Stepparents: Use Your Pain for Good

16 06 2011

If you’ve read my book or subscribed to Becoming a Stepmom or listened to Stepmom Circles for a while, then you’ll know that I prefer to wear rose-colored glasses. I like happy endings. I love being able to turn my own pain into good by using it to help others. I suppose you could say that approach has been a coping method and I suppose that’s true. For me to think that I’m going through pain for no reason! No. Too much for me to bear.

So I have a challenge for you this month if you’re willing to accept it: How can you use your pain for good? How can you transform it into something you can help another person with?





Accepting Stepfamily Life

26 05 2011

“When I argue with reality, I lose–but only 100% of the time.” –Byron Katie

At some point you have to accept your stepfamily life for all it is and stop fighting it. Know what I mean? It’s so easy to get sucked into the “If only X was different, my life would be happy,” spiral in everyday life. When you add difficult stepchildren, challenging exes, and beleaguered stepparents, it’s enough to spend a lifetime arguing with reality.

An example: Many stepmothers I have interviewed over the years have insisted on speaking only of the ex-wife practically the entire time we talk. For many of us, the other woman is a reality of stepfamily life that we fight against. We say things like: “If only she’d leave us alone.” “If she had any rules over there, the kids would be doing better in school.” “If only she had a job.” If she weren’t so crazy.” “If she stopped calling the house.” “If only she married somebody else…” and we end each of those sentences with “…my life / marriage would be better/perfect/happy.”

And certainly, there are things about stepfamily life that do get easier over time. Sometimes the relationship with the ex smooths out after a few years. Sometimes an ex moves away. Sometimes an ex remarries and life does improve significantly. But sometimes none of those things happen and we just continue to fight reality instead of accepting it. And that makes the reality worse.

Part of the job of each member of the stepfamily is to learn how to accept the things that come along with stepfamily life that we can’t change. That ex? She’s here to stay. So how can you stop fighting what is and accept it? How can you work with your thoughts so the situation itself doesn’t have as much power to upset you?

The fact is, there are things we just have to swallow about life. As most of our parents told as at one time or another, life ain’t fair. So how can you make the most of what you do have? How can you focus your mind on the wonderful areas where you and your family are doing really well? How can you build peace into your daily life?

You decided to marry / date / live with a partner who has kids from a previous relationship. That’s reality.

He has kids. That’s reality.

He has an ex, whether she’s alive or dead. That’s reality.

So let’s get on with the business of figuring out how we’re going to live with the reality in the best, most positive and healthy way possible for ourselves and everyone in our families.

Yes?





A Tribute on Mother’s Day

8 05 2011

Ladies: I got this letter a few days ago from a man with four children and I wanted to share it with you. The Mother’s Day tribute from this man to his wife is gorgeous. May we all have spouses that appreciate what we do the way this man does! Happy Mother’s Day! 

Jacque,

I just read your book over the course of a two-day reading marathon. I couldn’t put it down. I loved it, and I’m not even your target audience. I’m the “biological father” of four kids whose ages range from eight to four. I downloaded your book for my Kindle, and after reading several chapters, I quite promptly ordered a print copy to give to my wife for Mother’s Day this year. I think she’s really going to benefit a lot just from the sheer validation that your book brings by acknowledging everything a stepmom goes through. I benefited from it immensely, because it gave me a much clearer insight into her world, what she’s probably feeling, what she’s probably thinking, and all the rest. I feel a lot more empathy for her, as well as a great deal more gratitude and appreciation for who she is and what she does.

I’m including below a short tribute that I wrote for my wife, who (no offense) is the best stepmom in the entire world. But really, it’s a tribute to all stepmoms, and I hope they all get a chance to hear something like this from their husbands. After all, they deserve it.

Thanks so much for your contribution.

————————-

Thank you, first of all, for embracing my children as your own (if not always internally, then at least outwardly, in all that you do for them). This is one of the biggest reasons why I married you in the first place, and it remains one of the biggest reasons why I would marry you all over again any day of the week.

I know you have mixed feelings about your success as a stepmom; sometimes you’re able to congratulate yourself and see how much you’ve accomplished, and sometimes you beat yourself up for being impatient or irritable. That makes you normal. I’m their father, and I still waffle between thinking I’m the Best Dad on Earth and thinking I should just surrender all of my parental visitation rights and move to Siberia. If I feel that kind of emotional conflict, you’re bound to feel it even more intensely, and I want you to know that I get that. I still think you’re an awesome stepmom; the best in the world, actually.

I want you to know that I acknowledge your right to get frustrated, have the occasional melt-down, and expect me to go the extra mile in helping you make this transition. It’s going to be an ongoing process, it will probably take years, and I don’t expect you to do it alone. I might get impatient with you sometimes because I see you struggling to act in ways that have become second-nature for me, but that’s just because I’ve forgotten (for the moment) how to empathize and see the world through your eyes. When I make myself see things from your vantage point, I get overwhelmed with the magnitude of the challenge you’ve taken on, and then I’m amazed that you’re even still in this marriage, let alone thriving and continuing to be the most incredible wife in the world.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re not a real mother. You may not have done the hard work of carrying these children in your body for nine months, going through labor, doing the late-night feedings and diaper changes, etc., but you’ve certainly done something equally difficult: you’ve accepted all the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of motherhood – the extra laundry, the added chaos, mediating sibling rivalries, the scheduling nightmares, the truncated social calendar, the extra expenses, the bedtime rituals, the invasion of privacy and personal space – and you’ve done it all without the ace-in-the-hole of being able to say, “Because I’m your mother, that’s why.”

You’re not a biological mother. But you sure-as-hell have a right to call yourself a real mother.

I’m proud of you. This family of ours loves you, and that’s an accomplishment worth celebrating.

Oh yeah, and I love you too. 🙂

Happy Mother’s Day.





Stepmothers: Life Always Grows Toward the Good

12 04 2011

I do a lot of work with stepmoms and stepfamilies, but I’m also a freelance writer. A few years ago I met a man while researching another project. His name is Cliff and he has Locked-In Syndrome. When he was in his 40s, Cliff had a brainstem stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak. Like the man who wrote The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Cliff could only communicate by blinking his eyes.

After I met Cliff, I ended up working on a book called Climbing the Mountain, which is a collection of writings by stroke and brain injury survivors. Cliff wrote one of the essays. In it, he talks of the many challenges of his situation, but he ends his essay with an upbeat discussion of how much he loves his wife, children, and God.

I cry every time I read his story. But it also reminds me that life always grows toward the good. No matter what.

When I’m feeling pissy and mopey and rejected and hurt because stepmotherhood is sometimes challenging, I need to remember Cliff’s gift to me: Life always grows toward the good. Thank you, Sir, with all my heart. You’re an inspiration. You’ve made me a better stepmother and person.





Stepmom Circles Podcast: Update

12 04 2011

Hi Ladies:

I have been working hard doing interviews for my Stepmom Circles Podcast and I’m so excited to share them with you. I’ve had some enlightening conversations with people including:

Dr. Margorie Engel, former president of the Stepfamily Association of America (Now called the National Stepfamily Resource Center.) We talked about stepfamilies and money. This will be a two- or three-part series of podcasts.

Dr. Patricia Papernow, an advisory member of the National Stepfamily Resource Center and author of Becoming a Stepfamily. We talk about the stepfamily development cycle and the common challenges every stepfamily faces, plus best practices for post-divorce parenting.

Ron Deal, author of The Smart Stepfamily and The Smart Stepmom, has a new book out this spring: The Smart Stepdad.

I’ll have the first podcast ready next week. Stay tuned!





Children’s Bill of Rights

30 03 2011

Stepmoms: When I received training in how to help stepfamilies from the National Stepfamily Resource Center, I got this document in their Smart Steps information for stepfamilies. The Children’s Bill of Rights has some wonderful guidelines to help both parents and stepparents talk to the kids about what they’re going through. Good stuff.





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!





A Dad Seeks Help

9 03 2011

Reading through this blog has given me a lot to think about. I have a 4 year old daughter and am a single father. I have been dating someone for about a year and a half. I would like to give the father’s perspective on these situations. Its not easy for anyone when there is a broken home. I care and love my daughter till the end of the world. I want to make the correct decisions for her to live a happy life. Having a child with someone other than your significant other will put a strain on your relationship… My girlfriend has brought up some of the issues discussed her. How when she see’s my daughter it is just a constant reminder of my past relationship.. She has trouble being around my daughter and understanding what role she has.. So I came here to look for help. It has now come to a point where things may have to end. I have to keep my daughter’s best interest at heart, even if it means sacrificing what I love. I am not sure what to do and hope someone can help us.

I want my girlfriend to have a relationship with my daughter and know its OK that she has a voice. And we can discuss things together(privately) regarding parenting. Her word is a part of our relationship. However it does not mean I will always agree. I know my opinion may be biased but I believe my daughter is well disciplined and my girlfriend agrees with me. Although at times she does think that she needs more discipline at times, and I can see her point. But I have always disciplined her and she is well behaved.. she does have her moments.. as only toddler would. I take these things into consideration. I want our relationship to work.. I love her and need some advice. I really understand that she feels left out or an outsider when my daughter is around. I do my best to help her not feel that way. I do not allow my daughter to disrespect my girlfriend. This may all seemed jumbled together but I cant seem to find a solution here. I am not the type to throw in the towel and not really really try to work things out. But I feel selfish in doing so.. It pains me to think that my daughter will feel like an outsider when I have her every other week (50/50 custody). In a perfect world.. I want this to be our family. Different from the normal definition.. but this world is not perfect and I don’t want to give in. Its funny because even though I am leaving my name anonymous on this blog I still fear to be judged. I feel like my girlfriend doesn’t want to try to become a family with us. I feel like she just wants a relationship with me and to keep a relationship with my daughter almost non-existent. As if my daughter is a roommate. I know in my heart that cannot happen, I cannot allow for it to play out that way. I feel torn.. My only advice to myself is to seek help.. Couple counseling.. Maybe my woes seem selfish and I dont want to become like my father. I want my daughter to know that my home is our home.. and that she is always welcome. I put my daughter before myself and maybe its unrealistic to feel that my girlfriend should do the same. As many of you said its a balance. I need help finding my balance here. I always thought that the step mother or bonus parent should have a close relationship with the child or children. After reading this maybe I am wrong.. I don’t know I am rambling and it takes a lot for me to ask for help. Please be kind but more important please be honest.

WOW! Thanks to this Dad for being brave enough to post this comment on my blog. And another big thank you for showing the other side of the conversation so eloquently. Part of the work I do with stepmothers is to help women open up to all the other perspectives in the family. What is it like for Dad to be in this relationship with me? What is it like for the kids to be going back and forth between homes in which people who are relative strangers live? Sharing with each other how to feels to be in the stepfamily way is a normal and critical part of stepfamily development.

Research tells us that the most successful stepfamilies are those who not only share with each other their feelings but empathize with each other, too. This is challenging, there is no doubt about it. The feelings your girlfriend is having are all normal. I hope that she is out there looking for help, too. If she can understand that finding her role and learning to feel comfortable with your daughter are all normal parts of the adjustment to becoming a stepmother, it can make it easier to deal with them and move on.

You ask me to be honest: OF COURSE you feel like you want to protect your little girl. You’re a father. It’s your biological imperative to feel this way. And bravo to you for being committed to the health and well-being of your child. If only all fathers felt as you do.

It is a hard adjustment for a single women with no children of her own to go from zero to sixty with kids. My biggest advice is for both of you to read up on what stepfamily life is like so you know that the feelings you’re both having are NORMAL. They are part of the development of new stepfamily structures.

Will your relationship work out? It depends on how well the two of you can communicate. It depends on how well you can work through conflict. It depends on how committed you are to becoming partners. It’s natural for you to feel protective of your daughter. And it’s also crucial that you allow your girlfriend to feel a sense of partnership with you.

I could go on and on but I’ve written many things that can help you and your girlfriend. 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. Good luck!





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.





Marriage: A Petri Dish for Personal Growth

2 02 2011

When you meet the love of your life, it’s freakin’ great, isn’t it? My husband and I had so much fun in those early days before the pressures on us built. Little did we know then that our relationship would lead us to the darkest places we’d ever been. And how great we’ve been able to descend to the depths of ourselves to excavate all those unhealed places!! Marriage really is a Petri dish for personal growth. As a fellow stepmom said recently, you can grow disgusting moldy junk in there or a cure. You decide.

I also write novels (to be published soon, I hope!) and while taking an amazing seminar with Robert McKee, he said, “True character is revealed under pressure.” Isn’t that true of life, too? My character has certainly been revealed to me in the past few years as life pressed. And I’m so glad.

As another fellow stepmother friend once said, “Will you become bitter or strive to be better?”