The Power of a Name: Just-A-Stepmoms and Bio-Moms

I sometimes like to think of weird things that might have extremely large numbers assigned to them.

…How many breaths each and every creature that’s ever lived has taken, all together.

…How many times the clouds have passed over the sun as someone looked skyward.

…How many times you’ve eaten lunch.

…How many times your name has been called.

When a family dissolves by divorce, we’re typically not expecting to add any extra names to the list of cast members.

When we marry into a new stepfamily, it can feel vaguely insulting to have the name of the ex randomly interjecting itself into our every day.

And yet, there they are: the unwanted. The new woman.

Even the terms we use for each other are loaded:

The bio-mom.

Just the stepmom.

The crazy ex-wife.

The evil stepmother.

Why do we speak this way about each other?

When our aim is to cut the other woman’s legs out from under her before she even gets started, we should be suspicious of our motives.

Do stepmoms ever refer to their husbands as the “bio-father” or is he simply, “the father?” What about their own mothers (unless they were adopted or raised by someone else)?

Are moms aware of the fact that stepmoms are likely performing most of the hands-on tasks to take care of the children? As women, we already know: how can anything be “just...” about that?

ALL of those ex-wives can’t really be crazy. There’s too many of them.

And why are we STILL living in a culture where the cheap and easy trick for creating a villain in a kid’s movie is to give them a stepmom?

So it’s good to ask....

What might we secretly fear about the other woman?

What power are we attributing to her that we want to take away by denigrating her name?

In what ways might we be totally clueless about who she really is?

And isn't it a shame that we don't have a name to use for each other that acknowledges our familial ties to each other -- and allows for the potential growth of love and affection?


© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

The Family-Family Meeting Blow-up


For a while there, whenever our dual-family family was ironing out some major issues—like which kid was living where, and for how long—we'd have these really intense family meetings.

We'd all sit around the kitchen table after dinner, or in the living room, half of us sprawled on the floor... and we'd talk.

One of the adults would bring up the main issue to handle, and at first, it would seem just like a regular business meeting.

Here are the facts. Here are the problems. Here's what I think we should do....

And then another adult might reasonably respond.

And then that's when the bees would start streaming out of their nest. The bats would pour out of their cave at sunset. The fire ants would bubble up from their mound.

Because, of course, everyone felt the need to chime in on their position.

Depending upon their personality and whether they were an extrovert or an introvert, some of us were (cough) a little more vocal than others.

It would get pretty messy.

And sometimes, voices would be raised.

Occasionally, someone would storm off (only to drift back again).

Luckily, we all seemed to recognize when someone had been quiet for too long; conflicting emotions visible in their face, eager to be expressed, yet fearful of being vulnerable, amping up the volume.

Often, there were tears.

During really stellar meetings, every single person in our stepfamily/single-parent family-family would take their turn and cry, their voice rising with confusion, hurt and anger.

You can imagine how long this all took.

And how tired we all were afterward!

But here's the thing....

It was always such a SURPRISE to hear how others really and truly felt.


I mean, some of this stuff just seemed to come out of left field.

Like, Really? That's what was going on with you? That's what you thought I meant? That's why you were doing and saying this? Because of this other thing that I had no idea about?!

Which is kind of pathetic, in a way....

Why weren't we paying better attention to each other! To all the hidden clues in words and behavior? To facial expressions and little dropped hints? To conversations skirted around?

EVERY TIME we had one of our awkward and tumultuous family-family meetings, we'd get to this point where I'm SURE we all thought, Oh crap. We've really done it now. One, or two, or even ALL of us have dropped so many bombs here that we FOR SURE have blown up whatever connections existed between us before.

We've gone too far.

We've broken this.

We are screwed.

And I know I wasn't the only one who felt this sense of sheer terror, this sense of fear and brain-scrambled, mental overwhelm, this ache in my stomach—like we were a bunch of kids playing with live dynamite in a remote fort tucked into a hill.

Who would find us when it all went off and the ground collapsed over our heads, burying us alive? And why in the world were we doing all this without the help of a trained counselor, a therapist, like normal people???

Somehow though... somehow... we'd keep going. We'd keep talking. Keep cajoling. Keep asking questions.

Keep listening.

And after so many verbal and emotional expulsions (the only word that seems to describe how it felt), something else would finally be detectable in the air.

Hope.... We sensed ourselves actively moving to a better place.

Respect.... For each other and our struggles, our pain.

Resolve.... To treat each other better. To pay closer attention. To do the right thing, even if it was hard.

Awe.... For being able to do this with each other, for being brave enough to look at the raw sloppiness of our inner selves, the stuff we normally hide from others - and show it.

Love.... For each other, for our vulnerabilities, our fears, our tender spots, even for our known and vehemently-denied handicaps.

And finally... gratitude. That we have managed to create something so fragile and beautiful, and yet also strong enough to bear the weight of each other.

Our family-family meetings always revealed the truth of things in all their messy, bumbling glory, in the end.

And with that truth came a new understanding of what was important to each of us... the breakable parts of each other that we must treat with extra care... what our new choices now were for moving forward.

We may not have left those meetings knowing exactly what was going to happen, but it was the clarifying light of that chaotic, but cathartic truth that let the right things unfold in the future, and those problems always ended up eventually "going away."

I can't even remember what most of them were now!

So.... I ask you:

In what ways do YOU feel like you don't understand the truth of other people in your family-family?

What do you think you might be missing?

What do you feel is being kept from you?

What are YOU not telling others when it comes to things you are hurt or angry about?

In what ways might you be blind to some of the biggest priorities and fears of others?

(I love learning about these hidden forces at work in our dual families, so this week, I'll be announcing a new course to share what I know, and to help you create more understanding in your own “family-family” for the new year ahead—even if things are really tough. You’ll have a chance to pre-register soon.)

What are your thoughts? I want to hear from you!!!


© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

Taming the cobra - Part 2


"Since emotional processes can work faster than the mind, it takes a power stronger than the mind to bend perception, override emotional circuitry, and provide us with intuitive feeling instead. It takes the power of the heart."

-Doc Childre, Founder, Institute of HeartMath

I talked about the importance of increasing your self-esteem in Part 1 of this series. Here's a simple little exercise you can do whenever something--or more accurately--someone throws you off balance and you need to increase your self-confidence. Instead of relying on things improving with the other person first to make you feel better, take back the control for how you feel and give yourself the validation and support you're seeking


It goes like this....

Find someplace quiet that you can sit for a few minutes. It doesn't have to be noise-free, but it would be helpful if you felt comfortable enough to close your eyes and breathe deeply. Barring all else, head off to the restroom.

Take three deep breaths, making sure to exhale fully between breaths. If you really push the air out with your muscles, a deep intake is easier.

Focus your attention on your heart. Imagine that you are able to breathe in and out from your heart. This often has the effect of instantly relaxing you.

Find something, someone or a situation to appreciate. Make this easy! If you love touching a beloved pet, then use that. Maybe it's a sunny day where you're outside. Perhaps it's laughing with friends. Whatever you choose, make it something guilt-free and uncomplicated.

Imagine, first, thoughts of appreciation... and then let those thoughts grow into actual feelings of appreciation. Think of all the ways you're grateful to this thing, person or situation and let your feelings of gratitude and appreciation increase, let them snowball, let them build in intensity. Let the feelings of appreciation fill you up completely with lightness and joy. Just keep breathing in and strengthening the feeling.

When you feel nice and full of appreciation, direct your attention to appreciating yourself. Appreciate yourself for who you are, for simply being alive. There's nothing to prove, nothing to do, nothing to fix. Simply be... and appreciate yourself!

This exercise can take a little getting used to at first. You may find pockets of inner resistance here and there, or just generally feel awkward and weird, even sheepish. But if you stick with it, you'll find a wonderfully healing inner warmth and deliciousness that's available whenever you need it.

Spend a few minutes luxuriating in the feeling of loving yourself, of accepting and appreciating yourself. For some people, this experience feels like some kind of miracle. It's like the feeling you get when you're in love, or when your children or family members look at you adoringly, and yet nothing has had to happen for you to feel this way. You're doing all this yourself, by focusing your attention deliberately.

If you like, you can ask your higher self for guidance on how to handle any challenges you are currently facing and see if wisdom or suggestions come to you. This may not come as a booming, clear voice -- it could be a phrase, or a few words. Or... thoughts or ideas may come to you later on during the day.

When you're ready, bring your attention back to the current moment and the physical space you are in.

Use as needed!

You can even touch base with your heart in a general way throughout the day as an emotional touchstone and get a little boost of calm.

More centering techniques coming on Wednesday in Part 3 of Taming the cobra. Part 1 is here.

If you'd like to read more about heart-oriented meditations, check out "The HeartMath Solution: The Institute of HeartMath's Revolutionary Program for Engaging the Power of the Heart's Intelligence."


© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

Related Posts:

Taming the Cobra – Part 1


One essential element that needs to be in place when you’re dealing with a high-conflict situation—or trying to change it—is self-love. Okay, so the very phrase is associated with cheesy, new-age-y, navel-gazing or, ha, perhaps an uncomfortable reference to something more private, but how you feel about yourself really does determine how everything else “seems” to go in your life.

It’s too bad we don’t have some kind of public version of a self-love rain gauge that we can all read to show us each other’s levels of self-esteem. Then we might be more apt to depersonalize hurtful behaviors from other people and instead, simply say, “Wow, their self-esteem is really low today: need to be extra nice. Or give them a wide berth. Or put up an extra force field of protection to protect my own....”

We can have high self-esteem in certain areas—and then confound ourselves by repeatedly feeling like a dork in others. Maybe we could all have fancy gauges that measured our sense of self-confidence in different areas: work, financial success, meaningful friendships, parenting, romantic relationships, physical health, being of service... and maybe even one related to old baggage from our childhoods.

Wouldn’t THAT be handy.

It’s all too easy to point the finger at someone else and blame them for making you feel bad when there are problems between you. But what if it’s YOU that’s making you feel bad, from the get-go? What if you already know that you have these particular areas of weakness and sensitivity -- and you’re blaming the other person for feeling lousy instead?

Kind of obscures the path to creating healthy change, huh? You’re saying it’s A, when it’s really B, or maybe Q... or X.

So what about you? How’s your self-love these days?

Coming Monday: a simple technique for boosting your self-esteem that only takes about five minutes a day. And no, it doesn’t involve exercise equipment that says, “As seen on TV!”

I’ll also talk about some other techniques that you can use to put yourself in a good place if you’ve been thrown off balance by something nasty the other woman said or did -- or center yourself if you’re preparing yourself to make some incremental changes in your relationship.


© 2010 Jennifer Newcomb Marine           All Rights Reserved

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What your stepchild's mom wants you to know about her life

open_door Mutual understanding is one of the most important ingredients in the ex-wife/wife coalition mix. This post is in response to a guest post from the stepmom’s perspective by author Wednesday Martin.

Let the dialogue begin!

It’s not easy to feel judged and misunderstood

It’s not easy for me to be constantly seen at “the enemy” either. You and your husband may have bonded over a vivid dissection of my flaws and shortcomings, which feels scary and threatening. Part of your relationship fantasy about how you two so right for each other could have included a lot of evidence about he and I were so wrong for each other. This may very well be the case, but please consider how uniquely exposed and vulnerable and yes, even defensive this would make anyone feel.

And give some thought to the overall quality of the energy you’re bringing to our relationship. If I continue to sense like you’re gloating over my tiniest mistakes or keeping score on a You Wouldn’t Believe What She Did This Time roster, I’m not going to be very inclined to cut you any slack either! If you’re rude and competitive and snarky with me, how am I supposed to imagine you being patient and kind to my children?

My kids aren’t perfect

If you have your own child with my ex, you know how hard it is to raise kids. Everyone’s a parenting critic, until they have one! I may love my children with all my heart, but does that mean I’m automatically perfectly consistent as a parent? A model disciplinarian? Forever loving, patient and attentive? No, of course not.

The truth is, I often feel helpless, embarrassed, confused, and ashamed of the things I can’t handle or improve as a mother. Sometimes I’m just as overwhelmed and clueless about my child’s behavior as you are. The strong-willed toddler, the pre-teen mood swings, the ill-conceived forays into teenage independence, they throw me for a loop too. It seems like just when I get a handle on one of my child’s more difficult “phases,” they move into a new one, rattling my parental confidence. When you criticize my children, you incite my protectiveness, but my unconditional love gets tested too! Giving birth to a child doesn’t mean you are always in control of that child’s behavior, personality, or the trajectory of their life.

Also, some of the existing behavior or discipline problems you’re now seeing in my children are a reflection of the things in my marriage that didn’t work between your husband and I. And as you might have experienced yourself as his co-parent, my ex-partner and I were often at odds when it came to reinforcing rules and consequences. This likely contributed to the demise of our marriage, so don’t lay the blame for parenting mistakes squarely on my shoulders. Please distribute it fairly.

I’m not expecting everything between us to be all hunky-dory

I’m not looking to be your best friend, but I would like to feel like we’re on the same page as hands-on caretakers of these children. I would like to know that the priority between both households is raising these children well together, instead of proving the other side wrong. I would like to be able to call you to follow-up on a child’s cold, late (or missing) homework, or suspicions that one of them is falling in with the wrong crowd before it becomes a major problem.

The thing that keeps me from going there, in part, is the feeling that you and my ex are talking poorly about me. This makes it hard to trust you, or confide in you about things I may not be handling well because it doesn’t feel safe. If I knew you weren’t going to be so quick to judge me, it’d be a lot easier to problem-solve together. I know this goes both ways.

I’m scared of my kids loving you. There, I said it.

I have to admit, this strikes fear in my heart: I’m scared of my kids liking you, because if they like you, that could lead to them loving you. One the one hand, I want them to love you. But I also don't. It's not necessarily rational.... Plus, it’s hard to feel like the areas where you’re shining as a stepmom also happen to shed light on areas where I fall short as a parent. So is there a part of me that’s happy they don’t like you? Have I subtly or directly encouraged this? Yes, and I know it’s wrong and selfish and ultimately not in their best interests. But I don’t know you. And I don’t know what your intentions are with my children. Would you be willing to tell me?

It’s also hard to feel like a bomb blew up in your family. It’s difficult to see your kids forever schlepping their stuff between two homes. It’s tough to have them go away and not know what’s going on in their lives. I don’t have a crystal ball to see into your household and I worry about them. That’s what moms do! Sure, I want as many people as possible loving my children, but it’s also scary on some level to have it happen out of “viewing range.” And what if love for you mean less of an attachment to me? If you have your own children with my ex, you may think you understand what this primitive fear is like, but if you’ve never shared your children like this with another woman, I can assure you, you don’t.

I’m not my children’s “bio-mom,” I’m their mom. Period.

My children were not created in a test tube! Nor were they adopted (where this term originated). I gave birth to them, much as you don’t want to think about this. Yes, your husband - my ex - and I once went through our own little bubble of history that included joy, wonder, excitement and all the rest of it when our children were born. (Perhaps you two have experienced this yourselves.) Why do you feel the need to belittle my role by changing my name? Are you trying to diminish my sense of power or authority?

The things you’re doing out of a sense of competitiveness to prove that you’re the better mom to my kids (“I’ll show them what consistency and higher standards should look like!”) really only serve to objectify your stepchildren, if you think about it. And that can’t be good for them either, just like the blind parenting mistakes I’m making.

Perhaps part of your behavior is fueled by the pressure to solidify your marriage and validate your husband’s belief that he did indeed choose the right woman by being with you. But keep in mind, demonizing me lets him off the hook when it comes to him dealing with the deep-seated patterns that led to the demise of his first marriage. You should have a vested interest in seeing those issues resolved, because they may affect your marriage someday too.

I probably still have baggage with my ex

Yes, yes, it’s been however many years, but no matter who initiated the divorce, in some ways emotionally skirting too close to the divorce still causes me great pain and sadness. My family is forever in two pieces now, there’s no going back. This is reality for my children. When they came into this world, I never imagined this was how their lives would be.... I’m sure it’s the same for you, if you have children.

Parenting is even harder now that I’m divorced. I don’t have access to a ready ear from the only other person in the world who knows and loves these children (hopefully) just as much as I do -- their dad. Now I’m in the dark, trying to do this all on my own. Even if I have a partner, he’s not their father. His patience is tried too. I can tell when he’s trying to bite his own tongue about aspects of their behavior that he doesn’t like. It feels lonely and sad and sometimes I fear for my children’s future because of it.

The only way out of this mess is to move through the pain, assign accountability fairly on both sides and forgive. But I’m reluctant to fully grieve the loss of my little original family unit because to do so feels like jumping off a cliff into the mouth of an active volcano. I’m afraid to go there, it seems overwhelming and scary. I don’t know how. So it’s easier for me to just resent my ex and blame him and unfortunately, that means you get thrown into the mix too. I do weird passive-aggressive things with both of you, I get angry. I inappropriately stick my kids in the middle and then I secretly regret my bad behavior. You might not believe me, but I know it’s wrong and I know I need to change. I’m just not sure where to start!

I promise to play nice if you do.

We both need to try harder here. If we simply give in to the temptation to see each other in the worst possible light, things could easily continue on like this for years. And in the meantime, the children are growing older and experiences where OUR conflicts take precedence are piling up, instead of the normal developmental milestones THEY'RE supposed to be having. Our focus should be on them, not our drama. Let’s work on minimizing our conflicts and model healthy emotional management skills for the kids to use later on in their own families.

Can we at least shake hands on trying to do better?

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine   All Rights Reserved

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Guest Post by Wednesday Martin: What your child's stepmother wants you to know about her life…

ivy_doorways Please note: If you tried to leave a comment earlier and couldn't, please try again, as comments should be working now. Host issues - we're working on it.... Thanks!

(Like it or not, the two women in your child’s or stepchild’s life are typically the hands-on parents. Gender roles die hard! With both sides vying for control over the same position, there are bound to be problems and misunderstandings galore. And with power struggles come one-dimensional thinking, an abundance of perceived slights and the temptation to demonize the other side.

In the service of  better understanding each other and putting yourself in the shoes of the “other woman”, here’s Stepmonster author Wednesday Martin, Ph.D., with a raw and heartfelt guest post.

I’ll post my response, “What your stepchild’s mom wants you to know about her life” on Friday.)

Mutual understanding is one of the most important ingredients in the ex-wife/wife coalition mix. In that spirit, here are some of the things that the women with stepchildren I interviewed for my book Stepmonster told me they'd like their husband's or partner's exes to know.

Let the dialogue begin!

It’s not easy to feel judged and misunderstood

You likely feel, especially if you’re unpartnered, that the deck is stacked against you, that it’s me and your ex against you. From my perspective, I’m perceived as a wicked stepmother and a homewrecker even when I’m not, no matter how hard I try and how nice I am. Being the fall guy when I’m trying so hard takes a toll on me. And while you might feel shut out, I wrestle with the knowledge that I’m not and never will be “first.” We’re both struggling, you and I.

Your child isn’t perfect

Do you find yourself thinking of me as a rigid control freak? Too harsh or strict toward your kids? If that’s the case, ask yourself what role you and your ex may play here by being permissive, indulgent parents post-divorce. I might have to tow the line in my home because you two are afraid to, or can’t be bothered, or feel too guilty to parent effectively, since you “put the kids through a divorce.”

Have you told your kids it’s okay to like me, let them know it’s imperative to at least be civil and polite to me? Or do you secretly like that they don’t like their stepmom, that they’re disrespectful and rude, even hostile, toward me? Does that arrangement make you feel better, more secure?

What am I up against here that’s any harder than what you’re up against? you’re wondering. For starters, kids of any age resent getting a stepmom way more than they resent getting a stepdad. For a long time, too. And while plenty of kids of divorce do just fine, they are twice as likely to have serious emotional and social problems as kids from intact homes. Remember that when it comes to adolescence, I don’t have the foundation you and your husband do to tolerate all the drama, sullenness, and more. At some point, if your kids are rude to me and I am rebuffed enough, I may withdraw to preserve my dignity. Think about that next time you’re about to tell a friend that I’m “cold” to your kids.

I don’t want to be friends with you, do holidays together, or vacation together

And I’m a little tired of all the pressure I’m feeling from people who haven’t a clue that I “should” want to do, and be doing, just that. We can have a parenting coalition that works. I welcome that, and I welcome civility and friendliness. But if I’m like most women with stepkids, it just doesn’t feel appropriate to me to be close to you. My loyalty is to my husband. I want to get stepmothering right for his sake. Beyond that, I don’t want to feel pressured to be pals with you. I already have pals. So please don’t take offense that I’d like us to be friendly enough, but not necessarily friends.

I don’t love your kids just like my own, just like they don’t love me like they love you!

There’s way too much pressure on women with stepkids to “draw no distinctions” between their own kids and their stepkids. And it flies in the face not only of research findings about what stepfamily “success” actually is, but common sense as well. I might really like your kids, love them even and come to feel extremely close to them one day. But I might not.  Can you blame me, given all the stepmother hatred out there, and given the very real fact of kids resenting getting a stepmother? There’s a whole range of “normal” here, a whole spectrum of stepmother involvement. They have you and their dad. So please, don’t expect me to “love them just as if they’re my own” while also expecting me to follow the sacred directive, “Don’t ever try to replace their mom.” Especially if I have my own kids, as likeable and great as your kids are, they’re not mine, I’m not theirs, and it’s okay for me to just be a supportive ally.

I’m not your husband’s “new wife.” I’m his wife. You’re his ex-wife.

It’s that simple. When you ask him to do chores, come over for dinner or do holidays at your place “for the kids’ sake,” you’re being disrespectful of our partnership. Yes, you are. Please respect my marriage and have healthy boundaries. This includes not putting your ex in-laws in a loyalty bind or using the kids as leverage (“You won’t see your grandkids if you spend time over there with your son and his new wife”).

I promise to play nice if you do.

Most women with stepkids really want to get it right, and try very hard in the face of significant challenges. Getting along would be the best outcome for everyone. I know that, and so do you.

It’s a start....

What Jennifer and Carol have managed to do is impressive. And if you're reading the No One's the Bitch site, it's because you wonder if you and your partner's ex, or you and your ex-partner's partner, can do the same. If all the adults are committed to getting along, the rewards can be tremendous--easier lives, happier kids, and less stress for all.

(Thanks, Wednesday!)

The shifting sands of connections

There's a funny little thing that can happen with people you love that drags the relationship down without you even noticing it - until after the fact.

I just came back from visiting my daughter Sophie, who moved out a short time ago into her own cool, little abode with roommates just north of the university. She's got the flu (or maybe just a cold) right now and it felt good to take her some soup, a few groceries, give her a hug, and hang out on her bed gabbing (while internally blessing my immune system to do its mighty job).

When kids leave the nest, you miss them.

You've got to make an effort to stay connected to them, because life rearranges itself to fill up any empty spaces with busyness and details and new problems and responsibilities, and next thing you know, it's been days since you've last really talked!

We all know what that's like when it happens with the children or partner or friends in our lives -- and it's actually not any different with these dual-family relationships either. David and Carol were in Germany recently for almost a month visiting relatives. And because of one technical issue or another, we never were able to talk on the phone or by skype the entire time, which was weird.

For no good reason, a part of me starting thinking, is one of them mad at me? Is anything the matter? And irrationally, part of me also started feeling annoyed, like, fine! hmph!

Totally groundless reactions, but that's what our little hamster brains do in the absence of information sometimes, doesn't it?

When Carol came back a week early to teach a workshop, I made a note of her return, forgot to call her to check in, and then began to notice, hey -- she hasn't called me either!

Stupid stuff. Because really, the poor woman was totally jet-lagged and hopped straight into teaching a three-day, all-day painting workshop and was actually out of her mind with fatigue, so it's not like the very first thing she's going to do is call me!

And why hadn't I picked up the phone either?

When we finally did talk, it was wonderful to catch up and we were both clearly happy and excited to do so. I'd missed her!

Same thing with David....

They came over one evening and we all hung out, slouched on the couches in the living room; talking about their trip, laughing, the latest things on our minds with life and romance and the girls and what Jacob (their 4 year old son) thought of Germany. Time flew by until we all realized it was late and they had a long car ride home, so we hugged good-bye.

It was soooo good to connect with people I love and care about. They're my family! It may sound bizarre to people who are also in divorced situations, but David and Carol are actually two of my closest friends and I know they feel the same way.

The combination of time and distance in a relationship can lend itself to imagined problems where there are none, even with people you're close to.

So why in the world do our minds do this?!

Is it just a function of general neurosis?


Or are we trying to protect ourselves against any potential problems, so we can head them off at the pass?

What do you think?

If you're working on improving your relationship with the mom or stepmom, check and see if this dynamic might be at work.... If so, that's actually a good thing, because it's one extra burden you get to shrug off and simply toss to the ground.

What a relief.

Wishing you strong connections and a happy family life!

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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A crystal ball: will your relationship with the ex-wife or stepmom ever improve?

Here's an easy way to know if you're ever going to break through the impasse with the stepmother or bio-mom. Ask yourself: am I stressed? Does my stress level stay at a pretty consistent level?

(Sure, you might also be thinking, Well, it's because of HER that I'm so stressed, but not so fast, Buster....)

When I think of this situation between us, do I already feel like a loaded-down camel, about to be brought to its knees?

The answers to those questions will tell you a lot more than you think.

If you're like most of us, you're kind of amazed (but sadly, not surprised) at the amount of stress that you manage to live with on a consistent basis.

We're all running around like crazy people, not getting enough sleep, not connecting enough with those we love, feeling like we're sliding down the hill backwards with tasks lists coming at us like snowballs. I mean, who remembers how to eat at a dinner table with other family members anymore?

This would all mean that your resistance to change, to the unknown, to additional stressors, is already at its limit.

Who in their right mind wants to tackle anything hard, when life is already hard enough?

People in movies.



Really friendly, hard-working dogs, like Labs or Huskies or fierce, tiny, guard-dog Chihuahuas.

So if you want to make headway with this other woman that you just happen to be stuck with (and chances are, she feels the same way!), start by reducing your overall stress levels.

This way, there's space in your heart, your brain and your psyche for movement, for change, for room to grow.

I recently started reading a new book called "HeartMath" about tuning into the heart, which apparently has its own tiny "brain," that can be trusted to make decisions.

It talks about using some easy exercises to get your body into a state of "coherence," which is a fancy way of saying not working against itself. Believe it or not, our autonomic nervous system (or ANS) for short is usually fighting against itself.

The ANS has two parts: the flight or fight branch and the rest and restore branch. One is the accelerator and the other is the brake.

So when you're stressed, your body is alternately trying to help you ramp up to avoid getting eaten by the tiger, but also calm you down, so that you don't use up all your stores of adrenalin and poop out at the wrong time.

When you're consistently stressed, you deplete your stores of energy by keeping both feet on the accelerator and the brakes.

There's an easy exercise in the book you can use to regroup at any time. This is an over-simplified description below without the benefit of additional context (I highly recommend the book - get it at the library or something), but if it makes sense to you, try it.

This should only take about one minute total.

  1. When you're having a hard time with something, notice it and decide to take a time out. Mentally describe the situation in one short sentence.
  2. As best you can, step around your unpleasant feelings and racing thoughts. Tune into your heart. Imagine that you're breathing in and out from your heart. No need to force any intense deep breaths, just visualize breathing in and out for at least 10 seconds.
  3. Imagine a situation that brought you simple, unadulterated joy, happiness or appreciation and re-experience that feeling. (For me, it's an image of my two daughters laughing together as friends, or petting my two giant, hairy dogs, tails thumping on the floor).
  4. Ask your heart, "What would be a more efficient response to the situation, one that will minimize future stress?"
  5. Listen to the answer that comes from your heart, not your head. You might hear some simple statements, but you'll know they're coming from your heart if you end up feeling calmer and clearer.

Keep doing this simple exercise during the day and you'll see a noticeable difference in your overall stress level and your ability to meet challenges, without reverting to your usual coping patterns.

Take that leftover surplus of energy and use it to create a bridge to the other woman. Or barring that, healthier boundaries that help you to create peace....

Repeat as needed!

New stepmom? Heading off conflict from the get-go...

Feeling your way into potential stepmotherhood? Are you dating a divorced man with kids and things are looking promising? Here are a few ideas for setting a healthy course from the very beginning that will make you thank yourself later.

Bond over the good stuff, not the bad.
Don't make a part of your bonding experience with your guy bitching about the ex-wife. Know that part of his motivation in doing this is to prove to YOU that you're the one he's fully choosing. SHE didn't work out because she was simply the wrong woman. And in all honesty, like any human being, he's also probably projecting some of his issues onto her because he's clueless about how to fix them.

While pillow talk often involves an analysis of what went wrong in previous relationships so you can talk about how you want to do things differently now, don't let yourself get sucked into the kind of gossip that only makes things worse in the long run.

You don't need to knock down one person to raise up another (and you wouldn't want him doing this to you later if things ended up not working out, right?). Avoid it. Gossip is a habit and it creates a crappy energy that is cumulative and has momentum. The last thing you need is a growing pile of dog shit in the corner of your bedroom!

Meet her.

Yes, I'm advocating walking into the enemy's camp and introducing yourself, but hey, she was once just a person too -- someone that your partner loved enough to marry. Maybe she's not so bad after all. Be adult enough to form your own conclusions about who she is, instead of simply taking someone else's word for it. And that means talking to her on the phone, or if you live in the same town, meeting her face-to-face. Everyone has a phone. Pick it up and call her!

This suggestion may sound insane, but hey, we live in crazy times. We are SURROUNDED by divorced families and stepfamilies and that isn't going to change. If that's the case, then it's time to start approaching these situations from a brand-new, radical perspective. Let's head off problems pre-emptively, instead of dealing with the same old, same old. Be a revolutionary and muster some bravery!

Set some healthy parameters.
Introduce yourself. Tell her you know this is an awkward situation -- for both of you. Tell her you're not interested in turning the kids against her or keeping any conflict going between she and her ex (and then don't!). Tell her you're committed to staying out of the middle and letting them work through whatever they might need to, without someone gossiping about her and feeding into the score-keeping.

Tell her you'd like to work together to make this the easiest it can be for the kids. Tell her you'd like to be helpful and flexible and hope she will be in return. Who knows? Maybe you can even create a subtle, healthy competition to see who can act with the most consideration, clear communication and good manners. When people are treated with kindness, warmth and respect, they often respond in kind. Be stubborn about acting this way.

Rise above the fray.

If you take the high road, you have the potential to create a real ally in the ex-wife. What's going to raise her ire (and sense of resistance and revenge) is knowing you two are noting every fault and shortcoming of hers. If you make it clear that you are going to refrain from doing that, she'll know she can trust you to act with maturity and foresight.

Part of you may feel like you're going to be letting your BF/husband down if you don't bitch and vent with him about her, but trust me, you'll feel so much better about yourself. You'll create the space and integrity to maintain peace and cooperation between households over the long run -- and that's a huge contribution you can make to your immediate family and to the extended family as a whole.

  • What did I leave out?
  • What's your experience been?
  • Who's had some successes along these lines and what worked for you?

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved

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Top 10 Reasons for a Mother/Stepmother Relationship Revolution

(Angelina Eberly* / photo by Alan P. Van Dyke) 1. While our overall divorce rate has dropped down to 49%, a staggering 75% of remarriages involving children end in divorce.

2. Moms and stepmoms are desperate to escape the feeling that a perfect stranger is constantly trying to undermine them. Who IS this person, really? Do you know?

3. Now that nuclear families have become the minority family unit, we must learn how to create harmony in a radically-changed family landscape.

4. Aww, c’mon. It can’t really be as simple as “It’s all her fault! She truly IS a bitch!

5. We owe it to the kids to work on this stuff after dragging them through the muck of a break-up.

6. Women are amazing at responding to genuine vulnerability and olive branches. Sometime it takes just one little break in the dam to set massive changes in motion....

7. Children see what it looks like when adults model maturity, problem-solving, and the mending of relationships—and then get to internalize these skills for themselves.

8. You are so-o-o going to love having both families on the same page—though the kids may sometimes hate it! Consistent rules and punishments between houses means they can’t as easily play one side against the other. Couldn't we all use a little more help parenting?

9. Our culture is hungry for a new family model after divorce and remarriage. Since divorce isn’t going away anytime soon, let’s consciously design an extended-family vision that inspires and motivates. What if this became the new "normal" to shoot for?

10. Contrary to popular opinion, families can actually be stronger and healthier after a divorce. Cooperative extended-families create stronger second marriages (thereby preventing another split-up), better parenting, more brainstorming power, happier children, and less hair loss all around.

  • What did I miss?
  • What has YOUR experience been?

(* When Sam Houston ordered his troops to steal the State archives in 1842 so that the city of Houston could be deemed the state capital, Angelina Eberly fired a cannon down Congress Avenue to rouse the residents of Austin and prevent the theft. She succeeded.

Statue by Australian political cartoonist and sculptor Pat Oliphant.)

Thanks for reading!

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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Erasing the enemy - Part Two

(If you missed Part One, it's here.) The stepmother clicked the button to end the call before it started ringing. Then she took a deep breath and began to dial again. She stopped halfway, remembering some of the worst verbal insults that had made their way back to her, some of the angry and hateful facial expressions—all the ugliness that the mom obviously hadn’t had any problems tossing her way.

She looked over at the glowing blue book that had prompted all this, sitting innocently on her nightstand, and she frowned at it. This is all your fault, you stupid, little thing. You have no idea what I’m up against.....

She set the phone down and thought about all the things she needed to get done around the house. Her mind turned to an automatic inventory of the fridge, what she needed to get from the store, then it wandered to the laundry room, the bathrooms. Hmmm... how were they doing on toilet paper?

The blue book sat there... waiting. Oh fine, she huffed to herself and picked it up, opening it in the middle, just for fun.

A heart of war needs enemies to justify its warring. It needs enemies and mistreatment more than it wants peace.

"Needs." The word stood out on the page. Did she need this conflict on some twisted level?

She thought back to her original impulse, her knees clacking against each other under the table as she and the mom faced each other with nothing more than two steaming cups of liquid for defense.

She stared out the window for a few moments, her mind blank and empty. Then she dialed the number again.


There it was. That voice. She hated this woman, after all she’d done to them. All that b.s. in court. What she'd put the kids through even though she held herself up as some kind of devoted mother. What in God’s name was she doing calling her? Her husband was going to kill her. Her heart was loudly pounding a thousand miles a hour, her chest suddenly felt tender and sore. She needed more air. And dammit, she knew when she opened her mouth she was going to sound  like a Nervous Nelly.

She cleared her throat. “Yeah, um—hey. It’s me.”

What a rude way to start a phone call, thought the mom. No surprise there. This had better be quick. And why wasn’t HE calling her instead? Something must be up. She checked her watch.


Well now, THAT wasn’t very friendly, was it? thought the stepmom. No “Hello?" or "How’re you?” or good manners, or anything! See? Here I am trying and this is what I get? There are some people that ARE just simply impossible.

What the hell do you know about real life?, she accused the authors of that stupid little book.

"Um, yeah. So, uh.... I—-" The stepmom cleared her throat again. She didn’t want to sound like a pansy, like she was wheedling, pleading. Where was all that blustering confidence she felt only moments ago? “I’ve been reading this new book and uh, I thought I’d call... and uh, yeah.Talk.”


The stepmom bumbled on.

“To you. I thought I’d call and talk to you.” Why wasn’t this stupid woman making things any easier. Damn her! Maybe the stepmom could just come up with an excuse to get off the phone right now and stop this slow filleting of herself alive.

The mom was instantly wary. She could hear the nervousness in the stepmom’s voice, which certainly intrigued her, but she’d be damned if she was going to have any more contact with this other woman than was absolutely necessary.

And hopefully, that would be... NONE.

“Talk to me about what.” The mom kept her voice flat and plain.

The stepmom was now actively kicking herself. Her innards were turning over and over and rearranging themselves. Maybe an alien would pop out of the middle of her chest—that’s what this was all about.

Coffee. Laughing, remember? Human BE-ING. Heart of war or heart of peace, the stepmom recited mentally like a zombie mantra. Suddenly, she thought, oh fuck it. She can’t kill me if she’s not actually here to bite my throat and drain me like a vampire. What do I have to lose anyway?

It’s already bad enough.

The stepmom took a deep breath and tried to clear her panicky head.

The mom heard this exhalation through the phone and thought, Wow, this is really weird. Something’s going on here. I wonder if I’ll be able to use this against her later somehow. Maybe they’re having problems? The mom filed these thoughts away and continued to listen, waiting for the stepmom to verbally hang herself. For some unknown reason, she had a mental image of a mountain lion in the deserts of Big Bend National Park, lying in wait while the unsuspecting hikers walked by on the path below, down the hill from the silent, tightly-wound feline.

Focus, focus, the mom reminded herself.

"Well, it’s about conflict and how it happens. How it gets generated." More silence. It was clear the mom wasn’t going to help her out—no surprise there—she would just have to plow through on her own. "Well, and it made me, I mean—I know you’re going to think this is crazy — but it made me just want to, um — to pick up the phone and call you. I thought maybe there might be a way for us to— "


Now there was an unusual grouping the mom had never heard out loud before.When was the last time she and the stepmom had ever been an US? She stifled a manic giggle.

All of a sudden, it occurred to the mom that the stepmom was actually scared. She imagined her over there, in their house, gripping the phone. The mom could feel two roads instantly stretching out in front of her. The familiar one was all about strategy, advantage, amassing your weapons, building your arsenal. The other one gave her a twinge in her stomach. What would happen if she cut the other woman a bit of slack for once?

“To, um—” the stepmom reluctantly repeated.

“Go on,” the mom said in a warmer voice. Something peculiar was happening to her. She felt like a curtain was being pulled back and she was seeing more of the other woman than she’d ever seen before, like the stepmom had stepped out from behind a desk and had actual... legs. She had the bizarre sensation of watching the stepmom go from black and white to Technicolor, just like in the Wizard of Oz.

The stepmom rushed on, encouraged. “Well, I know you probably think I don’t like you — and actually,” she hesitated, aware of the need to choose her words v-e-r-y carefully, “I’m not actually sure what I think of you—like, you know, the real you. I mean, honestly—I don’t even know you.”

The mom leaned forward in her seat, paying close attention. She thought of all the things he’d probably told the stepmom and got a sick little feeling in her gut. Watch out, she warned herself. You could be walking straight into a trap.

“Just like you don’t know me," the stepmom continued.  "And yet — and yet, there’s all this tension between us. And we’ve had all these horrible moments, these bad experiences of not getting along. And all the fighting. The court stuff. The money. And disagreeing about everything—big, small, whatever." She rushed on, wondering who was controlling the words coming out of her mouth. "And you may not even believe me, but there have been times when I actually stood up for you when ___ was trashing your name. I mean, sorry—I probably shouldn’t say that—but I just want you to know that I just wish we could.... I mean, I just wish it were just possible to maybe set some of that aside, like in a box, and—- "

The stepmom stopped abruptly. Perhaps the she had gone too far. She sensed an incorrect breach there, what she had just said, as if she was going against her own husband in the face of the enemy.

There was a long awkward silence.

Finally, the mom just threw it out there, like fragile fruit landing softly in a basket. She felt a momentary flush of pride at her generosity.

“You mean, like actually, get along?”

It sounded as absurd as planning an arduous mission to Mars together in a cardboard box, from beginning to end.

They both laughed, breaking the tension. This must have been one of the world’s weirdest, most awkward phone calls. Moms and stepmoms weren’t supposed to talk to each other for a good reason!

It dawned on the stepmom that this was the first time she had ever laughed with the mom about anything.

It dawned on the mom that this was the first time she had ever laughed with the stepmom about anything too.

The stepmom soldiered on, feeling emboldened. “Look. Would you be up for maybe getting together in person and just talking about this? Like maybe just for coffee or something? Or at the park? Whatever works for you—” It occurred to the stepmom that she’d never used those last words with the mom either. Hmm, something to think about later....

The mom looked again at those two roads stretching out in front of her. If you took a new road and went off course, you could find yourself in a real crisis, running out of water, having your trail of breadcrumbs eaten by birds, losing your way. Night falls and you are royally screwed.

She thought of the kids and got an instant pang in her heart. Never once in her wildest dreams would she have ever imagined—breathing in their soft, sweet little heads—that she’d be negotiating a park date with that strange bitch of a woman who was now also in charge of their lives, in her own little kingdom. Then she thought of the pain and confusion she could see in the kids’ faces sometimes when they returned home, a certain emotional fatigue and exhaustion that popped through here and there.

This must be so hard for them....

The stepmom hesitated. If the mom turned her down now, there would be hell to pay, because this would be it. This would have been evidence of her sticking her neck wayyyy out on the line, and if that bitch of a bio-mom threw THIS back in her face, well, she’d regret it—once she saw what was coming her way. Fine, so the mom had the power to trump the stepmom in all KINDS of ways, but the stepmom could be as wily as the best of them. You just wait. She was about to crisply say, You know what? Forget it. This was a mistake calling. I don’t know what made me think I could—

“I would love to meet you.” said the mom, although her tone of voice sure didn’t make it seem like that was the case.

It was more like she was saying, Meet me at the park at sundown and I will calmly shoot you in the forehead—because I am a really good shot. Either that, or, Sure, come at dusk, when I turn into a bat—and unless you’re wearing a turtleneck made of steel, prepare to die, Inigo Montoya.

The stepmom was confused, flustered. She wasn’t sure which way to go here. “Really?” she said.

The mom’s voice softened. “Yes, really. It might be the dumbest thing we ever did, but sure, what the hell.”

There was that pairing again.


“Should we bring weapons?” the stepmom offered helpfully.

They made plans for tomorrow and got off the phone, disoriented and slightly dizzy. But also... oddly hopeful.

And very, very curious.

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine      All Rights Reserved

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Erasing the Enemy - Part One

fleur Once upon a time, there was a mom and stepmom, stuck with each other in their lives, like a splinter in their thumb that couldn't be removed. Thumbs get used a lot, so this was a bad thing, this constant, wincing reminder of the splinter as they went about their days.

It was a pretty typical situation in that they couldn't stand each other. It was also pretty typical in that they both felt mistreated and put upon.


The mom bristled at having to unwillingly "share" the parenting of her children (children that came from her own body!) with a perfect stranger. She took her leftover anger at her ex-husband for his uneven parenting, mixed in a little jealousy, fear, confusion, defensiveness, and the stomach-curdling knowledge that all her private secrets had been lain bare between the two new partners and probably laughed over - and focused her parenting irritation on the stepmom as well.

She didn't mind making life harder for the husband and stepmom. Weren't they always trying to undermine her as well? Tit for tat, as they say. Maybe one day they would come to their senses and realize how their poor behavior was only emotionally damaging the children and would change. But she wasn't going to hold her breath.

For her part, the stepmom bristled at the unwanted presence of the other woman in her life. It was worse than having the world's worst boss, this looming spectre of the mom (lording her sanctimonious, "maternal" preferences all over them!). At least with a boss, you could go home and escape, but here, their troubles with the other woman were still evident everywhere - in the children's lack of self-control, in her husband's haphazard approach to discipline, in their dangerous marital fights over the children's bad behavior and hurtful rejection of her.

She didn't mind making life harder for the mom. Wasn't she always trying to undermine us as well? Tit for tat, as they say. Maybe one day she would come to her senses and realize how her poor behavior was only emotionally damaging the children and would change. But the stepmom wasn't going to hold her breath.

One day, the stepmom was tooling around online when she heard about a book on conflict resolution* that seemed to hold the promise of creating more peace in her life, or at least help her understand why things were so bad between their two houses.

She was tired of all the stress, the subtle (or sometimes overt) struggles for power between ALL the adults, between the kids, between herself and her lower and higher impulses.

Something had to give.

She spent the next several days devouring the book, during breaks at work, while stirring a pot on the stove, and alone in the bedroom in the evenings, forgoing TV -- even, my stars, Facebook.

The following ideas held a part of her attention captive as she went about her daily routine, motivated by the sense that she was onto something big and potentially life-changing.

  • When we have problems with someone else, we turn them into an "Other," a cardboard cut-out of a human being.
  • It's easier to accuse and blame someone if they're not a nuanced, flesh-and-blood person.
  • When we are battling another, we exaggerate their wrongdoing, the damage they have inflicted upon us, our sense of victimization and our justifications for our own sometimes poor behavior.
  • We seek agreement from others to back ourselves up and "prove" that it's the other person who is wrong.
  • When we are at the height of conflict, we are simply seeing things in the most limiting, childishly basic terms -- we cut ourselves off from new ideas; the powerful energy of good intentions and our ability to blast through logjams and debris; the stretchy, open, expansive nature of possibility.

An idea was forming in the stepmom's mind.

What if---

What if... she reached out to the mom? What if she just basically said, Hey, look -- can we talk? Not as arch enemies, but just as (gulp) two people?

What if she was able to say, I know you don't like me and probably think that I don't like you either, even though I barely know you. And sure, I guess I actually HAVEN'T liked you, off and on, over the years. But---

Do you have a moment? Would you be willing to try and set all this stuff aside, so we can try and work together on some of the more basic stuff?

I mean, it sure would be nice being able to talk to each OTHER about some of this stuff, don't you think? Instead of always having to go through my husband? I mean, your ex. I mean--their father.

It's not like we need to shoot for becoming best friends or anything, but wouldn't it be nice to at least feel like we could work together on some of the simpler things?

What do ya think?

She felt her stomach drop considering the thought, like she'd driven over a sharp hill with a sudden dip on the other side.

Her friends would think she was fricking nuts, especially after all the stories she'd told them, how pissed off they'd gotten on her behalf. May as well walk through the fields past enemy lines, take off all your clothes, set your hair on fire, and dance around until you were pulverized by machine gun fire!

Come to think of it, her husband might not take too kindly to the idea either. Her face flushed with guilt.

But she thought back again to an image that was coalescing in her psyche....

She could see the two of them having a cup of coffee, knees shaking under the table, maybe laughing over something stupid.

Could they laugh over something stupid?

It would be the closest she'd ever actually got to the woman, having the chance to stare at her face, absorb her personality, sit back and observe.

Would she get her head bitten off? Would her efforts be seen as an admission of guilt, inferiority or worse, acquiescence? Ha, wouldn't that be just like her? She thought back on all the conflict between them, the silent tension, the scary legal hassles, the harsh words.

Wouldn't this be insanity, trying this?

She picked up the phone with a pounding heart, and dialed the mom's number.

(Read on for Part Two!)

*The Anatomy of Peace, by the Arbinger Institute

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine      All Rights Reserved

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Shoring up against potential (family) erosion...

I was talking to my friend Bernadette yesterday from Slow Family Living about putting together a panel for next year's SXSW -- and was surprised at her surprise by a part of our conversation. Context: she has four kids under the age of 11. My two girls are 14 and 18, with one already out of the house. The thing that shocked her?

I casually mentioned that I remember how when the girls were in elementary school, we were surrounded by all these other married parents (when I myself was still married), but as they went to middle school, there were more kids from divorced families. And in high school, even more. It got to the point that not a SINGLE friend of either child came from a nuclear family. Not one.

Bernadette's response was, "Oh my god! That's unbelievable!"

And yet, that's reality.

So we're dealing with some real threats to the American family, folks. The longer a family stays together, the older the kids get, the less likely they are to be married. That's shocking and insane and a real shame.

I find that really sad... and also kind of overwhelming. Don't you?

Most of us are reading this site because there's already been a break-up - that's why they are two women in the picture.(And neither asked for the other to be there, but yay, there they are....)

As a culture, we desperately need to get better at learning how to stay married, whether it's the first time around, the second, or maybe even the third! And get help when we need it.

And we need to mitigate the risks to the second marriage as much as possible, by understanding the dangers and challenges for that union, whether in the form of common stepmom issues (read Wednesday Martin's book, Stepmonster for a brilliant assessment of some of the unique challenges) or problems between the mom and stepmom. We must also more carefully consider the role of the father, and what's it's like walking the tightrope between 3-way divided loyalties.

We need help to slow down and reconnect with each other in our families, whether we're a nuclear family, stepfamily, or some other combination thereof.

Sometimes it really helps if you have someone to say, "Oh, right.... This what you're up against -- here's the big picture. Sure, you're about to drive off into dark skies and churning clouds, but here, -- here's what to expect. And also... here are some possible tools to use when you run into problems."

Doesn't it feel so much better to be learning together? :-)


© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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Cold Hard Facts

Welcome to our first guest post!

It's by Katherine Shirek Doughtie, one of the co-authors of a "sister" site, the fabulous, but sadly currently dormant The DHX: The Doughtie Houses Exchange — which is also about creating cooperative mom/stepmom relationships. (Katherine is the mom and Jill Doughtie is the stepmom.) The post is actually a reprint of a Nov. 2007 entry, but I thought it was so good, and so important, that I asked Kathy if she wouldn't mind us posting it again. She graciously agreed, so without further ado...Here's Kathy:

Cold Hard Facts

-by Katherine Shirek Doughtie


I just looked up some statistics on second marriages and, boy, they are not good. When Jill and I first started talking about this blog, we tried to figure out roughly how many marriages were second marriages and how many ended in divorce. We both guessimated — based on what? a hope that humans can actually learn from their mistakes? — that second marriages were statistically less likely to end in divorce.


Dead wrong.

Divorce rates for second marriages? About 60 - 80% .

At the high end, that’s almost double the divorce rate for first marriages (47%).

So why do second marriages end? Mainly because of two things: Complexity and money. Money is relatively easy to deal with (here’s an excellent guideline) — as long as you are willing to be brutally honest with yourself and your partner. OK, I’m being a little casual about the money stuff… money is usually extremely tied to emotional issues and I’m planning on getting into it in depth in a later post. But long ago I learned that there were two kinds of problems in the world: Emotional issues and technical issues. (Losing weight is a prime example of a technical problem that very often becomes an emotional issue.) And money — as painful and crazy as it is — is really a technical issue on much the same scale as losing weight.

The complexity of living in a blended family, however, is an emotional issue. There’s no way around it. You can’t sit down with a ledger or Quicken and figure out how to deal with the biological mom, or how to make the sibs and step-sibs get along or how to reconcile the painful comments in the car that the other house is the “fun house.” That’s emotional. That’s core stuff.

And with a 60 - 80% divorce rate among second marriages, it’s not an issue you can easily dismiss.

Which means, to me, that this whole conversation about how moms and step-moms might be able to work together better is not just so that we can reduce a little stress in our lives. It really is so that the second marriage has a much better chance at surviving.

I’m going to put on my “bio mom” hat solely now. And this may seem stern and harsh, but really it’s in response to that statistic, and as an admonition to some future Kathy should I ever become a step-mom myself.

Here it is and it’s a cold hard fact:

I’m the biological mother. I am not going away, ever.

You’re the step-mother. And the statistics aren’t in your favor.

And the reason the statistics aren’t in your favor is because, in part, of me.

It’s very icky. It’s ugly to say and, projecting myself into the other household, abhorent to hear. But, actually, it’s true. And it becomes extremely dangerous when there is still a boatload of baggage left over from the first marriage, and the whole situation is riddled with bitterness, vengefulness and anger. We, the biological parent, do have the upper hand — legally, emotionally, biologically. And if we want to wield it for evil and try to pry apart that fragile second union, we can. And we do. And that’s just so ugly for everyone, it makes me sick.

So am I saying that the step-moms of the world have to genuflect to us because we have the biological trump card? Do we now get to have final say in every decision?

Absolutely not. Because there’s another corrollary to the above cold hard fact, that I wish more bio-moms would actually pay attention to, and this one goes thusly:

This step-mom also takes care of my children.

The peace that I can promote between the households directly and unequivocally affects the emotional well-being of my children.

To quote my favorite philosophical work, Spiderman: with great power comes great responsibility. Sure, you’re the legitimate owner of half of the DNA. But that comes with some responsibilities, too — because your first priority is really no longer yourself and your precious anger. Remember those first six weeks of the babies’ lives, when your entire existence was turned upside down just to ensure the survival of that little infant? That hasn’t changed. We still have to turn ourselves inside out to make sure those kids make it through the night. And the step mom is there running the other household, and she must be respected and honored for that. If you want to play that bio-card and play power games, you can. But the losers will be the children.

Let me repeat that on its own line:

The losers will be the children.

It’s more than just about making life a little nicer that we need to get this figured out. For the step-moms in the world, it’s about keeping that marriage intact. For us moms in the world, it’s about keeping our children intact.

Let’s make this a revolution. The cold hard facts are saying that blended families are becoming more and more prevalent. Let’s learn from our past mistakes, get over our anger, embrace the future possibilities, and get it together. For ourselves, for the sisterhood, and for our children.

To read more of Katherine's writing, check out her book Aphrodite in Jeans: Adventure Tales About Men, Midlife And Motherhood or her personal blog.


© 2009 Katherine Shirek Doughtie     All Rights Reserved

What if you've been betrayed?

So what if you extended yourself with the mom or stepmom and it went poorly? What if you reached out to her and she screwed you? Or you were just going about your business when you suddenly realized, Whoa! That is totally unfair? Happens to all of us. Stepmom/mom scenarios are rife with little exploded bombs like this, because there are two women trying to wear the same teeny pair of shoes. Makes for a lot of staggering… and very few winning teams in the three-legged sack race.

So what do you do if:

  • you made yourself vulnerable
  • you took a chance with her
  • you now wonder whether she was ever sincere, or had ulterior motives all along
  • you feel manipulated and taken advantage of
  • you're now kicking yourself for what happened?

The first thing to do is depersonalize.

Shit happens. People misunderstand each other. Agendas change (including yours). Core issues get triggered (including yours). People sometimes freak out and do dumb things. And perhaps, worse of all, sometimes people actually DO consciously intend to harm you.

The question now becomes, what are you going to do about it? Here are four steps to take:

1. Take care of the moment

  • First, accept what is, much as you may not want to. The event happened. You cannot make it un-happen.
  • Get helpful support, not crappy support. Helpful: someone who can see the other person’s issues, your issues, and not make either side completely wrong. Crappy: whips you up into a frenzy that only makes you feel more victimized or upset — or self-righteous support, which feels like, “Wow, you dummy, why couldn't you see that you were doing this one stupid thing?”

2. Sort through what went wrong and identify the unacceptable parts of what happened

  • Are you clear on what should NOT have happened? What violates your boundaries? Break it down into specifics so that it’s not just a big emotional ball of mush in your brain. Take note of your answers for step four.

3. Take responsibility for your shit (and yes, it’s probably there!)

  • What did YOU do to contribute to this problem?
  • What errors in judgment did you possibly make?
  • Were you operating from any automatic behaviors that set the problem in motion, in part?
  • As much as we hate looking at this stuff, think of it as exercising. Feels hard in the moment, great after you’re done!

4. Figure out what you want to do, going forward

  • How can you protect yourself in a healthy way, in the future? Any actions you need to take (refer to Step 2)? Anything you need to convey (respectfully) to the other woman? Is there some specific help you’d like to request, even if it’s hard for you?
  • Are there any areas where you might still be open to risk or connection? You might not be ready to go here yet if your feelings are raw. But bear in mind: if you contributed to this problem, then it’s not entirely the other person’s “fault.” May as well not skew the blame and draw a hard line in the sand for the future that may only make things worse between the two families.
  • Take care not to dwell on the event. Handle it and move on. If you mull and stew, you’re only compounding your pain and injuring yourself twice. It may have been the other’s person’s doing the first time, but don’t injure yourself all over again by fixating on the problem. Deal with it, then set your sights back to the better things in life.

Let us know how it goes! As always, we welcome comments and love hearing from folks.

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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Dealing with social awkwardness

Jill at the Doughtie Houses Exchange (or DHX, for short) has two great posts on dealing with socially awkward situations that actually apply to both stepmoms AND moms. In the first post, "How to make small talk with stepmoms", she gives some great suggestions for moving ahead in a conversation without stepping on any toes, or creating long, clumsy pauses. Here's an excerpt:

Yesterday I met someone with a similar — but different — family set-up, and I couldn’t think of how to keep the conversation going. I found myself sitting there smiling blankly while thinking up things to say and then ruling them out because I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t accidentally go in a very painful-for-them direction.

In "Stepmom blues", Jill talks about what it's like to experience the stigma that goes along with being a stepmom and how people sometimes respond to her with a wariness that's painful. A sampling:

Maybe it’s that I represent something scary: divorce, moving on, remarriage, and then having to share children with an adult you didn’t pick. Who wants to think about that? Any of it? I wouldn’t either. It’s horrifying in the abstract.

I know Carol has dealt with this, and I have too! When I've gone to social events at their house, like birthday parties or something, people sometimes seem to have this initial discomfort at meeting me, like they're not sure if they're supposed to hate me to show where their loyalties lie. I guess I can understand, but it's a shame it has to go either direction.

What have your experiences been? Do people treat you like you have the plague if you're the stepmom and you casually meet other parents at school or extracurricular events? If you're the mom, do you ever feel acquaintances "siding" against you, for no reason?

Apologies over the lack of new posts this week, dealing with intense deadlines for the book and Carol's off in Canada still, teaching. More new content coming next week!  Early wishes for a happy weekend to all!

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine          All Rights Reserved

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The Fragile Bridge of Trust

When Indiana Jones threw sand out into the precipice, suddenly revealing an invisible bridge, he found the magical solution to quickly getting across, away from his enemies. But… he still had to actually cross the narrow bridge without falling off.

Trust between you and the stepmom or mom is like that same skinny bridge made real by the sand.

Sometimes you can't see it, but you can sense the fuzzy edges, suspended there in mid-air.

It's ever-present, but still requires a leap of faith. And even if the bridge is there, shining under a spotlight, it may require balance and nerves of steel to get safely to the other side. It's scary!

Plus, you know... look how far down the ground is.

There's the link of trust, but there are also many different levels of connection.

There's the functional, logistical trust you have with people you work with. The simple, surface trust between you and acquaintances. There's the underground river of trust between you and your closest friends, the ones who know all your dirt and still love you.

As the level of mutual need and dependency goes up, so does the risk.

That’s because both parties need something from each other.

Stepmoms need to know that the mom will respect her way of doing things. That she has every right to establish rules and principles in her home, guidelines that are just as valid and important as the mom's. She needs to know that her responses and emotional reactions to the children, whether good or bad, are just as valid as anything either parent might be feeling -- they're not just "pasted" onto the family unit bubble like something "extra."

Stepmoms sometimes need space from the whole chaotic jumble that is a stepfamily, since this is probably not what she originally imagined for herself when she envisioned having a family.

She wants respect. She wants closeness. She just wants to be appreciated for who she is, what she brings to her family, and not treated like a permanent outsider.

Moms need to know that the stepmom is not in secret competition with her and will not be subtly working to undermine her, to turn the children against her. She needs to know that, while the children now have a different world to immerse themselves in after the divorce, their old one is still treated with respect and held in a certain esteem. Moms need to know that she's not being blamed for behavioral issues that are just a normal part of development.

She needs to know that her instincts to protect her children won't always be chalked up to lingering issues with her ex.

She wants respect. She wants closeness. She wants to be appreciated for who she is and not treated like a permanent threat.

When one or both parties first attempt to reach out to each other, to risk a little something of themselves and work together, it can actually be terrifying.

Even if it's over something as simple as helping little Jane transport her art supplies from house to house without always losing something, or keeping Mark the man-child from continually sneaking out of the house and into trouble.

Here's the biggest fear: what if the other woman slaps you down?

What if the ex-wife or stepmother is just waiting in the lurch for a show of weakness and then, she goes in for the jugular?

And how the hell do you trust someone you don't like anyway? And what if she's already given you plenty of reasons never to trust her again?

Well, it's true—stepmothers and ex-wives typically have very different agendas, different end goals. But they're both working with the same fears and that's actually a good thing, here. They're in the same boat.

Use that commonality to help you!

Neither wants to be further tackled when she's down. Neither wants to reach out for the olive branch and then have it yanked away at the last minute, humiliating her. Neither woman wants to leave the door to the ammunitions room open overnight.

All I can say is it takes time. And repetition.

Two things we hate hearing.

Time makes it sound like you could be at this for years and years, getting nowhere. And repetition has about as much appeal as doing scales on a violin when you're just learning how to play and can only make screeching noises.

Start out small and see where it gets you.

If you get nowhere, take a breather, then try again.

If you still get nowhere, take another breather and regroup. Monitor your self-talk: is it the stuff of drama and tragedy, or a shrug and "Enh, moving on…"? Can you put yourself in her shoes and imagine what she might be feeling?

Where is it you're trying to go?

How high up on the scale of cooperation are you shooting for? What would you consider a success?

It's going to be different for everyone. Movement for some might be an exchange of tight grimaces at the front door, whereas before, no one ever even got out of the car for a kid pick-up, they just laid on the horn with anger. Improvement for others might be a heartfelt talk on the phone about Lily's grades, Timmy's depression, Sarah's pot-smoking.

What would be progress for you?

And if it's hard and doesn’t go well, what will you do with your residual feelings? Will you handle them responsibly? Can you address any inconsistencies in your boundaries without trying to rub the other woman’s face in it?

Even if you get somewhere, don't be surprised to find that you and the stepmom or ex-wife aren't always on the same page. I remember, early on, thinking Carol (the stepmom) and I (the ex-wife) were doing pretty well, only to hear from David (my ex-) that she was upset over something inconsequential (I thought) I'd said weeks before. It would take several awkward conversations to make things right, but we did, and then we plowed ahead….

It takes a certain kind of humility to keep reaching out, to keep trying to cross that bridge of connection. You've got to set aside the score-keeping, your ego, and all those vague voices in your ear that belong to friends and family, making the other woman wrong.

Have you ever truly forgiven someone who's hurt you, I mean truly forgiven them? Same kind of softness required here.

The payoffs for developing trust, even a semblance, are many.

Less stress between the two of you.

Less stress thinking about her when you're alone. More partnership and collaboration (what kind of cake should we make for so-and-so's birthday?). Less bitching with your partner. New ideas when brainstorming.

And let's not forget how important it is to create a virtual wall of parenthood in the face of children's bad behavior!

Lucky for you, and maybe, surprise... you're not in control. It's not only your show. That is, a lot of stuff happens off stage without your input, permission or direction. Which means, some very good things… might… just… happen—all on their own.

It just takes YOU to get the train rolling with a little push. And before you know it, you'll be on your way to developing some threads of trust between you and the stepmom or ex-wife that might turn into something strong and weight-bearing.

Best of luck!

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine       All Rights Reserved

One thing you can do when the other woman makes you go "Grrrr..."

Underwater_minesHow's it going with the ex-wife or stepmom in your world? On a misery scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst, are you pushing an eight? A 9.5? Is the dial turned to eleven? When it comes to pick-ups and drop-offs, does your stomach clench up within two miles of their front door? Five? Does the sound of your phone ringing fill you with dread until you see the other woman's NOT on Caller ID? Are you sick of hearing about how the ex-wife or stepmother "always let's us do it this way at their house" when it comes to TV, the computer or video games, staying up late, chores, homework or junk food? Do you just wish you could just give up, but you can't -- because you're stuck with her? Sometimes, no matter how hard you're trying, no matter how much you're biting your tongue, taking a deep breath, practicing patience, forgiveness, the extreme discipline involved in failing to murder the other woman, things are still… bad. 

Sorry to hear it.

So, what to do?

The only thing you can do.

Tend to the moment. And yourself, away from the whole situation.

Take it a chunk at a time. In bits and pieces. Day by day. I'm talking about getting out there and shaking your little (or big) tush.


Exercise can make you feel so much better. For the most part, it's free; can actually be fun (honest) and doing it for even five minutes makes a difference. Best of all, it diffuses stress like a magic little pill, without side effects!

Carol (the stepmom) and I (the mom) usually get along pretty smashingly, but to help dissolve accumulated stress from my grueling life (writing NYT bestsellers; going on yet another foreign sojourn with my children; sipping mimosas while lovingly surveying my extensive "grounds"; lifting that tiny, but oh-so-heavy silver bell to ring for my personal assistant), I consistently do two sports that I love: rowing and rock climbing.


I started rowing right before I turned 40. I got really sick of driving over Town Lake every day (it's called Town Lake, but it's really a river - the Colorado River to be exact, but not the one in Colorado, very confusing) and seeing all the uber-fit rowers, gliding along the water. I would sigh and long to be out there, but thought you practically had to be a tri-athlete in order to row.  Catch-22.

Long story short, it wasn't as hard as I thought, and after rowing for only about two weeks, I started seeing actual pecs! That alone was enough to sustain me for months while I tried not to row into the trees lining the water -- just self-obsessively gauging pec-progress. Kind of like navel-gazing. But different.


Two years ago, an ex-BF (hi Karl!) introduced me to rock climbing. Hmmm, perhaps now's not a good time to mention the young woman I heard screaming this weekend, a newbie on her second climb. Problem was, this shouldn't have been her second climb, because it was a bit beyond her abilities. She panicked when she fell (a normal, and usually fairly safe part of climbing) and ended up bumping her head as she flailed around, eyes closed. My heart went out to her, not only because she was so terrified that she started crying, but also because my own second climb involved a fall and ended in tears. This is dangerous and stupid, I remember thinking. I'm never doing this again!

Well, now I'm an enthusiastic convert (which could be a whole other essay), but that's not why we're here. We're here to talk about YOU and why YOU should exercise!


So... first....

Inside_the_pool Find something you love to do and enjoy

It might take some experimenting before you really stumble upon something that makes you say "Ahhhh…" at the same time that you're grunting and sweating away, but trust me, the combination is possible.


When I'm out on the river and I hear the rhythmic swooshing of the oars; when I smile at the stacked dominoes of turtles sunning themselves on fallen logs and turn my face to the side to let the wind blow away wisps of hair escaping my cap -- all while pushing my legs as hard as possible so I can feel the boat slip along the top of the water with increasing speed -- well, how much better does it get?


If you hate working out at gyms, then don't go. Get outside. Explore. Try things out. And  all that sampling is the perfect opportunity to get better at something else....


Training_day Don't worry about how you look or seem

So you feel like a newbie, ignorant and stupid amidst all the experts. A klutz, dorky and unathletic, or simply fat and out of shape. So you feel like you're spilling out of your clothes in all the wrong places or like you're not even sure what clothes you "should" be wearing. So you may as well have day-glo yellow paint annointing your behind -- who cares?


Get used to blowing that feeling off.


I'd bet money that feeling stupid or feeling bad about your body are the main reasons people either don't take up exercise, or don't stick with it. Mortification is a temporary experience. De-stressing is worth a few cringe-worthy moments here and there, even if it takes weeks or months for them to finally stop coming.


Mushroom_bikeFind something cheap that doesn't require tons of equipment

My initial investment in rock climbing was slightly over a hundred dollars (later on, once I knew I was really into it, I spent more). I can row every day of the week for as long as I want for thirty-six dollars a month, the cost of a really inexpensive gym membership. This is SO MUCH BETTER than signing up for a gym and then berating myself every single day for not going, like I used to. (You'd think all that guilt would have at least burned a few calories, but I doubt it.) Be creative. There are lots of things you can do with a pair of tennis shoes.


Free_weights Do something close to home or at home

Which leads us to location. Tell the truth -- if it's a pain to get there, huffing and puffing's probably not going to happen much, is it? I just happen to live five minutes from the nearest climbing wall outside and seven minutes from the river and know I'm lucky in that respect.


Can you ride around your neighborhood or city block, can you make it fun with music you love? Does yoga appeal? Weight-lifting? Are there hiking trails around you? Places to run or ride a bike?  Somewhere you can go shoot hoops?


Waiting_dog Find other friends to do it with, if possible

Things are always more fun with the occasional buddy. Sometimes, this makes all the difference between fear and drudgery and procrastination -- and a shared learning curve, a good laugh, and ultimately, commitment. I've made some really close friends through both climbing and rowing (nothing like putting your life in someone else's hands to forge a bond!). It's helpful to pair up with someone who's on the same level, but not absolutely necessary. It’s good to learn, but it's nice to teach too.

Do it on a regular basis

Face it, you're always going to be tired - in the morning, after work, on a Saturday or Sunday morning. But the secret trick about exercise is that once you do it consistently for about a week or two, it starts giving you energy. All of a sudden you stop having so many mid-afternoon comatose crashes. You bounce back a little easier when you wake up early. Exercise is the gift that keeps on giving. Give it a chance to prove it and ignore your excuses.

Red_earth_country Don't do it on a regular basis

Enh. Just like anything in life, your routine, time and wherewithal will falter. When I first started rowing three years ago, I was so afraid I'd permanently "fall off the wagon" if I didn't exercise every. single. day.  So I rowed in 30 degree weather on dark winter mornings, in the wind, in the rain (okay if there's no lightening). I rowed through colds and nights with little sleep. Now I know I can have a few bouts of non-exercise, lasting weeks, or god forbid, even a month or two. I trust that I'll always come back to it, because it's something I genuinely love and miss when I don't do it.


Yoga Do it on a tiny basis

Even if you can only get down on the floor and stretch for seven minutes, or jog in place for ten. Even if you can only hop on your bike for a quick jaunt, or have time to do a fifteen minute walk -- do it. Your body will thank you. Your monkey-mind will thank you (and shut up for a bit, instead of harping on everything that's wrong in your life). Your levels of emotional angst will drop and your feeling of strength will rise -- yes, EVEN IF you're struggling with someone else you can't stand on a daily basis.

Is there a correlation between stress relief and how well you might end up getting along with the ex-wife or stepmom that you're "stuck" with? Absolutely. Even if nothing else changes and she stays as impossible as ever, things are already better in the moment because YOU are.

Have fun and I'd love to hear about how you exercise, or any other stress reduction techniques that work for you.

© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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Ten Seconds to Peace Between Divorced Moms and Stepmoms with Eric Maisel - Part 2

conflict resolution for divorced moms and stepmoms(This is part two of our conversation with therapist and writer Eric Maisel PhD, author of the book "Ten Zen Seconds: Twelve Incantations for Purpose, Power and Calm." Part one is here.)


The relationship between mothers and stepmothers is traditionally considered to be helplessly antagonistic, but it doesn't have to be. How can the Ten Zen Seconds method help reduce those nasty feelings that mother and stepmothers often feel toward one another?

Each can come to an interaction between them calmer and more grounded by using the incantations as centering charms. Let’s say that you have a phone conversation coming up with your “adversary.” The first thing to do is to incant “I am completely stopping,” so that you get the chance to quiet your roiling thoughts and your roiling hormones and calmly prepare yourself to listen and to say what you need to say.

Next you might try incanting “I feel supported,” to put it in your head and your heart that you are not completely alone in your dealings with “this other woman” and that you have internal and external resources available to you. Then you might try incanting “I embrace this moment” to remind yourself that your intention is to be present, that you are not frightened of the interaction, and that, for the sake of the child involved and for the sake of your own sense of self, you intend to be present in this conversation.  Any—and all—of the incantations can be used to “put yourself in the right place” to interact with another human being.

Some of the hairier issues that often arise in the mother-stepmother territory are anger, territoriality and guilt. How can the TZS method help with those? Let’s take these one at a time. A great way of working with anger is by incanting “I am open to joy”; it is very hard to be angry and joyful at the same time! If you would actually like to not be angry—if, that is, you aren’t attached to your anger and holding on to it for dear life—then announcing your intention to be happy can go a long ways to dissipate anger.

With territoriality, there are often specific actions that you need to take so that there are clear agreements between all concerned, agreements about visits, rules, and so on, and here incanting “I am taking action” can prove a useful and powerful way to ready yourself to get these agreements made, as can incantation 10, “I am equal to this challenge.”

In dealing with guilt, the most important incantation is incantation 7, “I am free of the past,” as a great deal of our guilt is about something in the past, as opposed to something ongoing. There are things that you may want to do in the present that serve as correctives to things done in the past, but that is different from feeling guilty about the past and feeling burdened by that guilt. Incanting “I am free of the past” can go a long way to moving you from past-looking to present-being.

So how does one do this, especially on the fly?  Do you have to be some kind of Zen master?  I mentioned earlier that I keep my little crumpled piece of paper with me, but mostly, I can remember these….

The first step is always to go through the twelve incantations, slowly and mindfully, and find the one or two that feel most useful and resonant.  It is very difficult, verging on impossible, to incorporate all twelve in a regular way into your life, but it isn’t hard at all to incorporate one, two, or even three.

How can people learn more about Ten Zen Seconds?

The book is the best resource. You can get it at Amazon.

Or you can ask for it at your local bookstore. The Ten Zen Seconds website is also an excellent resource: there is a bulletin board where folks can chat, audio interviews that I’ve done discussing the Ten Zen Second techniques, and more.

My web master Ron Wheatley has also designed a slide show at the Ten Zen Seconds site that you can use to learn and experience the incantations. The slides that name the twelve incantations are beautiful images provided by the painter Ruth Yasharpour and each slide stays in place for ten seconds. So you can attune your breathing to the slide and really practice the method. The slide show is available here.

I would also recommend that folks check out my main site, especially if they’re interested in creativity coaching or the artist’s life.

What else are you up to? You’re mind-boggingly  prolific.

Plenty! I have a new book out called Creativity for Life, which is roughly my fifteenth book in the creativity field and which people seem to like a lot. I also have a third new book out, in addition to Ten Zen Seconds and Creativity for Life, called Everyday You, which is a beautiful coffee table book about maintaining daily mindfulness.

I am happily busy! But my main focus for the year is on getting the word out about Ten Zen Seconds, because I really believe that it’s something special.

Thanks so much for dropping by, Eric!  I hope our readers will actually give these techniques a try.  As always, your work is really inspiring.

Thank you, and thank you for having me here today!


© 2007 Jennifer Newcomb Marine


Ray and Bernadette said...

Enjoyed your interview, Jennifer. We applaud you and Eric in identifying how “a great deal of our guilt is about something in the past, as opposed to something ongoing.” If we are looking back there we are missing wonderful opportunities for creating meaningful relationships right here - and meaningful relationships come in all shapes, sizes, and circumstances. Some of the best ones are never ‘planned.’ Great site. Keep up the good work!

-Ray and Bernadette

Publishers, "Bernadette’s Pages: An Intimate Crossroad,"

April 29, 2007 4:07 PM  

Aline Gaubert said...

Question: Is there a strong link between considering other people and considering ourselves? As a therapist, I specialize in women-in- transition and families-in- conflict I am so impressed with the sheer volume of work Jennifer Marine has done on herself. The wit and intelligence demonstrated over and over restores my faith in what I see as our culture's most glaring deficit: the ability to just get along. Clearly she is not afraid to look inside and tell us what she has dared to see in a way that is beguiling. Must be her enormous talent for writing!

I wish the Marines well and hope others will follow their shining example of placing their attention where it should be: making the world a better place for children.

Aline Gaubert Licensed Professional Counselor and Coach

September 12, 2007 12:42 PM


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The Bitch Has Left the Building...

divorced mom/stepmom relationships

It’s a nasty word, bitch.

Fine, if you’re rightfully defending your kids against some injustice in the school system or you need to stubbornly not give up your seat on the bus or you’ve got a hellish journey ahead of you to do the right thing – then – who cares if anyone thinks you’re a bitch? You’ll draw upon the bitch inside you to persevere: to tap reserves of foresight and willpower, to pull you forward in the face of opposition and setbacks. You’ll activate that mother tiger inside of you that is afraid of nothing when it comes to protecting those you love.

But being thought of as bitch in general is another thing altogether. No one wants to be thought of as simply a bitch.

Men don’t want to end up with a bitch, be tricked by one, or find out their partner has somehow mysteriously become one. Women don’t want to befriend a bitch or god forbid, work for one. War wounds from bitchy familial relations in some form or fashion abound in our mass consciousness.

And yet, here's the set-up between mother and stepmother: the other woman, no matter which side you start from, is automatically a bitch. You’ll find plenty of ammunition to lob from friends, family, co-workers – from people you barely know. Start out any story about "the mother" or "the stepmother" in your life and people have already helped you pull the pin, ready to shoot her down.

Dealing with a mother who’s asking yet again for more money for summer camp or band or something extraneous? What about all the money we already pay her for child support? We give her enough already. Figure it out! What a bitch! Ever had a stepmother blow off your child’s scrape when they wiped out on their bike? What, is her heart made of coal? Clearly, it’d be more convenient for her if the kid just wasn’t around.… Think of them first for once! What a bitch! And on it goes. The land stretching between mother and stepmother is littered with such landmines. Good luck tiptoeing around them.

And isn’t it irritating to know the other side is almost certainly calling you a bitch?! We’ve figured out a way to do it otherwise. We don’t know everything, but we do know a few things. And we’d like to tell you about them. We’re a mother and stepmother who’ve cultivated first, a working relationship, then a friendship, and now, a partnership as co-authors. We’ve been at it for seven years and have seen the two children we both raise stretch out from very small people to now one very tall person, and one medium-sized, both of whom will probably leave us all in the dust, height-wise. Two years ago, a brand new baby boy (hi baby!) was added to our version of an extended family. And so, with wide-eyed wonder, the stepmom becomes a mom, and the mom becomes, proudly and gratefully, an honorary aunt.

We’ve navigated some really tricky territory to get to this point. And we fully realize it’s not all pancakes and roses from here on out. When you first meet your ex’s beautiful new girlfriend getting off the back of his new motorcycle, her curly hair cutting through the air in slow motion like a models’, you’re not exactly set to like her. When the only way she’s gotten to know you is through tales of your bad behavior told to her by her perfect romantic partner, well, she’s not so sure she’s ever going to find one single thing to like about you either.

There are issues of territoriality, competition, jealousy, anger — and grief and sadness, from both ends. Throw money and some legal elements into the mix and you have the perfect combustible material for a really…bad…family barbeque. If you were to see our journey thus far from a birds’ eye view, you’d first see two strangers walking separately but concurrently, eying each other suspiciously. Then you’d hear some cautious mumbling directed at the other person (What? I can’t hear you! Speak English!). Followed by a few half-hearted attempts at meaningless, polite chitchat. Still climbing the low hills, you’d see us maybe veering a little closer to each other’s path, as we found (surprise!) we actually had some things in common to discuss (the children).

Then we’d get distracted by something hard that we had to do together, like deal with a swarm of jungle flies (kids), cross a rushing river (kids), run from wild, howling boars (hungry kids)or construct an intricate, weight-bearing puzzle made solely out of bendy sticks (getting kids to clean up after themselves).

Somewhere along the line, you’d see us letting our guard down ever so s-l-o-w-l-y, and yes, sometimes it would go right back up, but by the end of the map, we’d have gone through enough stuff together and spent enough time together that we’d be sitting at a coffee shop (in Europe, alone, just us two girls, with lots of money and no men and—just kidding—) talking over ideas for our book.

Our book. About how we learned to get along.

We’re not hoping to get every one of you potential Stepmother/Mother pairs out there to the point of writing a book together (too much competition), but we are hoping you can get to a place where you could actually sit down and have coffee with the other woman. Not "the bitch" anymore. Just, the other woman. (No, not that Other Woman.)

So join us as we walk through this landscape and see how you can improve your own situation, wherever you may be.

How’s YOUR relationship with the mom or stepmom in your life? Can you relate?




Kimber Pflaum said...


This is so true. I have never been a stepmom myself, but I know plenty of women who have been, and I have witnessed everything you laid out so eloquently and -- thank you -- honestly.

Best of luck with your efforts to get the word out about Carol's and your mission. I can't even imagine that this HUGE gem of a subject, treated as well as you have done here, would not be seen on the bookstore shelves -- and on Oprah -- in the very near future.

Warmly, Kimber Pflaum

April 25, 2007 8:39 AM  



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