FOUR REASONS Why Being a Step-Mom (or Dad) is Hard!

Reason #1: THE STEP-CHILD

You did not conceive, give birth to or delight in the birth of this child.  You did not nurse him or walk with him when he had colic.  You did not see her first smile or gaze with wonder into her eyes.  You didn’t rejoice when he turned learned to crawl.  You didn’t laugh when she said her first word.

For a birth parent there are a million moments with this child that are like invisible threads winding these two hearts together.

You enter this child’s life after age four, or eight, or twelve years of these moments that you have missed.

You are beginning to build a relationship when this child already is tightly bound to his birth mother and father.  No matter what difficult dynamics may be between them, this child is deeply, genetically and emotionally loyal to the two who gave her life.

Reason #2: THE FATHER

He’s a great guy or you wouldn’t have fallen in love with him.  You believe you can help him heal from the trauma of divorce or the loss of his former wife.

What you don’t immediately see is that he feels sorry that his kids have suffered trauma, too.  He couldn’t protect them from the loss of their mother.  Or he left their mother because he was unhappy or the situation was intolerable.  He believes, whether it’s true or not, that he’s contributed to a deep wound in his kids.  He wants to make all other parts of their lives as easy and conflict free as possible to make up for the pain they have felt or are experiencing.

So, he wears rose colored glasses when it comes to his kids.  He sometimes excuses behavior you think needs correction.  He doesn’t seem to notice when they leave their stuff all over the house, or eat candy before dinner, or are rude to you.

And he resents it when you suggest his kids may need more dependable structure in their lives.  After all, what do you know?  You didn’t live through the events that brought them to this place.  You don’t understand that Susie is especially sensitive and must be treated with kid gloves.  Or that Bobbie is just acting out his confusion and only needs time to adjust.

Reason #3: THE MOTHER

You are, in many ways, acting the role of the mother.  You may fix meals, drive to school, do the laundry, and attend sports events,  ad nauseam.  But you do not enjoy the loyalty or the affection of these children.  That belongs to their real mother.

And she may be jealous of sharing her time and authority with you.  She may still be reacting to the pain of her dream family splitting apart whether or not it was her choice.  She may see you in competition with her for her children’s affection.  She may want to punish the former spouse by changing custody plans at the last minute, or taking him back to court for more money.  She might even tell lies about him…and you… to the children!  She may try to engage you in the drama.

And your beloved may be so sick of dealing with her that he is relieved when you take over the communication with her…meaning you are drawing her fire more than him.

Having an adult, mature relationship with an Ex where the needs of the children are put ahead of the convenience of the parents (and step-parent) is an ideal situation.  It even occasionally happens that way.  And sometimes relationships with an Ex that start out crazy gradually become more sane.  (Watch the videos recommended below to see how one father learned to handle his “crazy Ex.”)

But sanity seems to be the rare exception when it comes to broken marriages and custody of children.

Reason #4: YOU, THE STEP-MOTHER

Yes, you too, may be contributing to the issues.  Often you, the “new wife,” believe you can rescue this wonderful man.  You are the salve that will heal his wounded heart.   You will provide the love and stability that these hurting children need.  You will love them all back to health and happiness.  You will be the catalyst for a more positive future.

And then you begin to resent how unappreciative they all are!  You are being taken advantage of and feel used.  You chafe at the lack of authority you have to make decisions and follow through with needed discipline.  You can’t understand why your beloved doesn’t see that Bobby needs firm boundaries, or that Susie shouldn’t get her own way just because she’s throwing another tantrum.

Can’t he see that he’s ruining his precious children?  Doesn’t he understand that you’re giving advice because you care about what kind of adults they will grow up to be?

THERE IS HOPE FOR STEP-FAMILIES

Unrealistic expectations are at the core of so many step-family choices that add to the chaos and pain rather than relieving it.  You cannot force a new, fragile step-family into the happy, well-adjusted family that most imagine being a part of when they marry.

And yet there are proven guidelines that help the unique dynamics of a step-family work more smoothly.  I said “more smoothly” because step-family life is very rarely smooth.  It is multiple times more difficult to navigate around the issues and personalities in a step-family than to deal with the normal ups and downs in a first marriage with shared birth children.

Visit this page on my website to listen to interviews of several real-life step-couples who have successfully dealt with all of these issues.  Hearing their stories is far more effective and powerful than if I were to give you a list of guidelines in this article. Their experience is inspiring and their solutions are practical and duplicatable! 

  • Hear Jeremy and Lisa’s story and the valuable lessons they’ve learned.
  • Listen to James and Kim share some things they did impressively well.
  • And you must hear how establishing a few house rules made a big difference to Sherman and Alexa.

http://nancylandrum.com/stepping-twogether

Four Skills That Create a Loving, Lasting Marriage

Valentine’s Day is coming.  Our attention is drawn to loving relationships, especially romantic ones.  Everyone I’ve ever asked wants a happy, loving, intimate relationship with the love of his or her life.  That dream seems to be loaded into our DNA, tattooed on our brains, instinctively coded into our emotional make-up.

But is it enough to long for a loving, lasting, happy marriage?  Even though the longing is universal?  No, it’s not enough.  Is it enough to be madly in love when you marry?  No, it’s not enough.

Then what does it take?  There are four key areas where skills can be improved or developed that create a loving, lasting marriage.  Here they are:

  1. It takes a dream powerful enough to see you through the rough spots combined with willingness to grow into that dream by making hard choices. To exchange blaming the other for choosing new behaviors for yourself.  To let go of old patterns.  To sacrifice the immature, dysfunctional and hurtful ways in service to achieving the dream.

I ask every couple I’ve coached, “Do you have family members or friends who have a marriage you’d like to emulate?”  So far, I’ve only heard, “No.”  When you don’t see a loving, lasting marriage in operation, how can you trust that the dream is doable? And worth the effort to achieve it?

When you don’t have a healthy model to follow, use books written by those who’ve achieved the dream, like my How to Stay Married & Love It! Solving the Puzzle of a SoulMate Marriage.  (LINK) Or testimonials like those on my website.  These couples have done the work to have a happy, lasting marriage.  www.nancylandrum.com

  1. Good Communication Skills come next. Methods of speaking and listening that create connection, rather than driving more and more distance between you.  (Communication That Connects)

Without instruction, few of us realize how our delivery of messages may be triggering a reactive response…or escalating an argument.  It isn’t easy to change how we speak and listen.  Those patterns were begun in infancy by what we heard or what helped us get our own way.  But exchanging distancing methods of communication is necessary if you want a lasting, loving marriage.

Sue said to me, “When we were first married we fought viciously, yelling and name calling.  But it didn’t take long for us to realize that if we wanted our marriage to last, we had to stop doing that.  We changed.  We’ve now been married forty-five years and are still in love!”

  1. Respectful Conflict Management is essential. Every close relationship has conflict.  When two human beings throw in themselves and the welfare of their futures together, there is a lot at stake.  And, face it, we all love to be “right” and will sometimes fight for the winning position.

Researchers Markman and Notarius state unequivocally in their book We Can Work it Out, Making Sense Out of Marital Conflict ,  “Love is needed to get a relationship off the ground, but it doesn’t provide enough fuel to keep a marriage flying toward success over time…nor does commitment.  It’s how couples manage conflict that makes the difference.  The key to marital success is to teach couples how to talk without fighting.”

John Gottman’s research validated this when he observed couples having a disagreement in his lab.  After years of observation, he could predict within 93.7% which couples would divorce within six years based on how they fought.  He labels criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stone-walling the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse…the fighting methods that eventually destroy the relationship.   The Gottman institute blog.

It’s often necessary to make a date to discuss an issue that needs resolving.  Set a time when you are free from other distractions and the kids are asleep or out of the house.  Making a date to resolve a conflict says, “I care enough about you and our relationship to set aside time to work this out.”

If it isn’t resolved in one try, then before closing that session down, set another date to pick it up again…and do this until you find a resolution that suites both of you.

Fighting badly was one of the habits that my late husband and I had to change in order to save our floundering marriage.  Our story of learning to safely vent anger away from each other is told in Chapters 12-16 in How to Stay Married & Love It!  LINK  The day we committed to always treat each other with respect…and then practiced doing that…was the day the fighting stopped and the marriage began to heal.  It took us six months of two-three Conflict Dates per week before we finally found a solution that worked for both of us.

  1. Regular FUN Dating is a must! Who says the courtship is over when you marry?  Frequent courting needs to be included in every loving, lasting marriage plan!

There are a couple of rules to continued courting dates.  1) Never discuss a “hot topic” while on a fun date!  Dating is meant to remind you of why you fell in love, and to keep the flames of love alive.  That won’t happen if every date is used as a time you’re finally away from the kids and so “let’s talk about…”

And, 2) Do something that is fun for both of you.  Jim loved going to a baseball game.  I didn’t, but I loved being with him.  I took a book to read, or a knitting project and just enjoyed hearing his pleasure about the plays or the players.

During a financially stressed time, we were on a strict, tight budget, but allowed $25/week for our date.  I saved two-for-one coupons for a burger dinner and we’d go to a matinee movie.  It wasn’t a spectacular date, but it gave us time away from the stress and a chance to just enjoy being together.

How long has it been since you’ve had a fun date?  Make it a weekly commitment, even if it’s just a quiet stroll around the block or an ice cream cone.

SUMMARY: These new skills are easy.  Children pick them up quickly when adults are modeling them.  But by the time we are in a marriage, or a second or third marriage, we’ve been using poor methods of handling stress and poor communication habits for many years.  Changing the ways we interact with another or handle our emotions when stressed is like hacking our way through the jungle, forming a new path in the brain which is highly resistant to change.

Not everyone will do that.  I think it’s because the dream isn’t vivid enough…isn’t believed possible. Stressful conflict combined with an ego that says, “I’ll change after you do,” or, “You’re the one who needs to change!” makes achieving the dream impossible.  The old patterns are replayed over and over again until the relationship dies, or you give up the dream and just make do with what is.

Many couples see divorce as the only way out of this relationship vise.  Others, many others, just settle for the status quo.  They become so accustomed to a certain level of emotional distance and stress in the relationship that it feels normal…as good as it can be.  The dream must have been a fantasy, unachievable, so it’s useless to try for more.

As a coach, it’s a heartbreak for me to see couples get amazing results from the skills I teach, and then hear that they’ve gone back to the old ways that give them the same old, painful results.

Do you want the dream badly enough?  Are you willing to do the hard work of exchanging old patterns for the four main new ones that will produce the loving relationship for which you long?  Have you known you needed to do something different, but just haven’t known what “different” looks like?

Schedule a call with me. I can help!  https//meetme.so/SpeakWithNancy

Nancy Landrum, M.A. has been teaching couples these transformational skills for twenty-five years. She has written six books on the subject and recently launched an online program where these skills can be learned from your computer.  Explore the Millionaire Marriage Club on her website: www.NancyLandrum.com

P.S.  Download the Free Communication That Connects.

Death of Our Dream Became Resurrection of Our Love

Sometimes the most painful, agonizing experiences of our lives happen to us.  Not that we asked for them, or even caused them, but a new, unwanted life is dropped on us like a ton of bricks.

That happened to me when my first husband died unexpectedly.  I was twenty-three years old with two baby boys.  It was five long years before life began to feel good again.

I wanted to remarry, but remained a single mom for a total of thirteen years before a mutual friend introduced Jim and me.  He lost his wife after a prolonged illness.  He had two teenage daughters and an eight-year-old son.

We fell in love…and I dreamed big!  LOVE AGAIN!  A man to share my bed!  Daughters!  I’d always wanted five children!  He had such a wonderful sense of humor.  He was fun to be with!  He was affectionate and called me his “sweet baby!”  We were adults. We’d been through a lot. We were mature. We would work out anything that might arise in our precious new family.

Like many couples married after great loss from death or divorce, we had absolutely no understanding of the unique dynamics of a stepfamily.  We made the classic assumption that we would form a new family that would look, act and function like a first family. NOT!

A conflict over parenting differences soon arose.  For the first year or so, we’d talk it out, agree on a solution, then kiss and make up.  But solutions fell apart.  The conflict reignited…over and over again.  The more frustrated we got, the worse our methods of communication became.  I adopted sarcastic put downs. (After all, I’m good with words!)  He verbally attacked with accusations…or walked out the door hoping I’d calm down by the time he returned. (It didn’t work!)

We desperately wanted the loving, sweet relationship of our dreams, but were on the verge of separating.  We went to therapists. (They didn’t know what to do with us.) We saw pastor friends.  (They were kind, but had nothing except platitudes like “never go to bed angry.” (I wanted to scream, “How do we do that when I’m so angry I wish he would die in his sleep!”)

We finally found a coach who began to teach us functional anger management skills.  We learned how to speak without attacking, and tried to really understand each other’s point of view.

The fighting stopped.  A few months later we agreed on a solution to our conflict that saved our marriage.  Within a short time we had the loving, peaceful marriage we’d dreamed of in the beginning.

The dream wasn’t idealistic or unreal.  It wasn’t a fairytale that many today believe marriage to be.  The dream kept us going through the hard work of growing into the reality of a loving marriage that both of us wanted until death parted us.

Is this story familiar to you?  Would you like a coach who can teach you great skills and help you implement those skills until you can live the dream?  Click on this link to set up a phone appointment with me at your convenience.  You can do this!  We did!  https://meetme.com/SpeakWithNancy

P.S. Download the complete Landrum Stepfamily Story here:  Click Here.

Our Dirty, Ugly Secret…

“To others we look good.  We have good jobs.  Our children are reasonably well behaved.  We live in a decent neighborhood.  We even attend church regularly.  We are clean, hair styled, clothes presentable.  We look like–and have even been told–we are one of the lucky ones.

But we have a secret that is eating away at this perfect picture.  We fight.  We sometimes treat each other and our children with painful disrespect.  We feel disconnected, angry and unsure of what the future may hold for us.  We rarely have sex, and when we do, it can’t be called “making love.”

“We are each quietly desperate.  Wanting help but are too embarrassed to ask for it.  We’re dying inside, and don’t know how to treat this cancer that is eroding our lives.”

Could you have written this? Is this what is behind the face of your marriage?

At one time this description was true about my marriage to my late husband, Jim.  We hung on for years, trying to fix the dis-ease that was eroding our marriage and family.

Yet the last seventeen years of our life together was blissfully happy.  We treated each other with affection and respect.  The circumstances weren’t always perfect, but our ability to stay centered in our love for each other was amazingly, consistently fulfilling.

What made the difference? How did we move from our ugly secret to being passionate about sharing our great marriage with hundreds of other couples?

We learned new communication and conflict management skills…and we practiced them!  We practiced until they became as habitual as our old ways of reacting to each other.  We practiced until the air between us was full of our loving for each other.  We practiced until any little upset could be resolved in moments instead of days or weeks.

A great marriage is sometimes an accident of fate.  But most marriages require commitment to learning and then using simple, yet powerful communication skills… skills that are proven to work miracles in unhappy relationships.

We came out of our closet of ugly secrets into the light of a loving marriage! You can, too, by downloading and following:  10 Steps to End Our Dirty, Ugly Secret