New Stepmom Circles Podcast: Stepfamilies and Money, Part One

21 07 2011

A new Stepmom Circles Podcast is ready! When I first began researching stepfamily life so I could write my book, I came across Dr. Margorie Engel. At the time she was the president of the Stepfamily Association of America, which is now the National Stepfamily Resource Center and we talked then about stepfamily money issues. I recently interviewed Dr. Engel again and we talked for hours about all the things that stepfamilies face when it comes to money: saving for college, insurance, estate planning and much, much more. This podcast is the first in a series of three. She also generously gave us documents to help guide our discussions of these topics with our families.

Click on the link below to download the packet of information. I hope these Stepmom Circles podcasts lead to fruitful discussions for you and your family. Good luck!

Stepfamily Information.Engel

Advertisements




Accepting Stepfamily Life

26 05 2011

“When I argue with reality, I lose–but only 100% of the time.” –Byron Katie

At some point you have to accept your stepfamily life for all it is and stop fighting it. Know what I mean? It’s so easy to get sucked into the “If only X was different, my life would be happy,” spiral in everyday life. When you add difficult stepchildren, challenging exes, and beleaguered stepparents, it’s enough to spend a lifetime arguing with reality.

An example: Many stepmothers I have interviewed over the years have insisted on speaking only of the ex-wife practically the entire time we talk. For many of us, the other woman is a reality of stepfamily life that we fight against. We say things like: “If only she’d leave us alone.” “If she had any rules over there, the kids would be doing better in school.” “If only she had a job.” If she weren’t so crazy.” “If she stopped calling the house.” “If only she married somebody else…” and we end each of those sentences with “…my life / marriage would be better/perfect/happy.”

And certainly, there are things about stepfamily life that do get easier over time. Sometimes the relationship with the ex smooths out after a few years. Sometimes an ex moves away. Sometimes an ex remarries and life does improve significantly. But sometimes none of those things happen and we just continue to fight reality instead of accepting it. And that makes the reality worse.

Part of the job of each member of the stepfamily is to learn how to accept the things that come along with stepfamily life that we can’t change. That ex? She’s here to stay. So how can you stop fighting what is and accept it? How can you work with your thoughts so the situation itself doesn’t have as much power to upset you?

The fact is, there are things we just have to swallow about life. As most of our parents told as at one time or another, life ain’t fair. So how can you make the most of what you do have? How can you focus your mind on the wonderful areas where you and your family are doing really well? How can you build peace into your daily life?

You decided to marry / date / live with a partner who has kids from a previous relationship. That’s reality.

He has kids. That’s reality.

He has an ex, whether she’s alive or dead. That’s reality.

So let’s get on with the business of figuring out how we’re going to live with the reality in the best, most positive and healthy way possible for ourselves and everyone in our families.

Yes?





Stepmothers and the Illusion of Control

19 05 2011

When I interviewed Dr. Paul Rosch, the president of the American Institute of Stress, he told me that when you don’t feel like you have control, you feel stress. This comes as no surprise to stepmothers everywhere. But I’ve noticed in my own life and in talking to stepmoms that we often react to this lack of control in our home lives by becoming tense and controlling over things that the research on stepfamilies tells us often result in backfiring. (Manners, cleanliness, rules, grades, food,  schedules, ex-wives, etc.)

I reacted to the stress of moving in with three children and their dad. Boy did I ever. But after a while, we found our equilibrium. I found little things I could control that made me feel more involved in the family. And I worked hard to develop a really strong marriage so I felt safe enough to let go of some control. Most days this works. Some days it doesn’t and I continue to struggle with the things I have no say over.

When I had my daughter, the lack of control that is inherent in getting pregnant, giving birth, and raising a child brought me to my knees in a way that stepmothering didn’t. I had a say about what I put in my mouth while I was pregnant so my child got all the nutrients she needed. But I didn’t have a say in how or whether she grew in the dark of my tummy. I have a say in how this girl is raised like I have never had with my stepchildren, but she can still choke on an apple and all of my carefully laid plans are thrown out the window as I work to help her get the food out of her throat. I have a say in what school she goes to, what books she reads, and her access to the Internet, but she can still fall and break an arm.

This is what I’ve been meditating on lately. We need to feel control over our lives and our environments. I agree. And at the same time, life will have its way with us no matter how we plan or clean or prepare healthy foods for our families.

It comes down to the same things it has always come down to:  How do we feel safe enough to let go of control just for the sake of having something to control? How do we make peace with the fact that, really, we don’t have control over the big things in life? The ones that matter more than anything else?





Spring Thaw

16 03 2011

It’s going to be in the 50s all week in Minneapolis. Hurray! The giant walls of snow lining our driveway are shrinking. And everyone I know is feeling more energetic, hopeful, and inspired since the sun is shining and the air is warming. The spring thaw in Minnesota is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world. It reminds me of the work of positive psychologists Barbara Frederickson, Sonja Lyobomirsky, and Martin Seligman who all talk about positive feelings and the impact they have on our overall sense of well-being. If you feel good, you can solve problems with more creativity. If you feel good, you can be more flexible. If you feel good, you can be more compassionate.

What can you do this week to feel good?





Stepmoms: Fear vs. Exhilaration

9 03 2011

Gay Hendricks once said to me: The difference between fear and exhilaration is breath. When you’re afraid your breathing gets stuck high up in your chest. If you take it down deep into your belly, it changes the fear into something that can move–more like the feeling of exhilaration you get when you’re skiing or riding a roller coaster. I remember that advice often around my work but it applies equally well to stepfamily life.

Any time you need to step up as an authority figure in your house and you’re afraid to do it. Any time you are jealous of a stepchild because you fear he/she is more loved than you will ever be. Any time you are nervous to go to an event because you know the ex is going to be there. Any time you are afraid to speak your truth: BREATHE.





Hey Stepmom, What Are You Thinking?

23 02 2011

Research has found that thoughts precede emotions. So when we allow our thoughts to spiral out of control, it’s the thoughts that make us feel bad!!! How wild is that? And it’s good news, too, because that means if we practice monitoring our thoughts, we have a say about whether or not we’ll spiral into those negative zones. I often use little one- to three-word mantras to fill up my mind so the negative thoughts can not come in. And usually I can avoid the spin into dark thinking.

If I start furiously cleaning the house thinking, “No one helps me! This isn’t my mess! Why don’t they pick up after themselves?!!!” The more I think those thoughts the angrier I become. But if I stop the thoughts before I get mad, I can calmly assess the situation. I might gracefully pick up after my family being thankful that I have such a messy but rich life. Or I can let everyone know that it’s time to pick up the house together so I don’t feel like the house maid.

Some mantras I have used to derail my negative thoughts are: Pineapple (because it’s ridiculous and makes me laugh.) God bless you. I’m open to love. All is well.

This is not easy to do, by the way. I view this as a spiritual practice.

So, Dear Stepmother, what are you thinking? And how is it affecting your life?

 





Stepmom Circles Group Coaching Update

16 02 2011

Due to a cancellation there is a spot open in the Stepmom Circles Group Coaching session that starts this Sunday. We meet for 6 weeks over the telephone. Click here for more details. And email me at becomingastepmom (at) gmail (dot) com for more info or to snatch up the spot! Can’t do Sunday evenings? If enough women want to meet on another night, we can form another group.  Email me with your interest.

Here’s what one stepmom of two says about my coaching:

“When I first called Jacque, I was truly at the end of my tether.  I was quite fortunate to dearly love my stepchildren, but I was tremendously frustrated with dealings with the former wife and — unbeknownst to me — was weighted by a burden of resentment.  The means to my freedom began with the very first steps of the process: filling out a thought-provoking questionnaire.  The act of pondering the answers to the questions helped me to see my situation from a different perspective.  Jacque is an empathetic and careful listener, closely attentive to the words used in conversation and deftly intuitive in interpreting the intent of those words. It was a relief to vent to such an amiable listener, yet it was Jacque’s challenges that fostered my growth.  Jacque’s knowledge through experience, artfully planned coaching and perfectly balanced challenges helped me realize that I held the key to my own prison door… not the former wife.  I had sought counseling for this before, and Jacque does not claim to be a counselor.  But this approach was amazingly effective in dealing with my issues as a stepparent.”