Mama J on September 9th, 2009

I’d like to join the National Stepfamily Resource Center’s effort to raise your awareness of a special holiday:  the thirteenth annual National Stepfamily Day (NSFD) on Sept. 16, 2009. When reflecting on the purpose of National Stepfamily Day, founder Christy Borgeld says: 

 “Our nation has been blessed by thousands upon thousands of loving stepparents and stepchildren who are daily reminders of the joy, trials, and triumphs of the stepfamily experience and of the boundless love contained in the bond between all types of parents and children. Stepfamily Day is a day to celebrate the many invaluable contributions stepfamilies have made to enriching the lives and life experience of the children and parents of America and to strengthening the fabric of American families and society. Stepfamily Day will encourage and educate all members of a stepfamily [and] honor those who have made a commitment to creating new family bonds.” 

If you are on Facebook or would like to be, join the Facebook page for National Stepfamily Day.

Stepfamilies are encouraged to spend special family time together on Sept. 16, or on the following Saturday, Sept. 19.  NSFD founder Christy Borgeld has put together a great little YouTube video that visualizes multiple ways to celebrate National Stepfamily Day.

These ideas include:

  • Holding a family picnic or block party
  • Going to the beach (I wish! That’s not an easy day trip from Northern Colorado 😉
  • Taking a family hike
  • Having a game night
  • Making a photo scrapbook
  • Going to the zoo
  • Going bowling together
  • Camping
  • Fishing
  • Golfing
  • Having a family portrait done 

Our family almost always puts out a family photo Christmas card, so I’ve latched on to the portrait idea.  Now we just have to survive the logistical high-jump of coordinating everyone’s schedules (my stepkids are 23 and 21). 

What strikes you as a great way to celebrate National Stepfamily Day? 

Mama J is a writer, parent, and stepparent in Northern Colorado.  Watch for news of her upcoming audio preview to Stepparenting the Grieving Child, and read about her book project at

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Mama J on September 2nd, 2009

First of all, thanks for the lively discussion and comments to last week’s post about selfish stepparents.  I thought I’d go with something a little lighter this week — how stepfamilies can have fun on Labor Day weekend.  I combined some ideas for those who live in urban areas with ideas for those who have recreational activities near by. 

For the next two weeks after this, I’ll focus on National Stepfamily Day, which is coming September 16.  If you want a preview, click here.  Many of the ideas below can also be used to celebrate this lesser-known holiday!

  • Rent or borrow a pop-up camper (or your trusty tent) and take a camping night away from home.  Gather around the campfire and stargaze. Or, just camp in the backyard.
  • When is the last time you all went for a bike ride?  Take whomever is home and head out on a route that you’ve been wanting to try.
  • Pick out a theater movie your whole family can get excited about.  Discuss the movie afterwards over dinner or coffee-shop drinks.
  • Have what may be the last water fights of the summer.  You can buy 100 water balloons for a few dollars.  Get creative and combine a game of capture the flag with water bombs for being in enemy territory. 
  • Plan and make a meal at home together.  For fun, pick an international theme; perhaps something that relates to the kids’ heritage.
  • If it’s a stay-at-home weekend, get a book from the libary that could be interesting for many ages and have family members take turn reading it all weekend long.  Swimming to Antarctica is one suggestion that has been recommended to me. 
  • Make a mountain hike a scavenger hunt.  (This takes the focus off the effort of hiking.) Parents, make up your lists ahead of time. Split your family into teams (suggestion: mix siblings and stepsiblings on a team so it doesn’t become “Family Feud.”)  Treat everyone to ice cream after the hike/hunt.
  • Learn and play some new card games.  I have this on the agenda for every holiday and somehow we never do it!  We will start with some basics:  Poker and Rummy.  If you know any other really great family card games, let me know. 
  • Pick someone in need to visit over the Labor Day weekend.  Perhaps you know someone in the hospital or in a nursing home.  You can always call in to nursing homes or assisted living and ask if they have anyone in special need of a cheerful visitor. 
  • That’s nine — and you know my request!  YOU fill in the tenth!

Have a great Labor Day Weekend.

Mama J is a Northern Colorado writer, parent, and stepparent.  Stay tuned for forthcoming information on her new audio for Stepparenting the Grieving Child.  Check out the book project at

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Mama J on August 26th, 2009

I do encourage comments and friendly debate on this blog, but I have to admit I was surprised to receive a comment this summer from a reader nicknamed Daisy:  “I came here for comfort, and instead find an outrageous display of selfishness.” 

Daisy, who is herself grieving the loss of her adult son, felt that the stepparent comments were reflections of those “who still want to maintain their false status as centerpieces of the universe .. e.g. finding it ‘annoying’ to have grieving step-children who have not transferred their adoration of dead parents onto the stepparents.” 

I thought this was a good opportunity to reiterate my purpose for our discussions.  I believe that stepparents have good intentions and yet the stepparenting journey has many emotional twists and turns.  I like that I meet each reader where he or she is, as opposed to judging where he or she “should be.” 

Each stepfamily member is going through a grief and re-integration process.  For some stepparents, the skies clear quickly and the sun illuminates the healthiest path for stepparenting grieving children. For me personally, this process has taken more than ten years. I have had my selfish moments, yet I’m also learning from my own challenges and successes. 

The bottom line? The model stepparent will behave only in ways that are the healthiest to assist and honor the grieving child.  In reality, we all go through a zigzag evolution toward stepparenting nirvana.  (A shorter way to say this might be: nobody’s perfect!) 

I  know now how I can share a bigger heart for kids who have lost their parents. But I surely didn’t understand these concepts after one, two, or even five years of remarriage.  I’m openly sharing this journey on my upcoming audio, which is a preview to my book, Stepparenting the Grieving Child. I feel that even my selfish stepparenting behavior was part of growth work I had to do to realize I had to become better educated about how to be more beneficial in my stepkids’ lives.

What do Daisy’s comments or my commentary stir up in you?  Let us know. 

Mama J is a writer, parent, and stepparent in Northern Colorado.  Watch this space soon for information about my preview audio for Stepparenting the Grieving Child.


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Mama J on August 19th, 2009

Colorado schools start earlier than many states.  Our neighborhoods here are buzzing with the back-to-school sounds of buses rumbling through neighborhoods and kids chatting in packs as they return from the bus stop.

In fact, I would argue that at least in this region of the U.S., fall inspires more feelings of change and new beginnings than spring.  Long before the leaves change colors, the turnover of the seasons is a natural re-set point for us all.

With this change momentum in place, maybe it’s a good time to try something new in your stepfamily.   My husband is dumping his young adult lectures and switching to more of a question-based approach with his son, my 21-year-old stepson.  I feel that I, the stepparent, can also model this questioning.  My stepson must feel the change in the wind too — he’s been back living with us since May, but just told us he’ll be moving out again in a few weeks.

I’ve found I can ride the seasonal energy to be more bold and brave in my attitude and actions. The change back to kids spending more hours in the school enviroment allows me to have more stimulating and “hip” conversations with my stepkids as we talk about school happenings, activities, and friends.

Maybe this would even be a great time to have the “I know I’m not your birth parent and yet I’m here to help you” conversation (a very important conversation that I never really initiated but certainly should have).  Or perhaps you’ll find the words to communicate something important to your stepkids that you’ve not yet been able to utter.

If the emotional conversations are too heady, fall is also a perfect season to try new logistics or organizational systems.  Kids are coming home from school (that is, if not home schooled) with clean, unmarked day planners.  They too may be inspired to sit down as a family and offer their ideas for how to rotate homework, free time, chores, and activities.

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Diane Fromme is a Colorado-based writer, parent, and stepparent.  Check out her book and upcoming audio, Stepparenting the Grieving Child, at

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Mama J on July 16th, 2009

The combination of keeping up with my freelance writing contracts and having kids on a summer schedule has wrought a little havoc with my blog posting routine! However, from the number of comments (none!) I received on my school-home connection questions, it appears that many of you are on “summer time” as well.

I am writing  a magazine article on the school-home connection for stepfamilies, and have gathered some important perspectives from the educators.

The short scoop? Stepfamily members should go out of their way to communicate the family situation to the schools. The schools want to know what is going on with your child’s/stepchild’s home life, but there is no way a teacher can hunt down this information for every single child.

Once this article is submitted, I’ll be able to share more details, and ultimately a link to the text.

In the meantime, I encourage you to look again at the June 30 post…I would love to hear your answers to the questions there.

Mama J is a writer, parent, and stepparent in Northern Colorado. To learn more about her book, Stepparenting the Grieving Child, go to

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Mama J on June 30th, 2009

Your turn!  The purpose of today’s post is to ask your opinions about how stepparents and schools can work together to strengthen the school-to-home connection.  (Yes, I’m looking ahead to fall…or some of you may have kids who go to school year round.) 

You do not need to be registered on the blog to post a comment below.  Whether you are a stepparent, parent, or educator, please answer any of the following questions. 



In what ways have your schools’ administration and staff taken the time to understand anything about your family’s homelife? 

Do you expect schools to understand more about your family situation and how it might affect your children’s and stepchildren’s education?  If so, what format would you suggest to share more information?



How do you or your spouse help keep your stepchildren organized for school? 

If your stepchildren travel between two houses, what challenges do they face in terms of schoolwork and school organization? 

Can you think of ways that the school can help kids keep more organized?



What do you think is the most important contribution you as a stepparent can make to your stepchildren’s education? 



Mama J is a writer, parent, and stepparent in Northern Colorado.  She is quite interested in the education field.  To read more about Diane and her book, Stepparenting the Grieving Child, go to

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Mama J on June 28th, 2009

Today is a milestone; one I kept thinking about the entire week prior.  My nine-year-old just left for her first sleepaway camp.  As I told my husband after she was whisked away in the carpool van, “This is harder than the first day of kindergarten.” 

OK, it’s only two nights and three days at 4H camp in Nebraska, six hours away. (Did you know Nebraska has a National Forest?  That was news to me!  Sorry  Midwesterners….) 

I’m actually very excited for her.  I have mostly great memories of camp, and I think I went to a longer sleepaway camp when I was her age.  It’s just the rite of passage that’s got me going. 

Packing brought back memories.  The lists have not changed much!  Four shirts, four pairs of pants or shorts, two bathing suits, sunscreen, bug spray….I don’t have high expectations that everything will return, but I don’t even care.  This is my daughter’s first chance to be really independent and to test her confidence in a camp situation.  That’s the important part of this trip. 

And I’ll get to see where she’s been on Wednesday afternoon, because I’m doing the pick-up carpool.  I’m sure the first stop will be the CAMP STORE!  Wasn’t that always the most fascinating place for a nine- or ten-year-old girl with purchasing power?? 

Do you have any favorite camp memories or camp stories? 

Mama J is a (highly sensitive) writer, parent, and stepparent in Northern Colorado.  Check out information about her book, Stepparenting the Grieving Child, at


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Mama J on June 17th, 2009

The days are long

But the time is short.

            — Unknown

Although you wouldn’t know it from my picture, summer officially starts in four days (and maybe my picture will change at exactly the same time!).

A few of you may be committed to year-round school with two-week breaks every quarter, but most of us are entering the ten-week summer vacation cycle.  In stepfamilies this means a lot more face time with your stepchildren. 

Some of you may see the opportunity this presents to build relationships with your stepkids.  However, many of us have a hard time getting past the fact that there are more people in the house, more messes to clean up, and in general more demand on the parents.  Stepparents may have to field questions and situations that the parent normally handles.  

It’s true that some days don’t go as well as you’d like them to and everything feels like a drag.  But in the big picture, that was only one day in the life of your stepfamily. Don’t blink because before you know it, none of these children will be left at home. 

I’ve learned that despite the harder days, each new day presents a fresh opportunity to do things a little differently to make things better.  If you model this behavior, your stepchildren and children can pick up on it. 

How can you make this summer mostly relaxing and enjoyable?  Try these ideas. 

  • Take time to ponder over what each child in your family likes and needs after the school year…who will bounce off the walls if they don’t stay scheduled and busy? Who prefers the downtime of free play or free choice of things to do? Can you help match each child’s needs to a fitting situation? 
  • Hold a family meeting (barbeque and/or ice-cream-sundae bar?) to set summer expectations and boundaries. There will undoubtedly be more dishes to do, more family-room cleanup, more sibling arguments, more phone calls, more television on…how will you handle this as a stepfamily? What would all family members like to do for fun? This is also a time to work on some tough questions and answers.
  • Whose discipline prevails – parent’s, stepparent’s, or both?  What activities or forms of expression are simply not allowed? How will you administer consequences?   
  • Balance doing things with your kids and stepkids alongside continuing your own groove. Summertime doesn’t mean giving all your free time to others.  
  • Got teens? Help them get into at least one volunteer opportunity or paid position. For younger teens use your network of contacts in the community to find unadvertised possibilities such as dog walkers, house sitters, weeders, mowers…even readers to young children or to the elderly.  
  • If you have the funds available, join a community pool. Another option is to schedule a weekly excursion to the public pool…start some traditions with water toys and crazy, fun snacks. Or there’s always fun in setting up a slip and slide toy in your yard or nearby common area. Water can be a great common denominator for a wide range of ages. 
  • Explore classes offered by your community’s Recreation Department. Most offer an overwhelming number of options from art classes to sports camps to writing clinics, at a reasonable cost. 
  • Schedule family reading time. Pick one book appropriate for all family members and take turns reading it out loud to each other. Have post-reading discussion but keep it light – just don’t make it feel like school and you’ll keep your audience engaged.

 Do you have summertime stepfamily ideas?  I’m interested!  Log a comment below or send them to, and have a very enjoyable summer.

Mama J is a writer, parent, and stepparent in NOW IT’S FINALLY SUNNY Northern Colorado.  To learn more about her book Stepparenting the Grieving Child, visit her website at


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Mama J on June 10th, 2009

Because my 21-year-old stepson has moved back in with us for a while,  I thought this was a good time to re-visit the topic of zigzag evolution.  This was the child who moved out of the house before his senior year of high school, which was a huge zigzag at that time.  His moving back in has been a surprise and another zigzag.  He just needs some time to figure out what he wants to do next.

I think I picked up this term, zigzag evolution, from Patricia
Papernow’s foundational book, Becoming a Stepfamily.  The meat of
this concept is that stepfamilies do not evolve in a straight, predictable,
Rather, they zigzag, more along the lines of the one-step-
forward, two-steps-back analogy. 

While it’s true that all families zigzag to some extent, stepfamilies
typically have more obstacles to their evolution
: a shorter history
together, less “instant” (unconditional) love, and the challenge of
merging cultures and traditions.

Zigzag evolution explains why it’s so important not to judge the
success of your stepfamily on a short-term basis.  What looks like
progress one season might reverse itself during another season.
(See related post about Funky Phases.)

Here are some examples of zigzagging, either from my own experience
or the experiences of stepparents I’ve interviewed: 

A fourth-grade stepdaughter holds her stepmom’s hand (a first)
several times during summer vacation, but then doesn’t show any
physical contact that fall when stepmom volunteers in her classroom at

A stepdad to three girls suddenly becomes the only living father figure
when the girls’ father dies in an accident.

A teenaged boy who called his stepmom “mom” for seven years wakes
up one morning and starts calling her only by her first name from that
point forward.

A stepmom who has craved the love and attention of her stepchildren
for more than fifteen years finds herself retreating from them when
they, now in their twenties, start to show her that attention. 

How do you deal with zigzag?  Take these learning points to heart:

  • Key milestones and anniversaries can subconsciously trigger
    changes in behavior.
  • Not all stepfamily members move forward at the same rate.
  • Keeping a steady vigil over how your stepfamily is doing actually
    works against you.  Try practicing a “from the blimp” view of your
    family.  If you were flying in a blimp over hundreds of households,
    would your household stand out as the big, red “in trouble” household?
    Or would it mostly look like the other households? 
  • Talking to more parents about the issues they face with their kids
    can help normalize a zig or a zag.  Every time I’ve done this, I hear
    that many issues with children are universal and not just limited to a
    stepfamily setting.  It provides a little relief to an overly conscientious

I’m just here to remind you (and myself) that you can’t force evolution. 
The good news is that even a zigzag is, overall, moving forward, and
so will your stepfamily.

Mama J (Diane Fromme) is a writer, parent, and stepparent located in
Northern Colorado.  For more information on her stepparenting book,
go to

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Mama J on June 2nd, 2009

One of the end-of-year anxieties girls (and let’s face it, their moms) usually have is:  who will be my teacher next year, and who will be in my class?  Different personalities handle the impending change different ways:  some verbalize, some act out, some fret, and some stuff. 

I would like to take a moment to praise my daughter’s elementary school for making the choice this year to reveal next year’s teacher and class before the school year ended.  The school counselor, principal, and current teachers worked hard to balance so many factors that must be considered in the public school classroom mix:  social, behavioral, and academic (and I’m sure the staff would rattle off other factors as well). 

About one week prior to school’s end, the kids found out their teacher’s name.  Just a few days later, the new class (in this case fourth graders) met with their new teacher, in that teacher’s classroom, for 30 minutes or so.  They each left with a packet of summer work to prepare for fourth grade, and the confidence of having sat in their new classroom with at least one interaction with their new teacher. 

I know that for many students and parents, this relieves a lot of wondering and speculating about how next year will start off. If a parent or student is really concerned about the placement, he or she has time to discuss it with a staff member and better understand the rationale for that placement. 

I’m learning from chatting with other moms at other schools that some children don’t find out next year’s teacher until a postcard arrives in the mail about two weeks before school starts.  I suppose all kids and parents in those schools are in the same boat, but I personally am very glad to be sailing on the vessel our school chose — honest, up-front information, just in time. 

Mama J is a writer, parent, and stepparent based in Northern Colorado.  She blogs about raising girls and also features stepparenting issues every Wednesday.  To learn more about her book and upcoming audio, Stepparenting the Grieving Child, visit her website at


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