Review of The Stepmoms Toolbox Discussing The Secrets to Stepfamily Success

Nancy B. Alston

Gloria Lintermans is author of the book, The Secrets to Stepfamily Success. I have not read it yet as I have barely finished a book, but plan to pick this one up very soon. I’m looking forward to it after hearing her discussion on The Stepmoms Toolbox blog-talk radio.

The most significant point Gloria made was the importance of mourning the loss of the first family. Both children and parents need to expend the energy to mourn in their own way. Gloria gave several phases of the grieving process. Per the chapters in her book, I’m looking forward to reading suggestions of how. I’m confident this grieving process can also be used in the situation of a death of a spouse (parent). Gloria has gone through that personally. One detrimental effect of children not properly mourning the loss of their first family is defiance or anger. Please keep this in mind if you have a child or stepchild acting out or being disobedient.

Another point Gloria discussed is about discipline. She advocates all parents and spouses, including step parents and ex-spouses, should communicate and co-parent together. They should all be cooperative and develop long-range goals. I couldn’t agree with this more. I advocate this, too, and readily admit this is the most ideal way to build a healthy strong cohesive stepfamily. I was disappointed, though, that she didn’t offer specific ways to accomplish this. It’s likely she covers this in the book. I know from working with families clinically how difficult this can be. It’s difficult enough for 1 set of parents to agree on discipline issues, yet alone 2 sets (4 parents). For these families, total agreement may seem impossible. Setting up household rules is a step in that direction. Be sure to include consequences for breaking the rules and any specific exceptions. Gloria didn’t mention that tip directly, but later suggested to set age-appropriate limits or rules.

When asked about a situation in which a StepMom was involved with a non-cooperative BioMom, Gloria reiterated the need for all co-parents to work together. If BioMom has any mental illness, BioDad should petition the court for full custody. She admitted there is no good answer because “chaos” ensues without good co-parenting. I somewhat disagree. Yes, the answer is not an easy one. Giving an answer is remarkably easier than implementing any tools. Although petitioning the court for full custody has benefits and is possible, it is a very arduous process and likely to fuel tempers and increase arguments. It detracts from the children having easy access to both parents. Many of us already know the research expressing the developmental advantages of children with both parents. Plus, full custody is not practical or possible for all families.

The answer is related to setting boundaries for your family household – empowering yourselves with the right perspective. The right perspective is total acceptance of BioMom. You have no control over her and cannot change her if she doesn’t want to change. This does not mean you have to play games. You and your spouse decide your limits of what you will and will not allow, what you will and will not do, and how far you will bend. You can do this and still treat BioMom with respect and courtesy. The biggest effect of total acceptance is the disappearance of resentment and anger. It is amazing how much more stable a once chaotic household can become once this is achieved. It’s not quick and easy, but it can be done. All worthwhile goals take time and effort. This is one of them.

Gloria also discussed the higher divorce rate of stepfamilies. There is no consensus on the statistic because many cohabiting stepfamilies are not included in divorce stats when they separate. Some stats estimate the inclusion of cohabitation, while others do not. I’ve seen the stat as high as 85% and low as 66%. Whichever stat is used, there is no mistake that 2nd families break up more frequently than first families. The percentages of stepfamilies that stick through the challenges estimate that it takes 7-10 years for them to feel comfortable with each other as a stepfamily.

The ladies on Stepmoms Toolbox are in successful stepfamilies and I’m very pleased for them. They commented that stepfamilies should “stick it out” because “it hurts but won’t kill you.” From my personal experience in a stepfamily, as well as a professional working with stepfamilies, I can not agree with this as a blanket statement. Many unhealthy behaviors and attitudes exist in the stepfamilies who separate. Unless these behaviors and attitudes are transformed into positives, maybe breaking up is better for these families. Maybe a few of them are dying emotionally. Maybe they’re changing into somebody they don’t want to be. Maybe they are developing addictions in order to cope. There are many other maybe’s. All of them are just more reasons to seek out a Stepfamily Professional. A professional may be able to reverse the negative trend into a positive. If not, at least a professional could provide a healthier perspective of the family’s situation.

Several parents swear they will never marry or move in with somebody again because of how emotionally stressful the first situation was. That is the reason my mom decided to never remarry after divorcing my dad. I, too, felt that way when I first left my stepmom role. It took me a couple years to overcome that. What made the difference for me is understanding the dynamics of step and figuring out what could’ve been done differently to get different results. Through intensive soul-searching, I figured out how I had attracted a dysfunctional family. Now that I have finally found inner peace, I feel confident that I’ll attract the right relationship/man when I’m ready. Our internal psyche leads us to others with a similar psyche, whether we realize it or not. Chapter Four of Gloria’s book discusses remarrying the right people for the right reasons.

There is 1 final angle from the discussion I’d like to bring up. On the subject of a stepmom without children of her own coming into a stepfamily, Gloria’s comments placed the burden of learning and adjusting on the stepmom. Because this blog-talk radio show is targeted to stepmoms, it stands to reason why she didn’t mention the biological dad. Still, it was an oversight to not urge StepMom to confide in and lean more on her husband. This would only work if he also took the time and energy to learn about stepfamily dynamics and committed to adjusting *together*. The step parent and bio parent is the foundation of the stepfamily. Being a team increases the likelihood of becoming a healthy stepfamily.

On this same topic, Gloria imparted valuable insights. She mentioned the importance of learning new tools of parenting, admitting you don’t know everything and are sometimes wrong, and have no desire to “replace” or be a better “Mom”. I completely agree with all of these insights. I’d further extend this suggestion to the bio parent. Bio parents sometimes get stuck in parenting a certain way, as if they always know best because they are the natural parent. This is not always the case. They are also human, which makes them fallible. Sometimes, their internal emotions of guilt or pride cloud their judgment. Moreover, many single and joint parents turn into the “holiday parent” and lax on discipline. Little to no discipline by the bio parent translates to a tougher adjustment and more stress on a stepmom. A stepmom without children of her own is more acutely stressed when she is perceived to not know anything about parenting when in fact the bio dad is not disciplining appropriately. This is common in many households in which the step parent has no biological offspring.

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