Teleconference Call Reminder

13 01 2009

There’s still time to sign up for the teleconference call this Thursday, January 15.

Join me for a live one-hour teleconference call with Emily Bouchard, a stepmom of two, blended family coach, and the founder of www.blended-families.com on Thursday, January 15, 2009, at 6 p.m. PST / 9 p.m. EST as we discuss the challenges and joys of stepmotherhood!

The call is free (except for your local long-distance charges). To participate, all you need to do is submit a question for me here. After you send a question, the instructions for how to get on the call will be emailed to you.

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What stepmoms can do for dads and their kids.

10 12 2008

Before you read this post, please read the research by Constance Ahrons that sparked this list. In my book and on this blog, I have said many times how important the relationship between your husband and his kids is. Not only because I value my own relationship with my father, but also because much research has been done on how negatively impacted children are when they don’t have their fathers in their lives.

So what can we do to help foster the relationship our partner has with his kids?

Encourage one-on-one time. When your stepchildren are visiting, suggest that your husband take each one of them out at a time for a walk, a visit to the park, a meal, so they can have time together.

Support involvement. If your stepkids have school events, games, or concerts tell your husband to attend them with or without you. I clearly remember looking for my father at my sports games and feeling such deep disappointment when he didn’t show and joy when he did.

Let him do the parenting. As a stepparent, you play second fiddle to the biological parent when it comes to discipline. If Dad is showing signs of becoming a permissive parent because he feels too guilty about what he’s done to his kids to parent them, then show him this post. He needs to parent his kids for them to feel loved and safe. Disneyland Dads are harmful to their children’s development. And as the stepmom, you shouldn’t be asked to discipline his kids. It’s not fair and it has the potential to ruin your relationship with the children.

Create traditions. Because stepfamilies take so long to feel like family (7 to 12 years according to researcher Patricia Papernow) do everything you can to build traditions that are just for your new family. One tradition my stepmother started that I deeply appreciated was a gift she made. Every year she put together a photo album of each of us kids with our dad. Though she was a part of those albums, too, she stayed in the background. By putting together those albums every year she was fostering my connection to my father.  

Let go of jealousy. Your stepchildren will have a relationship with their father until the day he dies. So think big picture here. That relationship will affect graduations, weddings, funerals, the birth of children, etc. etc. etc. If you’re really in this relationship for the long-term, then you simply can’t be jealous of the time he spends with his kids. If you have your whole lives together, then there is plenty of time for Dad to spend with you, any children you have together, and your stepkids.

Do you have things you do to support your partner’s relationship with his kid(s) that have worked well? Let us know what you do so the rest of us can try it!





Big Changes

1 11 2008

I am excited to announce some big changes! I will no longer be sending out the Becoming a Stepmom newsletter. Now you can find all the archived stories from all the newsletters up on this blog at www.becomingastepmom.com. I will be adding new content every week so you’ll still be able to read the newsletter, but in blog form! We’ll be able to connect with each other in a more direct way with online conversations. I hope you’ll feel free to comment, ask questions, suggest topics, and give others advice about what worked for you. I will also continue to build a resources page that will ultimately contain books, therapists who specialize in stepfamily development, organizations, and websites. If you’ve got favorites send them along!

The blog www.becomingastepmom.com will continue to have advice from marriage and family professionals, ideas from veteran stepmoms, and summaries of the latest research and how we can apply success strategies to our own families.

If you’re new to Becoming a Stepmom, you can sign up to receive new posts in your email inbox. Just click the link at the top of the right-hand navigation. 

In addition to the blog at www.becomingastepmom.com, I am also working on a new book series called 101 Smackdowns for Your Inner Critic: Knock out your doubts and create the life of your dreams. Check out the blog at www.101smackdowns.com and let me know what you think! Your feedback is always deeply appreciated.

Questions? Feel free to email me at becomingastepmom (at) gmail.com.

Here’s to building stepfamilies that last a lifetime.

Cheers,

Jacque





The Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmum

31 10 2008

This article originally appeared in Image Parenting magazine, in Ireland

When I turned 30, I had a fantastic career and a lovely flat. A perfect life filled with friends, holidays, yoga, and dinners out. When I returned home after a day’s work, the television remote control was right where I left it. The dishes in the sink were mine. The shoes in the middle of the living room belonged to the lovely man I was dating. Yes, he had kids. Three of them, but I hadn’t met them yet. I was just having a wonderful time dating a man who just happened to be divorced.

When I decided to marry him, life changed, to put it mildly. Suddenly, there were dirty socks on the kitchen counter top. There were toys wedged between the sofa cushions and plates of half-eaten food left on bookshelves.

As women continue to marry later in life-often after they’ve established their professional careers and their own well-run busy social lives-more and more are meeting grooms who come with ready-made families. Yet, despite this, nowhere could I find advice to help figure out what was going on in my own home. Why could I no longer recognize myself or my kitchen? Why did I keep crying in the laundry room? What had happened to my lovely world? The answers weren’t clear so to figure out how to transform myself from single girl to stepmum, I talked to as many stepmothers, stepfamily researchers, and marriage and family professionals as I could find. Eventually, I discovered a simple truth: the skills I’d developed as a career girl were exactly what I needed to become a stepmum. Here’s what I learned:

Gain Market Intelligence
Women who are aware of the particular dynamics of stepfamilies are much more prepared to deal with the challenges. Kay Christie, 56, is stepmother to four children who were between the ages of 18 and 27 when she married their dad in 1996. She took a four-day class to learn how stepfamilies are different from first families. “Without it I would have given up. At least then I knew there were cycles a stepfamily goes through. I learned that the couple bond has to be preserved and take priority.” 

Analyze the Existing Structure
Most of the research done on stepfamilies shows that when a new stepmother enters a family and demands sweeping changes, chaos ensues. At the beginning, while everyone’s getting to know one another, it is important to sit back and observe how things work, essentially to honor how they have chosen to live before you came along. 

“Stepparents need to be respectful and observant,” says Patti Kelly Criswell, a clinical social worker who often works with children in stepfamilies. “Instead of saying ‘this is intolerable,’ make suggestions and ask questions: ‘I would like to see the house a little cleaner. How can we live together in harmony?’ If you’re a natural leader, it’s even more important to be really careful in this respect.” Still, it’s important not to feel powerless and voiceless in your own home. That’s where Dad comes in.

Delegate Authority
Dads in new stepfamilies really have to do a lot of work to help the newly formed family succeed. He’s the middle man. He’s the one everyone-the kids, a new stepmother, the ex-wife-are all looking to for guidance. The more you and your spouse can work as a team, the better off everyone will be. In the early days, create a list of house rules together that everyone must live by. The list should include rules the kids already live with. However, you can add a few of your own that are important for you to feel comfortable in the house. Dad then presents this list to the kids, outlining the consequences of not following the rules and explaining that you can enforce them when he’s not home. That way, in the eyes of the children, you clearly have the support of Dad but are not solely to blame for any changes. 

Build Community
Just like any relationship, to build strong bonds, it’s important to spend one-on-one time with each member of the stepfamily. “I was never pushy about acceptance,” says Julie of her four stepchildren, who were ages six, eight, 13, and 15 when she met their dad over seven years ago. “I never had any kind of preconceived notion that I would replace their mother. I figured the relationships would develop the way they would. I’ve always been a kid person and I play a lot so that made it easier. We played and had fun and I didn’t put pressure on the relationships.” 

Create a Structure of Support
Stepmothers often report feeling like outsiders in their own homes. Allison remembers how awful she felt when she became a stepmother to three teens. “In the beginning, they made a point of not including me. They’d tell inside jokes, have family discussions about their holidays together. There were times at the dinner table when literally not one person would address me, not even my husband. Even though I was taking up a chair, I didn’t exist.” 

Women like Allison who have rocky beginnings but end up happy stepmothers are usually adept at surrounding themselves with people, a career, and hobbies that make them feel good.

Kay, the stepmother of four now grown-up children, reports on the things she did to stay balanced through the difficult years. “You have to do something to keep your sanity. I wrote in a journal to relieve the stress and a friend of mine, another stepmother, and I talked every couple of days at length. I have always been a person who exercises so I was going to my fitness classes or walking. When I knew the boys were coming home for two to three weeks, I would schedule a massage weekly.”

Working women say that keeping their careers when they join their new stepfamily helps them maintain a sense of identity during a sometimes traumatic transition period. Lauren and her husband Tom have been married for 25 years. Tom had full custody of his three young boys when they met and the couple later had three more children together. Right from the beginning, Lauren knew she had to continue to pursue her desire to be a doctor. “I needed my career for my own ego, identity, and self-worth,” she says.

Interview the Participants
Keep in mind that kids whose parents are divorced or who have lived through the death of a parent are often wounded. They are likely to be experiencing grief, fear and anger because their lives have changed in a way they have no control over, so go easy on them and try to see things from their point of view. Allison struggled with her relationships with her three teenage stepchildren in the early years of her marriage. “Since I had never had children of my own, I was looking forward to the experience. Little did I know it would be full of landmines, that when kids have no room to vent their anger and hurt and can’t really rail at their parents, you become the target.” 

Eventually, she understood that the kids, and even her husband, were working through old divorce wounds. “I had to be the adult and remember that sometimes their reactions were coming through a huge filter of hurt. I couldn’t be tied to the outcome. I went at them consistently with kindness and no attachment to their reaction, and eventually they came around. But I couldn’t give up; you can’t give up.”

Tend Your Relationship
Ultimately, no matter what a new stepmother does to build a bond with her stepkids, it is her marital relationship that is the most important. Divorce rates for remarriages are higher than first marriages so to maintain the health and longevity of the relationship, a new couple must make their union a priority.

Kay and her spouse made sure they created many happy memories together. “My husband was always good at making time for us to go away. In the early years of our marriage it was about once a month. We do it quarterly now and it has helped bond us and keep the romance alive.”

Career girls-turned-stepmums know that juggling a job, a marriage, and stepkids can be a challenge. But they’re also brilliant at setting goals, building camaraderie and solving problems with creativity and passion-exactly what it takes to build a successful stepfamily.

Jacquelyn B. Fletcher is a stepmum of three, mum of one, and the author of A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom (HarperCollins 2007).