What Are Your Coping Methods?

21 01 2012

When I was a kid and complained about something in my life, my dad used to say to me, “Honey, life ain’t fair.” And, of course, he was right. Life isn’t fair. So what are you going to do about it? How are you going to cope when the inevitable difficulties arise? How will you avoid turning to behaviors that help you check out but are harmful to you? What things help you relieve stress or combat anger?

Some ideas from stepmoms around the globe:


Focus on your career

Go back to school



Get involved in a charity

Focus on your own kids

Hang out with your girlfriends

Turn to your hobbies or develop new ones

Focus on creating the strongest marriage you can

Go for walks


Get a pet

Build your own financial safety net

Read good books

Go to movies in the middle of the day

Take breaks from the entire family

Go to church


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!

New Stepmom Circles Podcast: Being Healthy is a Revolutionary Act

9 02 2011

I know I’m always thrilled to do new Stepmom Circles Podcasts because I love talking to all my guests! But I have to give you a disclaimer, this one was really fun because Pilar Gerasimo, the Editor-in-Chief of Experience Life magazine is not only a brilliant thinker, she’s also a dear friend. I always have a blast doing shows with her and learn something new at the same time. On this episode of the Stepmom Circles Podcast, Pilar and I talk about her new manifesto Being Healthy is a Revolutionary Act and why it’s critical that stepmothers take good care of themselves. If you haven’t listened to my first podcast with Pilar, you’ll want to go back and hear that one, too, after you’ve heard what she has to say!

P.S. Listen to this show and you’ll understand why you should never again feel guilty about taking care of yourself!

Have an idea for a future podcast? Shoot me an email at becomingastepmom (at) gmail (dot) com.

How Do I Listen? Click on the links to the show above or visit HERE to browse all of the Stepmom Circles shows. You can listen to it online or download it the show to your mp3 player. It’s free. Enjoy!

Where’s Jacque?

3 11 2010

Hello Dear Stepmoms!

I’ve heard from many of you lately with emails asking: Where are you? Life got in the way of my blogging and podcasting but I’m happy to say that I’m back in the saddle. If you have topics you’d like to hear on future episodes of the Stepmom Circles podcast or addressed on my blog, please let me know! It’s been a wild fall but I’ m happy to say that we’re all doing great. Work deadlines are met. The kids are all back in school and my daughter is almost potty trained. Life is good.

I recently had a conversation with Brian Johnson, the founder of www.PhilosophersNotes.com. Brian has spent the last two years reading all of the optimal living books he can find and he put together 6-page summaries, mp3 podcasts, and web videos of all the books for people on his website. It’s great! Self-development literature for people on the go. In our talk, he reminded me how important it is to “rock your fundamentals” as he calls it.

I’m going to reframe his words for us stepmoms. When you’re feeling down or you’re taking on a new challenge, or facing a daunting conversation you’re scared to have, first look to yourself. Are you doing the things you need to do to feel your best? Are you exercising? Are you praying or meditating? Are you doing those things that fill you up? (And do you know what they are?) If not, return to those fundamentals immediately! (Or discover what they are.)

A big shout-out to Brian for helping me remember to return to the things that give me the most energy. And a big thank you to all of you who continue to read my blog and listen to my podcasts. It’s so cool to know that I’m connected to so many wonderful women all around the globe.

New Stepmom Circles Podcast: Actress, Writer, Producer and Stepmom Traci Dority

22 06 2010

A new free  Stepmom Circles Podcast is up! I had a fun conversation with Traci Dority. Traci is a stepmom of two and an adult child of divorce who grew up with multiple stepparents because her parents both remarried several times. This is an important show for all stepmothers to listen to because you’ll get a better perspective of what is going on in the mind’s of your stepchildren.

Traci has also written a screenplay for a movie called Nuclear Families that she is also producing. Learn more about the movie and sign up to get Traci’s blog at http://nuclearfamiliesthemovie.com.

Want to talk about today’s show? Join the Stepmom Circles group on FaceBook.

How Do I Listen? Click the links above or visit HERE for a list of all the shows.

Stepmothers: Your Anger Could Kill You

16 06 2010

The day I decided to write a book for stepmothers remains vivid in my mind. I was working on a story for a magazine about how challenging it is for childless stepmothers to move in with a man and his children. While researching the story, I interviewed several veteran stepmothers who had been in their stepfamilies twenty years or more.

One stepmom who described herself as a successful, happy stepmother told me about how wonderful her life was and how well everyone got along. “Really?” I wondered. I asked her a few more questions. Perhaps because I was the first person who listened to her challenging stepmom feelings with understanding and without judgment, a flood of anger burst from her heart and the raw pain and chronic stuffed anger of decades came flowing out.

That interview has stuck with me all these years because I have discovered after talking to stepmoms around the globe that anger is a job hazard for stepmothers. Because we often parent from the back seat, play second fiddle to the kids and the ex wife and sometimes the in-laws and ex in-laws, and feel powerless and voiceless in our own homes, it’s no wonder so many of us are pissed off.

Still, just because we have a clear right to be angry in many situations, doesn’t mean it’s good for us. During the last two decades researchers have conducted a multitude of studies which suggest that anger, hostility, and stress have a direct impact on our health. These emotions can lead to heart disease, inflammation, and even life-threatening diseases such as cancer. And that’s only one side of the story. Anger and hostility also does damage to our overall sense of happiness, well-being, and quality of life. It can lead to alcohol and substance abuse and overeating. It destroys intimacy and marriages.

I could have told the researchers that anger harms our bodies. In the early days of my stepfamily life I often allowed myself to fall into the whirlpool of negative thoughts. For instance, if I was angry because no one spoke to me during dinner, I would furiously clean dishes feeling like the hired help while everyone else sat companionably at the table. The more I allowed my thoughts to churn through my anger, the angrier I became. My heart rate sped up, my breathing became ragged and by the end of the night I had a horrible headache.

So what can you do about angry and hostile feelings?

View anger as a sign.
If you’re angry, you’re angry. You don’t have to explain it or feel badly about it. Anger is a feeling that you can use as a signal that something is not right. It is often a mask for other emotions. You can use your anger to begin exploring your deeper feelings. Ask yourself questions such as: Are my feelings hurt? Do I feel betrayed or taken advantage of? Do I feel like I am losing myself because I have no voice in this house? Do I feel left out?

Find your own patterns.
Take a moment to think about your life. When do you get angry? Can you identify what happens to set you off? Pay attention to the language you use to describe what is happening. Oftentimes we stepmothers are angry because we feel such a lack of control over our own lives and that is a proven stress producer. “All of our clinical and animal research confirms that the perception of not having any control is always stressful,” says Paul J. Rosch, MD, a clinical professor of medicine and psychiatry at New York Medical College and president of the American Institute of Stress in Yonkers, N.Y.

Change your perceptions.
As Dr. Rosch pointed out it’s the perception of not having control that is so stressful. So how can you change your perceptions? One stepmother I talked with consciously switched from feeling angry at her three teenaged stepchildren for making her life hell to feeling compassion by choosing to turn on her empathy about their situation. She shut her eyes and envisioned them as wounded soldiers in a field hospital. She cast herself in the role of nurse and healer to these kids who were clearly so deeply pained about their parents’ divorce that they made her the target of their anger even though she’d never done anything wrong. She carried that mental image with her so that every time one of the kids directed hostility at her, she responded with a calm demeanor that eventually broke through the kids’ pain so they could create positive relationships.

Calm your body before you speak.
Sometimes it’s not necessarily a good thing to vent anger because by yelling at your spouse you are focusing on the anger while in an emotional state and instead of feeling better you can actually increase your feelings of anger. Experiment with calming your body before you let the negative words rip. Do whatever you need to—take ten deep breaths, go for a run, take a hot shower, tell a joke—then return to discuss your feelings when you’re feeling calm.

Learn communication skills.
Take advantage of the many resources available to learn strong communication skills. The tools you learn can help you with every relationship you have. I highly recommend picking up Harriet Lerner’s classic book The Dance of Anger and any of John Gottman’s books for married couples. In the early days of my marriage, I had to learn how to use softer start-ups and “I” language. Clearly saying something like, “You are such an idiot for marrying that woman!” is not an effective way to start a conversation. Instead, stay firmly in your own feelings. “I am feeling jealous today that you had children with someone else.”

Arm yourself with positive emotions.
Another army of scientists have spent the last few decades researching how positive emotions affect our health and well-being. And the results are impressive. By cultivating positive emotions you can dramatically improve your social relationships and physical and mental health. Armed with positivity you are more resilient when bad things happen, you’re a better problem-solver, and you’re more equipped to deal with the ups and downs of stepfamily life. This is why I am constantly telling stepmothers to have fun! Lighten up! Enjoy yourself! This simple advice is backed by serious research so plan something fun right now.

In the end, as more and more research shows, anger can actually kill you if you live with it long enough. By choosing to learn new ways to cope with your feelings so you aren’t a victim of your negative emotions you can head off the long-term affects of chronic anger.

Jacquelyn B. Fletcher is a stepfamily coach and educator, the author of A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom (HarperCollins), host of the popular Stepmom Circles Podcast and co-creator of The Stepfamily Letter Project. This article originally appeared in Stepmom Magazine.

Children of Divorce and Stepmom Resources

3 06 2010

Two things caught my eye today: The June issue of Stepmom Magazine is out. A big thank you to Brenda Ockun, the one-woman show who puts together such a great collection of writing from stepmom experts, stepmothers, and counselors from around the globe.

AND this video is only the beginning part of the film but it still made me cry. Joyce Borenstein of Illumination Animation has made an animated documentary film in which thirteen children from the ages of 8 to 18 describe their experience with divorce. Check it out:

Your Questions Answered: Modeling a Healthy Relationship

5 05 2010

Dear Jacque,

I can totally relate to a recent post about a needy 19 yr old daughter, but in a little different way. I haven’t been with my partner for four years, but I totally see this kind of neediness!! Instead of one 19 year old daughter, I have it double with a 9 year old son and an 11 year old daughter. They are both overwhelmingly needy. It baffles me at how not self sufficient they are. From my observations sometimes they are excited when we display affection towards one another and sometimes they fall into the whole I want a hug and a kiss too, in that awful whiny three year old voice! As I read this post I answered the questions that were posed at the beginning:

How close is your stepdaughter to her mother? I don’t see the relationship as close at all. They talk to their mother when she calls, on average that is twice a week and before my partner and I met is was less than that. They go on their visits to see her and they facebook with her. That is about it. Sometimes his daughter asks to call her mom and his son never does. Their conversations on average are between 3 to 10 minutes and nothing important is discussed. I bet she cant even tell you what they got on their last 5 progress reports.

How long was your stepdaughter the only female in her father’s house? From what I understand my stepdaughter has been the only female in her father’s house her entire life. The mom traveled for work and wasn’t affectionate at all. I have derived that because of the lack of affection between my partner and his ex he gave all of that love and physical affection to his children. I have even asked my partner and he agrees.

At what age did the divorce or death of her other parent happen? The divorce began when they were 8 and 10 and ended about seven months after that.

Is she well-adjusted overall or is she a troubled girl? Both children seem to be well adjusted. They are surrounded by my partners family, whom have been active participants in their lies since day one!!

My question is how do we teach his children what a real healthy loving relationship looks like and that he is allowed to love on me. Our relationship goes against everthing that they have ever known! It is not one kiss for me and one kiss for them. Like the book says: though the kids and the ex effect our relationship the relationship is between my partner and myself.

Dear Stepmom:

Thanks for a great question! Please see my second response to the needy stepdaughter here. Also, because your stepchildren’s mother is absent, read this post, too, where I speak more about what might be happening with your stepchildren because Mom is absent much of the time.

In your case, modeling a healthy relationship is exactly how you teach children what is normal and what is not. Children are sponges and they soak up what we DO much more than what we SAY. Because you’ve got stepkids who are used to being the primary emotional focus of their dad, you will be very threatening to the kids. They’ve already lost their mother. (EXTREMELY painful.) And you represent a threat to them. Here are a few things for you to try:

Keep the adult stuff to the adults. If your husband is confiding in his children. He needs to stop. Research has shown again and again that it is unhealthy for children to have too much responsibility too early. The amount of information they can handle is based on their age. That means at ages 9 and 11, he shouldn’t be telling them about his relationship troubles with you, or money issue he has with the ex, or his troubles at work, for instance. Kids who have been confidantes will get very angry about not being included. So see the next point.

Send constant messages of love. Dad needs to be telling his kids he loves them again and again. And showing them, too. By showing up at the soccer game or listening to their problems or playing a game of basketball in the driveway every night. When your stepchildren ask for kisses in a whiny voice, assure her that her father loves her. That way she won’t perceive you as a threat for long. Instead of staying silent in those moments say something like, “Honey, of course you’re daddy wants to give you a kiss. He’s your dad. He loves you, no matter what!”

Be honest about the changes. Kids need to be able to voice how difficult this is for them. Acknowledge that there are good and bad things about being in a stepfamily. And it’s NORMAL to have conflicting feelings.

Lay off the physical affection in the early years. Kids do have trouble watching their parent be physically affectionate with a new partner in the early years. So in the early days take it easy. (This does not mean you shouldn’t touch each other at all! Use common sense here.) But as your relationships grow and deepen they typically acclimate just fine. And in fact, the more you demonstrate over time that your marriage is strong, kids end up feeling safer because you’re showing them you’re not going anywhere.

What Do You Desire?

27 04 2010

Is there anything you’ve wanted to do, be or have that you haven’t done? You know, one of those ideas that might have dogged you from your childhood? Or a wild-hair thought you’ve had about something you’d like to do that would be SO FUN? Or something that makes you feel like you’re a kid getting away with something because it feels so amazingly good?

What are you waiting for, Dear Stepmom?

If you’re doing things that make you feel like you’re special then you’ll be a better wife and stepmother. If you feel like your needs and desires are valuable, you won’t be a stepmartyr. And the funny thing is, the moment we start feeling good about ourselves and our amazing lives, our relationships tend to rise to the occasion almost by themselves.

What can you do today that will help you move toward something you desire?

Your Questions Answered: Needy Stepdaughters

14 04 2010

Dear Jacque, I have been married now for almost 4 years to a wonderful man. It has been such a hard adjustment to say the least. I have no children of my own but now have a 19 y.o. stepdaughter and 15 y.o. stepson. I would like to put in a question request…Needy teen stepdaughters who compete for dad attention. Everything I find is about adolescent girls in this situation. She reverts back to a child in his presence and does things like want to sit on his lap, hangs on him, gets upset if he hugs/kisses me (literally asks why I get a hug and she doesn’t), calls our house then cell over and over until he picks up, competes in conversation with her brother and myself. Husband enables this behavior by refusing to set boundaries, tucks them into bed, reads bedtime stories, runs his fingers through her hair and cuddles next to her (almost spooning) while we are watching t.v. That one really creeps me out. She’s 19 with a woman’s figure, not a child. She is wonderful girl and we get along great, I just cannot humor this behavior anymore. I have tried talking to my husband but he only gets upset at me and asks me to stop telling him how to love his children. And that I make it sound like something weird is going on, which I try really hard not to. In this scenario, how can I bring up her neediness and his enabling without upsetting him? I am tired of feeling like the second wife when they visit.

Your question is one that many stepmothers have asked me over the years because the relationship between a stepmother and stepdaughter can be extremely difficult.

There are many factors that can play into this relationship. How close is your stepdaughter to her mother? How long was your stepdaughter the only female in her father’s house? At what age did the divorce or death of her other parent happen? Is she well-adjusted overall or is she a troubled girl?

Clearly your stepdaughter feels a sense of competition with you for her father’s affection and attention. Many children of divorce feel a dramatic loss after their biological parents’ relationship ends because they lose time with both of their parents (if it’s a 50/50 split) or with Dad, if the custody arrangement is more traditional and favors Mom. The fact that this girl’s parents are no longer together and she doesn’t get to spend the time she once did with her father is enough to spur the behavior you describe. Even at 19 years old.

Children who have had a traumatic experience early in life (divorce, death of a parent) are often emotionally less developed than their peers. It’s like their growth gets stunted at the point of impact and it takes them a lot longer to catch up. And there’s also something called Developmental Grieving. At each life milestone, children of divorce re-experience the grief of the childhood trauma. Your stepdaughter is at an age that kids typically leave home for college or their own apartment and that can fuel a big of a backslide into neediness.

I’m going to assume in my response that there is nothing seriously inappropriate going on between your husband and his daughter. That said, I do have some thoughts for you:

Build your marriage. When your stepdaughter is not around, make sure you and your husband are connecting emotionally, physically, and spiritually so you have confidence in your relationship. Go out and have a good time. Volunteer together. Build a vision of your future that you can work toward together. Connect every single day by giving each other compliments, holding hands, or kissing each other on the forehead. Your relationship is between the two of you. If you feel solid in your partnership with him, you won’t care that he’s close to his daughter.Tell your husband what you need to feel loved. Ask him how he likes to express his love for you.

Consider your own assumptions. Families have different levels of comfort with physical closeness. Stepmothers often feel uncomfortable with too much physical closeness between their husbands and their stepdaughters. But your level of comfort with your husband’s physical displays of affection is your problem. If you shared blood with your stepdaughter, you most likely wouldn’t be bothered by the closeness because you would be a part of it. But we stepmothers are the outsiders. We are not allowed in. And in fact, as you mentioned in your email, are viewed as the enemy when we are touched by our husbands in front of their daughters. As long as there is nothing really inappropriate going on, then my advice would be to accept that you have a different comfort level and allow your husband to love his kids the way he wants to as he requested.

Send a no-threat message. When your stepdaughter does flare up when your husband touches you in front of her, don’t rise to the bait. Make a joke. Tell her how much her father loves her. Tell your husband to set up a one-on-one outing. Children need to know their parents love them. Especially children of divorce. They are needy. You’re right about that. To help you understand what’s going on in her mind, read Between Two Worlds by Elizabeth Marquardt or Carolyn Grona’s fantastic blog, The Grown-Up Child.

Look at the big picture. You’ve made it through the hell years, my dear. Teen girls are challenging. Now you won’t have to be stepparenting in person as often as you were the first four years since it’s time for your stepdaughter to set out on her own. Lucky you! Instead of focusing on your negative feelings, look at the up-side. You’re now going to have lots of time to continue building your strong marriage. You’re going to have to opportunity to develop a new kind of relationship with your stepdaughter that over time could really feel great. If you want it to.

Take care of yourself. Sometimes, you need to just get away from stepfamily life. Go away for a weekend when your stepdaughter is going to be there. Remind your husband that you’re in this for the long haul and one weekend, or one day or an evening away from the family is not going to be a big deal.

Celebrate what you’ve done already. You mention that she’s a wonderful girl and you get along great. Wow! Typically the girls who are displaying the behavior you’re describing are really challenging for stepmothers because they swear at us, talk back, ignore us, refuse to be in the house at the same time as us…etc. etc. etc. This is a major achievement. Celebrate it! That she has a good heart means that you will be able to move past this in my opinion. She’s going to find her way to adulthood and it sounds like she’ll be the type of girl to thank you for everything you’ve done for her. Well done!