Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Becoming A Stepmom 101

Wicked stepmothers dominate fairy tales. Manipulative stepmoms spice up movie plots. And media stories often highlight stepmoms gone bad.

By Rebecca Nappi

The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash


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Janice Marich's future husband, Douglas, made this clear while they were dating: He was a package deal.

The other part of the package? His young daughter, Elizabeth.

She embraced it all, and now, 20 years into her marriage with Douglas, she can't imagine a life without Elizabeth Thomas, now 30; Elizabeth's husband, Nicholas; and their three children, Sadie, 7, Emma, 5, and Nathan, 1.

"She gave me a family," Marich said. "She gave me grandchildren."

Successful stepmoms like Marich aren't all that rare in our society, but you'd never know it.

Wicked stepmothers dominate fairy tales. Manipulative stepmoms spice up movie plots. And media stories often highlight stepmoms gone bad.

In Portland, Terri Horman, the stepmother of missing 7-year-old Kyron, is under suspicion in the boy's June 4 disappearance. Even before suspicious revelations about her surfaced, website commenters had convicted Horman of the crime.

"Follow the stepmom!" one wrote in a typical sentiment on a CBS website. "Too often this is how these stories end up."

But in reality, stories involving stepmoms usually don't end in tragedy, though the stepmother-stepchildren relationship is filled with emotional and psychological land mines.

A University of North Carolina School of Social Work report examining dozens of stepmother studies showed that being a stepmom is more difficult than being a stepdad, and stepmothers also experience more anxiety and depression.

Plus, stepmoms carry this extraordinary burden: The quality of stepmother-stepchildren relationship is the major predictor of family adjustment in remarried families, according to the report.

With that pressure, how does any stepmom get it right? Well, many do. And successful stepmothers have several things in common, including:

Diana Hornbogen, a marriage and family therapist at St. Joseph Family Center in Spokane and a stepmother herself, does seminars on blended families.

"The whole myth of instant love is a big setup," she says. "Kids are going to be indifferent. They don't know this woman from Adam."

Elizabeth was 10 when Marich came into her life. She lived with her mom two hours away, and she spent every other weekend with her dad and Marich.

Douglas' work schedule precluded him from picking up Elizabeth; Marich volunteered.

In those rides, "we established a bond," Marich said.

Elizabeth said the bond also evolved during bedtime talks.

"I remember lying on the bed together and chatting," she said. "I felt like I could talk to her about anything. For me, that was really meaningful.

"It was difficult to have divorced parents. My mother was busy in her own life, and we didn't have that intimate time to just talk about whatever."

Hornbogen advises stepmoms: "Don't jump in too quickly. You are not obligated to love the kids, and they are not obligated to love you.

"Be friends first. It may take a long time — if ever — to develop real love for one another."

Marich made it clear from the beginning that she wasn't there to replace Elizabeth's mother. She and Douglas even invited Elizabeth's mom to extended-family gatherings.

Stepmothers often walk into families deep in grief, Hornbogen pointed out. In some families, the biological mother has died. In most, the mother and father have divorced.

In her parenting-children -of-divorce classes "we talk about a divorce being a death," Hornbogen said.

"For the husband and wife, it's the death of a relationship. For the kids, it's the death of a family as they knew it."

Stepmothers who hope by stepping into a "supermom" role — or who try to replace the biological mother — exacerbate the grief.

The best help is to listen without judgment when the children open up, the experts say.

On one occasion, Marich said to Elizabeth: "It's OK if you want your parents to get back together."

This acknowledged Elizabeth's feelings about her parents. Reunification is a common desire for many children of divorce.

"In divorced families, you hear a lot of negative talk about the other (parent)," Elizabeth said. "Janice never, ever spoke badly about my mom. So I never felt like I had to take sides."

"When dad was single, divorced or widowed, his times with his kids were spent one-on-one," Hornbogen said. "Now, there's competition. The kids have to share daddy's attention."

"We always gave Elizabeth dad and daughter time," Marich said. "I was not there to put a wedge in her relationship with him."

Elizabeth remembered: "Dad always likes to go for country rides in the car. A lot of times Janice said, 'You two go ahead and have some time together.'

"For me, it felt like I could talk to my dad with privacy. It was awesome she offered that. Even now, she'll say, 'Why don't you and dad go shopping together and I'll stay back.' It's essential to make sure the child feels important in their parent's life and heart."

Marich was determined from the beginning to be a good stepmother, because she experienced firsthand the sadness that can arise in tense stepparenting relationships.

Her mom lost her own mother at age 3. The father didn't remarry until Marich's mother was in her 20s, but Marich's mother never overcame her resentment.

If people thought the stepmother was her mother, she quickly corrected them with a stern: "She's my stepmother!"

Marich's great hope was for Elizabeth never to feel that same tension about her. She hasn't.

A Spokane County United Way vice president for community relations, Marich has also been involved in the Our Kids: Our Business campaign for four years.

The Our Kids initiative stresses that the more people who love children, the better. Stepmoms, if they understand the unique challenges of step-mothering — negative cultural stereotyping most of all — can make a huge difference.

"When you have an opportunity to love, do," Marich said.

Source: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/living/2012569662_stepmoms09.html

Monday, June 28, 2010

Something's Wrong? Signs To Look For In Your Kids

2 Things To Look For. 3 Ways To Help


Once you've told your child you're getting divorced, what's your biggest concern? For most parents, it's maintaining stability for their youngsters, according to marriage counselors informally polled by divorce360.com. "Couples are most commonly concerned about the well-being of their children..." said Dr. Brenda Shoshanna, founder of Everyone Wins Mediation, in New York. According to Shoshanna and the other experts, there are two additional major issues of concern for parents who were splitting up:

1. The effect a divorce would have on the child's behavior and their school performance.
Stephanie Burchell, Ph.D., and a licensed marriage family therapist, of Dallas, Texas, said parents worry about "the disruption of the child's home and lifestyle, particularly when having to transfer between two different households at various times of the week. "

Keep reading on d360

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

How to "Parent" Adult Step Children. Is It Possible?

How To "Parent" Adult Step Children. Is It Possible?


Q: My husband and I each lost our spouses after more than 30 years of marriage. We’ve been married for three years. I have three daughters and he has three sons; all are married adults. My daughters have embraced my second husband, but two of my husband’s sons have never accepted me. I’ve tried very hard to get to know them and be warm and friendly. They are rude, mean and rejecting, and it hurts me deeply. My husband has talked with these two sons about their behavior, however, he also tiptoes around them because he doesn’t want to lose his relationship with them (nor do I want him to). I’ve told my husband to go without me to “his” family functions although this doesn’t seem to be the right thing either. What are your suggestions for smoothing out this precarious triangle? Do you have some recommendations to help resolve these family-relations issues.

A: Al and Ramona have been married 58 years. Here’s what they say:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What do kids really think of remarriages?

Remarriage: Children Usually Not as Happy about Remarriage as Adults


No matter what the age through adulthood, children make room for extended families. The toughest obstacle for children in the sense of loss, and how well they have processed the loss. While remarriage may be an exciting time for the adults, children don’t share in the enthusiasm. Most parents are sensitive to the child’s needs but perplexed by the response. Here’s why…

Younger children tend to blend easier and respond better to new marriages. Only children welcome having new step siblings if warmly welcomed. Adolescents go through a variety of stages, to being resistant, rejecting, or ignoring warmth from new stepparents. However, remember, adolescents can be challenging, and vie for independence without remarriage issues. They do, however, seem more welcoming to step siblings. Also, adolescents who are closer to leaving home tend to be more open to the stepparent.

Keep reading on d360

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ex Is TOO Involved.....Help?

What Can I Do to Stop My Husband's Ex-Wife from Coming Between Me and His Son?


Dear Lisa:

My husband has two children from a previous marriage. We now have custody of one of them, his son. His son and I are extremely close, and his ex-wife hates this. She will do anything to stop this, including lie to her children about me. I feel so alone at times because I feel that his ex runs the show. My husband gives in to her every whim because he doesn’t want to cause friction. On the one hand, I can see where he is coming from. However, when she is interfering with my personal life, I wish he would stick up for me more. That hurts me the most. She will call and say the stupidest things because she knows she can get to me. She leaves nasty, vile messages on my cell phone. I just can’t ignore it anymore when she is berating me and putting me down in front of my stepson.

I have such a great relationship with my stepson, and I am scared of her coming between us. He is young and very impressionable. We try to limit their conversations, because we feel she only makes things harder for him. She is trying to use that in a custody case now (She is trying to change our custody arrangement). Usually his conversations with her end with him crying. I feel like I am at the end of my rope, and I don’t know what to do anymore.

Keep reading here on d360

Monday, May 10, 2010

What? Really? No Chores For Kids?

Each time my husband’s daughter comes to visit, it’s a fight. We live in another state and she stays with us for months at a time during her school vacations. With Spring Break coming up I’m anticipating yet another problem. For example, during her last visit I asked her clean her bathroom.Her father overheard me and chastised me for asking her to do chores when she’s visiting. He’s very protective of her and likes her to relax when she is with us. But, we can’t assign chores to those who live with us and not to those who live here part of the time.That doesn’t seem fair. What do you think?

Well you can, but we predict your family will break into factions—your side against his side—and, if that is the case, be prepared for the possibility of another divorce.It’s rare once family members take sides that the stepfamily stays in tact.

Non-custodial parents are often afraid if things are too tough around the house, their child will not want to return.We aren’t trying to paint the ultimate picture of doom.You can save it, but it’s going to take some backtracking and sincere dedication to the commitment your husband and you have made. This is when many say, “Of course, we are committed to each other. We got married!” But, that commitment often wanes when mom or dad thinks their child is being singled out or picked on.

The key word in your husband’s exclamation is visiting. Non-custodial parents are often afraid if things are too tough around the house, their child will not want to return. So, to ensure his daughter will want to come back, your husband likes her to feel like it’s a vacation when she comes to see him.It’s not uncommon in situations like this that parents start trying to bribe their kids with puppies or new bikes or the newest version of Rock Band in the hopes that the new stuff will keep them coming back. In his defense, he’s trying his best, but what he’s doing creates problems on many different fronts. First, his relationship with his daughter can stay stuck in the “visiting” mode and not progress to the deep father/daughter relationship we are sure both would like. Second, the obvious favoritism can cause animosity between your husband and the other children in the home, and between siblings as well. The other kids will reject her because they perceive that Dad likes her best, and they will reject him for the same reason. So by acting as you describe your husband is actually sabotaging his relationship with everyone—including his daughter--by openly favoring her. Best thing you can do at this point is get on the same page with Dad. Establish rules and treat all like family, and dad might look into counseling to help him conquer his insecurities associated with being a non-custodial parent.

Source: BonusFamilies.com

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Getting Remarried?

Whether it's your first marriage and you are marrying someone who is divorced with children, or trying to balance warring divorced parents while planning your own wedding, there are lots of questions that come up when organizing a blended family wedding.
If you have a link to suggest, email it to info@thestepfamilylife.com.


The Knot.Com
This was my personal favorite website when I planned my wedding. Typing "second wedding" in the search engine got more than 100 links. They also have some great Q&A responses for brides and grooms trying to iron out how to involve both biological parents and stepparents in weddings - including seating arrangements, recognition, etc.

Keep reading here