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.





Guest Post: What is a Mother?

22 06 2010

John and Emily Visher, the legendary stepfamily researchers found that the more flexible a stepfamily is, the better off they are. In that spirit I want to run a Mother’s Day guest post by guest blogger Traci Dority about what Mother’s Day means to her even though Mother’s Day was a while ago! Traci is a stepmother of two and a stepdaughter. She’s an actress, writer, and producer and is working to create a film called Nuclear Families that’s a wonderfully fun and unique way of looking at blended family life. You can also check out the Stepmom Circles Podcast to listen to my interview with Traci, whose story is an inspiration. -Jacque

As Mother’s Day just passed, I’ve been thinking about the women in my life who have at one time or another held the title of Mother, Stepmother, Grandmother, or Step Grandmother. I looked up in my Random House Webster’s College Dictionary the definition of MOTHER. The one that jumped out at me is; “A woman looked upon as a mother, or exercising authority like that of a mother.” How wonderful that being a stepmother is included in this definition!

I’m a stepmom and I bring to this role my history of having also been a stepchild. In fact, like Tiffany in Nuclear Families the movie (www.nuclearfamiliesthemovie.com), I have had two stepmothers. Like most children of divorce I had to battle the issue of split loyalties and didn’t initially make the effort to maintain relationships with my ex-Stepmothers.

As a stepmom, I have worked hard to temper my expectations about how my stepkids should respond to me. I’ve gotten clear on what I perceive my purpose is in their lives. The conclusion I’ve come to is that if I can just be a good role model for them, I’ve done my job influencing their life. I’ve promised myself I will always teach them by living my life fully. This doesn’t mean I’m self involved, it just means that my influence in their life is less about what I say and more about what I do. I do show up for them when they need me, but mostly they have two great biological parents that are my stepkids’ “go to” people. Trust me Stepmoms, I know sometimes this is a hard pill to swallow, but we aren’t in our stepkids life to replace anyone. However, I do believe it isn’t a mistake that we are in their lives, for whatever period we are able to spend with them.

All of my stepparents have influenced my life and contributed to shaping the person I am today. Unlike Tiffany in Nuclear Families, I haven’t always had the courage to recognize my stepparents (both current and ex’s) impact on my life. Today, I want to pay tribute to the women who have welcomed me into their lives regardless of my biology.

First to my mom – You are my hero and as I see you in me everyday I feel blessed. In my acting work, I always see an expression that is classic “Shelby”. AND, I owe you and Nanny the gifts of good skin, class, and chattiness.

To my first stepmother – I owe my talent for hosting a perfect party and my love for photographs.

To my second stepmother – I owe my joy for cooking and creating beautiful spaces.

To my Granny – I owe my silliness.

And to my step-Grandmother’s – I owe the gift of acceptance. To Maw- maw specifically  – I owe the belief in the power of prayer.

THANK YOU all for contributing to the woman, wife, stepmom and soon-to-be mom that I am.





Guest Post: Carolyn Grona of The Grown Up Child

21 10 2009

Wondering what your stepchildren are going through? I am not only a stepmom–today I have my ADOC hat on. (That’s adult child of divorce for you ladies from intact families of origin.) and I came across this post that Carolyn Grona wrote on her blog The Grown Up Child. She nailed it. I invited Carolyn to talk with me for my Stepmom Circles podcast, too. She talks about what her experience was like as a rebellious teenage stepdaughter. So make sure to check it out for another perspective that can help you understand your stepkids.

Feeling Wanted

by Carolyn Grona

As a child of divorce I’ve lived my life with one enormous fear. The fear of not being wanted. It still haunts me. I’ve seen it haunt others. Like a monkey on our backs that lays dormant for a while but wakes up at the slightest hint of confirmation. I wish it wasn’t so. I wish I could shake it. I’ve even thought I had from time to time until something has triggered my fear and the monkey has raised it’s head from my shoulder. Whispering in my ear, “See? You were right. You weren’t wanted after all.”

I’ve always tended to be logical; a linear thinker. It always made me pretty good in math and not so good in the creative arts. And as a young kid, my logic went like this: If my parents no longer love each other and don’t want the life they created together, how could they possibly want me? Wasn’t I basically the sole representation of the life they had created and now wanted away from? If it’s children that turn couples into families and my family was broken, didn’t that mean I was too? And who wants a broken kid to lug around? I wouldn’t.

Of course my logic was never supported. My parents would tell me outright how much they loved me. How wanted I was. But that damn monkey wouldn’t go away. And a toxic script would run through my head at the slightest trigger. A missed phone call. A raised voice. A scowl. An off hand remark.

My internal dialogue would sound like this: They loved each other and created me. I am half of each of them. But now they don’t love each other, so how can they possibly love me? Maybe half of me. That I could understand; but never all of me. Not the parts that come from the other. But I can’t be split in two, I can only be one whole person. And if they can’t stand half of me, it’s not possible for them to love all of me. Maybe I can hide. But I can’t help being the constant reminder of the marriage they didn’t want. I can’t help always requiring an explanation. Wouldn’t their lives be easier if I just didn’t exist?

And the monkey would agree wholeheartedly.

It’s a scary thing. Worrying that the only two people in the world that are required by nature to love you, might not. Because if your own parents can’t love you, than who can? These are questions no child really wants the answers to but also wants answered most of all. And so the dance begins. Pushing and pulling. Testing and trusting. Seeing if they will hit their breaking point and admit what you’ve been so afraid of hearing and then feeling the flood of love and admiration when they don’t. This is what kids who are unsure of their relationships do.

But as I got older I did something else. And I’ve watched a lot of my ACOD friends do it too. I pulled back as most teenagers do. But I never really came back. A defensive action. My internal dialogue changing. It became: One day they might realize I was a mistake and get tired of being reminded of the union they severed. Tired of seeing their ex partner in me. And when that happens I’ll be ready. I won’t want them as much as they won’t want me. I can’t let them hurt me like that.

I’ve seen this so often and I did it too. Trivializing my parental relationships. Forming insignificant attachments with my most significant others. I had to be strong enough; indifferent enough. Because if it all came crashing down, that’s what would make it survivable. I thought of it as a preparedness measure. No different from stocking up on water and canned goods in case of emergency.

And the monkey would agree wholeheartedly.

It’s incredible how comforting the feeling of being wanted can be for a child. And how destabilizing the fear of losing that feeling is. The feeling becomes like the ground beneath your feet. One can focus on so much more when not preoccupied with the idea it might turn to quicksand. I’ve tried to build strong relationships all around me. Things I can point to and say, see? Look at all these people who love me, my parents would be crazy to not do the same. Also serving as, See? Look at all this support that I have. I’ll do just fine without them. A feeble attempt to firm up my ground.

In my adult life I have had times when I’ve felt close to my parents and times when I didn’t. Times when I’ve felt embraced by them and times when I’ve felt rejected. I still find myself distanced; struggling to trust. Even when the monkey is silent I find myself analyzing their reactions to me. Questioning the solidarity of our bond. And those are the moments the monkey loves.

He says “Be careful. They could destroy you. Remember when? Don’t give them the chance.”

Sometimes the monkey wins. I agree and I put up my front.

But sometimes the relationship wins and I tell the monkey to just shut up and go back to sleep. Maybe one day if he gets told that enough, he’ll get mad and move out all together.

What a liberating day that would be.





An Outraged Rant: Legal Guardianship

5 08 2009

The ostracizing of the American stepfamily continues.

As you might know already, stepparents are not legally related to their stepchildren. Laws are different in every state, and there are a few exceptions but overall WE ARE NOT FAMILY IN THE EYES OF THE LAW. That means unless you have a legal guardianship document that is signed by BOTH PARENTS if they are still living and available, then you can’t take the kids to the hospital and okay an emergency medical procedure that could save their lives, pick them up from school, ask for a report card from school, or GET THEM A LIBRARY CARD.

Seriously.

Today I went to the Dakota County Library in Lakeville, Minn. Because I did not have proof of legal guardianship I was not allowed to help my stepkids get library cards.

I was told this by a librarian in front of all of the children. She might as well have said YOU ARE NOT A REAL FAMILY. And a once proud stepfamily walked a little less tall today. Even though I really wanted to tell her off I knew it wasn’t this librarian’s fault. It is a policy.

With stepfamilies and the people who are not married who are living with other people’s kids OUTNUMBERING first families in America, these outdated policies are completely ridiculous.

Certainly the ostracizing of American stepfamilies will continue if we hold our tongues about tough issues or don’t share with our communities and schools and governments that their policies are based on 1950s dream-land and not the reality of the lives of the people they serve.

Please, please, please, check into the laws about your legal relationships in your state. And if you don’t have a legal guardianship document signed, ask your partner to talk to his ex about getting one signed for you.  And get it done.  

I don’t have one. Not because we haven’t had the discussion about the need for one or that anyone disagrees to it, but because no one (read DH) has ever gotten around to getting the document, encouraging our other household to sign it, and signing it himself. 

I am absolutely outraged. A library card. Three children were turned out on the street today by our country’s library system because a devoted stepparent who helps pay for the house they live in and the food they eat, who listens to them talk about their problems at school or with friends, who provides daycare during the summer, does their laundry, gives them hugs, bandages them up when they fall down, and helps try to raise them to be successful adults was not allowed to get them a library card.

This must change. It’s time we stood up for ourselves not only with our stepfamily members but with society at large, don’t you think?

Has anyone else felt ostrasized because you’re in a stepfamily? By your church, school, neighbors, government, friends, family?





Remarriage causes stress for kids.

10 12 2008

Ladies, I’ve come across some research you have to know about. In fact there is so much in it that I will do several posts on the issues raised in the study. Stepfamily researcher and author Constance Ahrons published a study last year called Family Ties After Divorce: Long-Term Implications for Children in the journal Family Process. Click on the link if you’d like read the entire paper.

“Drawing on the data from the longitudinal Binuclear Family Study, 173 grown children were interviewed 20 years after their parents’ divorce. This article addresses two basic questions: (1) What impact does the relationship between parents have on their children 20 years after the divorce? and (2) When a parent remarries or cohabits, how does it impact a child’s sense of family?”

This passage struck me as particularly powerful because it relates directly to our role as stepmoms:

“Over the course of 20 years, most of the children experienced the remarriage of one or both parents, and one third of this sample remembered the remarriage as more stressful than the divorce. Of those who experienced the remarriage of both of their parents, two thirds reported that their father’s remarriage was more stressful than their mother’s.”

Two-thirds!!!!! This is deeply distressing. Why do these children find Stepmom and Dad’s marriage so stressful? And what can we stepmoms do to ease this transition not only for ourselves but for the children we take on in our remarriages?

Here are the findings Constance reports:

“When a parent remarries or cohabits, how does it impact a child’s sense of family? Twenty years after their parents’ divorce, most of the adult children had experienced the remarriage of at least one parent. Of the 89 families in this analysis, at least one remarriage occurred in 95% of them; 72% (n = 64) of the mothers and 87% (n = 77) of the fathers had remarried at least one time. In 64% (n = 56) of the families, both parents had remarried. In only 4 families had neither parent remarried. More fathers than mothers remarried, and they remarried more quickly after the divorce. In this sample, 24%, 60%, and 70% of the fathers had remarried at 1, 3, and 5 years postdivorce, whereas fewer mothers had remarried in each of the times, 12%, 38%, and 49%, respectively.

Remarriage represents another dramatic change in the divorced family’s reorganization, and children vary in their responses to this change. When asked whether the divorce or a parent’s remarriage was more difficult to cope with, more than half of the adult children reported that the divorce was most difficult, and approximately one third remembered the remarriage of one or more parents as creating more distress than the divorce. Of those who experienced the remarriage of both parents, two thirds reported that their father’s remarriage was more stressful than their mother’s.

The adult children’s reports of the impact of their father’s remarriage were associated with their reports of changes in father-child relationship quality. Specifically, those who reported that their father’s remarriage had a positive impact on their lives were more likely to report that their relationship with their father got better postdivorce compared with those who reported that their father’s remarriage had a neutral or negative impact on their lives. A disproportionately high number of those reporting that their relationships worsened with their fathers after divorce had experienced his remarriage within one year postdivorce (Ahrons & Tanner, 2003).

The majority of children in the study reported that at the time of the interview, they had good relationships with one or both of their stepparents. Most noted that this was not always the case in the beginning but that relationships had improved over time as they came to know their stepparents better. Some gender differences emerged, with two thirds reporting a close relationship with their stepfathers, and somewhat less than half felt close to their stepmothers. For those children who feel that their relationships with their stepparents were close, two thirds considered their stepfathers as parents, and somewhat fewer felt the same way about their stepmothers. The others, who felt close but did not consider their stepparents to be parents, describe their stepparents as friends or mentors. It is important to note that although there were some differences in their feelings toward their stepmothers versus their stepfathers, these differences were not related to the child’s gender. Boys and girls both viewed their stepparents in similar ways.

The age of the child, the personality match between a stepchild and stepparent, the relationship with each biological parent, and the amount of time spent with a stepfather are major factors that influence the role he takes in their lives. Because most mothers are still the primary residential parent, most stepfathers live with their stepchildren. Although some children who are close with their stepfathers have poor relationships with their biological fathers, others who have poor stepfather relationships are close with their biological fathers. Still others are able to maintain good relationships with both, and a small group of children have poor relationships with both.

The findings also show an association between relationships with their father and relationships with their father’s kin. When relationships with their fathers got worse over time, they reported poorer current relationships with their stepmother, her children (their stepsiblings), and their paternal grandparents. This was most salient when the father remarried shortly after divorce. Adult children who reported that their father’s remarriage had a positive effect on their lives also said that they had better relationships with their stepmothers, stepsiblings, and paternal grandparents. This is important because it relates to the long-term implications of the adult children’s sense of family after divorce. Because children have two sets of kin, whether and how they relate to them carries implications for the continuity of family relationships (Ahrons & Rodgers, 1989).”

So what does this mean in real terms? Clearly, helping to foster strong relationships between your stepchildren and their Dad is the most important action you can take. I will post separately about steps we can take on a daily basis to make sure that our families are the ones that have a positive effect on the children.





Back to School

28 10 2008

Florida State University sociologist Kathryn Harker Tillman has published some disturbing information in the Social Science Research journal. She analyzed data from a nationally representative study of 11,000 U.S. adolescents in grades 7 through 12 and found that kids who live with stepsiblings or half-siblings do worse in school than those who live with full siblings only. Not only do these kids have lower grades, they also have more behavioral problems. And boys do slightly worse than girls. Interestingly, if kids have stepsiblings and half-siblings in the house, they fare a bit better than if they have only one or the other.
 
Tillman goes on to say that grades do not improve with time. “We cannot assume that over time, children will naturally adjust to the new roles and relationships that arise when families are blended,” Tillman said. “This research indicates that the effects of new stepsiblings or half siblings may actually become more negative over time or, at the least, remain consistently negative.”
 
This is scary stuff, ladies. There’s more. This is from the press release issued by Florida State University about the study: Tillman says: “Part of what makes stepfamily life difficult for young people is the complexity, ambiguity, and stress that come with having nontraditional siblings living in the same home. Stepsiblings who are living together may also engage in, or at least perceive, more competition for parental time, attention, and resources than full siblings.
 In addition to stressful life changes and ambiguous family roles, stepfamily formation leads to the introduction of a new parent-figure who may be less willing or able to invest in a child’s development and academic success. Stepparent-child relationships tend to be more conflict-ridden than relationships with biological parents, and stepparents tend to offer children less parental support, closeness, and supervision. The presence of a stepparent also generally leads to a decline in the amount of attention and supervision children receive from the biological parent with whom they live.  

Furthermore, stepparents generally report feeling less of an obligation to provide financial support for stepchildren’s postsecondary education, and both biological parents and stepparents report actually providing less support for children’s education when they are living in a stepfamily.
Lower social and financial investments may signal to children a lack of parental interest and lower expectations for academic achievement and college attendance. In turn, youth in stepfamilies may be less likely to get academic assistance when needed, less likely to work for higher grades and more likely to act out at school.”

Wow. We live in an age where your education determines everything. Your income, the type of job you’ll be able to get, the neighborhood you live in, your social standing. Education is crucial. It’s a ticket to freedom of choice. If there is one thing I lobby for it’s education.
And yet I have to say when I read this it made me uncomfortable because as a stepparent, I certainly have been less involved with my stepkids’ education than I could be. Of course, there are reasons for that. Their mother is the one who is in charge of their education. I don’t feel like it’s my place to stick my nose in.
 
Still, could I be more active in making sure they understand the importance of school? Yes. Do I treat their education differently than I will treat my daughter’s when she’s old enough? Yes. Do I help them with their homework? Yes. Will I help pay for them to go to college? Not sure. It depends on our resources. Will I put my daughter through college? Yes. Is this fair? Hell no. Do I feel guilty? Yes. Will I lobby my husband and his ex to teach the kids the importance of going to college and even graduate school? Yes. Do I try to open their minds by teaching them the importance of learning? Yes. But I don’t feel like it’s my place to ride them about school as hard as I will certainly ride my own child.
 
This study has sparked heated debate among stepfamily professionals as you might imagine. And the emotions are hot in stepfamilies on this topic. It’s a ripe arena for anger and jealousy to brew. In a perfect world, all the kids in our house and the kids’ mom’s house would receive the same kind of education about education. They would have the same opportunities. But it’s not equal. It’s not the same. And that’s part of what makes stepfamily life so complicated.
 
As the beginning of the school year approaches, I’m going to reassess my approach to my stepchildren’s education. How can I be more involved? How can I make sure they feel supported? How can I pass on to them how important good grades are? What will you do this year to help your stepkids do better in school?





Advice for Bio Parents: Honor Your Kids’ Stepparent

28 10 2008

Pass this on to your spouse, or if you have biological children, try these exercises on your partner.

1) Offer a compliment a day. Practice showing your spouse your gratitude every single day with a compliment or a message of thanks. Make a mark on your calendar on all the days you remember to show appreciation to your partner. If compliments don’t come easy to you, practicing them will help you become more comfortable. And the smile on your partner’s face will inspire you to continue. Here are some ideas to get you started: “Thank you so much for helping Tommy with his homework.” “I really appreciate all the work you do for our family.” “I know this can be frustrating, but I am so thankful you’re willing to talk about this.” “Wow, thank you!”

2) Give her a shout out. Honor your partner in front of the kids so you are modeling to them that this person is important in your life and makes you happy. This will help you and your spouse maintain a united front to the children, and will set up a clear message to the kids that the stepparent is here to stay and is completely supported by their birth parent.

3) Send a message of thanks. Every night before you go to bed, write down or simply think of three reasons you’re grateful for your partner’s presence in your life.

4) Include her in the decision-making. We stepmoms all know that as the biological parent, you have the final say in the raising of your children. However, making a stepmom feel included in the household isn’t that hard to do. Simply listen to what she has to say, discuss the pros and cons with each other and work out a solution together as a team. She’s volunteered to join your family; now help her feel like she’s welcome.

5) Carve out alone time. Every stepparent needs alone time with their spouse. Make time each week that just the two of you can be together without his kids or her kids so you can continue to nurture your partnership. Each biological parent also needs time alone with their children so each individual relationship within your family unit receives the time and attention it needs to flourish.