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.



Guest Post: I’m a Stepmom, Too

25 01 2011

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

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

That’s it. That’s all she said.

I waited.

And waited.

Then I said, “I’m a stepmom too.”

More silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Stepmom Group Coaching: A few spots left

19 05 2010

This week has been nutty but I’ll have a new podcast up next week and more blog posts with lots of stepfamily information. I wanted to alert you all that I am starting another Stepmom Circles Group Coaching session NEXT WEEK. I’ve had a few last minute spots open up so if anyone is interested, please email me at becomingastepmom (at) gmail (dot) com right away. I did not make this session public because it was filled with people from the waiting list.

This session is on Wednesday nights from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. Central Standard Time, May 26 to June 30.

The  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.

The cost of a six-week session is $197. That’s about $32 per week.

As a member of a Stepmom Circles coaching group you’ll receive

  • a FREE half-hour, get-to-know you consultation with me 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

Because space is limited, you’ll need to reserve your spot fast.

Email becomingastepmom (@) gmail (dot) com for more information.

Stepmom Circles Group Coaching Now Available!

8 12 2009

Have you ever felt:

Uncomfortable in your own home?
Discouraged because you and your husband can’t agree on parenting/stepparenting?
Angry at the ex-wife?
Hurt by a stepchild’s behavior?
Surrounded by loving family and friends who don’t understand what you’re going through?

If so, you’re not alone. And I can help. As many of you know I’ve been educating and inspiring stepmothers for years so my fellow stepmoms can create a more peaceful life that is sustainable over the long haul.

I recently started coaching stepmothers one-on-one, but for those of you who need a more affordable option I am offering the Stepmom Circles group coaching teleclass sessions beginning in January 2010.

I will be starting two new groups in January. Each Stepmom Circles group will meet for an hour and a half each week for six weeks over the telephone. Every week I’ll lead a half-hour 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’ll have an open talk for an hour about your particular questions and issues.

The cost of a six-week session is $197. That’s about $32 per week.

As a member of a Stepmom Circles coaching group you’ll receive

  • a FREE half-hour, get-to-know you consultation with me 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

You can sign up for one of the following:

Tuesdays, 9:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m. CST, January 5-February 9, 2010


Saturdays, 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. CST, January 9-February 13

*If you’re interested in an evening class please email me at becomingastepmom (@) gmail (dot) com. If I receive enough interest I will consider adding a third group.

Group sessions will be limited to eight participants per group. Because space is limited, you’ll need to reserve your spot early.

Email becomingastepmom (@) gmail (dot) com for more information or to reserve your spot.

Your Questions Answered: My Stepdaughter’s Wedding

4 11 2009

Hello –

I am at such a loss of what to do. I am a kind and caring person, when I remarried 6 years ago my world turned upside down. I am automatically the wicked witch of the west and nothing I do is right. I have never in my life been treated so poorly by other human beings AND they get away with it.

A little history, we have 9 kids between us. Husband has 5 and I have 4. He raised 3 of his kids, living with his parents. His ex-wife raised 2 kids, took them back to Iowa, remarried. End of that story. The two girls that lived with her basically hated it because they missed out on everything, plus they lived in an attic. The first year I married him we spent the whole year trying to get custody of the two girls, 24/7 that is all he was about.We did not get them, $10,000 later. I took my 3 kids out of their safe environment moved in with him and his two kids, what a nightmare. My kids and I were treated poorly by two spoiled brat girls.

Fast forward. Oldest daughter of my husband gets married, I am asked to handle EVERYTHING. From altering the wedding dress, making bridesmaid dresses, reception, food,etc. Had two months to plan it. Her mom pays $300 towards the wedding dress then writes a note to my husband that she cannot do any more than that.

Everything was planned around the mother, her comfort was the most important, the whole reception was moved to another town because she did not want it have it where the girls live, it made her feel awkward. So breaking my back I did everything I could in the time frame I had. Of course the mother comes and she is all that. I think my husband and I were in about 5 pictures, which we paid for and still to this day have not seen. Totally ignored by the daughters that day. My husband and I sit on the grooms side at the very end of the table because there is no room by the bride. My husband, my daughters and my husband were the only ones that stayed to help clean up.

Doing the wedding did not change anything about my relationship with his daughter, she still does not give me the time of day.I feel like any time doing anything for his children is a wasted effort and takes time away from my children. We just have my 13 year old at home now with us. Two of my children moved out months earlier than they should of because of poor treatment.

Fast forward again. Second oldest daughter is engaged a week ago. Wedding in two months. I am asked again by the daughter to do the wedding. Her mom calls the newly engaged daughter, I cannot do anything to help she tells her. Bypasses the dad because he called her and asked what could she do to help. But she will show up again and be all that.

So I am sitting here, how did I get to do this again? The grandmother mentions, why is her name even on the announcement, she never does anything. So I mention it to my husband, proper ettiquete is those who contribute, their names are on the announcement. The mothers name should not be on the announcement. So word gets to the daughter, I won’t do the wedding unless the mothers name is not on the announcement. Wow, I am the bad guy already and it hasn’t even started.

Important part of all this, my husband has been unemployed, just got a job a week ago, we have been on assistance from our church. We don’t even have enough money to pay our own bills. Christmas is coming…I am so overwhelmed at this time.

Another important point is that I have been in therapy for a few years off and on because of a lot of issues being remarried, being treated poorly and I have discussed the issue about the wedding and he says not to put myself in that position again. My husband says, it will make me look better than the mother. Who cares? I feel used and abused again, it is expected of me to do this and just let it be that. I can’t enjoy the holidays and just knowing that I have to be doing all this during the holidays makes me sick to my stomach. It doesn’t seem fair, and I do realize, being a stepmom, nothing is fair but knowing that I will do everything again and have the mom prance in like she did everything makes me very angry.

Help??? Any advice for a stubborn, abused stepmom?

Dear Stubborn, Abused Stepmom:

Before I write a word I want you to close the door to the room you’re in so you’re all alone. Once you’ve done that I want you to sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground and your arms in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Then take five deep breaths all the way down into your abdomen. Seriously. Do it right now. Here’s a message to all of us stepmoms: STRESS CAN KILL YOU. It is impossible to think clearly and creatively when your body is in a flight or fight response. So take a walk, calm your body, quiet your mind.

Now. Here are my thoughts.

1. Start with what’s working. You are still with your husband. Why? What are your family’s strengths? What really works well between you and your husband? I ask you this question first on purpose. Research by pioneers including John Gottman and Barbara Frederickson has shown that if you have more positive emotions in your life you are FAR more resilient, creative, and energized to get through tough times. So what is going right at this time? What are you grateful for even in the middle of this painful period of your life?

2. Connect with your husband. Do everything in your power to get some alone time with your spouse. Before you share your feelings about the wedding, talk about a memory you both have that was really fun for both of you and made you both feel loved by the other. Then share with him how hard this wedding is for you. Share your hurt feelings and anger with him. Tell him that you are struggling to let go of the anger you have at his children because your feelings are hurt. Use the all-important “I” language. Tell him what you told me, that you don’t know if you can go through this again. Ask him what the first wedding was like for him. Be curious and open to his experience and opinions. Brainstorm TOGETHER ways to handle this second wedding so that you turn toward each other instead of away. Be a team.

3. Stop the rumination. You were hurt at your first stepdaughter’s wedding by her and the rest of the family’s treatment of you. (Understandably.) But this one event has fueled your memories of pain from past events as well and they have built on each other. So, I want you to try to let go of rumination, which is when we think about a painful thing over and over again until it builds and builds until it sucks you down into a spiral of negativity that is very hard to recover from. Focus on the upcoming wedding. That is the issue at hand.

4. Set up boundaries. You were hurt before. You don’t want to be hurt again. This makes sense. Your human! And stepmothers have it especially hard at weddings. If you are too hurt and angry to participate, then explain to your stepdaughter that you want to help her but you also don’t want to be hurt again. Before you have this conversation make sure you know what you would feel good doing for her and what you will not do. It’s perfectly okay to protect yourself.

5. Look at it from her point of view. Weddings are tough on everyone. Stepkids are usually stuck in the middle of some really tough situations on a day that is supposed to be on of the most special in their lives. They’ve got to worry about Stepmom, Stepdad, Mom, Dad, siblings, half-siblings, the groom’s family, and the extended families too! It’s enough to make a girl want to elope. Cultivate your compassion for her, even though she’s hurt you in the past.

6. Forgive. The anger you are carrying around in your heart is real and understandable. But research shows that anger is a killer. It does terrible things to our bodies and our mental health. It is in your best interest to practice forgiveness. Every time an angry thought comes up say to yourself, “I forgive you.” If you believe in God or a higher power, then every time an angry thought comes up say, “I forgive you and I wish the best for you. May God be with you.” Do it over and over again and eventually by choosing to let go of the anger with intention, you will feel so much better.

7. Be kind to you. Don’t wait on other people to praise you or thank you for all your efforts. That’s victim thinking. Instead, give yourself the comforting and pats on the back you need! Find ways to expand your self-confidence and self-love by spending time doing things you enjoy.

New Podcast: Wednesday Martin, PhD

14 07 2009

stepmomcircles3Ladies! I am so excited to announce that I’ve put together my very own podcast! The miracles of technology. I was a DJ in college and have sorely missed spinning tunes and interviewing fascinating people on the air. My new radio show is called Stepmom Circles.

In the first show I talk with author Wednesday MartinClick here to listen.  Or click on the Stepmom Circles Podcast tab at the top of this page for a list of all the shows.

If you’re interested in sponsoring the show, pop me an email at becomingastepmom (at) gmail (dot) com for more information.

I hope you enjoy the show! Join the Stepmom Circles group on FaceBook to discuss the show!



Stepmother Water Torture

10 06 2009

Hello M’Ladies:

We had a submission over at the Stepfamily Letter Project that I felt really spoke volumes about what it’s like to be a stepmom. Check it out:

Dear Husband,

I would never leave you. Not in a million years. But I would consider leavingeverything you bring to the table. Especially on the days when my efforts go unappreciated. Especially on the days when I feel taken advantage of by you, your ex wife, and the brood the two of you had together. There are days when I hate what you bring to the table and I feel so trapped I can’t breathe. So many people are pulling on me asking things of me wanting a piece of me and then criticizing the parts of me they do get because they’re not enough that I don’t know how long I’ll be able to withstand the pressure. I am strong. By God, I am the strongest f-ing person I know. But even mountains crack when the plates constantly shift beneath them and the water wears at them day after f-ing day after day. I have to leave. For a day. For a weekend. I have to vent the pressure building in my chest or I’m afraid of what I’ll do.

Many of us have been at this point at one time or another. It’s amazing how you think you’ve got the stepmotherhood thing down and then something comes along to knock you off your feet.

In stepfamilies, those of us who are not related by blood do not give each other the benefit of the doubt. Even if things have been even-keeled for years, if there’s an emotional upheaval, we assume the worst. Stepmothers assume the children hate them and are behaving that way just to get at them. Stepchildren assume stepmothers are being manipulative so they can have more of Dad’s attention. Ex-wives assume that stepmothers are harming their children even after years of service.

Please. Let’s give each other a break. If a kid tells us something the other household said, let’s not jump to the conclusion that it’s a message from the ex-wife. It could be that the child misinterpreted something that was said, or that the child is the one who is trying to stir things up. Let’s not assume that a snotty kid is trying to get back at us. Perhaps she had a crappy day at school.

I have to admit, I am terrible at this. I am probably lecturing myself in this post. I make assumptions about what is motivating behavior in my stepfamily and usually it makes me more miserable than just talking to the person who I’m having a challenge with to find out what’s really going on. 

But when you’re in a low point and the stepmother water torture so aptly described in the letter above is getting you down, it’s hard to maintain your emotional intelligence. Usually if I give myself a few days to calm down (aided by dark chocolate and a glass of red wine) I can see the situation more clearly.

Teleconference Call Reminder

13 01 2009

There’s still time to sign up for the teleconference call this Thursday, January 15.

Join me for a live one-hour teleconference call with Emily Bouchard, a stepmom of two, blended family coach, and the founder of on Thursday, January 15, 2009, at 6 p.m. PST / 9 p.m. EST as we discuss the challenges and joys of stepmotherhood!

The call is free (except for your local long-distance charges). To participate, all you need to do is submit a question for me here. After you send a question, the instructions for how to get on the call will be emailed to you.

The Doctor is In: Cynthia D. Rudick, Ph.D.

18 11 2008

Guest blogger Cynthia D. Rudick, Ph.D., has been counseling stepfamilies in her private practice for 20 years. She’s a professional mediator and arbitrator in Canton, Ohio, who is also an adjunct professor in graduate counseling programs. For the past 16 years she’s been stepmother of two, now ages 23 and 28. She lives with her husband and two yellow labs. Contact her at 330-492-2941 or email her.

Bonding or Bondage in Stepfamilies: The Choice is Yours
One of the hardest challenges for stepmothers and women in general is to balance their needs with everyone else’s. We are taught from birth to care for others and feel guilty if we think about ourselves. Raising children is a full-time commitment. Raising stepchildren is an overtime commitment. The challenges are huge, the rewards are not immediate, and the conflict can be intense.

Perhaps the most difficult time to enter a child’s life is during their teens. If we are a good parent, we have a need to connect and nurture. Yet this child is experiencing a need to separate, a need to resist what is and find out who he or she is. Developmentally, we are on two different planets. Many battles and deep wounds can follow.

One of the only ways I can justify the slings and arrows of life is to be aware of my transcendent purpose. What I mean is to think about the lessons in this experience that are personal and dynamic for me in a spiritual sense.

Our expectations keep us in resistance to situations we encounter in the reality of our lives. Reality is occurring, but we think it should be different. Our peace of mind or lack of it is measured in the space between reality and our expectations.

Stepmothers are idealistic people. We believe we can create a family where there was already one. Idealistic people have a big space between their expectations and reality. Pain is the result of the distance we feel in the space between how things are and how things should be. We need to work on our growth as individuals instead of trying to get someone else to change.

Our childhoods mark us and we have ideas of ourselves formed early in life – what kind of person we have to be, how we think life should be, how we think others should be. We need to work on our core issues and our own growth if we are to stay married. Women who have done this deep work have developed good relationships over time with their stepchildren. I define a good relationship as an honest one. And we cannot be any clearer with others than we are with ourselves.

 Again, it takes so much time to form a family where there already was one. For example, women often enter a family and then things hit the fan when the stepchild becomes a teenager. The child resists the rules in the stepmother and dad’s home because the birth mother requires no rules. Thus, chaos ensues. The child threatens to go live with their mother. Stepmothers need to hold to the high ground and not be deterred by terrorist threats.

Setting an Example is the High Road
I think we model who we are and how we live by example. This is a much more powerful message than all the words we use. Later in life, when the immature teenager develops beyond the lacks of the birth parent they are tied to, they will understand the guard rail you tried to provide for them. Be proud of your mission here. It may be singular but it is a powerful assignment. Children need to learn these living skills from you even though they may offer extreme resistance.

Model Your Own Virtue in the Face of Powerlessness
Again, it is not so much what we say but who we are that provides such a powerful model for others. Believe in yourself. Teach by example. Yelling and fighting just increase your lack of power. In fact, the louder you yell, the more powerless you feel, and vice versa.

Patience is a Virtue in the Face of Powerlessness
Sometimes our timing is off. We want things to happen now. We want things to change now. These patterns in ourselves and others are firmly planted and it takes time and energy to shake them up.

Don’t Take It Personally Even Though It May Be Hurtful
It takes a long time to build trust. Stepchildren have been hurt by broken relationships and promises. Sometimes the person they lash out at is us – because we are there and we are safe. This is a very backhanded compliment. Behavior can be hurtful, even though it is not personal. Try to find a way to process your feelings. Try to find a method to detach from others’ projections when you have done little to cause the anger. Talk to yourself. Talk to others. Take a walk. Scream. Cry.

Journal, Journal, Journal
One of the safest most private ways to vent emotions is on the pages of a journal. This is a great tool for healing. Also, with enough unexpurgated, unedited journal writing, you will begin to see patterns in your life that you need to change.

Do Some Deep Core Work
Do some mining into your inner recesses with a trained professional. There’s a stigma about going to therapy. I see myself as a coach. We are Americans and we want a quick fix. But to really change, we need to work in the deep end of the pool. Some self-help programs and books only put “whipped cream on poop” and the original problems still smell. I encourage you to do the deep work necessary on your inner life. We change from the inside out. It will pay off in the end. And you are worth it.