All posts by Joyce Amsden

STEP IT UP!

10 Things Step Parents Can Do to
Strengthen the Relationships in a Blended Family

Step parenting is challenging. No question. Here are some tips that can help create less turmoil and stronger bonds in your blended family.

1. Take care of your relationship with your partner.

All relationships need care to keep the connection strong and the fire of love burning bright.

Think bonfire. Build the fire and feed it. If the fire is out, you start with paper and twigs and a spark. You may need to try again. Add bigger sticks and branches until you have the fire burning well. Add fuel as needed to provide warmth and a place to burn up things you no longer need and cook good ideas into form.

When you are nurturing children, the need for care of your relationship is even greater. The swirl of endless demands on your time, energy and emotional resources can take a heavy toll on the bonds between partners. This sense of connection is worth creating and nurturing as it can create a sense of purpose and pleasure as well as smooth out many of the challenges that arise.

Back in the 1990’s, I had an old Plymouth Voyager. One day the bold that secured one of the shock absorbers fell out and the shock absorber hung limp and useless. The littlest bump would cause a loud band as the spring bottomed out. The springs still worked to a degree, but it was a dangerous, noisy, bumpy ride. Spending time with your partner restores your shock absorbers.

In a blended family, the challenges and relationships are all the more complex and difficult. Feelings of protectiveness and conflicts over loyalty can seem insurmountable, but there are solutions. They begin with taking care of your relationship with your spouse.

Nurture Romance. Find time to be alone. Create a date night where you don’t talk about the children or problems. Talk about the things you love about each other. Talk about your first days, months together and the things that drew you together. Talk about your hopes and dreams. Laugh. Snuggle. Read to each other. Rediscover the things you love to do with and for each other.

2. Listen

Listening is not the same as waiting to talk. It involves the desire to understand. Listen to know of the other person’s experience of their day, their relationships, happenings and frustrations in the family, whatever they want to share. Get curious.

Listen. Listen. Listen. Listen without arguing or agreeing, without defending or taking sides, without advising or correcting. Keep the focus on what is really going on with the other person. Ask them questions that help them go deeper and listen some more. Ask them what they wish would happen. Ask them to tell you one good thing from their day.

We all want to be heard. We all want to be understood. Give that as a gift to your family. Separate your own need to be heard. It is important and deserves a time, but just for now, give the gift of listening.

  1. Talk

This is not the same as complaining or blaming. Try forming your sentences like this – When ____ happened, I felt _____. Talk about your frustrations, but commit yourself to also sharing your joy. There are good things all around you. Get in the habit of noticing and mentioning them. If you need to share difficult experiences, focus on what happened and how you felt not on what others did wrong. Be vulnerable and dare to be seen with all of your heartaches and your joys.

4. Perform Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty.

Do it often. Daily. Pick a flower. Write a note. Give in those small ways that makes your partner feel loved. Ask your partner what makes them feel loved. Do it fully and freely. Enjoy the feeling of giving. Ask your partner what makes them feel loved. Do the same for the children. Small acts of kindness are easy to give and sometimes more easily received than large efforts especially when bonds are new. This kind of giving is for the purpose of giving, not for the purpose of getting something in return.

5.Have your partner’s back.

It is important for the parent and step-parent to provide a unified front. This shows the children that the parents are in charge and, despite what the children might say to the contrary, gives them a feeling of security. It is okay for your kids to know you need to delay a decision until you can talk with your partner. If disagreements over rules occur, try your very best not to criticize each other in front of the children. Come to an agreement about how things are going to be handled and present them as “We have decided…”

Better yet, hold family meetings and make rules and decisions together. Hold all family members to following through on agreements made in family meetings.

6. Take care of your relationship with the children.

Being genuinely interested in children, their thoughts, feelings and what is happening in their world is the best way to deepen bonds with them and help them feel loved. (Isn’t this true with all of us?)

Spend time with your children. Find out what they like to do. Discover common interests they share with the step parent and encourage activities they can enjoy with the step parent or with the whole family.

Make sure that the biological parent has the opportunity for time alone with their children. Children in a blended family may really miss this kind of time and it is important to make time and emotional space for it.

The step parent can foster bonds with the children by listening and learning what their interests, concerns, needs are. It’s great to offer help, but don’t jump in and do things without asking them first. Talk with them about what they would like to call you – explore the possibilities and be open.

7.Never. Never. Never. Never make disparaging remarks about the other parent.

Just don’t do it.

You can honor the feelings of others without fueling judgment and criticism. These things are simply not helpful. The other parent is still their mom or dad and your best position is one which desires a good relationship between your children and their other parent. In some cases, that is just not possible in the present, but things change. If relationships are difficult, your criticism only makes it worse. If relationships are good, your criticism can cause great stress, turmoil and resentment in your children.

My divorce was hostile for years. My list of complaints was endless (as, probably, was his). My mentor at the time told me that that the only person I could change was myself and that if I changed toward him, the relationship would change.

I knew he was right, but It was so hard. I began just by greeting him politely and step by step, the relationship did change.

When my son turned 16, I asked him what he wanted for his birthday. He said he wanted the whole family to be together.

<Cringe>

It was not easy that first time, but I held an outdoor birthday party/barbecue and everyone was polite and focused on my son and he was peaceful and happy. Since then there have been countless family gatherings and it is comfortable now. It is not as if we will ever be best friends. We have just gone so far in different directions. But my children get to have both of their parents, without conflict or having to choose. And I am at peace, which is worth everything to me.

 

8. For the step parent, take some time away.

While it is good to look for opportunities to genuinely bond with and enjoy the children, don’t try so hard to make everyone happy that you lose sight of your own happiness. Children know when you are being genuine and they will usually respond to that. Children also know when you need them to like you and will resist or manipulate you.

Find supportive people with whom you can share your concerns or join a support group for step parents. Get ideas and find out what has worked for other families.

9. Keep some old family traditions and create some new ones. Talk as a family about how to celebrate holidays, birthdays, special occasions. Try not to change too quickly things that are really important to family members. Be creative. Create new occasions. Look closely at your family’s ways of having fun and build on them.

10. Forgive

Where the ex-partner is concerned, let go of everything but the love given and the love received. People do as well as they know how. When they know better, they do better. I don’t know of anyone who has been led to better behavior by way of the hostility of others. I do know of people who grew kinder, more responsible by being loved. If there is abuse involved, you must of course protect the children. You can keep good boundaries and still be kind.

Resentment is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.  ~ Saint Augustine

 

Please feel free to leave comments or questions below. I would love to hear from you.

What is Life Coaching?

 

What is life coaching, anyway?

NOTE: Life coaching is a relatively new field and is thus somewhat undefined. To further add to the confusion, various life coaches can differ quite a lot in approach. What I describe here is my vision of life coaching and what I offer as a life coach.

Life coaching is the process of working with a life coach who is a trained, experienced professional who works with people who want something different in their lives than they are now experiencing. A life coach helps the client to examine, define and articulate their needs and desires for change as well as what is going well for them. The client is encouraged to develop and clarify a vision for their life.

Life Coaching is strength based. By discovering, acknowledging and encouraging the client’s strengths, talents, gifts, insights, the liffe coach helps the client to employ their inner resources in taking steps toward their goal. The life coach values, celebrates and builds upon client strengths and successes as the vitally iimportant, raw materials and tools of creation from which achievement, success, confidence and fulfillment arise.

The life coach helps the client to set goals. Another important aspect of life coaching is helping the client to set goals which will get them to their desired outcome and to encourage them to take action. Sometimes we set goals that are so big that we become discouraged almost as soon as we begin. The coach can help the client to set up a series of small steps that will create valuable momentum as they are successfully met.

The life coach can often anticipate problems that may lie ahead and make suggestions. For example, a client might set a lofty goal but express that they have little time to give to it. Seeing this as a potential problem, the life coach might suggest breaking the goal down into smaller steps, knowing that a small success is a step and that one step taken builds momentum and confidence.

A life coach helps the client around obstacles that occur. On the way to their goals, the client may encounter problems or get discouraged. It is then the role of the life coach to help the client to identify beliefs, habits and assumptions which hold them back and employ strategies that help the client continue on.Llife coaching is very focused on the inner dimensions of growth and willpower and strength so that when the client encounters a stumbling block in meeting some goal, the coach can employ strategies that facilitate forward progression. By understanding their inner world – their habitual thinking and beliefs – as well as their ways of behaving in and thinking about relationship, they begin to lead more genuine, authentic lives where they take powerful action and create what they want in their lives.

A life coach is focused on action and outcome. While it may seem obvious that action leads to outcome, the life coach also gives attention to how the inner world is reacting to and impacting the outer world of the client’s efforts to create the life they want.

The coach helps the client identify and develop sources for support and encouragement in their world.

The coach helps the client to connect with their spiritual self. Some clients have a desire to reconnect with a paritcular spiritual tradition or their understanding of a higher power. Others simply find that part of themselves by developing the skill of hearing their inner voice, their intuition speaking to them. There is no judgment regarding the client’s view of their spiritual life, rather they are encouraged to practice their beliefs and use them to support and facilitate their own growth.

The life coach realizes that giving an empowering meaning to pain and by creating a new sense of purpose is vital in overcoming pain and troublesome past expereinces. Although the focus of life coaching is not pain nor past events, they are not to be avoided. They can be a great source of motivation, growth, perspective and renewed sense of purpose. The life coach uses listening skills and compassion to encourage the client to the understanding that it is the meaning we create around painful events that is the source of healing and evolution.

The life coach helps the client understand what needs they are meeting by feeling, thinking and behaving in the way that they do. In this way, the client becomes conscious about how their inner and outer worlds inform and create one another.  By learning to be more true to themselves, more purpose driven, resourceful, self-respectful, accountable, clients discover their power to achieve. 

A life coach does not diagnose, but considers the client to be the expert on themselves and their needs. Although we can feel at some times like a complete mystery to ourselves, upon examination we usually hold the keys to our needs, wants, desires. The life coach draws out these insights and employs their training and strategies and experience to guide and to assist.

The life coach and the client are partners. The coach is not the expert but the guide. The life coach values client desires and goals and uses their training and experience to help the client get very clear about them. We do not wait for a big insight to gain momentum and motivation, but take small actions which build incrementally toward the very achievement desired by the client. In this way energy, motivation and momentum are gathered and magnified in an upward spiral of success.

The life coach, while maintaining healthy boundaries that should inform all relationships, is able to have a relatively casual relationship with the client. The coaches personal life experience is considered an asset to life coaching and is shared when appropriate. 

The life coach is not a scorekeeper or enforcer or expert. Every client has their own pace, their own ability to affect change in their lives. The life coach respects the client’s process and seeks to work with it, providing the level of support, guidance and encouragement that suits a particular client. The client is the leader who does the work and sets the pace. The coach is a guide who understands and supports the client’s vision and who has skills and strategies to share and teach that can help the client’s process along. The life coach helps build momenturm and confidence by celebrating the client’s gifts, talents, successes, new insights and growth.

A Side Note: Coaching vs Therapy

Whenever we encounter something new, we look for a known framework as a neans of understanding it. Often what arises in this case is a comparison of coaching with therapy. It seems important to be clear that coaching is not therapy. Psychotherapy is a medical model using an expert on the patient’s condition who creates a diagnosis and works to relieve emotional pain and restore functioning in the patient. There is often a focus on the history of the patient and on why the dysfunction occurred. This perspective is used to help the patient move away from their pain.

One of the biggest differences between life coaching and therapy is that life coaching is not intended to be used on its own for people who are severely emotionally impaired. People in this situation often need to have the help of someone who is an expert in the area of their needs. For example, if a client were suicidal, I would need to refer them to a licensed mental health professional. That said, it is often useful for a person under the care of a therapist to continue to work with their life coach as well. An analogy would be a patient who, while under the care of a general practitioner, develops a life-threatening heart condition. While a GP might feel the need for his patient to be working with a heart specialist, the doctor would hardly stop seeing the patient in order to monitor and improve their overall health and well-being. 

How To Make an Herbal Tincture

Boneset
© Joyce Amsden 2013 – Boneset perfect for harvesting for use in an herbal tincture for colds, flu, sinus infections

You will need:

  • a jar with a tight fitting lid (pint or quart)
  • good quality alcohol such as vodka – at least 60 proof (30% alcohol)
  • a jar of herbs
  • a fine wire mesh sieve (of the type often used to strain loose tea) or a cotton cloth suspended over a bowl
  • one or more dark colored glass bottles with eyedropper
  • labels or masking tape

Step 1:   Research the herb you want to use
There is no substitute for a good herbal – a book that describes the uses of herbal medicines.

Step 2: Obtain the herbs
Harvesting your own is really the best, but you must make sure that you identify it correctly and know which plant parts to use.  Harvest respectfully taking no more than you need and no more than 30% of what you find so there is plenty for other creatures and plenty to go to seed.

If you are not able to harvest your own herbs, order them from an herbal store with a good reputation for quality.

Step 3:  Carefully wash, rinse and dry your jar.

Boneset Tincture
© Joyce Amsden – Boneset buds ready for addition of alcohol

Step 4: Place the herbs in the jar.   Leave 3 inches of space in the jar if you are using fresh herbs.  Fill the jar about half full if your herbs are dry.

Step 5:  Fill the jar with vodka, covering the herbs completely and more – several inches beyond the top of the herbs.  The herbs may float to the top.  This is okay.

Step 6:  Cover the jar with a tight fitting lid. Set it in a place you will remember to shake it a couple of times every day for 4 to 6 weeks while the alcohol is extracting the medicine from the plant material. I put mine by the kitchen sink.  Don’t forget the magic, the mojo.  Talk to your tincture.  Sing it a song.  Express your gratitude.  It will do you both good.

Do not be concerned if your tincture takes on a brownish color.  This is to be expected.

Step 7:  When 6 – 8 weeks have passed, strain the tincture. Use a fine sieve, wire mesh strainer or a clean cotton cloth laid in a colander. I like to strain my tinctures over a large measuring cup with a pouring spout.  Press any residual liquid out of the herbs with a spoon or gather up and squeeze the cloth with clean hands,

Step 8:  Store your tincture in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid  in a cool, dark cupboard or bottled up in 2 or 4 ounce dark glass bottles with eyedroppers.

Step 9:  Label your tincture as to contents and date.

Step 10:  Put your tincture to use!   Refer to dosage instructions in your herbal. Alcohol Infusions are quite strong and so dosages are small, usually between 5 drops and several droppersful.  They can be added to a little juice or water to make them more palatable.

The boneset tincture dosage is 3 droppersful / 3X daily for several days.

 

A Bird in the Hand

 

© Joyce Amsden 2014

 

After work today, I decided to work in my garden. Stopping by my car to fetch my water bottle, I noticed a little olive green sparrow-sized bird sitting on the ground just a foot or so from the passenger door. Because it did not fly away as I approached, I assumed it to be injured. I slowly set my phone, glasses, garden bag down in the grass and knelt in front of the little fellow. He didn’t move. As he raised his head and looked at me, I noticed a small spot of blood on his throat and his blood stained beak.

I asked, “Can I help you?”

Even at the sound of my voice, he made no attempt to move. I took off my black sweatshirt, covered my hand with it and slowly reached around behind him and picked him up. He made four rapid little chirps in protest and then fell quiet. He did not struggle as I fussed about preparing a place for him.

I got out the small cage that I keep around for this very purpose, a little dish of water, a chopstick and my Peterson field guide.

Red Eyed Vireo
© Joyce Amsden 2014

Having set up my bird hospital on the porch, I lowered him onto the bottom of the cage on a bit of newspaper as his feet seemed too weak to hold onto the wire bottom of the cage. His little claws were so fine, they caught in the fabric of my sweatshirt.
He settled on his belly and stayed very still. With the chopstick, I put a drop of water on his beak and the blood began to clear away. As I looked him over and considered his plight, I began to surmise the little guy had most likely been engaged in chasing some other bird from his nest.

I set the top of the cage over him and began to search for his likeness in my Peterson Field Guide. Soon enough I found him – a Red Eyed Vireo. He winters in the tropics and has a song rather like a robin’s “pretty bird” call, only blurred. As I read, I glanced at him. He closed his eyes for a couple minutes at a time and sat very still.

Red Eyed Vireo 5
© Joyce Amsden 2014

After about 10 minutes, I began to be aware of the birds singing around me. He seemed to become aware of them also and began to look more lively, looking around with interest for the first time. Then, as if shaking himself from his stupor, he fluttered to the top of the cage and clung there upside down and let out a chirp.

I have seen this happen before. Sometimes an injured bird just needs a few moments out of harms way to recover.   I took the top of the cage off and slowly tipped it and the vireo sideways. He looked around some more, crawled along the cage bars toward the opening. He paused a moment and left a big, uhm, “blessing” on my Peterson Field Guide and flew out of the cage and into the oak tree nearby.

I smiled as he disappeared into the soft spring green cover of oak leaves in the nearby tree and retrieved my collection of things from the grass. As I walked along the path to the garden, I saw the vireo fly into the pear tree ahead of me where he sat looking at me. I am sure it was him, for I could still see the red spot of blood on his throat. He just sat there for a moment considering me and I him. Ah, the story he will have to tell at the nest tonight. Me too.

This adorable little red eyed vireo is known as a fierce defender of his nest driving away even the pileated woodpecker who is about 5 times his size! This explains the blood on his beak!

For more about the red eyed vireo:

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/red-eyed_vireo/id