Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Guest Post: New Year's Resolutions for Stepfamilies

By Wednesday Martin, Ph.D.,

Author of Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do

The dawn of 2010 is a watershed moment for what we might call the New American Family. This is the year, according to many experts, when stepfamilies will outnumber first families in the U.S. One in three Americans is now a "step" of some sort -- stepparent, stepsibling, or stepchild.

There's now no denying that stepfamilies have our place in mainstream American culture. But there are plenty of struggles too. Many stepfamilies find they don't get the support and understanding they need from their children's schools, or from their churches or temples. Stepkids feel loyalty binds -- a sense that to love or even like a stepparent is a betrayal of their real mom or dad. And stepparents often feel shut out -- by partners who have gotten used to years of parenting solo, and by stepkids who, the research shows, tend to be hostile and rejecting of a stepparent in the initial years of the repartnership -- and sometimes for years.

Here are ten simple steps stepfamilies can take to usher in a decade of stepfamily satisfaction:

Resolve to be a couple. Remarriages with children are twice as likely to fail as those without. Stepcouples are assailed by challenges including children who are unenthused about the union, family and friends who don't get the stress of repartnering with children, and unsupportive exes in the wings. Putting the marriage or partnership first gives the whole family a chance at stability and happiness.

Don't try to "blend." Stepfamilies are assailed by unrealistic expectations. The primary one is that they are "supposed" to be just like a first family. When we ask stepfamily members to "blend," we're putting them in a jam with regards to the other parent in the picture, as well as their separate histories and family cultures. Stepfamilies can be healthy settings for adults and kids, particularly when we remove the pressure to "be" any particular way.

Bridge the gap. Young adult stepchildren especially, come to a developmental crossroads where they may be able to see a previously demonized stepparent in a new way, or understand their parent's divorce from another point of view. Spouses can give their spouse who is a stepparent the benefit of the doubt in the New Year: "I married her, and I'm going to trust that when she's upset, she's not making a big deal out of nothing." It is amazing how finding this "middle ground" can soothe and heal old hurts.

Resolve to care for yourself. As I interviewed women for my book Stepmonster, I realized they all fit the new research findings about stepmothers to a T: many were trying so hard to buck the "wicked stepmother" stereotype that they bent over backwards in the wrong direction. Sure, it's nice to be kind. But never expressing any displeasure with your stepkids, and constantly putting your own needs and feelings last, as stepmothers are usually expected to do, is a recipe for resentment. Self-care is key for women with stepkids. A regular "girls night out" or occasional massage or even just finding time to read a novel are key to preventing stepmaternal burn out.

Resolve to lower the bar. This one's easy! In general, stepparents will do well to do less -- less attempting to blend, less trying to win the kids over, less acting as a family and marital counselor. Stepmothers can take a lesson from stepfathers here: stepfathers generally report lower levels of involvement in the early years of stepfamily formation -- and kids report higher levels of satisfaction with stepfathers than with stepmothers. There are lots of factors to consider, but a big one is the ability to step back, and let the relationship develop on its own terms, in its own time.

Learn to fight. That's right. It's a skill. And couples with kids from previous relationships are going to need it. Find a "hot topic" communication formula that works for you…and use it. This can include "I sentences" versus accusations ("When you say that I feel . . . " instead of "You always do X!"), as well as communication formulas found in Stepmonster and other books listed in "resources" below.

Find the right things to do together. Eye-to-eye activities, like sitting down to talk, are always more stressful for steps than are shoulder to shoulder ones. Try doing a puzzle, playing a board game (Scrabble can be a good one if the stepkids are older) or doing arts and crafts together. And understand that unlike first families, stepfamilies bond best one-on-one. All-together activities tend to activate everyone's fears of being an outsider.

Get out of the house, and invite family and friends in. Stepparents in particular need to balance the sense that they are something of an "outsider" in the household with plenty of time with family and friends who help them feel like an insider. Stepkids of any age will feel less "on the spot" if there isn't endless attention trained on their every move, and they are part of a living, lively household that gives them a sense of security and belonging.

Resolve not to treat the kids like royalty. Kids of any age who turn up want to feel included and comfortable, and that doesn't happen when parent and stepparent bend over backwards to accommodate their every whim, or design their days around a step/child's desires. Making him or her part of what you do normally, plus some alone time with mom or dad, will helps kids feel like family rather than guests.

Find a place. Give a stepchild who doesn't live with you something that is always the same -- if it can't be a whole closet, then a spot in one, a regular place at the dinner table, and so on. And stepparents, be sure to find a place in the house that is just for you. When stepfamily life gets momentarily tense -- which is inevitably will -- you will have a place to escape and recharge.

Resources/further reading:

Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do by Wednesday Martin, Ph.D.

The Power of the Middle Ground: A Couple's Guide to Renewing Your Relationship by Martin Babits, LCSW, BCD

The Gottman Institute/ works by John Gottman
©2009 Wednesday Martin, Ph.D., author of Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do

Author Bio

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 (http://www.psychologytoday.com/ ) and blogs for the Huffington Post and on her own web site (http://www.wednesdaymartin.com/). 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 is a finalist in the parenting category of this year's "Books for a Better Life" award.

A stepmother for nearly a decade, Wednesday lives in New York City with her husband and two sons. Her stepdaughters are young adults.

Become a fan of Wednesday Martin on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Automated Man Gets the Shopping Done!

How many times have you sent a child to the other parent knowing they may need something when they are there? My neighbor is constantly telling me this happens to her repeatedly. She'll send her two boys to their moms and there mom will call their dad and ask him to pick up a few extra things at the store as she didn't have time to get it. This sucks for the dad and his wife because they already pay support but if they don't provide them with the few items requested they'll go without just because of spite.

Her children are still young but I showed her AutomatedMan today, which allows a person to go online and order a month supply of hygiene products for a male. Sorry, no female ones. This is something you can order online and have sent to an address. Something to maybe delivered to their mom's house in the future so they can shave, brush their teeth, etc. It arrives in its own bag and has everything in it once a month.

For $39.99 they get:
As you can see there is definitely a lot of stuff and this stuff goes over $100 in value so you know they won't just run out. My guess is this is probably sounding much better to you then just buying it all yourselves whenever she/he decides they are out. Plus you can always order it for your own child to be delivered to home or if they go to a school far away (boarding) at Automated Mom. Either way, you can order, they can order and no matter what the issue is always covered. No child should go without and hey you could even buy this for your own spouse and never have to buy this stuff for them again. They'll just have to remember to use it every once and a while. Right?

Have a good day, I'll be updating more often with more step-parenting scenarios like the one above and asking ....what would you do if you were in his/her shoes. Hey we all go through issues whether we are stepfamilies or never been divorced. One thing is for certain though, when things are all taken care of everything should run smoothly....at least for mom.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Your Advice is Needed

A neighbor of mine has asked for advice from you readers. Her issue? Well let me tell you her story, which might take some time.

She and her husband had a bit of a struggle a few years back and he wondered, the wondering created a child. She was so upset by this that they split, eventually she went back, but once again he got the other lady pregnant.

The other lady (mother of the two boys) refused to allow her babies near his wife, in the hopes that he'd eventually leave her. This didn't work, they got stronger and eventually the biological mother let him take the kids to visit him at his home. But it wasn't until this year, which means their New mom is very new at this and has many obstacles and questions.

When the boys come back to them they treat her so horribly plus they are mean to one another and always hitting. As a new mother she doesn't want to punish and is always stating "they already tell me they hate me." Any advice for her? I told her she still needs to correct.

My own childhood was very much like this, my father once said they'd get me back wild and it would take a few days to get me right again but then I'd be off to her place in a few days. But they always stuck with the "rules" and that's how it worked. I have suggested to her to lay down the laws and have her husband work with her on it, otherwise she will always be the doormat to those boys. i know she loves them, in fact the slightest thing will get her to go shopping and buy them something.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Who Pays for the Wedding?

My kids aren't old enough to worry about marriage but I remember when it came time for my sister to get married. I recently watched an episode on Reba where Van and Cheyenne are renewing their wedding vows and Reba is honored to plan the wedding until she finds out she must share the planning with the crazy (new wife)Barbara-Jean. Ya know the same woman that stole her man while she was married.

Here's a question, "Who pays for the wedding?" For traditions sake it is normally the bride's family that pays for the wedding. But what happens when her family is a blended family, does one pay more than the other?

What's your take on it?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Review: Stepping-Stones For Stepmoms

First off I'm going to state that I am not a stepmom, but I was a step-daughter and think if I had just a little insight to what this book revealed back then life would've been much easier. This is one of those books that will walk you through the steps that a stepmom must go through in order to be part of "The" family. While reading this book, do keep in mind that it is religious so if religion isn't your cup of tea it may not be for you. However if you can, it may really help you understand the life of a stepmom and what they go through.

This will be a bit different for a review, I'm going to share with you certain quotes and then life through the eyes of a step-daughter and a mom. Yes, mom because I think that this book would even help moms and not just stepmoms. (Sorry Karen but I think it would benefit everyone out there that has children)

For instance- Anger issues. What's the first thing that happens when your child lies to you or your spouse? How do you feel? Karen will walk you through how it feels as a stepmom, the hurt, resentment, anger, etc and how to overcome that. No you don't just strike out like so many do. Find out why it is happening.

For each chapter in "Stepping-Stones" there are several questions to answer and help you through the process. Each chapter begins with a verse from the bible, the story of the challenge, encouragement to get through it, a prayer and the questions.

My favorite part in the book was on page 131 where she talks about her life on a day of coping. "Peace in Coping" her family is at a soccer game and at the very end, their son runs off with his mom for the weekend and yells "Love you both," without fear of how his mom feels. I think this is a remarkable moment, I remember that feeling of dread or the look in others eyes. It takes a remarkable family to be able to deal with this. But with the steps inside this book you just might be able to achieve that. Shouldn't every child feel fearless, whether he/she is with mom or dad?