Read an Excerpt
A Career Girl's Guide to Becoming a Stepmom
Cinderella's Man Didn't Have Any Kids; Why Does Mine?
The Fall of the Fantasy
Career Girl's Personal Assistant
To begin building your stepfamily, use the Career Girl's Personal Assistant to identify how you'll approach stepfamily life. Brainstorm. Discuss. Plan. Implement.
1. Assess your position. Does it match the job description?
2. Gage commitment level. Are you willing to work overtime to discover hidden expectations you have about what you thought your marriage would be like?
3. Identify goals. How many minutes do you want to set aside per day to learn about stepfamily life?
4. Set a meeting time. When will you meet with your husband to discuss your findings from Chapter 1?
5. Encourage teamwork. What fun thing will you do with your husband this week, just the two of you?
So you've lived in that delicious fantasy world for a while: You've met your man and said good-bye to singledom. You're happy. You're in love. So what if he's got kids from a former marriage?
You're a capable woman. You can handle it.
During those first months when you're so in love and still getting to know each other, it's difficult to make a rational decision about the future of your relationship. And even though most stepfamily experts recommend that new couples extend the courtship phase of the relationship until the children have time to adjust, many couples don't, and instead jump naked into the abyss.
Indeed, romantic love is one of the most powerful forces in nature. In a studyreported in the July 2005 issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology, neuroscientists reproduced images of what happens in our brains when we're in the throes of romantic love. The parts of the brains involved are not connected to sexual impulses, as originally thought, but are in the area that is connected with drives such as hunger, thirst, and drug addiction. Powerful stuff. So it's easy to see why it's hard to educate yourself about the realities of stepfamily life when you're saturated by your feelings for that man. You don't want to hear anything negative, right?
Diane, a journalist and independent radio producer, remembers an exchange that happened when she was engaged to marry her husband, Todd, who had two young boys from a previous marriage. "I was at an event and the woman sitting next to me was a stepmom. When I asked her if she had any advice about becoming a stepmom, she said, 'Don't do it.'" To Diane, who describes meeting Todd at 30 as akin to finding an oasis in the desert, the comment was highly offensive.
But that veteran stepmom's comment reflects how difficult the job of stepmotherhood can be for some women, especially those who are used to running the show at work and living an independent life that is completely dictated by their own wants and needs. The challenge is to maintain and develop your feelings of love for your partner while learning about what you can expect from your new home life—without wanting to jump off the nearest bridge.
Let's get real here, ladies. The fact that your man was married to someone else can be a real bummer. That he, at some point in his life, decided to make a commitment as significant as marriage with another woman might make you feel sick to your stomach. His children from that union are daily reminders that he was intimate with someone else. And that's not fair! None of your ex-boyfriends shows up on your doorstep every single weekend to pick up kids or call several times a week (or day) to negotiate, fight, or coparent.
Before you can begin the work of putting together a satisfying, supportive stepfamily, you need to clear out those negative emotions. You don't want to be a stepmother who, when pressed for details of her stepfamily from a supportive friend two or three decades into the deal, blurts out a stream of resentment she's stored inside the entire time. Sacrificing oneself is not the goal here. Living as present and connected as possible is the goal.
To begin, let's talk about fantasies. Part of the reason stepmotherhood is challenging at the start is because you most likely have a vision of how you want your life to be. When your ideas of how you want to live run headlong into the realities of forming a new stepfamily, the tension can be too much for some women.
Rooting out your fantasies can be a very painful process, but think of it as preventative maintenance. And if you come up with issues you feel you can't handle on your own, by all means find a counselor who is well versed in stepfamily dynamics to help you uncover your fantasies of what your family life should look like and help you move to a place where you can accept and find joy in what is.
This book is an interactive experience, just like a stepfamily, and the more you invest of yourself, the more powerful it will be. I recommend purchasing a notebook you can write in about your experiences every day. You'll also need a space for the exercises in this book. I encourage you to do all the exercises as fully as possible and share them with your husband. There are discussion topics for couples at the end of every chapter, which you can each answer separately in writing and then discuss what you've written or simply use as conversation starters.
To begin, interview yourself. Once you have a notebook and a pen, go to your office or a place where you can lock everyone else out. Turn off the phone, PDA, BlackBerry, and e-mail.
Fantasies are powerful. They have deep roots in our psyches that can take years and some painful admissions to uncover. But if we dig up those unspoken beliefs or unrealized dreams, we can examine them so their power over our daily interactions lessens. Answer the questions below to see if any of these common fantasies are influencing you.A Career Girl's Guide to Becoming a Stepmom. Copyright © by Jacquelyn Fletcher. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.