Stepmom Circles Podcasts

10 01 2011

Hello Dear Stepmoms:

First, a big thank you to all the ladies who alerted me my podcast was not up! I have switched my podcast host so you can once again listen to the shows. Find them here:

I am working to get all of the old shows up. Plus I have some exciting new ones coming soon. You can listen to the shows online or download the mp3 files to listen to on your iPod or mp3 player. You can also download them to your mobile device. If you have a favorite show, you can post it on your blog to share with others.

Soon I’ll have the show back up on iTunes as well. Thanks for your patience!

Have a topic you want to hear about? Leave a comment or send me a note at becomingastepmom (at) gmail (dot) com.

What Should a Stepmother Expect?

22 09 2010

I’ve been asked this question many times: What should a stepmom expect? And this one: Am I expecting too much? I’ve asked myself those questions, too. Much of the research done on what makes stepfamily life so difficult indicates our expectations are what get us into trouble.

But the challenge is that there is no model for what a stepfamily “should” look like. A successful stepfamily structure might look very different from what we think a “family” should look like.

Happy stepmothers are:

  • Women who live with their stepchildren full-time and help to raise them.
  • Women who don’t ever see their stepchildren.
  • Women who at family gatherings cheerfully combine his, hers, and ours kids plus the ex-wife, ex-husband, their new spouses and all the various step-, half-, and full-blooded siblings.
  • Women who don’t live with their partners but continue to date until the children are raised and out of the house.

There are lots of different ways in which stepfamilies are successful. But sometimes we need to revise what we think successful means in order to find peace. Can you be a success if you and your partner have an amazing relationship but the kids hate you? Can you be a success if your marriage is strong but the ex-wife is in your face all the time? Can you be a success if your husband is your best friend but his parents don’t accept you? The answer to all these questions is: YES.

But you first have to decide for yourself and as a couple what success can mean.

Warning: Letting go of expectations (a.k.a. Dreams) can be an extremely painful process. But once you do it, you’re free to create the kind of life you want.

Stepmom Smackdown: Keep your friends close.

23 12 2008

S.M.A.C.K.s for Stepmoms: Just You And Me

18 11 2008

I received a great question from a reader: Can you talk about your spouse’s ex too much with your partner? My response? YES. The ex can easily become the focal point of your new marriage if you’re not careful – especially if there is a lot of tension between the households, a court battle, issues over money, etc. etc. etc. I will do a bigger post on this topic in the near future, but for now remember this: Though it might feel like there is another woman in your marriage, there is only you and your husband. That’s it. No one else can come between you. No one else is in your relationship with each other. Sure, the ex and the kids pull on that bond and test your strength, but at the end of the day your marriage is between you and him. If you find yourself talking about the ex and her actions each day, then consciously decide to only discuss the ex and any issues pertaining to her once a week.

Visit for more about how to smackdown your Inner Critic.

Your Questions Answered

27 10 2008

My husband turns into a different man every time the kids come over. Our entire relationship changes. We don’t have sex. We hardly talk to each other except about things related to the kids. I have gotten to the point where I dread the weeks we have the kids and I’m starting to resent my husband more and more. Help!

This is an issue that every couple who has kids living in the house struggles with. How can you maintain your identity as a couple while you are hit with all the stressors that raising kids entails? It’s important to maintain a sense of togetherness even when the kids are over. That usually means you have to consciously create those moments together. You both have to realize how important they are to the marriage. But those moments of connection don’t have to take a lot of time.

Perhaps setting the alarm clock an hour early so you can get up together and have a quiet cup of coffee every single morning before the kids wake up can help you feel more intimate. If you tend not to have sex while the kids are over, maybe you should both be more conscious of other kinds of touch, such as holding hands or a shoulder rub at the end of the night. Send your spouse an e-mail or two during the day to let him know how much you love him. Spring for a babysitter once a week, or take advantage of having the kids part-time and stock up on your date nights when you don’t have the kids.

I feel like my husband and his ex are using my stepson as a way to get back at each other. They don’t seem to see what they’re doing to him. But I can see it. They make him choose sides, which is totally unfair! For instance, they’ll say, “Honey, do you want to spend the weekend with Mommy or Daddy?” Why can’t they just stick to the schedule? They make him get in the middle of their arguments. I’ve seen him go from a happy kid to a sullen kid in one year. What can I do to help him?

What a heartbreaking situation! This is a popularity contest and a who-has-the-last-word battle at the expense of the mental health of this child. You’re right to be worried about your stepson. Do you remember when Alec Baldwin’s phone call to his 12-year-old daughter was leaked to the press? The pictures of that little girl tell you everything you need to know about that story. She has the look of a kid whose parents use her in a game of tug-of-war.

So what can you do to help your stepson? Be that angel on your husband’s shoulder constantly whispering into his ear. Help him see, gently and with great kindness, how his anger at his ex is hurting his son by placing his child into a loyalty bind. He can’t be asked to choose between his parents. He loves them both. And when one parent badmouths the other, a kid takes it personally because he is the child of that person, too. It’s no surprise that a bulk of the stepkids who really act out as teenagers come from this kind of family where mom and dad are still battling it out.   Many adults I’ve talked to who grew up in stepfamilies talk about this dynamic. Many say they will never get married because they don’t trust people. They’ve never seen a healthy model of a relationship. And if something goes south with a boyfriend or girlfriend, they just leave. Of course there are those kids who swing to the opposite side and choose to become the best partners in the world because they’re so scared of divorce. Either way, when parents put their kids in the middle like this, it causes lasting harm.

The Doctor Is In: Dr. Jan Hoistad

27 10 2008

Dr. Jan Hoistad is the author of Big Picture Partnering: 16 Weeks to a Rock-Solid Relationship and Living Your Dreams Together: Conversation Cards for Couples. She helps couples work together to create the life of their dreams. If you’re in Minnesota, check out her upcoming workshops for couples. Find out more about Dr. Jan at

Here’s an exercise to do with your partner from Living Your Dreams Together that Dr. Jan says can help you create more of what you want in life and from each other. Sit down with a glass of wine, a delicious appetizer, and the deck of 117 Conversation Cards available on Dr. Jan’s website to have a fun discussion about what your partner most likes, dislikes and cares about. Topics cover work, family, fun, friends, money, home, travel, caring and spirit. Here are some of the questions to get you started.

  • Of all of my friends, which ones do you most enjoy spending time with? Which ones would you rather we didn’t spend time with as a couple?
  • Which of the following do you like to do? Which would you rather we hire out if we can afford it? Gardening, landscaping, housecleaning, snow shoveling, mowing the lawn, home maintenance and repair, making home improvements, or add your own here.
  • How would you feel about taking a trip with one or both of my parents? With any of my siblings?
  • Is there anyone in your family I need to be warned about? Who? In what way do I need to be careful around them?
  • Do you feel that each of us is saving enough each month for retirement?
  • In volunteering your time, what forms of service do you feel inspired to offer? What organizations do you feel prompted to work for?
  • What one book on religion or spirituality would you most like me to read?
  • If you didn’t have to work to earn money, what would you do with your time instead?
  • What’s the one small thing I can do on a regular basis – and that I don’t do regularly now – that would most make you feel cared for?

What’s a S.M.A.C.K. and how does it help stepmoms?

26 10 2008

So, what’s an Inner Critic?

Well, the Inner Critic is not your conscience, your gut instinct, your intuition, or your voice of reason. The Inner Critic likes to pretend it is all of those things, but there’s one big difference: The Inner Critic does not have your best interests at heart. Basically, the Inner Critic is the part of you that wants you to give up on your dreams. It’s your own worst enemy, and it’s trying to paralyze you with its pessimism.

And what’s a S.M.A.C.K.?

The Inner Critic has a big, fat mouth. It’s a verbal abuser. So a S.M.A.C.K. is anything you do that shuts the Inner Critic up. A S.M.A.C.K. is a fast, glorious K.O. and the ringing of the bell in a boxing match. It’s not fooling yourself or lying to yourself; it’s realism meets optimism plus action.

Why blog about it?

Because S.M.A.C.K.s are temporary. The Inner Critic is you, so you can’t just kill it off. After every K.O., another boxing match gets scheduled. But we’ve been smacking down our Inner Critics for ten years, and we’ve learned and invented so many ways to do it, we’re going to give you A S.M.A.C.K. A Day… And we’re dying to hear what S.M.A.C.K.s you come up with!

The Origins of the Smackdown

That photo up top is us, the authors of this blog. Clare’s the Punk and Jacquelyn’s the Beauty Queen, and of course, it’s Halloween.

When the two of us first met more than a decade ago at Wellesley College, we had no idea we were starting a journey together, much less a journey that would shape our entire lives.

Two years after college, we were both feeling restless and dissatisfied. Jacquelyn had just finished graduate school and moved home to Minneapolis from Boston with no job, no boyfriend, and a really bad haircut. Clare, still in Boston, was spending half her life reading and the other half temping. She had no particularly special talent, no ambition, no hobbies or specific interests; just a vague hope that something would change. We both felt lost–with absolutely no idea how to get a life that included romantic partners, families, and careers that would give us a sense of meaning and fulfillment.

In January 1998, at the height of feeling like clueless losers, we took a vacation together. The trip started with a tank of gas, but the real journey began with a proposition:

“What if we each choose one thing every year–one really big thing–that we’re afraid of and face it down?”

Would we get better at taking risks? Would we feel more comfortable asking for what we desired? Could we actually create the lives we wanted to live? And so we began an experiment to see if we could successfully smack down our fears. There were hundreds of late-night phone calls and emails with latest epiphanies about new techniques to try when we were feeling shy with a boyfriend or unsure that we were walking the right career path. We brainstormed ways to work through our doubts, overcome procrastination, and ride out the times when nothing seemed to be happening.

On the tenth anniversary of the snowy January when we first asked the question, “How do we develop the courage to create a life that has meaning?” we wrote a book called S.M.A.C.K. Your Inner Critic. Not because we had finished asking the question, but because we found ourselves looking over the last decade with awe. So many of our techniques worked that we wanted to share them with others.

The S.M.A.C.K. Your Inner Critic Approach

If, like us, you’re one of those battling the voice of an inner bad guy on a daily basis, we’re going to show you how to get the upper hand.

It doesn’t matter where the critical doubting voices show up — over coffee as you debate whether to bike or drive to work; on the way home as you weigh the prospects of snacking on sweets vs. heading to the gym; in the evening as you wrestle with whether to watch TV or begin work on a creative project. Every time your Inner Critic rears its ugly head, give it a solid S.M.A.C.K.

Below, you’ll find sample ways to S.M.A.C.K. your Inner Critic in five key categories. Use a different technique every week — or every day, if need be! Over time, you’ll find your Inner Critic losing much of its power, and your own sense of self-confidence expanding.



In order to beat the Inner Critic, it’s important that you have faith in yourself. Work on building your authentic belief that you are worthy of the life you want.

Example: Tell yourself a different story. Use the power of neurolinguistics to reprogram your brain. Instead of repeating what you “can’t do” or what’s “so hard” for you, simply say that you’ve decided to do it, or better yet, that your ARE doing it. Instead of repeating the story to yourself that losing weight is hard, use a different tactic: tell yourself, losing weight is so easy. Say that out loud every day.

Developing the ability to motivate yourself — particularly when you’re feeling discouraged or have lost steam — requires you to know yourself deeply. You need to know what your core values are, and what will compel you to go after a goal, even when it’s difficult.

Example: Look back on your life and consider what types of motivations inspired you to accomplish challenging things in the past. Run through the list of people you admire and explore what values are inherent in the traits you admire. Look for ways to emulate them in small, daily ways. Another good way to build your arsenal of motivations is to ask your friends what they do to motivate themselves (to exercise, eat right, make time for themselves, whatever). Experiment with the most promising-sounding strategies to see if some of them will work for you.

The Inner Critic hates it when you actually do something to move toward your dreams. Taking action (even in small steps) is the most powerful way of proving you’re serious about your intentions to create the life you want. Once you begin taking daily action, you’re really on your way. Every time you’re able to say, “Yes! I did that!” the Inner Critic goes to sit in time out.

Example: Every day make one choice that moves you toward a healthy lifestyle, even if it doesn’t seem like much. Those daily actions add up. Jump on the treadmill for ten minutes. Do a few pushups. Go for a walk. Have one good piece of chocolate instead of a pile of cookies.

Keep the Inner Critic on its toes by experiencing new things. Try something silly or scary that takes you outside your comfort zone and helps you see yourself — body, mind and spirit — in a new way.

Example: Sign up for a dance class, a yoga retreat, or an acting class.

Make sure self-care is a part of your daily routine, even if it’s just ten deep breaths before you walk out the door in the morning. When you actively embrace pleasurable experiences, you are showing the Inner Critic that you respect and love yourself (and shriveling your Inner Critic in the process).

Example: Make a list of 50 things you love to do and actually do one of them. Right now.

Experimenting with the S.M.A.C.K. techniques is bound to give you a boost of motivation and self-confidence. We hope that you’ll use the techniques you find on our blog to knock out your Inner Critic and begin living your life with greater consciousness. Because here’s what we discovered: When you focus your attention on creating your life on purpose, your dreams come true.

The great thing about S.M.A.C.K.s is that they apply to every part of your life. So on Becoming a Stepmom, I’ll focus the S.M.A.C.K.s on all things stepmom. Your relationship with your partner, the kids, the ex.
So what S.M.A.C.K.s have you tried in order to keep your sanity intact and your relationships growing?

Visit my other blog for more about how to S.M.A.C.K. your Inner Critic. 

Welcome to Becoming a Stepmom!

26 10 2008

Welcome to the Becoming a Stepmom blog! You’ll find valuable information that can help you become a happy, peaceful stepmother. Here is some of what you can expect to see: 

  • Inspirational stories from veteran stepmoms
  • Educational tools and tips for you and your family
  • Advice from leading marriage and family professionals
  • Stepmom Q & A’s
  • A place to connect with other stepmoms

There’s no doubt about it. Becoming a stepmom is one of the more challenging things a woman can do. And there are times when you might feel stretched to the breaking point. But there are resources that can help. In a country where the stepfamily structure is believed to be the dominant family form, you are absolutely not alone

I want to help you find a way to achieve harmony with your stepchildren. I want you to feel at home in your own home. I want you to create a solid bond with your partner. You can do it! And I hope this blog will provide you with the concrete tools you need.

As a stepmother of three kids ages 8, 11 and 13, and as a stepdaughter, I have spent a lifetime making family out of step-, half-, and blood relatives. I have seen what works in stepfamily life and what the common mistakes are. I have studied the research. I have interviewed stepfamily professionals and stepfamily members across the country.

Today I’ll share with you the single most important thing I’ve learned a stepmother must do to create a harmonious home life: You must believe it is possible. There is such a thing as an empowered stepmother. You can be one. It’s not impossible. You have a voice.

I hope you enjoy this blog. If you have questions you’d like to see addressed in Becoming a Stepmom, post a comment or email me directly. Let’s see how we can help each other. Let’s learn how to smackdown the Inner Critic that tells us we’re second best, that makes us feel guilty, that makes us feel like bad people simply because we’re stepmoms. Enough!

For those of you have received my newsletter in the past, you’ll see archived stories here plus new content and resources. Better yet, you’ll have a place where you can ask questions of me or other stepmoms, brainstorm better solutions to your sticky issues, and connect with women who can help you feel empowered. We can do this. We can create home lives that feel good. Let’s do this together.

Best wishes,

Jacquelyn B. Fletcher
Author of A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom and 101smackdowns.