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:

Exercise

Focus on your career

Go back to school

Meditate

Pray

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

Travel

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:








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