Stepmoms: What to do instead of punishing your stepkids.

Even in the early stages of your relationship with a divorced Dad, you’re warned early and often “it’s not your job to punish the kids.”  Followed up with the unnecessary reminder “they’re not your kids.”


Yet, once you become a stepmom, you’re expected to contribute to the care and feeding of your stepchildren. And love them like your own.


In fact, many stepmoms spend more time with their stepchildren than either biological parent.


It’s not fair to Stepmom or the kids to leave them in the care of someone lacking the authority of a biological parent, or even that of a teacher or childcare provider.


We’re told to leave the discipline to Dad. Sounds good in theory, right?


Truth be told, many dads feel too guilty to discipline the kids, or they’re afraid the kids won’t want to visit if he comes down on them.


It’s a crappy role for you to be in, and for the kids.


Despite all of this, in most instances, I agree it’s best to avoid punishing your stepkids.


As a stepmom your relationship with the kids is fragile, especially in the beginning. Kids are not born with an innate need for you the way they are for their biological parents.


But, don’t fret, you CAN influence their behavior without punishment.


You do this by focusing on connection. Once connection is established, you’re in a position to influence. And the role of an influencer is far more powerful role than a disciplinarian.


Here are 3 strategies for successfully influencing your child’s behavior, without punishment:


1. Make them feel important.


Overall, our culture lacks respect for children.


Kids aren’t allowed to show disappointment when they’re told no. It’s considered disrespectful for them to challenge an adult’s thinking.


If they’re in school, young kids are even told how to sit (criss cross applesauce) and to “catch a bubble” when walking the halls or during story time as a way of keeping them quiet.


Imagine if you were treated like that day in day out.


What would your response be to that one person in your world who actually encourages you to talk about yourself, empowers you to express yourself, and offers you undivided attention?


Are you going to turn your back on that one person who acknowledges you’re important? No way.  You’re going to want to please that person, as much as they please you.


Research shows talking, tweeting or facebooking about ourselves is more rewarding than food and money. Be one of the few adults in their world who takes the time to make them feel important.


2. Validate their feelings.


When encouraging them to talk about themselves, you’re job is to put your ego aside. Don’t judge their statements as right or wrong, simply seek to understand.  Connect without an agenda.


The stronger your connection, the more likely they are to come to you and ask for help when they get older and are confronted with big, scary decisions.


Until they come to you for advice your job is to show interest, ask questions and encourage critical thinking.


If they’re sharing something positive with you, ask them to tell you every detail. Celebrate with them.


“I’m so happy for you! Tell me all about it, don’t leave out any details!”


If they’re sharing something upsetting, label their feelings and paraphrase back what you think you heard.


“That must have made you feel so sad when they wouldn’t let you sit with them.”


By validating their feelings, you’ll be a safe person for them to come running to in times of need. Or when they feel guilt or shame for misbehaving.


3. Communicate boundaries using “I” statements.


The most compassionate people in the world have strong boundaries. Without strong boundaries, we quickly become depleted, unable to offer empathy.


Being a good stepmom is emotionally demanding, and the last thing your family needs is you playing the part of the sacrificial lamb.


Boundaries are guidelines on how we are to be treated. Holding a boundary requires action on our part. We can do this without disciplining another.


If you had plans to take your stepdaughter out and she’s behaving disrespectfully towards you, you hold your boundary by stating what need is not being met, and what action is required to meet that need. Such as:


“When I ask something of you and you ignore me or roll your eyes, my need for respect is not being met. If we’re going to continue with our plans, I need to know I’ll be treated with respect. Going forward, please be kind with your words.”


By focusing on your needs, instead of criticizing your child, the child is able to hear you without feeling defensive. You’ve also clearly stated what behavior is required of her to meet your need for respect.


If she ignores your request, you have the option of canceling your plans. She’s experiencing a natural consequence of being rude to another, and it doesn’t require you to control her behavior.


With that said, pick your battles, pre-teens and teens are age appropriately moody and hormonal, and they’re unable to control every impulse. Just keep prioritizing connection over control and you’re on your way to being an influencer.


Cliff Notes:


1. Make her feel important by being a good listener: Ask her for details. Match her emotions. If she’s excited, be excited. If she’s sad, offer empathy.


2. Validate her feelings: Paraphrase back what you heard. Don’t offer advice unless asked.


3. Communicate boundaries with “I” statements: Describe the offensive behavior, state what need is not being met, follow up with action she can take to meet your need.

For the Stepmom considering divorce.

In this moment, I know at least one of you is questioning if you’re cut out for life as a Stepmom. You’re thinking of quitting.

Maybe you’re now just discovering life as a Stepmom is not a fairy tale. Or, worse yet, maybe it is like it’s depicted by Disney.


This lifestyle is not for the weak. Many of us go into it thinking we can help, only to recognize those we could help the most don’t want our help.


Do you think life would be easier if you didn’t marry into a pre-made family? To some degree, it’s true.


In 1st marriages, you have time to build a strong bond with your husband. In a 2nd marriage, you’re trying to build a bond in the shadow of a stronger, already established bond between father and child.


The thing is you’re probably comparing your marriage to a problem free 1st marriage. In other words, you’re comparing it to a marriage between 2 unicorns, because only a marriage between mythical creatures is problem free.


Even then, I bet they still lock horns.


When you choose someone to marry, you’re not just choosing the man, you’re choosing a list of problems to contend with.


No matter who you choose, you’re choosing problems.


The question at hand is not whether or not you think you can solve your problems. Research suggest 69% of your problems will never be solved.


The question you should be asking yourself is  whether or not you think you can accept the problems, or do you want to trade in for another set of problems?


Does he work too much? Leaving you to handle the child rearing and domestic duties? Would you prefer someone who works too little leaving it on you to provide for the family?


Does he yell a lot? Would you prefer someone who stays silent leaving you to try and fail to read his mind?


Is he too nice to her? Would you prefer someone adversarial knowing he will be adversarial with you too?


Odds are if you end this marriage you’ll replicate the same dynamics in your next relationship.


We’re creatures of habit. We’re subconsciously driven to recreate influential relationships of our childhood because that’s what we’re comfortable with.


If your Dad was a yeller, odds are you’ll be a yeller yourself, or your partner will be.


Maybe, just maybe, you’re perfectly positioned to become your best self in the situation you’ve created.


Need help choosing happiness? Sign up for 1 week of coaching via unlimited texting/messaging for just 25.00. No commitments or contracts. Contact me now.

7 ways Stepmoms can singlehandedly improve their marriage

With the astronomical divorce rate of 2nd marriages, we need a box full of tools to divorce proof our marriage.

When we feel we’re at risk, many of us consider marriage counseling. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to get buy-in from our spouse. Even when both partners agree to marriage counseling, the long term success rates for traditional marriage therapy are disappointingly low.

Don’t you fret. It may take 2 to have a good marriage, but it only takes 1 to improve a marriage.

With these 7 research backed strategies, YOU can singlehandedly improve your marriage today.


7 simple actions to singlehandedly improve your marriage. Written by Sue Howard


#1. Meet your basic physical needs.

* Insufficient sleep causes stress. Good sleep improves your mood.

* Omega 3 (fish oil) is shown to reduce pessimism and sadness by 50%.

* Learn to say no (think you already know how to? 91% of Stepmoms don’t. Take the test.)


#2. Stop personalizing their words.

* When someone judges you, they’re telling you they fear they’re not good enough. Not you.

* It is never about you. Everyone is too busy thinking about themselves to worry about you.


#3 . Stop blaming.

* Everyone’s first instinct is to blame others.

* Be evolved. Follow up by taking responsibility.


#4. Do something new together.

* When we have fun, we associate our joy with the person we did it with.

* Doing new activities together will rekindle the love you felt in the beginning


#5. Reduce emotional demands on spouse.

* One person cannot meet your every need.

* Connect with friends & family to spread the demand across a larger group.


#6. Express Gratitude

* Feeling grateful increases dopamine, the same way an anti-depressant does.

* Expressing gratitude prompts others to seek further connection with you.


#7. Share this post, and then have sex with your partner.

* Regular sex increase patience and decreases anger.

* Enjoyment from sex 3 times a week has been show to make us look 7 years younger.



Sources (these are NOT affiliate links):
#1: “Rewire Your Brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life” by Dr. John B. Arden
#2,3: “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Dr. Brené Brown (link is to incredible video, book can be found here.
#4: “For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed” by Tara Parker-Pope
#5: Common sense
#6: “The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time” by Alex Korb, PhD
#7: “Secrets of the Superyoung” by Dr. David Weeks

How to influence DH or the kids to do what you want.

We’ve been told thousands of times we can’t change other people, but the human spirit won’t take no for an answer. We continue to focus on changing others, because we think they’re the problem.

As much as I want to sell you on the idea that I an a super hero with the power to changes others, I cannot.

Ok, that’s not exactly true. Now I’m underselling myself. I’m a Super Hero with poor self-esteem.

We do have the power to change others, but most of us are going about it all wrong. Why this isn’t taught in schools, I do not know.

Here is the 3 step approach to changing others.

Step 1: Stop telling them to change.

From tots to elders, and everyone in between, nobody likes being told what to do. In the words of my 4 year old “You worry about yourself and I’ll worry about me”.

We never outgrow the desire for autonomy.

Research shows toddlers benefit from autonomy and autonomy makes your husband happier than money.

Step 2: Show them how to change.

Dan Pink, host of the National Geographic show “Crowd Control” demonstrated what to do instead.

To protect the public from distracted walkers looking down at their phones he modified the sidewalk. He created two lanes. One for the distracted walkers, and another for the focused few.

When he took the authoritative approach and told the distracted to use the appropriate lane, there was low adoption and lots of dirty looks.

Next, he stopped telling them what to do and had actors passively modeling the behavior he wanted from them, The result? The texters were more likely to use the appropriate lane, without giving it a 2nd thought.

Step 3: Apply the research to your life.

Influence your stubborn child’s behavior:

If you’re attempting to influence a stubborn child’s behavior, get the rest of the family to adopt the change you want to see.

Parental alienation works the same way, in case you’re wondering. If the parent can brainwash the oldest child into turning on the other parent, the younger children will often follow his/her lead. More on how to protect yourself from that later.

Do you want the child to find his way to the sink with his dirty dishes? Get the less stubborn siblings to put their dishes in the sink.

Praise the siblings for doing it, and ignore it when the stubborn child doesn’t. After seeing his siblings model the behavior, he’ll be more likely to follow along.

Influence your husband to parent differently:

Sweet Jesus, if you have the strength, resist the temptation to tell him how to parent. It takes all that I have to resist the overwhelming urge to be the maternal gatekeeper to our children.

Instead, model the behavior you want to see.

You could also discuss the research with someone else while DH is in earshot, or pull the old “I was talking with a client today and she discovered…”.  This approach also works when want to expose your child to a different perspective.

Try it out, let me know how it goes. I have a few more strategies to share if this one doesn’t serve you well.

What behavior are you attempting to change? Comment or message me and I’ll pick one or two to address in my next post (without revealing your identity).

How to make nice with Biomom

As a stepmom and mom, I empathize with the challenges BM is confronted with when DH single handedly selects another woman to help care for her children.

Her feelings may range from concern over their emotional and physical wellbeing to fear of the kids wanting to spend more time with you and DH instead of with her.

Hooray for the rare humans that aren’t susceptible to the 7 deadly sins. I’m not one of them, and odds are your stepkids’ BM isn’t either.

As a stepmom, you greatly benefit from BM’s support.

Being rejected by your younger stepkids? All it takes is 1 positive comment from BM to nip that behavior. And all it takes to derail your efforts to bond with them is a single negative comment from BM.

Despite the power she has over your home life, she likely sees herself as a victim in this dynamic. It’s human nature. Even bullies identify as the victim when harassing their target.

Now that you have an understanding of her perspective, following are 3 strategies for improving your relationship with her.

1. Make Mom feel included:
Remind Mom it’s not out of sight, out of mind when the kids are with you and DH.

Initiate a craft project with the kids and help them make something for Mom. Tons of ideas can be found on this Pinterest board. Not into crafting? Make a scrapbook incorporating memories with their mom, or help them bake something special for Mom.

While in the middle of a custody battle, one client wanted BM to know she was going to continue being supportive of her relationship with the kids, while her and DH had temporary custody.

My client was uncomfortable addressing it directly, so she and SD made a photo calendar incorporating photos of her and BM.

When SD was reunited with BM, she greeted her enthusiastically and gave her this present. It was obvious SD had help completing the project, and SM was no longer mistaken for a threat.

2. Let the kids speak for you:
Far too often, kids unintentionally reveal BM’s criticisms of us. BM may not be in our home, but her words are coming out of the kids’ mouths.

Use this to your advantage by speaking kindly of BM to your stepkids. It’s very possible they will repeat your words back to her. Just keep it simple so details aren’t lost in translation.

3. Silence is deadly:
I know lots of stepmoms and stepmom coaches subscribe to the belief that no contact with BM is best. In some situations, I agree, but it comes with a price.

More times than not, our silence is misinterpreted as evidence to support BM’s biggest fears regarding our role. Every opportunity you have to connect, is an opportunity to disprove her fears.

Drop-offs and pick-ups being the most common windows of opportunity, but if face to face isn’t for you, ask her a question about the kids, showing you respect her role as their Mom, or send a text when DH is on his way to meet her with the kids.

A simple “They’re on their way. Hope you all have a great weekend.” makes it harder for her to paint you as the villain.

All of these strategies require you to be at your best. Even if she doesn’t outright reject you, it’s possible your efforts will be met with silence or passive-aggressive behavior.  Your job is to stay high, and empathetic.

To succeed at this, you must practice extreme self-care and surround yourself with support from those who understand the challenges you face.

Want advice specific to your situation? Contact me to schedule a 1:1 coaching session.

When BM won’t “force” the kids to visit Dad.

It amazes me how often clients tell me BM said the kids don’t want to go to Dad’s house this weekend, and she’s not going to force them to.

My 4 year old doesn’t want his toe nails trimmed. I compassionately insist on it.

He also doesn’t want to brush his teeth. Again, I compassionately insist on it.

I’m willing to bet the Mom that says she’s not going to force her child to go to Dad’s wouldn’t allow her child to opt out of practicing good hygiene.

Time with Dad is just as necessary for the child’s well being as good hygiene, and if Mom isn’t listening, this is how you explain it to the child.

Do not allow another parent to interfere with your time with your children. Never bash the parent, just explain to the child you love them and need them to trust what you’re doing is in their best interest.

If the child has concerns with going to Dad’s, address them. Encourage your child to use their words and respect them enough to hear them.

Don’t be aggressive or bully your child or the Mom. Stand your ground with empathy.

Why I don’t want my stepkids to call me mom.

On occasion, something I say upsets a client. I know this going into it, but my job is to make your life easier as a Stepmom, not to support existing beliefs that aren’t serving you well. The following is shared with permission.

Recently, a client was upset that BM insisted her kids stop calling my client “Mom”. My client is mothering the children, and BM does not have an active role in her children’s day to day life. For this reason, my client thought she should be called Mom.

She was upset when I shared a different perspective. No matter how involved we are in the caring and feeding of a child, it doesn’t change biology.

I think the desire to be called “mom” stems from a mis-conception that Stepmoms are less important than moms.

A good stepmom makes a world of difference in a child’s life. Especially to a child who’s had to deal with the loss that so often comes from divorce.

The stepmom-stepchild relationship is unique and unlike any other, just as the mother-child relationship is unique. Both relationships can be an incredible gift to our children.

If you value your role as a Stepmom, I think the desire to be called “mom” will dissolve.

I’m honored to be a Stepmom to my children. I work incredibly hard at being the best Stepmom I can be, and calling me “mom” doesn’t do my role justice.

Let yourself be recognized as the Stepmom that you are.

How to change your husband, biomom and stepkids.

Believe it or not, I’m always relieved when I discover my role in a problem.

It is far easier to change me than it is to change them. You have the power to make things better, and you don’t need them to do a damn thing.

Stop focusing on them, and focus on you instead.

What you need to know about your badly behaving stepchild.

When our stepchildren act out it’s because they want attention.

I don’t know why wanting attention is often perceived as shameful. The need for attention is a basic human need. After all, as a child, we would literally die without attention.

If we replace “attention” with “connection” it may be easier to empathize with them.

Let’s take a break from disciplining them for how they cry out for help, and instead focus on answering their cry for help.

It is much easier to influence behavior after we connect.