10 Things Stepmoms Refuse to Feel Guilty About

womenlaughI ran across this article about a month ago on Babble about things women refuse to feel guilty about as moms. As a mom of a 16 year old and almost 3 year old, I can relate to some of them. For example, when my oldest was in elementary I was not the crafty mom who made his Halloween costumes or baked  heart shaped cookies for his entire class during Valentine’s Day and will likely not do it for my youngest when he gets to school either. And yes, sometimes when I just need a break because I work from home and manage my 3 year old simultaneously, I use Backyardigans to entertain him while I catch my breath. And no, I don’t feel the least bit guilty for any of it. I wasn’t surprised to hear that I wasn’t alone either after reading this article on Babble.

Another thing that doesn’t surprise me is the lack of the same type of empathy that people have when it comes to stepmoms. It is common, accepted and supported for women to rave about what they refuse to feel guilty about as a mom. But it is seen as evil if it comes from a stepmom. Well, the only way to change those stereotypes is to discuss them so here it goes. Just like there are things I refuse to feel guilty about as a mom, there are things I refuse to feel guilty about as a stepmom. For example, I refuse to feel guilty for not being friends with my husband’s ex-wife. There is way too much combative, negative history between her and my husband. I will always be cordial but I have no desire to be best friends and that’s perfectly ok. I also refuse to feel guilty about making my marriage a priority instead of trying to help my husband fix a broken relationship (between him and his ex-wife) that I didn’t break to begin with.

I was happy to hear that other stepmoms weren’t afraid to speak up about what they refuse to feel guilty about, too.We asked some of our stepmom friends what they refuse to feel guilty about and compiled the top 10 list below.

womanlaygrass

  1. I use to feel so guilty if the step kids werent with us and we did fun things with my kids. I finally realized that their mom does fun things with the step kids and my children aren’t involved in that so why should I feel guilty for doing for my own?
  2. Asking for “me” time. Sometimes I just want to enjoy my days off instead of babysitting.
  3. Loving my stepdaugther as my own daughter.
  4. Putting my son with disabilities first,  no matter what.
  5. Not being peacemaker between my husband and his ex-wife. I’d prefer to support my husband but otherwise, stay out of it.
  6. Stepping back.
  7. For making mistakes along the way.
  8. For being a caregiver and role model to my step children, but leaving the responsibility of how they turn out and their personality flaws to their mom and dad.
  9. Not paying for things for my step children when I don’t want to. They have two parents for that.
  10. For supporting my husband 100% when it comes to disciplining my step children.

Moms or Stepmoms, what are some of the things that you refuse to feel guilty about?

Peace Be Still – A Message From The Christian Stepmom

PrayingWomanQLet’s face it stepmoms have a hard job. We get the mom role without the glory, we share the wife role with another woman’s shadow hanging around, and many times the people around us just expect us to know how to navigate the stormy seas of blended family life. Our friends can’t understand why we don’t just get along with our husband’s ex or his children. Our parents, as supportive as they try to be, don’t always understand why our spouse makes the parenting decisions he does. Top it off with the pressure of keeping up with baseball practices, band rehearsals, school lunches, awards programs – a stepmom can end up feeling exhausted, depressed, and out of control. We long for the days when everything will be “normal” but the harsh reality is that this life is our normal.

Personally I struggle the most with the expectation to just “be okay” all the time. I grew up in a very stable home and my parents have been married since they were 18 and 19 years old. My father was a part of many tumultuous blended families growing up, but my mom’s parents were together over 50 years until my grandmother died in 2004. For me to marry a man with children and an ex-wife really rocked the boat. It brought up scars from my father’s childhood and as much as my mom wanted to be there for me, she didn’t have the answers, as she’s never walked this path before. I didn’t have anyone to walk me through this path.  I didn’t have anyone to tell me what feelings and insecurities were normal. I started looking for resources, but what I found was a lot of negativity.  As I searched for answers, I kept coming up short and I simply felt like a bird trying to fly through a storm that could not find a place to land. I loved my husband and my stepsons but I simply could not find peace. All I was focused on was what I didn’t have. I didn’t have a husband who could focus on being newlyweds 100% of the time. I didn’t have sons who were happy or respected their father. I certainly didn’t have quiet and financially secure household. But one day I realized I was so focused on myself and what I didn’t have that I wasn’t able to say thank you for the blessings that I had right in front of me. I also faced the reality that I wasn’t giving them my best.

I have always grown up in a Christian household, but I must admit my walk with the Lord wasn’t at its strongest when I was diving head first into my role as a stepmom. I kept thinking I had to do everything. I had to fix my husband’s relationship with this kids. I had to fix the kids attitudes. I had to bring peace between my husband and his ex-wife. I had to perfect my family before God would bless it. I’m not really sure how I came to believe all these lies, but when you are in a depressed state its easy to believe the unthinkable. Over time, however, I began seeking the Lord diligently and praying for my stepchildren. I remember vividly the first day I felt called to pray for the kids’ mom. I truly thought it was a futile attempt as I firmly believed she would never change. I was so sure the Lord couldn’t do anything about the problem that I had stopped talking to Him. It was in this moment that I realized why I could not find peace. It wasn’t because of my husband’s ex-wife or the kids – it was because of me. I had lost what centered me, and in doing so, I was on a path of selfishness and self-righteousness thinking life owed me more than this precious family.

I know many of you reading this have harder circumstances than I can even imagine. But I urge you to pray for your family and seek your own relationship with the Lord. By centering yourself on something other than your husband or kids, you are removing yourself from the situation (without leaving) and giving your heart and brain a chance to recharge and gain some perspective. In turn you will find peace. Peace doesn’t mean that life will all of sudden get easier or that the storms will settle – in fact the opposite may occur. Instead what it means is you will be able to rest amidst the storm.

The pastor at our local church often uses the example of a painting that was submitted for an art award to illustrate this point. The theme of the competition was in fact peace. The painting that won shows a stormy sea with high waves crashing against jagged rocks, but in the corner of the painting sits a small bird nestled in the cleft of the rock simply sleeping through the storm. When we allow ourselves to hide in God and lay our troubles at His feet – He doesn’t always calm the storm, but He will always protect us and give us peace. He will be the comfort that our heart is searching for and will be our soft place to land when the trials of this life are far too great for us to face on our own.  Instead of trying to calm the storm in our soul on our own, we can rest in the one who made it all and say peace, be still.

Mark 4:39

“Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the Wind ceased and there was a great calm. (NKJV)

This article was written by Misty, Founder of www.ChristianStepmom.com.

 

 

 

A Response to Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Letter to a Friend

I have always adored Jada Pinkett-Smith and the entire Smith Clan. They exude love, creativity and a profound sense of self-love and acceptance. Their approach to life and family is inspiring. That being said, I don’t agree with Jada’s response to a stepmom friend of hers and it is something that we must critically avoid doing. Below is her letter to a friend and after that is my response.

Jada: “A letter to a friend: Blended families are NEVER easy, but here’s why I don’t have a lot of sympathy for your situation because… we CHOOSE them. When I married Will, I knew Trey was part of the package…Period! If I didn’t want that…I needed to marry someone else. Then I learned if I am going to love Trey…I had to learn to love the most important person in the world to him…his mother. And the two of us may not have always LIKED each other… but we have learned to LOVE each other.

I can’t support any actions that keep a man from his children of a previous marriage. These are the situations that separate the women from the girls. Your behavior is that of an insecure child who needs to recognize her own weaknesses that MUST be strengthened to take on the task at hand. We can’t say we love our man and then come in between him and his children. THAT’S selfishness…NOT love. WOMAN UP… I’ve been there…I know. My blended family made me a giant… Taught me so much about love, commitment and it has been the biggest ego death to date. It’s time you let your blended family make you the giant you truly are. J” Source: Uptown Magazine

TMF: I love these kind of stories but I must caution people that this isn’t everybody’s truth! While I admire Jada’s response, she’s leaving a lot out. For example, it not only took her to release those insecurities and ego trips for it to work but it took Sheree to do the same. It will not work the way they are describing unless both women put aside their differences and put in the effort. Too often stepmoms and second wives are seen as temporary or disposable and you can’t build a long-term relationship like they have if you continually assume that the stepmother is only going to be there short-term.

Their family is one reality but it certainly isn’t everyone’s and we (stepfamilies) need to stop criticizing other stepfamilies and stepmoms based on our reality. It’s the reason many of my stepmoms are reaching for antidepressants!! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the sharing of experiences that leads to this; it’s sharing your experience and then preaching that if you have not achieved “best friend with the ex-wife” or” love the ex-wife” status in your stepfamily, then you have somehow failed altogether. This is not true. We [Today’s Modern Family] offer advice and support based on your reality because we must stop assuming that there is a one size fits all approach to making a stepfamily work. There just isn’t!

 

Are You Taking Care of Home?

Diane and I have both been living the modern family lifestyle for quite some time now. Collectively, we have over 20 years of experience in this area; we’ve both been single moms, are currently living the stepfamily life and Diane was also a widow at one point. During this journey we’ve both made plenty of mistakes, had some successes and learned so many lessons regarding family and life in general. While we both pondered this over lunch a couple of weeks ago, we concluded a very powerful lesson regarding what it means to take care of home. What we know for sure is that the definition of taking care of home is very complex, but easy to understand at the same time. Taking care of home means that the people in it have to not only take care of each other, but take care of themselves as well. It’s not just about making sure the kids are alright, but it’s also about making sure that you are alright.  It’s about taking the kids to soccer practice or piano lessons, however; you must also get some quality time in with a good girlfriend or go hit some golf balls with the guys. It’s about creating memories and family traditions, together, as a family but it’s also about carving time out for a spontaneous rendezvous with your spouse from time to time. Taking care of home and making sure your modern family is the best it can be is much more complex than just focusing solely on the children. It’s like when riding on the airplane; the flight attendant always instructs the parent to put on their oxygen mask first and then place it on the children, in the case of an emergency. Why? Because if you’re passed out, how will you help your children? The same idea applies to parenting and step-parenting. If you are burnt out, trying to make sure everyone else is happy and taken care of, are you truly of any benefit to your children and family? Encouraging each member of the family, including the parents, to take time for themselves, IS taking care of home.

All Moms Need Self-Care

The last 16 months have been a whirlwind for me and my family. The addition of our little miracle baby has been welcomed but so chaotic and full of changes. Before Bam Bam (that’s what we call him), my husband and I were raising a 13 year old who was self-sufficient. He could make his own food, iron and pick out his own clothes, and carried his IPod Touch around like it was a cochlear implant. Motherhood and parenthood for that matter was very different.

I have always been an advocate of mothers and stepmothers taking time to indulge in a bit of self-care. It is so important to not completely devote yourself to being a mother or a stepmother in order to be a good mother or stepmother. I’ve received angry emails from readers stating that I was wrong for telling stepmothers to assign ownership of certain responsibilities to their rightful owners and use that down time for themselves. I told them that it is completely okay, natural and healthy to tell their spouse that they will not be responsible for their stepchildren every single time they come to visit. Instead, I told them to use that time to take a nap, have a girl’s night, get a hobby or do all of the above. This advice is especially true for the stepmothers who have kids of their own and can never seem to get a moment of down time.

Well, for the past 16 months this has never been more true and apparent to me. A woman cannot soley focus on her children and/or stepchildren and husband without: 1) losing a huge piece of herself and/or 2) going insane. She needs time to de-stress, regroup and recharge in order to be a good mom/stepmom and wife. There’s just no way around it and women should not feel guilty for demanding to recharge her batteries. During the first year of my son’s life as I operated on maybe two hours worth of sleep, little food and no energy, my husband, friends, family, pastor and other new or renewed moms would tell me to take time for myself. They almost begged me to step away from my sweet little angel so that I could recharge. Because he was a preemie and is still experiencing health issues as a result, I didn’t want to leave him with ANYONE. But, this meant that I was with him all of the time and it just wasn’t healthy for either of us.  Thank God for my wonderful husband who took time off of work to not only take care of us but to remind me what I have been advocating for the past several years – “me” time! When I wouldn’t budge, he started arranging girl’s night outs for me. He called a few of my friends, made reservations at one of my favorite restaurants, made reservations at a spa for all of us and paid for everything. Once he did that a few times, it became a habit and now I look forward to spending time away from my angel. I have even revisited my love of photography and  look forward to the moments I get to use that creative outlet. I need it in order to be the best mommy I can be to my children and you moms/stepmoms need it too. So take a little time to indulge in regular self-care and do so without guilt. Your entire family will be better as a result.

Six Things in the Remarried Co-Parent’s Survival Toolbox

Co-Parenting Plan

The first thing the remarried co-parent should have is a detailed, mutually agreed upon, co-parenting plan. He or she should have one within their household and with their former spouse. Remarried couples and divorced co-parents need to stop making it up as they go along and talk about it, prior to divorce or remarriage. Talk about how to handle discipline, visitation, phone calls, birthday parties, etc. because when you are suddenly confronted with these decisions and emotions are high, those emotions usually dictate your decision making. As such, you end up making a decision based on how you feel instead of what’s best for everyone.

Family Mission Statement

 Arm yourself with a good family mission statement, which all the members of your household are active participants in creating. Remember that especially because this family wasn’t organically made, some effort will need to go into building and maintaining it. Talk about how you want to connect as a family and make every member feel included in this process.

Stepfamily Coach

 Be sure to have a good stepfamily coach/counselor on speed dial as it’s not always helpful to listen to those well-meaning family members and friends. Talking to someone who is experienced and knowledgeable on the issues that you will undoubtedly face will be helpful as you navigate through your remarried co-parenting journey.

Drama Free Date Night

Drama free date night, at least once per month, is a must! Stay connected to your spouse; remember that he or she is your biggest support system.

No Judgment Zone Problem/Solution Box

 No judgment zone problem/solution box is a simple box that is placed in your house for everyone, including the children, to freely drop their concerns in to be addressed. Overall, everyone in the stepfamily just wants to be appreciated and respected and heard! One of the biggest problems that I have discovered with stepfamilies is that they don’t communicate, unless they are fighting about an issue. The stepmom does what she thinks is expected of her. The divorced dad is often the man caught in the middle as he tries to please both women (ex-wife and wife), and the kids feel like they have absolutely no say in what’s happening. Stepmoms don’t hold it in; voice your concerns. Divorced dads, tell your wives how you feel. Kids, we know this isn’t easy for you and we want you to know that we acknowledge how you feel. A problem/solution box gives everyone a voice and shows that you are working to find a solution that mostly works for everyone. More importantly, it allows the children to feel a part of the unit instead of feeling caught in the middle. It also shows them that the success of the family is also dependent upon their active participation.

Realistic Expectations

It is important to have realistic expectations when entering into a stepfamily. Remember, that stepfamilies do not and cannot operate as first families do and it will take time and a conscious effort to build and maintain your modern family. Relationships take time and effort to build, but not force. Establishing realistics expectations in the beginning will minimize hurt feelings and chaos.

Former Basketball Wife, Tami Roman, Speaks Candidly About Life After Divorce

 When I first approached the newest cast member of VH1’s second season of Basketball Wives, Tami Roman, about doing an interview on Today’s Modern Family, I must say I wasn’t surprised by her humble response. “I would be honored to do an interview for you,” she said. By that one simple statement, I knew that Tami Roman was a very different person than what has been projected in the media and by what we see on the edited reality show. Tami is an extremely down to earth, very real chick who was eager and gracious enough to speak candidly with me about her journey from the Real World reality show to marriage to high profile professional basketball player, Kenny Anderson, to single mother on welfare and to finding love again.

romantami1

Newest Star of Basketball Wives, Tami Roman

Marriage to and Divorce from Professional Basketball Player

When Tami met, fell in love with and eventually married Kenny Anderson, she thought it would be forever.  She got everything she had been hoping for when she was younger; a beautiful home, financial stability and a husband. She expressed how she soon began to lose sight of reality as her privileged lifestyle came with a certain status that she felt was now her norm. Although Tami seemingly had everything she had been hoping for since she was a child, she wasn’t prepared for what she didn’t get from her husband; respect, love, honor, integrity and commitment.

 Eventually, Kenny had multiple affairs that ultimately led to the demise of the marriage. But because she too came from a broken home and was raised without a father; she didn’t want that for Lyric and Jazz, the beautiful daughters that she shares with Kenny. As a result, she accepted the infidelity for as long as she did because of them.

After the divorce Tami expressed that things got really bad between her and Kenny and Tami admitted to not always making the best decisions regarding her daughters and their relationship with their father. She openly expressed that she did not know how to co-parent and feels as if her daughters suffered because of it.

“By the time Kenny and I got divorced, it was really, really bad. We couldn’t have a conversation for two minutes without yelling at each other, cursing each other or hanging up the phone,” she said.

Because Kenny has been so adamant about Tami keeping the girls away from him and has given that as his reason for lack of involvement; I asked Tami if she intentionally or maybe even subconsciously kept him away from the kids.

“Again, by the time we divorced it [our communication with each other] was really bad. Now we had to try to co-parent and make arrangements for my daughters, who were only 6 and 4 at the time, to see their dad. Kenny wanted me to put my 6 and 4 year old on a plane by themselves and fly them to wherever he was, and I wasn’t okay with that. So, in his mind, I was keeping the kids away from him. In my mind, I was just being a mother and looking out for my children. And so, we could never come to a happy medium,” Tami explained.

Moving forward Tami expressed how she wanted her daughters and Kenny to continue to develop some type of relationship. Although she’s grateful that they have began to do so, she is realistic and knows that it will take baby steps to eventually get to her desired outcome, and that is that Lyric and Jazz will truly know their father as a person and not just in name only.

The Downfall

During the first couple of episodes of Basketball Wives, Tami candidly spoke about going from wife of a professional basketball player to single mother on welfare. During our interview she went on to explain that although she did sign a prenuptial agreement prior to marrying Kenny, that basically said, “what you came with is what you’re leaving with,” that agreement did not apply to their daughters. Kenny did pay a large monthly sum of money for Lyric and Jazz post divorce, for a period of time.  However, she admitted that she did not make good financial decisions because she was trying to maintain the lifestyle that she had when she was married to their father; not understanding that the reality was that she was no longer married to their father. Tami described how she let a lot of people take control of her life and in turn, wasn’t making proper maternal decisions for her daughters.

“People would say things like, ‘you can’t live in that house, you need this house,’ or ‘your kids don’t need to be shopping at Target.’ And I allowed all of that to alter my perception of my real reality and that was that I was divorced and a single mother.”

 Tami tried to maintain a lifestyle that she admits she didn’t necessarily need and looked up one day and the funds were depleted. Roman holds herself accountable for her financial crisis and insists that she does not blame Kenny for it. She explained that if she had managed her finances the way she should have before Kenny stopped paying child support, there would not have been a downfall, but she didn’t and takes sole responsibility for it.

Basketball Wives

Tami expressed that she was actually approached by VH1 for the first season of Basketball Wives but turned it down because she had worked for 10 years trying to distance herself from the whole reality television genre. She had actually re-entered into corporate America as a financial analyst and would have rather done that than another reality show. However, as she prayed about her journey and what God wanted her to learn from it, she decided that it would be a great opportunity to be a living testimony. She explained how it took her moving through her storm to realize that Kenny was not to blame for everything that has happened to her, but she had to be accountable for her mistakes after their marriage. As a result, she thought that she could perhaps educate others who have experienced or are experiencing similar circumstances.

“I needed for men to see what happens when you’re not emotionally there for your children. I needed for women to see that when you’re in a situation and making money, it’s not about pushing the Louis Vuitton; it’s about investing and making the right choices for the future instead of solely living in that moment,” said Tami.

What’s Next for Tami

Currently, Tami Roman is definitely in love again and explained how the adversity that she has faced, has actually made her better for her current partner. When I asked about her current beau, I could hear the glow in Tami’s face which made the picture much more vivid. She and independent film maker, which she wishes to remain anonymous, have been going strong for 3 years now and are happy with the family they have created. Although they haven’t solidified any wedding plans just yet, they have talked about it.

“I am so in love and it’s definitely a beautiful place to be. After you have gone through something that’s not right, you can definitely recognize when it is right. Because we’ve both been married before, we didn’t think we needed to get married to validate our our love for each other, initially. However, as we have progressed in our relationship, we have talked about it,” said Roman.

Tami is still acting as well and jokingly said that Tyler Perry needs to hurry up and give her a call for a role in his next film. She is also working on a book about her life, which she hopes will give people an inside view as to who the real Tami is. In addition to all of that, Tami still finds time to give back and is working with a charity called Project Girl; a troop of spoken word artists who range from age 13 to 18, and go around to schools to mentor young girls through spoken word.

From publicly talking about her abortion on the Real World over 10 years ago, to candidly airing her co-parenting issues with ex-husband, Kenny Anderson, on VH1’s second season of Basketball Wives, Tami Roman displays an authenticity and vulnerability that makes her relatable, human and definitely someone you’d want to hang out with. She definitely makes the top of our superchick list!

Please be sure to catch Tami on the second season of Basketball Wives, Sundays at 8/7 Central on VH1.

Kick the Barnacle Syndrome to the Curb This Holiday Season

kickingwomanThis is a repost by author, stepmom and all around awesome superchick, Wednesday Martin.

Many of you asked me to elaborate on the topic of “Barnacle Syndrome,” which I touched on briefly in a recent article for StepMom Magazine. Barnacle Syndrome may be especially acute during the holiday season, so here goes.

 

If you’re feeling like you just got “tacked on” to your husband’s life–that it’s all about the way he and his kids do it, that you have lost your connections to your traditions, your family, your strength your identity, your self–and are experiencing it especially over the holiday season, here’s what’s likely going on…and what you can do:

1. Feeling like a Barnacle means there is an imbalance of power in your marriage or partnership with a man with kids. Stepfamily and gender researcher Jamie Kelem Keshet writes about how women with stepchildren are more likely to be married to men who are older and more established; to move into his place “because it’s easier for the kids” or because it’s bigger; to move away from their families of origin/relocate to be with their husbands (who sometimes move to be closer to their kids); and, if they are themselves childless, to feel special pressure to take on a “maternal” role with his kids. I’m personally a poster-child for Barnacle Syndrome. When we married, my husband was seven years older, much more established, living with his adolescent daughter. I was younger, single, more mobile. I lived hundreds and hundreds of miles from my family of origin, was less established in my career, had no kids of my own. And so it only made sense for me to sell my car and most of my stuff and move in with him. And become a mother-like figure to his daughter. Right?

Holy inequalities, Batman, what a recipe for potential disaster! I remember looking around “our” house one day and realizing my contribution was a couple of throw pillows and a lamp. Meanwhile, my husband’s daughter already had a perfectly good mother and didn’t need another one, thank you very much. She was also an adolescent and like all healthy adolescents, felt the need to separate and differentiate far more acutely than the desire to have another quasi-parental figure in her life. My feeling of losing myself and my past and my very identity, and feeling overwhelmed by a role I didn’t even understand, came to a head as our first Christmas together approached, and my husband informed me that his plan for Christmas day was to spend it driving six hours round-trip to pick up his daughters from their mother’s place, “Since that’s what I’ve always done.” Cue tape of confused, frustrated wife and stepmother going postal (my husband, to his credit, listened to me and realized this was not an auspicious way to begin our annual Christmas tradition as a couple. He opened up his mind, and we made a plan that worked for both of us, and for our marriage).

Feeling and being “tacked on” like a barnacle to your husband’s previous life is common–but it’s not a normal, inevitable, or natural state of affairs. It’s a sign that you and your partner need to reset the balance, and get to a place where you feel like and are true partners, equals in the household and the relationship.

2. If you’re feeling like a barnacle or outsider, make a priority to change that, and do it stat, since power imbalances create resentment. In fact, you might say that the road to divorce is paved with power imbalances! Whether it’s an unequal distribution of household work, a sense that his kids have more say than you do in the family, or a feeling that you are living in a “haunted house” since you moved into his place, Barnacle Syndrome is a sign that you and your spouse have work to do. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Once you give this feeling of imbalance and being on the outside a name, you are in a much better position to address it!

3. You might need help from a professional when dealing with the charged topic of feeling like a barnacle or outsider in your own home. Until you and your partner get there, though, there is plenty you can do. Let your partner know–without a trace of anger or resentment in your voice (I know, it’s hard, but let’s be strategic here!)–that you want this holiday to feel balanced, festive, and comfortable for everyone. To that end, let him know you’d like to have your own family, your own friends, anyone who helps you feel supported and understood, around a lot this holiday season. Avoid situations where it’s just you, him, and his kids. Not only because you will feel better, but because the research shows that often, when stepparents, parents, and step/kids all come together without others around, it activates everyone’s anxiety about being an outsider. His kids of all ages will likely feel relieved if your friends and family are there to make things a little more interesting, and cut down on the sense that you’re all trying to feel like a “real family,” whatever that means. With that pressure off, you might find that his kids are open to some one-on-one time with you (stepfamily members also bond well one-on-one).

4. In addition to bulwarking yourself with supportive friends and family during the holiday time, consider doing less. If his kids are in a loyalty bind, the less you do on their behalf, the less they will have to feel indebted to and ambivalent about you. Rather than being a martyr who bends over backwards to cook all their favorite foods, for example, set the bar at being welcoming and appropriately open to interactions with them, based on their cues. It can make the difference between feeling depleted and drained and enjoying the holiday.

5. Finally, remember to get out. We’re so stuck in the “first family head” when we think about what’s best for stepfamilies. Guess what? Experts agree that stepmothers especially need time away from their husbands and stepkids when they’re around. It helps us rejuvenate and reset, and prevents stepmaternal burnout. In addition, you will seem like less of a “Dad hog” if you let the kids of any age have alone time with their father while you’re out doing something you really enjoy.

 

wednesdaymartintnWednesday Martin is the author of the highly recommended and surprisingly honest book, Stepmonster. In it, she tells the truth about being a stepmom, backed by solid research and personal experiences. Wednesday Martin has worked as writer and social researcher in New York City for almost two decades. She has been a stepmother for nine years and lives in New York City with her husband and their two sons. Please visit www.wednesdaymartin.com to learn more.

The Only Child

four facesThirteen years ago I had a beautiful baby boy! His father and I were overjoyed. He was perfect; so perfect that I decided that I didn’t want or need anymore children. I was perfectly fine with him being my only child. I had a rough pregnancy and his father worked out of the country for most of the year. Children, if you are a full-time parent, require 100% of your time and one was all I could take. Even when the relationship with his dad didn’t work out, I still vowed that my son would be the only child. People would always say things like, “Won’t you want one with your husband when you get married?” Or, they would wonder what would happen to my son when his parents died. Who would be his support system? Who would he visit during the holidays, etc.?  I have to admit that those last questions got to me. The one future thing I was definitely worried about was him being alone! I wanted him to have brothers and sisters, but I just didn’t want to be the one to have them. 

When his dad got married and was expecting a child soon after, I was happy for my son. Finally, after 5 years of being an only child, he would be a big brother. It took some time for him to get used to the idea, but 8 years later, they both adore each other. I could finally have some peace with this now because I knew that my son and his brother would always be there for each other; I would make sure of it by supporting and encouraging their relationship whole heartedly. There’s nothing like a bond between brothers and I was so happy that my son would finally experience it.

It turns out that my son’s younger brother wouldn’t be the only addition to the family. Last year, his stepmother informed us that she was expecting a baby girl and gave birth to her in November. My son was elated! It’s so cute to see how he speaks of his only sister. Already, he is so protective and talks about the things he is going to do with her when he starts driving. This little girl is definitely going to get the blues from her two older brothers when she gets older. LOL!

And we’re still not done folks because last September, after vowing to never have another, not trying to and being told by doctors that I probably wouldn’t get pregnant again, my husband and I were surprised to hear that we too were expecting. I gave birth to my son’s youngest sibling, a beautiful baby boy, in March of this year. The six months of bedrest, including hospital bedrest, constant vomitting and fatigue, was all worth the daily opportunity that I get to see my two boys interact. My oldest is so gentle, loving and caring with his baby brother, and my baby boy absolutely adores his older brother. His face lights up every time he walks in the room or hears his voice. It is the cutest thing.

Today, I am no longer worried about either one of my sons when their parents leave this Earth because I know that they will always have each other. Not only that, they will also have my oldest son’s brother and sister. My son often talks about the things that all of them will do together in the future. He loves being an older brother. It’s the reason why I encourage and support sibling relationships in the stepfamily. A wonderful aunt, close cousin or a bestfriend cannot compare to a relationship that, if nurtured and supported, you can have with your sibling.  And so, my oldest son went from being the only child to the oldest of 4, and I couldn’t be happier – for him.

How important is it for you to support and encourage the sibling relationships in your stepfamily?

Interview with Rockstar Co-Parent, Jenn Mangino

jennmanginoI enjoyed my virtual chat with Jenn Mangino, founder of www.rockstarcoparenting.com. As an ex and a wife, a mom and a stepmom, I always look forward to hearing and sharing both perspectives. Take a look at our conversation as we chat about divorce, Jenn’s theory on the intrusive ex-wife and what she does during her “Jenn” time. Thanks for the chat, Jenn!

Kela: Explain the term rockstar co-parenting? 

 Jenn: It’s the universally accepted divorce principle. Get divorced, screw up the kids. But studies have shown it’s not so much the divorce that affects kids, but the handling of said divorce. If having an intact first family is equivalent to winning first place, than having two active divorced parents working peacefully together like business partners post-divorce is second best. Rockstar Co-parenting is dedicated to helping parents and children of divorce find second place. I created the site to help other parents (but mostly myself) learn to do this divorce thing the “right” way…like grown-ups.

It’s easier said than done. Making decisions, navigating complicated schedules and social situations, and creating two harmonious households with a partner for whom you have mutual anger and trust issues can feel super human. Divorced parents who choose to co-parent peacefully often discover they have unknown, hidden reservoirs of strength. Super powers. Resilience, Openness, Compassion, Kinetic energy, Sprezzatura, Transparency, Assertiveness and Restraint (yes, it’s an acronym) are the super powers I see inspirational co-parents successfully drawing on every day to create new, better lives post-divorce for their children. They are not just co-parenting. They are Rockstar Co-parenting. 

Kela: Your daughter was very young when you divorced. Did you ever worry about her losing that bond that she developed with either you or your ex-husband during the transition of the divorce? 

divorcedparentsJenn: Yes. Constantly. I knew the divorce was right for me, I knew it was right for my Ex, but how could it possibly be right for my daughter? I looked in her blue eyes and vowed to do everything in my power to create a divorce situation that would have minimal impact on her life. That meant-to me- that she deserved to have easy access to both her parents. I believe in her right to her own relationships. 

It wasn’t easy, I had to give up things that I wanted for myself. I had to give up my clean slate and fresh start, because, honestly, there is no fresh start after divorce when there are children involved.  Every subsequent decision I made from that moment on was with this goal in mind.

So far, we’re doing okay. (Cross your fingers). 

Kela: How did you take time to heal and grieve post-divorce?

Jenn: Honestly time? Did I take time to heal and grieve post-divorce? Yes. (A smidge).  Was it as long as the “experts” say you should take (I was told five years. Five years, people.)? Not even close. 

As the primary initiator of my divorce, I think my grief cycle started long before the actual divorce process started. By the time we filed the paperwork, I just felt used up. I had been angry and sad during my marriage, and following the separation, I just felt numb. Which I mistook for feeling fine. Ready to move on, even. Months later, when the tears finally hit me I realized how not fine I was. By then, I had entered into a new relationship, with an old love. (Kids, don’t try this one at home!) Do the experts discourage dating so soon after a divorce? Yeah. Do I discourage it? Probably. The truth is, he is the love of my life and the one who got away, and it did manage to work out for us, as we are getting married this winter. But. It was rough, to say the least. The problem was I had not taken the time to heal completely before we plunged like moths right back into the flame. And it burned us.

 It was a bumpy, windy, narrow road for a while, mostly brought on by my sense of guilt and failure. The lesson here, I think, is to take time to be alone for a while (maybe not five years, though) and resolve your feelings before dating again. It’s hard, and very few people can resist the lure of new love, but had I taken some time for myself, the healing wouldn’t have taken so long. 

 That said, what did I find most helpful during the healing process? Books, books, the internet, books, therapy, books, a brief stint in a support group, and talking the ears off good friends. Oh, and books. (Um, I like to read). I think it’s important to try a little bit of everything…you will find little bits of wisdom in lots of different sources and it will all come together to give you a new knowledge of yourself, and the world, until suddenly you are ready to like your life (and yourself) again. 

On the ComputerKela: I know it’s hard not to worry about our babies when they are away from us, especially when they are very young. But I do feel it’s important for ex-wives to utilize that time to reclaim their lives. What do you do during, what I like to call, your “Jenn” time?

 Jenn: I read. I dream. I imagine what I will be when I grow up and find my niche in the world. But, mostly, I write. Writing gave me back my zest for living, my passion for my own life. It’s the one thing I do just for me. Well, that, and pretending I am a rock star belting out ballads in the shower every morning.

Kela: How important is it to you that your daughter develop some sort of relationship with her stepmother? How do you encourage and support that relationship?

Jenn: Extremely important. My Ex and I had worked out a 50-50 parenting schedule before he remarried. When his new wife came on the scene, she jumped right in to being the “mommy” figure in my daughter’s life 50% of the time. It was very hard for me to continue sharing that time with them. The divorce and the 50-50 parenting schedule for him, well that’s only fair and hey, you make your bed and you lie in it. But, sharing the mothering of your child with another woman for no reason at all other than she married my Ex? It’s a bitter pill to swallow…because I would rather be her mother 100% of the time.

 But, how much more bitter would that pill be if she were a terrible stepmom, and made my daughter’s life miserable? Or even my life? The truth is she’s a great stepmom, always friendly, and very free with information. I think she loves my daughter, and certainly, she is a good friend to her. Really, how much more could I ask for? 

I try to support their relationship by never speaking ill of the other household in earshot of my daughter, encouraging (even admonishing her) to be respectful to all the adults in her life, assuring her that she is loved by everyone, going out of my way to be friendly and chat with her at school events, asking her opinion about issues that affect my daughter, and inviting her to share Mother’s day with us. 

Kela: According to Mavis Hetherington, most ex-wives are more intrusive and more involved in their ex-spouse’s household than ex-husbands are. Additionally, they remain bitter and resentful for much longer. Why do you think this is so? 

Jenn: It’s a hard question for me to answer, because I really don’t think I am intrusive (and I can really only go on my experience). But, if I was intrusive it wouldn’t be because of unresolved relationship issues between my Ex and I. It wouldn’t be because I felt displaced, or replaced or still wanted him for whatever reason (although maybe this is the case for some women). It would be because I am a mother, and as such I am utterly and fiercely protective of my daughter. I am a lioness. We have these children and we are charged with their very survival. We look at them when they are placed in our arms for the first time and we absolutely promise them the world.

momsingleThen, divorce happens and we are expected to give up control over everything that happens to them during someone else’s parenting time.  If there is a stepparent involved, then we are asked to trust someone we don’t even know with our most precious gift, our children. Often times, there are issues with communication between the adults, so we are not even given the balm of knowledge to ease our fear, and our utter lack of control. It’s scary, it’s unsettling, it’s unnerving, and it’s frustrating.

With these conditions, I don’t think it’s surprising that there is resentment. Why don’t the Ex-husbands mettle more in household affairs? I don’t know. Maybe because women are predisposed for nurture and daily care, so that is their turf. Men are predisposed for hunting and bringing home the bacon…so of course issues involving day-to-day care probably don’t affect them on that same emotional level.

Kela: Can you offer some advice for those types of ex-wives?

Jenn: Choose your battles. Always, always, always take time to think over your actions and reactions. Ask yourself, “Is this particular issue vital. Will it fundamentally affect my child?” If the answer is no, let it go.  If the answer is yes, that’s when you take action. Don’t be like the little boy who cried “Wolf!” and get worked up over every little perceived infraction or slight. It’s pointless.  And always remember, you can only control you

Kela: What advice do you have for other divorced parents who aim to be rockstar co-parents?

 Jenn: Love your children. Want what’s best for them. Then, go out and get them that best. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.