Marrying a man with kids: Planning the wedding

Stepmom wedding

Photo credit: arztsamui.

If you’re in the midst of planning your wedding and find yourself feeling guilty and anxious more often than excited, you’re not alone. Why? Because, if you’re like most couples, you’re likely trying to please everyone around you. Stepmoms, in particular, do more compromising and sacrificing during the lifetime of their marriages than they ever imagined possible. So, it’s really OK to take this one special day and make it all about you and your partner.

 

Trading In Your Dream Wedding for Child Support

Stepmoms can feel as if their dreams have been dashed now that they’re marrying a man with kids and who has likely already been there and done that. If you’re taking on the financial burden yourselves, instead of going the traditional route of having the bride’s parents pay for it all, money you thought you’d be spending on your dream wedding is likely being sent to the ex—in support payments—on a monthly basis. Ouch! After you’ve cried it out and punched a wall or two at the injustice, relax and know that there are ways to still have a wedding you’re both completely happy with (albeit on a budget). You’ll just need to think outside the box.

Enroll your friends and family to brainstorm DIY ideas and less expensive routes to the altar. From flowers and gift bags to the wedding cake, the possibilities are endless for having a beautiful wedding without the high cost. (Pinterest is a great place to start.) Even the kids can help with this. Put them to work filling gift bags or making homemade treats. If those end up being ugly or tasteless, people will see that as “charming”—since they were, after all, created by the kids.

At the other end of the spectrum, maybe you really just want to elope. Expect to have family and friends chattering in your ear about how rude that would be to the rest of the family. Then go for it anyway! Some people really prefer an intimate, let’s-get-this-done-and-get-on-with-the-marriage sort of deal. Honor your preferences and do what feels right. Remember: This day is for you—not them!

The Ceremony: Kids or No Kids?

Some women view weddings as purely romantic events. For them, the thought of involving kids feels very… wrong. Other women truly believe that when they marry their partner, they’re also making a vow to love his kids. That’s great, if that works for them. But many stepmoms-to-be don’t feel this way.

If you’re not head over heels for your stepchildren or are dealing with a lot of conflict where they’re concerned, don’t feel bad about not including them in the wedding ceremony. If making vows to them feels inauthentic, don’t do it.  However, if your own kids have a part to play in the ceremony, you really do need to incorporate your stepchildren, too. Including your own children while excluding his will label you an evil stepmom quicker than you can say, “I do!”

If you didn’t have plans to include his kids in the ceremony but it’s important to him, try to find a satisfying middle ground. Is there an alternative upon which you could agree? Could you involve them in a pre-wedding ceremony so they feel special and he feels good about it? Perhaps the kids can come up and light a candle during the ceremony. Something like that can be meaningful for one of you and still noninvasive for the other. Sit down and talk about what’s really important to each of you. Then come to an agreement with which you’re both happy.

The Wedding Party: Brace Yourselves

Talk about being destined to disappoint! There will be folks you hope will be involved but who will refuse. And there may be folks who you don’t want touching your wedding with a 10-foot pole but who will just assume they’ll take center stage. Boy, can this be awkward. If the groom’s friends or family aren’t interested in participating because they already took part in his first wedding, it’s the bride’s duty to not take it personally. You might feel hurt or judge them as being rude, but they get to decide what’s right for them. Their decision doesn’t have to mean anything negative about you. It doesn’t have to mean that they prefer the ex or that you, the bride, aren’t good enough. (Admit it: You know you went there.) It just means they’re choosing not to do this again.

But what about those who want to be involved? How do you turn down people who expect to be a part of your wedding? There’s no easy way to do this. Their feelings will be hurt. But, again, that’s because they’re making it about them and taking it personally. If they haven’t been supportive of you and you don’t feel particularly close to them, why should they be involved in such an intimate event and play such a large role in it? Because society says they should? Because they’ll be angry if you don’t include them? You can kindly let them know that you’re involving your oldest friends and family or that maybe you’ve just decided not to have any bridesmaids or groomsmen at all. It also might lessen the blow if you can think of a less direct way for them to be involved. Is there something you need help with that might help them feel important?

A Familymoon Is Not a Honeymoon

With first families, the couple usually bonds first and then has kids. Stepfamilies don’t have that luxury, as the kids predate the new couple. A honeymoon is the perfect time to celebrate your new marriage and solidify your own bond. Quality time and connection is the goal here. You might feel pressured, by those around you, to include the kids in your honeymoon. Maybe dad isn’t comfortable leaving the kids for a few days. Maybe his family (or even your family) is looking at you like you’re a monster for wanting some alone time with your new husband. That’s because they don’t understand the intricacies of a stepfamily. They don’t know that it’s actually better for your family if the two of you spend quality time together.

Then again, maybe you have no other options. If this is the case, just know that bringing the kids on your honeymoon will completely change the dynamic. Instead of a honeymoon, you’ll be on a familymoon—otherwise known as a family vacation. In this case, consider going to a place that offers kid-friendly options where the kids get to do fun things and are basically babysat for a good portion of the day. It might even be worth it to delay the honeymoon for a bit, but don’t delay it indefinitely. Make a commitment to plan a time in which the two of you get that honeymoon you so deserve!

Some kids won’t understand why their parent and stepparent left to go on vacation without them, not grasping the goal or tradition of a honeymoon. They may feel left out or rejected, especially if they’re being raised in a kid-centric household. It’s their parent’s job to simply explain that this is “a trip just for the adults” and that sometimes adults do things without their kids. Explain that it doesn’t mean they’re not loved and cared for. It’s really OK and healthy to tell your children, “No,” once in a while.

Decide for Yourself

It’s easy for me to sit here and tell you to follow your heart, even if that means you may hurt others people’s feelings. But you know yourselves, your friends and your families best. If you think they’ll feel snubbed and they’re known to hold lifelong grudges, maybe it’s not worth it to exclude them or the kids. Decide for yourselves what the lesser evil will be: Looking back on a wedding day that wasn’t exactly what you hoped for? Or dealing with family members who hold onto their hurt for years to come?  Just know that if you decide to sacrifice what you really want for the happiness of others, you must embrace that choice and let go of any anger or regret you might have about it. You’re not allowed to be angry with them later.

While planning to tie the knot, you will likely receive well-intentioned but misguided advice from family members and friends. It will probably be something along the lines of, “Don’t be so selfish” or, “You need to do things differently because now you’re a family!” Except, in this case, it’s unlikely they’ve ever been in your shoes. They don’t understand that it can take a stepfamily several years to integrate to the point where everyone is feeling and behaving like a family. Stepfamily relationships develop slowly over time. Choosing what’s right for you, in regard to your wedding, isn’t going to hinder that.

Showing each other and your children (biological or step) kindness and respect every day is more important than whether or not you include them in your wedding ceremony or take them along on your honeymoon. In the end, what’s most important is your marriage—not your wedding.

This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of stepmom Magazine.

© 2015 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

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Why forcing a child to hug his stepparent is a bad idea

Photo credit: stockimages.com

Photo credit: stockimages.com

I’ve heard from more than a few clients that dad (and sometimes stepmom) forces the kids give their stepparent a hug when saying hello or goodnight. I cannot say this enough:

THIS IS A BAD IDEA.

I understand this is born from the best of intentions. Dad is hoping it will help the kids and his partner bond. Or maybe he just thinks it’s a nice thing to do, since he hugs his partner when he walks in the door. But I can tell you that this will backfire.

Making a rule about hugging teaches the child that he’s not in control of who he allows into his personal space. Is that really what you want to teach a child? This might cause him to dread coming over and may actually have the opposite effect. It can cause resentment and distance from the child, instead of closeness.

Physical affection is personal and something that should only happen if it’s coming naturally to both parties.

Anytime physical affection is forced, it’s going to evoke negative emotions. Even if the kids and their stepmom get along well, forcing a hug is uncomfortable. And if their relationship is already strained or awkward? You’re just throwing fuel on the fire.

If this has been the status quo and you’re sensing things with the kids are awkward, go ahead and release them from this requirement. “You don’t have to give your stepmom a hug anymore when you come home or go to sleep. If you want to you can, but it’s OK if you don’t. Saying hello and goodnight are enough.”

If the kids want to hug their stepmom, great! If not, no problem. Giving a warm, verbal welcome can feel much safer to kids than physical affection.

© 2015 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

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8 ways to start feeling better about your stepchild

Photo credit: Clare Bloomfield

Photo credit: Clare Bloomfield

For years, I thought I didn’t like kids. It turns out I just didn’t like badly-behaved kids. But then again, who does? The kids’ parents, that’s who!

The biological bond enables parents to love, forgive and accept their children—even in the worst scenarios. Most stepparents aren’t capable of that, so they find themselves struggling with the fact that they don’t really like their stepkids.

The truth is, some kids aren’t likable.

And you certainly can’t be expected to love or even like a child just because you love his or her father. That’s an unrealistic expectation and it will always set you up for failure.

There are many reasons you might not like your stepkids, including:

  • They disrespect you and/or their father.
  • They’re strong-willed and suck the energy right out of you.
  • They accept no responsibility, which increases your workload.
  • They remind you of you at their ages—and you were a nightmare!
  • Their mom has made your life miserable and they’re mini replicas of her.
  • They are extremely needy/manipulative, consuming your partner’s time and energy.
  • Their behavior is extreme and involves drug addiction, stealing and/or running away.
  • They make false claims which could land you in prison (or warrant a visit from CPS).
  • Their personalities clash with yours, you can’t relate and you have nothing in common.

Who’s Really to Blame?

Some kids are excused from doing chores or holding any responsibility in the household, causing more work for you. It’s hard to like a child (or anyone for that matter) who makes your life more diffcult than it needs to be.

It’s easy to blame the child here, even though, in reality, his parent is the one letting him off the hook. The child believes he is just doing his job; trying to shirk off any sort of responsibility. Unfortunately, his parent isn’t doing his job: holding his child accountable for bad behavior of any sort and giving him, or her, the opportunity to take responsibility. So, who are you really upset with—your stepchild or your partner?

Why Biding Your Time Doesn’t Work

Regardless of why you dislike your stepchild, the negativity you feel can become all-consuming. You dread his arrival time and can’t wait for him to leave. You likely avoid eye contact with him or perhaps avoid him altogether. The dynamic of the house is completely different when he’s around and you can barely stand it. You’re marking off the days until he turns 18, but you also realize that’s no way to live. This isn’t working for anyone, because the child can probably sense your disdain and judgment. You’re miserable and your partner is hurt and resentful, because he sees it, too. At this rate, you may not make it until your stepchild is 18. Things need to change now.

It’s Not About Liking Him

I often tell my clients not to focus on trying to like someone they don’t, because that can be a nearly impossible task—and it’s usually not the crux of the problem anyway. A goal that’s more attainable and helpful in relieving the anxiety associated with disliking your stepchild is figuring out how to accept them into your life. When you dislike your stepchild, what you’re really experiencing is a resistance to him, his presence and his impact on your life.

This means that behind every action toward him and every interaction with him there is an underlying intention of “I wish you weren’t here.” Ouch. Once you learn to accept his presence, you become softer and gentler with him. Your kindness becomes genuine. Even if you still don’t like his behavior, you will like yourself more and your interactions with him will likely improve.

Here are some things you can do to try to improve your experience and maybe even start to cultivate good feelings toward your stepchild:

  • Create a vision for your life that includes your stepchild. Part of accepting your stepchild into your life is letting go of the fantasy that he is not a part of it and creating a new vision that includes him. It’s OK to experience a flood of emotions as you let go of your old vision. Release the emotions, mourn the old fantasy and feel the pain and hurt of things not turning out how you planned. Take your time and start rebuilding with a more accurate picture of how things are. If your original vision was one in which you were very close to your stepchild, this new vision might not include that. Envision how that will affect other areas of your life like vacations, holidays and your daily routine.
  • Address the behavior. Attempt to address the child’s behavior with your partner. Just be sure it’s the behavior you’re saying you dislike and not the child’s character. Instead of saying, “Suzy is so lazy, never putting her dishes in the sink!” try saying, “When Suzy leaves her dishes in the living room, it really stresses me out, because it’s one more mess I feel like I need to clean up. It would really help me feel calmer if she would clean them up. Would you help me enforce that?”
  • Don’t have regrets. If your stepchild were to die tomorrow, how would you feel about the way you treated him? Was it kind and gentle or was it full of resistance and resentment? Would you have regrets or would you be proud at how you handled the situation? This is your chance to change things while you still can. Seize the day so you can look back on your life and be proud that, regardless of what you were faced with, you showed up as your best self.
  • Find one endearing quality you can embrace. Even the utterly impossible person displays at least one decent character trait. Is there one positive thing you can say about your stepchild? Does he or she show humor, sensitivity, compassion or sweetness in any aspect of life or with anyone in it? Even if that trait is only displayed for a few minutes every other new moon, grab it and run with it. Focus on that endearing quality as if your life depends on it, focusing less on the traits you dislike.
  • Pretend you’re her. Usually, we only see things from our perspective: our hurts, our experiences, our judgments, our values and our opinions. Seeing things from someone else’s perspective can open a whole new world to you. Shake off your resentment toward your stepkid and gain some compassion by writing an essay about your stepchild’s life—from her perspective. How does she feel? What does her world look like? What are her experiences like? What would she say about you, her family or her daily routine? Pretend you’re her and do some journaling. See how it changes your perspective. See what insights you glean.
  • Avoid getting stuck in the past. Maybe your situation was awful a few years ago and you’re still reeling from those effects. If so, it’s time to move into the present. If your stepchild is better behaved now, accept that. Take it in, appreciate it and forgive him or her and everyone else involved for their past contributions to your misery. Until you are able to do that, you are the only one responsible for your suffering
  • Spend more quality time with him. In order to cultivate good feelings toward your stepchild, you need to have more positive interactions than negative. Is there something you can do together that you both enjoy? This can be the smallest thing—from talking about music on the radio as you drive him home from school to walking the family dog or preparing a meal together. What does the child like to help you with? Doing this, over a long period of time, will create a bond between you.
  • Spend less time with him. If your stepchild engages in extreme behavior (such as being abusive, stealing or drug addiction), you will want to spend as little time as possible with him. Hopefully, at this stage, your partner is taking steps to protect the rest of the family. Disengage, focus less on him and focus more on enjoying life without him. This is just a survival mechanism. It is nearly impossible
    to find real peace when you are faced with this type of behavior. But you can continue to detach with love—wishing him the best in life without wanting him to be a part of yours.

So, although you might feel shame over disliking your stepchild, most people in your situation would feel the same way. But you are committed to your partner, which means your stepchild isn’t going anywhere. It will benefit you to learn to accept your situation while doing your part to change the things you have control over.

Often, a funny thing happens when we change. Others around us change. I’m not saying this guarantees that your nightmare stepchild will turn into an angel, but think about how differently you behave toward someone who is genuinely kind to you compared to someone who isn’t. Changing yourself—and your approach—will make a positive difference.

This article was originally published in the April 2015 issue of Stepmom Magazine.

© 2015 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

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How to keep the ex-wife out of your relationship

Photo credit by Poulsen Photo.

Photo credit: Poulsen Photo.

I can’t help but be surprised at the number of stepmoms who are thinking about leaving their partners (or have left) because of his ex. It’s not that I don’t understand why these women would want to run and never look back, but it saddens me that their situations became so bad that they felt it was the only option.

So for those of you who remain but find yourself challenged by the ex on a daily basis, here are some ways to prevent her from having so much power over your life.

She can’t call the shots for your family

Mom probably hasn’t adjusted her vision to include you – in any aspect – even though the reality of the situation is that you are very present. Therefore, there will always be conflict where she’s concerned. Because you are a part of your partner’s and stepchild’s family, you and your partner have to be the one calling the shots for your family. If you let the ex dictate what should happen in your home, then you’re letting her manipulate her way into your house and relationship.  The couple is in charge of their household and must stand in their power.

Acknowledge that these are extraordinary circumstances

If you’re kicking yourself for getting so wrapped up in the negativity of the ex, quit it. Stop thinking that this should be as simple as other relationships you’ve had. It’s not like having a toxic coworker or friend that you can remove from your life if you choose. You’re not blood related to her, so there’s no positive history with her or unconditional love to fall back on. And you didn’t choose to have children with her, so you didn’t get here (directly) by your own choice. You’re faced with her because of choices made by the man you love. Yet you’re paying the price for his choices, which can feel very unjust.

It’s easy to obsess about the unfairness of it all, but that’s just one more way you’re giving her power. So give yourself a break and acknowledge that this is one of the most challenging types of dynamics you’ll ever encounter. In fact, give yourself a pat on the back. You’re still standing.

Close the door on no-win situations

Some situations are just impossible. And by impossible I mean that no matter what you do or how hard you try, there’s no appeasing the other household. You know the type of situation I’m referring to. It’s as if you’re standing there telling someone that the sky is blue and they’re yelling at you to “stop saying the sky is red!!!” It doesn’t make sense. There’s nothing rational about it. And there’s nothing you can do to change it – because it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Yet, inevitably, that will be the situation you end up spending all your time and energy on. That is a mistake. When you’re able to see that you’re backed against a wall with very little chance of resolution – shut it down by disengaging. Don’t validate her absurd accusations by responding to them. Instead, turn your attention elsewhere.

Take responsibility for letting her in

If the ex is causing conflict between you and your partner, it’s because you and/or him have let her. Think about it, regardless of what she’s doing or saying, it can only cause conflict if you choose to react to her by turning on each other, instead of supporting one another. If your partner lets her do things that are clearly disrespectful or threatening to you, or if you obsess about her, engage her when she acts out, or get angry with your partner every time he makes a choice you disagree with, then you’re giving her a power she wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s up to you and your partner to keep your relationship intact and keep her on the outside.

Additional ways to minimize her impact

  1. If you must discuss her, set aside a fixed amount of time to do this. Set a timer, and once the timer goes off, put her away. 
  2. Create boundaries around talking points. It’s vital that your partner create these boundaries. The focus should be the kids. If she tries to veer off into the personal, your partner should remind her that he’s not interested in discussing those topics. If she continues, he should leave the conversation.
  3. Retrain your brain. Get out of the habit of thinking and stressing about her. Focus on what’s going right in your life, don’t ruminate about the past. Stop reliving every awful thing she’s ever done to you. My favorite method is to add a helpful mantra as an event to the calendar on my phone and then set it to alert me 3 times a day. For example, “I am peaceful and in control of my life.” After about a month you’ll have a new habit of NOT thinking about her drama.
  4. Remember that whatever is going on with her – you can’t fix it. Even if you were correct in your assumptions and knew the perfect thing to say to her, you are the one person she is unable to hear it from.
  5. Whenever you find yourself getting upset about her, stop yourself and use that energy to do something nice for your partner. The goal is to focus more on cultivating a stronger relationship and less on things that steal your happiness.
  6. Find humor where you can. I’m the last person to think any of this stepfamily drama is funny, but after you’re repeatedly called a liar, from someone who consistently lies, even when she’s under oath, you just have to laugh at the absurdity. Find the funny in the ridiculousness of it all.

In order for your relationship to survive the difficulties of someone so intimately connected to your family, you and your partner must support each other. You must listen to each other and be kind and forgiving when missteps are made. You must maximize the strength of your marriage and minimize the ex’s effect on you. Your family is counting on you.

This article first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Stepmom Magazine. 

© 2015 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

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How much communication between your partner and his ex-wife is “too much”?

Communication among co-parentsClients ask me all the time, how much communication between my partner and his ex is normal and necessary? Obviously this depends on the age of the kids, whether or not there are mental/physical/emotional issues that require more frequent communication, and how healthy the relationship between your partner and his ex is. Younger kids will require more frequent communications, while by the age of 16 most communication can be directly between teen and parent.

In his book “Keeping Kids Out of the Middle,” Benjamin Garber, PhD gives some excellent guidelines around communication, advising co-parents on exactly what is “too much.”

  1. It’s too much when it’s constant. Barring emergencies, most co-parents seldom need to communicate more than once a day. Many manage with a single communication each week or each parenting period, whichever is briefer.” So unless there’s a constant crisis at your home, those multiple texts a day are unnecessary.
  2. It’s too much when it’s intrusive. Co-parenting communications that edge beyond the kids’ needs, interest, successes and failures and into adult personal matters aren’t necessary.” As soon as a co-parent starts to wander into topics outside of the kids (assuming the other parent isn’t interested), it’s time to shut down communication.
  3. It’s too much when it serves to keep you artificially connected. We must never use our children and our mutual responsibility as their caregivers as an excuse to maintain adult relationships.” Some ex-wives love to use their kids as an excuse to stay connected to their ex. They’ll share inappropriate, personal details of their lives, believing that sharing a child with someone gives them lifelong rights to invade their ex’s personal space with continued, unwanted communications. They might invite them to dinner or ask them for drinks, because it’s “best for the kids.” No. What’s “best for the kids” is a conflict-free home. And that often means limited communication if you’re dealing with a difficult ex.
  4. It’s too much when it becomes harassing, abusive, intimidating or otherwise destructive.” Insults, judgements, continuously bringing up the past and past grievances, blaming and accusing – these are all destructive and may require extreme boundaries, such as a communication restraining order.

If co-parents have  a mutually respectful, friendly relationship and communicating more often works for them and their current spouses, then great! Otherwise, these guidelines are helpful in letting parents know that you don’t need to be in constant contact about the kids to be effective co-parents.

© 2015 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

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Why stepparenting is harder than parenting

ID-10063597A common expectation from divorced dads is that their partner will step in and parent their children. They might think that if their partner spends more time with the child, a bond will occur quickly and they’ll be a “real” family. But this can often backfire as there are many challenges a stepparent faces that usually don’t exist for the parent; challenges that make it exhausting, and sometimes impossible, to “parent” another’s child, especially early on in the relationship.

The relationship between stepparent and stepchild will take years to develop and forcing it may actually delay things, or prevent it from ever happening, as negative feelings and resentments build.

But since a lot of dads don’t know this, they get frustrated when their wife wants a break or is resistant to parenting their child. The fact is, there are some very good reasons why it’s often harder to stepparent than it is to parent.

  1. Children are more forgiving of a parent than a stepparent. Parents might learn as they go as too, especially first-time parents, but the cost is less. There may already be so many negative emotions around having a stepparent, that one wrong move might cause the child to hold a grudge, making it impossible to ever get close to him. Stepparents often live in fear of misstepping, especially when they don’t know what that might be until it’s too late.
  2. A parent has a higher level of tolerance for their own child than the stepparent has. The stepparent didn’t go through nine months of carrying the baby in their womb. They (usually) didn’t have those very precious first few years with the child where they bonded. The child is not an extension of the stepparent. It’s just natural to have more patience for something that’s yours, than something that isn’t. The mess, the noise, the tantrums, the stress – I don’t believe any parent loves these things, but they tolerate it because, well, that child is theirs. Something happened when that baby was born that gave them unlimited ability to put up with anything and everything the child throws at them. Even when they do need a break or get angry, their love for that child never wavers and they’re ready to get back in the saddle in record time. Most stepparents don’t have this super power and it can often take a long time to trust the child again or have positive feelings towards them.
  3. A stepparent never knows when they should speak up. A stepparent is always worried about stepping on toes, getting backlash for something she said, or even something she didn’t say – something that was misinterpreted by the ex or incorrectly passed on to the ex by the kids. And because of #1 above, there’s always a fear of her stepchild not liking her anymore. What an awful existence, living with someone who doesn’t like you – but often holds so much power in the house. It’s exhausting to be so unsure of oneself. And walking on eggshells for an extended period of time will wear out even the strongest of spirits.
  4. The child wants to be parented by their parent, not their stepparent. Children are craving time and attention from their parent. They don’t see their stepparents as authority figures, meaning the child doesn’t see them as someone they have to listen to. If they feel resentment that they even have this extra person in their life, listening to and respecting them as an important person in their life isn’t at the top of their to-do list. And even if the relationship is decent between them, it can still feel an intrusion when a stepparent tries to intervene.
  5. Children naturally want to please their parents, not so with stepparents. Children don’t look for the approval of their stepparent the way they do their parent. There’s not a natural sense of wanting to be accepted by them. Don’t get me wrong, we all want to be liked, but what I’m referring to is happening on a much deeper level. In fact, sometimes they want to make things as difficult as possible for them, hoping on some level that maybe they’ll just leave and the child can have their parent all to themselves again.
  6. A parent has unconditional love for their child, whereas a stepchild can feel like a foreign entity to a stepparent. People love to judge a stepmom who doesn’t automatically fall in love with her stepchild. But the reality is these are basically two strangers who didn’t choose each other, now finding themselves part of the same family. Research shows it takes 4-7 years for a stepfamily to feel and function like a family, so those first years are an adjustment, to say the least, for everyone. A child doesn’t automatically think of their stepparent as a parent – or of any importance to them at all. That bond will take years to develop. And sometimes it just doesn’t happen.
  7. There might be an unhappy ex in the mix, discouraging the kids from having a relationship with the stepparent. When a parent places a child in a loyalty bind, the child thinks “If I like my stepparent or have fun with her, it will hurt my mom.” Therefore the child may resist a relationship with their stepparent, or even worse, start acting out against her. Research shows that the more a child actually likes their stepparent, the worse he may act towards her. The guilt he feels may be too overwhelming, as he thinks he’s betraying his other parent.

Dads: If you want to be your wife’s hero, listen to her when she says she’s having hard time trying to parent your child or when she’s asking you to do more of the heavy lifting, that is rightfully yours. It’s not because she “doesn’t like” your child, it’s not because she doesn’t care for you. It’s simply because this is the nature of stepfamily dynamics and sometimes it’s just impossible for her to be what you expect.

The development of the stepparent/stepchild relationship doesn’t happen overnight, so If you want to preserve the space for that relationship to happen, honor the process by letting it evolve naturally, at a pace everyone is comfortable with.

Well, stepmoms, what have I left out? What have your experiences been?

© 2015 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

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Why stepmoms need a kid-free zone in their home

Stepmom kid-free zoneLet’s face it, even in the best of circumstances, kids are not easy to be around 100 percent of the time. Even biological parents need a break from their own children once in a while, so it’s normal (although not quite acceptable by society) for stepmoms to need a break from kids who are not hers.

Some kids are just … challenging.

So, it is nice to have a space to retreat to when you start to feel like you are about to lose your marbles. Is it mean or selfish to want a space that’s all yours? No. It’s actually kind of you. What do you think is better for your marriage and relationship with your stepkids—you as an uptight person about to explode at the next family member who looks at you funny or you as a happy, recharged, peaceful person who wants to be around others?

There are many reasons for a kid-free zone. It’s not all about the kids. Maybe you had a difficult day at work and just can’t be emotionally present for the kids at that time. Maybe you need a few minutes alone to compose yourself. Maybe you had an argument with a close friend or family member and you need some time to process it without interruption from well-intentioned little ones. Your emotional health is important, and you deserve a place where you can tend to it.

I was lucky enough that my husband provided me with two rooms I could call my own. The first one we called the J-Cafe. It was a little alcove directly off the living room. It had a small sofa, bookshelf and coffee table, and everyone knew it was my space. The second room was the bathroom. My husband decided that since we had two full bathrooms, one should be a girls’ and one should be a boys’. It was his way of protecting me from having to share a bathroom with two teenage boys. And, yes, he used the boys’ bathroom as well. That was a gesture I will never stop appreciating!

How to Create a Personal Sanctuary

There are no rules here. If you have a very small living space, you might only be able to claim a corner of a room, but that corner will provide you with a sense of comfort if it’s all yours. If you are lucky enough to be able to use a whole room, great! Display items that are meaningful to you and bring you joy and comfort. The goal is to be able to enter the space to decompress and be yourself without any input from the outside world.

If you are unsure of how to create your personal space, the following questions can help get you started:

  • When do you most often need time to yourself?
  • What room in the house protects you the most from noise and foot traffic?
  • What activities help you recharge? (Painting, music, meditation, watching TV, etc.)
  • What personal items of yours hold the most value?
  • What do you most need in order to calm down and feel more like yourself?

Creating a kid-free zone is a great way to preserve your sanity and sense of self. It provides you with a place to retreat from the noise, drama, stress and responsibility while enabling you to recharge, regroup and find inner balance. And since it’s a kid-free space, you don’t have to worry about it being riddled with the kids’ messes. There’s really something different about cleaning up your own mess, isn’t there?

The idea of a kid-free zone may not be popular in the eyes of outsiders, but, hey, neither was the idea that the world is round.

This article was originally published in the Jan 2015 issue of Stepmom Magazine.

© 2015 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

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Stepmoms, it’s not personal

AuthenticWhen someone is threatened by your wit, intelligence, beauty, abilities, skills, amazing personality, or any other one of your beautiful traits, they’re going to treat you like crap.

When someone is threatened by you, it’s because they haven’t quite learned how to love themselves yet. Or in some cases, even like themselves. When someone is proud of who they are and truly values their self, they don’t get mad at others for being what they perceive as better, or having more. When they love themselves, they can be happy for other’s success and support their growth. They can appreciate positive qualities, without making it mean that they are less than. They don’t need to put others down to elevate themselves. They don’t need to make others wrong, to feel right.

I’m not referring to having a bad day every now and then (although don’t you feel better about others when you’re feeling good about yourself?).  I’m referring to those who have a deep emptiness where self-esteem and self-love should live.

By the way, if you’ve ever done the work entailed in increasing self-esteem and self-love, you’ve experienced the before and after of who you are and how you behave. It’s pretty amazing…

This is why it’s not about you when someone is being awful to you. And this is why you’re not going to change others; their struggle is with themselves.

Your job is to continue being your incredible, authentic self. Don’t hide or shrink to make them more comfortable. Just don’t worry about them at all. They are not your concern. Spend your energy on people who you feel good around, who want the best for you and whose actions reflect that. That is how you choose peace for yourself.

© 2015 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

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Confessions of a(n) Enlightened Stepmom

This article was first published in 2011 for No One’s the Bitch. 

Enlightened StepmomI consider myself pretty successful in my transition from single girl to stepmom and I’ve always had the best of intentions when it came to my husband’s ex-wife.

And yet, I’ve made some moves that seemed right at the time, but weren’t.

Here’s one of them:

I won’t get into the details for privacy’s sake, but basically, I was tired of my husband’s ex-wife supposedly pointing her finger in our direction for everything gone bad in her household, so I spoke up. Rah-rah, good for me, right??

I even did it in a way that was diplomatic. I didn’t call her names, I didn’t tell her what I thought of her or where I’d like her to shove it. I simply sent her an email giving her some really great advice.

I told her the truth; that until she took responsibility for her own life she would never be happy.

Then, thinking that I could enlighten her even further, I proceeded to explain that if she continued to blame others for her situation, she’d never have a healthy relationship and her unhappiness would continue.

All the while, I’m thinking, ‘This is great advice! These are the things her friends should be telling her!’ After all, read any book by Deepak Chopra or other spiritual leaders and you’ll find the same advice. She simply had never heard such wise words and once she did, she’d see the light. It worked for me in my life, so I’d be selfish not to share such knowledge with her. Right?

Yes, I actually believed I was being helpful.

Oh, how naïve I was.…

To put it mildly, she wasn’t “thankful” for the unsolicited advice, she wasn’t “enlightened,” and she didn’t suddenly see (what I perceived as) the error of her ways.

After a few days, I had some realizations and sent her an apologetic email. These were my thoughts:

  • Each one of us is living in our own reality. Me and my husband’s reality is VERY different from hers.
  • Nothing I could ever say or do would or could convince her to see the situation from our perspective.
  • She’s viewing life from her own childhood experiences, life experiences, her own values, her own lessons learned. And we’re viewing them from ours.
  • We cannot tell someone else what their truth is.
  • Even if I was spot on with her truth, the last person she’d be receptive to hearing it from is me.

No matter how right we think we are, no matter how much we think we have life figured out, even if we’re convinced we are holding the key to happiness in our hands and want to share it with the world, it’s really only the key to OUR happiness.

So before you waste one more precious moment fretting over the other woman, realize that no matter how justified you think you are, how wronged you think you’ve been, trying to change her is something worth letting go of.

To do this we start by trying to accept that she is who she is. It doesn’t mean we have to like her, be okay with her actions, respect her as a person, or even have contact with her, it just means we say goodbye to expending our energy on her.

It means we take back our power by redirecting our energy onto ourselves, our marriage, and our family; where it belongs and where it will benefit us most.

In the end, we can either spend years fighting her, or we can let go and accept her. I’m not saying it’s an easy choice, but it’s a choice that is ours to make.

If you decide this is something you want to try, but it seems like an impossible task, start with baby steps. Take one incident where you want to react and stop yourself. Remember that you’re here because of your partner. Decide what will serve you and your family best. Check your ego at the door. Leave the house, go for a hike, laugh with a friend, do whatever it is you do to center yourself and turn your focus back on you.

And just like that, you’ve begun the process.

© 2011 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

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8 stepfamily issues that can make or break your relationship

ID-10044319Many couples forget to actually sit down and talk about their expectations for their stepfamily and each member’s role in it. They believe everything will just work itself out, because after all, they’re in love.

But it’s not too long before reality sets in and they realize they’re not on the same page and nothing is as they expected.

If you’ve found yourself in this situation, it’s never too late to have this conversation. Some things you want to discuss with your partner include yours and his expectations in regards to:

  • How involved you’ll be in the various aspects of your stepchild’s life. Your partner may want you to be very involved, while you’re happy standing on the sidelines. Be specific here, discuss areas of school, after-school activities, transportation, discipline, bedtime rituals, transition day rituals, holidays, communication with the ex, etc…
  • Household responsibilities. Do the children have chores? Who makes sure they actually do their chores? Which household responsibilities specifically are each family member responsible for?
  • How do each of you expect the household to run? If you were raised differently, you likely have different expectations here. What do you both need to be comfortable in your home? Where are you both willing to compromise?
  • Meal planning and cooking
  • Finances
  • Your stepchild’s visitation schedule
  • Boundaries with his ex
  • The kids. Your expectations of the kids are likely different than your partner’s. Discuss discipline, responsibilities, bedtimes, meals, homework and any other situations relevant to the kids.

Those are just a few areas that can cause conflict if you and your partner aren’t on the same page. Be sure to go into this conversation with an open mind, understanding that the goal is to have a win-win, where everyone feels their needs are met.

Every member of the stepfamily is thrown off kilter when joining families and everyone will need to make sacrifices. Changes are more successful when they occur slowly, over time, so work on changing one thing at a time, giving everyone time to adjust.

If you’d like help in figuring out what your role as a stepmom is, check out module #1 – “What is my role?” 

© 2015 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved