Guest Post: Author Tami Butcher

6 01 2012

Hello Dear Stepmoms!

I get letters all the time from families looking for books to read to their young children about remarriage (besides Cinderella), but I don’t have a lot of answers to give. Tami Butcher wrote My Bonus Mom! Taking the Step out of Stepmom, a picture book for kids that helps families talk about divorce and remarriage. Yay! She’s written a guest post for my blog today. If you’ve got young stepchildren in your household, check it out at  www.mybonusmombook.com. Happy New Year everybody! Love, Jacque

As a child, Tami Butcher grew up with what she lovingly refers to as her “bonus mom,” a nurturing, caring woman many in society would refer to as a “stepmother.” Tami’s parents amicably divorced when she was 11, and for the sake of Butcher and her three sisters, decided to keep each other fully involved in their children’s lives despite the divorce. Eventually both her parents remarried, but they continued to share birthdays, holidays and special times together with their children, as well as with their new spouses. Because of her parents’ efforts, Butcher and her sisters grew up feeling blessed for having two moms and dads instead of “stepparents.”

I had two important women in my life. One was a savvy businesswoman who taught me how to run for Student Body President and what to put on a resume.  The other, an animal lover who never knew a stranger, taught me the importance of a good book and the meaning of hugs instead of handshakes.  One woman was my biological mom, the other was my “bonus mom.” Nancy came into my life when I was 14. I liked her right away, she exuded warmth and kindness. Heck, mom liked her just as much as us. Looking back, it was not one particular thing, but an assortment of many things making Nancy a great stepmom. She never tried to take mom’s place, she never competed for affection and certainly never said a bad word about dad’s “ex.” What she did tell us is that she would love us and our dad unconditionally forever.

Both my parents have been remarried for 28 and 30 years. In those years we have shared holidays, birthdays, graduations, births and deaths together, all of us. As children of a divorced family, you can’t imagine how much easier it made life for us. Guilt, hard feelings, nervousness, taken away because my parents decided early on to put their own egos aside for the sake of us kids. I am an adult now, happily married 15 years with 3 children of my own. What I learned from my parents and bonus parents I could never have gotten from a textbook or manual, I learned it from their actions and their example. I know how difficult it must have been to bite their tongue at times. Anger and bitterness certainly followed a divorce, I know that now. But it is also a state of mind that you can adjust. My parent’s certainly adjusted theirs and because of them, my 3 sisters and I grew up loving life, loving our family and loving our bonus parents. A lot of friends ask, how did you do it? Your family could not have been comfortable sharing all those times together? Really I ask? Try coming to Thanksgiving dinner at Mom’s house, where she and Nancy are in the kitchen laughing and dancing while Dad and Ken are on the couch together cheering on their favorite football team giving high fives. You have to see it to believe it, but I promise you, it’s real, very real.

 





New Stepmom Circles Podcast: Ron Deal and StepDads

21 04 2011

Finally!!! A new Stepmom Circles Podcast is ready. Ron Deal is one of my favorite guests. In this show we talk about Ron’s new book, The Smart Stepdad. There are even fewer resources for stepdads than there are for stepmoms. Ron always has so much wisdom to share and this podcast is not just for stepdads. It’s for moms who have kids and married a man who became a stepdad to their children. It’s for stepmothers because is the advice he gives is applicable to all of us. Find Ron at http://www.successfulstepfamilies.com

Enjoy!





Stepmothers: Life Always Grows Toward the Good

12 04 2011

I do a lot of work with stepmoms and stepfamilies, but I’m also a freelance writer. A few years ago I met a man while researching another project. His name is Cliff and he has Locked-In Syndrome. When he was in his 40s, Cliff had a brainstem stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak. Like the man who wrote The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Cliff could only communicate by blinking his eyes.

After I met Cliff, I ended up working on a book called Climbing the Mountain, which is a collection of writings by stroke and brain injury survivors. Cliff wrote one of the essays. In it, he talks of the many challenges of his situation, but he ends his essay with an upbeat discussion of how much he loves his wife, children, and God.

I cry every time I read his story. But it also reminds me that life always grows toward the good. No matter what.

When I’m feeling pissy and mopey and rejected and hurt because stepmotherhood is sometimes challenging, I need to remember Cliff’s gift to me: Life always grows toward the good. Thank you, Sir, with all my heart. You’re an inspiration. You’ve made me a better stepmother and person.





New Stepmom Circles Podcast: Being Healthy is a Revolutionary Act

9 02 2011

I know I’m always thrilled to do new Stepmom Circles Podcasts because I love talking to all my guests! But I have to give you a disclaimer, this one was really fun because Pilar Gerasimo, the Editor-in-Chief of Experience Life magazine is not only a brilliant thinker, she’s also a dear friend. I always have a blast doing shows with her and learn something new at the same time. On this episode of the Stepmom Circles Podcast, Pilar and I talk about her new manifesto Being Healthy is a Revolutionary Act and why it’s critical that stepmothers take good care of themselves. If you haven’t listened to my first podcast with Pilar, you’ll want to go back and hear that one, too, after you’ve heard what she has to say!

P.S. Listen to this show and you’ll understand why you should never again feel guilty about taking care of yourself!

Have an idea for a future podcast? Shoot me an email at becomingastepmom (at) gmail (dot) com.

How Do I Listen? Click on the links to the show above or visit HERE to browse all of the Stepmom Circles shows. You can listen to it online or download it the show to your mp3 player. It’s free. Enjoy!





Top Blogger Award From ReMarriageWorks.com

25 01 2011

Ladies,

Check out the email I just received:

Dear Jacque,

I am pleased to inform you that your blog, “Becoming a Stepmom,” has been selected for RemarriageWorks.com’s first annual Top 10 Remarriage & Stepfamily Blogs List, recognizing your outstanding blog for the year 2010.

Our staff reviewed nearly 100 blogs about remarriage and stepfamily life, and determined that your blog is the best.  To be selected for our Top 10 Blogger List for 2010, we chose blogs that are the most informative, supportive, and inspiring for millions of remarried and stepfamilies, including our RemarriageWorks.com audience.

In our newly published article, “Top 10 Remarriage & Stepfamily Blogs for 2010,” featured on www.RemarriageWorks.com, we announce our top 10 list along with our quick assesement and rundown of what excites us most about your blog.

On behalf of millions of remarrieds and RemarriageWorks.com, thank you for producing your blog. I personally think it helps remarriages and stepfamilies succeed.

Sincerely,

Paula Bisacre
Publisher
WOW!!!! Thank you so much to Paula and her team. Another big thank you to all of my readers and to the listeners of my Stepmom Circles Podcasts. A HUGE thank you to my stepmom coaching clients. You inspire me every day with your courage and great big hearts. And of course, my husband, stepkids, and daughter deserve a big shout-out for giving me the inspiration to continue writing about stepfamily life and working with so many wonderful stepmoms all around the globe.




Are You Addicted to Suffering? Stepmothers and Ex-Wives

17 11 2010

In the past month I’ve had several conversations with stepmothers who think about their partner’s ex constantly. They just can’t seem to stop obsessing about her. Please raise your hand if you’ve ever spiraled into negative thoughts about the ex that just won’t quit. Is everyone’s hand raised?

I always pay attention when I have the same conversation with more than one stepmom. And lately there’s been a lot of talking about the concept that we’re addicted to suffering. Having a challenging ex to deal with for some couples can feel like you’re charging into battle with your mate, ready to fight side-by-side. it makes you feel closer to your spouse. It can make you feel needed and give you a sense of control. But that is not a solid foundation to build a marriage on, my friends.

How many of you read every email the ex sends or talk to your husband about every conversation he has with her? I have two challenges for you this week.

#1. Take a week off having to know everything. Let your partner deal with the ex. If her emails make your blood boil because you’re so hacked off at her treatment of your spouse, I’m talking to you. Don’t read them for one week. You don’t have to read them. In fact, you’ll probably be happier if you don’t. And you can still support your partner emotionally as he deals with her challenging emails.

#2. Turn her into a human being instead of a monster. I wrote about this in my book, but it’s worth repeating a million times. We stepmoms often build up the ex (living or dead) into this monster or mythic being that has superpowers to make our lives hell. But the truth is, she’s just a regular old human being just like you. There could be many reasons for her behavior: fear, sadness, loneliness, etc. How can you turn her into a human being? Write her a letter? Imagine how she would describe her life to her best friend?

Rumination is something that I often struggle with. My thoughts get snagged on something and off I go down into the pit until I’ve made myself even angrier than I was to begin with. There is a part of me that is addicted to suffering, because the truth is, I could STOP those thoughts at any time. If you’ve read my book or listened to my Stepmom Circles podcasts you’ve heard my pineapple exercise. It works. I still use it sometimes.

What do you use to help you stop negative thoughts and end your suffering? The ex-wife is not ours to control, but our thoughts about her are!





College-Aged Stepdaughter Moves in for the First Time

11 11 2010

Dear Jacque,

In your research and visits with others, have you come across the issue of a 21-year-old stepchild moving in for the first time after 18 years???? She is living with us while going to college part time. My step daughter and I have had a strained relationship for a LONG time. I gave it an honest effort in the beginning, but she and her mom have been best friends ever since she was in elementary school, besides the lack of boundaries between my husband and the ex. I won’t go into all the details of the strain things have been over the years. I just know that my husband is THRILLED to have his daughter living here on a daily basis and treats her like she is a china tea cup. Our 2 daughters get treated like the solid cappuccino mugs by dad. He even acknowledges that he treats her differently. He has much higher expectations of our daughters than his oldest. She only talks to me when I say “Hi” first or if I ask her a question. Other wise, she easily walks right by me without a word, or just leaves the room when I walk in. I am trying to be open with my husband on the issues at hand, but it just ends up putting a strain on us. I feel like I have to revert back to just not saying anything about his daughter, other than to my counselor. Working outside the home, or times when she is gone, has been my sanctuary. Thank you for your time on the website and podcasts. A friend of mine told me about them both, as well as the Stepfamily Letter Project.

Dear Stepmom,

You’re going through what many stepmoms endure during the first years of a new marriage but at a different stage in your life! Thank you for your letter. It’s a wonderful reminder for all of us that the most important thing in stepfamily life is: Flexibility. You just never know what’s going to happen. Once the first years of a new stepfamily are worked through, there are other challenges that will arise. That is the nature of life. How you respond to them is the real question.

In your case, I would go back to the basics of stepfamily development. Even though you and your husband have been together long enough to have two children together, you’re really back in the early stages of stepfamily life since your stepdaughter has never lived with you. Here’s my advice:

  • Work together. I know this is challenging territory for spouses. Dads get defensive. Stepmoms get hurt and angry. It can turn into a nasty cycle. But I believe it’s critical that the two of you work on this together. The Smart Stepmom by Ron Deal and Laura Petherbridge has devoted several chapters just to dads. It’s my favorite tool for dads who are having a tough time discussing a child with a stepmother.
  • Understand your stepdaughter. It is not unusual for stepdaughters to move in with their dads at some point during their teens or early twenties. In fact the research about this is pretty incredible. Dr. James Bray saw this in his work, which he describes in the book Stepfamilies.  It is a time in their development when they need a connection with their father. My guess would be that your stepdaughter has some emotional healing to do and that’s why she’s living with you right now.
  • Define boundaries. You have every right to define the boundaries in your home to a 21-year-old girl who has just moved in. Have a discussion with your spouse about the rules. You might have to bend on some and he might have to. But make them the house rules so that they can be upheld by anyone. You might also discuss how long your stepdaughter will be staying with you.
  • Focus on your relationship with your stepdaughter not the rules. You’re not ever going to be a parenting figure to this girl so instead, why not turn on your curious mind? Consider what it’s like to be her. Find out what she likes/dislikes. You mentioned there has always been tension between you and that’s usually due to one party feeling like the other party has taken something away of value or is threatening to. What kind of relationship could you develop with her if neither of you felt threatened?
  • Take responsibility for your responses to tough situations. When my stepchildren don’t say hello to me, I sing out, “Hello!” like I’m living in a musical for the day. It’s so ridiculous that I avoid getting mad and spiraling into toxic rumination (negative thoughts that repeat over and over and over again). And sometimes the kids will say “Hi” back or they will roll their eyes or whatever, but it doesn’t matter as much to me because I kept my body and mind in a calm place (on my good days).
  • Chill out! Have some fun with your spouse. Get a babysitter for ALL the kids and take a night off every single week so you are continuing to build a strong marriage despite the difficulties occurring at home. I MEAN IT. This is tough. You need to have a lot of fun to balance out the hard parts.

Thank you so much for your wonderful question! Hang in there!





Stepfamily Estate Planning: Do you have a will?

11 11 2010

Hi Jacque: Your book and emails have been so helpful to me over the last couple years, and I’m happy to report that I’m getting married next month to a wonderful, wonderful man (who happens to have two young sons). Thank you for sharing your wisdom and compassion and helping me feel comfortable with the unexpected path toward stepmotherhood that my life has taken!

I do have a question for you that I’d love to see addressed (and love to get other stepmoms’ feedback on). My fiance and I haven’t had a conversation about wills, and as much as I don’t want to be thinking about that right now, it does seem like something we should do once we’re married. So I’m curious: how do most stepfamilies handle inheritance issues? My assumption is that most married couples who have children together only pass on an inheritance to the kids once both parents have passed away. Is that the norm with married couples when stepkids are involved, too? If – God forbid – something were to happen to my fiance, the last thing I’d want is to end up with financial difficulties or to start fighting with the ex about how much the kids should be getting. I certainly would want to fulfill my fiance’s goals as far as funding his kids’ college educations, but I’m not sure if/how that should get codified in a legal document. What should we be thinking about as we start talking about wills?

Congrats on your upcoming wedding! You are so smart to ask about this. Estate planning is a challenge no matter when you discuss it, but it is absolutely critical. And just because you get things down on paper now, remember there is plenty of time for you to change things later on if your heart or your circumstances change. I HIGHLY recommend finding a professional estate planning attorney to help you do this. Make sure to ask if they are experienced with stepfamily issues and you can educate yourself beforehand with some of Marjorie Engel’s wonderful work on stepfamily financial issues.

Instead of guessing, work with a financial planner, also well-versed in stepfamily matters, who can help you determine the amounts of life insurance you’ll need, retirement, college savings, etc. Just going through the process of working on all of this is a wonderful way for you and your partner to work through some of these challenging issues. If you have children from a previous marriage or you have a new baby together, you’ll need to discuss how you both want to take care of your children.

You make an assumption here that assets are only left to the children once both parents have passed away. Though that certainly does happen, it’s not always the case. In a stepfamily, if dad dies before you do, things can get extremely complicated. This is the stuff legends are made of. You need to be taken care of but dad might want his childrens’ needs addressed as well. Some divorce decrees state that a portion of or all of Dad’s life insurance will go to his children directly or to support his children. What does your husband’s (or your) divorce decree state?

You have no legal relationship to the stepkids when Dad is living or when he’s gone. We found out that in Minnesota if my husband and I both died in a car crash, the state makes the assumption legally that my husband died first. That means his assets are transferred into my estate, which means that our biological daughter would inherit everything and my stepchildren would get nothing of their father’s estate, UNLESS we specify our inheritors in our wills or set up a trust to handle the life insurance payouts.

SO. To answer your question. It is CRITICAL to have your estate planning done when you’re in a stepfamily. Though it can be extremely difficult to have the kind of conversations you’ll need to have to get this done, just imagine how much harder it would be for the people you leave behind if you don’t do it. ICK. Plus if you don’t have a will or trusts set up to transfer your assets to the next generation, the government will step in and try to do it for you. You’ll estate will go into probate so the loved ones you left behind will have to pay to have the government tell them what it thinks you wanted to do with the money.

Not good. As I’ve mentioned in past articles and in my book, the laws are different in each state. Have I scared you yet?

I had a brief conversation about legal issues in a Stepmom Circles podcast with Stepfamily Law Expert Margaret Mahoney. It is in the archive so you can find it here.

All right, my ladies. Let’s discuss! Do you have a will? Have you looked at it recently? How do you work through some of emotional landmines with your partner?





Your Questions Answered: Becoming a Stepchild at 52

6 10 2010

Dear Jacque,

My Dad got married 10 days ago. I have lived with him for the past 25 years, part of that time taking care of my mom and then sharing the house with him after she died for 13 years. I am having a hard time letting go of my responsibilities in the house and I refuse to call my dad’s new wife my step mom. I should share with you that I an 52, and the house prior to the marriage was willed to me. Now that is all up in the air as well as my emotions. My question is do I have to recognize her as a step parent? I just want to call her my Dad’s wife.

Thank you for sending in this question! Your email illustrates something we can all learn from. The dynamics at play in stepfamily life happen no matter how old you are. Why? Because ultimately when a new stepfamily forms, it throws all sorts of things out of balance. It raises questions that family members have rarely asked each other before: Who are we as a family? What does family mean? Who is on the “inside” and who is on the “outside?” Will my father’s feelings change for me? What will this mean to my inheritance? These are all valid questions. And scary questions.

When there are end-of-life issues at stake, we don’t want our loved ones to feel like we’re being greedy, so it’s even more awkward.

My advice is almost always the same on issues where confusion has arisen due to stepfamily dynamics: Talk about it. As uncomfortable as it might be, it is important that you have a conversation with your father about how this is going to change the will. And it is only fair that he be open with you about it. Death is not something we like to talk about. And talking about what will happen to our assets when we go is not fun either, but it must be done. You are going to have to deal with this when he passes. And if your father’s new wife outlives him, you will have to work with her. You might use language such as, “This is not going to be a comfortable conversation, but this new marriage raises many questions for me. Instead of walking around wondering, I think we should have an open conversation about end-of-life issues.”

Change is difficult. As scary as it might be for you to contemplate a different kind of life, I will ask you this: What good can come out of this for you? If you don’t get the house or decide to move out and have to remake your life into something that looks very different from what you thought it would be, it will be scary. But sometimes the scariest things we face are the best for us.

As for the name question. You should call your stepmother what you feel comfortable calling her. You are both adults and this is a relationship of choice. She’s not going to be raising you or parenting you. Again I would advise having an open discussion about this. “You know what, it makes me uncomfortable to call you stepmom. How about if I just call you by your first name? What do you think?”

Eventually everyone will figure out what the new normal is in your family.  Best wishes to you during this tumultuous time.





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

28 09 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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








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