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?

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Stepmothers and the Illusion of Control

19 05 2011

When I interviewed Dr. Paul Rosch, the president of the American Institute of Stress, he told me that when you don’t feel like you have control, you feel stress. This comes as no surprise to stepmothers everywhere. But I’ve noticed in my own life and in talking to stepmoms that we often react to this lack of control in our home lives by becoming tense and controlling over things that the research on stepfamilies tells us often result in backfiring. (Manners, cleanliness, rules, grades, food,  schedules, ex-wives, etc.)

I reacted to the stress of moving in with three children and their dad. Boy did I ever. But after a while, we found our equilibrium. I found little things I could control that made me feel more involved in the family. And I worked hard to develop a really strong marriage so I felt safe enough to let go of some control. Most days this works. Some days it doesn’t and I continue to struggle with the things I have no say over.

When I had my daughter, the lack of control that is inherent in getting pregnant, giving birth, and raising a child brought me to my knees in a way that stepmothering didn’t. I had a say about what I put in my mouth while I was pregnant so my child got all the nutrients she needed. But I didn’t have a say in how or whether she grew in the dark of my tummy. I have a say in how this girl is raised like I have never had with my stepchildren, but she can still choke on an apple and all of my carefully laid plans are thrown out the window as I work to help her get the food out of her throat. I have a say in what school she goes to, what books she reads, and her access to the Internet, but she can still fall and break an arm.

This is what I’ve been meditating on lately. We need to feel control over our lives and our environments. I agree. And at the same time, life will have its way with us no matter how we plan or clean or prepare healthy foods for our families.

It comes down to the same things it has always come down to:  How do we feel safe enough to let go of control just for the sake of having something to control? How do we make peace with the fact that, really, we don’t have control over the big things in life? The ones that matter more than anything else?





New Stepmom Circles Podcast: Ron Deal and StepDads

21 04 2011

Finally!!! A new Stepmom Circles Podcast is ready. Ron Deal is one of my favorite guests. In this show we talk about Ron’s new book, The Smart Stepdad. There are even fewer resources for stepdads than there are for stepmoms. Ron always has so much wisdom to share and this podcast is not just for stepdads. It’s for moms who have kids and married a man who became a stepdad to their children. It’s for stepmothers because is the advice he gives is applicable to all of us. Find Ron at http://www.successfulstepfamilies.com

Enjoy!





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!





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!





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?