Guest Post: What is a Mother?

22 06 2010

John and Emily Visher, the legendary stepfamily researchers found that the more flexible a stepfamily is, the better off they are. In that spirit I want to run a Mother’s Day guest post by guest blogger Traci Dority about what Mother’s Day means to her even though Mother’s Day was a while ago! Traci is a stepmother of two and a stepdaughter. She’s an actress, writer, and producer and is working to create a film called Nuclear Families that’s a wonderfully fun and unique way of looking at blended family life. You can also check out the Stepmom Circles Podcast to listen to my interview with Traci, whose story is an inspiration. -Jacque

As Mother’s Day just passed, I’ve been thinking about the women in my life who have at one time or another held the title of Mother, Stepmother, Grandmother, or Step Grandmother. I looked up in my Random House Webster’s College Dictionary the definition of MOTHER. The one that jumped out at me is; “A woman looked upon as a mother, or exercising authority like that of a mother.” How wonderful that being a stepmother is included in this definition!

I’m a stepmom and I bring to this role my history of having also been a stepchild. In fact, like Tiffany in Nuclear Families the movie (, I have had two stepmothers. Like most children of divorce I had to battle the issue of split loyalties and didn’t initially make the effort to maintain relationships with my ex-Stepmothers.

As a stepmom, I have worked hard to temper my expectations about how my stepkids should respond to me. I’ve gotten clear on what I perceive my purpose is in their lives. The conclusion I’ve come to is that if I can just be a good role model for them, I’ve done my job influencing their life. I’ve promised myself I will always teach them by living my life fully. This doesn’t mean I’m self involved, it just means that my influence in their life is less about what I say and more about what I do. I do show up for them when they need me, but mostly they have two great biological parents that are my stepkids’ “go to” people. Trust me Stepmoms, I know sometimes this is a hard pill to swallow, but we aren’t in our stepkids life to replace anyone. However, I do believe it isn’t a mistake that we are in their lives, for whatever period we are able to spend with them.

All of my stepparents have influenced my life and contributed to shaping the person I am today. Unlike Tiffany in Nuclear Families, I haven’t always had the courage to recognize my stepparents (both current and ex’s) impact on my life. Today, I want to pay tribute to the women who have welcomed me into their lives regardless of my biology.

First to my mom – You are my hero and as I see you in me everyday I feel blessed. In my acting work, I always see an expression that is classic “Shelby”. AND, I owe you and Nanny the gifts of good skin, class, and chattiness.

To my first stepmother – I owe my talent for hosting a perfect party and my love for photographs.

To my second stepmother – I owe my joy for cooking and creating beautiful spaces.

To my Granny – I owe my silliness.

And to my step-Grandmother’s – I owe the gift of acceptance. To Maw- maw specifically  – I owe the belief in the power of prayer.

THANK YOU all for contributing to the woman, wife, stepmom and soon-to-be mom that I am.

Tips to help stressed stepparents navigate the holidays.

20 11 2009

Check out my guest post: Five Tricks to Help Stressed Stepparents Enjoy the Holidays on Wednesday Martin’s Psychology Today blog. Thanks Wednesday for the opportunity! And if you like what you see, listen to my conversation with Wednesday on the free podcast: Stepmoms Circles: The Stepfamily Mix.

Here’s a preview:

As Thanksgiving approaches, instead of feeling the warm anticipation of a day to spend with family, stepmothers across America are downing antacids. And really it’s no surprise. “All of our experimental and clinical research confirms that the sense of having little or no control is always distressful,” says Paul J. Rosch, MD, a clinical professor of medicine and psychiatry at New York Medical College and president of the American Institute of Stress in Yonkers, N.Y. … READ MORE.

New Podcast: Peggy Nolan of The Stepmom’s Tool Box

27 09 2009

stepmomcircles3This week’s episode of the Stepmom Circles podcast is ready to download. My guest is Peggy Nolan, a stepmom blogger whose blog The Stepmom’s Tool Box is a place you’re going to want to hang out during the month of October. Peggy is hosting authors on her blog all month who will be available to answer your questions and who will be giving away copies of their books and other fun prizes. (Yes, I’ll be one of the authors!) For a full schedule of who will be stopping by Peggy’s blog this month, listen in to today’s show or visit or blog.

Peggy is a mom of two and stepmom of four children. As you’ll hear most of the kids did just fine when Peggy and her husband got together three and a half years ago. However, Peggy’s youngest stepson has proven to be a challenge mostly because he is a special needs child.

Not long ago I received a letter from a reader who is a stepmother of a special needs kid and I thought it would be useful to my listeners to discuss this topic because if your partner has a special needs child or you do yourself, then the issues that are common in stepfamilies are made even more complicated. Even if you aren’t dealing with a special needs child, this show will give you some fantastic tools to help you develop  a stronger relationship with your partner and deal with the challenges that sometimes come with stepchildren.

The Stepmom Circles podcast is in an mp3 format. You can listen to it online or download it to your computer or mp3 player.

Do you have something you want to hear about on a future episode of Stepmom Circles? Join the Stepmom Circles group on FaceBook or leave a comment here.

Your Questions Answered

3 06 2009

Q. Hi, I finished your book about 2 months ago, and I want to tell you that it’s the most relevant book I’ve ever read. As a new step-mom I have so many questions, concerns and unexplained (and unexpected!) feelings. I am so thankful for your book! I have been married 4 months, after dating my husband for a year and a half and my step-daughter is almost 6. We have her every Friday night, and then every other full weekend, as well as split holidays. My step-daughter and I get along wonderfully, but my husband and I have no communication with bio-mom whatsoever, and I don’t think that will ever be possible (her choice), though they split up before my step-daughter was even born. We do our parenting completely blind to what happens in the rest of her life when she is not with us, but we present a united front as far as rules, etc. goes, and work very hard to show her a secure and loving home environment. I have some questions that I think you may be able to offer some feedback on. First, what should I say when people ask me things like “Is this your little one?” when my stepdaughter is out with me? When I’m with my stepdaughter, I just say something along the lines of “yes, this is my stepdaughter” and that seems to be ok, but it that ok for her? She always tells me that she’s my daughter, but never tells me that I’m her mother. I want a response that I can be comfortable with, but that will also make her feel good about herself and our relationship.

A. I think it is always best to ask your stepdaughter what makes her feel comfortable. Ask her if she wants you to correct someone in public when they say, “your daughter.” Ask her if she’d rather you not explain your exact situation because the only thing that matters is that you and she know that your her stepmom and you love her. Sometimes kids are more embarrassed when we try to tell a stranger about our complicated families.  We put our stepkids in a loyalty bind when we ask them to call us “mom” or some variation of that and it makes them feel uncomfortable or they get flack about it from their Moms. When I asked my stepkids what they wanted me to do when people asked, “Is that your mom?” or some other related question, they said, “Just tell them your my stepmom.” And that was the end of it. Now when people ask, I’ve gotten used to saying that and it doesn’t have any negative connotations in my mind because it is simply a descriptor that other people understand.

Q. What about when my husband and I are out together without her and people ask if we have kids? This is the absolute worst—as soon as I say that my husband has a daughter, I’m dismissed completely, and the situation becomes uncomfortable. Bio-moms seem to have no respect for a stepmom and they don’t really know what to do with us. Again, I wonder how I can be honest in this situation without making people (especially me!) feel uncomfortable, while at the same time expressing the value the my stepdaughter, my husband and I place on our close relationship. I am more sensitive to reactions than my husband is, and maybe I’m just too sensitive in general, but it seems like they then find you lacking and completely loose interest. If I am asked when I’m alone if I have kids I just say that I have a stepdaughter, and while they loose interest almost immediately then too (unless they happen to be a stepparent) it seems less uncomfortable. Why is this?

A. People are uncomfortable with stepparents for two reasons in my opinion. First, because the stepparent feels uncomfortable and we transmit those feelings. Second, because stepfamilies are different, and people don’t know what to say. Because stepfamilies are formed in the wake of sorrow after a death, affair, or even a “good” divorce, the negative connotations that go along with the title “stepparent” are absolutely real. I know first-hand the discomfort you describe. We have four kids in our home. When people ask how many kids I have, what do I say? Four? One? One and three stepkids? After much trial and effort I came to a response I feel comfortable with most of the time. “I have a daughter and three wonderful stepchildren.” When you admit to a social group that you’re a stepmom it can feel like you don’t belong, but I bet if you started asking around you would see that plenty of people in the room either are stepparents, are married to one, or had one themselves. Rumor has it stepfamilies outnumber first families in the United States. So think about that the next time you feel like the odd-woman out. It might help!

Q. How do I talk to my husband about some of the things I feel because of my role as a stepmom? I can’t share your book with him because he would panic, terrified that I don’t want to be with him because of all these tricky emotions. That’s not the case at all, but he doesn’t really get that. I already tried to express some of the difficulties I face with adapting to this new role, but it didn’t go over well, so now I just keep it to myself. Could your blog incorporate some articles for husbands of stepmoms to read?

A. Yes! I will work on some articles for the blog that stepmoms can hand to their husbands, but in the meantime you can show him this. It is incredibly important that you are able to talk to him about your feelings–the good, the bad, the ugly. All of the research on stepfamilies show that a couple who are able to talk about their experiences within this new stepfamily in an honest and open way have a FAR better chance of making it. By not allowing you to talk about your negative feelings, he is basically living in denial and it absolutely will come back to bite him in the tush. When we suppress anger or hurt feelings for a long time, they come out eventually. And your husband is not alone in his reaction to your feelings. Most men have trouble hearing negative things about their new family or their kids or even the ex wife because they are living in their own fantasty land. They want this new marriage to work. They don’t want to be divorced again. But the reality is that remarriage divorce rates are higher than first marriages. The inability to talk openly about the COMPLETELY NORMAL stepfamily challenges often leads to divorce. If he won’t read my book or any other book about stepfamily development, then read him the sections in my book where other stepmoms talk about their experiences or read a post from a blog by another stepmom. Perhaps that will help him see that what you’re going through. Hopefully he’ll be able to see that what you’re family is going through right now is part of the deal during the first years of stepfamily development. You might also check out Patricia Papernow’s helpful book: Becoming a Stepfamily. It does an fantastic job of showing the stages stepfamilies go through so you don’t think you’re going crazy!

Mother’s Day Prep

22 04 2009

All right. We know it’s coming. Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 10. So instead of waiting until the last minute, let’s get some ideas flowing ladies about how we’re going to spend the day. The goal, of course, is to avoid hurt feelings. Here are a few ideas:

  • Remind your husband that mother’s day is approaching and you would like him to get you a card to celebrate the great job you’ve done stepmothering his children for the past year.
  • Plan to be out of the house doing something you love. I always love a good massage, so that’s on the books for me!
  • Make a lunch or cocktails date with your stepmom girlfriends.
  • Celebrate your own mother with a visit to her house.
  • Ignore the day completely and throw your own special stepmom day.

So how do you plan to spend the day? Please submit your traditions in case the rest of us what to try something new! And I hope you will, at the very least, pat yourself on the back on Mother’s Day for a job well done. Being a stepmother is not the easiest road to walk and you deserve major kudos!

Stepmom Book Club

14 04 2009

Good morning M’Ladies:

I recently came across a fantastic resource for stepfamilies (thanks Jen!) The Library Journal printed an article Stepfamily Ties, which includes reviews of several stepfamily books to help librarians build collections that will really help stepfamilies. Check it out for some great reads. Here are a few noteworthy reviews from the article by my blogger pals:

bitchNo One’s The Bitch: A Ten-Step Plan for the Mother and Stepmother Relationship. by Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Carol Marine 

“Bitch is a worthy, energetic workbook…Chatty and funny, it provides useful ideas (e.g., make small offerings) and sound how-to (e.g., greet each other when the kids swap houses). Fill-in-the-blank sections pose a defacement risk, though the positive tone outweighs it.”

package-dealThe Package Deal: My (Not-So) Glamorous Transition from Single Gal to Instant Mom by Izzy Rose.

“This candid, optimistic memoir readably recounts Rose’s journey from single San Franciscan to stepmother of two adolescent boys in Texas. Clear-eyed, funny observations complement 21 “rules of motherhood” (e.g., compromise but without sacrificing yourself) and show how real people blend.”

And they included my book, yay!

bookcoverA Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom: Expert Advice from Other Stepmoms on How To Juggle Your Job, Your Marriage, and Your New Stepkids by Jacquelyn B. Fletcher

“Fletcher’s excellent what-to-expect guide is perfect for women who were single with no kids before they married into stepchildren. Anecdotes and snippets from stepfamily experts are conversational yet illuminating.”

How does divorce impact a child’s health care?

14 04 2009

Fellow stepmom Theola Labbé-DeBose is a reporter at the Washington Post. Check out the article she wrote in today’s edition: Split Decisions: Vitamins? Flu shots? The smallest health questions get complicated when parents divorce.

The article showcases a subject that is not often brought up. How does divorce impact a child’s health care when a child is switching between houses and parents who might not co-parent well together?

Theola will be co-hosting an online discussion today at noon EST with marriage and family therapist expert Elayne Savage. Click here to send in your questions and to join the discussion.

One item that struck me was the child who only has one inhaler and has to carry it back and forth between houses. Two of my stepchildren had braces a few years ago and had to wear retainers. They were only given one and if they forgot it at our house or their moms, they had to go without it until they were next at the other parent’s home. It caused a great deal of stress for the kids and put the pressure on them to remember. I worked to get in the habit of asking them before they left if they had their retainers with them, but if I was out when they packed up for the week at their mom’s house, then they usually left them on the counter in their bathroom.

Has this kind of thing happened in your homes? Have you had to fight over medical issues? And if you’ve resolved them, how did you do it?

Do Stepparents Get Too Involved?

8 04 2009

If you missed the Good Morning America segment When Stepparents Get Too Involved, check out the link to watch the video. It starts with a talk about supermodel Gisele Bundchen and features fellow stepmom Brenda Ockun, the publisher of Stepmom Magazine.

Though the report clearly showed that neither moms nor stepmoms have it easy, the segment was far, far too brief! And it didn’t really finish what it started. Do stepparents get too involved? Sure, some of us do. We try too hard at the beginning. We jump in without taking time to get to know the kids or the family dynamics. We come on too strong with words of love or authority. But some of us don’t. Some stay too distant. One adult stepchild I interviewed for my book said all she wanted was affection from her stepmother but she received ettiquette lessons from her instead. Stepfamilies are complicated and this brief report barely skimmed the surface.

There are so many stepfamilies struggling to knit their families together who need the tools to learn how to do it successfully. As stepmom Diane Sawyer pointed out, it often takes a decade before a stepfamily begins to feel normal. And I was struck at how bio mom still had tears in her eyes when she talked about watching another woman with her children. Even after years in a stepfamily, we can still feel sadness for our children, grief over a divorce, or anger at the other woman in our life even if we all get along most of the time.

It’s been more than two decades since my parents split up, and even though everyone is settled and both of my families have developed their own identities and rituals, it still pains me every now and again that I didn’t have parents who stayed together. On the other hand, now that I’ve been a stepmom for five years, I am hurt when the kids don’t acknowledge me when they walk in the room, even though I know what it feels like to be in their shoes. To say that stepfamily life is complicated is a HUGE understatement.

As I watched the Good Morning America segment it reminded me yet again of the best advice I’ve ever heard about living in a stepfamily: Remember that every single member of a stepfamily has a compelling story to tell. I know I’ve repeated that on my blog only about a million times, but I have to repeat it to myself often when I’m having a tough stepfamily day–as a stepmom or a child of divorce.

Brenda’s comments about the segment are below.

“I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to represent all the strong, smart, dedicated StepMoms who work hard to create loving and healthy homes for their families.

There was a lot of information from my interview with JuJu Chang that I wish had made the final edit and I do agree with many of your comments that certain elements of this story position “moms” as victims and “stepmoms” as intruders, which is unfortunate. I believe this stereotyping only compounds the matter and does women in general a disservice.

I started StepMom Magazine to increase society’s awareness and understanding about stepfamilies and to dispel the negative perceptions that exist about StepMoms. There is still much work to do! But the ball is rolling – and people are starting to talk – and that’s the first step!” –Brenda Ockun

Well girls? What do you think about the show? Do you think stepparents can get too involved? Did you feel compassion for mom and stepmom or did you side with one or the other? By the way, there are no right or wrong answers. As far as I’m concerned we are all doing the best we can.

Good Morning Stepmoms! (And America, Too)

2 04 2009

Very exciting news! Brenda Ockun the publisher of Stepmom Magazine will be featured on Good Morning America tomorrow! Wahoo! The camera crew will be taping Brenda, her family, and the ex. Tune in Friday morning at 8 a.m. on ABC. Congrats Brenda!


Attention Brides-to-Be

1 04 2009

Most of you probably don’t know this but in my professional past life I was the editor-in-chief of a bridal magazine. So I know a lot about what’s available to help brides plan their weddings. That job came in handy when I was ready to plan my own big day. I read The Conscious Bride and loved it because it was about the emotional journey of becoming a wife. But shocker: that book did not include any information for stepfamilies.

Emily Bouchard, the founder of and a frequent contributor to my blog, has just come out with a resource for brides who have stepmothers or stepfathers, but many of the tips apply to brides with stepchildren, too. Like The Conscious Bride, Emily’s eBook Meaningful Weddings with Step-parents in the Mix addresses the emotional needs of the bride but it addresses the complexity of planning a wedding day that includes blended family members. She handles the topic with great sensitivity and gives brides-to-be some concrete ways to help make the big day run more smoothly. Kudos Emily! And thanks for creating such a valuable resource.

If you’re planning your nuptials, check it out. Just click on the cover of the book and it will take you to more info.

Step Parents and Wedding Bliss can mix!