Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New Year's Theme

Guilt is a really bad way to start of any new year. And one of the best ways to get yourself into a guilt situation is to make promises that you know you're never going to . New Year's Resolutions are your ticket to the guilt house. Don't do it.

Instead, take a more process approach to the new year. Rather than making some kind of grand promise of measurable change, think about adding in a theme to your life.

One new year, a good friend of mine who was struggling with various stresses in life decided that she should would add some whimsy into her life. She had no five step plan and didn't bother with measurable outcomes. Instead she made a defiant stand against the oppressive seriousness of life by deciding that every now and again she would add some whimsy to the situation.

I love it. Whimsy could apply to running on a treadmill or decorating the living room or the commute to work. A new pair of fun socks can fill a whole day with whimsy like nothing else.

The point is this: rather than limiting your new year by painting yourself into a promise you can't keep, open your new year to a theme which cna inspire creativity.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 03, 2007

An Interview With Karon Goodman

Here is the long awaited post from Karon Goodman. Karon is the author of the newly released "Stepping Stones for Stepmoms: Everyday Strength for a Blended-Family Mom"

We decided to use an interview format for this post so you can get to know Karon and what she's all about. I can assure you that you are going to like what you learn.

1. For our readers who are just getting to know you, can you give us a brief introcuction of who you are and why you care about stepfamilies and more specifically stepmoms?

When I became a stepmom more than eleven years ago, it was like I'd entered a parallel universe. Like all stepmoms, it was a life I never expected to be living, and every functioning brain cell seemed to desert me. I couldn't believe the feelings and fears I was dealing with -- but I had to deal with them, and so do all the other stepmoms out there, so the more we learn, the
better. I hope that the strategies and approaches I've come to rely on can somehow help other stepmoms through those painful and trying times.

I'm sure stepdads have issues of their own, but as a stepmom, I think I felt a lot of pressure that my husband didn't, and I know other stepmoms understand that part of their role. It's a unique challenge, and my first book for stepmoms, "The Stepmom's Guide to Simplifying Your Life" focuses on what stepmoms can do to make their lives better regardless of what everyone else is doing. That practice has been a guiding light for me and seems to strike a chord with my readers, too.

My husband and I live in Alabama and I'm the mom of one son (22) and stepmom of two (22 and 18). I also write inspirational books for women and love meeting readers and traveling to speak at conference and workshops.

2. In your book you have a chapter entitled, "Trading In Envy." Can you share some about how envy can develop and grow in a stepmom and what she can do
about it?

Stepmothering brings lots of weight and responsibility, and it can be hard to see out from under it all. When a stepmom does peek out, she sees those around her with a much lighter load -- sometimes, including her stepkids' mom -- and that's tough to handle. It's easy to fall into a pattern of envy when she feels she's sacrificing so much and often receiving little or no
appreciation or recognition for any of it. It's easy, and it's self-destructive because envy takes her focus off her and puts in on someone else whose life and behavior she can't control anyway.

To combat the envy, it's essential that we redirect our focus to what's happening in our lives and our homes and put the energy of our thoughts and actions there. No matter what my life is like or how much more burdensome it is than someone else's, it's the one I've "chosen" which means that I can "choose" to work to make it better when I focus on what I have instead of what I don't. Envy creates bitterness and blocks the very things we admire or desire from coming into our own lives. If we want anything to change, it has to start with us, and that means thinking and planning more about our own lives than anyone else's.

3. I wrote a post for this blog called, "When Stepmom Gets Mad" a few months back and it seems to have realy struck a chord with my readers. What can you tell us about anger and being a stepmother? Also, what can the angry stepmom do with her anger?

It's easy for a stepmom to become angry because so much seems out of her control -- and that means we have to deal with actions and decisions we don't like, and sometimes we get mad! Regardless of what we're angry about, we have to realize that we can't control what other people do, we can only control our response. If the situation is such that you can talk to the person about what happened, that's always best to try to keep the same thing from happening over and over. If not, then again, we have to choose how we'll live -- in anger or in peace. We can stew over things others do or we can live our lives making the best choices we can make for ourselves and our families. And it helps to develop a think skin as a stepmom, to understand your anger, see if you contributed to the situation in any way and rectify that if you can, and then move on to the next thing on your list. Stepmoms learn quickly it's all about looking ahead.

4. Your book not only has some good advice and examples on various topics, but it is also full of scriptures, prayers, and questions. I like the diversity of formats. But I have to ask, do you really intend for people to write in your book?

Absolutely! Books are meant to be loved and lived in, laughed and cried over. Books are like living things that ask us questions about ourselves and invite us to answer, in safety and in truth. Hopefully, they touch us and inspire and encourage us to make tomorrow better than today. Maybe that's a lot to ask from a stack of paper, but it's my goal with all my books.

5. Final question: I took a poll on this blog about people's expectations of stepfamily life versus the reality they experienced and most said that stepfamily life was harder than they had expected. So, for someone who is in their first 3 years of stepfamily life and is experienceing it as harder than expected, what encouragement can you give them?

I think some statistics say that most stepfamilies fail before the fourth year. It's no wonder -- the life is challenging and humbling like no other. But it's also full of growing opportunities, because you will encounter situations you never could have dreamed up in your wildest imagination and you'll have to "give up or grow up" through them.

If the struggling stepparent will focus less on those unmet expectations and more on the progress she and her family are making -- even if it's small -- she'll be able to learn from her mistakes and develop better strategies every day to deal with the issues she faces. As one of the points in my new Amazon Short, "7 Decisions You Can Make Today to Improve Your Steplife, learning to "live well with imperfection" is crucial because stepfamily life is messy
unpredictable, but our attitude makes it manageable and even enjoyable, and becoming the stepmoms we want to be makes us strong and able to bring great joy and peace to our families.

Thanks, Karon, for your time and your wisdom. I hope people can see that you are on to something. we hope you'll visit us here on the blog again before too long.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

***UPDATE*** Karon Goodman Blog Book Tour Coming Soon


Karon Goodman will be here on December 4th. What a treat!!!! I hope you will come by and visit on December 4th as well.


I am excited to announce that author, speaker, and blogger, Karon Goodman has new book coming out and she will be posting about it RIGHT HERE on this blog.

What a treat for all of us.

Details about when she will be posting here are still in the works. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Stones in the blender

It's hard to blend a family.

The word 'blending' gives the image of something that happens in 15 seconds and creates something tasty. Blending families doesn't work that way.

In fact, when families try to blend it can seem like someone threw a load of stones in the blender. Bouncing and rocking around, sounding like everything is going to break, blended family life can get a little unsure every now and again.

Rather than blending and trying to get normal and 'tasty' in 15 seconds, rather than ending up as stones in the blender, how about trying to be stone soup?

Yes, stewing for a while, for years in fact, is the way to 'normalcy' in a stepfamily. One of the keys is to do stepfamily life for a long time. Enough time helps routines to form, traditions to develop - time offers the opportunity to do things many times such that the repetition gives the sense of normalcy.

Be patient. Be kind. Be forgiving.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Stepfamilies: A Road Trip

Forming a stepfamily is like going on a trip from Dallas, Texas to Duluth, Minnesota in April. It seems like it should be easy. Interstate 35 connects the two cities. I mean really, it's just one road, how hard could it be?

Well, there are places where there is road construction and detours. Traffic slows and sometimes stops for what might appear to be no reason at all. Orange and white barrels and orange and black signs might lead you off the interstate for a while.

In Dallas and Forth Worth and then again in near Minneapolis and St. Paul there is a I-35W and I 35E, both of which are part of the interstate, but veer off in different directions. How can you stay on the interstate when the same raod splits into two directions? It can get very confusing while trying to get from point A to point B.

When leaving from Dallas in April, the weather is probably going to be pretty good. When you near Duluth, you might be in a blizzard. Winter is stubborn in Northern Minnesota and might just decide to hang around until April. You might not have your snow boots, hats, gloves, and jackets with you. You came unprepared, but not knowing about the stubbornnes of Duluth's winters, there was no way to prepare in the first place.

In stepfamiliy life, there is going to construction delays as you try to figure out everyone's roles and how those roles are not merely static, but ever changing. There are going to be times when there is confusing adn you will not know which way to turn as a stepfamily. There are things that will happen for which there is absolutely no way you can prepare and you are left flying by the seat of your pants.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is to ease up on the expectation for an arrival time and take each "interruption" as an opportunity to learn, grow, and experience another piece of the stepfamily landscape.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Recording your stepfamily life

It is good to keep a journal or diary. There are lots of reasons to put words down on paper. Here are a few:

1. Writing is a fabulous way to do some more thinking about things that happen during the day or week. It is impossible to do all the thinking that is needed about every single situation when that situation is happening. Revisiting that situation by writing about it helps not only to remember it, but also to think more about it. Situation A may feel like it is closed, over and done with, but when you write about it you may realize that it is worth another visit. There may be a conversation with someone that needs to happen and you didn't know because you didn't have adequate time to think about it.

2. Writing is a great way to complete half expressed emotions. There are times and you know when they are, that you simply cannot express what you feel. Maybe you could not muster up the courage to express it in the moment or may the expression was too hard for other people to accept. Maybe you were so mad that you wanted to cuss a blue streak, but since you don't do that, you bottled up the anger. Get it out on paper.

3. Creativity sometimes emerges in writing. Many people think that writing is merely a strict recording of an event. Well, it's not. Writing is a creative act in which a person tries to select words which accurately represent an event. That is very differet. It is the difference between a photograph and a mosaic of small tiles. The mosaic is never going to the be an exact representation, but it will approximate the event with the artist's bias, sometimes intentional bias. The same is true of journaling. You get to create. Oh, and then there are magical moments when writing that inspire something new in the relationship. These kinds of special times can sometimes only emerge when writing.

So, go get a $1.99 pad or whatever and start recording your stepfamily life. It will not be time wasted.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I'd like to say they'll love you

I read an article online today that was advice to stepdads. It went something like this:

Your stepchildren may not like you right away because they may still hurt from their parent's divorce, but stick in there and be patient and then they will really learn to like you.

Well, I'd like to make such promises and make you feel all good about being a stepparent, but placing such promises out there is not only wrong, it is dangerous.

DON'T be patience and stick it out because they will like you some day. Be patient because it is the right thing to do. Be good to your stepchildren because they need someone to be good to them, not so you will get something out of it, like their approval.

Self-interest is not healthy motivation for good parenting or stepparenting. It might sound nice and appeal to what you feel like you want, but when you allow your success as a stepparent to be tethered to the choice of child based on their feelings of the moment, then you have given away your power and influence. That's irresponsible.

Goodness, not self-interest should be your guide. Self-interest rarely results in wisdom and health.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Stepfathers and Father's Day

Father's Day is just around the corner. So, what's it ging to be? Will stepfather be honored in any way or will he be chopped liver?

One of the challenges for stepchildren honoring their stepfather on Father's Day is that it feels like absolute betrayal. "He's not my father!" Many stepfamily situations place the children in conflict as one bio parent lives with them and one doesn't. This post is for the kind of stepfamily where the children struggle with the conflict of living with a man who is not their father and not living with a man who is theri father.

Typically, the stepfather is not going to require or expect anything on Father's Day from his stepchildren because he knows his place as "not the father." However, he is investing time, money, his heart, his emotions, sharing a house, supplying everyone with resources etc. He is being fatherish in some ways.

How can stepchildren honor their stepfather without betraying their own father?

1. Certainly honor the bio father appropriately.

2. Honor the stepfather as a stepfather, not as the father.

It is a major step in the minds of children to make the distinction that a stepfather is one role and father is another.

3. Mom, do not force the issue. It is not the end of the world if the child does not choose to honor the stepfather on Father's Day. Merely planting the seed, the idea that stepfather can be honored without it being a betrayal of father is a good start.

Holidays like Father's Day are good opportunites to create psychological space for a stepfather to become part of the new normal.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

When Stepmom Gets MAD!!!

Anger is often the product of unmet expectations. I expect X to happen, but insted Y actually happens. That is the formula for anger (or a whole host of ther negative emotions).

Stepmothers are in a life situation when expectations are not often met. Stepfamily life is complex and often times unpredicatable or even illogical. It is a context in which an expectation getting met might feel more like a game of chance than act of intention. In short, stepfamily life offers multiple opportunities for anger to emerge.

So, what do you do when you get angry?

Here are a few tips:

1. There are no bad feelings: Anger is an unpleasant feeling, but it is normal and even necesssary at times. Recognize that a negative feeling does not make you a bad person.

2. Reject the guilt: Most stepmothers choose a goal just a little higher than absolute perfection as their criteria for success. Anything less is failure - including getting angry about soemthing. You must confront your guilt head on. DO NOT punish yourself for getting angry. It only leads to more anger (or anxiety or depression).

3. Make a Decision: People get into trouble with anger not because they feel anger, but because they do anger in destructive ways. Feeling anger is merely the emotional portion of the equation and is contained within the person. Doing anger is a behavior, an interaction between the person and someone or something else. Be intentional about how you do your anger. You might even decide now, when you are not angry, a few stock options of what you can do when you are angry. The cliched thing is to count to ten. It actually works for some people. It's not the only option, though. Some people just say, "I am getting angry." It gives voice to the anger without being destructive. Other's talk it out and still others write it out. Some people let it cool off over time, but that only makes it worse for others.

Your personality wil guide your way of doing anger. But whatever the decision you make, it needs to be constructive or neutral. Never destructive.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What is a stepmother?

What is a stepmother anyway? On the one hand she is not the bio parent, by definition. She may have bioloigcal children, but they are not how she became a stepmother.

On the other hand, she is not a step. Not really sure how the word step gets in there; it is not all that descriptive.

A stepmother cannot simply act like a mother for a number of reasons. There is probably a mother already filling the position of mother - and typically there is not room for two in that position. When stepmothers try to wedge themselves into the mother position, it places the stepchildren into a loyalty dilemma - a dilemma the stepmom is going to lose no matter how good a person she is or how lousy the bio mother is.

And yet, the stepmother is there and present with the stepchildren and someone has to be responsible. So, how does she pull that one off? How can a stepmother be a responsible parental figure without violating the bio mother's position in the stepchildren's lives?

A stepmother is a woman who enters a family slowly, takes on authority slowly, and never fails to keep a healthy amount of space for the bio mom - emotionally and otherwise. She has as much authority as she has earned with the stepchildren. She is supported by her husband. She admits her mistakes to others and celebrates her victories privately. She waits. Sh resists the temptations of normalcy and accepts the messy reality. She learns to anticipate certain kinds of messes and embraces them with an ironic sense of peace.

If you are a stepmother, you are someone who creates a working path through the unknowable, adjusts the direction of the path on the way, and knows that her goodness is her gift to the world, her family and herself. She knows that she will ahve her reward at the end of the journey, not at the beginning.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Stepmom Superstars

Stepmom superstars are stepmoms who have endured long hours of relational investment with little or return on investment (yet).

They are stepmoms who have maintained their head when their husbands ex tried, once again, to change the visitation at 2:00 PM on Friday.

Stepmom superstars take a moment to view a good potential future even though today the family seems to be headed to Hell in a handbasket.

You are the kind of stepmom who finds time for everyone (including herself).

Few people hope more, wait more, cry more, cheer more, and try harder than a superstar stepmom.

You do not let the absence of appreciation make you quit doing that for which appreciation is due.

Stepmoms, you rock.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The 5 Divorces

Divorce is never easy. Certainly it might come as a relief if the marriage has totally deteriorated, but even relief does not make it easy. There is always pain and loss and hurt.

Divorce is not a simple thing either. It is complex. With legal standing, emotional challenges, financial decisions, psychological changes, spiritual realities, and social complexities all affected, divorce is one of life's biggest disruptions, challenges, and transitions.

So, for every aspect of life, there is a divorce.

1. Legal Divorce: This is what most people think divorce is. It happens with courts, attorneys, and judges. Or, maybe it happen in mediation. Any way it goes, it is the legal aspect of marriage dissolving.

2. Emotional Divorce: Anyone who has been through a divorce knows that the when the legal part of divorce ends, many more divorces may have to be attended to. Emotional divorce is important. Hanging on, running emotions through the children, making lots of phones calls (just to talk) or constantly finding ways to exact revenge, obsessing mentally, or stalking are ways to avoid making the divorce complete. The relationship must end. If there are kids in the mix, then the relationship must be all business.

3. Psychological Divorce: Life cannot stop when the legal divorce is over. The pain, the loss, the betrayal, the whatever must be attended to and healing must occur. Remaining in a hurt state is not acceptable after a divorce. Yes, being hurt by it is natural, but some people refuse to heal and are determined to prove that their ex-spouse ruined their by living ruined for the rest of their life. What a waste. The psychological divorce must take place.

4. Financial Divorce: Dividing the house, assets, savings, 401(k) and all earthly possessions is part of divorce. Taking care of this stuff should not linger into weeks and months. It will only cause pain.

As far as child support and alimony - do whatever it is the judge told you to do. No more and no less. There really ought to be few exceptions to this rule. It is simply too hard to give more than the the divorce decree says and then feel like you are owed something, OR to give too little until the other forces you back into court.

5. Spiritual Divorce: This might sound like a weird thing, almost sacrilegious. Truth is, if ther eis spiritual union there must be spiritual divorce. This does not mean someone has to change religions or even churches (although someone changes church is probably a good idea). It means that you no longer share spiritual intimacies. Yes, pray for each other's good, but even then be careful that such prayers do not connect you too much. God is big enough to take care of your ex-spouse without too much of your psiritual investment into that person.

Be especially careful of spiritual connection when the ex-spose has remarried. It can be viewed as an intrusion and it could lead to the downfall of the remarriage - not what God is looking for in remarriage.

So, there are your 5 divorces. Would love to hear you feedback.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

You can cry

For many people, remarriage is one of the most healing and redemptive transitions they will ever make in their life. The pain of the past or a sense of failure is healed by a loving spouse. The ache of loss of a relationship or loss of a hoped relationship is soothed by someone who cares. Yes, remarriage cna be so good.

And yet, there are those times, for seemingly no reason, the sadness returns, the ache reappears, the emptiness opens up once more.

"Why?" you ask yourself. All around is the evidence of redemption - spouse, children, home etc. And yet, there is that something from the past that will not let you alone today.

Nothing in your day says, "Cry!" So you don't feel like there is cause for it - no permission to release the tears. You bag it up, pack it in and trudge forward. You are determined not to let the past ever affect the present or future again.

But the past won't leave you alone and feel guilty for feeling sad. "What would my spouse say?"

Your sadness becomes a secret, your guilt a toxin.

Please, give yourself a break and cry it out. It's not that you're looking back toward past and longing for it just because you still have an emotional connection to it. Nor is it betrayal. Let it all out.

You are a human adn we don't just live life in the present. You are everything you've experienced. We don't pass from one stage of life to the next. In stead, we accumulate life stages as we go. That past is part of who you are and if it wants to grieve a little, you better let yourself do it.

Your spirit, your body and your mind are trying to tell you something.

Cry. Heal. Hope

Monday, April 09, 2007

Power and Motive

If there are two things that individuals bring into relationships that make a huge difference they are power and motive.

Relational power is how much one person can use their force or finesse to effect change.

Relational motive is how selfish/selfless a person is.

A powerful person who is selfish is also dangerous, but a powerful person with good motives is generative and makes good happen. A selfless person without any power might have good intentions, but really can't do anything with those intentions.

Now, take these combinations within a person and figure the interactions between two people. One person's power and motive interacting with the other's power and motive.

The greater the power differential between two people, the more necessary it is for the more powerful person to be selfless. Without intentional effort, the more powerful person will harm the less powerful person.

Relationships between parents and teens are necessarily very different in power. It is incumbent on the more powerful person (the parent) to become more selfless. Don't be tempted to be fair in relationships that differen in power. There is no fair. Striving to be fair is a fool's game.

Increase the motive toward goodness. Goodness (selflessness) is better than fairness - always.

Power should always be (and will always be) the tool for motive. Be good and let your power serve goodness.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Power or Peace?

When conflict arises in families, it is very easy to get sucked into the vortex of asserting power, assigning who is right and who is wrong, and basically trying to get your way. Now, I am not saying that there is never right and wrong, but I am saying that it is not as frequent as we might like it to be.

When we get into a pattern of making everything a right or wrong issue we overly moralize situations that could be left alone, negotiated, or at least tolerated. When we moralize we often assert power toward the moral position. Why? Because it is right of course.

I want to make two comments about moralizing.

1. Do not use right and wrong unless it is absolutely necesssary. Overuse of assigning right and wrong wears thin pretty quickly and often diminishes personal connection.

2. When moralizing is called for, do it morally. There is acertain paradox when it comes to morality. Sometimes there are immoral processes toward moral outcomes. Asserting power to impose morality can quickly become an immoral process toward a moral outcome. I am not saying don't assert yourself ever, but I am saying that there are times when getting your way, even when it is right, can be wrong in ow you achieve the goal.

Spending your moral energy trying to assert peace in the family might be a better process and ultimately morally superior approach to take in negotiating conflcit in family life.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Stepping into goodness

Stepfamily life provides many opportunities that first family life typically does not.

Your boundaries, tolerances, and limits will be explored in directions never dreamed of by first families. This may not sound like a good thing because if you are like me, you have little interest in constantly being stretched in difficult directions. I like comfy; I like cozy.

So, for a little perspective, when you are being stretched to your limits on something, take a step back and think of it as an opportunity few people get to be a good person.

I know what this sounds like - some power of positive thinking pep talk. It's not. Let me state that a little more emphatically - IT'S NOT!!!!!

Sometimes perspective is all you've got. Why belittle a hidden strength?

Allow perspctive to give you a chance to step into goodness.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Signs of Spring

Spring is in the air. It is time for renewal, for hope, for love. Everything comes back to life in Spring.

Here in Minnesota, the snow is melting, the sun feels warm, and there is anticipation of the first flowers of spring coming to smile on up.

Since nature has given us reason to feel refreshed and renewed, why not get some of that refreshing into our stepfamily lives?

Sometimes we get into ruts and unhelpful patterns in or lives and relatiosnhips. Too much time stuck in a lousy pattern is the beginning of death in the relationship. New life needs to be breathed into the relatiosnhip. However, if there is no awareness of the rut or no hope of getting out of it, then there is little motivation to change.

Spring tells us that there is always hope for positive change. Ruts are more like winter than they are death. What looks like death or hoplessness is only the emotional or relational winter. This is good news. One of the greatest things about winter is that it ends with the warmth, generosity and beauty of spring.

At the end of every winter I challenge my children to look for signs of spring. Melting snow, a robin, anything green, buds on trees - anything. once they start looking ofr them, they eventually find signs of spring.

I think the same is true of life. So, go ahead, look for signs of spring. What good thing is budding in your remarriage? Relationship with your stepdaughter? etc. If you look for the signs of spring, you'll find it. There is always reason for hope because witner is not eternal.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Shoveling Snow (A Metaphor For Stepfamilies)

This month we have been examining things people in stepfamilies can do to make their stepfamily life experience better. We have talked about virtues such as forgiveness and wisdom. These help the process of stepfamily life along.

After getting pounded by 18 inches of snow up here in Minnesota, I have done a little thinking about how getting the snow out of the driveway is like stepfamily life.

There are some strategies to snow management that are similar to dealing with life in a stepfamily.

1. Let it melt. It is true the eventually the snow will melt. In Minnesota, that might mean mid April, which means significant problems until then. The ignore the problem and it will go away strategy might work in some situations (talking about stepfamilies now), but it is a problematic and painful way to go. It is alsot he longest way to get to "normal."

2. Shovel it. This is a better strategy. It's back breaking, but it does mean that you will get to the solution more quickly. Working hard is better than not working at all. And, the job will get done faster, if you survive.

3. Fire Up The Snowblower. Every Minnesotan worth his salt has a snowpblower. Fire that sucker up and blast through the white stuff. This represents working smarter. A good snow blower is like having good family dynamic insights and implementation.

4. Neighbors team up. OK, this is the best way to manage snow. All of your neighbors have the same problem you do - too much snow. Get have a dozen of you together and knock out one driveway at a time and it is not only efficient, it is actually fun. when stepfamilies can work together in small groups or teams, sharing their struggles and giving each other sage advice, it can be fun.

Ah yes, there is something good coming out of this winter blast!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Foolish Musings on Wisdom

What is wisdom and who can grasp it? Where can one go to purchase this thing called wisdom? Does one ever have enough of it? Once you get some of it, does it remain with you always?

I would say there are few people who would argue against the idea that wisdom is a good thing to pursue. And yet, there is so little space for wisdom in our culture that finding space for it is a daunting task. "Yes, wisdom is a good thing, but who has time for it?"

Here are a few foolish musings on wisdom:

1. There are two sources of wisdom. Personal experience and other people's experience.

Personal experience is often times pretty straight forward. If you do something, you know that it is like to do it. Then you choose whether or not to do it again. Or you choose to modify the way in which you did it in order to alter the outcome.

The experiences of others is not as straight forward nor are they as easily to internalize. Who the "others" are matters. Is it friends, family and co-workers and that's it? What about historical figures? What about Biblical figures? The storehouses of historical and sacred wisdom are so vast, so expansive that we hardly notice them. They are like intricate and highly detailed wall paper that you might notice at a glance, but seldom look at for it deep design or message.

2. There are pre-wisdom steps that are necessary in order to gain wisdom.
A. Acknowledge that there is such a thing as wisdom.
B. Assess its value relative to your life and find yourself lacking.
C. Decide that it is worth pursuing.
D. Pursue it in the course of daily life, not merely as a cognitive exercise outside of daily life.

3. Practice all the wisdom you gain.

4. When you fail to do number three, reflect on those times and assess what it is about you that wars against wisdom. If this becomes an exercise in guilt, then you're not doing it. In failure, wisdom transcends guilt toward a more wholesome and less toxic motivation.

5. Pass along your wisdom, but only when it has become part of who you are. Resist the temptation to immediately tell everyone about the great new thing you learned before it is really who you are. Sharing gained wisdom too quickly, before it is who you are, will result in embarrassment and hypocrisy.

6. When you fail to do number 5, reflect on those times understanding that guilt may be a temptation.

7. Develop relationships with people younger and less experienced than you are and live your wisdom in their presence. You do this for them, but you do this for you, too. If you have gained a sense of wisdom, being in relationship with someone who perhaps thinks you are wise raises the bar for you and challenges you to be persist in your wisdom.

What does all of this have to do with stepfamilies? Hopefully you see that it has quite a bit to do with stepfamilies. If anyone needs to pursue wisdom it is people who find themselves in complex situations wherein the rules are not clear, the playing filed is not level, and the cultural context works against them. Stepfamilies, in large measure, fit this definition.

Pursue wisdom a little and you will find it a little. Pursue it a lot and you will find it a lot. Never stop pursuing it and you will never exhaust its vast storehouses.

Friday, February 16, 2007


If you're in a stepfamily (or if you're a human) you've been done wrong. In fact, from your point of view, you might be getting done wrong on a daily basis. It might be your former spouse sticking it to you in court, it might be your current spouse sticking it to you for not being fair to his or her bio children, it might your bio childrin turning the screws on you and testing your "true" loyalty at every turn.

What do you do about the residual pain and frustration caused by these relational injustices?

Well, you can kick and fight and scream and try to force your way. But I can tell you now, it just isn't going to work. No one comes to their sense because you beat the daylights out of them.

You could also let yourself get run over "for the sake of peace." I can also tell you that there is no happy doormat out there. The doormats ot there iwth smiles on their faces are lying.

What you can do is two-fold:

1. Be proactive in preventing future transgressions by direct, assertive, and generous communication. No blame her, but more so statements about how you feell and what you would like. Also, carrying no expectation that you'll get everything you want, but hope that it will change from the place it is now.

2. Forgive. The past may be indicative of the future, but it isn't the future. Holding things against people not only doesn't hurth them, it does hurt you. Your body, believe it or not, automatically detects unforgiveness, labels it stress, and releases more stress hormone, which you do not need more of.

You must relieve yourself of the emotional responsibility of keeping of making that other person responsible for what they did - for the good of everyone including yourself.

Let it go. Open up your fist and let it go. Things won't get worse, but they could get better.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Make Friends With Perspective

Half of sanity is perspective.

To know that you can't do something all at once can come as a relief - if you have the right perspective.

It's like a landscaper shoveling 5 tons of river rock. If he thinks he's going to move that huge pile of rock in one or two scoops with his shovel, his level of disappointment is going to be huge. He'll get discouraged and quit shoveling. But he can't just quit because the pile of rock is in his driveway and he'll never get his Ford out of hte garage with all that rock in the way.

On the other hand, if he realizes that huge jobs are the accumulation of little jobs, then he is is encouraged by every little thing he does.

Managing stepfamily life can be like this landscaper. The pile of emotional and relationship challenge is what it is, but the perspective you take on it might make all the difference in the world. If you think that you are going to accomplish all that needs to be done in a year or two, get ready for disappointment. On the other hand, if you see life as a process, then every good thing you do is progress toward success.

The thing about perspective is that you have a great deal of influence over it.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Administering Discipline

One big mistake any parent makes is overreacting when it comes to discipline. Parents who are squeezed for time and energy often try hard to solve discipline problems all at once. Add the emotional complexity of being in a stepfamily to the mix, and you've yourself a real challenge.

Here are a few reminders for administering discipline:

1. 99% of everything does not need to be solve in the next 10 minutes.

2. Discipline is a process, not an instance.

3. Relationship is the key to discipline.

4. Discipline is an educational process meant to form good habits.

5. Good discipline forms trust while overdone discipline kills trust.

Monday, January 22, 2007


We've talked a lot this month about the challenges of stepfamily life from different perspectives. Everyone has his or her own view of hte life of a stepfamily and vary different experiences as well.

With all of htis variety within one stepfamily, it could be said that there is not one stepfamily, there is one stepfamily for every person and relationship involved. Think about it. You are not merely a man or a woman; you may also be a parent, a stepparent, a spouse, a legal negotiator, breadwinner (whether your kids are with you or not), time management expert, peace-maker (who doesn't make as much peace as you deserve), an "ex" perhaps, and a lot of other things. Each relationship you have requires different demands from you. Balancing these complex and sometimes impossible relationships, however, is essential

How? How does one balance on this tightrope while rotten fruit is being tossed at you?

First of all, balance is the discipline of self-control. That sounds really trite until you compare it to what most people do. Most people would rather control everything but themselves. Control relationships, control work issues, control the weather, control everything that has an influence on their lives - except themselves.
The surest way to stress, pain, and perhpas even insanity is controlling everything else in your life. Seek first to control yourself, your responses to whatever happens in your life. Thi sis not to say avoid trying to influence situations, but rather it is to say do not stake your measure of success or peace on the world doing what you want it to do. You'll fail always.
Self-control is a discipline that challenges the mind, the emotions, and the body. Self-control is difficult, but generous. When you find balance through self-control, peace shows up and greets you with gifts.
Do not waste time waiting for the world to relent; instead, accept yourself in the context you occupy. Start there. Then try to influence the world. Conqueroring yourself is more important then conquering the world.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Superman and Kryptonite: Stepfathers and power

I know that we were in love when we got married. In fact, I know we still are in love. However, I can't help but feel like I was supposed to come in and bring order to this family. And yet it seems like everything I do is counered, denied, defied, or invisible.

When Bozo ran off with another woman, Sherry was left with three kids, a part time job, and a mortgage the size of Texas. She needed a hero and there I was - Superman.

First of all, I had a job that brings in the bread. Second, she was getting run over by the kids. They're not bad kids, but when dad runs off with a bimbo, they're going to have to take their rage out on someone. Mom was the nearest target. She needed someone with the authority and courage to confront her kids. Well, there I came to the rescue. I'd slam dunked dozens of business deals, stared down compeitors without blinking, and found my way up the ladder of suceess. How hard could it be to whip three kids into shape?

Well, if we're looking for easy, then I'd take corporate America every day if the week. These kids have power. I have no authority in their lives. It doesn't matter how good I am to them or their mother; it doesn't matter that their own father is as worthless as they come. In fact, the only power I have in their lives is the power they give me.

Geez, this seems so backwards. But I guess parenting and stepparenting are not the same.

There is a lot of pressure on stepfathers to pull off miralces. They often offer the family financial stability, a sense of control and authprity, and a male figure in the household. All is hoped to be well once stepdad assumes his position. And yet, sometimes for all of the power the stepdad has, when it comes to stepfathering, he can feel like Superman next to a chunk of kryptonite - powerless.

After an initial valiant effort (which usually falls flat), it can be very tempting to either crank up the heat an become hyper-authoritarian or shrink back and become a non-factor. Either way is tempting yes, but not effective.

Stepfathers should do the following:
1. Assume authority slowly, as it is earned.

2. Maintain balance in engagement. Not too much engagement and not too little.

3. Assume the necessity of flexibility. The kids will want you some days and not others.

4. Honor the fact that the kids and mom had a relationship that predates you.

5. Even if dad is a scumbag, he is still dad. Respect that fact even if you cannot find it within yourself to respect him as a man.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Dodging Tomatoes

When you take on the huge and noble task of being a stepmother, there are going to be critics. It would be nice if the critics were strangers from half a world away who you never had contact with, but truth it, sometimes they are close by. Sometimes they are the very people you are trying to love and serve and please.

A comment from the post Stepmom in the Middle, plugged scripture worth reading. Nehemiah chapter 4 in a nutshell shows the ridicule Nehemiah and the people of God went through when they are trying to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem. This mockery rests in the context of something bigger than the ridicule, the critique and the taunting. It was God's good plan moving forward. Nehemiah had to keep in mind the plan, not the critiques of the plan.

I think there is a great message for stepmoms in this passage. Go read it here.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Let's Link

Are you a blogger who reads this blog? Let's link. Upon your request, I will link to you in my sidebar under BLOGROLL and in return, I'd love to be linked to you. Let's build our cybernetwork together.

All you need to do is comment here and ask to be linked and make sure you let me know where to link. Your blog does not have to be a Stepfamily blog - it just needs to be yours.

So what do you say? Deal or no deal?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Stepmom in the middle

It takes everything I have to keep things together. I feel like I am pulled in ten different directions. But why should that be a surprise? I am the mom.

First of all, what is fair? Before becoming a stepmom all I had to deal with was being fair with my two daughters. Now adding a stepson and stepdaughter into the mix, I have no idea what fair is. If i treat all the kids the same, my kids feel betrayed, if I favor my kids, my stepchildren feel betrayed. I tried the route of being a "family" with "children," you know, without the "step" in there, but no one really cooperated with that too often.

Second, my husband, Gary, needs lots (too much) reassurance that I love him. He'ssuch a great guy and that's why I married him. But there are times when I wish he would just grow up. I feel like his mommy sometimes and that's a real drag on me.

Then there is his ex, the wicked witch of the universe. The fact that I ever have to take her into consideration is beyond me. I know she is the mother of my stepchildren, but she's always changing the schedule, missing appointments and always asking for money - my family's money. It drive me nuts.

This juggling act sometimes brings to the brink of a nervour breakdown. And yet, there are evenings when everyone is in bed and I sipping my last cup of decaf as I browse my favorite magazine and think that I have it pretty good. If I didn't havhe so many things needing my attention, then I would be all alone.

Stepmothers usually feel like they have more than they can handle in more directions than they can move. And yet, like heroes, they press on.

Any stepmoms want to share what an "average" day is in your life?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Stepchild in Transition

I hate changing. My stomach always squeezes into knots a couple hours before the switch. It doesn't matter if it is switching from mother to father or the other way. It's always bad. I hate it. I hate seeing them together, all pretending not to hate each other. Liars. I hate the McDonald's we make the switch at, I hate that they divorced. I hate that they couldn't pull it together.

Everytime we make the switch I have to smash the hope that wants to show up. Of course I still want them to get back together, but I know they never will. They can't. Dad's married that awful woman, Jenny, and mom's dating Creepy Jim. Yeah, but no one asks me my opinion - not for real anyway. It's not like I get a vote. I never get a vote.

Oh no, I never tell them how I feel. What good would it do? I just smile and pretend to be happy. It's not hard to fake them out. They're so hard up for me to be happy they'll settle for a fake smile and never really ask me how I'm doing. I don't like being fake, but what choice do I have. It's be fake and have a sense of peace or tell it like it is and be a problem. Seriously, would you do anything different?

Certainly the above monologue is not representative of every stepchild when contemplating the parent's divorce and remarriage and the switching of time with one parent to time with the other, but it would represent many feelings of many stepchildren.

Anger, powerlessness, trapped, needing to please - stepchildren have a lot to deal with on a regular basis.

What is important for parents and stepparents to keep in mind is not a heap of guilt. Instead, they should have a persistent sensitivity to their children's and stepchildren's needs. The kids need space be mad, express their feelings, and have lots of ups and downs. Suppressing the kid's feelings will only incite rebellion of make liars of them.

Yes, it's emotionally intensive work, but it's wort it.