- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Harlequin; Original edition (April 20, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 037389225X
- ISBN-13: 978-0373892259
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 81 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,395 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Happy Stepmother: Stay Sane, Empower Yourself, Thrive in Your New Family Paperback – April 20, 2010
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About the Author
Rachelle Katz, Ed.D., LMFT, writes from a place of both personal experience—she’s been a stepmother for seventeen years—and professional expertise. A psychotherapist with twenty-five years of experience in private practice, since 2004 she has empowered thousands of women through her Web site, www.stepsforstepmothers.com.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
While some stepmothers have a fairly easy time adjusting to their new roles, many of us find it far more difficult than we ever imagined. In a world filled with technology designed to help us enjoy more leisure time, many of us still forsake the simple joys—going to the movies, having lunch with girlfriends, reading novels—in order to take care of our stepfamilies. Very quickly after marrying our partners, too many of us have crossed the fine line into emotional imbalance by working too hard and becoming involved in situations where we receive little joy or reward. We are suddenly in deep water without a life jacket to keep us afloat.
Little guidance is available about the challenges we face—being a stepmother is truly a "forgotten" role in society. Have you ever complained about the problems you are having as a stepmother, and heard the comment: "Well, you knew he had kids when you married him"? Unfortunately, this is a statement that too many of us hear all too often.
Second marriages can be difficult in themselves, with or without stepchildren. Add children into the mix, and the situation is that much more complicated!
Why Are So Many of Us Having So Much Trouble?
As you might expect, the reasons for stepfamily problems are complex. One contributing factor is that many of us are just not prepared for this role and have no idea how demanding the job can be. Many of the respondents to the online questionnaire said that they simply had no concept of the depth and breadth of the problems they would encounter once married.
For many of us, affection for our new partners makes us turn a blind eye to potential problems down the road. We simply hope that our love will get us through. While most women understand that marrying a man with children won't be as easy as marrying a man without children, conventional wisdom suggests that time will help "blend" family members into a cohesive unit. We are led to believe that, eventually, stepchildren will grow to love and respect us, partners will overcome their guilt for hurting their children, and ex-wives will get over their anger and resentment. Even for those of us with prior experience—having been a stepmother in a previous relationship or having had a stepmother—this knowledge may not be of much use in our current situations.
Problems can take months or years to develop in stepfamilies. Consequently, many of us are bound to be unprepared for the challenges we face, and are overwhelmed by their magnitude when they do occur.
Other stepmothers said that they were aware of potential problems in their stepfamilies, but they believed those difficulties would improve as everyone adjusted to the new family dynamic. Unfortunately, they were usually just plain wrong—the problems did not diminish. In fact, for many, the problems grew. Rather than improving, without intervention, stepfamily life tends to deteriorate or remain static over time.
There is a small group of women who did not know about their stepchildren when they got involved with, or married, their partners. Now that paternity tests are widely available, some women have discovered they were stepmothers months or years after they got married. Needless to say, these surprised stepmoms experienced a host of emotions, including shock and anger, when introduced to children they had no idea existed.
The conversations in the Steps for Stepmothers online chat room are powerful illustrations of the problems we as stepmothers experience and, to a large extent, these conversations have shaped my thinking about being a stepmother. Even the usernames on the message board are poignant. Many of these monikers, such as "Worn Out," "Want to Be Happy," "Stressed to the Max," and "At Wit's End" are vivid shorthand expressions of the painful experiences of these women.
Many of the stepmothers I have worked with in my psychotherapy practice have also felt unappreciated, overburdened and misunderstood by their families and communities. Before contacting me, many of these women had suffered in silence, for fear of being judged or ostracized, until their situations finally became intolerable.
There is a wide variety of problems that can make our lives as stepmothers miserable. Many stepmothers find that their partners act more like pals to their children than like fathers, with the result that stepchildren are undisciplined and spoiled. Some partners are afraid to set guidelines for their children to follow, along with appropriate consequences if those guidelines are ignored. Partners fear that if they are strict, their children will no longer be willing to spend time with them. To keep this from happening, they remain passive when their children act up. It is both difficult for stepmothers to witness and experience a child's misbehavior, and frustrating when they cannot get partners to understand the need to take corrective parental action. Other stepmothers must deal with intrusive, difficult ex-wives, who disrupt their households by calling at inappropriate times, change scheduled dropoffs and pickups at the last minute, and bad-mouth us to their children.
Many of us sadly realize that our attempts to bond with our stepchildren have failed, and we are left feeling ignored and disrespected. Some of us grow weary of dealing with stepchildren who seem unappreciative, uncooperative or spoiled. Some of us feel we have limited authority in our own households, because many decisions are made without our input or consent. Some of us—an unfortunate few—get to deal with all the above situations, and maybe more.
Would You Do It Again?
"If you knew what your life would be like as a stepmother, would you get involved with your partner again?" Stepmothers often ask this of each other in the online chat room, and I also asked this question in my survey. For many who responded to the survey, the answer was an unequivocal no. At times, do you also regret your decision to get involved with or to marry to your partner? To help you answer this question, consider the following:
Indications of Potential Problems
■ You feel frustrated, aggravated, annoyed or angry about your stepfamily, and don't have appropriate outlets to deal with these negative feelings.
■ You feel insecure about your place in the stepfamily. You feel like an outsider in your own home, despite concerted attempts to bond with your stepchildren.
■ You are constantly tired, and don't have enough time to take care of yourself.
■ You are unable to talk to your partner about his children without having a fight.
■ Your partner is defensive and hostile when talking about his children.
■ You avoid discussing certain topics with your partner's parents, children or ex-wife because you don't want to look bad in front of them.
■ You don't have input into decisions about how money is spent in your stepfamily; your feelings and attitudes about money are not considered by your partner.
■ You have issues with the custodial arrangements for your stepchildren, and do not have any input about their schedules.
■ You are not allowed to discipline your stepchildren, and are expected to tolerate misbehavior.
■ You feel that you take care of the needs of your stepchildren more than your partner or his ex-wife.
■ You sometimes wonder if you made a terrible mistake getting involved with, or having married, your partner.
■ You sometimes feel foolish for being trapped in your current circumstances.
■ You sometimes wish you had listened to the warnings of family and friends, rather than following your conviction that your stepfamily would blend into a loving unit.
If any of these ring a bell, don't be dismayed—there is hope! While you may not be able to solve all the problems in your step-family, you can change the way you deal with them, making your life more satisfying and content. Before discussing some solutions that can help you, let's look at some of the problems you face as a stepmother in greater detail.
Top customer reviews
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I did not find this book very helpful. I readily admit that this could be partially my personal bias - I prefer a positive approach to solving problems. I also don't like melodrama and I felt like this book was just drowning in it. So, if you don't share my bias here, you may love this book. :)
Even the introduction put me off. The author approaches being a step mother as though it were the most horrible experience possible in life. In her Introduction, she states that "we stepmothers are frequently perceived as "homewreckers" who deserve any misery that comes our way." She goes on to say "In my therapy practice, I have worked with many lovely, bright, successful, accomplished women who, after getting involved with men with children, became depressed, frustrated shells of their former selves."
Now, maybe I live on another planet or something - but this is not my experience. Maybe 40 years ago people viewed all stepmothers as "homewreckers" - but today? In 2010? Well over half of children in the U.S. will spend at least part of their childhood in a step family. This means that stepfamilies are actually more the norm than the traditional nuclear family composed of the original mom and dad. [I'm not saying that this is a good thing - at all - but that this IS reality]. I know many step parents and I don't know any of them who went through the horror this author describes, or any who felt persecuted simply by virtue of the fact that they were step parents. This seemed kind of odd to me.
I know that this author is a psychotherapist and presumably her clients are the ones having the most trouble [truly happy stepmothers aren't the ones seeking out help from psychotherapists maybe?] - maybe her clients ARE much more likely to have these issues of perceived persecution and maybe her clients do experience a lot of depression. The author also shares that she is a step mother and had a very difficult time personally coping with being a step parent. But she presents this as the "norm" and I don't think that's accurate.
It doesn't improve after the introduction either. Chapter two begins on this upbeat note: "Sadness, frustration, exhaustion, confusion, fury, thoughts of retribution, regret. Many of us experience these and other intense, negative emotions on a daily basis as a result of being embroiled in stepfamily problems we did not create." Then the chapter goes on to tell all these horrible things step mothers will experience - anxiety, emotional fragility, anger, depression, etc.
It gets even better in Chapter 5 where she writes: "Too often, I have heard women wish that a stepfamily member would suffer horrible pain, sometimes even die, for causing trouble and chaos." Wow. Are we wishing this on *children* here? Or who, exactly, are we wishing to have tortured or murdered?
I really felt like most of this book was centered around women who married men they knew had children and who then proceeded to be upset that they weren't the center of the universe at every possible moment. Certainly adding children into the mix is going to present challenges. No one should enter lightly into a step parent role. There also needs to be some sort of recognition that children have actual needs that have to be met and that they must be nurtured - and that is the job of the adult caretakers in the family. Someone who doesn't want that job should not be marrying someone with children, period.
This book outlines "10 steps" that are supposed to make you a "happy stepmother" in the end. The steps are very "ME centric" - for example, step three is "Your first priority: self care". While self care is certainly important, I felt like this book was really about putting oneself first - and my personal experience has been that a "me first" attitude does not tend to contribute to happy relationships [whether romantic, mother-child, friendships, etc].
I also got annoyed with the constant statements that the stepmothers did nothing to create the step family problems that they have to deal with. In human relationships, very seldomly are serious problems completely one sided. This book portrayed all stepmothers as "innocent victims" of angry ex wives, bratty step children, and lazy husbands who refuse to raise their children. The poor step mothers never do anything wrong and suffer such victimization that it completely breaks down their personalities [if you believe what she says in the introduction].
I felt frustrated because there didn't seem to be any call for step mothers to take responsibility for their own role in family dynamics.
I also found many of the "examples" given to be petty. One example is about a step mother who is using her mother in law to babysit her children in her home. The children's biological mother stops by to drop off something important that was left at her home [that the child would need] and the mother in law invites to her have a cup of coffee. The step mother comes home and proceeds to go nuclear and throw a tantrum, refusing to speak to either woman. The author considers this response appropriate, and further states that the step mother should lay down the law with the mother in law and tell her if she ever invites the Ex wife [aka: her stepchildren's mother] into her home again, she won't be "allowed" to babysit any more. I'm still trying to figure out how this is supposed to be a mature, kind response? How, exactly, is this behavior supposed to contribute to step family harmony?
With advice and behavior like that, no wonder the step mother can't get along with her step children's mother [and, probably, her step children because how are they going to feel about a woman who treats their mother and grandmother like that? and how does a man respect a wife who behaves like a 2 year old?]. It would be so much nicer to just be NICE and let the woman have a cup of coffee - the step mother would be happier and more successful in her relationships.
Another example given was a step mother complaining bitterly about having to wash her step children's clothes on their weekend visits. The extra laundry was such a burden, she just couldn't stand it. So, she knew the guy had kids and that they visited - and now she's going to let herself be unhappy and make everyone miserable over a couple of extra loads of laundry?
I really didn't find any advice that I thought was helpful. The advice to "meditate" and use "self hypnosis" and "release negative energy" and "put myself first" just didn't seem that useful to me.
I think better advice comes from the Dalai Lama who said "Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." I think I'll follow that advice and just chuck this book.
A MUCH more positive and helpful book on this topic, in my biased opinion, is "Happily Remarried: Making Decisions Together, Blending Families Successfully, Building a Love That Will Last" by Frisbee. That book offers TONS of helpful, positive advice and suggestions. It doesn't candy-coat anything, but it presents a far more realistic picture IMO and gives much more practical and useful suggestions.
I do feel somewhat grateful to the author of this book though. After reading this book I made the decision that my children and I are better off if I do not remarry while they are young, and I ended my relationship.
If this book is what being a "Happy Stepmother" is all about, I want none of it.
I dont want to talk about this particular book much because I do not want to promote it to a stepmother who is looking for help and advice with their stepmother journey, I definitely do not feel like it is a helpful book when a stepmother is going through some real life tragic issues. There are a lot of things that are not addressed that deal with a stepmothers journey with step kids, the bio-mom, bio-moms family, new in-laws that may have ties to bio-mother and court issues. Stepmonster helps you to understand these people, their nature. It helps to validate your feelings as a stepmother rather than sugar coat them and tell you to go write it down. This author is also promoting a website that is full of piss and vinegar. After one of the authors website "members" wrote a bad review about her book, the author kicked this lady off of her site. This author says she is a professional but doesn't act very professional when it comes down to it. I have visited the site a few times since then and it seems to be a dying site with no real help for anyone.
I do not recommend spending your money on this book, I do not recommend going to her site which is more harmful then good. I do recommend the Stepmonster book to get a good grasp on what you are dealing with and the truths about what you might face. It would be a great world if we could all be "Happy Stepmothers", but in reality there is a lot to understand and work through and like it says in the Stepmonster...You may NEVER get there. I would rather hear reality then to have false hope and fairytale lies told to me. This is all in my own personal oppinion after reading the two books and visiting the site that is recommended in the book. I have visited other very helpful sites for stepmothers and see the HUGE difference. I hope if you are in a desperate situation seeking help that you will consider every review.