Mother’s Day for Stepmothers

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There are way too many stepmoms who find themselves silently sobbing in a dark corner of a closet because they weren’t acknowledged on Mother’s Day. Don’t let this be you. You’re way too important to feel like you don’t matter on a day that, let’s be honest, is more about overpriced flowers than anything else. So, here are some alternatives to the ol’ hiding-in-the-closet routine.

1. Celebrate StepMother’s Day instead! Yes, there is actually a day set aside for all of you women who became moms by marrying a man with kids. It falls on the Sunday after Mother’s Day, which is May 19th this year.

Celebrating Stepmother’s Day also lets the kids off the hook from feeling like they’re betraying mom if they celebrate you on her day.

2. Be proactive: If you expect others to read your mind, you will be disappointed. You must let your husband know exactly what you want. No hinting here, ladies. Men don’t like hints, so be specific: Honey, it would mean the world to me if you helped the kids get me a card” – or whatever it is you’d like.

3. Celebrate with girlfriends. Married to man who won’t be in town or has a block against holidays? Spend the day with your girlfriends. Let them know you’re worried you might get depressed and need them to support you on this day. Celebrate with people who know and love you!

4. Celebrate yourself. Women don’t do this nearly often enough. I always say no one will treat you better than you treat yourself. So splurge. Take a spa day. Buy yourself some (overpriced) flowers. Or just enjoy a quite space with no obligations to anyone else. Acknowledge yourself for how you’ve handled the stressors of the stepfamily, for the courage you have to be apart of something that can be so difficult on some days. And for the strength to keep going.

5. Be realistic. It’s not about you.  OK, so your fears were realized and the kids ignored you. This has nothing to do with you. Kids are self-centered by nature. They can still love, care about you and cherish their relationship with you and still not realize how important it was to acknowledge you.  Your husband, on the other hand, should be ashamed of himself if he didn’t take this into his own hands and get you something from the kids. Especially if you followed #2!

© 2013 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

Why Some Stepmoms Have Trouble Nurturing Their Stepchildren

Stepfamily unfairDo you find yourself up against a mental block when it comes to cleaning up after your stepchild or nurturing her? Many stepmoms will gladly make their husband an afternoon snack or pick up his socks, but when they see their stepchild’s dirty dishes stacking up, or when they’re asked to make them a special snack, some experience a triggered reaction that feels something like “What am I, her maid?”

If this sounds like you, then you might also feel shame about this automatic resistance, thinking how can I be so nurturing with my husband but then feel a complete block with my stepchild? 

Well, it may all come down to reciprocity, or lack of.

One definition of reciprocity is: “The practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit.”

Did you catch the phrase mutual benefit?

If you’re in a happy, healthy relationship, then you know that reciprocity is a vital part of that. You’re happy nurturing your husband because he may support you emotionally, provide a good home, make you laugh, fix things, etc… Maybe he’s the one staying home with the kids while you’re working. Whatever the situation may be, reciprocity is at play.

But this is often missing in the relationship between stepmom and stepchild, simply because that’s the nature of a child/adult relationship.  Even though we know intellectually that we can’t expect a “mutually beneficial” relationship with a child, that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier for stepmoms to feel like we’re giving our all and receiving nothing in return. Many stepmoms don’t even receive a “please” or “thank you” from their stepchild.

Now, a parent might say, “So what? As parents we don’t receive a please or thank you either.” The difference is, as Jeanette Lofas has said, the child is an extension of the parent, thereby making it easier for a parent to give selflessly.

And although it’s often said that parenting is a thankless job,  I would argue this point because parents do receive something: love. Unconditional love and a biological bond that can’t be broken.  Granted, they don’t receive these things because they do for their children, but they still receive them. Sort of like an unintentional reciprocity.

This is why basic manners, such as please and thank you, from a stepchild, can mean the world to a stepmom. It can make the difference between feeling resentful and feeling good about helping.

What to do?

  • Let your husband and your stepchild (if age appropriate) know how far please and thank you would go. Request to incorporate these manners into your house rules.
  • Adjust your expectations: don’t always expect appreciation from your stepchild, but do expect it from your partner. Let him know that you need him to acknowledge your efforts with his child. Frequently.
  • Have compassion for yourself. You’re not evil and there’s nothing wrong with you. This is just one of those challenges that being a stepmom brings with it.
  • Try to look at nurturing as an investment. Even if your stepchild has two involved parents, your influence will still help shape the person he will become. And when he is an adult, he will likely look back and be thankful that you treated him with such kindness.
  • Ask your partner to step up in the parenting department so you can step back. The best parenting books all say “don’t do for kids what they can do for themselves.” Wouldn’t it be nice if the parents took that advice to heart, so every once in a while you got to spoil your stepchild without feeling like she’s missing out on some life lesson or that you’re going to ruin her chances of becoming a responsible adult?

© 2013 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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Thank You: From a Divorced Dad to His Wife

ID-100106167This is a comment a divorced dad left on my blog post “Stepmoms, you knew what you were getting into.” He sees his wife’s contributions and sacrifices with absolute clarity and appreciation, and I wanted all stepmoms to benefit from his sentiment. Thanks, David!

Hello Stepmoms,

First off I would like to thank Jenna for taking the time to share something that should be required reading for anyone involved with a stepfamily. Every member of a stepfamily has their own struggles to deal with, but what so often gets overlooked are the efforts of the stepmom. She has adopted a family that wasn’t her own, but so often has to pickup the shattered pieces of a divorce, wounded kids and distressed husbands, and then carry these broken hearts as if they were her own.

Never knowing what to expect, she ventures into each day frazzled from the day before. Disrespected by kids, exhausted by court battles, clinging to her own sanity and always asking the question, “how did I get to this place in my life, when all I wanted was the love of the man I married.” There was no way you could have known the trials associated with that love, or the depths of strength you would have to tap into just to make it through another day. You are the unsung heros of your family.

I never realized even a fraction of what I was going to put my wife through, even before we got married. At 44 she had never had kids of her own. I had three kids from a previous marriage, all of which had been emotionally abused by their bio-mom. Like the story goes, before we were married, my two younger daughters took to my wife, the younger one even calling her mom a couple of times. But then entered my 22 year old son with a chip on his shoulder, and single handedly turned them against both of us and then blasted my wife for no reason other than to try to rob me of my happiness because he was mad at me for seeing someone new.

Not knowing what to expect, having never had kids, my wife had only shown love to all of them and this was a stab in the heart. Since then we have battled to put things back together again and have had several struggles with my girls, guardian ad litems, custody battles, counselors and senseless court hearings.

Often her sanity has hung from a thread, and not even our wedding day was completely happy because of my sulking daughter. My wife has been through hell and back and still she struggles to do all that she can to understand how to be a better stepmom. I love her more each day for the love and endurance that she gives to each of us, especially since so little is returned back to her. This is a very weak tribute to her devotion and not enough words can be said to honor her efforts. But if nothing else I hope she knows that she is loved.

Stepmoms are very special women that deserve far more than they get, and I am thankful for all of the sacrifices and devotion you make to better the lives that you touch, and the love that you give. God bless all of you!

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“Why does my husband’s ex-wife hate me?”

 

Why does my husband's ex-wife hate me

Learn how to free yourself from a difficult ex. Click here to register!

Read this article and the nearly 800 comments it generated on Huffington Post!

Countless stepmoms can’t understand why their partner’s ex refuses to acknowledge them or treat them with basic human decency. They continually ask “Why does my husband’s ex-wife hate me? I’ve never done anything to her.”

And the truth is, not all exes who act out are high-conflict. Some just have a hard time adjusting to a new reality that includes a stepmom. So here is a list of the most common reasons your husband’s ex acts like she hates you.

1. She doesn’t hate you, she hates what you represent: The failure of her marriage, the break up of her family, the woman her ex-husband became a better man for, the fear that she might have ruined her child’s life by not being able to make the marriage work.

2. She’s afraid her kids will love you more than they love her. An irrational fear, as the chances of that happening are basically nil, but a common fear nonetheless.

3. She perceives you as overstepping boundaries.  This could include showing up at a parent-teacher conference, forcing the kids to call you mom (yes, that does actually happen), calling the kids “mine,” posting pictures of the kids on your Facebook page, trying to co-parent with her by responding to messages sent to your husband, etc…

4. She perceives you as overstepping boundaries by participating in events she believes are reserved for “mom” and participating in events not only reserved for mom, but that are “firsts.”  These might include: taking your stepdaughter to buy her first bra or getting her first haircut; participating in any sort of cosmetic experience (hair color/new hair style/ mani-pedi day); talking to her about the birds and the bees; painting her nails or coloring/cutting her hair the way you like it or similar to yours (even if your step is a teen and she requests this, it could still push mom’s buttons).

Think of any sort of milestone and you can be sure that mom wants to be there for it.

5. She has unresolved grief about her divorce. For a long time she could just ignore the painful feelings that accompany divorce. She didn’t really have to face it. She may even be remarried, but never actually grieved the loss of her marriage and family. Enter stepmom, and suddenly it’s real and it’s in her face.

6. You act as a mirror for her. When she looks at your strengths, all she sees are her weaknesses.  If she never thought she was a good business woman and you own your own business, that insecurity is magnified. Same could be said for your intelligence, physical appearance, age, housekeeping skills, creativity, fashion sense, how much her kids enjoy being around you and your happy marriage.

7. She perceives you as doing all the parenting while dad is “let off the hook.” Stepmoms often help their husbands out with household duties and life in general. That’s what a marriage is all about: partnership. You shuttle the kids back and forth to school or help with homework, you schedule appointments, etc… Often this has to do with gender roles, but all mom sees is that at her house she’s doing all the work while at yours you’re taking care of the kids and dad “does nothing but works.

8. Now that you’ve come along, dad is asking for more parenting time. With your support, your husband may now see that he should exercise his visitation more or that he’s now able to provide more stability for his kids. In turn, he requests more parenting time and/or parental input.  You’d think this would be a good thing, but this change in dynamic can be threatening and/or scary for mom. Not everyone likes change. It’s easy for her to pinpoint your presence as being responsible for this.

9. She doesn’t know you. When mom sends her kids off to be with their dad, and this woman she doesn’t even know will have full access to them, she can feel like she’s being a bad parent. She doesn’t automatically trust you just because dad does. But at the same time,  she doesn’t necessarily want to meet you. A no-win situation for all involved.

10. She sees her ex-husband being a different man with you.  It can be painful to see the man you think treated you so poorly, treating another women like a princess. She might think he’s being a fraud, or she might think “Why wasn’t I worthy of being treated like that?” She might still be grieving the loss of her marriage while he’s moved on. It’s nearly impossible for her to have good feelings towards you when she’s still processing – or in denial of – the loss of her family.

11. You actually did something worthy of her negative feelings:  Are you consciously or subconsciously trying to make her look like a bad mom? Are you trying to prove to your husband that you’re a better wife than she was? Are you trying to make your stepkids love you more than they love her? Do you try to show her up in any way? Do you want the school faculty, PTA or your neighborhood moms to think you’re a better caretaker than she is?  Take a look at your behavior and your motivations. You’re going to have to be honest with yourself to see how you might be contributing to the high-conflict dynamic.

© 2012 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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National Stepfamily Day!

Did you know that September 16th is the “official” day for stepfamilies to celebrate themselves? Here’s the back story on how National Stepfamily Day came to be.

Here’s to wishing all you hardcore stepfamilies who have managed to keep it together (as hard as it might be on some days) a Happy Stepfamily Day. Now go out and celebrate yourselves!!

© 2012 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

Post-Divorce Parenting Mistakes…According to Dr. Phil

Wow, in this article, Dr. Phil nailed some of the very common and unfortunate behaviors we see parents making after divorce.

According to the article:

“Dr. Phil lists some of the biggest and most frequent mistakes post-divorce parents typically make:

  • Sabotaging your child’s relationship with the other parent.
  • Using your child as a pawn to “get back at” or hurt your ex.
  • Using your child to gain information or to manipulate and influence your ex.
  • Transferring hurt feelings and frustrations toward your ex onto your child. (You may be particularly prone to this if your child bears physical or behavioral resemblances to your ex.)
  • Forcing your child to choose a side when there’s a conflict in scheduling or another planning challenge.
  • Turning family events attended by both divorced parents into pressure cookers. Events that call for sensitivity include birthdays, holidays, school programs, extracurricular activities and performances.
  • Depending too much on your children for companionship and support because you’re hurt and lonely and have adopted a siege mentality: “It’s us against the world.” This isn’t a healthy position for either you or your child to adopt.
  • Treating your child like an adult because you’re lonely or just want help. It is inappropriate to give your child an adult job.
  • Becoming so emotionally needy that your child develops feelings of guilt if he or she spends time or even wants to spend time with your ex, friends, grandparents or others.
  • Converting guilt over the divorce into overindulgence when it comes to satisfying your child’s material desires.”

I can only hope parents who are (unknowingly) sabotaging their children wake up, smell the dysfunction and get the help and support they need.

Which of the above behaviors have you seen the other household exhibit? Which have you exhibited? 

(Click the link at the beginning of the article to read about healthy post-divorce strategies)

© 2012 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

 

What moms should tell their daughters about their stepmoms

Q: Mary from Vermont asks: What, if anything, should I tell my 12 year old daughter about her new stepmom?

A: The best thing Mary could do for her daughter is give her permission to like and love her stepmom.

Children, especially girls, often take on the feelings of their moms in regards to the other parent remarrying. If mom isn’t happy about it, the daughter will often mimic that emotion, causing conflict in the new stepfamily and inner turmoil for the child.

To quote Wednesday Martin, author of Stepmonster,  “The best thing a mom can do post-divorce when her ex-partner repartners is to explicitly release her kids from their loyalty binds by saying, “I’m a grown up. It won’t hurt my feelings if you’re friendly with Suzie. I hope you will give her a chance.” It takes a lot to say this many times, but the payoff is kids of any age who don’t feel torn down the middle.”

© 2012 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

(Photo credit: Freedigitalphotos.net)

Everyday Voices: Freakonomics – Nannies and Stepmoms: One and the Same?

It was a hard day for me when I had to let my nanny go (I know, Veuve Clicquot problems!).  My daughter, Zemrie was turning four and heading to preschool.  I also have a fabulous stepson, Zac who is nine.  Julie has been a life saver, assisting our family since my daughter was born.  She has even watched and played games with Zac, the Zman, on a few occasions.

I was busy doing some work, housecleaning, planning, etc… and as Julie left one day, I said nonchalantly, “Well, you know the little lady is heading to school, so we will be seeing a lot less of you in a couple months.” I gave a little pouty-lip frown and head tilt, then as I went onto writing the grocery list, I looked up and noticed her crying.  I thought, dear God woman, I am not sending you back to Honduras!  We live in LA, you will find a new job in a week!  My other thought was that of guilt…I will get online and put my attanae out and help her with a new gig.

Man, was I so off with my thinking.

She looked up with watery eyes and spilled, “I will miss Zemrie so much, I have been with your family for four years.”  I stopped in my tracks, what??  This isn’t about a job or cash flow??  You love children that are not yours??

She continued on as I stood there dumfounded.  “This is the hardest part of this job.  Leaving the kids I love, teach and adore.”  My chin started to quiver… I hadn’t felt a tear over something like this in so long… I thought this was a duty for her… an obligation.

Duty and obligation?  Sounds so familiar to me.  Most people believe stepmoms are parents out of obligation…something you must do, based on the situation, which is only part of it.

I stood there and looked at Julie and thought to myself, I feel a connection and empathy (or is it sympathy…I always forget).  If anything happens to my husband or we decide to separate, I will also be “let go” from Zac’s life, a boy I have been raising since he was four…most courts would make you really fight for even slight visitation and most likely there would be none…and would fade overtime.  No biological connection is really a doozie, but it doesn’t make the love any less, as I also realize even with Julie.

I began to watch Julie while she was with my daughter, something I have never done through her eyes… only mine… judging, making sure she was teaching correctly, giving my daughter the utmost attention and the right amount of hugs and guidance…something that I am sure most do when watching stepmoms, including our spouses, in-laws, friends, biomoms, teachers and complete strangers.

I noticed so many things Julie did that I never knew before… the truly selfless behaviors, everyday, many hours of the day… she certainly did not get the payment, monetary or other-wise that she deserves.  It’s priceless to find a gem like that.

My negativity started coming out again… will she pull away?  Will she become flaky?  Ugh, I want to slap myself, but I just put on some really good face cream I ordered from Ole Henriksen….

None of that happened over her last months.  It seemed like she was even more attentive and caring, because it was genuine.  Hand me the tissues and waterproof mascara!

I talked to another mother who works with Julie and she told me she had a waitlist for her services!  People that lived closer to her than I do and would even pay her more than what I was paying.  I couldn’t believe this.  She loved our family and chose the less desirable route for her…a difficult choice to say the least.  Something most of us stepmoms can certainly relate to…not that I would even put myself on the pedestal I now put our Julie on…she makes me want to have another baby so she can come back!

Then I come to my senses… hell no, I’m not that crazy, pass me the Malbec and I will just sit back and remember how lucky I am to know someone else who loves children that she shares no dna with… we were a lot more similar than I ever thought we would be.

Cheers to you and people like you Julie!  You make me know the term ‘biological’ is truly just a technical one.  Visit anytime, it’s a court order!

(photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

© 2012 Sara Stanley   All Rights Reserved

Sara Stanley is a biomom, stepmom, stepdaughter and an audacious stand up comedian and writer who has been featured on The Style Network and E! Entertainment Television.  She has also written copy for National Campaign ads.  Sara is a business woman and telecommutes from home for a successful finance company as well (gotta pay the bills!)  info@sarastanley.com

 

Our Family Wizard – Intrusive, Harassing Communications – Be Gone!

Does your partner have a contentious relationship with his ex? Does she call, email or text him multiple times a day for seemingly unimportant issues? Perhaps to rehash an old argument or let him know about a movie she saw that reminded her of him? Or maybe she’s addicted to criticizing and/or blaming him for her unhappiness?

Well, I’m here to tell you about a wonderful tool that might just put an end to (or at least lessen) the intrusive, harassing communications.

Our Family Wizard is a third-party website for divorced parents in high-conflict situations. It’s a place where all communications can occur. Everything is time-stamped and recorded for use in court should the need arise. As their website states, No more “he said, she said.”

Forty-four states have actually court ordered its use among co-parents as a way to diffuse the aggressive communications between co-parents in hopes of  keeping the children out of the middle.

When the other parent sends a new message or does anything else on the site, the other parent gets notified. The parents can choose their method and frequency of notifications, preventing your dinner and other family activities from constantly being interrupted.

There is also a shared calendar, expense reports, private journaling tool and family resource center. Everything that co-parents need is right there in one place.

Of course this may not stop every parent from sending harassing messages – but at least now they’re readily accessible, with a nice little “print” function, to present in court if need be. In fact, the courts can actually log in and see everything for themselves. Very cool. 

The website does a much better job than I do at describing in detail all the features it offers. So do your family a favor and check it out!

Note for stepparents: There’s a “third party” feature for stepparents, grandparents, etc… It’s pretty limited as far as the options available, but you can sign in and see the shared calendar and receive messages. Unfortunately, you can’t add events to the calendar.  I’ve already contacted OFW about adding that function for stepparents, seeing as (especially stepmoms) we do most of the scheduling. 🙂

© 2012 Jenna Korf   All Rights Reserved

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Acknowledging Loss and Embracing Your Life As a Stepmom

Embracing stepmom roleAlthough being a stepmom can be awesome, you’ve probably experienced some losses along the way. And although the losses are a result of your choice to be with the man you love, that doesn’t make them any less valid or painful.

Most losses need to be mourned in order to properly move on from them, so they don’t keep creeping up causing you emotional distress and inner conflict.

People often associate the act of mourning with extreme tragedy, like the loss of a loved one. But there are many other situations where grief is appropriate and mourning is necessary.

Let’s be honest, no eight year old plays dress up pretending to be a stepmom. Our life is not what we expected it to be. And often there is something getting in our way of completely embracing this life we’ve chosen.

Some losses that stepmoms may initially experience are:

  • Inability to have your own children if your husband has had a vasectomy or if finances for his children make it impossible
  • Experience of “firsts” with your husband – marriage, children, buying a house, etc…
  •  The phase of falling in love and the growing of a relationship without interference from anyone (ex-wife and kids)
  • Control over every aspect of your life

Losses along the way may include:

  • Having a healthy relationship with your stepchild’s mom
  • Having a mutual, loving relationship with your stepchildren
  • The planned future or your children’s future due to financial obligations of your husband to his children and/or ex-wife
  • A child-free future
  • Being stuck geographically

It’s difficult to move forward into the present if you’re still holding onto the past. You’re always going to be resisting what IS at the same time you’re trying to move forward; like trying to walk into the ocean against 12-foot waves.

Mourning your loss, whatever it may be, gives you a chance to look honestly at your thoughts and feelings about the situation. You must move into the pain (as uncomfortable as it is) in order to move through it and come out the other side.

Once you shine a light on something, it’s not nearly as scary as what’s lurking in the dark. 

My Mourning…

For me, the loss I needed to mourn was the future I had always pictured for myself, which didn’t include kids.

I never wanted my own children. It was just something that never appealed to me. I loved my “me” time. I always envisioned my future traveling with my husband, wherever and whenever we wanted. My life, my dreams, goals and plans never involved kids.

But once I met my husband all that went out the window. I was trying to embrace this new lifestyle I had chosen and couldn’t figure out why I was having so much trouble adjusting.

With my husband’s encouragement, I attended a personal retreat to recharge. After a few days of being alone and contemplating my situation, it hit me.

I was still holding onto my dream of a childless future even though there was no possibility of it. I was subconsciously resisting what my life had become.

All those plans and dreams needed to be put to rest and replaced with new ones, but that couldn’t happen until I acknowledged that I was still holding on to them.  In that moment of realization, the flood gates opened, and all this pent up emotion came spilling out.

But I didn’t just have to acknowledge my grief in order to let it go, I needed to mourn the loss. I had to face what giving up that future meant to me. A lifelong collection of plans and dreams gone. I had to face, head on, all the painful emotions that I was feeling as a result of the choice I made to be with my husband.

After I experienced the grieving process, it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my chest, that I didn’t even know was there. I was healing. And with it came a new excitement.

I was finally able to look at my new future and be excited about the possibilities it brought. 

That was the turning point for me in my stepfamily. That’s when I started to relax around the kids and actually enjoy them. And they in turn did the same.

How to Mourn

Mourning takes different shapes. It is a very personal and individual process and there’s no set timetable for it. Some ways to mourn include: journaling about your losses and the emotions you’re experiencing, joining a support group, turning to your spirituality or religion, etc…

After you’ve gotten really clear on what you’re mourning and have felt all the feelings that come up, it’s time to start looking ahead. It’s time to start looking at the potential in your future; who you might become, the strengths you might gain, what you might learn, and most importantly, the whole reason you’re here in the first place – your hopes and vision for your relationship with your partner.

Even though the process is painful, it’s also cathartic. The outcome is a healed part of yourself and the ability to fully embrace what IS instead of being stuck in the “what is NOT.”

Also, don’t let anyone tell you what is okay to feel grief about and what is not. Your pain and what you perceive as a loss is not up for discussion or judgement. Whatever you feel is valid.

What have your experiences been in regards to loss? Are you holding on to something that’s preventing you from embracing your life?

© 2012 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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