Stepmothers: Do You Turn Toward Or Away From Your Partner?

28 09 2010

We all know that conflict is a normal part of any long-term relationship. You’re going to fight. You’re going to get on each other’s nerves. You might even call each other a few choice swear words in the privacy of your own heads.

But at the end of the day, do you turn toward each other or away?

Over the last three months my husband and I have been stressed out. Big time. A whole bunch of challenges hit us at exactly the same time. For the first month, we turned away from each other. We were polite, but we suffered from the stress in our own little worlds. The second month, the stress started coming out in arguments and nasty comments. This month, we turned toward each other.

We acknowledged that we’re both stressed and began exploring some questions. How can we address this together? How can we feel proactive instead of reactive? And most importantly, how can we protect our marriage from the outside stresses it must endure? That is the challenge many stepcouples face. Scratch that. It’s a challenge that ALL couples face.

We came up with some things that are working for us:

  1. Be aspirational. Work toward a goal together that is fun and exciting. We decided to meet once a month for a day to visualize our goals for our future.
  2. Deal with the stress head on. We didn’t just sweep the stressors in our lives under the rug. We built strategies to help us manage the stress and move to a more easeful place with benchmarks so we can track our progress.
  3. Take a break! I know I’ve nagged you all about this one before, but my gosh–having fun is so important. We certainly can’t talk about our problems all the time. We need breaks! We decided that our breaks should include activities that build a positive emotional connection between us.

How about you? Do you have any strategies that you and your partner use to keep connected during challenging times?

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What Should a Stepmother Expect?

22 09 2010

I’ve been asked this question many times: What should a stepmom expect? And this one: Am I expecting too much? I’ve asked myself those questions, too. Much of the research done on what makes stepfamily life so difficult indicates our expectations are what get us into trouble.

But the challenge is that there is no model for what a stepfamily “should” look like. A successful stepfamily structure might look very different from what we think a “family” should look like.

Happy stepmothers are:

  • Women who live with their stepchildren full-time and help to raise them.
  • Women who don’t ever see their stepchildren.
  • Women who at family gatherings cheerfully combine his, hers, and ours kids plus the ex-wife, ex-husband, their new spouses and all the various step-, half-, and full-blooded siblings.
  • Women who don’t live with their partners but continue to date until the children are raised and out of the house.

There are lots of different ways in which stepfamilies are successful. But sometimes we need to revise what we think successful means in order to find peace. Can you be a success if you and your partner have an amazing relationship but the kids hate you? Can you be a success if your marriage is strong but the ex-wife is in your face all the time? Can you be a success if your husband is your best friend but his parents don’t accept you? The answer to all these questions is: YES.

But you first have to decide for yourself and as a couple what success can mean.

Warning: Letting go of expectations (a.k.a. Dreams) can be an extremely painful process. But once you do it, you’re free to create the kind of life you want.





New York City Stepmothers

22 09 2010

If you live in or near New York City, Wednesday Martin, the author of Stepmonster is teaming up with Dr. Rachelle Katz, the author of The Happy Stepmom for a workshop this Saturday.  If you’re in the area, check it out! Here’s the information:

Saturday, September 25th

10:00 AM to 1:00 PM

Presented by

Wednesday Martin, Ph.D. (author of Stepmonster) and

Rachelle Katz, Ed.D. (author of The Happy Stepmother)

Parkside Lounge of the West Side YMCA

(West 63rd Street between Broadway and Central Park West)

Who Should Attend:

• Stepmothers

• Women in a relationship with a man who has children

• Dads who want to improve their relationships with wives and girlfriends

• Mental health professionals who work with stepfamilies

At this workshop, you will:

• Better understand the challenges of being a stepmother

• Learn about the latest scientific studies in the field of stepfamily research

• Learn to recognize maladaptive behavior in your stepfamily

• Acquire healthy tools to cope with the demands of being a stepmother

• Learn how to successfully communicate with your partner and family members

• Establish clear boundaries that promote family harmony

• Participate in a support group, sharing your experiences with others who understand what you are going through

To register go to this link:

 http://www.stepsforstepmothers.com/resources.html





Stepmothers: Protect Yourself

14 09 2010

There is a lot of advice out there on blogs and in books (including my own) that tell stepmothers what they need to do to make a stepfamily run more smoothly. There are lots of people to tell you how to make things easier for the kids. There are experts to show you how to co-parent more successfully. I, myself, have given you some of that advice. I’ve told you to cultivate an open heart and let go of anger. This is all good. However: You must also protect yourself.

It goes against our expecations of what family life is supposed to be like to think that we should protect ourselves from our family, but in stepfamilies it’s a skill you must learn.

When you’ve given your all to your stepkids and they turn on you it hurts like hell. When you’ve busted your butt to make your home a wonderful place to be for everyone and they hate it, it stings. When you’re ignored for the billionth time or your birthday is forgotten or your meal is hated or your help is denied, IT HURTS. In those times it is CRITICAL that you protect your lovely heart. Arm yourself. Do the personal growth work it takes to have a healthy and strong self-esteem. Surround yourself with friends who remind you who you are. Go on those date nights with your spouse. Read books. Take breaks. Go out of town.

A caveat: I’m not talking about total emotional disengagement. I’m talking about being more proactive in situations you know are going to hurt you. If you know you’re going to get angry tonight because you’ve cooked a beautiful meal and the kids are going to complain, ask your husband to cook. Get takeout. Tell the kids to trade off nights and let them cook. Order pizza. Make peanut and butter a jelly sandwiches and save the cooking for nights when they’re not with you.  See what I mean?

Some very well-meaning people call this owning your emotional response or taking responsibility or acting like an adult, but using those words can make us feel ashamed or silly for feeling what we feel. I call it protecting yourself.

Protect yourself, dear stepmother. You’ll be a happier human being, a more loving wife, and a far better stepmother if you do.





Stepmom Circles Group Coaching: Fall Session Begins Soon!

14 09 2010

Looking to connect with other stepmothers and find out concrete things you can do help yourself and your family?

The fall Stepmom Circles Group Coaching session starts in October!

“It was such a positive experience! I carry with me Jacque’s fun loving, caring and supportive voice. It’s voice I will carry with me for a long time.” –Stepmom of 2

Each Stepmom Circles group meets for an hour and a half each week for six weeks over the telephone. Every week I lead a 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 have an open talk about your particular questions and issues.

Dates
Wednesday evenings, October 6 to November 10.

Time
6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Central Standard Time

Cost
The cost of a six-week session is $197.

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

  • a FREE half-hour, get-to-know you consultation with stepfamily expert Jacquelyn Fletcher 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

Email becomingastepmom (@) gmail (dot) com for more information or to reserve your spot in the upcoming session. Space is extremely limited.

“Thank you again for such an enlightening 6 weeks! So much insight and shifts in my thinking…I really needed that. I look forward to the day when I can look back on these tough times and laugh. Thanks for the inspiration! You truly made me think in ways that were outside my comfort zone. I look forward to the continuation of my journey, and hope to get to that place of peace that you talk about. I hope that someday I can inspire other stepmoms as you have inspired me. Thank you for your words of wisdom.” – Stepmom of 3





New Stepmom Circles Podcast: Does Stepmothering Get Easier?

15 07 2010

A new Stepmom Circles Podcast is available! Tune in to hear my discussion with Dr. Ann Orchard about what happens over time in the lives of stepmothers. Does stepfamily life get easier? What happens when the kids leave home or there is a wedding or the birth of a grandchild?

Dr. Ann Orchard is a licensed psychologist who runs stepmother support groups in Edina, Minnesota. I joined one of her support groups before I married my husband. It was a life raft in a chaotic time and I have continued to benefit from her wisdom over the years. Don’t miss this one!

Want to talk about today’s show? Join the Stepmom Circles group on FaceBook.

How Do I Listen? Click on the links to the show above or visit HERE for all of the Stepmom Circles shows.





Stepmothers: Cultivate an Open Heart

30 06 2010

 

 When you’re dealing with people in your family who challenge you with hostility, hurtful words and actions, it can take a Herculean effort to keep an open heart. But remaining open is a worthy goal. Why? Because storing your anger and bitterness in a closed heart will corrupt your spirit and poison your family. The fact is, anger comes out one way or another and you can either work consciously to deal with resentment and opening your heart or you can allow the negativity to eat you alive. I know I sound dramatic, but I believe remaining open is critical to your well-being.

It’s a tall order when you have a stepdaughter challenging your place in the family or an ex-wife badmouthing you to the children. It can be even more difficult when your husband does not support you in front of the kids or expects you to do all the parenting of his children.

Try some of the following strategies to help you maintain an open heart in even the most difficult situations.  

Thank Your Lucky Scars.
You read that right. The scars you’ve developed from painful situations can teach you valuable lessons about your personal journey. Look for the message in the pain that can help you evolve to a more mature, loving human being.

Watch for Patterns.
If you understand why something is happening in your home, it makes it much easier to open your heart. For instance, if you’ve had a good relationship with your stepson except for during holidays, big school events, or the day he returns from Mom’s house, pay attention. It could be that your stepson is experiencing the grief of his parent’s divorce at each of these junctures. It could be a loyalty issue where he feels that if he likes you or spending time at your and Dad’s house that his mother will be hurt.

Develop a Strong Sense of Self.
Women who feel better about themselves overall have an easier time with stepfamily life. That’s because they don’t need everyone in their stepfamily to like them in order to feel good about themselves. If you don’t believe in yourself, remember this: I do and I will hold that belief in you until you can develop it yourself.

Set Your Boundaries.
Learn how to say “No” in a kind and loving way to protect your heart. By setting boundaries about what kind of treatment you will tolerate at the hands of your stepfamily members, you are sending a powerful message to everyone about how to live with an open heart. By protecting your heart with a gentle “No” you are actually giving yourself the needed energy to extend to your stepfamily in more powerful ways.

Nurture Your Compassion
Every time you feel anger building in your heart, use breath to help you connect to the more evolved part of yourself. Sit down and take ten deep breaths all the way into your belly. Then think about the person who is making you angry. Ask yourself what might be causing their behavior. Most of us act out toward other people when we are hurt, grieving, lonely, insecure, or scared.

Lighten Up
Instead of thinking about how hard your life is, try this playful exercise. Instead, view your stepfamily as an experiment so you can take some of the pressure off of yourself and the people who are now connected to you. If you have a surly stepson, brainstorm creative ways you can play with the relationship. Tell him a joke. Do something he likes to do. Tell him about the most embarrassing thing you did when you were his age. The heart responds to fun. Take a light-hearted view and it can help you feel more positive about your relationships.

Let Your Light Shine
This is an exercise in imagination. Close your eyes and think about your heart. Imagine a light is shining out of your heart center bathing everyone and everything around you in love. Shift your shoulders back and down away from your ears so the front of your chest feels broad and open. Breathe.

Cultivating an open heart is not something that happens in one sitting. It is a state of being that we work toward our whole lives. Commit yourself to living with openness instead of remaining closed, defensive, and angry and your relationships will ultimately thrive.

Jacquelyn B. Fletcher is the author of the award-winning book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom, the co-creator of The Stepfamily Letter Project, and the host of the popular Becoming a Stepmom podcast. This article first ran in Stepmom Magazine.