Chalkboard China Featured in December Issue of Stepmom Magazine


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We were so excited to be featured in the December issue of Stepmom Magazine! Check us out on page 33.

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Chalkboard China Featured in December Issue of Stepmom Magazine

  1. 1. december 2011 Survival Tips for Messy Moments PEACEMAKING How No Response Speaks Volumes About to Call it Quits? Think Outside the Box haPPier hoLidayS Learn Acceptance and Develop New Traditions PLUS The Urban Stepmom’s First Christmas Fit for a Rockefeller Mediation 101 Lessons from a Newborn The Stylish Stepmom’s Holiday Gift Guide
  2. 2. december 2011 publisher and Founder brenda ockun art director melissa beth Kelly Copy editor mary e. mccrank Web designer/programmer December Features Ken © 2008-2011 11 drama and the Messy Moment StepMom Magazine is a by wedneSday martin, ph.d.division of Stepmom enterprises. A holiday survival guide for women in repartnerships all rights reserved. with children. The Mission of StepMom Magazine 15 When You Want to quit, it May be⊲ to help women successfully Time to Think Outside the Box manage their roles, responsibilities and emotions as stepmoms. by mary KeLLy-wiLLiamS, m.a.⊲ to provide stepmoms informa- Ways to create space in your stepfamily when the tion and tools that can improve pressure, chaos and problems are bigger than you and enhance their interpersonal relationships—and therefore help can handle. marriages thrive and succeed.⊲ to provide women a supportive, 19 acceptance is the Key to safe and non-judgmental envi- ronment where they can freely Making Your Holidays Happier discuss and gain insight about by SuSan SwanSon, LcSw, bcd their unique role. A personal account of learning patience and accep-⊲ to increase society’s knowledge, awareness and understanding tance and how to celebrate what you have. about steplife and, as a result, dispel negative perceptions about stepmothers and stepfamilies. 21 The Gift of No Response by heather hetchLer Find Us on Facebook A lesson from the guys in keeping the peace. Stepmommagazine 23 Remodel Your Life From the inside Out: Follow Us always do Your Best on Twitter by peggy noLan, m.a., ryt @Stepmommagazine The last part of our 12-month series on self-improvement cheers the effort of always trying to be your best self.
  3. 3. our dECEMbErCovEr GIrlMeet Jessica!Jessica Guyer of Port Royal, Pennsylvania, isa stepmom to a 10-year old girl and motherto a 7-year old boy. She and her husbandhave been together for two and a half years,married for one year and have full custodyof both children. Jessica says: “Being astepmom is one of the hardest things I’veever had to do in my life—and that’s saying a December Departmentslot considering I have a full-time job, a part-time job/hobby and a child with Asperger’ssyndrome. I discovered StepMom Magazine at a 4 Brenda’s Cornertime when I was completely frustrated and Letter from the publisher.stressed. Slowly, through time and each 5 Mailboxmonthly edition, my stress and frustrations Readers respond to the November issue, asstarted to melt away. One day this year, I well as tell us what’s on their wish list.had an epiphany and realized I was over thehump! I now have a healthier marriage and 6 Urban Stepmomfamily and accept my position gracefully. It Lisa Bagshaw looks back to her firstdoesn’t matter if anyone else recognizes my Christmas as a stepmom.role because I do.  Being a stepmom has helped my 8 Time Outrelationship with my son’s stepmom. My Emily Bouchard, MSSW, on bringing light tostepdaughter can’t see her mom very often, the darkest time of the yearso I made sure I took my stepdaughter to 9 Legal Mattersher mom’s house on a surprise trick or Lara Badain, Esq. on mediation and how ittreat visit, which was well received. A few can help. years ago, I became a stepdaughter, so my 25 Outlook next challenge is Events, Resources and Community. learning how to be a better 26 House Rules stepdaughter.” Tara Eisenhard with her wish list for structure in her stepfamily. 28 Stepmom Memoirs Laura Petherbridge learns new lessons from newborn members of the family. 29 From the Kitchen The staff of Stepmom magazine offers up their favorite desserts. 32 Stylish Stepmom Heidi Ducato offers up a holiday gift guide with her favorite Facebook finds. 34 Crafts with Your Stepkids Wendy L. Deppe with some holiday crafts. 36 My Journal 37 Words of Wisdom
  4. 4. I hope by the time you receive this issue of StepMom Magazine, you are finding some time for yourself in between the holidays that bring families together over food, gifts and visits from out-of-town family members. I also hope that the tips and solutions in last month’s issue helped you get through the first round of the end-of-year holidays. The December“Stepmothers issue offers even more tools for how to handle the stress. everywhere are It is unfortunate that the holidays sometimes bring with them drama, dealing with especially to stepfamilies, when they should simply be a time of joy. The important thing to know is that you are not in this alone. similar scenarios Stepmothers everywhere are dealing with similar scenarios and learning important life skills that will assist them in overcoming these and lEArNING challenges.IMPortANt lIFE When I read the articles and advice columns for this issue, I could relate to nearly every author. Some of the authors brought me backSKIllS that will to my early days as a stepmom and helped me realize how far I’veassist them in come on this journey. I hope that wherever you are on your stepmom journey this holiday season, you find this month’s articles of help.overcoming these My wish for all of us in 2012 is that we stand up for ourselves, cele-challenges.” brate who we are and find balance in our hectic lives. I wish you all a Happy Holiday and a Happy New Year! Brenda Ockun Publisher and Founder 4 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  5. 5. LeTTeRS TO THe ediTOR Mailb xthe November Issueas always, the november issue of wish listStepMom Magazine contained many We asked ourgood, timely articles that got methinking. and as is usually the case, Facebook followersmy favorite was from wednesday what’s on their wishmartin. Something about her stylereally strikes a cord with me! in her lists this season....article (“have a good enough holiday An amazing week full of traditionSeason”), she offers understanding, and memories. Cookies, gingerbreadsympathy, validation and most impor- houses, looking at lights and deco-tantly for me, practical, real world rating. And a Nespresso machine!advice and examples. after reading —AMYher articles, or her book Stepmonsterfor that matter, i always feel a little For things to go as so carefullyless crazy, a little less “selfish” for wanting to have my thoughts and planned between our three house-feelings matter as much as those of my husband and his kids, and i holds, a great holiday photo, a simplehave concrete ideas of things that i can do differently to improve my morning with our boys, and a newlife that will benefit my dh (dear husband) and his kids too. pair of shoes. this year my dh and i are hosting thanksgiving at our house —LAURELand having dh’s family and my family all together to celebrate for For the ex to find a great guy andthe first time since we married four years ago (all 20 of us!!). i am begin a new life.Very thankful for the opportunity to establish some of our own —AMYtraditions while honoring the existing traditions of both families. i amVery thankful for supportive parents and brothers who have always #1 on my wish list is to get a Holidayaccepted my stepkids as niece/nephew/grandchildren (through this picture of my two girls and my twomagazine, i now realize that not everyone has that luxury). and i am stepsons to send out to all of ourVery thankful for a fabulous mother-in-law who is also a stepmom family and friends.and has given me invaluable advice while simultaneously giving me —CARRIEthe room to make my own mistakes and find my own way. My holiday wish is for a wonderful —FROM THE STEPMOM MAGAZINE FORUM day with no fighting with my husband and four stepchildren!i’ve gotten consumed by every issue of StepMom Magazine i’ve —STEPHANIEread. not all articles apply to me but it’s fantastic to have those A massage and a hot chocolate.monthly reminders that what i’m feeling is normal...and that monthly —HEATHERreminder that it’s okay to back out of situations with the ex and We get more time with my step-let things work themselves out. i choose articles for my boyfriend daughters this year. We’ve onlyto read, or i read parts to him that i care about. i read heather had them one day for the wholehetchler’s three-part “Jealousy” series to him, and it really helped break, now we get half the break! Ius put his daughter’s behavior into perspective. we’ve now set up a just want everyone to have fun andnew mid-week father/daughter night and are hopeful that will help all enjoy our increased time together!of us better deal with jealousy issues. –DEANNA —SUBSCRIBER ALISONlEttErS to thE EdItor should be emailed to Letters may be edited for space or clarity.If you wish to remain anonymous, please let us know in your submission. 5 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  6. 6. L i S a B a G S H a W ’ S Ta K e O N S T e p M O M L i F eStepmom’s First ChristmasWhere Naive Expectations Meet New Realitiesby LiSa bagShawN ot too long ago, I would be Several other kidless friends would do the spending my time off at Christmas same. We would spend the days cross-country up at a friend’s ranch in northern skiing, horseback riding and sleigh riding. British Columbia. I would finish At night, we would cook huge feasts for eachwork early and my Border collie, Dexter, and other and bundle up and sit outside by the fireI would hit the road for the six-hour drive pit drinking wine into the wee hours and theninto a winter wonderland. enjoy sleeping in the next day. I would leave behind my condo, empty of This is how I spent Christmas for aboutfestive decorations—not even a tree. eight years, in peaceful bliss. Then I met my husband and his 4-year-old twin boys and let’s just say Christmas, among all holidays, was no longer the same. I decorated the house and tree in shiny new baubles and prepared a feast and table that would hAvE MAdE EvEN MArthA Proud. best-laid Plans In my usual, can-do new stepmom spirit, I threw myself into creating a Christmas fit for a Rockefeller. I hit the mall every night to shop for the best gifts, decorated the house and tree in shiny new baubles and prepared a feast and table that would have made even Martha proud. I had no previous experience with any of this, but I knew I had to make my first Christmas with the kids spectacular. I even bought matching pajamas for all four of us to wake up in on Christmas morning. I had the whole thing planned by the minute and hoped everyone would be impressed and 6 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  7. 7. have the best Christmas ever! one of the boys turned to their dad and said, Now on my eighth Christmas, I can see how “She’s not staying the night, is she?” back then I set myself up for disappointment That was it. I politely excused myself and and a pity party of epic proportion. took my rum and eggnog to the bathroom, There were so many first-time stepmom locked the door and took a long bath. factors for which I had not accounted. First Years later, I have learned that it isn’t that of all, the twins’ parents could not agree on no one appreciates my efforts or values what how they were going to divide the kids’ time I have given up to create a life with children on Christmas. Who was going to get them who are not my own. Rather, I have learned on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning and that Christmas and other holidays are not Christmas dinner? There was a lot of drama about me. This is a tough pill for a new and that I had not expected. Then there was talk eager childless stepmom to accept. Christmas that we would all spend Christmas together— can be a time of great emotional turmoil the boys, their mom and her boyfriend, for everyone in a new family dynamic, and their dad and his girlfriend. My vision of the it is up to the stepmom to be sensitive and perfect family Christmas was slowly chipping respectful of the transition, not only so she away into “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” doesn’t wind up locking herself in the bath- room for hours on special occasions but also because it is the best gift she can give everyone involved. Not only did everyone I still try to create a wondrous Christmas experience for the kids and my family, but rEFuSE to PArtICIPAtE in my expectations are different. I do it more for my own sense of pride and enjoyment and this fun new tradition, but because deep down I know the boys appre- one of the boys turned to ciate the continuity of Christmas traditions. I feel good knowing they feel warm, safe and their dad and said, “She’s loved on Christmas. It isn’t a fancy-free time—like cavorting innot staying the night, is she?” the snow with my childless friends—but there is a depth of importance of the stepmom’s role that brings a deeper meaning and new sense of giving to this time of year. And isn’t There also was the issue of gifts for the that what it’s all about? O kids. I had excitedly bought lots of gifts for the boys only to find out that I had to run them by their mom so she didn’t either get lISA bAGShAw is an Urban them the same thing or something of lesser Stepmom (successful, childless value. This was becoming very complicated. career woman who meets a man with kids later in life) who married for the first time at 43. She Managing Expectations balances a demanding career in When things finally got sorted out and the media and life with her husband, four of us were sitting around admiring (in twin 10-year-old stepsons, a dog and two cats in my dreams) the perfectly decorated house for Vancouver, BC. Catch her lessons learned at blog or on Twitter at @ Christmas Eve, I brought out the matching urbanstepmom. She is currently writing a book, A pajamas. Not only did everyone refuse to Survival Guide for the Urban Stepmom and is open participate in this fun new tradition, but to any and all tips. 7 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  8. 8. brighten upBringing Light to the Darkest Time of the Yearby emiLy bouchard, mSSwA re you finding that What is it for you? holiday joys are Being curious about what being impacted matters most to you can also by stress, money open up a conversation withwoes and shorter days? Are your stepchildren and youryou finding that tempers are spouse or partner about whatbeginning to flare and fuses matters most to them asare short in your stepfamily? well. Using this time of year A simple, low-cost and vital to explore and discover evenway to shift moods and bring more about each other is onemore enjoyment to this time of of the greatest gifts you canyear is to focus on your light. give to your family—espe-Stepmoms are in a unique cially when you can connectposition to bring warmth and around a few key things thataffection onto their families matter to all of you and lookand into their homes in delib- at ways of incorporatingerate, specific ways. those things into your rituals A stepmother’s well-being and new traditions.dramatically improves when she I encourage stepmothers I coach Remember, there’s no right orrealizes that her light—comprised to consider what aspects of the wrong way to celebrate the holidays.of her brilliance, gifts, warmth holidays matter most to them and The more open you are toand love—is not diminished in the to make their inner light shine even learning ways that brighten yourslightest when she offers her light more brightly. For some, it’s as days during this time of year, theto the lives and hearts of all the simple as stringing lights around more joy and less stress all of youmembers of her family. the windows and trees and bringing will experience. O The sharing of one’s light is best that feeling of warmth and light intoaccomplished by: their home.⊲ Remembering that the joy of For others, it is finding beau-giving a gift is in the giving, not in tiful candles for the menorah and EMIly bouChArdbeing attached to how it is received. creating a sacred, special time when founded www.blended- each is lit or the music that brings to provide⊲ Not taking the responses (or lack tools to dramatically cheer into the home.thereof) personally. They will do improve relationships in Still, for others, it is the delight blended families. A leadingwhat they do. they feel in taking out favorite expert in the field, Emily has been featured The key is to be who you are and holiday recipes and making dishes on numerous TV and Radio shows includingenjoy yourself. Be open to including and baked goods that remind them The Today Show and NPR, and has been quoted in print around the world, in publica-your family members if they choose of happier times when they were tions such as Newsweek and The New Yorkto join you—and prepare yourself for sharing the love of the holidays with Times.the fact that they may not want to. their mothers or grandmothers. Photo by Melissa MerMin, www.MelissaMerMin.coM. 8 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  9. 9. L a R a B a da i N , e S q. a N S W e R S YO U R L e Ga L q U e ST i O N S Legal Matters Mediation 101 lArA bAdAIN, ESq. is an attorney specializing in mari- A tal and family law. fter recently completing a lengthy She is licensed to practice in New York training course on mediation, I State and the State thought it might be helpful to of California. To share some information about contact Lara directly the concept and benefits of mediation as for a personal it applies specifically to family and divorce consultation, call: 585-385-2510. conflict resolution. What is mediation? Mediation is an alternative way to resolve disputes and can be applicable in many areas of law: family and divorce, family business, general busi- Mediation: ness, labor, educational and others. With ⊲ Is entirely voluntary—nothing is imposed respect to the resolution of conflict in family on you, you make the decisions which will and divorce matters, mediation can offer affect you; a welcome alternative to traditional litiga- tion and the court system—which is typically ⊲ Is generally less expensive than litigation expensive, time consuming and often does and the participants share in the cost of one not allow the parties to participate directly mediator; in the outcome of their case. In other words, ⊲ Is also generally less costly emotionally as the judge will make the decisions for you—on the parties work together to reach a mutually some of the most important issues affecting acceptable resolution; your life. ⊲ Fosters respect and cooperation as opposed Conversely, mediation is based on the to antagonism and contentiousness; principles of self-determination and active participation. A mediator acts as a neutral ⊲ Usually takes less time to complete—the third party to facilitate a conversation schedule is determined by you; between you and the person with whom you ⊲ Offers freedom of choice and creativity— need to reach agreement. As the process agreements are determined by the parties develops, the mediator helps you learn and based on their individual needs, not the impo- understand the information you need to sition of someone else’s values (like a judge’s); make well-informed choices; helps you weigh your options and explore resources to assist ⊲ Works for both low- and high-conflict you in making decisions; facilitates commu- parties—mediators are conflict resolution nication as conflict arises; helps you reduce specialists trained to facilitate conversations your agreement to writing; and, thereafter, where conflict exists. Mediation actually the mediator assists in selecting an appro- tends to de-escalate conflict. priate professional (in the case of family and divorce matters—an attorney) to advise you One might assume that an attorney would and finalize the paperwork. be less likely to advocate for the mediationThe views or opinions expressed in this column are not intended as legal advice to be relied upon by the reader. It is highly recom-mended that readers consult with their own legal counsel in their state of residency for specific legal advice. StepMom Magazine is notan attorney referral service nor does it make any recommendations or endorsements of the use of any attorney’s services. 9 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  10. 10. Legal Mattersprocess because, simply put, it undercuts In New York, mediators are not regulatedtheir livelihood. That may be true for some by the state. There is no licensing require-attorneys, but not for me. I have always been ment or other government oversight. Thata proponent of mediation, especially when is why it is so important to do your researchit comes to family related disputes. No one before choosing a mediator. You mustknows or understands better the issues that choose someone who understands both thefamilies face than the family members them- concept of mediation and the underlyingselves. Why should they entrust their family’s substantive issues and law. Some attorneysfuture to unknown third parties (lawyers are trained mediators and can be a greatand judges) when they can determine their option as they are obviously familiar withcourse themselves? Obviously, in these situ- the underlying substantive law. In addition,ations conflict is present, and in some cases attorneys who are not opposed to the idea ofthe courts and litigation is unavoidable. mediation can be great referral sources andBut mediators are trained to handle conflict know of mediators (both attorney and non-and despite the most opposing viewpoints, attorney) who are well-trained and educated.if people are willing to listen and remain In summary, it can be a most rewardingopen to possibilities, even the most seem- experience to participate in the resolutioningly adversarial parties can benefit from of your own conflict in a responsible andmediation. satisfying way. O 10 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  11. 11. dr AM Aand The MeSSy MoMenT a hoLiday SUrvivaL GUide for Women in Repartnerships with Children by wedneSday martin, ph.d. H ow many times has it happened to you? After weeks, months or even years of negoti- ating, arguing and “working on it” with your husband or partner, his daughter, over dinner with grandma and grandpa, asks, “Dad, can I have $300 for my senior trip to Cancun?” Or his ex “dumps” the kids on your doorstep just as you’re departing for a romantic weekend away. Or an adult stepchild with a substance abuse issue shows up for the family holiday party at your place drunk or high. Or maybe it’s as simple—but as fraught— as a neighbor asking you and your partner, while you’re out for a walk, “Kids aren’t here for the holiday? How come?” And your husband does or says the wrong thing. He covers for the adult kid who is high, or makes excuses 11 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  12. 12. for him and says you’re “too harsh.” He tellshis daughter, “Sure sweetie, we can help you A Messy Moment is anwith that” because he is too conflicted—andtoo embarrassed in front of his parents—to instance when you ANd yourpunt the question until you two can discuss it PArtNEr ArE CAuGht oFFin private. He cancels your romantic getawayon a dime because this is his child and this GuArd, and your agendais his child’s home, too, and his child’s momsays he has to stay here this weekend. He’s comes up against that of hismaking the best decision he can under pres-sure. Or, after the neighbor or acquaintance kids, his parents, his ex orasks the insensitive question, he gets sad— him, with a resounding thud.and then gets mad at you, accusing you of“changing everything in my relationship withmy kids so they won’t even come here.” previous promise or commitment because werecognizing the Messy Moment are afraid of looking bad in front of others,The holidays may be all about good cheer, we forget a previous agreement we madebut for those of us in repartnerships with with a partner, are worried we might hurt achildren, they also have their share of what I child or adult child’s feelings, feel pressuredhave come to think of as Messy Moments. A to decide something right this instant, or (inMessy Moment is an instance when you and the case of the neighbor’s question) allowyour partner are caught off guard, and your ourselves to get “triggered” or activated byagenda comes up against that of his kids, his an unresolved or lingering and emotionallyparents, his ex or him, with a resounding painful issue.thud. Often, angry accusations and the falling The Messy Moment is the mother of allinto old patterns follow. You’ll know you’re drama, the place and time where our issuesfalling prey to Messy Moments if you hear as individuals, couples and family systemsyourself saying things like: come together in a big, overwhelming- “You always let your ex rain on our seeming jumble that can leave us with knotsparade! Why didn’t you stand up to her this in our stomachs and anger in our chests.time?!” “You promised not to give your kids Give the Messy Moment themoney over and above the separation agree- heave-homent without talking to me about it first—but Now what? Rather than falling prey to theyou just did it again!” Messy Moment, step back. The goal here is “Why would you let him be drunk/high to come up with a plan to take the pressurearound us and our kids? Haven’t we talked off him and you when it comes to interac-about this a million times?!” tions with his kids and his ex. “Sure,” you’re “I can’t believe you’re back to blaming thinking right now as you roll your for complaining about what they do and “That should be easy.”saying I’m the problem, rather than holding Actually, it can be. Here’s how. First,your kids and ex accountable. I can’t take this calmly in your mind, think through the issuesanymore!” you would most like to address together. Find a stress-free time to tell your husbandwhy do we have Messy Moments? you are committed to standing by him andThe Messy Moment happens when we make supporting him in stressful situations anda less than ideal decision or deviate from a that you want to come up with a plan that 12 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  13. 13. will help you both and strengthen your bond. Make Sure your Asks are reasonableAsk him to help you come up with a day and Some possible behavior-based solutions totime when you can give this exercise half an problems that seem insurmountable andhour or so together. endlessly recurring might include: At your first session, you can usher in “I will let my son know before his nexta spirit of collaboration by acknowledging visit that if he is drunk or high in our home,that like all remarriages with children, yours he will have to leave.” Maybe you think hishas some issues. By listing those issues son should be in rehab, but what can you doand addressing them as a team, you can about that? Limiting your Asks helps yourtake away some of their divisive power and case and is fair all around.actually come together as a couple. Tellyour partner you want to start by and stickto simply listing problems, not perceivedfailings or personality flaws. Not “You are At your first session, you cantoo permissive with your son,” but “Johncomes to our house drunk/high and that is usher in a spirit of collaborationunhealthy for him, us and our children.” Not“You don’t want me to have a relationship by acknowledging that lIKE Allwith my kids,” rather “I would like to have an rEMArrIAGES wIth ChIldrEN,open-door policy for my kids visiting and youwant them to ask first.” You might have to yours has some issues.practice restating each problem in the mostnon-accusatory language possible! After you have whittled down your issues— “If my ex calls and says we ‘have to’ taketry to keep it to the four or five that recur and the kids at a time we are not supposed to/matter the most—check in with each other. when we have a plan to go away, I will notCongratulations are in order if you have agree until I speak to you first.” You’re notachieved this without attacking one another. asking him to see less of his kids, but toYour next task is to propose constructive treat you as a partner in decisions aboutsolutions to each issue and let your husband time together and/or to factor in that youor partner do the same. No blaming language had another plan and now must figure outor “you always, you never” language is together what to do next.allowed for this or any other part of the work. “I will tell my children they cannot leaveNo “kitchen sinking,” either—throwing in a wet towels on the floor when they are in ourjab like, “Your mother is even worse than home, and that it is their responsibility tomy ex,” for example, or, “Last year at your set the table before dinner, and put theirdaughter’s wedding you…” Forget it. Stick own dishes in the dishwasher. If they doto the task. Together. (Keep in mind that 20 not, they will get a warning. The next time,minutes or half an hour at a time is enough the consequence will be X.” You’re step-for some couples. If you have to walk away ping out of the line of fire here, giving yourfrom the work and schedule a time the next husband an opportunity to parent effectivelyday or the next week to continue, make sure and reducing the likelihood that he will say,you end on a high note. “I thought it was “What? I didn’t know they were supposed togreat that you suggested/agreed with me that do that.”when your ex calls during dinner time or As for you, how about this: “I promise thaton date night, it goes to voicemail as a rule. if you make a mistake in terms of sticking toThanks for that.” Or, “I don’t think we’re so the things we have in our agreement, I willfar apart on the issue of Y. That makes me not yell, and I will not put you down. I willfeel hopeful and relieved.”) not say ‘You always’ or ‘You never.’ I promise 13 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  14. 14. to couch my criticism or unhappiness inconstructive language.” Your goal here is collaboration and clarity.The purpose is to head off misunderstand-ings at the pass and have a guideline thatmakes potentially fraught moments andinteractions simpler.Put It In writingAny therapist who works withremarrieds with kids will tell youthat they often hear them complainof their spouses, “She totallyreneged on her promise!” or, “Hehas told me a hundred times hewill do X, but then he doesn’t!” When a task or commitment isunpleasant—“I will tell my ex thatI am not picking up her calls and Eventually, thE MESSy Sowill only communicate via email”; MoMENt woN’t bE“I will not give my grown-up sonmoney without consulting with my thrEAtENING, and h olidays now” and other “all togetherpartner first”; “As frustrated as I amby this pattern, I will not yell when it events may well feel lesshappens”—we might actually “forget” apromise or something we have agreed to.This tendency, combined with the pressureof the Messy Moment, makes it imperative like a test and more likethat you put the guidelines for difficult situ- a real pleasure!ations you and your partner came up withtogether IN WRITING. And print it out.Two copies. And sign it. And refer to it. Andremind one another about it. Your guide-lines or contract can clarify how to deal with sional therapist to help you come up with anthe inevitable Messy Moments of steplife. agreement that works for you both. But onceAnother upside: When there is a contract, you have done it, you have a living documentthere is no need to nag, only to say, “It’s in you can both refer to and even change overour agreement, remember?” time as the situation on the ground evolves. Look for sample partner agree- Eventually, the Messy Moment won’t bements, contracts and guidelines on my so threatening, and holidays and other “allwebsite ( together now” events may well feel less like aAnd remember you might need a profes- test and more like a real pleasure! O wEdNESdAy MArtIN, Ph.d., is a social researcher and the author of Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do (2009). She is a regular contributor to Psychology Today ( and blogs for the Huffington Post and on her own website ( She has appeared as a stepparenting expert on NPR, the BBC Newshour, Fox News and NBC Weekend Today and was a regular contributor to the New York Post’s parenting page. Stepmonster was a finalist in the parenting category of the 2010 “Books for a Better Life”award. A stepmother for a decade, Wednesday lives in New York City with her husband and two sons. Herstepdaughters are young adults. 14 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  15. 15. When yoU WanT To QUiT, iT May Be TiMe To... by mary KeLLy-wiLLiamS, m.a.T his message is for those You had good intentions. You love them, and you felt ready for of you who have had it. loved the man with whom you the task. You’re exhausted, you’re chose to partner. You gladly You jumped in headfirst with hurt, you’re angry and you accepted the responsibilities that resolve and enthusiasm. You wereare so close to calling your marriage you thought went along with the more than capable of doing this.quits and don’t know where else to title stepmother. The two of you You helped your partner with histurn. The first thing that comes out entered as a team, hand in hand, children. You drove them to theirof your mouth is, “I had no idea vowing that your family would be soccer games, picked them upit would be like this.” You’ve been merging, that you would love his from school, washed their clothesworking at it for what seems to be kids and that if you had any they and made numerous attempts toa ridiculously long time and you’re would love him. You thought to connect with them so they wouldover it. Done. Stick me with a fork yourself that surely any child could know that you cared.kind of stuff. use more people in their lives to You took the role of stepmother 15 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  16. 16. seriously. It had the word mother init, after all, so surely that’s what it thE MArrIAGE MuSt CoME FIrSt.meant, despite that you were child- PErIod. Yes, you have primaryless. Your heart and efforts werecontinual and wholehearted. responsibility for your children, and And then reality set in. Let’s behonest. Reality can be a bitch. your partner has responsibility for his. Weeks, months, even years later,it dawned on you that you could no But we don’t need to have to becomelonger see the forest through thetrees. You felt swallowed up by the the sacrificial lamb for a system thatcontinual intrusion of the ex, the brings so much dysfunction into it...resentment and disrespect of yourpartner’s kids and your partner’sseemingly permissive and casualnature. You felt unheard and disre- person am I? I don’t even like his most certainly out of our control.spected when he chose his children kids, let alone love them!” And You would be doing a greatover you, time after time after time. the judgment voices inside your service to yourself to be kindAnd you began to wonder what the head got louder and louder as they and accept that you are not Maryhell you were doing with your life. screamed, “What kind of a selfish Poppins and Mother Teresa rolledYou lost connection with you. person are you?” into one, despite the strong desire So, you hit a wall and began to Sound familiar? Yes, I know, it of your husband for you to be so.think about leaving. You had made sounds more than familiar. And let Desperate times call for desperatea mistake of gargantuan nature. me be the first, or the tenth or the measures, and I’ve worked withYes, you loved the man. That’s thousandth person to tell you, no, many the couple that came intowhat seduced you into the whole you are not a horrible person. You session at the end of their rope andcrazy system in the first place. You are normal. had sadly come to the conclusiondated, you were lovers, you were that their only option was divorce.connected and he was your soul Acceptance and Guile Well, maybe it is and maybemate. But then you found yourself Believe it or not, there’s hope. But it isn’t. Let me offer a couple ofhaving a hard time even looking at in order for there to be hope, you last-resort techniques that mayhim. The thought of knowing his will need to think outside the box. save your marriage. Rememberchildren were on their way over So often in second families, we that? You and your partner mustmade your heart race and prompted bring the first-family model into remember that because it’s thethe desire to want to run and the marriage. We act as if we are a reason you’re together in the firstescape for parts unknown. first family and therefore if there is place. And don’t forget that you are Your friends and relatives who enough love—because surely love modeling marriage to all the chil-weren’t part of a stepfamily system conquers all, and we are inherently dren involved and that as a couplewere of no help. “You knew it was loving people—our love will be big you must take responsibility fora package deal when you married enough to disarm the messy and preserving that marriage if there ishim,” they would say with such complicated system into which we a way to do that.casualness and dismissiveness you so voluntarily entered. The marriage must come first.had to fight the urge to not reach But there are some situations Period. Yes, you have primaryacross the table and strangle them. we enter into, such as drug abuse, responsibility for your children, And you felt guilty and full of pregnancy, mental illness or bullying and your partner has responsi-shame. “What kind of horrible by one stepchild to another, that are bility for his. But we don’t need to 16 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  17. 17. And for many of you, you MuSt GEt SPACE FroM thE ChAoS, thE dIFFICultIES ANd thE ACtING out of children toward you when truly their anger would be more appropriately directed at their parents, where it most likely belongs.have to become the sacrificial lamb Remember that? That time when not the Spawn of Satan as yourfor a system that brings so much you fell madly in love? When you stepchildren or even your husbanddysfunction into it or the dysfunc- just knew you couldn’t live without might imply.tion that may arise during it. And this man in your life? And for many of you, you mustyou don’t have to make the home For any stepcouple, there must get space from the chaos, the diffi-a kidcentric one out of guilt, fear be date night and there must be a culties and the acting out of chil-or shame. And you don’t have to partner who is willing to back you dren toward you when truly theircater to the guilt and shame of your and support you in front of his chil- anger would be more appropriatelyhusband because he chose to, in dren. Your partner must learn to, directed at their parents, where ithis first marriage, marry someone at the minimum, teach his children most likely belongs.who either turned out to be crazy, Basic Etiquette 101 when you are all This is when it’s time to thinkalcoholic or drug dependent—or in the home. You must be acknowl- outside the box. Allow me towhatever long list of reasons the edged, thanked for what you do and elaborate. A separation for a firstfirst marriage didn’t work out to treated like a decent human being. family is quite different thanbegin with. You must find a therapist who creating separate spaces for the You are not God and you are not understands the intricate compli- couple in a second family. Creatinggoing to be the savior for anyone cations of stepfamily life and, separate spaces for the subsequentelse’s children. It is your partner’s quite frankly, a pitiful few exist. marriage, whether it’s the secondmess to clean up. The focus must You must gain support from other or the fourth, can literally save thebe returned to the reason why stepmothers who get it so you marriage. There are different waysyou got together in the first place. understand you are not alone and to create this space. 17 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  18. 18. outside the box tipsHere are some different ways to Additional resourcecreate space in your stepfamily For more support on this, i work with many stepmothers and step-when the pressure, chaos and prob- couples through Skype, phone or Facetime to help with the manylems of it are bigger than you and challenges and difficulties that occur in second families. becauseyour marriage is about to become so many lack the resources near them geographically, i haveyet another dismal statistic: found great success when working in this technological medium. For more information, visit Feel⊲ EStAblISh bouNdArIES. Make free to call or email for a complimentary 15-minute consultation.sure you have appropriate bound-aries as it relates to your partner’schildren. Make sure you are nottrying to clean up a mess that is not them. For example, I knew of one anger and, ultimately, divorce. Iyours to clean up. Make sure that childfree woman who maintained worked with a couple who operatedwhen you do volunteer to do some- her apartment when she married in different homes for 10 years as Ithing, you do so because you want her husband. The week he had described above, and guess what?to, not because you fear your partner parenting time with his sons was They had a fantastic marriage!will be mad or upset with you. the week she stayed in her apart- ment. The week that he didn’t, she ⊲ thINK loNG tErM. Remember,⊲ tAKE FrEquENt brEAKS ANd joined him in their marital home. that everything is temporary. Yes,tIME AloNE. Many stepmothers who I know this sounds drastic, but it really is. The goal is to get thesefind themselves with oppositional remember the wisdom of the adage, kids out of the house and into thestepchildren through no fault of their “Absence makes the heart grow world and finally be able to enjoyown or their spouses, choose to plan fonder.” Honestly, any marriage— your life and time with your spouse.other activities for themselves when G first, second or otherwise—would dothe children are present in the home. et creative. Get solution well to have more time and spaceThis could be as minimal as spending oriented. Know that during apart. It is not something to fear butmore time in one’s room (although times of intensity, it’s to welcome, and for many this lastthis could quickly feel like a time out, natural to want to run away. But resort has been a marriage saver.and that’s not going to work) or use when you and yours are willing tothe time to pursue careers, activi- ⊲ IGNorE thE CrItICS. Don’t focus on the relationship and theties, time with friends or just plain care about what other people value of it, it’s more than possibleself-care while allowing your partner think, including the children. You to walk through the fire to get toto be responsible for the care and married or chose to be with your the other side. You just may need toneeds of his children. He most likely partner despite the presence of think outside the box to get there. Omanaged it before he met you, and he his children, not because of them.can certainly manage it once again. Even the people you are closest to can be judgmental, and it is a⊲ MAINtAIN A dIFFErENt rESI- MAry KElly-wIllIAMS, fundamental task of our develop-dENCE. Yes, you heard me. I’ve M.A., is a therapist, ment as human beings to learn toworked with couples who have mother of four and not care about what other people ally to her husband’srealized that due to the difficulties think about the choices we need daughter. Mary practicesoccurring with the children of one in Boulder, Colorado, to make in order to be true andof the partners (drugs, pregnancy, and regularly conducts authentic to ourselves.mental disorders, etc.) that the only workshops for couples and women withway to save the marriage was to stepchildren. As well as in-person coun- ⊲ doN’t bE A MArtyr. Piggy- seling, Mary offers telephone stepparentlive apart during the times that the backing on No. 4, becoming a coaching. For more information, visit herparent had their children living with martyr leads to illness, resentment, website: 18 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  19. 19. Acceptance is the KEY to Making your Holidays Happier by SuSan SwanSon, LcSw, bcd N ine years ago, I discovered my husband had never had a birthday party given for him. As the new girlfriend and the replacer of all things he never had, I decided to have a party for him, and his 15-year- old daughter agreed it was a great idea. We were going to do it together. How fun! It would be the first event we planed together for her dad. We had a common goal. She wanted him to have a girlfriend, and now here I was. However, there was so much I was about to learn. My boyfriend’s daughter, who was talented and creative in her own right, held back every time I asked for her opinion. I thought I broke the ice when we went shopping together and she got to pick out the colors and paper products (I even let her pick the Over the Hill birthday plates, even though I personally didn’t think he was over any hill, exactly). I was continually experiencing resistance. A conversation would be ignored about the party and then she was off to her mother’s. So, I would make certain decisions, and when she came back we would talk about it. She rarely had an opinion. I was becoming so frustrated. The day of the party, she stayed mostly in her room. She would venture out on occasion, tell me things looked nice, but never offering to help. If I asked 19 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  20. 20. her to do anything, she would dothat one thing and disappear. Fifty Acceptance. Developing newpeople were coming, and it was myfirst time meeting everyone. I was traditions.... thIS IS how wE wIll ENtErvery nervous, not only about the our holIdAy SEASoN and—for the firstparty coming together but abouthis enjoyment of the party, my time in years—celebrate what we dodaughter coming and both of usmeeting all of his friends and family have rather than what we can’t have.for the first time. So much pressure. She was cute and delightful simply ignoring me. hold, we have to accept that holi-during the party but refused to And what was not so apparent days pose a special problem for himhelp. Having a daughter who then was the conflict of loyalty and are when his loyalty conflictsalready hit the 15-year-old phase, I she was caught in as her mother’s become very strong and cause himcut her a lot of slack. “Teenagers,” I birthday—who was always the stress.said to myself. “They say one thing parent upon which the focused was So, we pick up and create a newand do another. Getting them to do placed—was three days later. sense of family. We always tell eachanything is often like pulling teeth.” I am grateful my husband is a other, “This should have been so realist and didn’t hold expecta- much easier,” yet we both knowS everal days later, my tions that this could have been done that it isn’t the case. It’s sad. And boyfriend (now my husband differently. She acted friendly and it’s a loss for us and for the way of four years), asked me willing to offer her amazing color we hoped we could have movedhow it went, so I told him. “Well, counsel to decisions for another two forward in our lives. Our mutualno wonder,” he said. “Her mother years. But eventually the workings of desire to have holidays filled withdid everything. She was absolutely her mother—to get my stepdaughter love and family had became frac-in control, and no one could even to view me as a phony and someone tured long ago—when we bothmake a suggestion. She would tell only trying to be nice to her because decided we could no longer functionher and her brother what to do I was with her father—took hold. in our previous marriages.every step of the way. They never W Ahad to think for themselves.” hat have I learned? Well, cceptance. Developing new Ah! I knew in the ways of control nothing really except traditions. Grieving whatI was very different from her these things happen. If won’t be there. Moving on.mother and much more like her we were given a chance over time This is how we will enter our holidaydad. I was, in fact, expecting her to talk these things through, then season and—for the first time into think for herself and, of course, this could have become a story she years—celebrate what we do haveas the new kid on the block wasn’t and I shared years later. But when rather than what we can’t have.going to push her by directing her the resistance is there, the nega- I’m going to go decorate now.or getting upset with her. There is tive messages about loyalty are Happy Holidays! Oalways the sense that you’re walking pushed and a complete disintereston eggshells at the beginning of in having a relationship becomesthese new relationships. more the reality, then your hope for SuSAN SwANSoN, I learned a lot that day. Kids get a friendly relationship dies. lCSw, bCd, is theused to the personalities they grow With the holidays approaching, executive director andup with. As my attempts to talk my husband and I talked about how founder of The Step- Family Center in Beverlywith her about the party were met much we both wanted a sense of Hills, Calif. She is a notedwith, “No, it was fun,” or, “It came family. He and I share a wonderful authority on issuesout nice,” I had to let it go. It was relationship with my daughter. His involving divorce and remarriage withthe beginning of the struggle that son is navigating the two families children. “The Susan Swanson Show” is a weekly radio show on The Healthy Lifewould escalate over the next several after several years of conflictual Radio Network: Youyears, where any of my attempts feelings. While he has shown a may contact Susan through her website atto help her were rejected by her desire to be a part of our house- 20 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  21. 21. The Gift ofNo Responsea Lesson inpeacemakingfroM The GUySby heather hetchLerM en. Sometimes they drive us crazy, yet we can learn so much from them. I’m blessed by a wonderfully committedand flexible husband. I’m also thankful tohave a good working relationship with myex-husband. As the holidays draw close,I’m reminded of how my husband contrib-utes to my positive co-parenting relation-ship with my ex-husband and particularlyof a situation that occurred last winter thatserves as a lesson in peacemaking for allstepmoms. It was winter break, and my husbandand I were in the kitchen enjoying somehot chocolate. He had recently finishedsnowblowing our driveway and the garagedoor was still up. Out of the blue, one ofmy sons walked into the kitchen from thegarage announcing he was home to grabhis snow pants because dad was takingthem sledding. Hearing commotion in the garage andfiguring all the kids were getting theirsleds, I opened the door to say hi and givethem a hand. Not only were my other three 21 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  22. 22. children in the garage collectingtheir snow gear, but my ex-husband My husband stepfamily burdens as opportunities for growth.” My husband used thiswas in there grabbing a sled for recognized he situation as an opportunity to servehimself without asking. He then me and our family with peace andcontinued to walk over to the snow- was upset, but he grace. He took the high road andblower and make a few comments we all benefited from his my husband and I about its also recognized Because his response created zeropower capabilities as he pretendedto use it. I could feel my husband that getting upset conflict for me, I had the emotional energy to address the situation in astanding behind me, and I could would SErvE No positive way.only imagine what was runningthrough his mind as he watched my PurPoSE. Justification vs. tactex-husband walk out of the garage I can’t guarantee another’swith his sled with a thank-you for it behavior, but I can set up bound-and after putting his hands on the While I could tell he was irritated, aries to help prevent this type ofsnowblower. he calmly said to me that while it situation from reoccurring. I sent I don’t have to be a rocket scien- really upset him that my ex just my ex-husband an email the nexttist to relate to what just happened. walked in and helped himself to day saying that I hoped they had aI know that for a guy, having your our stuff without asking, he added great time sledding and asked himwife’s ex-husband walk into your that he knew it would do no good to either give me a call or emailgarage and take stuff without to make a big scene. He said, “I me the next time they are going topermission is like our partner’s ex realized it is more important for do something where they need towalking into our kitchen and just you and for us to have a positive stop by and pick up stuff so I canborrowing some cooking uten- co-parenting relationship with your have it ready. While my ex-husbandsils or raiding our closet and just ex than it is to say something, and perceived the email as a favor toborrowing a purse or shoes without I’m not going to put you in the him, my heart’s true intention wasasking. It defies logic and unspoken middle to say something to him. It’s to do a favor for my husband. Theremarriage rules. not worth rocking the big picture.” motivation behind the email was After the car drove away, my My husband recognized he to help eliminate the possibilityhusband looked at me and jokingly was upset, but he also recognized that my ex-husband would visit ourasked, “Did your ex just come that getting upset would serve no garage and help himself again.into my garage and take my sled purpose. In the end, my husband had thewithout asking and pretend to use He was correct in acknowledging right to tell my ex-husband to getmy snowblower in my garage? Did that what my ex-husband did was out of his garage. I had the right toI mention it’s my garage?” disrespectful, yet he was wise to tell my ex-husband that he couldn’t “Yes,” I said, feeling guilty for know that if he had responded in borrow the sled or play with thewhat just occurred even though anger or frustration, his response snowblower. The truth in stepfamilyI have no control over what my would have created tension for the life is that just because you may beex-husband says or does. kids and me and would not have justified in saying or doing some- erased what had happened. thing doesn’t mean you should sayFeeling Guilty A smart stepmom and friend, or do it. Often the best choice is toI told my husband I felt bad Debra Rae, once said, “Look at say or do nothing at all. Oabout what had just happenedand thanked him for not sayinganything. Inside I was questioning hEAthEr hEtChlEr helps stepmoms thrive in their role as themyself, “Did I let my husband heart of their blended family. She is the Founder of www.CafeSmom.down by not saying something to com where she brings positive resources, inspiration and supportmy ex?” I was feeling some self- to stepmothers. CafeSmom offers the only e-shop with products designed exclusively for the stepmom. As a stepmom coach, her pas-induced guilt. Then my husband sion is to help stepmothers define their own positive path to success.spoke the most gracious words to Heather is the host of Stepmom Connection on Sheme and gave me a precious gift. resides in Cleveland with her husband and four children and two stepchildren. 22 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  23. 23. Remodel Your Life From theInside Outa 12-Month Series on StepmomSelf-improvement JANuAry Be Yourself FEbruAry Be an Observer MArCh Mind Your Mind APrIl Always Do Be Curious MAy Necessary Your Best Conversations JuNE/July Think, Speak and act with integrity by peggy noLan, m.a., ryt & don’t Take it personally AuGuSt “If you always do your best, Cultivate an you can never judge yourself.”attitude of Gratitude —don migueL ruiz SEPtEMbEr Focus on S Forgiveness o often I read or hear of because the wall is crooked. When stepmoms (and moms) you need to justify your behavior, oCtobEr justifying their behavior. it’s because you’re crooked. accept What is “I did this because ...” I’ve been crooked. When I wasn’t or “I said that to her because ...” doing my best, I was justifying my NovEMbEr No matter what our role, mom or behavior because I needed to be Your Life is stepmom, we’re trying to justify seen as a better parent than my Your Choice how we behave because in the dark stepkids’ mom or because I needed corner of our lives we know that we to be liked or approved of. No dECEMbEr truly did not do our best. When a doubt, this was a tiring way for me always do carpenter needs to justify a wall, it’s to operate. I wasn’t doing my best. I Your Best 23 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  24. 24. What would your life look like this holiday season if you droPPEd thE dISGuISE oF bEhAvIor JuStIFICAtIoN, people pleasing and believing you need to liveHomework up to the expectations of x, y and z?as a subscriber, you haveaccess to all the backissues. re-read each article wasn’t being who I am. My behavior your life look like if you simplyin remodel your Life and was false, fake and phony. If you did and honored your best in anyif you’ve done the home- are justifying your behavior or given situation? Our best changeswork, re-read your journal. vilifying the other woman, you are from moment to moment, moodFor december’s issue, in not doing your best. In fact, you’re to mood, day to day. Our best getsyour journal, answer the a fake and you rally others to your better when we acknowledge andfollowing questions: cause so that you can hide behind honor our own rhythms.⊲ why do you do what you your justness and righteousness. For example, my best writing do for your husband and Ouch. happens after dinner. For others, stepkids? Double ouch. I know. It kind of it might be before dawn. I’m better⊲ is it for recognition? sets your teeth on edge to be called able to communicate my feelings out. It’s a tough pill to swallow from after I spend an hour at the dojo⊲ is it to look better than someone else who doesn’t know or practicing yoga. You might be the mom? your situation, circumstances or better able to communicate your⊲ is it because you don’t what you’ve put up with for however feelings after a good breakfast. I want your new in-laws long you’ve been with your man. know that my best is not very good or anyone else to think When you and I hide behind our if I don’t get a good night’s sleep, poorly of you? justness, when you and I opt to be and I’ve learned to recognize and⊲ are you keeping score? right rather than happy, when you be aware of my own crankiness. and I are not doing our best, then Some days my best is being a lump⊲ how much of what you you and I are denying ourselves on the couch watching AMC movie do for others is because and each other the right to be who classics. you really want to and we are. When it comes to being a mom, you’re not looking for What would your life look like stepmom and grandmother, I simply a pat on the back, a bouquet of roses or your this holiday season if you dropped do my best. Not because I’m looking stepkids to announce to the disguise of behavior justifica- for approval, a reward, to please the world that you’re the tion, people pleasing and believing others or justify my behavior, but best stepmom ever? you need to live up to the expecta- because I truly want to do my best, tions of x, y and z? What would whether I’m a two or a 10. O⊲ what would your life look like if you simply did your best for you—because you want to—regard- PEGGy NolAN loves teaching stepmoms how to stand in their power less of the applause and and expand their wholeness of mind, body, and spirit. Peggy is a self-care coach and certified yoga teacher. She is the mother of two appreciation? and the bonus mother of four. Peggy hosts the wildly popular “The Stepmom’s Toolbox Radio Show” on www. Connect with Peggy at www.thestepmoms 24 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  25. 25. eveNTS, ReSOURCeS, COMMUNiTYStEPMoMS IN hIStory Did you know? oNE-thIrd of all children entering stepfamilies were born to an unmarried mother rather than having divorced parents. SourCE: national Survey of Families and households E-Book Available Now! thriving at the holidays:octavia A Stepparent’s Guide to of the most prominent Unwrapping the Gift of Peace thiswomen in roman history, Holiday Season.octavia the younger (69–11 b.c.)was respected and admired by by heather hetchler and gayla grace,contemporaries for her loyalty, with a forward by ron. L. deal.nobility and humanity, and formaintaining traditional roman available now through amazon, ibooks andfeminine virtues. barnes & noble. after the death by suicideof her second husband, markantony, octavia became thesole caretaker and guardian uPCoMING EvENt Theof her own five children of her Smartmarriages with marcellus and Hosted byantony, as well as her stepchil- Lauradren—antony’s four children Petherbridge,from his previous marriages toFulvia and cleopatra. octavia Stepmom author of Retreatis known historically as a great The Smartmother and stepmother and is Stepmomsaid to have raised all of herchildren with kindness and love. JAN. 20-21, 2012  RICHARDSON, TEXASSourCE: Duces Romanorum: DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel DallasRoman Profiles in Courage, by For Information, Contact Amy Urbach atrose williams 25 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  26. 26. C O d e S O F C O N d U C T F O R T H e S T e p F a M i LY H O M e Ho use RulesA Stepmom’s wish listGimme Structure!by tara eiSenhardI don’t consider myself a rigid person. I families are different. Do the parental figures oversleep. I skip meals. I detest sched- have balanced power in your home? Or does ules. And yet, for the past few years, age or seniority rule? Do older children have I’ve openly urged my partner to impose more authority over their siblings than doesmore boundaries and ground rules upon his the stepparent? In other words, where does achildren. stepmother belong in the hierarchy? A few weeks ago, I found myself harpingon the subject again. “They need structure,”I insisted. And then it hit me. “Who is itwho is really begging for this structure?” Iasked myself. “It’s me! I’m the one who needsstructure!” It took a few days for me to accept thereality. It was hard to admit that my free-spirited self was, in fact, craving a frameworkwithin which to function. In that time, I cameto realize that all members of my familyneeded structure. We all needed discipline.If our family is a sandbox, within which wecollaborate and create, we can’t make themost of it until we know the boundaries withwhich we have to work. So I made a wish list.I believe the following will ultimately ease theoperations of most stepfamily units:⊲ A documented and discussed Chain ofCommand. In a traditional nuclear family,it goes without saying that mom and dad areequally in charge of the children. But step- 26 © 2011 Stepmom magazine
  27. 27. H use Rules⊲ Family rules and Consequences. Therules are usually easy. But what happens Families need to dEPENdwhen someone breaks a rule? What kinds of oN EACh othEr, and adultsdiscipline are employed in your home? Thekids need to know what to expect, and the have a responsibility toadults need to agree on what’s acceptable.Otherwise, we stepmoms might hand out a model mature behavior fromsentence that is overturned when dad findsout, undermining our authority and eroding which children can learn.any respect the children have for us.⊲ Family Meetings—with an Agenda. I’m ⊲ official Standards. Create standards forthat person in the office who insists, “I don’t cleanliness and etiquette. When two estab-need to be at the meeting; just tell me what I lished cultures merge, everything is open toshould know when it’s over.” But that atti- interpretation. Does clear the table mean thetude ends when I walk in my front door. As a dishes go in the sink or the dishwasher? Is itfamily, it’s imperative that we make each other acceptable to say “Gesundheit” when someonea priority and be present to address important sneezes, or is “God bless you” preferred? Areissues. Everyone deserves to be heard, and the shoes permitted beyond the foyer? This isbest way to ensure this happens is to schedule a tough one, but it’s important to agree onit. To combat the inconvenience, try holding expectations to minimize future conflict.the meetings during dinner or talk in the carduring longer rides. ⊲ A Culture of respect and Accountability. Families need to depend on each other, and adults have a responsi- bility to model mature behavior from which What kinds of children can learn. I’m willing to work toward this goal, even if the other home sometimes discipline are operates in a contrary manner. employed in I’ve learned to embrace my need for boundaries, discipline, authority and respect. your home? thE And the experience has been oddly liberating. No longer am I a prisoner of what I identi- KIdS NEEd to fied as someone else’s problem. Instead, I’m empowered to state my needs and speak KNow whAt to from the heart. It’s much more effective than ExPECt, and the pointing fingers and making demands. O adults need to agree on what’s tArA EISENhArd believes that families evolve, not dissolve, as a acceptable. result of divorce. She is active in the lives of her partner’s children and enjoys the study of stepfamily dynamics. Tara is the author of the blog “Relative Evolutions” located at, tweets @RelativEvolutns and welcomes comments via email at divorce. 27 © 2011 Stepmom magazine