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.

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Spring Thaw

16 03 2011

It’s going to be in the 50s all week in Minneapolis. Hurray! The giant walls of snow lining our driveway are shrinking. And everyone I know is feeling more energetic, hopeful, and inspired since the sun is shining and the air is warming. The spring thaw in Minnesota is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world. It reminds me of the work of positive psychologists Barbara Frederickson, Sonja Lyobomirsky, and Martin Seligman who all talk about positive feelings and the impact they have on our overall sense of well-being. If you feel good, you can solve problems with more creativity. If you feel good, you can be more flexible. If you feel good, you can be more compassionate.

What can you do this week to feel good?





Hey Stepmom, What Are You Thinking?

23 02 2011

Research has found that thoughts precede emotions. So when we allow our thoughts to spiral out of control, it’s the thoughts that make us feel bad!!! How wild is that? And it’s good news, too, because that means if we practice monitoring our thoughts, we have a say about whether or not we’ll spiral into those negative zones. I often use little one- to three-word mantras to fill up my mind so the negative thoughts can not come in. And usually I can avoid the spin into dark thinking.

If I start furiously cleaning the house thinking, “No one helps me! This isn’t my mess! Why don’t they pick up after themselves?!!!” The more I think those thoughts the angrier I become. But if I stop the thoughts before I get mad, I can calmly assess the situation. I might gracefully pick up after my family being thankful that I have such a messy but rich life. Or I can let everyone know that it’s time to pick up the house together so I don’t feel like the house maid.

Some mantras I have used to derail my negative thoughts are: Pineapple (because it’s ridiculous and makes me laugh.) God bless you. I’m open to love. All is well.

This is not easy to do, by the way. I view this as a spiritual practice.

So, Dear Stepmother, what are you thinking? And how is it affecting your life?

 





Your Questions Answered: It Feels Like My Husband Has 2 Wives

2 02 2011

Dear Jacque,

I have been reading your blog for a while now and I must say, it has really helped. I was hoping you could give me some ex advice.   My husband’s ex has many great qualities, but she is not exactly an independent person, which makes her quite needy to my husband for things that it seems any grown woman should be capable of doing on her own. Of course, in order to get my husband to do whatever it is she doesn’t feel like doing she always throws in the classic, “I’m busy raising our girls”,  or ” It’s for the girls”  something, anything related to the girls.  My husband is a good man and this always works.  This has become tiresome for me at times because I feel like my husband has 2 wives.   Otherwise our situation is quite good. How do we fix this? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Stepmom: So many stepmothers have been in your shoes! This is especially true in the first few years of a new marriage but it can be ongoing for some women. You mentioned that other than this neediness, your situation is good. And I don’t know how old the girls are though I would assume they’re still in the house.

A few questions for you, then. The happiest stepmothers I know are the most secure in their relationships with their husbands. Do you feel loved and appreciated by your spouse? Does he honor you in front of the children and defend you to them? Does he give you authority in the house as another adult? Those are all wonderful signs that he is firmly in your court. Because men with children from a previous marriage have children and an ex demanding attention, stepmothers often feel on rocky ground. Women sometimes have a secret fear that they are expendable to their husbands and if it really came down it they would choose to keep the peace with an ex or a kid before they’d draw a line in the sand and stand with by their side. This is CHALLENGING.

The first thing I would ask you to do is to really look at what is working well for you and your family. Those are strengths you can build on. Then perhaps you and your husband could sit down and make a list of all the things he is willing to do for his ex and those he’s not. The two of you could have a discussion about what you think is appropriate. Then he can slowly begin to remove himself from her life. You didn’t mention what kind of chores he does for her, but here are a few ideas for you.

Be honest. Setting boundaries with an ex wife is a critical developmental stage in stepfamilies. (Listen to the Stepmom Circles Podcast I did with Dave Carder for more information about this.) It can be very confusing for kids if Dad is still coming over to the house to help Mom program the TIVO or shovel the driveway. Kids hold on to the fantasy that their parents are really going to get back together much longer. Honesty is always the best place to start if your spouse feels like he can have an open discussion about this with his ex. If straightforward communication doesn’t work, try these boundary setting strategies along with the honesty:

Be busy. Take a class, go on long walks together, visit friends, join a club, get out of the house. If you’re not home or not available, she’ll have to find other solutions to her problems.

Don’t pick up the phone or answer emails or texts right away. Your husband has responded to his ex’s calls for help up until this point so she has come to expect him to jump when she calls. He’s going to have to re-train her. He can try taking a little bit longer to respond every time.

Send her some names of a few handymen. One of my mentors, the amazing and lovely Gay Hendricks, gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard: Empower others to help themselves.

Pray that she meets someone else or set her up on a date. This sounds crass, I know. But the truth is, if the ex remarries, life becomes MUCH easier for stepmoms and ex-husbands. She’ll have someone else who can come to her rescue. Before I dated my husband I met a woman who wanted to set me up with her husband for the same reason! She wanted him off her back and she wanted him and their son to be with someone she liked. Hilarious.

Protect your marriage. You don’t have to let this get in between you and your husband. We all make choices about how we will react in any given situation. He might decide that until his daughters are out of school he is going to be his ex’s handyman because he feels guilty and he’s a nice guy. If that’s the decision he makes then you’ll have to decide how you will respond to it from now on. You can either decide to allow it to make you feel insecure or angry or annoyed OR you can deny the ex that power over you. You can choose a different reaction. Instead of feeling the rush of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, you can take deep breaths (count four on the way in and five on the way out) and let your body calm down. You can choose to leave his past up to him to deal with. You can decide to be FREE of the feelings she inspires in you. To start this process you’re going to need some distractions! A trip to the gym, a lunch out with friends, a good book, a movie in the middle of the day, removing yourself from the room when she calls, etc. etc.

I hope some of this helps! 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. I wish you and your family peace! Be well.

 

 





Guest Post: I’m a Stepmom, Too

25 01 2011

A few years ago at tradeshow, I was talking with a young woman at the booth next to mine. Just a casual conversation between strangers – a friendly back-and-forth.

She mentioned that it was her one year anniversary that week. I offered congratualtions and asked her if she was enjoying married life. Her reply? “I’m a stepmom.”

That’s it. That’s all she said.

I waited.

And waited.

Then I said, “I’m a stepmom too.”

More silence.

Then I said, “It’s ok if you don’t love the kids.”

She got tears in her eyes and thanked me. She said she felt like there was something wrong with her. I assured her there was not.

We talked for a long time that day. I think I helped her understand that she was not alone, she wasn’t evil, she was really quite normal. I encouraged her to befriend other stepmoms, because her friends who were birth moms would not – could not – fully empathize and offer the kind of support she needed. The trade show ended. We hugged goodbye. I never saw her again.

But I learned a valuable lesson that day. When you meet a stranger and learn that she’s a stepmom, speak up. Offer support and understanding. We need each other.

Carrie, the author of this post is a longtime reader of my blog. What a treat to run such a great story! Thank you Carrie. We do need each other.





Are You Willing to Be the Bad Guy?

20 01 2011

You guys have probably heard the joke stepmothers whisper to each other about how we all have scars on our tongues from biting them so often, right? Let’s admit it: Sometimes we can’t keep our mouths shut. And what’s more, sometimes we shouldnt. As all things are in life and in stepfamilies, it’s a balancing act. Here are the criteria I try to use while helping to raise my three stepchildren, ages 15, 13, and 10.

Am I willing to be the bad guy?

Sometimes it’s impossible to consult your spouse or the ex before you speak. Sometimes women see things that men simply don’t. Sometimes you believe so strongly in something that you simply must speak. That’s life. So are you willing to be the bad guy? Because stepparents who speak up become targets for anger from the kids and exes and sometimes our spouses, too. If you are willing, then speak your truth. Sometimes truth is more important than getting along with everyone.

Can I live with my choice to remain silent?

I typically stepparent from the back seat as most stepfamily professionals advise. But sometimes I simply can’t because I feel that if I don’t speak up I will not be able to live with that choice. As you all know, a stepmother’s greatest skill is learning how to let things go. (Your stepchild was allowed to do something by her mother that you disagree with? Oh well. ) Only you know which values you can remain silent about and which ones you can’t.

What are you concerned/angry about?

A warning from someone who has been there: If you do speak up to a stepchild about a behavior or issue you feel strongly about, then work to keep it just about that one thing. For instance, if a stepchild sasses you in a nasty teen tone and you have had it up to here with the disrespect, keep your words calm and focused on the issue at hand. Because stepmothers often stuff so many things to keep the peace, if you open your mouth, your response can be totally out of proportion to the issue because you’re bundling all your feelings of anger from past hurts and injustices into the current issue. If you can’t keep calm and blow your lid instead, try to have a conversation after everyone has cooled off to talk about why you reacted the way you did.

If I stuff my feelings will I carry this with me forever?

I want my stepchildren to like me. Sure, I do. But I also don’t want to have a heart attack any time soon. (Ever read the book Anger Kills? Scary!!) I’m only willing to stuff so much to make the peace. If I am not myself then I have done my entire family a disservice. I wrote my book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom because I did an interview with a veteran stepmother for an article I was working on. She’d been in her stepfamily for more than two decades. After I asked her a few questions, she let go a torrent of anger she’d been holding in and building on for a quarter of a century!! If you choose to remain silent, please, please, please, do not carry that anger with you for the rest of your life.

So. Are you willing to be the bad guy? About what issues?





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.