Stepmom: You’re the Expert

23 03 2011

Most of us have heard the old adage, “Don’t go to bed mad.” And it’s good advice as a general rule of thumb. But just like clothing, one size does not fit all. One couple I spoke with this week has tossed that advice out because it doesn’t work for them. If they’re arguing before bed and they start to get tired, they both know that neither of them will be able to have a rational discussion. To continue discussing the heated topic will only result in a downward spiral of emotional debate that doesn’t get them anywhere.

Instead, they say, “I love you honey. I know we’ve got to talk about this some more, but I’m tired and need to go to bed. Let’s finish this tomorrow.” And they really do go to bed and sleep.

This couple has done two important things:

1. Relaxed their bodies. Going to sleep allows their cortisol and adrenaline levels to fall back down so their bodies are not in a fight or flight state. That means their brains can actually function better and they see the solutions to problems easier.

#2. Reassured each other. By saying “I love you, honey,” they have taken away any threats to the relationship itself. It’s a bonding agent that says, “we’re in this together.” Instead of setting up a power play, it builds camaraderie.

The other couple I spoke with this week goes to bed, too. But they feel guilty because they’re “supposed” to be doing what the experts say. I say, you’re the expert. If you know that going to bed calms you down and allows you to have the discussion in a new light in the morning, for heavens sake, go to bed!

If, on the other hand, you go to bed and punish your partner with a turned back or stay up all night stewing about it, then you might want to re-think your approach. The important thing is to preserve your relationship so your partnership doesn’t take a hit even if you’re mad. Conflict is just part of the deal in relationships and learning how to deal with in a way that doesn’t harm each other is key.

What about you? Have you and your partner come up with ways to deal with conflict that work really well for you? Please share them with the rest of us so we can try them out at home!

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Stepmothers: Collect Your Evidence

10 01 2011

There are stretches of time in which I notice every little thing my husband does wrong. Know what I mean? My eyes see that he has dropped his clean clothes in a pile beside the bed instead of how hot he looks in his new sweater. I see that he has left the shovels out on the front porch instead of noticing how he pulled me in for a hug while we made dinner. I begin collecting evidence about how MUCH I do and how LITTLE he does to support our household. Does this sound familiar to you?

Not a great way to build a strong partnership.

So how about if we collect evidence that our partners LOVE us and focus on that instead? Take a moment and write down all the evidence that your partner loves you. Write down all the ways in which you’re perfect for each other and the ways he supports you. Make a list of all the activities you love doing together or those small moments you spend together that you love the most.

Laminate the list and pull it out when you want to feel more lightness and love in your relationship.





Stepmom Circles Group Coaching: Fall Session Begins Soon!

14 09 2010

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

The fall Stepmom Circles Group Coaching session starts in October!

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

Each 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.

Dates
Wednesday evenings, October 6 to November 10.

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

Cost
The cost of a six-week session is $197.

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 extremely 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: Getting Started in a Stepfamily

12 11 2009

Dear Jacque,

I (26) am in a serious relationship with a girl (20) who has never been married or had kids. I have one of my own who is 5. We have recently been discussing a possible future together with kids and marriage. I have also never been married. My son’s mother and I found out she was pregnant after we had split up so marriage was never on the table. My ex has full custody, but I have him pretty much any weekend I want and for extended periods over the summer. My girlfriend expressed some serious concerns about her role as a stepmom to my son and how our future kids and my son would handle a blended family situation. She is also concerned about her role now, as my son’s dad’s girlfriend, and what amount of time spent with my son would be appropriate. I am ashamed to say that I did not have any good answers for any of these questions. Neither of us have any experience with blended family situations. Can you please give me some advice? I guess the main questions I would like addressed are the following:

*Should I segregate myself and my son from my girlfriend (while she is still just my girlfriend) when he visits? If not what level of involvment would be appropriate. How much of a say should my ex have in regards to this question?

*How is my future wife going to have any authority over my son. Is it ok if she derives this authority through me (for example: Don’t do this or your father will ground you.)?

*How should we handle jealousy that my son might have toward future kids?

Thank you very much, and any input would be extremely helpful and much appreciated.

These are all big questions! Bravo for searching out information on stepfamilies. That will serve you extremely well in the future. You and your girlfriend can do a few things to prepare so you have some idea what to expect. The first resource I would offer you is to sit down with your girlfriend and read my book together. It’s for women who are in her exact position: women who don’t have kids of their own who are dating, engaged or married to a man with kids from a previous relationship. You can read the first couple of chapters for free on my website. Check out the “Browse inside this book” on the right hand side of the page. I address a lot of the topics you are worried about.

It is absolutely okay to have your girlfriend meet your children if you are sure that this is serious with your girlfriend. If you are planning to marry her, it’s even more appropriate and in fact, important. It’s a mistake to introduce the kids to your significant other shortly before the wedding without giving everyone a chance to get to know each other.

Your ex wife does not have a say in who you introduce your son to when he’s with you. This is a hard pill for biological moms to swallow (and dads too, when the kids are with mom), but that is part of blended family life. You have to give up a certain amount of control when it comes to your kids. This is not easy!!!

As for your girlfriend’s authority, your instincts are right on. It all has to come through you. You set up the rules (see the house rules section of my book) with input from your partner and then you present them to your stepson along with the consequences for not following them. And then you tell your stepson that your partner has the authority from you to uphold those rules when you’re not around. It is a mistake to have her be a disciplinarian to your son right away until they develop a strong relationship. The bottom line is slow and steady wins the race. Take your time. Stepfamilies take a long time to feel comfortable and stable.

The jealousy issue is best handled by treating all of the children who live in the house the same. There will be things that a child will naturally feel jealousy about (a new child has more time with dad, for instance) and so the best thing to do is continue to spend time with the older children one-on-one and sending messages of love and acceptance.

You might also try these resources for more education about stepfamily life:

National Stepfamily Resource Center (NSRC)
www.stepfamilies.info
A vast resource for stepfamilies, the National Stepfamily Resource Center develops educational programs for stepfamilies and the professionals who work with them. Dr. Francesca Adler-Baeder, director of the Center for Children, Youth, and Families at Auburn oversees the NSRC, which serves as a clearinghouse of information for stepfamilies that links family science research on stepfamilies and best practices in work with couples and children in stepfamilies. The organization’s website includes links to resources for stepfamilies, frequently asked questions, and research summaries.

Stepfamily Living
http://www.stepfamilyliving.com
Stepfamily expert Elizabeth Einstein has created this site which lists her books, DVDs, and workshops for stepfamilies.

Successful Stepfamilies
www.successfulstepfamilies.com
Author, speaker, and marriage and family therapist Ron Deal’s site with books (including The Smart Stepmom), DVD programs, free articles, and links to support Christian stepfamilies. Includes a list of conferences and workshops for stepfamilies.





A Father Speaks

11 03 2009

Bill has three kids from a previous marriage. He sent in his list of things he needs from his wife and the stepmother of his children.

  • Understanding that sometimes the kids are going to have to come first.
  • I apologize for having an ex-wife.
  • Understanding that scheduling is going to be hell and it will be for years to come.
  • I think the father needs to be a buffer between the stepmother and the bio mother if that’s possible.
  • I understand frustration about bio mom but would appreciate it if you don’t make comments about her in front of the kids.
  • Thanks for being understanding about my relationship with my kids because I know you will never feel the same way I do about them.
  • Communication is very, very important.
  • Divorce is not an easy way out. Let’s work through this.




Stepmoms Speak

23 12 2008

Ann Orchard, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist who provides individual, couple, and group counseling through her private practice in Edina, Minn. Ann has also published research on stepmothers and has led stepfamily support groups. She is a stepmother of two. www.drorchard.com

 Time Heals 

By Ann Orchard 

Who would have imagined 20 years ago that Bob, my husband, and I would be celebrating my stepdaughter Elizabeth’s 30th birthday with Bob’s ex? And happily so! Twenty years ago we were enmeshed in an acrimonious custody battle. Bitter words were hurled at each side, resulting in lasting hurt and anger.

My relationship with Bob’s ex – I’ll call her KB for short – had started amicably enough. By the time I came on the scene, KB had already moved east to Boston, leaving Bob with their two kids, Elizabeth (age 7) and Ben (age 5). When Bob and I became engaged after a year of dating, KB was one of the first to congratulate me and wish me the best. However, soon after Bob and I were married, the relationship between KB and me soured. Bob had been trying to amend the original divorce decree to reflect the change from joint custody to his now having sole physical custody. There would then be a legal record of his entitlement to child support.

All hell broke loose. After one year of an intense and expensive custody battle, I found myself depressed and extremely angry. The part I resented the most was her intrusion on my marriage and her contribution to making my first year of marriage the absolute worst year of my life. No honeymoon period for me. On our first anniversary, I even said to Bob, “We’ve been married for a year now- just you, me, Elizabeth, Ben, and KB.”

The custody issues were finally resolved, yet the bitterness remained while the kids progressed through middle school, then high school. The two sides were civil to each other (with some blowouts along the way), but no love was lost.

The “big thaw” started with high school graduations. Enough time had passed, and I felt it was just time to let go of my anger. I believe we each have a choice how we’re going to live our lives, and that anger is toxic. By the time we hit graduate degrees for each child, we all were having a good time at our joint celebration dinners. The dinners included the two kids, KB, KB’s second husband, Bob, me and other family members. Of utmost importance was the inclusion of KB’s mom and my mom – the “neutral parties.” A little bit of wine also helped.

Once we were done with graduate degrees (and no weddings in sight), I realized I genuinely missed our joint celebrations. So when Elizabeth turned 30 last fall, I was thrilled to receive KB’s invitation to travel east to help mark Elizabeth’s milestone birthday. It was truly an act of graciousness. Bob and I went and had a wonderful time at the celebratory dinner. No, I doubt KB and I will ever be best of friends, but I feel good about how our relationship has grown. As I said, who would have imagined?





Can romance last?

25 11 2008

The popular notion that romantic love fades after you’ve been married a while is so pervasive in our culture that we almost expect it. Ask people if they think married couples who have been together for several decades can still feel the powerful feelings fore each other that they had as newlyweds and I’d bet that most people would answer an emphatic no.

Journalist Sharon Jayson of USA Today recently reported on some new research that is just emerging that may prove that you can maintain those strong feelings over time. A team of scientists including lead author Bianca Acevedo, researcher Arthur Aron, at the State University of New York-Stony Brook, anthropologist Helen Fisher of Rutgers University, and neuroscientist Lucy Brown of Albert Einstein College of Medicine used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to scan the brains of people who said they were in love after two-plus decades of marraige.

According to a presentation the team did at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C., the brain scans of the people who had been married for a long time lit up in the same places as those of newlyweds. “If you ask people around the world whether romantic love can last, they’ll roll their eyes and say ‘probably not,’ and most textbooks say that, too. We’re proving them wrong,” says Helen Fisher.

This has major impact on stepfamilies, ladies. As I have said over and over again in my book, in radio and print interviews, our first priority is to develop a strong relationship with our partners. Why? Because the relationship between you and your husband is the weakest link in a stepfamily. Without maintaining that strong bond, you might as well sign the divorce papers now. Seriously. It’s that important.

So what are some things you can do to build a bond with your partner that can withstand the onslaught of stepfamily stress? How can you make your romance last?

Declare that you’ll always be newlyweds.
Arne and I did this early on. I know, I know. It sounds cheesy, but look! Now I have research to back me up! When one of our friends asked us how long we could call ourselves newlyweds, we answered, “Forever.”

Be civil to your spouse.
For a story I wrote called Civil Unions for Experience Life magazine, I interviewed P. M. Forni, PhD, author of Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct and cofounder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. Here’s what he had to say: “Many people think good manners aren’t needed among family and friends, that manners are like a formal jacket that you only put on when you leave home. This is unfortunate, because by using good manners – which is to say by being polite, considerate and kind – you show that your respect and love for your spouse are not just empty words but rather a daily commitment to action.”

Go beyond the golden rule.
Dr. Forni’s advice was so good, I have to include another one of his ideas here. We’re taught to “Do unto others as you would have done unto you,” as children, but there’s a problem. What I might want done unto me, might not be what my husband would want done unto him and vice versa. “Sometimes, for example, a husband may not have a clue that one of his behaviors is bothering his wife,” says Forni. “It doesn’t bother him, so from the point of view of the golden rule, he’s blameless. But he’s completely unaware that she has a different sensitivity.” Instead, listen to each other and found out how your partner wants you to show your love.

Take breaks from talking about stressful topics.
I mentioned this briefly in a post last week: Don’t let talking about the ex consume you and your partner. If you find yourself discussing bio mom repeatedly, reserve a specific time each week to negotiate issues that involve her. This is especially hard to do if you’re involved in a custody battle or fights over money as one reader commented on last week’s post. But if you’re in a high-conflict situation between households, this is important. A stepmom I interviewed for my book talked about how the first year of her marriage was so stressful due to a custody battle that she nearly didn’t make it to her first anniversary. Bio mom is not in your marriage. Don’t let her have that kind of power.

Spend time together.
This one is the most important. Need I say more?

So how do you make sure your bond with your partner is a strong one? What things do you do together? What rituals do you have? Share them with your stepmom sisters can we can benefit from your wisdom!

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