Stepmothers: Forgiveness

9 02 2011

Yesterday afternoon I watched Oprah. It was a heart-stopping show about three young girls who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their father and older brothers. At the end of the show Oprah passed along advice to them that she received from one of her mentors. She didn’t mention who it was but it took my breath away so I wanted to share it here. She said, “Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been different.” Whoa. It’s not about condoning anyone’s behavior or inviting them back into your life or even wishing them love and peace.

Does that resonate or what?

Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been different.

For us stepmothers perhaps one place to focus this powerful thought is on our husbands. (Do you secretly wish he’d never been with another woman or had children with anyone else?) Another place: Our exes. Another place: Our own childhoods.

This week I’m meditating on that phrase: Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been different.

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Group Coaching Class: Winter Session Starts Soon!

2 02 2011

Looking to connect with other stepmothers and find out concrete things you can do help yourself and your family?

The winter Stepmom Circles Group Coaching session starts in two weeks!

“It was such a positive experience! I carry with me Jacque’s fun loving, caring and supportive voice. It’s a voice I will carry with me for a long time.” –Stepmom of 2

The Stepmom Circles group meets for an hour and a half each week for six weeks over the telephone. We discuss stepfamily challenges based on your needs. (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). Each woman in the group is given the chance to ask questions, share challenges, and receive guidance.

Dates
Wednesday evenings, February 16 to March 23.

Time
6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Central Standard Time

Cost
The cost of a six-week session is $197. The conference call each week is long-distance so you will be charged your regular long-distance charges by your phone carrier. If you have a digital plan with free long distance then the call is free. Payment can be made via Paypal or by check.

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

  • a FREE half-hour, get-to-know you consultation with stepfamily expert Jacquelyn Fletcher over the phone before the class begins
  • email access to me between group coaching sessions so you can ask questions that come up during the week
  • an autographed copy of my book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom

Email becomingastepmom (@) gmail (dot) com for more information or to reserve your spot in the upcoming session. Space is limited.

“Thank you again for such an enlightening 6 weeks! So much insight and shifts in my thinking…I really needed that. I look forward to the day when I can look back on these tough times and laugh. Thanks for the inspiration! You truly made me think in ways that were outside my comfort zone. I look forward to the continuation of my journey, and hope to get to that place of peace that you talk about. I hope that someday I can inspire other stepmoms as you have inspired me. Thank you for your words of wisdom.” – Stepmom of 3





Your Questions Answered: Stepdaughter Questions Stepmom’s Authority

12 05 2010

Dear Jacque,

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

Dear Stepmom,

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

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

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

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

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

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





Your Questions Answered: A Cherished Stepmom is a Strong Stepmom

4 11 2009

Hello! I am 31 years old and the mother of a great 7 year old daughter. I have raised her by myself for the last 7 years since her father left me while I was pregnant and never showed up again. Don’t worry, it was not a big loss. He was abusive and would probably be abusive to my daughter as well so I’m glad this relationship is over and done.

I dated this guys 5-6 years ago who also had a son. At the time, his son was 4 years old. He had just divorced his wife and although I had been raising my daughter for a few years and thought I was over the whole thing of separation, it seemed that both of us could not handle it. His relationship with his ex-wife was complicated and his guilt feelings towards his son were just too intense to deal with. My feelings against men and how they can be jerks did not help. We mutually decided to part ways and moved on with our lives. We did click big time however and were both sad about it not working out. We kept in touch, mostly through news and events. He published a book and sent me an invitation, commented on the pictures I posted on Facebook and I did the same. We always wondered about each other but never made any moves to reconnect.

Until a year ago where he invited me to dinner. I accepted, not knowing what to expect. That night was magical. We were in love instantly. We dated for months and spent every minute we could with one another. Introducing the kids (they were now 7 and 9) was not all that easy. They argued and fought and we were both a bit discouraged, both taking the side of our own kids. Dad’s apartment was small and although we tried to sleep there so that it would be equal for the kids, it just made no sense. My daughter had to sleep on the couch and we just had no privacy. My house was bigger, had a yard and an extra bedroom for his son. Although this was better, our children would argue. My daughter would resent having to share all her space with these two new guys in our lives and his son would cry to go home every once in a while. We were torn.

Dad has his son one week out of two so the week he did not have his son, he would spend it at my house. It just made sense. I started seeing a little family unit building up and I was ecstatic! My daughter was bonding with him and he started teaching her to ride. My bonding experience seemed more difficult to me but I try my hardest. Then came the New York trip. My new boyfriend explained to me that him and his ex were in business together and had to go to a conference together to New York for a weekend. I had been dating him for two months… what could I say? I felt awkward about the whole thing but decided to say nothing and forced myself to smile and pretend I was happy for him. After all, she is remarried and has another kid with her husband. They would never cheat, right?

That was one of the worst weekends of my life. I became this needy pathetic things that cried and imagined them together. Their car ride together made my stomach turn. What would they talk about? Would he share intimate details of our life with her? For the first two months when he told me about his relationship with his ex, I was amazed. They had managed to work out their differences for the sake of the child. They were even able to be in business together and have supper as a new family unit. Surely I would fit in there and everybody would be happy… I was not so sure anymore.

Christmas eve came and he spent it in her family, as he did every year. It allowed him to see his son and he joined me right after. It felt very awkward to have to tell my family: he is with his ex’s family, to see his son and then he’ll join me… but everybody smiled and said what a great father he was to accept this and do it for his son. So that was ok…

We went to his mother’s for the first time and it was incredible. You should have seen the look on his face. He was beaming. He was so in love and I felt so loved. I left my daughter with my parents that time because I thought it would be awkward for her but after meeting his mother, I couldn’t wait to introduce this new amazing woman to my daughter and have them bond.

But then, trouble started… Dad calls his son every day. He talks to him for a few minutes. It bothered me. I did not want it to bother my but it did. It seem to break the bubble we were in. Why was I so selfish. I had a daughter, I could understand… but we would go away together to these getaways and he would ask: is it ok if I call my son… I said sure, what else could I say. But it just broke the moment for me. Inside was conflict. How could I be this selfish person? How could I resent a father calling his son. It irritated me and I could not explain why. I would become silent after the phone call. He almost always called him in front of me and I felt awkward. I felt like I was in the intimacy of someone. As if I needed to leave the room. I felt all weird.

Dad had always done some activities with his ex-wife’s family and although I felt very awkward I decided to give it a try. We went to a movie first. We walked in and his ex-wife was there. Meeting her was intimidating. She seemed much older than me (no this is not a nasty comment), I felt like a kid. She seemed so composed, so mature. Then her and my man started teasing each other, about his weight and about her spending and I just wanted to run and scream. My daughter was standing by my side, not knowing what to say and Dad’s son simply walked away from us and entered his own world. I could feel my daughter feeling left out and tried to make up for it but everything seemed fake. We watched the movie and my man squeezed my had a few times. That made me feel better somehow. But the look in his eyes was tough to bear… It said: Please be ok with this, please allow this to continue… pressure mounted.

One weekend we were asked to bring his son to his grandmother’s, from his mother’s side and after a family activity that went relatively well, we dropped him off. My daughter was disappointed because at this point she was getting along with the son and could not understand why he had to leave to be with his grandmother when he was supposed to be with us. I could see Dad would have liked me to get out of the car and meet the grandparents. But they were his ex’s parents. How could I? They would never like me. They would judge my every move. But how selfish of me not to do this for my stepson and my man. I could see how happy it would have made my man but how could I. I suffocated at the idea. I let him get out of the car and stayed inside with my daughter. But the grandmother came right out to great me and give me kissed. I smiled back, wanting to crawl somewhere deep into a cave!

Then came a puppet show. Dad’s ex had tickets and invited us. I could not refuse could I? This was a nice gesture on her part. I did not want to go and would have much preferred walking on hot coals than feel this awkwardness again but how could I say no. So we went. And it was just as awkward as I imagined. Was I making it worse? How could I change my attitude to make it better. I looked at Dad’s kid, who barely acknowledged our presence and wondered why we were there. He did not care about us. It did not help us bond. I seemed to only relieve Dad, who could keep the peace with everybody. So, I was doing it for him? I looked over at my daughter and felt my heart break. She would just stand there. Dad’s ex did talk to her, everybody was nice. But Dad’s son was playing with his actual brother. They are boys, they played boys games, nothing my daughter was used to.

Time passed by and we decided to try to move it together. As soon as my house (which was too small for all of us full time) sold, I started regretting my decision. It was so difficult ripping myself in two. One week I would feel blissful and happy with my man. We would have long conversations over wine while my daughter played by herself in her room and I felt I was neglecting her. The next week was a family type of weekend: movies, outings, fun suppers. We bought the house. We fought over little things all the time. Tension was building all the time. When we actually signed for the house I wanted to cry… of terror not joy. How could we do this. I did not even know how to be a couple with him… how could we be parents together? His ex-wife and her family was more present than I thought it would be. Phones calls for forgotten shoes, discussion of business. The day I moved out of my house… to go into storage, she called 4 times while he was sitting with me, waiting for the movers. And he had to leave me to go to his son’s baseball game… I was resenting her, him and his son. How could I resent a 9 year old. I could I? My parents were divorced. I hated that feeling of resentment from my dad’s girlfriends. How could I do that to a kid. What kind of a person was I?

We moved in, and I figured things would get better…they didn’t’ I try to get involved in the decoration of the child’s room. I figured it would help me feel closer to him. It didn’t. Then came all the little things. He had snacks before bedtime, I didn’t allow them. Dad insisted on clearing the plates, I didn’t see the point. Everything was an argument. There was baseball practice 3 times a week, the games etc. All these with his ex present. What would we be doing there? Dad’s child did not seem to care. My daughter was resenting all this energy placed on Dad’s son and started acting out, talking back. Dad started resenting my daughter. We were getting nowhere. Then the ex started joining in, the resentment… Booking things during our weekend, choosing the extracurricular activities without consulting us etc… I started to resent ex/mom. Dad did close the business and did realize that activities with me and my daughter were not possible but what about important moments in his son’s life? Did he have to choose between us? Son’s birthday was held at her house and although I tried talking to her, seeing what I could do to help out, I was not needed. I did not go to the birthday party. That may have been a mistake but I just felt so left out. I didn’t want to fight. I didn’t want to have to kick and bite to have a place in my man’s life. Wasn’t he supposed to fight for my place and say: We want to be included… but he never did. He did not want the confrontation and so I started resenting him.

Everything became an imposition. We found out about an appointment the night before, about a game the day before…we cancelled plans, reorganized our lives. All that for Dad’s son. I felt resentment for everyone around. I watched my daughter, follow with her bad attitude and complain and wondered where it would end.

Then my brother told me about his wedding and how my dad was uncomfortable coming. Mostly because of a fight with me but also because of the divorce and my mom being there. Was that my future? Feeling left out of my man’s life? Spending Christmas apart… birthdays… how would this work.

So that’s where I’m at. I’m lost. I don’t know what to do anymore and I don’t feel good about myself. I don’t want to feel resentment at my stepson. I don’t want to feel guilt for my daughter. I don’t want to feel both guilt and resentment towards my man. I’m not happy… will I ever be. We talk and talk me and my man but it never seems to end. We go through one crisis after another. And in the end, he will always do what is best for his son. How can I blame him… but can’t we find what’s best for his son, my daughter and for me? Why must we choose one person?

Does it get better. I’m I too impatient? Do I want too much? How do I keep the right balance of sacrifices and self-respect? How do I keep the love of my life… without losing myself completely…

Dear Reader,

Oh, honey! What you describe is an introduction to Stepfamily Life 101. My heart goes out to you and to your family. The good news is that you’re not alone. The dynamics happening in your home are classics. So what do you do about them? I’ve got a couple of ideas for you.

You and your man. There is a reason you’re feeling resentful of your stepson and the ex. I would say that your husband has not clearly marked a line in the sand in regards to his love and committment to you. It is tempting for all of us with children to put our kids before our spouses but this is a mistake. It is an even BIGGER mistake in a stepfamily. During conflict, stepfamilies tend to break down biological lines, which you described above. That means that when there is a fight, all the blood relatives gather together to face down those who are not blood. But in a stepfamily your relationship with your spouse is the weakest link. And it MUST be strengthened for your marriage to survive. If you felt that he supported you 100 percent, then you wouldn’t feel so insecure about the time he gives to his son or that he spends with the ex (more on that in a minute). If you felt secure in your relationship you would be less resentful, and more open to learning how to feel comfortable with the various extended stepfamily members. It is a mistake to think in terms of kids first, then marriage. You have to know he is committed to you and to the marriage and you both have to prove to each other that you’re in it for the long haul. Instead of thinking “kids OR us,” you both need to be thinking “Us AND the kids.” It’s a subtle distinction. But your marriage is in danger if you are continually feeling betrayed by your spouse. Committing to you does not mean that he’s not committing to his son.

2. The ex wife. It sounds like your husband has not set up clear boundaries with his ex wife. This is problematic on several fronts. First, he needs to make his committment to his current relationship if he wants to stay in it. Second, when boundaries are not clear between divorced parents, children get very confused. And this can be really painful for children and it makes accepting a stepparent difficult because they are holding out the hope that their parent’s will re-marry. Even though she is already remarried, I would bet that your stepson still thinks his parents could reunite. Look! They spend Christmas together! Look how they laugh and tease each other! This kind of camaraderie between exes can develop over time and kids can adjust to it just fine, but in the early days when your relationship is still on shaky ground, this can be detrimental to all involved. Your man should have a conversation with his son that goes something like this: “Honey, I know this might be confusing since your mother and I get along so well, but we just couldn’t be married. And we’re never going to be together in that way. We both love you so much. But I am with (YOUR NAME HERE) and I love her and I need you to be respectful of her because she’s an adult in this house.”

3. Your stepson. Let’s just assume for a moment that you’re a good person. Let’s say that you are hurting, and overwhelmed, and feeling betrayed and scared. Your resentment of the time your man gives to your stepson is understandable when you are coming from such a shaky place. It’s clear you don’t want to feel that way, so what do you do about it? Try to put yourself in his shoes. Really open your heart to what it must be like for him to live with you and his Dad and his Mom and Stepdad. Why does he cry at your house? What is making him so sad or scared or hurt? Be curious about his personality and what he is going through. How will this experience with you shape his entire life? Ten years from now what will he have learned from you? We are all human and doing the best we can with the cards we’ve been played. Forgive yourself.

4. Lighten up. Have some fun together! Positive experiences are the things that help new stepfamilies bond. So have some fun as a family and as a couple. Do something enjoyable with your daughter. Then take your stepson out just the two of you. Laughter has tremendous healing power.





Loss of Control

18 06 2009

In a culture that increasingly teaches us that the individual is greater than the collective, it’s no surprise that one of the reasons stepfamilies are so challenging is each individual’s loss of control. A child loses control of their space and their things. Each visit they leave things behind or lose them under a bed.

A stepmother loses control of her home environment each time the children visit. Father’s lose control of the decisions that are made by their ex-wives about the children’s lives. Mothers lose control of their children when they leave for Dad’s house.

Everyone feels out of control, which equals FEAR. To begin alleviating fear, find ways to give everyone a sense that they have a say in what is happening in their lives.

Give the kids space. Even if you don’t have a room for each child in your home, consider giving them at least some corner that is theirs. If it’s a drawer, assure them no one will open it while they’re gone. Give them complete control over what happens with that space.

Figure out what you do have influence over.Stepmoms, try this. Make a list of all the things you can control when the stepchildren come over. Your list is probably a lot longer than you think. A stepmom in a bad mood is a powerful, though negative way, that stepmoms control their environment. In what positive, proactive ways can you influence what happens in your home? For instance, in our house we know that transition days are tough so instead of forcing everyone to sit at the dinner table and suffer through a tense meal, we take the night off the family dinner and resume the next night.

Let your children experience their lives. Giving up your kids to the other household when it’s time for visitation can be extremely challenging for bio parents. You have no idea what your kids are doing in the other house. You aren’t there to comfort them when something happens. It’s scary and heartbreaking to give up that control. This might be cold comfort, but remember that our children have their own paths to walk. They have their own lessons to learn and mistakes to make. They will see things and do things at school, at camp, at a job, at college that you have no control over.  The best gift you can give your kids is a relationship with their other bio parent.

Ask for input.If you give everyone in your stepfamily a voice, that can go a long way toward combating the fear that results from a loss of control. If you’re going on vacation together, ask each kid to be responsible for coming up with an activity the family can do together. Ask for ideas about what should be on the menu or in the fridge.





Happy On Sale Day!

5 05 2009

There are a bunch of books I’ve been telling you all about for a while, and I’m happy to say that you can get your hands on them today! If you don’t see them on the shelf in your local bookstore, you can purchase them from any online retailer. I’m busy building my resources page and will add these books to my list but in the meantime, here’s a description of each to get you started:

bitchNo One’s The Bitch: A Ten-Step Plan for Mothers and Stepmothers by Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Carol Marine

What it is: A humorous, yet helpful take on navigating the minefield that typically exists between moms and stepmoms.

Why it’s relevant: Over a thousand new stepfamilies form every day! Imagine all those women out there, dealing with a stepmom or bio-mom and slogging through resentment, power struggles, miscommunication, a lack of shared purpose, and worst of all, boatloads of stress. We need a new model for partnership between the two women “stuck with each other” in this situation. When they work together, marriages are stronger, children are happier, and there’s less hair loss all around.

How it will help people: No One’s the Bitch is the kind of book we wish we could have read when we first met! Ten powerful concepts and true-life stories will walk readers past the point of traditional antagonism and into a revolutionary new approach. They’ll learn how to create harmony and cooperation with the other woman along a spectrum of successful possibilities.

As readers increase the sense of cohesion between the two families, they’ll also regain a feeling of control, mastery, and confidence. Helplessness will be replaced by tools for mastery, conflict will be replaced by communication, and both sides will be inspired by a new vision of an extended family that actually works for all involved.

 

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

In today’s version of Sex and the City, Mr. Big would have kids, and Carrie Bradshaw would look and sound a lot like Izzy Rose, a hilarious and chic new stepmother trying to come to terms with “the package deal.” On any given day, 1,300 women agree to join the ranks of the 15 million and counting stepmothers currently living in the United States, and THE PACKAGE DEAL: My (Not-So) Glamorous Transition from Single Gal to Instant Mom chronicles one woman’s outrageously funny and poignant journey from sophisticated, single gal in San Francisco to married with (step)children in Texas, where she reinvents the stepmother role for a new generation of daring, confident women.

Falling in love turns many women’s lives upside down, but for the millions of women who fall for men with children from previous relationships, love often leaves them wondering how they ended up raising another woman’s kids. At 35, Izzy was a successful TV producer, living the good life as a “middle-class socialite” in San Francisco. She’s perfectly content to be unmarried and kidless—and then along comes Hank, an irresistible Southern gentleman with two kids of his own. In the parenting department, she’s a total amateur, but she does bring one strength to the new arrangement: she speaks the blended family language. She was a stepkid herself.

stepmonsterStepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do by Wednesday Martin

How many times have you picked up a book for stepmothers–only to find that its focus is how you can make things better for the kids and their dad? How often have you sought out support and sympathy–only to get an earful of “you shoulds”? Wednesday Martin, a parenting journalist, stepfamily researcher, and stepmother, believed it was time that someone explore stepmothering in a new way–from the stepmother’s point of view. Stepmonster asks how repartnering with a man with kids affects her — psychologically, socially, economically. It also sets out to explode the myths—like the myth of the blended family and the myth of the maternal stepmother—that have clouded our view of who women with stepchildren are and what they ought to be able to accomplish. Far more than mere replacement parents, Martin insists, women with stepchildren of any age are people first, with their own emotional and cultural baggage to bear.

Going far beyond the usual perfunctory recipes for “how to do it better,” Stepmonster is truly stepmother-centric. It offers real life stories of women with stepchildren gleaned from interviews; first-person confessions from an author who has been there; perspectives from fields like anthropology and evolutionary biology; and a readable synthesis of the psychological and sociological literature on stepmothering, allowing women with stepchildren to see themselves as part of a larger story that is rich in meaning and social significance. On a practical level, Stepmonster suggests, in an unexpected twist, that the Wicked Stepmother may actually be our single best tool for understanding ourselves, and for finding a way to navigate through the stepmothering difficulties that can threaten to overwhelm us. Whether you’re a new stepmother or have been at it for decades, Stepmonster is sure to surprise you—and provide the compassion and understanding you deserve.





Interview with Stepmom Author Izzy Rose

29 04 2009

izzy-roseOn May 5, stepmom blogger Izzy Rose’s book The Package Deal will be available in bookstores nationwide. Read my interview with her below. Then visit her website to watch the book trailers and pre-order your copy. It’s a fantastic read that will make you want to invite Izzy to your house for drinks.

When you first started your blog Stepmother’s Milk,you were searching for support for stepmoms. Were you surprised at how little there was available?

I was surprised once I learned some of the statistics– that there  are something like 15 million stepmoms in the country today! I thought, if there are so many of us, why isn’t this a mainstream discussion? Why aren’t we on Oprah? Since then, I’ve watched in amazement as our online community has grown. We’re everywhere now! It seems like every day, I discover a new stepmom blog or stepparenting site. It’s very encouraging to see so many women reaching out to each other, connecting and offering advice.
 
Your book describes your first year as a stepmom. How have things changed since then?

I’m more relaxed. I no longer refer to myself as the Ruler of Cleanliness and Order. I just couldn’t keep that role up. I was outnumbered– a husband, two boys and two male kitties! In addition to adjusting to filth and fur, I’d moved across country, given up my career and left friends and family behind. Needless to say, I was a little on edge. Two years later, the newness and panic has worn off. This is a good thing– for everyone’s sake.
 
What three things do you think a new stepmom has to have to survive the first year of stepmotherhood?

  1. A surplus of wine
  2. A sense of humor
  3. Lots of therapy (with you and your man, alone, and maybe with the kids, although you might want to wait on the whole family combo deal until they unpack).

Do you still have full-time custody of the kids?

No, my oldest stepson, The Tall One, is the only kid living with us full-time now, and you’ll have to read the book to find out why.
 
What has been your greatest challenge as a stepmom?

Balancing my own needs with those of the kids. I’m sure every mother struggles with this, but because I married into my parenting role and don’t have kids of my own, I’m never quite sure how much I’m expected to give and compromise. To be honest, it was really tempting early on to shirk some responsibilities because I was “just the stepmom.” But, the reality is that if kids are living full-time under your care, you’re responsible. My stepmom rule is to compromise, but not sacrifice myself. I’m a big believer that if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re no good to anyone else.

There’s been a large debate going on about stepmoms who blog or write books about their families and how it will affect their stepchildren and relationships with their husbands and the ex. How do you decide what you’re going to write about? Do you share your writing with everyone in your family?

I’ve made jokes about moving to Mexico or going into hiding once the book came out to avoid a family mob attack, but truthfully, I think the need for that is slim. In writing The Package Deal, I worked hard to be fair to everyone involved and I made drafts of the manuscript available for family members to read throughout my writing process, and I encouraged them to speak up if something felt wrong or icky.

That said, I’m very honest and I suppose you do run the risk of offending people when you expose your insides. But when you start self-editing to please the crowd, you lose your voice.

Have you ever had someone in your family object to or been hurt by something you’ve written?

Not that I’m aware of and I hope that’s because I’ve made a conscious effort to be respectful. Before I started my blog Stepmother’s Milk, I asked my stepkids if they would be okay with me writing personal stories about our family. It was really important to me that they be on board. Every step of the way, I’ve reminded the boys to come to me if there’s something they don’t want me to write about or if they’ve read something they don’t understand. I’m constantly mindful of their privacy and how far I can push the boundaries.
 
What have been your greatest rewards as a stepmom?

As someone who thought she was missing the mom-gene, it’s been a sweet reward to realize I’m capable of taking on someone else’s kids and not failing horribly at it. The boys showed me a reserve of love I didn’t know was there. I said yes to a marriage proposal and I ended up with a family. A pretty good deal, if you ask me.

If a dear friend told you she was marrying a man with kids what would you say?

Welcome to the club! Becoming a stepmom is so “in” right now. One might say– stepmom is the new black.
 
Do you think you made the right decision when you said yes to your husband, moved to Texas, and signed up to be a custodial stepmom?

Absolutely! I’m in love with my husband, Austin is a fantastic town and in addition to their entertainment value, the kids have helped me grow up. That said, I didn’t always feel that way. There were many days early on when I wanted to scream, WHAT WAS I THINKING! HOW DID I END UP RAISING ANOTHER WOMAN’S KIDS?  My therapist (and yes, every stepmom should have one) helped me realize that in order to survive, I had to adjust my expectations and be willing to reinvent myself. That’s powerful stuff. I remember thinking, OK, I can shift. I can do this.

What advice would you give to a stepmom who is struggling?

Seek out one good girlfriend who is willing to listen to you spill the good, the bad and the revolting. And then spill. I truly believe that laughing and groaning over our shared stories is one of the best antidotes for warding off insanity. It’s worked for me.