Let's Talk Making Memories Stepparenting

Traditions Aren’t Just for Holidays

Every family has their own traditions, especially on the holidays. Hot chocolate on Christmas eve, the Memorial Day wiffle ball tournament, even knowing who gets the wishbone at Thanksgiving dinner….these are all special and cherished moments. But you shouldn’t just reserve traditions only for the holidays. Traditions can also be daily moments that bring your family closer together.

Even with our hectic schedules we always make our time spent together as a family a priority and dinner is a great way to make that happen. Do we spend every night gathered around a dining room table? No, but we enjoy our favorite shows together and still have a great time. We also have a goodnight ritual with the kids, which consists only of talking about our favorite part of the day while cuddling together. So simple, yet so incredibly special.

Traditions don’t have to be a big production, and they can be flexible. As Parker and Anika get older, our nightly talks may become a little different and that’s ok. Especially with blended families, flexibility about traditions helps everyone feel a part of the family. The goal is to just spend time together, and you don’t need the excuse of a holiday to make that happen.

Let's Talk Stepparenting

The “Wicked” Stepparent: Don’t Take it Personally

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

Blending a family is no easy task. As much as you may want your partner’s child or children to accept you, it can be a slow process. Some children are ready and want a new parent in the household, but others may resist. It’s important to not only keep things in perspective but understand that a resistant child may have struggles that have little to do with you personally.

An unfortunate aspect of stepparenting is that before you, there was another primary adult in the child’s life. That person may or may not still be in the child’s life, but regardless, you are a clear sign that the child’s biological parents no longer have a romantic relationship. Whatever baggage may come with that certainly varies, but it is difficult nonetheless. A stepchild who is rejecting your overtures of friendship has their own reasons that likely reflect less who you are and more what you stand for.

This is not the time to convince yourself that your new stepchild will hate you forever. It is a moment for you to be respectful and allow the child to come to terms with the unfolding situation. If you plan on being an important person in their life, bulldozing your way in is not the answer. Give your stepkids the space and recognition they need, and allow them to have their feelings. With unconditional love, regard, and support they will discover that you are not so wicked after all.

Get Stories from a StepMom and learn more about avoiding the wicked title.

Let's Talk Stepparenting

The Challenges of Being a Stepparent

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Parenting, as rewarding as it is, can be a tough job. There are a lot of demands and pressures that go with raising kids, but they are often offset by the enormous fulfillment that comes from raising children.

Stepparenting is even harder.

Stepparents often do all the things parents do – providing emotional and financial support for the kids, participating in and encouraging the child’s success, and putting their own needs aside to meet those of the children. You do the work of a parent, in most cases, either full time or part time, but get none of the recognition. You raise the children, love the children, financially support the children, and guide them through life, mostly from an unseen and under-appreciated place. Stepparents do not even get a line on the family tree!

It’s not about recognition, of course, but it’s never easy to make efforts that are not recognized or appreciated. It’s no surprise that some stepparents end up feeling as though the efforts are not worth it. More than once I’ve worked with a stepmom who is so overwhelmed by playing the role of mom while being treated like the unwelcome intruder that she is ready to give up. It’s really, really hard to be still in the building phase of a new marriage while having extra people to care for whose needs and wants are complicated by their insecurity about the changes that are happening in their lives.

No wonder so many end up divorcing again. Stepparenting is HARD.

There are no easy answers. Successful blended families happen because the biological parent supports the stepparent, because the adults act like adults, because the families embrace open communication and mutual respect, because of deep commitment and a willingness to persist, and because of luck. Most of all, though, successful stepparenting comes from being willing to put your heart out there, even when it might get stomped on a bit.


4 Steps to Resolving Issues in a Blended Family

by Shadra Bruce

Building a successful blended family can be a very difficult process for everyone involved. I often suggest that stepparents need to talk to their spouses – that open communication is the best path to resolution – as often as possible. However, when you are talking to your spouse about his or her children, some approaches work better than others do.

In talking to biological parents who have remarried, one of the most difficult problems they have is when their spouse has a problem with their child and, rather than focus on the problem, attempt to make it personal. You love your spouse. He loves you, but he loves his children, too, so when you attack them, he will defend them.

Stepchildren young and old are coping with a new situation involving a parent, and may not necessarily be on their best behavior, but taking their behavior personally can be very damaging to your marriage and your ability to have an eventual relationship with the child. When there are problems, you need to approach your spouse with an open heart and an open mind. These tips will help you navigate conversations about the kids:

  1. No matter how angry you are about something that has happened, don’t speak in absolutes: your stepchild is not “always” bad or will “never” behave. When you speak of your stepchild this way, your spouse will become defensive and not listen to the real issue.
  2. Understand that children, right or wrong, will try to soothe their insecurities in any way they can, especially if they have experienced a volatile divorce, death, or separation from the other parent. They will see you as a threat. This is normal behavior on their part.
  3. When you talk to your spouse about an issue with your stepchild, focus on the issue, not the child. Speak about how it affects you: “When Johnny tells me he doesn’t have to do what I say, and you don’t correct him, it undermines my authority and makes me feel like I am not part of the family” works better than, “You let Johnny get away with murder all the time!”
  4. Pick a time to talk to your spouse when you are not angry or upset. Think about what you want to say first. Make sure you know why you are upset, because sometimes we stepparents are still working through our own insecurities and see the kids as a threat, too – and that’s something we need to resolve within ourselves.

You and your spouse can work through many of the issues you have with building your new family structure, but it takes time, patience, and love.

Have you read Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle? Read more or request a review copy.

Let's Talk Stepparenting

Being a Good Stepparent

by Shadra Bruce

Becoming a stepparent can be as nerve-wracking as becoming a parent for the first time. It’s not much different: there are expectations, a role to be performed, and a child’s life influenced by your decisions, actions, and behaviors. Unfortunately, when we aren’t with a child from the day he or she is born, we often don’t feel the same connection or sense of responsibility. In fact, it happens quite often that we see our stepchildren in an adversarial way: they are what stand between us and the man or woman with whom we want to share our lives.

Being a good spouse and partner to the person you love, however, means being a good stepparent to your spouse’s children.  It’s not easy – you are the interloper, the ultimate symbol of the dashed hopes of a child who wants his parents to reunite, the reason everything is changing. It takes a great deal of strength to become a good stepparent.

Being a good stepparent starts with letting go of the adversarial view that you might have of the children. The child is not the enemy, the wall between you and your spouse, or the excuse for failure. Get to know the kids. Talk to them about how you feel about their parent and be open with them about your own insecurities. Respect them as people. Even if you and your stepchildren have had a rough start or years of difficulty, it’s not too late to recognize the value of developing a healthy relationship with each other. Imagine the joy your spouse will feel at not being torn between you.

Being a good stepparent also means treating both the stepchild and his or her biological parents with respect. This is not always easy – often, there are valid reasons why divorce happened in the first place and it can be difficult to remain silent about the more negative aspects of the biological parent you replaced. Bite your tongue. Don’t show disrespect about your stepchild’s parents; vent to a friend or family member if you have to, but recognize that your stepchild’s very identity is shaped in some part by their biology, and your lack of respect affects them.

In the end, it’s simple: you love your spouse; your spouse loves his or her children. The better the relationship you have with your stepchildren, the stronger your blended family can be. Being a good stepparent can have a lasting impact on your life and theirs.

Have you read Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle? Read more or request a review copy.


Disciplining As A Team

Probably one of the more notable challenges of raising kids is adjusting to the various lifestyles and attitudes each member of the parenting team (a married couple, a divorced couple, stepparents) bring to the table. My stepkids were old enough, when their biological mother left, to remember some differences between her style (everything from clothing to discipline to attitude) and mine, and their father had been a single dad for almost two years and was very independent about everything. The kids had been, from my perspective, somewhat coddled in the inevitable guilt that follows divorce.

While our differences were probably what made our relationship and marriage so much more successful than the first marriages we each had ended, it also challenged (and continues to challenge us occasionally) us to some degree – particularly with how to handle child-rearing issues. What is funny is that some of the frustrations I had with my stepkids when they were young Dave now has with our kids as they go through the same phases. (Yes, that makes me laugh a little).

We make every effort to stay consistent with discipline, not only because there is less commotion, over-reaction, and overall frustration (hence less household tension) but also because we want to become architects at keeping the focus on the issues.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.

Let's Talk Teens and Tweens

Inheriting Teenage Stepchildren

When you marry into a family and inherit teenage stepchildren, you will encounter a different set of challenges than if you marry into a family with younger children. Older children, particularly tweens and teens, are already struggling to establish an identity of their own and establish a place within the family that is more concrete and individual. When you come along as stepparent and rock the boat, it can cause a great deal of stress for the teen.

One thing to realize when becoming a stepparent to a teenager is that the more you can respect him or her as an individual and the better you are able to treat him or her like a person separate from the biological parent you have married, the more likely you will be to gain his or her respect.

Talk to and treat your teen stepchild the way you wish to be treated and talked to. Teens, biological and step alike, are notorious for being experts at making adults lose their otherwise even tempers, but the better you are able to remain calm or even walk away when you have to, the easier you will be able to manage a real relationship with your teen stepchild.

You have a real opportunity with your step children to develop the relationship that will take them into adulthood. Teens struggle with so many things — peer pressure, future life, self-esteem, school — that another positive role model in their lives can be very helpful. However, most teens will initially feel threatened by your presence, so be straight with them. Let them know that you respect them and aren’t there to interfere, that you want to be a part of their lives but that you don’t expect them to think of you as Mom or Dad.

Don’t try to win their admiration by being the “cool” parent who provides alcohol or lets them get away with everything. Be clear about supporting the expectations of the household, but be there, too. Be patient and allow the relationship to build slowly. Step parents are often the “safest” people teens have to talk to — and they may turn to you for advice on everything from relationships to school problems if you give them the chance.

Let's Talk Stepparenting

Advice for New Stepparents

Being a stepparent can be fulfilling, enriching, and rewarding … but it can be stressful, frustrating, and depressing as well. Particularly in the beginning of your new role as a stepparent, your emotions will probably feel like they are bouncing all over the place. Not only are you building a new life with the person you fell in love with and married but you are also expected to fill a role beyond that of spouse, and that can be very intimidating.

The step-parenting role differs from family to family. In some cases, you will see the stepchildren very rarely (every other weekend a month and a couple weeks during the summer). In other cases, the stepchildren may live with you all the time. In either case (and all of those cases in between), adjusting to your new role can be a difficult process.

Hopefully, before you married, you and your partner spent a great deal of time talking about each other’s expectations and ideals.  Hopefully, you had plenty of time to get to know your new stepchildren and they had time to adjust to the idea of your arrival into the midst of their family.  Whether you had a long time to prepare or the situation was thrust upon you, there are things you can do to make the process easier for everyone.

•Understand that everyone’s emotions, not just yours, are probably off-kilter as a result of the new family unit.  Be patient.

•Don’t expect everything to go well from the beginning; allow everyone space and time to get to know each other and learn each other’s quirks.

•Talk with your spouse about setting down certain ground rules right away. It’s important to establish an expectation of respect immediately. Your stepchildren can have time to adjust, but that doesn’t mean they should be allowed to be disrespectful, mean, or vicious.

•Address issues immediately. Talk with the children – don’t preach to them – about your desire to build a successful blended family.  Address and acknowledge their concerns and their feelings.

•As the stepparent, you are often the “new” person, the variable who changes everything. It can be unsettling, and often your own insecurities can be the cause of some of the early struggles. Talk about your feelings with your spouse and let them know when you are having difficulties. Be sure to take time alone together to build your marriage; don’t spend all of your energy on the kids.

Take it one day at a time. You and your stepchildren will get to know each other better. Day by day, your role as a stepparent will become more defined and comfortable.

Have you read Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle? Read more or request a review copy.


The Value of Stepparents

What challenges we stepfamilies face! Not only are we adjusting to a new relationship, a new marriage, and perhaps a new home, but we’re doing it with extra people in the mix who also have needs, demands, and insecurities about the changes life has brought them. It’s no wonder so many of us give up, throw our hands in the air and decide it is too hard. No wonder so many of us end up divorcing again, leaving remnants of yet another broken family in our path.

Stepparenting is difficult. You do all the work of a parent, in most cases, either full time or part time, but get none of the recognition. You raise the children, love the children, financially support the children, and guide them through life, mostly from an unseen and under-appreciated place in the family tree – not that there is even a line for you there!

Throughout the time that Dave and I have been raising our kids, we’ve had our share of challenges. The kids went to one school that refuses to grant me the right to even sign permission slips for my stepkids, even though I was the one who handled all the day-to-day “stuff,” without having a form signed by my husband allowing it. When we wanted to obtain guardianship of our son when he turned 18, because he has Down Syndrome and we still care for him, we had to have his biological mother sign off on it. Step parents are often undervalued and underappreciated.

This month, we celebrate National Stepfamily Day. Stepfamily Day is celebrated every year on September 16. It is worth celebrating; more than 33% of us in the United States are involved in a step relationship and 1300 new stepfamilies are formed nearly each day in our country. The definition of “family” is definitely changing.

With that change needs to come, perhaps, a change in attitude and perception concerning stepparents.  It is time to recognize the larger role stepparents play in the lives of children. Stepmothers are not wicked; stepchildren are not to be led into the forest and fed to the witch who lives there or denied their shot at the prince. Stepparents fulfill a key role and fill a gap in a child’s life and heart that might otherwise go empty. It’s time that the meaning of family is updated to recognize all of those people who contribute to the happiness of a child.

Get Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle.


Blending Traditions

The holidays are coming, sooner than later at this point. We start thinking about Christmas shopping around the time the fireworks stop exploding. It’s the only way to budget with five kids. Holidays can be a wonderful time of year, but for blended families, they can also be a time of stress and confusion for step children. It’s difficult to hold on to everyone’s special traditions while still building new ones with the new family unit, but it is definitely important to try.

When I was growing up, my family always opened presents on Christmas Eve. It started with my great-grandmother when she was a child and continued down through the generations. Each year, the kids would anxiously wait until it was dark enough to go out looking for Santa with an older relative.  Each year they searched for Santa’s sleigh or in later generations, Rudolph’s red nose lighting up the sky.  By the time they came home from searching, Santa had made his stop at the house and the festivities would begin. We never did stockings or left cookies out for Santa before going to bed.

When I first began dating Dave, his kids had been raised with the more typical Christmas morning fun. They put out cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer, and they hung stockings on the mantle. Because it was important to us that the kids have as much of their childhood remain intact as possible, I learned about their traditions and joined in the fun.

At the same time, I did not want to give up everything from my childhood traditions, and we knew we would face challenges when our additional children were born. We kept the early Christmas morning fun and stockings, but added a nighttime drive the night before, looking at Christmas lights and keeping our eyes open in case we were able to catch Santa out and about.

Dave and his kids had always picked out a live tree every year that they decorated with a decade’s worth of Hallmark collected ornaments; I always put up a white tree filled with precious Victorian style ornaments. Rather than worry about whose tradition would be protected, we moved the furniture around and did both trees.

Over time, the holidays became ours. Some were shared with other family; sometimes we were all alone in a strange city and had just the seven of us. Once, Derek was home only until the day before Christmas – on a special transport from Iraq – so we adjusted everything to celebrate with him before he returned to the war.

These days, we start prepping for the holidays early. We now put up four trees, with everyone helping. In the last couple of years, we also have strayed away from the traditional holiday meal and have lasagna and garlic bread, and the whole family goes to a movie together. This year, we’ll be celebrating the holidays in a new house and a different town; it may also be the first year we celebrate without Derek, who is stationed in Japan.

As our kids get older, get married, and have children, I imagine that our traditions will again require incorporating another family’s ideas of the holiday. We’ve learned, though, that starting new traditions together only strengthens our bond, and we greet new ideas with enthusiasm and welcome.

Get Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle.