Guest Post: I’m a Stepmom, Too

25 01 2011

A few years ago at tradeshow, I was talking with a young woman at the booth next to mine. Just a casual conversation between strangers – a friendly back-and-forth.

She mentioned that it was her one year anniversary that week. I offered congratualtions and asked her if she was enjoying married life. Her reply? “I’m a stepmom.”

That’s it. That’s all she said.

I waited.

And waited.

Then I said, “I’m a stepmom too.”

More silence.

Then I said, “It’s ok if you don’t love the kids.”

She got tears in her eyes and thanked me. She said she felt like there was something wrong with her. I assured her there was not.

We talked for a long time that day. I think I helped her understand that she was not alone, she wasn’t evil, she was really quite normal. I encouraged her to befriend other stepmoms, because her friends who were birth moms would not – could not – fully empathize and offer the kind of support she needed. The trade show ended. We hugged goodbye. I never saw her again.

But I learned a valuable lesson that day. When you meet a stranger and learn that she’s a stepmom, speak up. Offer support and understanding. We need each other.

Carrie, the author of this post is a longtime reader of my blog. What a treat to run such a great story! Thank you Carrie. We do need each other.





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?





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.





A Revised Stepmom’s Bill of Rights

22 01 2010

My Dear Stepmamas:

WOW! My post about the Stepmom’s Bill of Rights generated a lively discussion! Many thanks for all of your thoughtful comments. It’s clear to me that, as I discovered while doing research for my book, there are a lot of brave families out there trying to do their best in frightfully difficult circumstances. BUT, there is still hope. As I have said all along, stepfamilies DO make it every single day. So I’d like to propose an alternate version of the Stepmom’s Bill of Rights because I believe that empowered, happy stepmothers mean happy stepfamilies. (And happy stepmothers are flexible stepmothers. Research tells us that the more flexible the members of a stepfamily are, the higher chance that family will stay together!)

A Revised Stepmom’s Bill of Rights

I will create a rock-solid marriage with my husband so we both feel confident in our commitment to each other and the family. I vow to always make fun together a priority.

I have the right to be on the parenting team with my husband but I realize that this takes time to develop.

I understand that stepfamilies are formed out of loss and that the people I’m living with are carrying wounds that will affect them forever.

I will congratulate myself every day on a job well done. Even on days when I’ve done or said things I’m not proud of, I will be gentle and kind with myself because I am a brave, courageous woman.

I will work to feel confident and worthy of love.

I will not look to my stepchildren for validation or self-worth.

I will protect my heart with healthy boundaries that help me to be a more loving and present wife, stepmother, and human being even if that means making difficult choices.

I will forgive my husband, the exes in our lives, my stepchildren, and myself for our human-ness.

I will try to understand what living in our home is like for every member of our family.

I will create a sanctuary for myself and make self-care a priority so I can recharge my batteries.

I will choose my battles.

I understand that control does not equal respect or love.

I realize that I don’t have any control over what the ex or the ex-in-laws or the kids think or do. The only person I have control over is me.

I will ask for what I need instead of making people guess what I need to prove their love for me.

I will find the gifts in being the outsider in a family that formed before I came along.

I will focus on building relationships instead of on who is right and who is wrong.

I will take breaks when I’m angry so I can be calm when I discuss issues that affect me but I have little control over.

I will hold on to the things that remind me of who I am.

I will plan things to look forward to with my husband and with my family.

I will remind myself often of the many reasons I decided to be with my husband.

I will choose hope.

I will choose love.

Much love to you all,

Jacque





Stepmoms Speak

1 04 2009

The Stepmom Angle

By Mrs. H.

Mrs. H. maintains a popular blog at A Stepmom’s Say.

Before I met my husband, my dating life was fairly normal. I would meet someone, go out on a date, maybe another. I had one real relationship before I met the man I eventually married. I dated this person on and off for about two years. It wasn’t a good relationship, only because he wasn’t the right man for me. We had been friends before we dated, and it should have stayed that way. Still, as imperfect as that relationship was, nobody ever question my motives for dating him. We broke up, I moved on, and through God’s grace, I met Husband.

Almost from the beginning, people questioned why I would want to date Husband. Now, I know that his friends and family were very protective-his divorce was hard on him, but I was astounded at how critical people were of me. I know that their attitude was from a place of love and concern for Husband, but I was very saddened by it all. If they could see what an amazing guy he is, why was it so hard to believe that I could too? The people that truly were Husband’s real friends came around, and the ones that didn’t are no longer of importance to him. Now that I have the ability to look back on those days with a more critical eye, I realize that dealing with this kind of third party judgmental behavior, was just a prelude to my life as a stepmom. To be sure, there are bad people in the world. Some of them are stepmoms. Some of them are moms. Neither role predisposes itself to ensuring that the person filling those particular shoes will be bad or good. But if we are being honest, stepmoms are far more criticized and placed under suspicion than moms are. People always want to know what a stepmom’s “angle” is. I believe there are a few reasons for this. First, it is not natural to actively participate in the raising of someone else’s children. Sometimes tragedy necessitates this, and when it does, we are far more able to rise to the challenge-especially if that child is of blood relation, like a niece or a nephew. Not only is it not natural, it can be incredibly painful. I can honestly say that nothing has tested me more as a human being than my life as a stepmom. The vast majority of time that I spend thinking about how to better myself as a person, revolves around my role as a stepmom. Second, even though divorce has started to become somewhat of an accepted part of our culture, I believe that divorced individuals still wear somewhat of a Scarlet Letter. While we can accept that our neighbor or fellow church member is divorced, we don’t exactly want our daughter to marry him. Further, why would our daughter want to marry him? Why wouldn’t she want to start with a “clean slate”?

Third, since infidelity seems to have become the shining example of the rich and famous, it becomes the hidden suspicion of every person who comes into contact with Wife #2 that she was “the other woman.” I know many people who are divorced for a variety of reasons-none of which include infidelity; but it satisfies our sensational minds better to think that most marriages end because of some sexual trist by one partner or another. I hate having to endure the sideways glances of the new people that we meet, wondering if I was the reason that poor Stepsons come from a broken home. I know that many people look at our marriage from the outside and wonder why I decided to marry a divorced, bankrupt man with two kids. What’s in it for me? If Husband hadn’t been divorced or had children, nobody would have ever thought to ask that question-but because he is, they do.

Other stepmom blogs, as well as mine, like to discuss the pressures of stepparenting and how this affects their lives. It is a crucial component to who we are. However, what rarely ever gets discussed, and what is just as important, is the weight of third party (including BM) scrutinization of stepmoms. Scrutiny of their motives and of them as people.

All you have to do is read through the comments on my blog or other blogs to see the veracity of this. A normal day when I write about my feelings on this or that, can draw comments accusing me of martyrdom or hatred or bitterness. Somehow, my feelings are more suspect because I am the stepmom. If I express displeasure about something, I must be bitter. If I express happiness about something, I must be selfish. If I criticize BM, I must have an inflated sense of importance, because who the hell do I think I am-I’m only the stepmother.

Forget the pressures of having four children in your home. Forget the drain on your finances or the emotional toll of legal battles. The thing that often weighs most heavily on the hearts of stepmoms is how society treats them. Despite the fact that a good number of these wonderful women do a pretty bang-up job of helping their husbands raise children that are not related to them, they are still treated as second-class citizens. Citizens, whose every move is cast with suspicion as to “what’s in it for them.”

I started feeling better about myself as a stepmom when I stopped letting these third party judgments really get to me. Anyone who thinks that way really has no clue what Husband and I are all about. Still, it can get to me, and I often think about all my online stepmom friends who I am sure go through the same thing. My blog isn’t a self-help page or a textbook diagram of a stepmom. It’s just my thoughts and deeds, in all their imperfect glory. You won’t find answers there. And if you’re looking for an “angle”…Well, I don’t have one.

Maybe my life would be a little bit more interesting to the reader if I was some spiteful, evil stepmother.Or even some selfless Mother Theresa-type giving of her everything to her husband’s first life. Unfortunately, I’m neither of those things-I don’t even look like a big-boobed trophy wife. I’m just a girl who happened to fall in love with a guy that had a little bit more of a past than most of us. And, I love him enough to accept that past as part of our future together.

There is no sainthood, martyrdom or evil plan. There’s just us, trying to figure out how to make it day-to-day.





Stepmoms Speak

25 02 2009

 Rev. Peggy P. Wilkinson ipeggys an interfaith minister and pastoral care specialist. She’s also stepmom to Casey, Kelly and Christy (and happy about it). Check out her website www.screamsofconsciousness.com, where you can sign up for a daily dose of her wisdom, humor, and touching stories. She writes here about how she used a creative solution to overcome tension with her stepfamily.                      

Using the Refrigerator to Thaw Things Out

When my husband and I married, three kids were part of the package. In the beginning, keeping track of what each of them liked to eat was just one more point of “overwhelm” for me. One would not touch milk. Another loved the stuff – but it had to be a certain brand, in a carton, not a plastic bottle. The other loved Gatorade, but not the original green stuff – the blue stuff. The other two loved peanuts but not peanut butter. I could feel myself tense up the minute the fridge was opened, at the outset of every weekend visit, as the kids surveyed the contents with deep sighs of disgust.

A couple of things occurred to me. One was that they should be made responsible for what they liked. And, two – I should make it easy for them to be responsible. The refrigerator could become the great common denominator between us. As it is in most homes, it could become the center of family info and fun.

And there was a third thing. Compassion. Have you ever gone to someone’s house and happened to look in their refrigerator? It in no way resembles the inside of yours. Even the same condiments feel foreign because they are not where you are used to seeing them. Kids are just so out of their comfort zone when they are getting acclimated to life in “Home B.”

So I took three brightly colored plastic placemats and cut them to fit in the shelves of the fridge. When the kids arrived, I asked them to pick their favorite color of placemat. I also put notepads in the corresponding color on a magnet, and attached each of them to the refrigerator door. Each kid now had a special place inside and out of the fridge.

Then we went to the grocery store together and they got their own favorite things. We put those items in their colored place in the fridge. When they needed more of something it was up to them to list the item on their pad on the refrigerator door. They loved it. I actually got a “COOL!” out of them.





Stepmoms Speak

10 02 2009

Andrea Langworthy is a freelancer writer in Rosemount, Minnesota. She’s a columnist for the Rosemount Town Pages newspaper and Minnesota Good Age. www.andrealangworthy.com

We Are Family

By Andrea Langworthy

I received an e-mail survey from a writer who was gathering information for a magazine article. Recipients were asked how they refer to their stepchildren and what the children call us, the stepparent. I have been married to my husband for nearly 19 years, but I’m still not sure what to call his son. At the time we married, my husband’s son attended college in another state and, since then, our relationship has been mostly long-distance. I’ve only heard him call me by my first name or, recently, the nickname used by family and old friends. I like that better because it makes us seem close.

Which we should be. After all, I’ve known him since he was a darling eight-year-old when his father and I worked together. With children the same ages, his dad and I often shared their exploits and accomplishments. Nothing too personal, as we were only co-workers and married to others at the time. I remember the day his dad came to work excited to share the news it was his son’s birthday. He and his wife had given their teenager Prince’s new movie, Purple Rain. “That’s expensive,” I said. He nodded his head proudly.

Summers, our families were together at company softball games. There were potluck picnics, too, where we all chipped in for hot dogs. The kids went swimming in Bush Lake and everyone ate too much potato salad, cole slaw and brownies. Some of the adults drank too much beer. The day always ended with a softball game, kids and parents alike running bases and chasing fly balls.

All this work-related togetherness didn’t prepare us to become relatives when my husband and I married years later during a blizzard. Weathermen had advised against travel and we worried about my husband’s son and his girlfriend who were driving from Florida for the occasion. We should have told them not to brave the elements but it was important all three of our children bless the union with their presence. No one had expressed any outrage, but still, you never know what emotions are bubbling under a cool demeanor. After the ceremony, we headed to a fancy dinner and family bonding.

I’ll admit: at first, I tried too hard. Tried to make us a big happy family, refusing to believe the word “step” was part of it. I envisioned merry Christmases, everyone singing carols around the tree and opening gifts. I arranged birthday celebrations at restaurants and brought party napkins and cake, trying to create a family with little-kid celebrations for kids who were grownups. We all went skiing one year, visited Disney World another, both trips fraught with disaster. Once I let go of my starry-eyed notions, though, it became easier.

I’ve grown to love my husband’s son. I applaud his every accomplishment and ache for any unpleasantness he encounters. When he and his father meet for a yearly Cubs game in Chicago, I cheer every home-run moment they share. When he scoured my newspaper columns searching for a Christmas gift idea and sent me a first edition of Death Be Not Proud, a book I had written was a favorite, I cried.

This weekend, he and his wife will be in Minnesota and we will celebrate his 40th birthday at brunch. I still don’t know what to call him. Stepson feels so distant, yet son, an imposition. As for what he calls me, it isn’t important. When he and I spoke on Thanksgiving, he ended our phone conversation with “Love ya.” That’s all that matters, isn’t it?