Stepfamily Planning

1 05 2012

Dear Stepmoms,

I’ve been quiet on my blog for a while because I’ve been busy writing other books. I’m really excited to finally be able to share this one! Last summer I met a remarkable woman named Lynn Devlin, who wanted to write a book about her story. She’s a speaker and workshop leader but needed a writer to help her get her story into the world. We worked closely together all last fall. Lynn is a palliative care and hospice nurse who regularly deals with end-of-life issues. When her husband of 24 years was diagnosed with Stage Four cancer, she was horrified. How could this have happened in her house?

Just like stepfamily issues, end-of-life issues are incredibly challenging to discuss with your partner, but they are critical. Have both of you created advance care directives so your partner knows how you want to be taken care of if you can’t speak for yourself? (Only 18% of American adults have completed theirs.) How about your estate planning? It gets complicated in stepfamilies. Have you planned your funeral so your spouse doesn’t have to?

No doubt all of this planning won’t go into effect until many, many decades from now. But after listening to Lynn’s story, my husband and I planned our funerals so I know what he wants and he knows what I want.

It’s a tear-jerker of a book. One that readers can’t put down–even the guys. We’ll be doing a big book party and cancer fundraiser in Minneapolis this summer. I’ll keep you posted so if you’re in the area and want to meet Lynn, you can.

I hope you’ll check out the book or pass it along to friends and family who might need it. And I really hope you’ll start thinking about this stuff even though it’s hard to do. It’s important.

Here’s the book:

Cancer Widow

Here’s Lynn’s website:

www.cancerwidow.org

Love,

Jacque

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Stepfamily Love Maintenance

25 02 2012

In the last week I’ve received 10 emails from women whose relationships with their partners are in trouble. Sadly, I can’t say that this is uncommon. Most of us know that the divorce rate in the U.S. hovers around 50%. For every re-marriage one has, the divorce rate goes up. So second marriages are in greater danger. Third marriages in even greater peril, etc. If one or more partners has children from a previous marriage the divorce rate spikes to 75%. There is very controversial research that says if a brand new stepmother enters a family with stepdaughters ages 12 to 17, the divorce rates shoots up to 99%. This research does not include families in which the stepmother entered the family when the children are young.

Scary numbers, right?

In a stepfamily, the couple is the weakest link. I’ve written about that before and the research remains the same. The couple has had the least amount of time together and if push comes to shove, the blood relationships are the strongest.

So here’s my question: What kind of preventative maintenance do you and your spouse do to keep your marriage strong? A stepmother I talked with recently said she and her husband picked up the book 365 Nights, which is about a couple who decided to make love every night for a year. They made it to seven months (she got pregnant and had terrible morning sickness).

Some couples plan vacations together. Some go on date nights every week.

What do you do?





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





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?





A Tribute on Mother’s Day

8 05 2011

Ladies: I got this letter a few days ago from a man with four children and I wanted to share it with you. The Mother’s Day tribute from this man to his wife is gorgeous. May we all have spouses that appreciate what we do the way this man does! Happy Mother’s Day! 

Jacque,

I just read your book over the course of a two-day reading marathon. I couldn’t put it down. I loved it, and I’m not even your target audience. I’m the “biological father” of four kids whose ages range from eight to four. I downloaded your book for my Kindle, and after reading several chapters, I quite promptly ordered a print copy to give to my wife for Mother’s Day this year. I think she’s really going to benefit a lot just from the sheer validation that your book brings by acknowledging everything a stepmom goes through. I benefited from it immensely, because it gave me a much clearer insight into her world, what she’s probably feeling, what she’s probably thinking, and all the rest. I feel a lot more empathy for her, as well as a great deal more gratitude and appreciation for who she is and what she does.

I’m including below a short tribute that I wrote for my wife, who (no offense) is the best stepmom in the entire world. But really, it’s a tribute to all stepmoms, and I hope they all get a chance to hear something like this from their husbands. After all, they deserve it.

Thanks so much for your contribution.

————————-

Thank you, first of all, for embracing my children as your own (if not always internally, then at least outwardly, in all that you do for them). This is one of the biggest reasons why I married you in the first place, and it remains one of the biggest reasons why I would marry you all over again any day of the week.

I know you have mixed feelings about your success as a stepmom; sometimes you’re able to congratulate yourself and see how much you’ve accomplished, and sometimes you beat yourself up for being impatient or irritable. That makes you normal. I’m their father, and I still waffle between thinking I’m the Best Dad on Earth and thinking I should just surrender all of my parental visitation rights and move to Siberia. If I feel that kind of emotional conflict, you’re bound to feel it even more intensely, and I want you to know that I get that. I still think you’re an awesome stepmom; the best in the world, actually.

I want you to know that I acknowledge your right to get frustrated, have the occasional melt-down, and expect me to go the extra mile in helping you make this transition. It’s going to be an ongoing process, it will probably take years, and I don’t expect you to do it alone. I might get impatient with you sometimes because I see you struggling to act in ways that have become second-nature for me, but that’s just because I’ve forgotten (for the moment) how to empathize and see the world through your eyes. When I make myself see things from your vantage point, I get overwhelmed with the magnitude of the challenge you’ve taken on, and then I’m amazed that you’re even still in this marriage, let alone thriving and continuing to be the most incredible wife in the world.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re not a real mother. You may not have done the hard work of carrying these children in your body for nine months, going through labor, doing the late-night feedings and diaper changes, etc., but you’ve certainly done something equally difficult: you’ve accepted all the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of motherhood – the extra laundry, the added chaos, mediating sibling rivalries, the scheduling nightmares, the truncated social calendar, the extra expenses, the bedtime rituals, the invasion of privacy and personal space – and you’ve done it all without the ace-in-the-hole of being able to say, “Because I’m your mother, that’s why.”

You’re not a biological mother. But you sure-as-hell have a right to call yourself a real mother.

I’m proud of you. This family of ours loves you, and that’s an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Oh yeah, and I love you too. 🙂

Happy Mother’s Day.





Stepmom: You’re the Expert

23 03 2011

Most of us have heard the old adage, “Don’t go to bed mad.” And it’s good advice as a general rule of thumb. But just like clothing, one size does not fit all. One couple I spoke with this week has tossed that advice out because it doesn’t work for them. If they’re arguing before bed and they start to get tired, they both know that neither of them will be able to have a rational discussion. To continue discussing the heated topic will only result in a downward spiral of emotional debate that doesn’t get them anywhere.

Instead, they say, “I love you honey. I know we’ve got to talk about this some more, but I’m tired and need to go to bed. Let’s finish this tomorrow.” And they really do go to bed and sleep.

This couple has done two important things:

1. Relaxed their bodies. Going to sleep allows their cortisol and adrenaline levels to fall back down so their bodies are not in a fight or flight state. That means their brains can actually function better and they see the solutions to problems easier.

#2. Reassured each other. By saying “I love you, honey,” they have taken away any threats to the relationship itself. It’s a bonding agent that says, “we’re in this together.” Instead of setting up a power play, it builds camaraderie.

The other couple I spoke with this week goes to bed, too. But they feel guilty because they’re “supposed” to be doing what the experts say. I say, you’re the expert. If you know that going to bed calms you down and allows you to have the discussion in a new light in the morning, for heavens sake, go to bed!

If, on the other hand, you go to bed and punish your partner with a turned back or stay up all night stewing about it, then you might want to re-think your approach. The important thing is to preserve your relationship so your partnership doesn’t take a hit even if you’re mad. Conflict is just part of the deal in relationships and learning how to deal with in a way that doesn’t harm each other is key.

What about you? Have you and your partner come up with ways to deal with conflict that work really well for you? Please share them with the rest of us so we can try them out at home!