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.

It’s Not Fair!

2 07 2009

Let’s just put it out there today, ladies.┬áSometimes this thought crosses our minds: (say it with me out loud) IT’S NOT FAIR!!!!!

There are many parts of stepmothering that don’t feel fair and it feels like there’s not a damn thing we can do about it–if we plan to stay in our marriages.

So as we head off to celebrate our country’s Independence (for those of you in the U.S.A.), I thought I would post some thoughts on what we can do this weekend as our families gather. Refer to this list if you have one of those moments that feels like you’re getting the shaft yet again.

  • Throw a tantrum. To your best friend, in private, in your journal, in your car. It is not healthy to carry anger around in your heart. You have to get it out and sometimes throwing a good, old-fashioned tantrum is the best way to do it.
  • Beat something up.And I don’t mean your husband. A few months ago a friend gave me a rage doll. It’s this stuffed faceless doll that I can beat the hell out of and scream. The first time I tried it I felt like an idiot. The second time, it felt really good. My stepkids have used the rage doll when they’re mad and they now carry it around like a loving friend.
  • Cry. Because it ain’t fair, sister. But you’re strong enough to handle it and you will handle it. But for right now, just feel sorry for yourself and cry.
  • Buy yourself something that’s pretty or smells good. I know, I know, I shouldn’t promote blatant consumerism especially during these trying economic times, but sometimes a new perfume or a gorgeous new (reasonably priced ) handbag are just what the doctor ordered.
  • Find allies.A dear friend of mind is also a stepmom but we’ve known each other since we were kids. Recently we hung out for an afternoon and I commented on how negative we seem to be when we’re together lately. She summed it up beautifully. “There’s no one else I can talk to about this who understands and I have to get it out.” Amen, sister. We decided to wrap up our conversations with positives but the negative crap has to come out first.
  • Refuse to suck it up.If things in your marriage or stepfamily life are hurting you, pissing you off, or making you feel taken advantage of, do not just suck it up. I often hear from stepmoms that their husbands wish they would “suck it up” and just deal. And that’s great if you want to have a divorce later on. But you can’t continue to suck it up over and over again without filling yourself up with anger that will come out in devastating ways later on. Instead, do what you need to in order to be proactive. Find a counselor well-versed in stepfamily dynamics, read every book you can find, communicate with your spouse, create strategies that will help you all live together in greater harmony.

Stepmoms Speak

30 12 2008

A New-Fangled Christmas
by Peggy Nolan

I grew up in a blended family (ok, a puree’d family) so Christmas with step-relatives was no big deal for me. In fact, growing up as a “step” kid (my mom later adopted me and my brothers) paved the way for my future as a step/bonus mom.
When I married my husband, I not only married him, his kids and his ex-wife, but I married into his ex-wife’s family. My “mother-in-law” is really my husband’s ex-wife’s mother…but she refers to my husband as her son and introduces me as her daughter-in-law. Kinda nice…but it does come with a separate set of “between my own ears” issues.

Putting my own personal issues aside, this family arrangement brings forth a realm of blessings that I can’t imagine a stepmom not wanting. My husband and I attended my mother-in-law’s family Christmas on December 20. This gathering included my husband’s ex-wife, her boyfriend, three of my husband’s semi-adult children, and all of “mom’s” children as well as her ex husband and his wife. All together, there was probably 25 people at mom’s. Five short days later, Christmas dinner was hosted by my eldest stepdaughter, and most of the same people who were at mom’s family Christmas were also at my stepdaughter’s.

The blessings are infinite and grow with each gathering. My husband’s children don’t have to split their time between parents. They don’t have to decide who they’re opening presents with, who they’re having dinner with, or how much time they spend at dad’s.

My husband and his ex-wife ended whatever battle they had going on in their marriage a year or two after their divorce was final. By the time I came into the picture, there was no animosity, no drama, no negativity. In fact, I was welcomed into her family as a sister and a daughter. And her kids are free to love me, like me, or leave me. Three of them have chosen to love me (the 4th chooses to leave everyone and be a victim).

My husband’s ex-wife and I are not best friends, but we are friendly toward one another. Her youngest son lives with me and my husband full time – and I know she appreciates where I’ve stepped in because her son is thriving.

Weather permitting, I will be spending New Year’s Eve with my husband, his ex-wife, her boyfriend, her sister, and at least one of her brothers and his wife. Originally, her sister invited my husband and I to join her for First Night…and we were going to spend the night at her place so that we wouldn’t have to drive home; however, with my husband’s ex-wife also joining in, we won’t be spending the night…all in good time, but not now. Even my husband is not ready for that!

Check out Peggy’s blog at:

Stepping Toward the Holidays

27 10 2008

There are few times of year as emotionally loaded as the holidays. For many families, what should be a time of laughter and sharing turns into a turf war and popularity contest. For kids stuck in the middle of two households, it can be a time rife with stress as each side battles for its own traditions, leaving the child in the middle to make sense of it all.

Meanwhile, the adults have good intentions. We all want to make sure the kids are learning the spirit of the holidays and building a tradition that helps define the family as a family. But at what cost? Sometimes, the best thing a parent can do is to let go of an old tradition and let something new take its place, something that better fits the new reality of your lives.

When I was a kid, we celebrated Christmas at two houses. At first, my parents split the holiday right down the middle, and my brothers and I were shepherded back and forth between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Even though we scored some serious presents in that short span of time, it was exhausting to spend Christmas Eve at Dad’s house, then drive at 11:00 p.m. or midnight back to Mom’s so we could wake up there to more gifts and different traditions. Luckily after a few years, my parents thought the schedule was too hectic, too. So we stopped celebrating at Dad’s house on Christmas Eve every year and instead celebrated the week before or after.

Then my father asked us all to write Christmas letters to each other that would describe the highs and lows of the previous year and our hopes for the coming one. Whenever we gathered, we would read the letters out loud to each other, over a box of Kleenex to soak up the many tears of pain and laughter we shed as we shared our lives and emotions with each other.

Eventually, by creating a new way of celebrating the holidays that didn’t include the harried drives back and forth, we were able to develop traditions in each of my two households that are completely separate, but which both make me feel I’m home.

So far, my husband and his ex haven’t gotten to that place of letting go. And as you know, stepparents only get to have so much say in things. My stepchildren are driven back and forth just like I was in the early days, so each parent gets to spend a little bit of Christmas with the kids. I whisper into my husband’s ear about how tough it was to do that as a child and how wonderful it was when my parents decided to expand their view of the holidays.

Maybe next year we’ll celebrate on December 21.

If you’re looking to change up your holiday plans or even if your family celebrates exactly the same way every year, here are a few tips to help you survive the holiday season.

Buy a puzzle. Seriously. One of those giant puzzles with 1,000 pieces or more. Spread it out on a coffee table in a room that is separate from where all the festivities are occurring. It provides a quiet place for you to escape to for a while or an activity that everyone can do together.

Get Creative. Sit down with your partner and brainstorm a new family tradition. Perhaps you all go tubing and then gather around a bonfire to drink hot chocolate. Maybe you spend a day at the beach (if you live in the warmer climates) and eat holiday cookies you made yourselves, while sharing the things you’re all thankful for. You might plant a tree in your backyard and take a picture of everyone standing near it each year to see how much you’ve all grown.

Give assignments. Make sure you’re not the only one doing the work to make the holidays special. Sit down beforehand and draw up a list of what needs to be done and by whom, so you don’t become the holiday maid.

Spread the responsibility. It’s not your job to ensure that everyone is having a wonderful holiday season. Ask everyone what would make the time special and give them the responsibility to plan an event. For instance, if your husband thinks there should always be strings of popcorn on the tree that have been threaded by all the kids, tell him to make it happen.

Take breaks. I’m a big believer in taking down time to recharge yourself, especially at stressful times. Even if you’ve got a household full of guests, you can still create peaceful moments within the chaos. Sneak off to pet the dog for a few minutes. Shut and lock the bathroom door, close your eyes and breathe deeply for ten or twenty breaths.

Notice the good. We’re all so busy with our daily lives that it’s hard to remember sometimes to pay attention to what’s happening right now. Stop whatever you’re doing right this second and notice your life. What do you love about your life right now? What are you grateful for? What makes you smile? Try this exercise during this whirlwind season so you can savor your life and those you love.