The Stepmom Project | Helping You Navigate Your Role
The Stepmom Project is a book and a community of stepmoms working together and supporting each other to take steps to reach their goals. By goals, I mean the goals that each stepmom sets, whether it be having a peaceful family vacation or creating a family tradition together. And that really embodies the essence of The Stepmom Project.
I knew from the time I was about 13 years old that I
didn’t want to have children. My sister, Rachel, and I would babysit together,
and I enjoyed playing with the kids, but Rachel would change all of the
diapers. Rachel talked about getting married and having kids one day, and I
talked about traveling around the world with my husband. I knew even then that
having children of my own was not for me. My family and friends also knew how I
felt, and they accepted it. My parents never asked me when I was going to have
children or questioned me about my decision.
But well-meaning people throughout the years have
asked me quite a few questions. “Isn’t your biological clock ticking? What if
you decide later on that you want to have children?” Or, “What are you going to
do when you’re older? Who is going to take care of you?” I don’t really mind
these questions because generally they come from a place of curiosity. I get
it– people are curious about a woman who doesn’t want to have children.
However, I am certainly not an anomaly. A growing number of women are childless
these days. According to the latest report
from the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of childless women between the ages of
30 to 34 rose from 26 percent in 2006 to 30 percent in 2016. And that is twice
as many as 30 years ago.
In addition to the myth that being childless is unusual, I’ve also discovered some other myths. For instance, a common myth is that having children and grandchildren leads to greater happiness; however, that may not be the case, according to researchers. Let’s take a look at these myths and the research behind them.
One myth is that if you have children, you will
have a happier marriage. However, researchers have found that martial
satisfaction declines rapidly after having children. Typically, this is because
the focus shifts from the couple to the children. Parents spend their time and
attention on their children rather than nurturing their relationship as a
couple. In fact, when comparing couples with and without children, the rate of decline
in martial satisfaction is almost twice
as high for couples with children than those without, according to one study.
A different study by researchers at Vanderbilt and Florida State University discovered a higher rate of depression among parents than nonparents. “Parents experience lower levels of emotional well-being and more frequent negative emotions than their childless peers,” according to researcher Robin Simon. “In fact, no group of parents—married, single, step, or even empty nest—reported significantly greater emotional well-being than people who never had children.”
Another myth is that retirees who have children and grandchildren are happier than those who don’t. While that may be true for some, researchers at the University of Greenwich discovered that having children and grandchildren does not affect a retiree’s level of contentment. What does have a powerful impact on a retiree’s level of contentment is having a strong social network. Those with an active social life and a close group of friends reported much higher satisfaction levels in retirement. Therefore, the key to happiness in retirement is having friends- not children and grandchildren.
Martial status is also closely linked to higher levels of contentment in retirement. Those who were married or in a long-term relationship were more satisfied than those who were not. That’s why it’s so important to nurture the relationship you have with your partner.
While we’re on the subject of retirement, here’s another interesting finding– those who don’t have children may be able to retire earlier than those who do. According to some estimates, raising a child from birth until 17 years old will cost about a quarter of a million dollars, depending on where you live. If you were able to save some of that money, you would be better prepared for retirement earlier in life.
Will I share these statistics with those who ask about my childlessness? Probably not. But it’s nice to know the facts and figures behind these myths. While having children can be a fulfilling part of life, it isn’t necessary for happiness.
A lot of stepmoms ask me about resources for their stepchildren that will address stepfamily issues. They want to find books with characters who are part of a stepfamily, so their stepchildren can relate to the characters and the types of issues they’re having. This helps stepfamilies open up a dialogue on how the children feel about having two homes and stepparents. So when I found a unique children’s book that does just that, I had to share it with all of you! The book even includes a song that you can sing with your stepchildren.
I interviewed the author, Shannon Forster, and she told me all about her inspiration behind Love Grows and Grows: A Blooming Story for an Extended Family as well as her passion for helping stepfamilies. Shannon lives in Weston, Florida, where she is a wife, mom, and stepmom.
Tell us about your book. What’s the story?
My book has characters styled as human-hybrid flowers; which themselves are a metaphor for growth and the evolution towards love. The story follows young siblings Flora and Leaf as they transition into a new and unfamiliar life between two homes- one with Mom, and one with Dad and his new wife. Their journey highlights the challenges associated with creating extended families: a child’s apprehension of meeting someone new, and eventually choosing to accept and embrace this person to become a part of their world. With love and patience, we see a mom and a stepmom model a wonderful example of how to put their children first, working together to create a blended family with happy and confident kids. This example of unconditional love is what empowers Flora and Leaf to embrace a new definition of a typical family, and cultivate a new “normal” that benefits everyone involved.
What inspired you to write the book?
Being a member of our community, I feel it is important to create something positive, and to give back to others whenever possible. When beginning my journey to create this book, I was shocked to discover that this had never been done before! (Half of marriages end in divorce, and most have children). After I got divorced and became a single mother, I wanted to do everything I could to make this new life transition as easy as possible for my children. In doing so, I immediately befriended their stepmother, and my children loved her from the first day of meeting her.
Throughout the years, I have had countless parents approach me and ask me how I created such a calm and peaceful environment for my kids. I knew I had a lesson to teach so many other families; that divorce and co-parenting can be wonderful, not frightening. When I went to the library and every local book store to see what they had for children to help them with this, the answer I always received was, “We don’t have a book for children to help them with this.” I just couldn’t believe it! I went home that day and began to create what is now called, Love Grows and Grows: A Blooming Story for an Extended Family. Since being published, I have had so many parents and children hug me and tell me thank you for writing this story.
How did you come up with the name of your book? What is the message?
The title, Love Grows and Grows: A Blooming Story for an Extended Family, outlines the single most important rule I have ever taught my children. “Love grows and grows,” was something I would say to them all the time. When I became inspired to write this story, I envisioned the characters as hybrid human flowers. The more flowers you add to a garden, the more beautiful it becomes. Thus, the concept of flowers always blooming and growing when nurtured serves as a terrific metaphor to deliver my message of embracing extended love.
What lesson do you hope to teach children?
I hope that children and their families walk away with the courage and trust to believe in themselves. I want people to realize that great things can come from accepting an unknown, seemingly unforeseeable, perhaps even scary future. So many children (and adults) are extremely confused and apprehensive of change when faced with a new family dynamic. Part of our role as parents is to create a positive and even fun environment for them to realize that this change can be good—perhaps even better than the status quo.
Valentine’s Day: a day that people seem to either love or despise. Just the other day, while I was eating lunch, I overheard two women chatting about it. “Valentine’s Day is the worst! It’s such a commercial holiday, and it just makes me feel lonely,” one woman exclaimed. The other woman nodded earnestly. “I know! I always have high expectations, and they usually end up getting dashed.” These women definitely fall into the category of people who hate it. While I can empathize with how they feel, I fall into that other category of people who love Valentine’s Day. Unabashedly. I decorate for Valentine’s Day every year with hearts and old Valentine’s Day cards above our fireplace. I like to make cupcakes and homemade peanut butter cups using paper liners covered in hearts and cupids. When I was younger, I loved bringing Valentine’s Day cards and candy to share with all of my classmates. However, my most memorable Valentine’s Day occurred five years ago: the day my husband proposed to me.
The sunset was gorgeous that night…
On that day, my boyfriend at the time invited me to go on an evening motorcycle ride with him to South Mountain. The top of South Mountain has a beautiful view of Phoenix– you can see the lights extending in all directions. That evening in particular was special because you could see the sunset in one direction and a full moon from the other direction. We sat down on a bench overlooking the city, and my boyfriend pulled out an apple-shaped chocolate (the kind you give to teachers) as a joke. Then he told me to look inside. Lo and behold, I saw a ring in there! That’s when he got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. I can’t remember exactly what he said because I was so shocked. All I remember thinking is yes, yes, yes!
Remember why you started
Whenever I’m having a tough day or as a wife or a stepmom, I like to go back to that night. I like to remember the love, joy, and excitement I felt with our new beginning. Five years later, it puts a smile on my face and a warm feeling in my heart. If you’ve been feeling down about your marriage or your relationship with your stepkids, I encourage you to remember why you started. Look at the pictures from the proposal, write about it, or reminisce with your husband. For me, I get to remember it every Valentine’s Day, and that’s why I love Valentine’s Day so much.
Ahhh, the beginning of the new year. A fresh start, a clean slate, a new beginning. Forget about last year—that’s old news! Everything is new and different now. New and different?! Wait a second…not so fast! We’re so used to the frantic lifestyle that has become a trademark of our times that we automatically catapult into the new year, always looking ahead, not even taking a moment to think about all the great memories we made and all the lessons we learned in the previous year. Take a moment and think about 2018. What were some of the most exciting things that you did? What lessons did you learn?
At the end of each year, I like to use my reflections from the previous year to set my goals for the next year.
One year, I was in Nebraska visiting my family at the end of the year, so I “strongly encouraged” my whole family to fill out reflection sheets for the year. By strongly encourage, I mean that the no-nonsense teacher in me appeared and I made them all sit down at the table, handed out pens and paper, and told them to get started. If someone tried to slip away, I looked at their partially completed paper and guided them back to their chair. In the beginning, they were joking around—trying to look at their neighbor’s paper, shuffling their papers around as they were trying to come up with ideas for each of the categories. Soon, most of them had finished, so I asked each person to share one section of their sheet.
As we went around the room, listening to each person share, I realized that everyone was present.Fully present in the moment. They were really listening to each person share, happy when their name was mentioned as part of someone’s best family memory. Before long, they were wistfully reminiscing about their memories over the past year and laughing about some of the lessons that others learned. The best part was that we all learned something about each other (and ourselves) in the process.
My point is that you might have to “strongly encourage” or force your family at first to take part in reflection and goal setting, but once you all do it, your whole family will reap the benefits. One study discovered that people who reflect regularly are happier, more productive, and less burnt out than those who don’t. Furthermore, according to researchers, you are 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. That’s why I made a couple of doodling pages to help you get started. Start with 2018 and do some reflecting. Then move on to 2019 and set goals to get a strong start on the new year. I’d love to hear about your best family memory from 2018. Share yours in the comments below!
For more ideas on how to start a practice of Intentional Reflection, read my article on Stepparent Magazine.
Free Printables: Reflection and Goal Setting Sheets
Click on the sheets below to download them!
2018 Reflection Sheet
2019 Goal Setting Sheet
Ready for a Challenge?
If you are ready for a change, join a 21-day challenge with Stepmom Bootcamp, a book that is designed to help you transform your stepmom life. By completing readings, daily challenges, and reflections, you will gain a better understanding of yourself as a stepmom. You will walk away with inner peace, greater clarity on your stepmom role, and a vision for your life in the future. Get started today!
Dr. Gottman, marriage and relationship researcher, has a phrase he frequently uses in his couples counseling sessions. He encourages the idea of “small things often.” This means it’s not the big gestures that make a successful relationship. Rather, it’s actually all the small things you do on a daily basis that contribute to a happy marriage, such as paying attention to your partner when he needs it, giving him a compliment, or noticing when he needs extra support.
Seahorses have this idea down pat. Most species of seahorses studied in the wild appear to remain faithful to one partner, forming pair bonds throughout a breeding season and perhaps even over multiple seasons. Pair bonds reinforce their relationship with a daily greeting–they dance together every morning before they part ways. This morning ritual is the perfect example of “small things often.”
You can practice “small things often” by leaving a note thanking your husband for making coffee and wishing him a nice day at work. Or you can send a quick text expressing appreciation for picking groceries up after a long day at work. It can be as simple as letting your partner know what you admire about him. Giving a compliment goes a long way–64 percent of unhappy couples struggle with putting each other down, while only 8 percent of happy couples have that issue, according to a survey by Ron Deal, author of The Smart Stepfamily Marriage.
You don’t have to spend a lot of time on your partner, but you do need to make a conscious effort to set aside time for him every day. (For ideas on how to maximize quality time, click HERE.) As you start putting this practice into place, you’ll probably notice that your partner reciprocates by thanking you for what you do on a daily basis, giving you a compliment, or showing that he cares by leaving a note for you. Who knows, maybe you’ll even decide to start the morning with a dance!
Do you feel like drama comes along with your stepchildren? Do you ever think to yourself: if my stepkids weren’t here, I wouldn’t have to deal with their mother? If you’re dealing with a high conflict biological mom, you might have trouble separating those negative feelings you have for bio mom from the feelings you have for your stepchildren. You could have difficulty connecting with the children because you feel like they are an extension of her. However, don’t let those negative feelings taint your relationship with your stepchildren. Try this simple exercise to reframe how you look at your stepchildren.
Focus on the traits your stepchildren share with their dad. Get a notebook and write down at least three traits, either physical traits or personality characteristics.
Add to the list periodically. When you notice something, write it down, so you can return to it later. My stepdaughter has been watching her dad cook for years, so when she got the opportunity to cook one night, she made the meal exactly like her dad makes it. She even used the same expressions. “How hungry are you?” she asked me earnestly, as she prepared to fill my plate. I found it endearing that she was emulating her dad so closely. She obviously looks up to him, and she has acquired his talent for cooking.
Return to the list. The next time you’re feeling like you’re lumping your stepchildren in with their mother, take a look at the list that you’ve cultivated in your notebook. This will help you let go of negativity and focus on their positive traits.
Overall, looking at your stepchildren’s positive attributes will help you appreciate them for who they are. You’ll be better able to connect with your stepchildren, and this will help you form your own relationship with them. How do you connect with your stepchildren? Which traits do they share with their dad? Share in the comments!
According to an article in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, gratitude may have the strongest connection to happiness of any of the personality traits studied. In fact, “18.5 percent of individual differences in people’s happiness could be predicted by the amount of gratitude they feel,” asserts Janice Kaplan, author of The Gratitude Diaries. Gratitude also has a positive effect on your health. Researchers have found that feeling gratitude can lower your blood pressure, help with depression, improve sleep, and reduce stress, according to Kaplan. That’s why it’s important for you to approach situations with an attitude of gratitude.
Research on gratitude has shown that by finding the positive aspects of a frustrating experience, people can feel more positive about that experience. We can use “grateful recasting,” a technique where people reframe or recast frustrations as opportunities and show gratitude for the moment, according to Robert Emmons, author of Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, and one of the leading experts on gratitude.
As stepmoms, we encounter numerous frustrating situations, from custody battles to challenges with our stepchildren. That’s where grateful recasting comes in–you can shift your perspective by focusing on all that you’re learning through these experiences. You are learning how to navigate difficult relationships, how to communicate, and how to handle tough situations, just to name a few. It is definitely not easy, but it has also demonstrated that you are a stronger person than you probably ever imagined yourself to be!
FREE PRINTABLES: Your Turn
Now that you know about the benefits of expressing gratitude, it’s time to get started on incorporating a practice of gratitude in your life. It can be as simple as starting a gratitude journal. (More details HERE.)
Another way you can start practicing gratitude is by coloring and writing on the bookmarks below with your stepfamily. My stepdaughter and I designed this series of bookmarks to serve as a way of expressing gratitude, giving encouragement, and giving compliments to other members of your stepfamily. Set aside some time after dinner to color, write, and share these bookmarks. (Click on the bookmarks to download and print them.) They will serve as a great visual reminder later on!
TSMP Bookmark Series 1
TSMP Bookmark Series 2
TSMP Bookmark Series 3
TSMP Bookmark Series 4
Feel free to share your stories and pictures in the comments! We would love to see how your bookmarks turn out! If you’d like to join us for a fun family stepfamily event centered around gratitude in the Phoenix area, click HERE.
Stepmoms, bring your kids and stepkids to check out The Artisan Fest at Odysea in the Desert!
The Artisan Fest features a Kids Art Zone with new projects every month, and I will be leading the Kids Art Zone on November 10th! Join us to experience a special stepfamily activity centered around gratitude. My stepdaughter and I designed a series of fun, interactive bookmarks for you and your stepchildren to color. This will be a nice stepfamily activity, and a great way for you to meet other stepfamilies! Copies of “The Stepmom Project” will be available for purchase.
You can also visit with nearly 50 of the top local artists, designers, and creators. Enjoy live music from some of the best local musicians. Free Yoga classes will be offered by top valley instructors at each event. Watch live cooking and juicing demos, live art and performances. Once you work up an appetite, there are plenty of delicious dining options on-site and numerous fun-family attractions and retail to enjoy!
For more details and to RSVP, click HERE. Hope to see you there!
Let’s take a break from all of the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, take a few deep breaths, and reflect on this past year. We can start by shifting our focus from thoughts of the future and what we’re going to do to thoughts of what we have done. We can do this with a very simple but powerful exercise.
Instead of making a “To Do” List, take 1-2 minutes to think back over 2018 and make a “Done” List. Write down as many things as you can think of in the time limit and be prepared to be surprised by all that you accomplished over the year. Stepmoms, you can also use this time to think about what you’ve accomplished as a stepmom and write down those things that make you proud.
Here’s my list—“Done” in 2018
Saw my first glacier and the Northern Lights in Iceland
Held 5 workshops for stepmoms over the course of the year
After you finish your list, take some time to celebrate your accomplishments—whether they are big or small—before you start thinking about your goals and resolutions for next year. When you look over your list, you’ll probably realize that you’ve accomplished a lot more than you expected. I think you’ll agree you’re pretty darn amazing!
National Stepfamily Day is a nationally and an internationally recognized holiday that is celebrated on September 16th each year. It’s a time for stepfamilies to get together and celebrate being part of a stepfamily. Christy Tusing-Borgeld is the founder of National Stepfamily Day and you can read the inspiring story of how she started it HERE.
10 Ways to Celebrate National Stepfamily Day:
Family picnic. Enjoy the outdoors and have a picnic!
Cookies decorated in a Smith-O-Lator class
Cookie decorating. Cookie, cupcake, or cake decorating is a fun side-by-side activity that you can do. Plus, you can enjoy all of the goodies that you decorate! I found an awesome cookie shop called Smith-O-Lator that also offers cookie decorating classes.
Bike ride. Go on a bike ride around your neighborhood or load your bikes up and check out a new trail.
Board games. Scrabble, Monopoly, or Clue, anyone?!
Day trip. Find a natural attraction, national park, or an amusement park in your area and enjoy the day there.
Visit the zoo or a museum. Do you have any unusual museums in the area? If you do a quick Google search, you might be surprised by what turns up. We found the Hall of Flame Museum of Firefighting which is really cool!
Go out for ice cream or frozen yogurt. You don’t have to do anything too elaborate– just enjoy having dessert with each other.
Play a sport together. Frisbee, sand volleyball, softball… Get everyone together and have some fun!
Family-friendly comedy show. Laugh together! Find a family-friendly comedy spot and enjoy the evening together. We love JesterZ Improv Comedy.
No matter how you choose to celebrate, make the most of every moment that you spend with your family. Celebrate the unique qualities of each person in your family and make some wonderful memories together!
Have other ideas? Wanna share how you’re going to celebrate? Share in the comments!