in your life! Thank you for your letter. It’s a wonderful reminder for all of us that the most important thing in stepfamily life is: Flexibility. You just never know what’s going to happen. Once the first years of a new stepfamily are worked through, there are other challenges that will arise. That is the nature of life. How you respond to them is the real question.

In your case, I would go back to the basics of stepfamily development. Even though you and your husband have been together long enough to have two children together, you’re really back in the early stages of stepfamily life since your stepdaughter has never lived with you. Here’s my advice:

  • Work together. I know this is challenging territory for spouses. Dads get defensive. Stepmoms get hurt and angry. It can turn into a nasty cycle. But I believe it’s critical that the two of you work on this together. The Smart Stepmom by Ron Deal and Laura Petherbridge has devoted several chapters just to dads. It’s my favorite tool for dads who are having a tough time discussing a child with a stepmother.
  • Understand your stepdaughter. It is not unusual for stepdaughters to move in with their dads at some point during their teens or early twenties. In fact the research about this is pretty incredible. Dr. James Bray saw this in his work, which he describes in the book Stepfamilies.  It is a time in their development when they need a connection with their father. My guess would be that your stepdaughter has some emotional healing to do and that’s why she’s living with you right now.
  • Define boundaries. You have every right to define the boundaries in your home to a 21-year-old girl who has just moved in. Have a discussion with your spouse about the rules. You might have to bend on some and he might have to. But make them the house rules so that they can be upheld by anyone. You might also discuss how long your stepdaughter will be staying with you.
  • Focus on your relationship with your stepdaughter not the rules. You’re not ever going to be a parenting figure to this girl so instead, why not turn on your curious mind? Consider what it’s like to be her. Find out what she likes/dislikes. You mentioned there has always been tension between you and that’s usually due to one party feeling like the other party has taken something away of value or is threatening to. What kind of relationship could you develop with her if neither of you felt threatened?
  • Take responsibility for your responses to tough situations. When my stepchildren don’t say hello to me, I sing out, “Hello!” like I’m living in a musical for the day. It’s so ridiculous that I avoid getting mad and spiraling into toxic rumination (negative thoughts that repeat over and over and over again). And sometimes the kids will say “Hi” back or they will roll their eyes or whatever, but it doesn’t matter as much to me because I kept my body and mind in a calm place (on my good days).
  • Chill out! Have some fun with your spouse. Get a babysitter for ALL the kids and take a night off every single week so you are continuing to build a strong marriage despite the difficulties occurring at home. I MEAN IT. This is tough. You need to have a lot of fun to balance out the hard parts.

Thank you so much for your wonderful question! Hang in there!





Stepfamily Estate Planning: Do you have a will?

11 11 2010

Hi Jacque: Your book and emails have been so helpful to me over the last couple years, and I’m happy to report that I’m getting married next month to a wonderful, wonderful man (who happens to have two young sons). Thank you for sharing your wisdom and compassion and helping me feel comfortable with the unexpected path toward stepmotherhood that my life has taken!

I do have a question for you that I’d love to see addressed (and love to get other stepmoms’ feedback on). My fiance and I haven’t had a conversation about wills, and as much as I don’t want to be thinking about that right now, it does seem like something we should do once we’re married. So I’m curious: how do most stepfamilies handle inheritance issues? My assumption is that most married couples who have children together only pass on an inheritance to the kids once both parents have passed away. Is that the norm with married couples when stepkids are involved, too? If – God forbid – something were to happen to my fiance, the last thing I’d want is to end up with financial difficulties or to start fighting with the ex about how much the kids should be getting. I certainly would want to fulfill my fiance’s goals as far as funding his kids’ college educations, but I’m not sure if/how that should get codified in a legal document. What should we be thinking about as we start talking about wills?

Congrats on your upcoming wedding! You are so smart to ask about this. Estate planning is a challenge no matter when you discuss it, but it is absolutely critical. And just because you get things down on paper now, remember there is plenty of time for you to change things later on if your heart or your circumstances change. I HIGHLY recommend finding a professional estate planning attorney to help you do this. Make sure to ask if they are experienced with stepfamily issues and you can educate yourself beforehand with some of Marjorie Engel’s wonderful work on stepfamily financial issues.

Instead of guessing, work with a financial planner, also well-versed in stepfamily matters, who can help you determine the amounts of life insurance you’ll need, retirement, college savings, etc. Just going through the process of working on all of this is a wonderful way for you and your partner to work through some of these challenging issues. If you have children from a previous marriage or you have a new baby together, you’ll need to discuss how you both want to take care of your children.

You make an assumption here that assets are only left to the children once both parents have passed away. Though that certainly does happen, it’s not always the case. In a stepfamily, if dad dies before you do, things can get extremely complicated. This is the stuff legends are made of. You need to be taken care of but dad might want his childrens’ needs addressed as well. Some divorce decrees state that a portion of or all of Dad’s life insurance will go to his children directly or to support his children. What does your husband’s (or your) divorce decree state?

You have no legal relationship to the stepkids when Dad is living or when he’s gone. We found out that in Minnesota if my husband and I both died in a car crash, the state makes the assumption legally that my husband died first. That means his assets are transferred into my estate, which means that our biological daughter would inherit everything and my stepchildren would get nothing of their father’s estate, UNLESS we specify our inheritors in our wills or set up a trust to handle the life insurance payouts.

SO. To answer your question. It is CRITICAL to have your estate planning done when you’re in a stepfamily. Though it can be extremely difficult to have the kind of conversations you’ll need to have to get this done, just imagine how much harder it would be for the people you leave behind if you don’t do it. ICK. Plus if you don’t have a will or trusts set up to transfer your assets to the next generation, the government will step in and try to do it for you. You’ll estate will go into probate so the loved ones you left behind will have to pay to have the government tell them what it thinks you wanted to do with the money.

Not good. As I’ve mentioned in past articles and in my book, the laws are different in each state. Have I scared you yet?

I had a brief conversation about legal issues in a Stepmom Circles podcast with Stepfamily Law Expert Margaret Mahoney. It is in the archive so you can find it here.

All right, my ladies. Let’s discuss! Do you have a will? Have you looked at it recently? How do you work through some of emotional landmines with your partner?





Where’s Jacque?

3 11 2010

Hello Dear Stepmoms!

I’ve heard from many of you lately with emails asking: Where are you? Life got in the way of my blogging and podcasting but I’m happy to say that I’m back in the saddle. If you have topics you’d like to hear on future episodes of the Stepmom Circles podcast or addressed on my blog, please let me know! It’s been a wild fall but I’ m happy to say that we’re all doing great. Work deadlines are met. The kids are all back in school and my daughter is almost potty trained. Life is good.

I recently had a conversation with Brian Johnson, the founder of www.PhilosophersNotes.com. Brian has spent the last two years reading all of the optimal living books he can find and he put together 6-page summaries, mp3 podcasts, and web videos of all the books for people on his website. It’s great! Self-development literature for people on the go. In our talk, he reminded me how important it is to “rock your fundamentals” as he calls it.

I’m going to reframe his words for us stepmoms. When you’re feeling down or you’re taking on a new challenge, or facing a daunting conversation you’re scared to have, first look to yourself. Are you doing the things you need to do to feel your best? Are you exercising? Are you praying or meditating? Are you doing those things that fill you up? (And do you know what they are?) If not, return to those fundamentals immediately! (Or discover what they are.)

A big shout-out to Brian for helping me remember to return to the things that give me the most energy. And a big thank you to all of you who continue to read my blog and listen to my podcasts. It’s so cool to know that I’m connected to so many wonderful women all around the globe.