Your Questions Answered: It Feels Like My Husband Has 2 Wives

2 02 2011

Dear Jacque,

I have been reading your blog for a while now and I must say, it has really helped. I was hoping you could give me some ex advice.   My husband’s ex has many great qualities, but she is not exactly an independent person, which makes her quite needy to my husband for things that it seems any grown woman should be capable of doing on her own. Of course, in order to get my husband to do whatever it is she doesn’t feel like doing she always throws in the classic, “I’m busy raising our girls”,  or ” It’s for the girls”  something, anything related to the girls.  My husband is a good man and this always works.  This has become tiresome for me at times because I feel like my husband has 2 wives.   Otherwise our situation is quite good. How do we fix this? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Stepmom: So many stepmothers have been in your shoes! This is especially true in the first few years of a new marriage but it can be ongoing for some women. You mentioned that other than this neediness, your situation is good. And I don’t know how old the girls are though I would assume they’re still in the house.

A few questions for you, then. The happiest stepmothers I know are the most secure in their relationships with their husbands. Do you feel loved and appreciated by your spouse? Does he honor you in front of the children and defend you to them? Does he give you authority in the house as another adult? Those are all wonderful signs that he is firmly in your court. Because men with children from a previous marriage have children and an ex demanding attention, stepmothers often feel on rocky ground. Women sometimes have a secret fear that they are expendable to their husbands and if it really came down it they would choose to keep the peace with an ex or a kid before they’d draw a line in the sand and stand with by their side. This is CHALLENGING.

The first thing I would ask you to do is to really look at what is working well for you and your family. Those are strengths you can build on. Then perhaps you and your husband could sit down and make a list of all the things he is willing to do for his ex and those he’s not. The two of you could have a discussion about what you think is appropriate. Then he can slowly begin to remove himself from her life. You didn’t mention what kind of chores he does for her, but here are a few ideas for you.

Be honest. Setting boundaries with an ex wife is a critical developmental stage in stepfamilies. (Listen to the Stepmom Circles Podcast I did with Dave Carder for more information about this.) It can be very confusing for kids if Dad is still coming over to the house to help Mom program the TIVO or shovel the driveway. Kids hold on to the fantasy that their parents are really going to get back together much longer. Honesty is always the best place to start if your spouse feels like he can have an open discussion about this with his ex. If straightforward communication doesn’t work, try these boundary setting strategies along with the honesty:

Be busy. Take a class, go on long walks together, visit friends, join a club, get out of the house. If you’re not home or not available, she’ll have to find other solutions to her problems.

Don’t pick up the phone or answer emails or texts right away. Your husband has responded to his ex’s calls for help up until this point so she has come to expect him to jump when she calls. He’s going to have to re-train her. He can try taking a little bit longer to respond every time.

Send her some names of a few handymen. One of my mentors, the amazing and lovely Gay Hendricks, gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard: Empower others to help themselves.

Pray that she meets someone else or set her up on a date. This sounds crass, I know. But the truth is, if the ex remarries, life becomes MUCH easier for stepmoms and ex-husbands. She’ll have someone else who can come to her rescue. Before I dated my husband I met a woman who wanted to set me up with her husband for the same reason! She wanted him off her back and she wanted him and their son to be with someone she liked. Hilarious.

Protect your marriage. You don’t have to let this get in between you and your husband. We all make choices about how we will react in any given situation. He might decide that until his daughters are out of school he is going to be his ex’s handyman because he feels guilty and he’s a nice guy. If that’s the decision he makes then you’ll have to decide how you will respond to it from now on. You can either decide to allow it to make you feel insecure or angry or annoyed OR you can deny the ex that power over you. You can choose a different reaction. Instead of feeling the rush of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, you can take deep breaths (count four on the way in and five on the way out) and let your body calm down. You can choose to leave his past up to him to deal with. You can decide to be FREE of the feelings she inspires in you. To start this process you’re going to need some distractions! A trip to the gym, a lunch out with friends, a good book, a movie in the middle of the day, removing yourself from the room when she calls, etc. etc.

I hope some of this helps! For more free information you can browse the free articles on this site or listen to my Stepmom Circles Podcast. My book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom has tons of information that’s suitable for all stepmothers or check out coaching with me if you want more in-depth and personalized help. I wish you and your family peace! Be well.

 

 





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





Your Questions Answered: Stepgrandmother and Grandpa Not Allowed to Visit Grandchild

16 06 2010

I have a 23 year old stepdaughter who has a 2 year old daughter. She’s living with her boyfriend and they are a couple. However, my husband and I aren’t allowed to babysit and the only time we see our grandchild is when WE invite them to dinner. In which case I have to clean, prepare, shop, cook and clean up which leaves me NO time to visit. She has offered for us to take the baby for an hour or two but only once and that time she called and said that plans had changed. This whole thing has made me put her on IGNORE. I don’t call or invite them over anymore. I feel used for a free meal in reality. What should I do? My husband is passive. He has said it is his fault and he should talk to her but he never does. He just tiptoes around the issue.

Dear Stepmom:

It must be so hard for you to see your husband being hurt by his daughter again and again. It is awful to feel so taken advantage of and disrespected as you cook, clean, shop, etc. Without knowing why your stepdaughter acts the way she does, it’s hard to say what is going on in her mind. How long you’ve been in her life and how close she and her father are make a big difference. Usually when grandchildren are born, it can change things dramatically because stepchildren can finally appreciate that complexity of what it takes to be a parent and stepparent. But that doesn’t always happen. Here’s my gut response to your tough question:

Tell your husband to do the shopping/cooking/cleaning/ordering take-out. Your anger around cooking/cleaning/shopping is a big red flag to me. It means there is an easy fix! When your stepdaughter and her family come over, DON’T DO all those chores you’ve set up for yourself. Tell your husband to take charge even if it means he will order take-out and he won’t have the house exactly like you would have it for visitors. Then you won’t become a stepmarytr over the chores that your stepdaughter likely won’t notice anyway. And guess what that means? You’ll feel less resentful. This is good! Stepmothers get into this mess again and again and again and for very good reasons but please hear me now all you women who are doing, doing, doing. Ask yourself this: Can the doing be done in a different way so I don’t feel so burned out and pissed off?

Build bonds instead of barriers. Depending on the relationship your spouse has with his daughter, there is a very real chance that you won’t be involved in your stepgrandchild’s life if she doesn’t want you to be. Decide what your big-picture goal is as a couple. Then work to build bonds with both your stepdaughter and her child. To work around the emotional land minds so common in stepfamilies, you might try to focus on doing activities outside either of your homes. Meet them at a park or the zoo or some other kid friendly location that no one has to clean, for instance. Plus if you’re doing an activity like walking around a zoo, it’s easier to talk and mend fences.

Make it all about the baby. When you’re in hard co-parenting situation, most ex partners and stepparents will make all communications ONLY about the children. That way conversations tend to be less volatile and remain focused on the facts: grades, schedule, braces, doctor visits, etc. You might try using the same approach to co-grandparenting. Keep conversations low-key. How is the baby doing? What milestones has she hit? Wow, she’s so cute! I miss her so much. How are you feeling, new mommy?

Compliment your stepdaughter. Having a young toddler is stressful for women who are in their 30s who have full family support and financial freedom. For girls who have children at young ages out of wedlock, you’ve got a 10 on the stress-o-meter. Compliment her on her parenting and her choices about the hard work she’s doing. Offer to help. New moms have it tough in those early years and it’s hard for them to focus on anything besides the baby. That means many new moms offend people without meaning to because they’re so tired they can’t think.

Put Dad in center stage. The relationship with his daughter is your spouse’s responsibility first and foremost. He needs to decide what kind of relationship he will have with his daughter now that she’s an adult. It’s a stressful transition for a lot of parents/kids to make. At one time their relationship was a matter of necessity. Now it is a matter of choice. And both sides can choose not to continue to try to build something. That’s the sad truth. But remember my Dad’s sage advice: At the end of the day, your family are usually the only ones who show up at your funeral. (And yes, stepparents, you count as family.)





Your Questions Answered: Missing My Stepdaughter

8 06 2010

Hi Jacque,

I guess I should give you some of our history. My husband is from KY and was married to his ex for 1 year before she began cheating on him again. They had a prior engagement that he broke off once he discovered her infidelity. However once he took her back she was magically pregnant shortly after that. They married after my SD was born and like I previously said the marriage only lasted one year with many separations in between. I had met my husband, he was here in MD for subcontractor work, the weekend before he split with his then wife. (My stepdaughter was 16 months old at the time.) We were engaged after 5 months and married on our 1 year. BM was in the habit of denying my husband from seeing his daughter unless it was convenient for her etc. so a court order was put into place. My stepdaughter began coming home every other month for two weeks and then an additional two weeks for summer vaca and alternating holidays. My stepdaughter and I love each other very much and are as close as can be expected. Her mother is a tyrant and she would rather live with us but unfortunately there isn’t anything we can do at this point to make the change.

My stepdaughter started kindergarten last year and the transition was very hard for all of us. Another court order was put into place to address our time with her since she was attending school. BM remarried at the beginning of this year. So my stepdaughter has had many changes to overcome and through out it all she has always seemed to enjoy our nightly calls or at least would talk for a few minutes.

The last month or so has seen a lot of bickering from BM, who doesn’t want to follow our order, and there has been a drastic change in stepdaughter’s disposition on the phone. Most of the time she barely answers the phone before saying bye and hanging up. A few times we have gotten her to talk but I just don’t know how to deal with this rejection. My problem is that I miss my SD terribly when she is not home but talking to her at night has sustained me. Now I don’t know whether she is depressed and doesn’t want to talk or she is receiving hand signals to hang up the phone. BM only has her cellphone in the house and I know she doesn’t give my stepdaughter open access to it to call us.

Do you have any tips for me to deal with this sense of loss when stepdaughter is not around? Thank You

Dear Stepmom,

I want to thank you for loving your stepdaughter so much. The loving heart of an adult is a gift to any child of divorce. You didn’t mention how much time you get with her or what your spouse’s relationship is like with his daughter, so I will answer this with some of the clues that I sense here.

Maintain a vision of love. Your stepdaughter is going through some challenging times. One of the great difficulties of stepfamily life is that we simply have no idea what is going on at the other house. We have to rely on our observations, the things the ex says, and clues left by the children, but it sounds like this girl is caught in a loyalty bind. You were right to point out that your stepdaughter is going through some tough transitions: school, a new stepfather. That alone is enough to cause a child to act out. If Mom is badmouthing Dad and you to their daughter on top of the changes, that can have a dramatic affect on how she acts toward you. You didn’t mention if her treatment of her father has changed but that would be another indicator of a girl who is caught in a loyalty bind. (She wants to feel loyal to her mother and so she must cut ties with you in order to do that, for instance.) During this time, maintain a vision of love for your stepdaughter that encompasses the big-picture view. Hopefully someday she’ll be able to return your love. But for now it sounds like it is far too complicated and far too painful for her to do so.

Be consistent. Children respond to consistency in action. They pay attention to what we do. And over time that has an impact on their sense of selves and their world-view. If it’s possible, continue the phone calls but instead of asking her questions about her life (this could make her feel like she is ratting out her mom) instead share things with her about you. Chat about an age-appropriate movie or book or world event. Tell her about your best Halloween costume. Take the pressure off of her and she’ll thank you in the long run. And if she doesn’t thank you, I’ll do it for her. THANK YOU!

Educate yourself about childhood developmental stages. You didn’t mention whether or not you have any children of your own. If you don’t, then do a little reading on the developmental stages of children. Believe me, it makes it a lot easier to accept and understand a kid’s bad behavior if you understand why it’s happening. Sometimes a surly face is caused by their age and stage in life and not because they’re mad at you.

Protect yourself by understanding stepfamily dynamics. All of the stepfamily folks will tell you “don’t take it personally.” And they are right. This girl’s behavior is not aimed at you. Or if it is, it’s not because of you. It’s because of the situation she is in. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to shut off our feelings! Nor should we. But you need to protect your own feelings by educating yourself about stepfamily life. (Read Between Two Worlds by Elizabeth Marquardt to understand children of divorce, for instance.) Work to develop other ways of finding validation and love besides your stepdaughter so that you feel like a whole, strong, lovable person NO MATTER WHAT. Even if she doesn’t want to talk to you (or can’t because it will hurt her mother,) you are still a glorious soul who deserves love and appreciation. NO MATTER WHAT.

Meet other stepmothers. Having other women to talk to can help normalize your experiences. Find a group of ladies who can help you brainstorm positive ways to overcome your stepfamily challenges. (The upcoming Stepmom Circles Retreat would be a great way to meet other stepmoms!)

Build positive experiences. When you do see your stepdaughter, have fun together! Work on ways to connect in the time you do have and she’ll remember those moments when she gets to make her own choices about who she is going to call or visit. And that day will come faster than you think.





Stepmom Circles Seminar: The Ex-tra Woman: Success Strategies for Stepmoms to Better Cope, Communicate, and Co-Parent with the Ex-Wife.

3 06 2010

What’s your relationship like with the ex-wife in your life? Do you constantly compare yourself to her? Are you angry that she influences your calendar, finances, and marriage? Believe it or not, there are things you can do to make this tough relationship run a little easier. In the upcoming Stepmom Circles two-hour tele-seminar The Ex-tra Woman you’ll learn how to develop Ex-ray vision to help you with the other woman in your life. Learn techniques to help you:

• Reduce stress, anger, and resentment toward the ex

• Feel more included in decisions that affect you

• Deal with feelings of competition or jealousy

• Stop fighting with your partner about the ex

• Figure out what you can change and what you can’t

The Ex-tra Woman seminar is a live two-hour event held over the telephone. You can send me questions you want answers to before the event which I will answer during the seminar. If you think of something during the event, you can send me your question by email.

Please note: I will be recording this seminar so that I can offer it on my website to women who can’t make the date. If you participate in the live telephone seminar, you will get a free copy of the seminar on CD so you can listen to it as many times as you like.

DATE: Tuesday, June 22

TIME: 6 to 8 p.m. Central Standard Time

WHERE: Wherever you are. Just call in from your phone. You’ll get instructions when you sign up.

COST: $25 for the seminar, plus any long-distance charges that apply for you to call the seminar phone number. You’ll receive a FREE recording of the seminar after the event. You can pay via PayPal or by check.

WHO: I’ll be teaching this seminar and coaching people through their specific questions. If you’re new to my blog, this is me: Jacquelyn B. Fletcher is a stepfamily expert trained by the National Stepfamily Resource Center and the thousands of stepmothers she’s interviewed. She’s the author of the award-winning book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom, the host of the popular Stepmom Circles Podcast and co-founder of The Stepfamily Letter Project. Learn more at http://www.becomingastepmom.com. Erin Erickson, the founder of Stepchicks, co-founder of The Stepfamily Project and the writer behind the popular Erin Experiment blog will be joining me on the call.

HOW DO I SIGN UP? Send an email to becomingastepmom@gmail.com

Can’t attend but still want the information? CDs of the event will be for sale on my website later this summer.






Your Questions Answered: Troubled 18-Year-Old Stepson Moves In

3 06 2010

Hi Jacque,

I know that you must have advice for stepmoms like myself. I feel like I am going to fall apart. My children are 26 and 21; my husband’s are 27 and 21. We live his home state because, as he put it, “his kids needed more help than mine did”.

I am happy to say that my kids do seem to be doing fairly well. I was divorced in 1997 and remarried to DH ( dear husband) in 2002. I have a really civil divorce and my marriage is more solid than my first was. Yes, it has its quirks, but seems to be very solid in most ways. When I moved here, my husband was non custodial of the younger son. The ex is a bi polar (yes, is being treated medically for it) mom that finally moved to another state….best for all involved. The younger son got involved in marijuana before I was in the picture and then got into real trouble; didn’t graduate high school, but did get GED and got arrested, ran to another state, came back and went into rehab and was in a year long court run drug program. He graduated and then moved to another state with his girlfriend….he was 18 at the time.

Things were going very well for a year and a half. My husband thought it would be best if the young man moved back up here away from the girlfriend and her family (the younger son lived with them…they are kind of a hippie commune type of family) until the father of that family had enough and moved into a house where none of his kids and their live in BF/GF could live. The son came back to live with us this past January, saying that he was going to go to college.

He was a problem immediately. First evening back he asked over some old friends and they broke something and were up until the wee hours. My husband finally went downstairs and told them all to leave. I was fuming. There were no ground rules set before this young man moved in. I told my husband that it should be done and it would at least start us off on the right foot, but no….this is my DH approach…reactive, not proactive.

The young man smokes like a stack and is also back to using marijuana and probably more. He got arrested about two weeks being back because he didn’t have a driver’s licence or car license and had outstanding fines from before….we are talking a couple thousand dollars. My DH did NOT pay the fines. He got a public defender and the young man got fines reduced, but had no way to get to work to work the fines off. So, as it was still winter, my husband or the young man’s grandmother took him and picked him up. Once in awhile I was asked and it was fine.

I am in the uncomfortable position of, 4 days a week, being the one that comes home well before my husband. I struggle, but try to be pleasant and have left most of the discipline, or lack of, be by my DH. The young man exhibits bi polar and depression symptoms, but has no insurance to pay for a counselor. He pays for nothing here…which I don’t agree with, but husband is doing it until his court dates (yes there is another as the son took his car out and was immediately arrested again). are over. My DH is not saying what will happen after the court dates and all fines are paid and the car license and license plates are paid for (not by us). The son has no plans now of going to college and does have two jobs.

I personally think that it is time the son moves out on his own since he never has been. I would be happy to give him the money for a deposit on an apartment, but that is all. In my opinion, he needs to learn how to sink or swim. My husband says he feels that the young man would completely fall apart and go down the toilet.

Jacque, I feel that I am getting angrier and angrier with my husband for his lack of setting ground rules and he and his son keep having the same fights over and over….smoking in the house when we aren’t here, staying up all hours, letting people in after we have gone to sleep and then they stay over night….ugh……Thanks for letting me vent.

Dear Stepmom,

This is a toughie! No wonder you needed to vent. I want to remind you that I am a coach and not a therapist. A therapist might have some very different ideas for you and I highly recommend seeking out help for your case. Here’s some food for thought I can offer you:

Do whatever it takes to get on the same page with your spouse. When you have a troubled kid like this one, stepparents typically need to take the back seat and let the biological parent do the heavy lifting of parenting. Usually, a stepparent’s main job is to support their spouse while he deals with the child. In this case, I would still say that your job is to not be out there parenting this kid, but he is living with you, so it’s absolutely fair that you be able to create guidelines for the household WITH your husband. This will not work if he is not on board. Tough kids like this kill remarriages. So if the two of you can align yourself as a team you can better help this young man while strengthening your marriage. Okay, so easy enough to say, but how the heck do you do that, right? First of all, go out and read Divorce Busting by Michele Weiner-Davis, right now. I interviewed her for my book and the woman is brilliant. Second, find a third-party who is a trained stepfamily expert who can help your husband see the benefits of working with you as a team to help his son. I would suggest Ron Deal for a situation like yours. Setting boundaries for this kid is crucial or he will never learn to grow up and this is doing him a MAJOR disservice. The only way we learn is to feel/live through the consequences for our actions. Setting boundaries for his behavior in your house with very clear consequences for not following them is a must in my book. Especially at his age. If he were younger, I would give you different advice.

Turn on your compassion. I have said this again and again but I believe so strongly in the power of curiosity and compassion that I’m going to add it here, too. Shift the prism that you are looking at your stepson through to curiosity. What is going on in his mind? What is motivating his behavior? Why is he so angry or why does he hate himself so much that he is ruining his life in this way? What is the pain that he carries around in his heart that makes him act out so dangerously? What kind of help would enable him to turn his life around? You’ll notice that these questions lead you away from “Look at what this kid is doing TO me, my marriage, and my household” and turns your thoughts to an area that is less emotionally loaded. He’s another human being on this planet. How can you turn on that objective, kind, compassionate part of you? There is a big upside for doing this: You reduce your own anger and that means you lower the amount of stress hormones in your body. You’ll feel better, be able to brainstorm solutions more creatively, and–according to some research–live longer!

Help him get the help he needs. If your stepson is struggling with a mental problem like bi-polar disorder, he needs help. Dad could do some research and put together a list of resources for his son. But he can’t make him get help. This boy is old enough to decide whether he’s going to get help or not.

Set up a structure of support for yourself. For the short term, do whatever you can to support your own gentle heart. Spend time with your own children. Stay out of the house when your stepson is there until your husband gets home. Start a book group. You and your husband  will need to find a way to solve this together and it’s not going to be easy. Make sure that you’re taking good care of yourself so you can come at this problem feeling good about your own inner world.





Your Questions Answered: Ex Seeking More Child Support

3 06 2010

Dear Jacque,

I am wondering if you can point me in the right direction?  My husband’s ex-wife just filed suit seeking more child-support.  We feel very strongly that she is doing incredibly well right now in respect to support and that her request is very unreasonable.  I don’t know how to research legal defenses/arguments, etc. that an ex-husband should make when he is faced with a suit seeking more child support.  Do you know where I can find that information?  When I do a “google” search, all that I found was information to help the ex-wife claim more money, as opposed to helping the dad prevent a larger and unreasonable child support obligation. Thank you very much.

I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with that stress! The laws in each state are so different that it’s hard to say where to start researching but I have a few ideas. You might try going to the best family lawyer in your state and ask if they have experience with stepfamilies. Ask all of your friends for referrals. Again, make sure they have stepfamily experience. You could listen to the podcast I did with stepfamily law expert Margaret M. Mahoney, professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of Stepfamilies and the Law. As far as I know her book is the only one on this topic. The Stepmom Circles podcast I did with Margaret is archived and available here in The Store.

Also here are a few organizations that help fathers:

http://www.fathersrightsinc.com/
http://www.fathersrights.org/ (this site has attorney referrals too)

I know that there are no easy answers here. As a stepmother I can see how challenging this would be. I know I don’t need to remind you but I’ll say it out loud for all of our benefits: Both a biological mother and father have a legal and moral obligation to financially support their children until they are successfully launched into the world. Rarely do these situations end up feeling fair to anyone. And money is something that is often in short supply on all sides and can easily be used as a tool that exes use to continue fighting. If the ex would agree to work with a mediator instead of going to court, that would help everybody. Court battles are not fun.

If you do end up having to pay more support out of your household to support your husband’s former you’re going to have to deal with the anger that brings up. Perhaps you can reduce your resentment and stress over the situation if you focus on the fact that A) You are doing a good deed by helping to raise these kids. B) You’re racking up some seriously good karma! C) This will come to an end. The kids will grow up. The payments won’t continue forever.

You might also look for a financial adviser or coach who can really help you put together a plan that will work for you and your family no matter what happens with the child support payments. Good luck!





Your Questions Answered: Traveling with Stepkids

27 05 2010

Hi Jacque,

First off, I want to thank you for the wonderful resources you are making available to women around the world like me. Reading your book and listening to your podcasts have given me very important support and wonderful perspective on becoming a stepmom.

I’ve been dating my partner for over a year now and moved in with him about 7 months ago. He has 2 beautiful children from his first, 6 year long marriage who stay with us most weekends and on holidays. After listening to some of the horror stories you retell, I know that I am very blessed in our situation. The kids have really opened up to me and like me (their mom does not discourage this) and my partner is a great, strong parental figure who tells them how important I am in the family, is not afraid to discipline, and is a great communicator, both with me and the kids. Of course I’m worried about the teenage years (only a few years away), but I know that working as a team we can handle it.

BM has been difficult over the last few months, as she seems to be in a less stable and satisfied frame of mind. She is quite controlling and judgemental, and doesn’t usually listen to reason, as she considers herself the authority on everything. She’s living with another woman now, although the kids do not seem to be informed if this is a relationship or a friendship and we’re just going with the flow, as it’s not our place to comment on what’s going on in that home. Perhaps you have some pointers on how to handle delicate situations like this, and what to say if questions arise?

What I’m most concerned about, however, is a big upcoming transition, and how our blossoming (still young) step family will adjust. I’m going back to school to get my masters and because my school is across the country my partner and I (and the kids) will have to do the long-distance thing for 2 years. I’m committed to him and we’ve talked it through- he can’t come with me because of his job and because he wants to be close to the kids. I’m not as worried about him as I am about the kids- how they may pull away from me because they see that I’m leaving them, that I’m hurting their dad by being far away, even though I need to take this next step for my career and myself.

Do you have suggestions for things I can do to better prepare them (and all of us) for this transition? To make them feel safe about it and to know that I’m still there for them, even though I’m far away? What are potential stressors and pitfalls we should be aware of that will affect our relationships- both my partner and I and our whole family? Also, suggestions for smart ways to plan our special holidays and times together in between school so that BM doesn’t freak out if we want to travel with the kids?

Thanks again for all the virtuals support and advise. It’s been so helpful over the last several months and I look forward to more podcasts to come.

Dear Stepmom,

It’s fantastic that the kids’ mom has not discouraged them from opening up to you. This is a BIG DEAL. You didn’t mention how old the children are, which does impact my response some. But I’ll give you my general thoughts. First of all, how you will all handle the children’s questions about Mom’s new partner should be discussed by all the adults if possible. Or at least your boyfriend and his ex need to have that discussion so you’re all on the same page. There is a book you might take a look at as a resource: Families Like Ours by Abigail Garner talks about what it is like for kids to be raised by a gay parent or parents. It’s a wonderful resource.

As to your long-distance relationship, you’re right to be concerned. This will impact your bonds with the kids and your partner simply because you won’t be physically around. We have lovely new technology that will enable you to keep in touch (skype, ichat, etc.,). If you want to stay connected you might set up skype calls every week with the kids just to check in with them and see how they’re doing. Write them letters. Stay in touch and stay as present as you can in their lives despite the distance. My advice is the same for your partner. Use the time apart to get to know each other even better through your conversations.

Traveling with the children is something that your boyfriend should also discuss with his ex so that it is not a surprise. Sometimes exes have to provide each other with a letter in order to travel with the children. Find out now what she will be comfortable with and you can then plan what you’ll have to do. I would be prepared to do all the traveling to them for a while just in case the ex is not okay with having them leave.

Since you are a relatively new stepfamily, rest assured that the comfort level with things like travel often changes over time as everyone gets to know everyone else and learns to trust each other’s intentions with the kids.





Your Questions Answered: How much is my job?

27 05 2010

Dear Jacque,

I just found your great website, and will pick up your book today. Thanks for this service!

I have need some advice, so I thought I would write in. First a little background – we’re all a mess: My husband and I have full custody of his 11 year old daughter. We’ve been together since she was 9 (not long), and my husband has had full custody since she was 6 (Mom left). Mom is local and has visitation rights. My SD sees her most weekends for all or part of the weekend. Mom has health problems that got significantly worse last year: blood disorder, for which she takes the chemotherapy pill, and problems with her feet and back. She uses a walker and wheelchair, and was told recently that she will never walk again. She is now on disability. I’m 38, with no living children of my own. We were pregnant with a baby girl last year, but I missed carried at 20 weeks. Shortly before losing the pregnancy, I was also laid off from my job. And my change of lifestyle has resulted in losing some friendships. So I’ve been home with my stepdaughter full-time for the last year, managing our day to day life – homework, dinner, soccer mom stuff, etc., plus doing a little freelance work, and also going through a big grieving process of my own.

SD has been acting out a lot – of course! The last year has been very hard on all of us. And she has the teen years looming. She lies, sneaks stuff, whines, talks back, and is super emotionally manipulative. She puts little effort into chores or studying. When we ask for an attitude change or call her out behaviors that are impacting her grades, she cries and asks us what right we have to judge her and be mean to her (!). She accuses us of not loving her. We get the cold shoulder, the eye roll, the arguing, etc. Basically she cannot handle any discipline or critique without melting down. And It’s really not all doom and gloom around here. We tell her we love her multiple times a day. We both try to help her talk about her feelings about her mom and the divorce. Her dad is playful and affectionate with her, does lots of sports stuff with her. She and I have good after-school chats and sometimes go for treats or do yoga together. We pay for horseback riding lessons. But still. I don’t think anything we do for her will be enough to make up for her Mom being sick.

My question is: what should my role be in disciplining her and in helping to maintain the rules of our house (which are pretty basic: respect, pitching in, doing your best)? And also: what should I make of her behaviors? Are these normal developmentally? Are they normal blended family behaviors? Are they the products of loss and stress? And if the latter, is it my job to fix them? I want to support her emotionally and help her learn better ways to communicate, and I know she is going through some hard times. On the other hand, the way she talks to us and the way her grades are sinking is just not okay. On the third hand, I’ve gotten very emotionally wrapped up in this dynamic – bracing myself for the arguments and the whining and the blow offs and the blow outs. Sometimes it is just too much, and I want to say, “Who cares? You guys work it out. I’m going to a movie – see ya’!” I would never walk out, but sometimes it is tempting.

One of the extra stressors is that her Mom has totally different parenting values than us. She never says no, gives SD whatever she wants, lets her watch TV all hours, smokes in front of my SD, criticizes my husband, claims she is going to sue us for custody (never does), complains to SD about her money problems, and gives SD guilt if she wants to do something with her friends instead of visiting her. Basically she treats SD like her pal, or worse, her caretaker, and doesn’t do any of the tough work of parenting. I’m doing all that hard stuff voluntarily for her kid, and I do, I admit it, resent it sometimes. Especially when SD is so negative to me.

So basically – SD’s Mom has been really lax with her, and my husband is lax with her sometimes and strict with her sometimes, and she’s never experienced a real system of consquences for her behaviors. That’s what my husband wants for her now, and I agree, but it feels like a huge uphill battle. Up a hill of baggage that was here before I ever came on the scene. I want to back him up, and he needs my help to figure out a good system. And I certainly want SD to both behave better and feel better inside. But after my own losses, I need time and energy to get my health and career back on track. Am I allowed to have typical stepmom boundaries even though I have full custody? Even though her Mom does not mother her and somebody needs to? I love SD and don’t want to let her down. I also don’t want fights and constant negativity. How much of this is my job to fix? And if I don’t have a role in fixing it, how do I just live with it?

Thanks, Jacque!
Stepmom in Boston

Dear Stepmom in Boston:

Thank you so much for your eloquent letter and your amazingly generous heart and spirit. You and your family have been through a lot and the fact that you remain open-hearted is a major accomplishment!

I think you are correct in your assessment that your stepdaughter’s behavior is due to her relationship with her mother. It sounds to me that this girl is acting out because she is sad and scared about her attachment to her own mother. That could be why she is so needy with you and your husband. The fact that she is acting out the way she is says to me that she feels safe with the two of you. Safe enough to test you to see if you’re going to go away like her mother has. Safe enough to test your love for her (and her dad’s).

Children of divorce are often hungry for love and attention and it seems like no matter what you do they are never sated. Her behavior sounds very fear driven to me.

As a full-time stepmother you are in the unique position of being loved for your attention and hated at the same time because you are not her mother. It’s a hard place to live, especially when you are in your own grieving period.

I agree that the girl needs to have boundaries set up and real parenting done by you and your husband even if she whines and pushes back. Kids need boundaries to feel safe. The way to do this is to talk with your spouse about household rules and then he can present them to his daughter and tell her that you have the authority to enforce them when he’s not around.

Now a few questions for you. How can you be a full-time stepmother and feel good about it? She’s going to annoy you more than your husband because she’s not your biological child. You don’t have the same well of unconditional love. But she is still a child that is in desperate need of love and attention.

The rewards we see from parenting our stepchildren come in small little things like a smile, or an attempt at a connection by them in the form of a conversation, or maybe even a thank you. But some of us never get a “Thank you” from our stepchildren for how hard we worked. That leads me to a second question for you. What’s the big picture vision for you in this situation? When this girl successfully reaches adulthood with your help, how will that make you feel? Will you be proud of yourself?

Many veteran stepmothers cite their own personal growth as a major reward of the sacrifices they have had to make in order to be part of a stepfamily.

We all need boundaries. So when you ask if you can have stepmother boundaries, my answer is yes with a caveat. I don’t know what type of boundaries you’re asking for here. But you have the right to be treated with respect in your own home. You have the right to feel good in your own home. Since you are raising this girl, you have the right to parent her (with the support and authority of your husband backing you up). You also have the right to take breaks if you need them. At the end of the day, she’s not your biological child, but she is going to remember every thing you’ve done for her. She’s going to remember those conversations at the table after school and all the times you drove her to soccer and showed up in her life. Kids watch we do more than they listen to what we say.

Your role is something that you all need to figure out together. How much is your job? Your job is exactly as much as you can handle, as your husband helps you create, as your particular stepfamily defines. And you have a say in what your role looks like.

Bless you for your hard work, your huge heart, and your sacrifices.





Your Questions Answered: Stepdaughter Questions Stepmom’s Authority

12 05 2010

Dear Jacque,

What do I do and how should I feel when my stepdaughter tells someone when they ask her who she listens to more, “I listen to my dad because he’s my dad but because stepmom hasn’t been in the picture that long I don’t listen to her”? I have known her and her brother for 7 years and married 5. How should I feel and what should I do?

Dear Stepmom,

I’m so sorry that after all this time you have to deal with rejection from your stepdaughter–yet again! I’m guessing that you’ve worked hard the past seven years and this feels like a slap in the face. I would imagine that you’re hurt and angry. Talk about feeling like an outsider! Before I offer you any thoughts I want to point out that I think you’re amazing! You’re working your tail off and I am so humbled by your generosity of spirit, your kindness, and your big open heart. Women who say “Yes!” to becoming stepmothers are the most lovely giving women in the world.  Now, here are a few things I would offer you:

Don’t second-guess your feelings. It’s so easy to be confused about how we “should” feel as stepmothers. The fact that you asked me what you should be feeling really struck a chord. There are so many “shoulds” around stepmotherhood. We “should” feel more maternal toward our stepchildren. We “should” love our stepchildren. We “should” help create a big, happy family. We “shouldn’t” feel hurt when a kid says something hurtful to us since they’re just kids. There are so many pressures coming from society and from our own expectations that it’s enough to make us crazy and doubt our own gut instincts. But your feelings are your feelings. Acknowledge them and please don’t torture yourself about them. For goodness sakes, you are a human being, and you deserve to be treated with respect–especially from yourself.

Thank your stepdaughter. Wait. Huh? Bear with me. Your stepdaughter is telling you, or this person she told, the truth about how she feels. This is really valuable information you can use to improve your situation at home. The more honest we are with each other about what stepfamily life is like for each of us, the more we are able to bond in the long run. This is really challenging but the only way to begin making changes in our lives is to be able to identify what needs to be changed.

Rally your husband. My guess is this child has not received a strong message from her father that you are an authority figure in her home. Dad’s support is what gives stepmothers authority of any kind. Sit down with your spouse and have a discussion about what each of you thinks a stepmother’s role should be. Typically it works best if Dad is the primary disciplinarian but stepmom needs to feel a sense of control, too. Explain to him that if he says to your stepdaughter, “Honey, you have to listen to your stepmother. When I’m not here, what she says goes,” and upholds that in the heat of the moment, it will help make your life and your marriage SO MUCH BETTER. Oh, and by the way, it will help your relationship with his kids, too.  (I’ve got a lot of information about creating household rules together in my book in case your partner needs some convincing.)

Reconsider what you think you need to do. Sometimes adolescent stepchildren flare up against us even if they’ve known us for a long time. But one of the beautiful things about stepparenting is that the kids already have at least one biological parent around. Leave the parenting to the parent and back off. They are his kids. Let him deal with it. I know that sounds extremely harsh, but sometimes disengaging a bit is the best thing you can to do for the long-term health of all of your relationships. Settle into more of a coach, teacher, or friend role with your stepdaughter and she might accept more guidance from you that way.

The truth is that no matter how long you’ve been in a stepfamily you’re always the outsider. Even stepmothers who have been married for twenty or more years are referred to as the “new” wife. Even when a stepmom has been around decades longer than the first marriage lasted! You will never be related to your stepchildren by blood and in their eyes that means you’re always a bit removed (nevermind that you’ve helped with homework, cooked 1,000 meals, cleaned up vomit, helped pay for college, etc. etc.). This is a fact we need to accept as stepmothers. Once we do, we can open our hearts to the many different kinds of relationships we can develop with our stepkids.








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