Group Coaching Class: Winter Session Starts Soon!

2 02 2011

Looking to connect with other stepmothers and find out concrete things you can do help yourself and your family?

The winter Stepmom Circles Group Coaching session starts in two weeks!

“It was such a positive experience! I carry with me Jacque’s fun loving, caring and supportive voice. It’s a voice I will carry with me for a long time.” –Stepmom of 2

The Stepmom Circles group meets for an hour and a half each week for six weeks over the telephone. We discuss stepfamily challenges based on your needs. (Creating a strong partnership with your spouse, dealing with the ex, bonding with the stepkids, handling your negative feelings, identifying common stepfamily mistakes, discovering what successful stepfamilies know). Each woman in the group is given the chance to ask questions, share challenges, and receive guidance.

Dates
Wednesday evenings, February 16 to March 23.

Time
6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Central Standard Time

Cost
The cost of a six-week session is $197. The conference call each week is long-distance so you will be charged your regular long-distance charges by your phone carrier. If you have a digital plan with free long distance then the call is free. Payment can be made via Paypal or by check.

As a member of a Stepmom Circles coaching group you’ll receive

  • a FREE half-hour, get-to-know you consultation with stepfamily expert Jacquelyn Fletcher over the phone before the class begins
  • email access to me between group coaching sessions so you can ask questions that come up during the week
  • an autographed copy of my book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom

Email becomingastepmom (@) gmail (dot) com for more information or to reserve your spot in the upcoming session. Space is limited.

“Thank you again for such an enlightening 6 weeks! So much insight and shifts in my thinking…I really needed that. I look forward to the day when I can look back on these tough times and laugh. Thanks for the inspiration! You truly made me think in ways that were outside my comfort zone. I look forward to the continuation of my journey, and hope to get to that place of peace that you talk about. I hope that someday I can inspire other stepmoms as you have inspired me. Thank you for your words of wisdom.” – Stepmom of 3

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Your Questions Answered: It Feels Like My Husband Has 2 Wives

2 02 2011

Dear Jacque,

I have been reading your blog for a while now and I must say, it has really helped. I was hoping you could give me some ex advice.   My husband’s ex has many great qualities, but she is not exactly an independent person, which makes her quite needy to my husband for things that it seems any grown woman should be capable of doing on her own. Of course, in order to get my husband to do whatever it is she doesn’t feel like doing she always throws in the classic, “I’m busy raising our girls”,  or ” It’s for the girls”  something, anything related to the girls.  My husband is a good man and this always works.  This has become tiresome for me at times because I feel like my husband has 2 wives.   Otherwise our situation is quite good. How do we fix this? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Stepmom: So many stepmothers have been in your shoes! This is especially true in the first few years of a new marriage but it can be ongoing for some women. You mentioned that other than this neediness, your situation is good. And I don’t know how old the girls are though I would assume they’re still in the house.

A few questions for you, then. The happiest stepmothers I know are the most secure in their relationships with their husbands. Do you feel loved and appreciated by your spouse? Does he honor you in front of the children and defend you to them? Does he give you authority in the house as another adult? Those are all wonderful signs that he is firmly in your court. Because men with children from a previous marriage have children and an ex demanding attention, stepmothers often feel on rocky ground. Women sometimes have a secret fear that they are expendable to their husbands and if it really came down it they would choose to keep the peace with an ex or a kid before they’d draw a line in the sand and stand with by their side. This is CHALLENGING.

The first thing I would ask you to do is to really look at what is working well for you and your family. Those are strengths you can build on. Then perhaps you and your husband could sit down and make a list of all the things he is willing to do for his ex and those he’s not. The two of you could have a discussion about what you think is appropriate. Then he can slowly begin to remove himself from her life. You didn’t mention what kind of chores he does for her, but here are a few ideas for you.

Be honest. Setting boundaries with an ex wife is a critical developmental stage in stepfamilies. (Listen to the Stepmom Circles Podcast I did with Dave Carder for more information about this.) It can be very confusing for kids if Dad is still coming over to the house to help Mom program the TIVO or shovel the driveway. Kids hold on to the fantasy that their parents are really going to get back together much longer. Honesty is always the best place to start if your spouse feels like he can have an open discussion about this with his ex. If straightforward communication doesn’t work, try these boundary setting strategies along with the honesty:

Be busy. Take a class, go on long walks together, visit friends, join a club, get out of the house. If you’re not home or not available, she’ll have to find other solutions to her problems.

Don’t pick up the phone or answer emails or texts right away. Your husband has responded to his ex’s calls for help up until this point so she has come to expect him to jump when she calls. He’s going to have to re-train her. He can try taking a little bit longer to respond every time.

Send her some names of a few handymen. One of my mentors, the amazing and lovely Gay Hendricks, gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard: Empower others to help themselves.

Pray that she meets someone else or set her up on a date. This sounds crass, I know. But the truth is, if the ex remarries, life becomes MUCH easier for stepmoms and ex-husbands. She’ll have someone else who can come to her rescue. Before I dated my husband I met a woman who wanted to set me up with her husband for the same reason! She wanted him off her back and she wanted him and their son to be with someone she liked. Hilarious.

Protect your marriage. You don’t have to let this get in between you and your husband. We all make choices about how we will react in any given situation. He might decide that until his daughters are out of school he is going to be his ex’s handyman because he feels guilty and he’s a nice guy. If that’s the decision he makes then you’ll have to decide how you will respond to it from now on. You can either decide to allow it to make you feel insecure or angry or annoyed OR you can deny the ex that power over you. You can choose a different reaction. Instead of feeling the rush of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, you can take deep breaths (count four on the way in and five on the way out) and let your body calm down. You can choose to leave his past up to him to deal with. You can decide to be FREE of the feelings she inspires in you. To start this process you’re going to need some distractions! A trip to the gym, a lunch out with friends, a good book, a movie in the middle of the day, removing yourself from the room when she calls, etc. etc.

I hope some of this helps! 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. I wish you and your family peace! Be well.

 

 





Guest Post: I’m a Stepmom, Too

25 01 2011

A few years ago at tradeshow, I was talking with a young woman at the booth next to mine. Just a casual conversation between strangers – a friendly back-and-forth.

She mentioned that it was her one year anniversary that week. I offered congratualtions and asked her if she was enjoying married life. Her reply? “I’m a stepmom.”

That’s it. That’s all she said.

I waited.

And waited.

Then I said, “I’m a stepmom too.”

More silence.

Then I said, “It’s ok if you don’t love the kids.”

She got tears in her eyes and thanked me. She said she felt like there was something wrong with her. I assured her there was not.

We talked for a long time that day. I think I helped her understand that she was not alone, she wasn’t evil, she was really quite normal. I encouraged her to befriend other stepmoms, because her friends who were birth moms would not – could not – fully empathize and offer the kind of support she needed. The trade show ended. We hugged goodbye. I never saw her again.

But I learned a valuable lesson that day. When you meet a stranger and learn that she’s a stepmom, speak up. Offer support and understanding. We need each other.

Carrie, the author of this post is a longtime reader of my blog. What a treat to run such a great story! Thank you Carrie. We do need each other.





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.





Your Questions Answered: Troubled 18-Year-Old Stepson Moves In

3 06 2010

Hi Jacque,

I know that you must have advice for stepmoms like myself. I feel like I am going to fall apart. My children are 26 and 21; my husband’s are 27 and 21. We live his home state because, as he put it, “his kids needed more help than mine did”.

I am happy to say that my kids do seem to be doing fairly well. I was divorced in 1997 and remarried to DH ( dear husband) in 2002. I have a really civil divorce and my marriage is more solid than my first was. Yes, it has its quirks, but seems to be very solid in most ways. When I moved here, my husband was non custodial of the younger son. The ex is a bi polar (yes, is being treated medically for it) mom that finally moved to another state….best for all involved. The younger son got involved in marijuana before I was in the picture and then got into real trouble; didn’t graduate high school, but did get GED and got arrested, ran to another state, came back and went into rehab and was in a year long court run drug program. He graduated and then moved to another state with his girlfriend….he was 18 at the time.

Things were going very well for a year and a half. My husband thought it would be best if the young man moved back up here away from the girlfriend and her family (the younger son lived with them…they are kind of a hippie commune type of family) until the father of that family had enough and moved into a house where none of his kids and their live in BF/GF could live. The son came back to live with us this past January, saying that he was going to go to college.

He was a problem immediately. First evening back he asked over some old friends and they broke something and were up until the wee hours. My husband finally went downstairs and told them all to leave. I was fuming. There were no ground rules set before this young man moved in. I told my husband that it should be done and it would at least start us off on the right foot, but no….this is my DH approach…reactive, not proactive.

The young man smokes like a stack and is also back to using marijuana and probably more. He got arrested about two weeks being back because he didn’t have a driver’s licence or car license and had outstanding fines from before….we are talking a couple thousand dollars. My DH did NOT pay the fines. He got a public defender and the young man got fines reduced, but had no way to get to work to work the fines off. So, as it was still winter, my husband or the young man’s grandmother took him and picked him up. Once in awhile I was asked and it was fine.

I am in the uncomfortable position of, 4 days a week, being the one that comes home well before my husband. I struggle, but try to be pleasant and have left most of the discipline, or lack of, be by my DH. The young man exhibits bi polar and depression symptoms, but has no insurance to pay for a counselor. He pays for nothing here…which I don’t agree with, but husband is doing it until his court dates (yes there is another as the son took his car out and was immediately arrested again). are over. My DH is not saying what will happen after the court dates and all fines are paid and the car license and license plates are paid for (not by us). The son has no plans now of going to college and does have two jobs.

I personally think that it is time the son moves out on his own since he never has been. I would be happy to give him the money for a deposit on an apartment, but that is all. In my opinion, he needs to learn how to sink or swim. My husband says he feels that the young man would completely fall apart and go down the toilet.

Jacque, I feel that I am getting angrier and angrier with my husband for his lack of setting ground rules and he and his son keep having the same fights over and over….smoking in the house when we aren’t here, staying up all hours, letting people in after we have gone to sleep and then they stay over night….ugh……Thanks for letting me vent.

Dear Stepmom,

This is a toughie! No wonder you needed to vent. I want to remind you that I am a coach and not a therapist. A therapist might have some very different ideas for you and I highly recommend seeking out help for your case. Here’s some food for thought I can offer you:

Do whatever it takes to get on the same page with your spouse. When you have a troubled kid like this one, stepparents typically need to take the back seat and let the biological parent do the heavy lifting of parenting. Usually, a stepparent’s main job is to support their spouse while he deals with the child. In this case, I would still say that your job is to not be out there parenting this kid, but he is living with you, so it’s absolutely fair that you be able to create guidelines for the household WITH your husband. This will not work if he is not on board. Tough kids like this kill remarriages. So if the two of you can align yourself as a team you can better help this young man while strengthening your marriage. Okay, so easy enough to say, but how the heck do you do that, right? First of all, go out and read Divorce Busting by Michele Weiner-Davis, right now. I interviewed her for my book and the woman is brilliant. Second, find a third-party who is a trained stepfamily expert who can help your husband see the benefits of working with you as a team to help his son. I would suggest Ron Deal for a situation like yours. Setting boundaries for this kid is crucial or he will never learn to grow up and this is doing him a MAJOR disservice. The only way we learn is to feel/live through the consequences for our actions. Setting boundaries for his behavior in your house with very clear consequences for not following them is a must in my book. Especially at his age. If he were younger, I would give you different advice.

Turn on your compassion. I have said this again and again but I believe so strongly in the power of curiosity and compassion that I’m going to add it here, too. Shift the prism that you are looking at your stepson through to curiosity. What is going on in his mind? What is motivating his behavior? Why is he so angry or why does he hate himself so much that he is ruining his life in this way? What is the pain that he carries around in his heart that makes him act out so dangerously? What kind of help would enable him to turn his life around? You’ll notice that these questions lead you away from “Look at what this kid is doing TO me, my marriage, and my household” and turns your thoughts to an area that is less emotionally loaded. He’s another human being on this planet. How can you turn on that objective, kind, compassionate part of you? There is a big upside for doing this: You reduce your own anger and that means you lower the amount of stress hormones in your body. You’ll feel better, be able to brainstorm solutions more creatively, and–according to some research–live longer!

Help him get the help he needs. If your stepson is struggling with a mental problem like bi-polar disorder, he needs help. Dad could do some research and put together a list of resources for his son. But he can’t make him get help. This boy is old enough to decide whether he’s going to get help or not.

Set up a structure of support for yourself. For the short term, do whatever you can to support your own gentle heart. Spend time with your own children. Stay out of the house when your stepson is there until your husband gets home. Start a book group. You and your husband  will need to find a way to solve this together and it’s not going to be easy. Make sure that you’re taking good care of yourself so you can come at this problem feeling good about your own inner world.





Stepmom Group Coaching: A few spots left

19 05 2010

This week has been nutty but I’ll have a new podcast up next week and more blog posts with lots of stepfamily information. I wanted to alert you all that I am starting another Stepmom Circles Group Coaching session NEXT WEEK. I’ve had a few last minute spots open up so if anyone is interested, please email me at becomingastepmom (at) gmail (dot) com right away. I did not make this session public because it was filled with people from the waiting list.

This session is on Wednesday nights from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. Central Standard Time, May 26 to June 30.

The  Stepmom Circles group meets for an hour and a half each week for six weeks over the telephone. Every week I lead a discussion on a particular stepfamily challenge. (Creating a strong partnership with your spouse, dealing with the ex, bonding with the stepkids, handling your negative feelings, identifying common stepfamily mistakes, discovering what successful stepfamilies know). Then we have an open talk about your particular questions and issues.

Cost
The cost of a six-week session is $197. That’s about $32 per week.

As a member of a Stepmom Circles coaching group you’ll receive

  • a FREE half-hour, get-to-know you consultation with me over the phone before the class begins
  • email access to me between group coaching sessions so you can ask questions that come up during the week
  • an autographed copy of my book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom

Because space is limited, you’ll need to reserve your spot fast.

Email becomingastepmom (@) gmail (dot) com for more information.





What to Do When All Hope Is Lost

10 02 2010

I’ve had many letters recently from stepmothers who have hit rock bottom. So I wanted to write a post about what to do when you feel that all hope is lost and you can see nothing ahead but darkness. Most of us feel paralyzed when we’re in that hopeless place. We don’t know where to turn or what to do to start feeling better or to heal our families or our own bruised hearts. I am not going to pretend that I can solve this for you but I am going to suggest some actions you can take to help turn your gaze back to hope.

Protect your heart. Realize that you are worthy of love, you are loveable, and you deserve to be treated with respect. Handle your heart with care. Work to build your self-esteem like you build your muscles in the gym. What is one thing you can do today to protect your gorgeous heart?

Plan something to look forward to. The feeling of anticipation can help us quickly move from despair to hope. First plan something small that you can do in the next week or two that gives you that zing of excitement. Spend an afternoon at the coffee shop with a good book, head to a spa for a decadent treatment, or buy tickets to a show. Then sit down with your spouse to plan some bigger outings. For instance, you might plan a trip somewhere just the two of you next winter. Start ripping pictures of beach views or European cities or rugged mountains out of magazines. Make a file and then go out and purchase one small thing for the trip.

Stop talking. If you and your spouse have been around and around about something (money, sex life, the kids, the BM) then take a holiday for a week (or two if you’re really brave) from talking about anything challenging. Any time either of you are tempted to bring up a hot topic, have a code word or phrase you can say:  “This is the house of no fighting!” You have plenty of time to talk about your conflict later. Right now, be quiet.

Ride it out with gentleness. Sometimes you have to ride through challenging times. The first three years of stepfamily development, for instance, are some tough years when you have to create a strong marriage, bond with your stepkids, set boundaries with ex, get used to living with new people, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on. Remember that you will come out the other side of these challenging times. While you’re in this difficult place, be extra gentle with yourself, please.

Fill your well. For those of you who have read Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, you’ll recognize this one. She maintains that an artist has to fill her creative well or she will be depleted and won’t be able to create new things. This is true of all of us. So take a break from your life and fill your well with things you love to do that make you feel light-hearted and glad to be alive. Do this at least once a week if not once a day. Filling the well can be anything from a trip to an outing to ten deep cleansing meditative breaths. It can also be as simple as stopping to look at the ocean or the snow-covered trees.