Oct 23

Holiday Season? UGH! Survival Hints for Stepmoms

Sometimes the very times that are SUPPOSED to make us the happiest evoke exactly the opposite.  Anxiety and negative anticipation can virtually ruin your experience before it even gets here. As the leaves burn into their bright reds and golds, the taste of Fall’s fresh apple cider often turns to bitter vinegar in the stomachs of those who turn the calendar page and realize that the dreaded holiday season is soon upon us.

If this sounds all too familiar, you might benefit from exploring how your expectation of holidays present or your interpretation of holidays past impacts your negative experience.

Many carry into the season some idyllic vision of a perfect family holiday, some holy grail of tradition and fantastical Normal Rockwell perfection. Even when they realize they’re applying unrealistic pressure to create the perfect decorations, meal, or gift-giving experience, they still feel powerless to stop the frenetic activity.  Invariably, these folks end up disappointed in themselves or those around them when the holiday doesn’t meet their artificial, and possibly even unnamed, standard.  They might not even know why they feel so let down after all their efforts are expended, possibly because they’ve never explored exactly what they were trying to achieve in the first place.

When two people marry, they each bring a set of family blueprints with them that lays the foundation for their individual vision of a life together. The smart ones realize that these designs look different, and that one of the tasks of couple-dom is to merge the two prints into one life. The naïve among us don’t know that what feels familiar to one, might be completely alien to another.

In STEPfamilies, exes, current and former in-laws, parents, and court documents can add even more strain to sorting out how you spend your holiday.

Ghosts of Christmases past often haunt people during the holiday season.  Perhaps yours was not the picturesque family of Hallmark movies, and your holidays were fraught with tension about how much Uncle George had to drink before he put on his Santa suit.  Maybe Mom and Dad always fought over how the Christmas tree was trimmed. Maybe you had divorced parents and so experienced the reality of trying to please everybody when nobody seemed to know how to be happy.

As with so many of our sources of anxiety, insight into how we are interpreting events around us can be really helpful.

Here are some other tips to remember:


  • Do the reality check. Make a list of every single thing you plan to accomplish for the holidays.  Include decorating, shopping, gift wrapping, meal planning/preparation/execution, holiday events/concerts you attend, holiday parties whether you host or are hosted, and anything else you can think of. Cross off things you HATE doing, but only do to please ungrateful others. Then compare your list to the amount of time you have.  If there is a mismatch, prioritize the items on the list. Going to your 3rd grader’s Christmas concert is probably more important than creating the perfect wreath to adorn the fireplace. As you rank items on your list, consider what you’re using to assign importance. (This helps you with the insight related to your interpretation, which is mentioned above.)
  • Let go of your unrealistic expectations. I used to spend all day cooking an enormous turkey dinner, which fit with my vision of the perfect Christmas. Sweating alone in the kitchen all day, my overtired and ever-lovely teenagers would then grumble that they didn’t LIKE (my mother’s famous recipe) sweet potatoes and I would end up frustrated, disappointed and resentful. Several years ago, we changed our Christmas Day tradition to hanging out in our pajamas all day, then going to a movie and having dinner at a Chinese buffet (not much else is open). This non-traditional tradition is now unique to us and one that we all embrace.
  • Avoid competition. A surprising too many of us find ourselves in competition for the “perfect” holiday. You might be competing with a Folgers commercial, an ex-spouse, a crabby mother-in-law, or the girls at work. Figure this out and divest yourself of the notion that there is a blue ribbon doled out on December 26. Do what feels right, include family in planning your time together, and enjoy!
  • Traditions happen when you’re not looking. It’s fine to planfully create new family traditions, but pay attention to what the kids recognize from year to year and look forward to. What started out as the chore of baking all the Christmas cookies and desserts at my mom’s house a couple weeks prior to the holiday has turned into a day that my adult stepchildren arrange their days off around so they can participate. Watch for questions like “Are you going to make those awesome rolls for breakfast again?” or “Remember last year when Dad carried us all through the house looking for the New Year’s baby at midnight?” for hints about what is important to the kids.  Your family’s holiday can evolve as something unique if you let it.
  • Let go of the date. It doesn’t negate the meaning or fun to do something on December 19 instead of December 25. The family time you spend together is memorable regardless of what the calendar says. Being flexible on the date will also enable you to honor old family traditions in addition to the new ones you are creating, instead of having to choose what to leave out because of time constraints. Modifying the day you spend with your extended family, for example, is much better than giving it up, and will lead to less bitterness and resentment.
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas. Figure out what the holiday season means to you and focus on that. Begun in Christian tradition, Christmas can be a time of spiritual renewal, which does not require the hectic pace prescribed by our culture. For some, the holiday season is a time to appreciate family and reconnect with people you don’t see all year long. Others appreciate recipes put away during other times of the year. When the pressured expectations are getting to you, take a moment to appreciate what constitutes the true meaning according to your beliefs.
  • Don’t “should” on yourself. (Speak this directive aloud for maximum appreciation.)  Enjoy what is, versus what you (or anybody else) thinks ought to be.  Do what you can.  Live it in the moment, without distracting yourself with judgment or resentment.    Accept.  Be happy.


Employing survival techniques in the holiday season is counter-cultural and can take practice, but it can be done.  If uncomfortable feelings or difficult-to-manage anxiety or depression predominate your experience, you might benefit from working with a licensed therapist to explore your interpretations of past and current events, and to learn better coping skills and boundaries.

It is often true that by living in the moment and concentrating on all that is right in your life, you can avoid focusing on ideas—your own or anyone else’s—of what is missing, and appreciate everything that is truly present.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.stepmothersupport.com/holiday-season-ugh-survival-hints-stepmoms/

Feb 10

Not Evil Enough? Four Beliefs that will Ensure you live up to the Evil Stepmother name

Do you ever get that nagging feeling that maybe you really are as evil as everyone says you are?  The stereotype certainly is unavoidable! Most of us don’t even like to admit we’re STEPmoms, knowing what people immediately assume about us.

I can assure you that you most certainly are NOT the evil one you are made out to be! Stepmoms are Superwomen–and some of the most loving and giving people I know! When you do have those foreign, uncomfortable, lousy feelings of negativity, it is probably because you’re interpreting your world and behaving according to the assumptions listed below. Here is a tongue-in-cheek look at how to be the evil queen ALL the time.


6a00e54f9153e088330134898811a7970c-600wi If you have been waiting for your horns to grow in, talking to the bathroom mirror (“Mirror, mirror on the wall….”) with no response whatsoever, if your snarl is simply not up to par….

The reason is simple…..you are not angry or resentful enough to fuel the energy that true evil requires. Think about it. The age-old adage about it taking more muscles to frown than it does to laugh is true. And in order to hatch devious plans to make your stepchildren miserable, you have to spend a lot of time fueling your anger.  It’s not until the cauldron of your resentment burns hot and constant that you will really get into the “evil” of the “Evil Stepmother” role.

Fortunately, the solution is easy. If you adopt 4 easy principles, and act according to them, you will soon become just as evil as any of your storybook predecessors.


How to keep the anger burning

  • Assume that as long as you keep loving them, your stepchildren will eventually love you, especially if you redouble your efforts when they are extremely upset, standoffish or angry.

Be sure you don’t try to see the situation from their point of view, and whatever you do, don’t acknowledge that their heart’s desire remains the reunion of their original parents. Be sure to minimize their loyalty conflict and feelings of guilt that accompany any affection or warm feelings they have towards you. Expect that your stepchildren will see their mother’s behavior clearly, and realize that not only do you surpass her in all facets of good parenting, your stepchildren should realize and appreciate it.

  • Realize that it’s only a matter of time until his ex understands what a benefit you are to her children, and expect her to show her appreciation.

Be sure to give your stepchildren’s mother advice about what’s working well with her children when they are in your home. Volunteer for all activities at your stepchild’s school, and refer to yourself as their mom when you deal with teachers, Scout leaders, coaches, etc. Send little notes to your stepchild’s mother, informing her of her child’s schedule, needs, tendencies,and whatever else you think she might need to know to parent more effectively.  Be sure to handle communication with her, limiting her access to your stepchildren’s father.

  • Assume the ex will get exactly what she deserves.

Spend a lot of time thinking about justice and how people should earn positive things in their lives with their own good behavior. Apply this to your idea about children’s affection, especially that of your stepchildren. Wait for the inevitable day when your stepchildren see their mom in a true light, and know that because the world is just, this day will come soon.

  • Understand that the solution to almost any stepfamily problem is for you to get more involved.

Be sure not to let your husband handle crises because everyone knows that the woman in the house is better at most things. Set up your household with chore lists, expectations and discipline, and edicts about how things should go. Feel really bad when your family doesn’t understand how much you do for them. When problems arise, talk to your girlfriends about how things “should” be, then use that energy to make your household over into your vision of the perfect family. Feel sad and disappointed when your stepfamily members don’t embrace the changes you espouse.

It’s hard to imagine any of us would choose any of these feelings or expectations, but I know I had every one of them at one time or another. And like it or not, if we don’t adjust, those icky parts of ourselves can take hold.  Stay tuned for tips on creating assumptions that bring out our best and foil that horrible Disney stereotype.



Permanent link to this article: http://www.stepmothersupport.com/evil-enough-five-beliefs-will-ensure-live-evil-stepmother-name/

Jun 24

Stepmoms: Quit feeling bad about yourself! How to RETRAIN YOUR BRAIN

Do you spend a lot of time feeling bad about yourself?

The unfortunate truth is that being a stepmother can afford you all kinds of opportunities to do just that.

EVERY stepmom enters her family with loving intentions and a desire to be a positive presence, not only to her husband, but to the children that have helped make him the man he is, the man you love.

So many times, the complicated relationships that come with the formation of your family thwart your very best efforts, and make you question everything, including your value to your family. When that happens, it is absolutely vital that you turn your focus back to what you’re trying to do, what you’re intending to do.  You only have control over your actions—you have absolutely NO control on how that action is received or perceived.

Cheesy as it sounds, affirming yourself—taking control of your negative thoughts and self-doubt—will make you feel better!

Quick story.  I completed a marathon in 2006.  Note the word “completed”, and please keep in mind that while it’s impressive to run a world record marathon in 2 1/2 hours, it takes something a whole lot different to jog one in 5. I had the assistance of a great book that focused not only on the weird physical stuff that happens to your body when you ask it to do extraordinary stuff, but also on the mindset you must have to get through all that. One of the things I did—again, I’m the first to say it’s cheesy—-was train my mind to start thinking of my overweight middle-aged self as a “marathoner”.  So, I kid you not, I wrote out a couple of index cards and taped them to my bathroom mirror:  “I am a marathoner”  “I am strong, hills are easy” “I feel best after I run”.    fat-woman-running

Believe it or not, it worked in ways I didn’t expect.  Once I started thinking of myself as a marathoner, I quit giving myself excuses to avoid whatever was on the training schedule.  When the alarm went off at 5AM, my first thought was to go back to sleep.  But my very NEXT thought was “I’m a marathoner, and marathoners get up at 5 and run”. And off I went

Stepmoms, take note. You have felt a lot of things you never thought you’d feel.  Maybe you’ve said and done things that you’re sorry to know you’re capable of. Nobody can be prepared for the complicated life marrying a man with children brings.

Nurturing stepchildren, even if you’re a person who really loves kids, is really difficult sometimes.  Your best efforts are met with hostility, or somehow even worse, apathy. Your intentions don’t seem to matter and your emotional investment doesn’t seem to yield much in the way of dividends.

Only you are in charge of the messages you feed yourself.  You interpret the reactions you get from those around you, including the ex, your in-laws and your stepchildren. When you take those interpretations as gospel truth, you react accordingly.  Which is too bad, because in general, you are harder on yourself than you need to be.

  • Don’t ‘should’ on yourself.

    Go ahead, say it out loud.  If you are telling yourself that you stepchildren “should” like you, or that there is no reason you and the ex shouldn’t be friends if you just figure out the right way to do it, you are holding yourself to an impossible standard that will only result in you feeling bad about yourself.

  • Give yourself credit.

    You are doing your best, even on days when your best doesn’t look very good. This is a tough gig, and you cannot judge yourself by the evaluation or reaction of others—not your stepchildren, people in the community, the ex—your intentions count when you are doing your very best to be a loving presence in your family.

  • Memorize a mantra.

    Make it your own and then retrain your brain.  Note cards on the bathroom mirror (see above) work, but you can put them in your wallet, on the dashboard of your card, on your computer at work….anywhere you will see it often.  Be creative about your mantra!  Soon, you will be able to answer back all that negativity your brain comes up with.

  • Your assumptions are not facts.

  • The boy your stepdaughter likes might have ignored her today—she is not necessarily ignoring you for any other reason. If your stepson tell you that you are not his mother, he could be repeating something he has been told by his mother, or he could be simply stating a fact that is not meant to hurt you. Choose an assumption that is not hurtful, and accept that as fact. You’re not likely to learn the objective truth in any case, so you may as well feel better about yourself.

Successfully retraining your brain, like I did when marathon training, allows you to be more positive about yourself. If you blame yourself for your step-teen’s negative attitude about the lasagna you prepared, you might be able to change “I’m a horrible stepmom because if I were any good at this, I would know she hates lasagna” to “I’m a great stepmom, and great stepmoms learn by trial and error”.  Your stepdaughter’s failure to greet you becomes confusion about how to love a stepmother without hurting her mother instead of a personal slight towards you.

YOU are in charge of your brain.

Train it to be positive.


Permanent link to this article: http://www.stepmothersupport.com/stepmoms-quit-feeling-bad-retrain-brain/

Jun 15

SHOULDN’T THE STEPMOM SHIT BE OVER BY NOW? How Experience Only Helps It Smell Better

My stepmom resume is awesome. If I was interviewing for the position, I’d be able to talk about strengths and weaknesses, obstacles I overcame, projected and adjusted 5-year plans, learning points, and future goals.

I dated my husband for over two years before we decided to marry, increasing my role with his children gradually as our relationship evolved. I read every book that existed at the time (unfortunately, that didn’t take long), worked to keep open communication with the father of my future stepchildren, advocated for family meetings to deal with issues as they arose, and attended only those meetings dealing with issues that had to do with me. I grew to love his children over time.

We married 16 years ago and I went from living alone with Lucy, my loyal cocker spaniel, to living with an adult man, his four children and their husky Phoenix, who wasn’t any more thrilled with a new canine in the house than the kids were with a new mom-type moving in.

I made LOTS of mistakes.

I corrected most of them. (I tried to correct all of them.)

In 16 years of marriage, I have survived 2 first Communions, 3 Confirmations, 14 graduations, 3 weddings, the births of 2 grandsons, the double funeral of my husband’s parents—when the ex brought her boyfriend to the visitation. The stepkids have each moved out, done the boomerang thing when living independently got rocky, and then left again.

I have felt invisible, blessed, angry, resentful, joyous, wicked, proud, enraged, jealous, spiteful, morose, pessimistic, cynical, saintly, overcome, frustrated—all in my role as stepmother.

Until a month or so ago, I really thought I was home free. That I could go about the business of being a wife and mother to the teenage daughter we created together. The stepmom gig is over, or mostly over, I thought. I’m interviewing for a more peaceful position now.

One more wedding to go, I told myself. I figured out the step-grandma thing (avoid or stay in the background at events where the ‘real’ grandma is present, babysit ONLY if I have no other plans and I want to, enjoy the kids because I like kids and not because they have anything to do with me progeny-wise). I get along with my stepchildren about as well as I’m going to, (which is pretty well), and I have adjusted my expectations of each individual relationship appropriately. When the ex ignores me at a family event, I grab a beer, find someone I like talking to, and leave early.

Perhaps I’ve gotten a bit smug. I help other stepmothers traverse roads I see in my rear-view mirror. I am an “expert”.

Enter my 24-year-old stepdaughter, moving back in for the third time. Temporarily.

Is my life on “repeat”? What is this evil cloak of resentment that has settled over my wicked shoulders? This is not a do-over I care to experience.

My husband and I are having the SAME fights we always had. Before I was, you know, good at this. Before people asked me for advice, and then took it sometimes.

We are polarizing on how to handle her non-compliance with the boundaries we set when she approached us about this temporary arrangement.

I’m left to wonder, did I even get better at this stepmom crap, or did my life just change so that our step-dynamic wasn’t always in my face? If this expert me had the same challenges of living full-time with four stepchildren, would I be any better at it? Would my current self really have avoided all the ill-advised communication with the ex back then? Would I have disengaged earlier and found peace sooner? Or am I doomed to feel THIS way in certain situations, no matter how experienced I am?

I think the answer is “yes”, I got better at the stepmom crap, and “yes” it gets easier when the kids get older and circumstances change. And darn it, “yes”, I would be better if I had the same challenges now that I had then.
I’m just out of practice.

This time, I didn’t see it coming. I forgot to disengage. I forgot to vent to my girlfriends. (My BFF didn’t even know she was moving back! What was I thinking?) I didn’t prepare myself for what used to be the inevitability of the best-laid plans going awry. I didn’t open up proper communication channels with my husband, and I forgot my place as “stepmom” vs “queen of the castle”, the role I’ve enjoyed for quite a while now. I failed to voice my expectations and then expected everyone to read my mind.

Novice mistakes, to be sure.

The lesson, I think, is that we do gain experience as stepmoms. While I don’t like feeling the way I have felt the last few weeks, it is familiar to me, and I know what to do about it. I must own the irrational parts, I need to take care of myself and I need to quit being so pissed off that the stepmom horns are peeking out again. The stepmom gig is for life, and I know that. My marriage is for life, and I love that. I was not my husband’s first wife, but I fully intend to be his last.

Take heart. Even with this recent dip, the stepmom thing does get easier. When the kids are more self-sufficient, there are less demands on me, and less occasion to feel resentful. Most of the time, I can see the challenges coming. I’m not sure why I didn’t see this one, but it’s not the first time I’ve been overly optimistic about dynamics in my unique family, and I doubt it will be the last.

Now that the kids are grown, we rarely have contact with the ex, my husband and I get to be 50/50 partners on issues and events that affect our daily lives (this is huge!), and we get to concentrate on each other just like any couple whose children no longer demand their constant attention. In our case, we also get to focus on our beautiful teenage daughter, which is mostly a joy. (She’s a teenager, after all. You can’t expect it to be a joy all of the time.)

I wish I could say that taking the high road–with the ex, with money issues, and with all the other garbage—paid off in terms of the kids seeing the truth about their mom and about the efforts and sacrifices we made for them. But so far, at their ages of 30, 29, 26 and 24, it hasn’t. If it’s a contest—something I’ve learned not to use as a frame—then the mom won. She didn’t do the work, and she didn’t lose the relationships or positive regard of her kids. So good for her. Or, at least, good for the kids.

But about that high road, I’m glad we took it. It doesn’t just look good on the resume; it was the right thing to do. My husband and I could always face each other, our daughter and his kids, and heck, our God, with open hearts, knowing that we tried to do what was right for all the kids– EVEN if his ex, who clearly didn’t deserve it, was the one who benefitted. That made me a better person, and probably, a better stepmom.

Even though I’ve felt the resentment cloud over the last several days, I am heartened to know that I have gotten through harder times than this before, and I will get through this too. I know that I need to start by being nicer to my husband, and remember that being pulled in two different directions by two women (my stepdaughter is a WOMAN now) he loves is not easy. I need to get us back on the same team, and I know how to do that. I need to be friendly and polite to my stepdaughter, and focus on her as an entire person, not just a conglomerate of underwear left on the bathroom floor and laundry left in the dryer.

margaritaI can do this; I will start tonight.

Right after I meet my BFF for a margarita.



This article first appeared in the August 2014 issue of Stepmom Magazine.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.stepmothersupport.com/shouldnt-stepmom-shit-now-experience-helps-smell-better/

Jun 03

Feeling Resentful? Four Tips to being the “Unwicked” Stepmother

6a00e54f9153e088330134898811a7970c-600wi“The evil stepmother.”
We’ve all heard it. From the evil queen who poisoned Snow White to Sarah of the Old Testament, who convinced her husband to banish his first-born son and the servant who bore him, we can probably all agree that stepmoms have bad feelings, and sometimes do bad stuff.
In the quiet of our hearts, we might sometimes wonder if we deserve some of our bad press. Stepmoms feel feelings they wish they had never felt, behave in ways previously foreign to their experience, and think thoughts about their stepchildren and their partners that they swear they would never voice aloud.
But, are we evil?
Without getting into too much philosophical or theological discussion, “evil” can be defined as “profoundly immoral and malevolent”. To paraphrase, someone who is evil might plan and execute actions that would bring harm or unhappiness to people around her.
Stepmothers don’t do that.
In fact, most stepmothers use entirely too much brain space trying to positively affect their environments and their families, usually putting too much effort into planning, organizing and giving.
In rejecting that the hateful thoughts and feelings we have are evil, let’s instead substitute a different word. “Resentment” can be defined as “bitter indignation about being treated unfairly”.
“Bitter”? “Treated unfairly”?  Those descriptions start to sound familiar.
In our decidedly unbalanced step-lives, stepmothers resoundingly agree that trying for “fair” is a losing battle. And unfortunately, when we feel we’ve been judged or wronged, we can have a very powerful reaction. Resentment can live deep inside us, feeding on negative emotions. The longer we ignore it, the stronger it becomes. Resentment can become a filter through which we view our lives, and can prevent us from seeing the world in a healthy and balanced way.
The funny thing about resentment, though, is that it is a very personal and private emotion, and it has almost no effect on the person to whom it is directed. The resentful person has negativity and pain, and is a dormant volcano until the moment she erupts and spews hot lava-like venom on whomever is in her path.
Resentment comes from the toxic feelings one internalizes, and is fed by the common stereotypes. We tell ourselves how we “should” or “shouldn’t” feel. We deny our feelings, sometimes even to ourselves. We fail to consider our own emotional needs, and prioritize those around us, sometimes without them even knowing or desiring that we do it.
What can we do instead?
  • Identify and express your feelings.
    Some people are so good at prioritizing the feelings of those around them that they are no longer aware of their own feelings. Spending regular quiet time to become more in touch with yourself can be a step towards increased self-awareness. A competent therapist can often be helpful in honing your insight.
    But even more difficult for some than identifying your feelings, can be the art of actually expressing them. Many of us see feelings as “positive” or “negative”, “good” or “bad”. Obviously, this view precludes us from easily expressing the unpopular emotions: anger, jealousy, and so on.
    By working towards viewing our feelings more objectively, and understanding that feelings just “are”, we afford ourselves a greater human experience. There is great opportunity in experiencing a gamut of emotions, and we narrow our participation in life when we limit ourselves to a select few.
  • Communicate your feelings
    It takes great courage to express and communicate our pain to the people who hurt us. In doing so, we expose our vulnerability—that which we most wish to protect and keep safe. Taking the risk of expressing your feelings from a balanced, calm frame of mind, however, allows for growth. Communication might help your relationships, but the primary purpose is for you to come from a place of honesty so that you can release the bitterness that lives inside of you.
    As a therapist, I often work with stepmothers who own the trifecta of resentment; bubbly-hot feelings directed towards their partners, their stepchildren, and their stepchildren’s mother. In textbook world, open and honest communication “should” be a healing process and solve all your problems.
    As a stepmother, I live in the real world, and there are many situations in which I don’t recommend having a coffee klatch with the ex to help her understand your point of view and your feelings. It is usually better to have direct, open communication with your partner, and build a team where your feelings are considered and prioritized by him, even when his children and his ex do not consider you in the same light. If you have a strong connection with your partner, you can more easily withstand perceived and actual slights from others in the stepfamily paradigm.
  • Maintain Boundaries
    While everyone is best off maintaining appropriate boundaries in relationships, I would argue with my dying breath that this particular skill is as challenging for stepmothers in their families as it is for anyone on the planet. Learning what you can stay OUT of, though, can go far to minimize resentment you feel towards the apathetic or hostile responses your efforts can produce from your stepchildren. It can also decrease the opportunity you allow the ex to have to behave badly towards you. Remember, you are in charge of every choice you make. If you find yourself resenting others for choices you are making, choose other behaviors and responses.
  • Forgive
    Forgiveness does not exist for the forgiven, but rather for the forgiver.
    There are all kinds of things that forgiveness is NOT. It is not saying that the wrong is ok, it is not guaranteeing that trust will now exist, it is not opening up ourselves to being the victim of more of the same.
    Forgiveness IS about laying down the burden of anger and negativity that accompanies the memory of being wronged, and moving past it, no longer allowing it to have power over you.
    This can be easier said than done, and sometimes talking with a therapist, trusted friend or pastor can help you understand why you are so attached to the grudge you’re holding. You’re not hurting anyone but yourself!
    Resentment is an expected feeling, especially for stepmothers who put so much of themselves into families who may or may not be receptive or grateful for their efforts. But resentment is also a choice. If you wait until you feel like letting go of the bitterness, you will be filled with toxicity until you and your relationships are inevitably destroyed.


    Life is unfair.  STEP-life is REALLY unfair.

    How you deal with it is up to you.                                   forgive



Permanent link to this article: http://www.stepmothersupport.com/four-tips-unwicked-stepmother/

May 12

Over-Thinking: 10 Ways to get the Negativity out of your head when you’re a Stepmom

anxietyStepmothers wish their brains had an “off” switch. We often replay scenes over and over in our minds, analyzing every nuance of a painful or conflict-ridden conversation, imagining how it would have gone differently if we had said this instead of that. We play out various versions of a confrontation we will probably never have. We analyze our relationships and turn disconnected facts over and over in our minds, trying to make sense of our feelings by attempting to understand the motivations and perceptions of others.
Yale psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D. calls these repetitive thoughts “ruminative thinking” and  states that they are “a cycle of rethinking the past, worrying excessively about the future, not taking action, going over and over the same issues, letting concern spread to other issues, until there’s an avalanche of concern and a feeling of being overwhelmed.”
Just like Pavlov’s famous experiment where the dog sometimes got fed when the bell rang– so he salivated every time it did, we are sometimes successful in gaining new awareness and positive change when we ponder our situation long enough. Most of the time, however, ruminating thoughts result in the emotional paralysis and agony that can create a downward spiral of depression, frustration and resentment.
While it is readily explained that ruminating is harmful because it intensifies any emotional and psychological distress we already feel while adding too few new insights, the risks that these ruminative cycles pose to our mental and physical health are also significant.
Guy Winch, Ph.D discussed the dangers of getting caught in a ruminative cycle in The Squeaky Wheel (published June 13, 2013).
• The urge to ruminate or dwell excessively on a negative topic can actually feel addictive, thereby creating a cycle where the more we over-think, the more compelled we feel to doing so.
• Rumination is known to increase the likelihood of becoming depressed, and can prolong depressive episodes that occur.
• Rumination is associated with a greater risk of alcohol abuse because it is tempting to “take the edge off” with the socially acceptable glass of wine. Likewise, there is a greater risk of eating disorders, as people are also prone to using food to manage their negative emotion.
• Rumination fosters negative thinking. Spending so much time focusing on the distressing aspects of our relationships can actually create self-fulfilling prophecies about their progression.
• Rumination impedes our problem-solving abilities. Over-focusing on our thoughts and possible outcomes can actually get in the way of actually doing something about our problems.
Given all the potential risks of getting trapped in ruminative cycle, and the obvious lack of gain, we must develop strategies to shift gears. It is important to catch oneself immediately when ruminating and decide to go “cold turkey”. This is true of all things addictive, and rumination is no different. You can’t, by definition, ruminate “just a little”.
Nolen-Hoeksema concluded that there are basically two steps to stop or minimize rumination. The first is to engage in activities that foster positive thoughts, and the second is to problem-solve.
It can be much easier to feel sorry for yourself, over-analyze every aspect of why your husband’s ex-wife seems determined to make your life miserable, or dwell on your stepdaughter’s looming 2-week visit. As in all things healthy, though, the short-term challenge of getting off the couch and doing something different is worth the long-term benefit. Filling your mind with positive thoughts is a choice. Positive thoughts can arise from activities ranging from physical exercise to meditation or prayer. The main thing is to get your mind off your ruminations so they don’t take hold of your mind.
Ruminating thoughts often focus on abstract questions without answers, like “Why do these things happen to me?” or “Will things ever get better?” Consciously choosing to redirect those thoughts to more concrete solution-oriented questions can also break the cycle of rumination. Finding even one concrete thing you could do to address your situation makes you feel more in control and in less need of over-dwelling on the negativity. Making a conscious decision to break the cycle of rumination is a first step, and choosing a specific strategy may be the next.
Consider the following possibilities for combatting rumination:ruminating
• Distract yourself with books, a movie, or going on a cultural outing like to a local museum. Force yourself to take in another aspect of life even if you don’t feel like it. Once you are involved in another activity, you mind has a chance to take another path.
• Write down a comforting phrase, affirmation, prayer, or poem and keep it somewhere you will see it often—in your wallet, on the dashboard of your car, or on your bathroom mirror. Read/say it to yourself often.
• Move. Moving your body by exercising or walking can move the content in your head.
• Count your blessings. Grateful people are happy people.
• Put on music that evokes positive emotion, comfort or good memories. Play it loud. Dance.
• Laugh.
• Scrub the bathtub spotless for ten minutes.
• Choose a time to obsess over your problem. Whenever you think about it during the day, remind yourself that it is on the schedule for later. When it is time, do nothing but think about the problem. Set a timer so you know when you can stop.
• Bring yourself back to the present and away from your ruminating thoughts by focusing on your breathing. When you notice other thoughts intrude, gently redirect your mind to your breathing.
• Shift your focus to the reasons you chose this life in the first place. Remember the love and romance at the beginning and plan something to rekindle or re-experience it.
• Make an appointment with a competent therapist or stepfamily coach to ensure that you are not overlooking possible solutions to your problem.
Ruminative thoughts, while not uncommon, are simply not helpful. The cost of thinking about negativity over and over far outweighs the gain. While it can be difficult cycle to break, the benefits to your emotional health are well worth it.


This article first appeared in the October 2013 edition of Stepmom Magazine

Permanent link to this article: http://www.stepmothersupport.com/thinking-get-negativity-head-youre-stepmom/

May 06

Second Sunday of May: The Mother of All Holidays

My mom likes to spend Mother’s Day with my sister and me. And we love spending it with her, because she gives us presents. She started this even before we were mothers ourselves. Mom’s explanation? “I wouldn’t be a mom if it wasn’t for you guys.”

thank you

Thanks, Mom.





My first few Mother’s Days as a stepmother were pretty torturous. Back in those days, I didn’t have a child of my own. My stepkids lived with us full time, and my husband and pretty much everybody in our community treated me like I was the kids’ mom.

True Story: Got married on a Saturday. On Sunday, Mary Schmitholtz, mother of my 12-year-old stepdaughter’s friend Jodi, called me about setting up the car pool for the week. “Now that you’re in it,” she said happily, “Each mom will only have to drive one day/week.” Fact: My husband had always gotten a pass on taking his turn driving because he was a single dad of four. Really.

Clearly, I did the Mom job from the start. And I loved my stepkids. I was closer to the younger two since we were more physically affectionate, and I got to tuck them in, hear prayers, wipe tears, and do more maternal stuff than well, than driving car pools. But I loved them all, even my step-teens, who were good at being, you know, teenagers.

I didn’t know that you could love kids more than I loved my four, and I figured I pretty much earned the Mom title by doing the Mom job.
I did get some push-back. My own mom carefully suggested that the actual giving birth and raising a being from infancy created a stronger bond than the one I had with my stepchildren. The kids certainly didn’t want another mother—they wished they saw their own mother more often—but that didn’t translate into them regarding me as a substitute.
Mother’s Day was a day that my stepkids’ mom made sure they spent with her. Generally a little spotty on her weekend visitation, the kids were expected to put aside their activities (including the Sectional Track Meet, one particularly untimely and tear-laden Second Sunday) to spend this particular day celebrating her.
They were mostly glad to do it, and it was with a heavy heart that I would watch  them bound out to her car, clutching their crayoned and pipe-cleaner bedecked offerings. It wasn’t that I wanted to take her place, I told myself. I just wanted to be acknowledged too.
It took a while for me to figure out that the kids were confused about what to do with me on Mother’s Day. They understood, especially before their dad and I had our own daughter, that I occupied the usual Mom place in our home, even though I didn’t give birth to them, or anyone, for that matter. They also knew that they already had a mom. I suspected then, and am more certain now, that she applied a certain amount of mom pressure when it came to how she wanted to be treated on Mother’s Day. Being nice to me, their stepmom, certainly didn’t figure into that equation.
But my revelation finally came when I reconsidered how my mom approached Mother’s Day. See, my mom is awesome. A single mom herself, I am more and more amazed as my current experience informs my memory of how she raised us.



Mom really liked hanging out with us—and still does. She made everything fun, even when (I realize now) things were pretty stressful. Never having a huge budget for extras, we appreciated yearly weekends at Six Flags, and maybe the infrequent fancy dinner out, as the enormous treats they were. She included us with her friends, and always made us feel important. She was, and is, always on our side.



Gratitude rock

So I decided to try to be like Mom. I began thinking about Mother’s Day as a time when I could reflect on the addition of my stepkids to my life. Since it was one of the few days of the year we could plan on all four of them being with their mom, my husband and I could also count on spending time with each other, kid-free. Once our daughter came along, we enjoyed the day with our little sub-family of 3, something that also rarely happened.
The Second Sunday of May, became for me, one of celebrating my life, and how it hadn’t exactly turned out the way I had planned. Rather than focus on whether or not I was appreciated, I decided to focus on appreciating my family, non-traditional as it is.


I still had the challenges we must be ready for:

Do I stand up in Church when the pastor recognizes the mothers for a special blessing?
• What do I do when the maitre’d asks me if I’m a mom so he can give me a flower?
The answers to those questions didn’t change. (Stand up or don’t stand up in Church—it’s your preference. Smile and say “Thank you” if anyone offers you a present.) But my attitude definitely shifted.
Once I took away my expectations, I was in a win-win. Either the kids would offer me some small token of appreciation and I would be pleasantly surprised, or they wouldn’t, and I avoided disappointment.

This weekend, take a moment to feel gratitude for the moms and mom figures you have in your life. If you have children, love them and appreciate them—they’re why you’re a mom! If you’re a childless stepmom, focus on all things positive and remember that your husband wouldn’t be the man he is if he wasn’t a father.

And if all else fails, remember. It’s only the Second Sunday of May.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.stepmothersupport.com/second-sunday-may-mother-holidays/

May 04

Thinking about becoming a Stepmom? What’s your story?

If YOU have kids, and HE has kids, that MIGHT be where the similarity to the Brady Bunch ends.



brady bunchThere was no pre-quel that I know of when Carol and Mike brought their ever-smiling gangs together. I sort of remember the wedding episode, where the most dramatic thing that happened was his dog went after her cat.  And yes, pandemonium ensued.

Nowhere did we see, in what was progressive TV at the time, the challenges stepfamilies face today.

  • No crazy ex
  • No financial stress
  • No custody/court involvement
  • No rejection of anyone on anyone else’s part
  • And don’t forget, Carol had an Alice. (Where can I get one of those?)

If you are a modern-day version of the ever-more common stepfamily structure and are getting ready to either walk down the aisle, or assemble romantic-chaotic-modern-day-familyunder one roof, congratulations on taking steps to educate and prepare yoruself!  I would ove to hear your story!

What do you see as the biggest strength of your impending family? What do you perceive as the most difficult challenge?

More and more research shows that pre-marital (or pre-roof sharing) counseling can go a long way to ensure success for couples where one or both adults have children from a previous relationship. In my practice as a stepfamily therapist, I tend to see step-families after the cohabitation takes place and the problems erupt. Most of the scenarios I work with are a clean up process, working to remedy the difficulties that have ensued—but were not addressed (or even considered) before the families joined together in one house.

I would love to use your story to better understand the challenges you are considering before entering into step-familyhood. I want to improve resources available to people just like you so that new stepfamilies can gain their footing before problems develop.

Will you share your story with me? Let’s talk about it.
Please email  me at stepmomcoach@outlook.com with your story! (Rest assured, no names or identifying information will ever be repeated or shared.) I am eager to gain a new perspective from couples who are about to embark on the journey of living under one roof. Let’s prepare for the journey together.





Permanent link to this article: http://www.stepmothersupport.com/new-stepmom-whats-story/

Mar 09

Why does she hate me so much? 8 Reasons Ex’s hate Stepmoms

nerd-girl-18886269So I don’t talk about it very much, but I was bullied in middle school. Not like now, when it can be considered bullying if every participant in the inter-mural soccer program doesn’t get a trophy. Really, truly surround-the-awkward-girl-on-the-playground-and-jeer-at-her-‘til-she- breaks bullying. Take her glasses off her face and step on them bullying. Throw her winter coat in the toilet so she has to carry it home in a garbage bag bullying.

It was pretty good training for my life as a stepmother.

The hardest part of being targeted, whether by “mean girls” or by your husband’s ex, is that you can’t figure out what you did to engender hatred. You don’t look that much different from others in your peer group. You have good intentions in your relationships. You try not to bring the spotlight on yourself.
While I have yet to figure out the collective psyche of pre-adolescent girls, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why it seems to be an almost universal experience of stepmothers to realize your stepchildren’s mother just doesn’t like you. An otherwise professional and personable woman, your husband’s ex can become an intensely paranoid shrew when presented with the reality that another woman will occupy the place she once had with the father of her children.
You’re not crazy; it doesn’t make sense. You care for her children and have tried to be a positive influence in their lives. You married your husband knowing he represented a package deal, and you have worked hard to create a family unit where everyone feels welcome. You only want to make everyone’s lives better. Wouldn’t it be preferable, you think, if you and the ex shared information and strategies to use with the children? Shouldn’t you be on the same team?
It is with real bewilderment that you realize that it doesn’t matter what you do, she isn’t going to like you. At all.
Does it help to understand her perspective? Maybe. You might not ever get honest answers from her about her problem with you, but you can consider some common reasons for the mom to hate the stepmom and see what fits your situation.

  • She didn’t pick you

She might have interviewed no fewer than fourteen pre-schools before choosing the one she would trust to educate her lovelies, but she didn’t have any say whatsoever about who would occupy her former place with her children’s father. By the time she met you, your relationship with him was fairly well developed. You might have even already formed friendships with her children. Her inner Mama Lion couldn’t help but be activated by the presence of another woman entering the pride, and battling for territory became an almost primal instinct.

She doesn’t perceive your family the same way you do.

This might be the toughest one to swallow. You are doing everything you can to form a family unit made of you, your husband, and your stepchildren. She perceives that your household is made up of her children, their father and his wife. These polar opposite views of your family actually do much to explain her dislike for you. In her view, her children already have a mother and a father. This makes your presence completely superfluous. Every time you do something to insert yourself into the family group, her instinct is to shoo you away like a malaria-carrying mosquito.

She has less influence on her ex now.

Men desire, above all else, peace. Before you came along, your husband was less likely to make waves with her, so things went her way a lot more often. Now your husband listens to you. She knows this because when she was the wife, he listened to her. While the boundaries you urge your husband to maintain with his ex are probably healthier and more appropriate, the end result for your stepchildren’s mother is that her power has decreased. You only need one guess about who she blames for this.

She hates what you represent.

And you represent her failure. Regardless of the circumstances of the divorce–even if she chose it–seeing you happy with her ex can be a bitter pill. Having learned from his mistakes, he is probably a better husband to you than he was to her. No one goes into a marriage expecting to get divorced, and every divorced parent regrets the pain they cause their children. Her perception of your happiness causes angst she would never let you see.

A special note if your relationship with your husband overlapped hers: Find your compassion. It will be a long road for her to take ownership of what she did to make her marriage vulnerable to the choices her husband made; some people never do get to that point and maintain tunnel vision about blaming the cheating spouse. Regardless of where she is in her healing, you are the best target for her feelings of betrayal, anger and resentment. See the pain underneath her hatred.

She sees her weaknesses in your strengths.

Are you younger than she is? Are you more educated, prettier, more successful? Even if you are not, when she looks at you, she sees her flaws. Everyone has internal securities, and you bring out the worst of hers.

She is afraid her children will love you.

Logically, this shouldn’t threaten her relationship with her children. But there is nothing logical about her dislike for you. If you met under other circumstances, you might be friends. In her world, though, you are a threat. Every time her children laugh with you, exchange an affectionate greeting with you or relay some story about a good time where you are featured, it adds fuel to her fire.

You make her look bad.

As a good stepmom, you are involved in your stepchildren’s lives. But every time you cheer at a soccer game, attend a PTO meeting, or participate in the daily car pool, she is afraid that people are comparing the two of you and that she is coming up short.

You are there for her children when she is not.

Your husband’s ex knows that divorce means she will not be with her children as constantly as she was when her children were being raised in her two-parent home. Every time you witness something she does not, or do something for the children in her absence, she feels the reality of her situation. Smart stepmoms know to especially steer clear of things the mom might view as milestones. Be extra careful before planning “firsts” for your stepkids—bra shopping, a first manicure, answering questions about the birds and the bees—you don’t need to give her extra reason to hate you.

There is no excuse for disrespect or bad behavior, from pre-adolescent bullies, or between moms and stepmoms. It is worth contemplating, however, from where such strong and seemingly unjustifiable hatred arises. The feelings of a stepmother and a bullied child are similar in their powerlessness, confusion and impotent anger. The significant difference, though, is the maturity with which we as adults can evaluate and appropriately address our situations. Unlike a pre-teen searching for identity in her peer group, healthy stepmoms have internal sources of self-worth and nurture their relationships so that they produce positive interactions and are sources of happiness and contentment. While many stepmoms’ attempts to create positive interactions with their husband’s ex are fruitless, drawing on your compassion for her and security in your pure motivations can help you withstand her unwarranted dislike for you.

The relationship with your husband’s ex, much like dealing with pre-adolescent bullies, is one in which you don’t have much control. You should keep your chin up, take the high road, and do your best to maintain your own self-respect and dignity. When you can’t impact or change the situation, sometimes you have to resign yourself to the fact that some mean girls are just mean, and some ex-wives are just bitchy.

This article was first published in the May 2014 edition of Stepmom Magazine


Permanent link to this article: http://www.stepmothersupport.com/hate-much/

Feb 05


Being a stepmom is a CALL TO SAINTHOOD. We know this because we are expected to give the unconditional love and sacrifice of a mom to our partner’s progeny, but readily understand that it won’t be returned because, well, because our stepkids already HAVE a mom.

Our challenge is to answer our CALL and still maintain our SANITY.  To do this, we must know the difference between acting saintly, and embracing martyrdom.


mom angelA stepmom saint gives of herself freely, but recognizes the need for self-care and recharging.

A stepmom martyr expects to be rewarded for her suffering.


A stepmom saint sets boundaries so that she doesn’t feel taken advantage of.

A stepmom martyr starts to feel like a doormat because she doesn’t speak of for herself.


A stepmom saint learns how to effectively communicate her feelings to her partner.

A stepmom martyr expects her partner to read her mind.




A stepmom saint stands for what she believes in…. a healthy family, a loving marriage, a commitment to her partner’s children.

A stepmom martyr sacrifices herself for unhealthy expectations or standards she sets for herself.


A stepmom saint takes responsibility for her own thoughts, feelings and actions.  She makes her own choices, and resents no one for them.fake smile

A stepmom martyr assumes the burden of responsibilities that aren’t hers, then passive-aggressively expresses her true feelings.


A stepmom saint recognizes the need for couple time but is flexible enough to know that striving for the right balance is an ongoing challenge.

A stepmom martyr denies her need for her partner’s attention but eventually gets angry when his attention is focused on the kids.


In our ongoing goal to change a culture, RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU’RE A STEPMOM!

Then dust off your halo, do an internal inventory, and make sure it stays on STRAIGHT!



Permanent link to this article: http://www.stepmothersupport.com/difference-saints-martyrs-keep-stepmom-halo-straight/

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