Hold Your First Family Meeting!

family-meetingMaybe convening a family meeting sounds like as much fun as joining a Polar Bear swim on New Years’ Day, but if you do it right, it can be something everyone actually looks forward to. It also serves as a great way to accomplish a lot of crucial goals for your family:

  1. It makes rules and expectations clear.
  2. It gives everyone a voice and lets the kids tell you what they need or are struggling with.
  3. It avoids surprises
  4. It helps build a sense of comfort by becoming a reliable landmark among other family routines and rituals , and
  5. It makes everyone in the family feel they belong and are respected.

For the first meeting, tell everyone you’re going to try something new right after suppertime that night. If you have a weekly routine of doing something together like taking a walk or a playing board game, you can squeeze the meeting in between.

It’s important that the first few meetings should be strictly about showing appreciation for whatever is going well in your family. Acknowledge the kids for anything they have done lately to cooperate, to share, to help out around the house, to get their homework done. Announce whatever might be coming up the following week, especially any change of routine. We often take for granted that kids know when business trips are coming up or visitors are expected – even birthdays can take them by surprise!

Tell them you’ll post an agenda on the fridge that they can add items to. When issues come up during the week, show them how to add them to the agenda. Let them know you’re open to talking about these things and show it with your open-hearted attitude and good listening skills. Finish up with a family game, playtime, movie or whatever you like to do together. It would be a good time for allowance if that’s something you do in your family.

For the next few meetings, begin again by showing appreciation for things that have made your family run smoothly or created a happy atmosphere. After that, focus only on the kids’ concerns. Whoever is chairing the meeting should make sure that nobody gets interrupted, and that you avoid any negative patterns that could derail the meeting.

Make sure that everyone gets a turn to talk. If your family includes someone who can’t help butting in during someone else’s turn, use a talking stick or some other object that gives the holder exclusive rights to speak without interruption. You can lighten the mood of the whole thing by using something funny, like a stuffed animal or a silly statue to call the meeting to order.

When tabling possible solutions to a given problem, suggest a trial period of one week or two. Check in at the end of the trial period and revisit the topic to see if everyone is satisfied with the change.

Don’t include any of the adults’ concerns until your family meetings have become established, and begin gently with things that are not heavily charged with emotion. A family meeting is a great vehicle for reaching agreement about things like chores and allowance, curfews and consequences. Making decisions by reaching a consensus is always a better route than simply taking a vote because everyone buys into the final outcome instead of feeling that they were outvoted.

Wait for an appropriate before bringing up sensitive issues and never include things that are very personal or embarrassing for any individual – those should always be dealt with in private.

Be respectful of everyone’s dignity as well as their feelings. Do your best to make this an opportunity for new ways of connecting with your kids, especially as they move into the teen years.


2 Bedrooms, 2 Bosses. It Just Bites.

shareholderImagine, if you will, that you work in an office where as part of the normal workflow you must work every other week at a different location. You pack up all your stuff – you might even need to put it in a large briefcase on wheels – and go to another desk in another building. Then, after a week, you pack it all back up and return where you were.

Naturally, you have a different supervisor on these alternate weeks with different expectations of you. Sometimes those expectations are made clear, but it’s hard to keep it all straight in the chaos and you end up messing up a lot. You feel embarrassed when you make a mistake and the supervisor gets angry because you should be able to manage. The supervisor doesn’t have to move locations, you think to yourself.

You have different jobs to do with a different team of co-workers. Sometimes you get along great with one team and not with the other. There can be nasty office politics at work as well. The two supervisors are constantly competing with each other and one or both of them will throw you under the bus when anything goes wrong. They each sabotage your work with the other’s team so their own team can have an advantage. There are work secrets on both sides that you are privy to, and not allowed to speak of even though it would help everyone get the results that will move the whole business ahead.

Want to quit yet? Think again. This is a job you can never leave. It’s forever. You feel like the whole crazy thing is somehow your own fault. If only you were better at what you do, you could have landed a job in one of those businesses where people get to stay put in one g*dd*m place and just get their work done in peace. It seems like everyone but you works for a normal company like that.

If you get fired, you will never work anywhere again. That would be a total catastrophe.

You pretend to like your job, but you feel crappy all the time. If you like the atmosphere at one area better than the other, you feel scared because the supervisors can tell, and it will only be worse for you if have those thoughts. If you try to change the system so you can just stay in one place, you feel guilty because you know that half of your work is going undone and the rest of that team are struggling without you. You try to keep calm but sometimes you just explode over nothing. Everyone around you thinks it’s normal to work like this. It makes you forget what you are even upset about.

The End.

Now, look at your stepchild and tell me what you see. Did this shift your perspective just a little?

A stepmom is like the HR professional who has to do her best to support this employee through what she hopefully understands is an impossible situation. If she does her job well, the employee might actually dump a lot of unhappy feelings on her because there is no other place to do that. The best she can do is be a good listener and try to help the worker keep things straight. She can explain that everybody sees what a good job the child is doing and that it’s really OK to mess up sometimes. She is not a punching bag, and she will alert the child when they are using her as a stand-in for one of the bosses instead of as an ally who is trying to help. Being a stepmother is really hard, often thankless work.

One day, she will get the recognition and appreciation she deserves. Maybe even a promotion.

I Wish Mom And Dad Were Still Together

i-wishThese are words that can strike at the heart of a stepmother so it’s important to understand what kids really mean when they say this.

If you have lost one of your own parents, you might sometimes feel like saying “I wish dad were still around. I really miss him”. I think you know what I mean. It’s like sighing out loud. You sure wouldn’t want anyone to respond: “Well, that’s silly, he’s been gone for years!” You just need to say it in order to feel better. You are not looking for a solution, just a sounding board.

For kids, the loss of their family is like a death. They miss the entity that was their family. They don’t expect it to magically be put back together, they just need to say it out loud.

If you find yourself overhearing this, or talking about this with your stepkids, here are some important things to remember:


It’s about feeling torn in half. They live in two different homes, with different bedrooms, different food, different neighborhood friends. Perhaps there is even a pet who lives at one place but not the other. Due to the separation, they might feel the weight of having to deal with bitterness and or unhappiness of one parent, or a big difference in how happy and settled one parent seems compared to the other. They think that if their parents were living together again, those problems would go away.


This is a big one for my own stepkids. One stepson in particular often expresses how badly he wants what he thinks of as a ‘normal’ family. This comes from not having enough life experience to understand the wide variety of family situations. They think their own family is the only one with these kinds of problems. They may feel that other kids are judging them or at least observing what they think are embarrassing things about their life.


Just like in the example I gave above, we all need to express our feelings in order to process them and be able to heal from our hurts. Imagine if, in the example above, you said those words to your mom and she responded by saying “But dad has been gone for so many years, I thought you would be used to my new husband by now” You would say, “Good grief, mom, it’s not about him! I just miss DAD!”

Hearing comments like “I wish mom and dad were still together” can have an effect of activating some of your ‘old stuff’. We all have old issues in our unconscious minds such as insecurity about belonging or how rejected or unimportant we were made to feel at another time in our lives. Try to notice when you are experiencing a feeling that you recognize from another situation and detach that from what’s really happening right now.

You want to develop a relationship with your step kids that will give them the security to come to talk to you about anything that comes up for them (think serious teenage issues!) without worrying about hurting or upsetting you.


Here are some samples you could try out:

“You wish your mom and dad were still together. Is that what you said?”

“I understand. What do you miss about that time?”

“Did something happen to make you feel especially sad about that today?”

“It’s OK to wish that! You’re allowed to wish whatever you want!”

Then, just stay in that wishing place with them for a while, let them feel your company. Let them talk about their old life and what they miss about it, or why they feel extra sad today.

You’ll be surprised what you hear when you just listen!

6 Ways To Be A Stepmother Who Is Not A Mom

Photo of modern fairyMy personal approach to the role of stepmother is to avoid behaving like a “mom”. There could be good reasons to do otherwise, but for most of us I think this is the best policy and here is why:

  1. I’m pretty sure that females of all species are hardwired to scratch out the eyeballs of any creature who tries to mother our babies. You don’t need to wake this sleeping monster! Despite the rare and welcome cases where bi0 mom and stepmom become friends and cheerfully co-parent a child, 99% of perfectly reasonable women will become completely enraged if they hear their child call another woman “mom”. I know I would!
  2. It’s confusing for the kids. We’re simply not hard-wired to belong to two mothers (unless they are your only two parents and love each other). The “Loyalty Bind” isn’t really about a conscious decision of how to treat a mom or stepmom, it’s a completely unconscious drive deep inside a child’s heart to punish themself for loving two moms. We can spare them this suffering by being clever about how we approach our relationship with them.
  3. You can easily get burned out from overdoing and over-giving when you act like a mom. Many stepmoms feel resentful and unappreciated for all the mothering they do. It’s much healthier for you to let dad be dad, and to play more of a supporting role in the family dynamic.

Here are 6 types of persona or “alter-ego” that you can choose from in how you relate to your partner’s kids:

Continue reading “6 Ways To Be A Stepmother Who Is Not A Mom”

A Walk For All Reasons

Mother with daughterPart One

If you don’t already love to walk, I think that you should learn to love it. Going for a walk outside together, whether in the city or the countryside, is a wonderful bonding activity and will help you have a positive impact on a child in your life.

  • Most kids today are way too sedentary. They spend most of their free time doing things that they can do sitting down. Too much use of electronics can make them get bored quickly because they are used to being constantly overstimulated. Most of what they are doing or watching on the internet or social media encourages behaviors and values you probably don’t agree with. A sure sign of this problem is that they become jaded, cranky or impolite.
  • Walking is the best all-around exercise for better brain health (ability to learn and remember), and for improving mood and emotional issues like depression, anxiety, quick temper. Did you know that studies have shown that walking is equal to or better than antidepressant medications like Zoloft and Paxil for managing symptoms of depression?
    Read more here:
  • You can see that walking can be a great STRESS MANAGEMENT tool for yourself as well. Goodness knows, if you are not at least a little bit stressed in your role as girlfriend or step-mom, you will be at some point! Being outside, getting fresh air into your lungs and sunshine on your skin gives you access to something called “source energy” that is translated into actual chemicals inside your body that are used to give you strength and stamina.
  • You probably already know that walking is good for your physical health. You don’t need to be a jogger or to work out at the gym if exercise not really your thing; just get out and walk. Plain walking is a great way to get your lungs working, to pump more oxygen to your brain and other important places, to detoxify your system, to improve your digestion and even lose weight.


Part Two

Walking outdoors is always a walk in nature, even if you are in the city. If the kids you know are outdoorsy people anyway, then they will welcome the chance to be outside moving around. If they are not used to being outside, this is your chance to do something awesome for them!

When my step-kids were younger, they visited us only occasionally. I was in the habit of walking to the grocery store fairly often, a walk of 10 minutes or so each way. I used to say “Who wants to walk to the store with me?” and one of them would always ask to come along. Walking was not something they were used to doing at home and they seemed to really crave that activity.

I always love to point out how the sky looks and they would notice little things on the ground. Even a stroll to the grocery store can be an important journey out of the make-believe land of TV into the real world. All kids relate to you better when they spend more time in the real world. Walking in a park or a nature trail is a bonus if you have something like that near you. As I said before, if they already love being in nature they will be grateful for the excursion and if they don’t, imagine how badly they need you to show it to them!

Part Three

Walking is one of the most important parts of any weight management plan. It’s easy to fall prey to all the advertising around buying special workout equipment for your home or signing up for a membership to a gym. Those things are great but not necessary! Regular walking is all the exercise you need to keep extra pounds away.

I know this from personal experience. I sent my daughter to a primary school much farther away than the one at the end of our street so she would get at least that much exercise each day. She now happily walks 40 minutes to work every morning. My step-son walked 30 minutes each way from our house to his high school although we could have given him a ride. He appreciated the chance to move before a long day of classes, and again at the end of the school day.

As for myself, my morning walk has helped me shed about two big bags of potatoes I no longer have to carry around all day. My teenage step-daughter is a total inspiration though – she started walking 90 minutes every day and, combined with sensible eating, lost 50 pounds in less than a year. You can imagine how happy she is about that!

When it comes to being involved with raising kids, full-time or part-time, a healthier direction is always the right choice. That means that if they are used to being active, they will be glad to get out and walk with you. If they are not used to outdoor activities, this is your chance to show them how good it can feel to just get outside and move!


Part Four

The best reason to take a child for a walk is that it can do wonders for building your relationship. Talking happens naturally when we walk together and kids have a way of opening up while walking that will let them say things they might otherwise never mention. I recently heard something interesting about talking to boys in particular. Apparently, boys relate better to someone standing or sitting beside them instead of across from them. If I think back to the good talks I have had over the years with my step-sons, they were often on a walk, a car ride or sitting on the porch steps! Girls prefer to talk face to face, but I can assure you, they talk lots while walking, too!

When you are on a walk, you are able to give the child your undivided attention. It’s probably something they don’t really get a lot of. Make sure you leave your phone in your pocket. If a teenager wants to walk with headphones in, you can try to make conversation by saying “What are you listening to?” or by making remarks about the surroundings. If they agreed to go for a walk with you, they probably have something they would like to talk about but might be feeling awkward. Give him/her time, they will warm up. In my experience, they will spit it out just before you arrive home!

Every child, young or old, wants to spend more quality time with the adults in their life, strange as that may seem. Walking is a wonderful way to connect in a private, attentive way, and it will help you out again and again in forming a bond and deepening your relationship.

Part Five

One of the most common complaints among women who are involved with single dad is feeling left out. Dad and his kids share a whole history together and it can feel like you will never be included. The best way to overcome this problem is to start making your own history together, with new rituals that will belong to you and not to their old life. Going for walks is the perfect place to start.

You might find that you have a favorite place to walk that you go back to again and again, or you might enjoy finding new places to walk. Those can be new routes in your neighborhood, different parts of town, or places you look for on a map or on the internet. One step-mom I interviewed recently made a new ritual of going for mystery drives where they would spin a bottle and just head off in that direction to see what they might find. If your step-kids like nature walks, they can bring back little souvenirs to keep in a book. You can make a habit of taking a selfie together in each new place you visit or make a mark on a map of where you have been.

Walking can be an introduction to the act of making new memories together. This is the start of becoming a new family, the one you can belong to, the one you invite them to join.

We Should Think More About Things That Don’t Matter

House Fire#

Why is it so hard to keep our priorities straight?

We think we’re focused on what matters, but in an instant, the universe can show us that we had it all wrong. We know what’s really important, but we insist on building other things up to be important as if we need to be surrounded with important crap all the time.

We don’t.

At least once every year there is a local news story in everyone’s area about a house fire that leaves a family with nothing but the socks and pyjamas they ran out into the street with. People rally to help, not only from genuine sympathy and charity but because they suddenly realize that none of their own crap is that important to them after all. They feel moved to share whatever they have because, in the end, it’s just stuff.

We need stories like this to keep us in line.

We are wired to be vigilant, to save up for a rainy day, to be fearful of attack. This comes from our animal ancestry, and it serves us pretty well in the wild, but in modern society, it makes us obsess about social media and consumer goods as though they were essential to our survival.

A brand of car, that bathroom reno, having perfect eyebrows become the stuff of necessity instead of amusements for when we don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from.

It’s not that we forget what’s really important. The problem is, we forget what’s not important at all. We need occasional stories of sudden and total loss to remind us that we could step out of this paradigm any time we choose.

We can choose to remember that every bit of the stuff that surrounds us in our homes is dispensable. Likewise, everything happening on social media is rendered instantly meaningless when we hear a loved one has died – so, why do we ever think it different?

The only thing that’s stopping you from feeling joy right at this moment is the lack of a desire for joy, and you can fix that any time. Imagine it’s you who has just escaped disaster with nothing but the clothes on your back and the knowledge that your loved ones are safe and sound.

Think on that for a bit today!

Start Thinking Smaller.

Upset mother with hands on head among mischievous little girls
Upset mother with hands on head among mischievous little girls

It’s not just the antidote to overwhelm, it’s the answer to most of your stepmom problems.

There are only two reactions to overwhelm. You either become paralyzed or you spin your wheels. If you’re one of those people who find that being overwhelmed makes you more productive, it’s not really overwhelm, it’s more like challenge.

Overwhelm is a challenge too, in its own way. It challenges us to find another response to this combination of high expectations, low resources and zero hope of prevailing. This is just as true inside your blended family as it is in the workplace.

The most important skill you need to develop is the ability to think small, to break the problem down to the tiniest actionable step, and then make just one miniature move.

For example, weekends with the step-kids are total chaos. They are wired when they arrive and the transition is always difficult. They are demanding, loud and needy. Your partner copes by focusing on the TV. They complain about what you make them to eat. They drop their stuff everywhere and the house is a mess.

Where can you begin?

Here are some tiny things you can do keep from feeling overwhelmed.

  • Put 10 drops of Rescue Remedy into a tall glass of water and sip. Repeat as needed. This will calm your nerves and leave you able to drive the car, unlike a glass of wine which is an otherwise excellent suggestion if escape is not part of your game plan.

  • Suggest a routine “welcome activity” that’s the same every time they arrive: pizza, bowling, ice cream, music, card games, waffles, whatever. The predictable routine will be welcome and help them calm down sooner. You don’t have to do it, by the way. It’s the suggestion that’s tiny.

  • Don’t make the food. Problem solved. If that feels too big, go smaller – just get dad to dish it out and put it in front of them.

  • Find something to do outside of the house. For yourself, I mean. You don’t have to be there every minute the kids are visiting, and they will be glad to have dad all to themselves. Think of something small – take yourself out for a cup of tea. Go for a walk. Sit at a bookstore.

  • Do the ESR (Emotional Stress Release) move. Go somewhere you can close the door. Close your eyes and lightly cover your forehead with one hand. Visualize the crapstorm happening on the other side of your closed door for 20 seconds or so. Now, replay that little video clip and tack on a lovely, calm, utterly pleasing end sequence. Smile and take a deep breath.

  • Repeat this phrase, aloud or silently to yourself: “I am not responsible for this. My only job is to help my partner be a good parent – it’s not to do any of the parenting for him.” The next step is to let go of how it looks with you not doing any of his parenting.

Start small – you can pick just one of these tiny gestures and if it feels good, go ahead and try another one.

All that matters is that you keep moving. Change might be glacially slow in coming, but this too shall pass.

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