Tips for the introverted stepmom

Introverted StepmomThere are many stepmoms struggling to fit in and find peace in their families, not because they don’t get along with their stepchildren, but because they’re introverts in a family of extroverts.  And introverts and extroverts often have conflicting ways of being in the world.

According to Psychology Today, introversion is a personality trait defined as someone whose energy is drained by social interactions; they give energy away when interacting with others.

Therefore they need recovery time, which usually means solitude, to recharge and refill their energy tank. Whereas an extrovert gains energy when they spend time with others. Therefore they feel energized after spending an evening socializing.

Susan Cain, author of the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking“ addresses the misconception that introverts are shy by noting, “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.”

She also explains that “Introverts may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”

Other common misconceptions about introverts are that they’re:

  • antisocial
  • boring
  • stuck up
  • lazy
  • selfish

These make sense when you look at them from an extrovert’s mindset. Extroverts are energized by being around others, so someone who thrives in solitude can seem uninterested or uninteresting. But it’s not so.

Introverts can be social and chatty and thoroughly love going to a party, but those activities will drain their energy leaving them with an empty tank.

Different degrees of introversion

There are plenty of people who fall in the middle of the introversion/extroversion spectrum. Some introverts really thrive in quiet spaces and are very quiet, whereas I’m a pretty chatty introvert. There are no hard and fast rules and introversion can look differently depending where you are on the spectrum.

But the one constant is that we all have our energy drained when interacting with others and require solitude to recharge.

For those who fall clearly on one end of the spectrum, living with family members on the opposite end of the spectrum can be challenging.

In regards to how introverts spend their time, most prefer:

  • small groups to large social events
  • reading a book to going to a party
  • quiet to loud environments
  • meaningful conversation to superficial small talk

Can you see how introversion really isn’t conducive to being around kids most of the time?

Parenting/stepparenting is an extrovert activity

The nature of the parent/stepparent – child relationship is often one way; very give – give because kids are self-centered and require a lot of care. Depending on the age of the child, a large amount of interaction with them is required; chatting, playing, etc… but they have very little to give in return, especially to a stepparent who usually doesn’t receive the love and affections that are afforded to parents.

Since an introvert’s energy is such a precious commodity, they prefer to engage in activities with a “high rate of return,” meaning they get something meaningful from the interaction, such as connection. This is why they prefer deep conversations to superficial ones.

So you can see how caring for kids can be an activity that is extremely draining to an introvert – with a pretty low rate of return. The introvert stepmom will give and give and give during her caretaking time with the child and if her tank is low to begin with, it’s sure to be empty by the time she’s done.

And since an empty tank can breed resentment, depression, anger and exhaustion, taking the necessary time to recover and recharge is crucial to an introvert’s well being.

How to educate your family about introversion.

Most people aren’t educated about introversion and extroversion personality traits, so they usually take offense when an introvert wants her solitude.

If your stepkids are extroverts or if their mom is an extrovert and that’s what they’re used to seeing, your introvert ways are going to seem foreign to them. They might think you don’t like them or that you’re boring because you prefer reading a book to entertaining the neighborhood kids. Laying this issue out on the table for all to see can be a real eye opener for everyone involved. 

  1. Have the whole family take this online quiz to see where everyone is on the introvert/extrovert spectrum.  It can give your family a better understand of how each of you function differently.
  2. Have a conversation about introversion. Depending on their age,  you can use a battery analogy. They probably have a cell phone or gaming device that they can relate to, so explain that when they use the device the battery gets lower and lower until they need to charge it. And if they don’t charge it, the device will run out of power. Liken their usage of the device to your interacting with others.
  3. Have a discussion about how each family member’s introversion or extroversion traits show up. For example, you need to go to your alone zone after a school event where you had to interact with other parents. Or maybe your stepson or partner really thrive when the house is loud and full of people. You can even create a light-hearted way of acknowledging each other’s traits, such as saying “your introversion is showing” or “I see your extroversion is in full force.” This can serve to help family members stop taking the behaviors personally, and instead just calling it out for what it actually is: simple differences in personality.

Introverts need a plan

Introverts need to plan for recovery time because our society really isn’t introvert friendly. It’s assumed if you’re not going, going, going, then there’s something wrong with you. And if you take a time-out, then you’re obviously selfish and/or lack the skills to hack it. By being intentional and planning for solitude, you’re sure not to get caught up in society’s (or even your family’s) unrealistic expectations of you.

Here’s how:

Start by making a list of all the daily extrovert activities you engage in. By being aware of your inventory and energy requirements, you’ll be able to plan for recovery time appropriately.

Your list of extrovert activities might include:

  • kids’ sleepovers at your house
  • after-school activities where you have to interact with the parents
  • birthday parties
  • family dinners with partner’s family – or your own
  • your job

After you have your inventory, think about how much energy you’ll need to get through the activity without feeling like you’ve been run over by a bull dozer. Then schedule in time for solitude before that activity.

For example, if the kids are having a sleepover, let them know that the sleepover will be starting a little later in the evening. If your partner doesn’t support that, then make sure you go to your alone zone with headphones on. Once you feel recharged, you can make an appearance.

If you can’t find solitude before the activity, make absolute sure you plan for some afterwards. This is  non-negotiable.

You’re an adult, in control of how you spend your time. Learning to stand up for what you need will serve you greatly in these situations.

When you create your inventory, take into consideration the following:

  • The length of time of the event. If the event is longer than you’re comfortable with, can you make an early exit? If not, you may need to plan for extra recharge time before or after.   
  • Who’s involved? Will you be interacting with people you’re close to where you might experience a high rate of return? Or will it be mostly strangers and acquaintances, providing you with a lower rate of return?
  • How much interacting will be required of you? For example, an award banquet will require less social interaction than a party and therefore be less draining. 

These will help you determine whether the extrovert activity will yield a higher or lower rate of return. The higher the return, the less recovery time you may need.

A word about work

One of the most common areas introverts might not realize they’re extroverting is at work. Does your job require you to have face-to-face meetings throughout the day? Are you on the phone making calls all day long? Giving presentations? Interacting with people throughout the day? Most jobs require extroverting, so you’re going to be exhausted and need recovery time when you get home.

But then you get home and the kids are there and you’re expected to immediately jump into caretaker role, making dinner, watching the kids etc… Let your partner know that you need some recovery time before you jump into your stepmom role.

If you’re finding that’s impossible, then take a few extra minutes in the car on your way home.  Be creative and make it happen. No one benefits from you attempting to function on a low or empty tank.

How to live comfortably with extroverts

When it comes to living comfortably, everyone will have to do some compromising, since extrovert and introverts are in such conflict with what energizes them. Here are some suggestions that will help everyone get their needs met:

  • Each family member should have a place they can recharge. A quiet space for the introverts and a noisy space for the extroverts.
  • Instead of allowing kids to have sleepovers every weekend, try every other. Or they can sleep out.
  • If the rest of the family (majority) wants to watch TV or play loud video games, you can go to your quiet zone. Or if a single person wants to play a loud video game, he can use headphones.
  • On the days you have the kids, think about limiting your other extroverted activities. For example, can you schedule less face-to-face work meetings on those days?
  • Have a set time for extrovert activities that take place in the common areas of the house. “OK kids, you can play video games (noisy) for an hour , then I need you to put the headphones on.” That’s what a compromise looks like.
  • Always have an escape route. For example, if I’m going to a social function where I’ll be surrounded by either strangers or acquaintances, I know I’ll be good for 1- 2 hours and then I’ll start to get exhausted and will want to leave. Whereas my husband might want to spend more time there. So I might drive separately or he’ll plan to find another ride home,  so I won’t be stuck there after I’ve reached my limit.

Bonding with extroverted kids

When it comes to bonding with your extroverted stepkids, it will help for you to engage in activities that don’t completely drain you. It’s more important that you’re able to show up and be present for the kids to the best of your ability for a shorter length of time than it is for you to be “on” for hours but in an exhausted, depressed or resentful state.

Shoulder to shoulder activities can be great because they require less direct, face-to-face interaction. These might include cooking, teaching how to knit, coloring, watching a movie or going on a walk. It’s also okay to let the kids know that you’re happy to play for 30 minutes but then you need an adult time out.   

It may seem silly or even ridiculous that you have to plan for recovery time, but you can only benefit from doing so. Most people never think about introversion and extroversion being a reason for conflict or tension, but it often is. Being aware of these differences and having open communication on a regular basis with your family about them can ease some of the tensions and remove the misconceptions about each other.

When we stop taking behaviors personally, we’re free to respect and appreciate each other’s differences. And that makes it so much easier to live in harmony with those who are different than us.


© 2015 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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Tips for becoming a full-time stepmom

Full-time stepmomI couldn’t have imagined that 3 years after marrying my husband who had 50/50 custody, we’d be moving 3000 miles away, gaining full physical custody of both boys (then 14 and 17), while mom stayed put. Nope, I did not see that one coming.

The thing with stepfamily life is you never what’s going to happen. You marry a man with kids who sees them half of the time and you assume it will always be that way. But nothing stays the same.

In my case, we moved in hopes of giving my older stepson a fresh start. So when I was faced with the move, I didn’t think twice, because I knew it needed to be done. But that didn’t mean I was prepared for it.

Going from part-time to full-time custody is one of the most difficult changes you can experience.

Some stepmoms love spending the majority of time with their stepchildren and truly miss them when they’re gone. For these stepmoms, going full-time won’t be as big a challenge – they may even welcome the change. But if you’re one of the many stepmoms who are childfree by choice and/or do the happy dance when the kids go to the other house, transition to full-time stepmom could be extremely difficult for you.

I was one of those stepmoms. Not because of anything having to do with my stepkids, but because I was childfree for a reason.

I loved my alone time in my house.

I loved that I could clean it and it would stay clean.

I loved that my sense of responsibility could shift to myself when the kids were gone.

I loved the alone time with my husband.

So if you’re like me in that respect, be prepared to sacrifice all of that.

As a side note, some people believe if you don’t want your own kids then you shouldn’t marry a man with them. I’d have to disagree. I’ve seen a lot of good come from my relationship with my stepkids – even though I never wanted my own.

And many women who didn’t want their own children make wonderful stepmoms. They’re caring and compassionate and can easily model a peaceful existence and healthy adult relationship for the kids – because they’re not looking to fulfill a fantasy of motherhood through their stepchildren – and it doesn’t make them jerks just because they do a celebratory dance when the kids leave.

We dance because we can finally relax.

Break? What break?

One of the most exhausting things about having the kids all the time is that you don’t get a break from being “on.” Many stepmoms don’t feel 100% free to be themselves when the kids are home. Watching what you say, what you wear, what you do – and most of all, that feeling of being responsible for a child – these are always present.

Sure, ultimately the child is your partner’s responsibility, but I believe we have an instinct to be on alert at all times when a child is in our home.

I tried to explain this to my stepson. Him being a well-mannered and very well-behaved 16 year old, can’t understand why I feel a sense of responsibility for him when he’s home – regardless of whether or not my husband is home. But I’m always on alert. What’s he doing? Where is he? What’s that noise? Is he cleaning up after himself?

He’s the most responsible teenager I’ve ever met, and yet I still have those thoughts running through mind, pretty much all the time.

You never know what’s going to happen

Remember when I said everything changes? Even if you have everything planned out, even if it’s written in a custody agreement, things don’t always turn out the way you planned.

Mom’s visits that were supposed to happen every so often stopped happening.

My oldest eventually moved back when he turned 18, but my youngest loved our new home and his visits back to his mom became few and far between (negotiated between him and mom) – which meant my husband and I got even less alone time than expected. And I got even fewer breaks than I had planned on.

It became more important than ever that we carve out the time to connect as a couple.

How can I prepare?

All the preparation in the world won’t fully prepare you, because you can’t know all the road bumps you’ll encounter until they happen, but there are some things you can do ease your transition.

  • Have a discussion about house rules – Talk about what roles and responsibilities all members of the family will have so that everyone is contributing. No more letting kids off the hook because of guilt or any other reason. The full-time gig will only work if everyone is willing to pitch in. And if the kids are resistant, your partner must stand up for you and enforce the rules.

Try this: Go through a typical day from morning to night and think of all the situations that can occur and what challenges might pop up. For example, do the kids usually put up a fight at bedtime, dragging it out for an extended period of time, exhausting everyone? You won’t have the bandwidth to go through that every night, so this is a situation that needs to be addressed and rules enforced around it.  But if your partner refuses to enforce a rule around this, then he can be the one to deal with the child while you put yourself to bed.

  • Plan for your alone time – There may come a time when you think you’re going crazy and just can’t take the pressure. In order to prevent that from happening, you need to be taking care of your own needs. You need to be seeing your friends and doing things you enjoy. This is non-negotiable. Have a plan for your own alone time and self-care. If you’re an introvert, meaning social interaction drains your energy and you need alone time to recharge, your self-care will be even more crucial. 
  • Schedule alone time with your partner – This should be as routine as the kids’ after-school activities and is another non-negotiable. If you and your partner don’t make time for each other, to reconnect and honor the intimacy of your relationship, you will start to emotionally separate. If that happens, your entire situation will go downhill because you won’t have the the strength of your relationship to support you through this.
  • Have a family discussion about what changes will occur and what it might be like to be with each other all of the time, with no break. Ask the kids if they have concerns. I remember light-heartedly saying to my then 14 year old stepson,“Aren’t you a little afraid to live with me full time, with no break?!” He looked at me, shrugged, and said “no.” And that was the end of the conversation. It was clear that I was the one with doubts. But it’s good for kids to know the door is open for them to talk about their fears and expectations. If your stepkids don’t typically open up to you, your partner may need to talk to his children alone to get their real feelings about the move.

Living full-time with a stepchild who exhibits extreme behavior

If the change in custody means living full time with a troubled child, for example one experiencing drug addiction or one who has mental health issues, you might find it very difficult to be around this child, finding every excuse to leave the house.

Do what you need to preserve your sanity.

Find supportive friends, see a therapist or coach who can help you manage your feelings and provide you with tools to survive this.

Your partner needs to understand that if it’s difficult for him to manage his child, it will be 1000 times harder for you. I actually got a second job just to get myself out of the house for the majority of the day.

If you have your own children, you might feel guilty that you’ve placed them in a difficult situation. Ask yourself what can you do for them.

How can you protect them?

Is it better for them to stay at the other house while you have visits with them outside the house?

What other options do you have?

And of course, never stay put if you think your stepchild is a danger to you or your kids. Depending on the severity of your situation, you may choose to live separately from your partner until he does what he needs to do with his child.

It’s not ideal, but it can save a marriage.

What does this mean for my relationship?

A change this drastic can make or break your relationship. There’s potential for separation, but also for closeness. As you know, the dynamic between you and your partner is quite different when the kids are present.

In order to preserve the romance and connectedness, you need time alone. And I’m referring to fun, stress-free time, doing things you enjoy, laughing!  Even if it’s just going out to dinner once a week – it’s vital to your relationship.

It’s easy to make excuses why you can’t get alone time with your husband like you planned to. But it’s more important than ever that you stick to these commitments.

We started having my stepson go to his grandma’s house every few weeks, just so we could have one night alone. He resisted at first as he’s a homebody as much as I am,  but I explained to him that all adults need alone time. And once he was there, he quite enjoyed himself and the spoils that came with it.

Aside from the fun date-night stuff, try to commit to having regularly scheduled time, just the two of you, where you can discuss the happenings of the household. Has something come up that isn’t working for you? Is conflict increasing between you two?

The goal is to stay ahead of any potential relationship wreckers.

You do this by making time for open and safe communication. Safe communication means allowing each other to speak honestly without getting defensive and instead, listening for what your partner is requesting. 

What is he/she asking for?

What isn’t working and how can you work together to help change that?

You must give each other the benefit of doubt and trust that intentions are good.

You’re not complaining for the sake of complaining. Each of you is simply saying that something isn’t working and are asking for each other’s help in finding a solution.

For the Kids

If the child is moving away from the other parent, it’s important to continually encourage a relationship between them and their other parent. Remind them to call or Skype. Depending on their age, how often they contact their parent will eventually be up to them, but it’s important they know you and your partner always support that relationship.

Equally important is that the child still have alone time with the parent they’re living with. This is the perfect opportunity for you to practice your self-care and have your own alone time.

The child may also be fearful of such a huge change. It might mean a new school, new city, new friends, etc… Allow them to express their feelings without any judgement from you. Empathize with them without trying to “fix” things for them.

Consider having them see a counselor if they seem to have trouble adjusting. Sometimes they just need a safe place with a professional who can help them process their feelings.

In the end

Although going full time has the potential to be extremely stressful, it also has the potential to be a gift.

For me, the upside is that my marriage survived the turbulent time with my older stepson and now I get to enjoy my younger one. And I have to say we’ve become pretty darn close.

He shares details about his life without any prompting (what teenager does that?) and I get to watch him grow as a person by leaps and bounds.

My husband and I are teaching him how to drive and have encouraged him to get his first job, so at 16 he became certified lifeguard. He’s becoming very social, independent, has a great network of friends and is becoming an amazing young man.

While I imagine it must be difficult for his mom to hear about these milestones that are occurring in her absence, I feel incredibly lucky to be present for them.

These are memories my husband and I will have forever. These are experiences my husband and I will be looking back at with pride for years to come saying “Remember when…?” 

These are the years that (I believe) are bonding my stepson and I for the rest of our lives. And for a woman who never wanted her own kids, that’s a wonderful, unexpected gift.

This article was originally published in the July 2015 issue of SM Magazine

© 2015 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

I can help you resolve your stepfamily issues. Click here to see how!

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Stepmoms, step out of arguments between your stepchild and partner

Stepmom keeps the peaceDid you know that most kids will get resentful if their stepparent steps in when they’re having an argument with their parent?

Arguing with their parent is something they’ve been doing for years and it’s something they’re comfortable with. It’s something kids feel they have a right to do, and let’s face it, most kids are just trying to manipulate their parents in order to get what they want. You can imagine how upset they’d be at the person who threatens that, right? So if a stepparent intervenes, the child often thinks “Who the hell are you to get in my way? This is between me and my parent. We’ve been doing this long before you came along. Mind your own business.”

It can be hard for a stepmom to bite your tongue, especially if you’re triggered by their arguing style (loud outbursts, name-calling, raised voices), but unless you’ve known your stepchild for a long time, are well bonded with him and have a successful history of being the conflict whisperer, it’s best to stay out of it.

Stepping in will only cause your stepchild to resist your presence in his life, making your life even more difficult than it might already be – and your partner may also resent your intrusion. After all, he’s a big boy and doesn’t need you saving him. I get that you want to protect him, but he doesn’t need it. Let him handle arguments with his child his way.

I’m sure some of you are thinking “But I have a RIGHT to speak up in my home!” I agree, you absolutely have a right, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best course of action. Having a right to something doesn’t mean it’s what’s going to serve you best in the long run.

Think about what your end goal is: Is it more important for you to exert your rights and try to control someone else’s behavior, or is it more important to preserve future relationships with your family?

Instead, exert the power and control you have over yourself and protect yourself from unwanted behavior. Leave the house if you need to, or put on headphones to drown out the noise.

At a later time, feel free to have a family discussion or even a one-on-one with your stepchild, in a kind manner, about how his behavior affects you. But make sure you’re doing it after the fact, when everyone is calm and not triggered. And make sure your intent is to learn about your stepchild and simply share your experience without attachment to whether he changes or not.

Learning to step out of situations that don’t involve you will save your sanity and in the process you’ll be preserving your relationship with your stepchild. Ya know, for those days when he’s older, more mature and actually a pleasure to be around. 😉

© 2015 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

I can help you resolve your stepfamily issues. Click here to see how!

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Stepmoms, is less parenting better parenting?

Photo credit: Marin

Photo credit: Marin

For most stepparents, especially stepmoms, it’s easy to fall into a parenting role. You’re helping out with homework, meals, shuttling the kids back and forth, taking them to appointments, etc… Along with that, you probably feel compelled to instill your values, exert your parenting style, and teach them what you think is important for them to learn in order to become responsible adults. But what happens when you suddenly (or not so suddenly) find yourself exhausted, unhappy, frustrated and dreading their arrival?

Here’s the thing: most kids don’t naturally see their stepparents as parents or authority figures. Maybe if the child was very young when you came into the picture, but otherwise, no. So if taking on a parenting role is taking its toll on your well-being and your relationship with them, it may be time to shift your mindset and rethink how you’re doing things.

If you’ve gotten to the point where you find yourself nagging the kids so often that even you don’t like yourself, how do you expect the kids to like you? You might be thinking it’s not your job to have the kids like you, it’s your job to raise responsible children who will become responsible adults. I’m guessing that sort of thinking is what got you where you are now – emotionally spent and having a strained relationship with your stepkids. Which means that way of thinking isn’t working for you.

I’m not saying as a stepparent you can’t teach the kids anything. You absolutely can. But by nature of the stepparent role, the kids are more likely to learn from you by watching your behavior, not by you constantly correcting them. But first they have to like and respect you enough to want to emulate you.

By taking on a role that the kids don’t naturally accept you in and one that’s causing you a crazy amount of stress, you’re missing out on opportunities to enrich your relationship with them. You’re so busy reminding them to put their dishes in the sink and to pick up after themselves that you’re passing up the chance to mean something more than an authority figure to them.

“This may work for others, but not for our situation.”

If you’re a full-time stepparent and/or your partner’s parenting style is permissive, you’re probably thinking this is impossible. You think being less disciplinarian and more relaxed and loving means the house will be a sty and the kids will be running around like maniacs.

Consider these two points:

1. When you relax, your partner might step up and start disciplining more. But if you’re constantly the disciplinarian, he doesn’t have to be, and he doesn’t want to be. Just as you’ve probably become stricter because you see him as too lenient, he likely sees you as too strict and therefore is more permissive than he might otherwise be. This requires a conversation with him. Explain to him that if he stepped up just a little more, you could step down, which would help cultivate a better relationship between you and his kids.

2. Think in terms of having more balance. You can still be relaxed and fun and ask the kids to put their dishes in the sink.  You’d just be doing it in a kinder, more loving way. And, when kids feel like you’re on their side, they’re more likely to listen to and respect you.

So ask yourself…

How would things change for you if instead of feeling your job is to raise responsible stepchildren, it was to teach them how to be authentic and at peace with themselves? What if your job was to be a safe place for them to land? To be kind and open with them? Accepting of them? To laugh more with them?  What if your job was to let the kids see you at your happiest, giving them permission to be at their happiest?  How would that change your life, and theirs?

© 2015 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

I can help you resolve your stepfamily issues. Click here to see how!

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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

I can help you resolve your stepfamily issues. Click here to see how!

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

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

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:


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 tips for liking your stepchild – when you don’t

Photo credit: Clare Bloomfield

Photo credit: Clare Bloomfield

**Join us for the Stepmom Sanctuary Retreat 2016! 

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

I can help you resolve your stepfamily issues. Click here to see how!

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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

I can help you resolve your stepfamily issues. Click here to see how!

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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

I can help you resolve your stepfamily issues. Click here to see how!

You might also enjoy:


Why stepparenting is harder than parenting


**Join us for the Stepmom Sanctuary Retreat 2016! 


A 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

I can help you resolve your stepfamily issues. Click here to see how!

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