Struggling with Step-Parenting? Maria Natapov’s Advice Might Surprise You

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Episode Description

What do you do when getting married means you’ll instantly become BOTH a spouse and a step-parent? How do you blend families smoothly, and eliminate the struggle that can blow a newly blended family apart?

In this podcast episode, experienced step-parenting coach Maria Natapov shares invaluable insights into the world of blended families. As a step-parent, step-sibling, and child of divorced immigrant parents herself,   Maria offers practical advice on understanding and integrating complex family dynamics. She explains how step-parents can get the right support, and emphasizes the transformative power of finding your voice within the family unit. 

If you or someone you know is considering getting married, remarried, becoming a step-parent, or blending families, this podcast episode is a "Must Listen to" episode. It can help you create a supportive space for your children while also balancing their needs with your own happiness.

Show Notes

About Maria

Maria knows from experience that stepparenting isn’t something you pick up from scrolling the internet or crowdsourcing your friends. She believes that forging a relationship with your stepchild means learning to find your voice as well as hearing theirs. As the daughter of divorced immigrant parents and a stepparent herself, Maria understands blended families' communication and connection challenges and the vital importance of healing pain and preventing further harm by establishing innovative parenting support systems. Maria has helped numerous blended families foster more harmonious family dynamics through her VIP Stepparenting Breakthrough support model and her podcast, Synergistic Stepparenting.

Connect with Maria

You can connect with Maria on LinkedIn at Maria Natapov, Stepparenting Coach and on Facebook at Maria Natapov. You can follow Maria on YouTube at Synergistic Stepparenting and on X at @MariaNatapov. To learn more about how to work with Maria, visit her website at Synergistic Stepparenting where you can also find her freebie Family Fusion: 6 Steps to Collaborative Co-Parenting.

Key Takeaways From This Episode with Maria

  • Maria Natapov is a step-parenting coach with personal experience as a step-parent, step-child, and child of divorced immigrant parents.
  • She emphasizes the importance of open communication and creating a safe space for children to express their feelings about divorce and blended families.
  • Natapov recommends "connection over consequences" for step-parents, focusing on building rapport rather than disciplining step-children initially.
  • She suggests involving children in discussions about blending families and giving them choices to increase cooperation.
  • Regular family meetings are recommended to discuss both positive and challenging topics.
  • Natapov advises parents to watch for signs of distress in children, such as irritability or passive-aggressive behavior.
  • She highlights the importance of parents processing their own emotions and not rushing into new relationships after divorce.
  • Natapov discusses the concept of "loyalty binds" where children may feel conflicted about liking a step-parent.
  • She emphasizes the individualized nature of trauma and how its impact can vary based on a person's resilience and nervous system.
  • Natapov provides advice on finding appropriate support, such as step-parent coaches or therapists experienced with blended family dynamics.
  • She works one-on-one with step-parents and divorced parents to help create cohesion in blended families.

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Struggling with Step-Parenting? Maria Natapov's Advice Might Surprise You


step-parenting, blended families, family dynamics


Karen Covy, Maria Natapov

Karen Covy Host


Hello and welcome to Off the Fence, a podcast where we deconstruct difficult decision-making so we can discover what keeps us stuck and, more importantly, how we can get unstuck and start making even tough decisions with confidence. I'm your host, Karen Covy, a former divorce lawyer, mediator and arbitrator, turned coach, author and entrepreneur. And now, without further ado, let's get on with the show.

With me today is Maria Natapov, and Maria knows from experience that step-parenting isn't something you pick up from scrolling the internet or crowdsourcing your friends. She believes that forging a relationship with your stepchild means learning to find your voice as well as hearing theirs. As the daughter of divorced immigrant parents and a step-parent herself, as the daughter of divorced immigrant parents and a step-parent herself, maria understands blended families' communication and connection challenges and the vital importance of healing pain and preventing further harm. By establishing innovative parenting support systems, maria has helped numerous blended families foster more harmonious family dynamics through her VIP step-parenting breakthrough support model and her podcast, synergistic Step-Parenting. Maria, welcome to the show.

Maria Natapov Guest


Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited for this conversation, Karen.

Karen Covy Host


I am too, especially as a step-parent myself. I understand the challenges to it. But I'm curious. Lots of people are step-parents, but they don't become step-parent coaches, right? So what in your background or story prompted you to get into the work that you do now? Start wherever you want to start.

Maria Natapov Guest


Sure, maybe. Yeah, just a little bit of my background. So, in addition to the things you've already mentioned being a step parent, being a child, divorce I was a step kid, a step sibling, and I was an immigrant myself also, and so, basically, this idea of fish out of water and having to adapt and create cohesive, you know, rapport and relationships and understanding what people are wanting or expecting from me and how to sort of meet some of those needs or at least come to some sort of a, you know a middle ground on some of that. That's been the story of my life and it's been extremely challenging and quite painful. And another component of this that really I think propelled me forward towards this work is my stepdaughter came to live with us full time when we found out that she was abused and neglected by bio mom and stepdad and that turned our world completely upside down and right around. The time was when I was getting my trauma informed, parent coaching, certification, and then I started to look for support. So I found blended family support groups. And what I didn't realize for support so I found blended family support groups and what I didn't realize is that because I was thinking, okay, we're the anomaly, we're not like broken right, but we're the ones with the issues. I need some guidance, and what I ended up finding is that people who weren't dealing with this kind of extensive circumstances were still really struggling, and I think I maybe realized at that point that perhaps I have some skills I've acquired throughout my life that I had been taken for granted, that I thought people could really benefit from, because for me, I didn't realize the significant impact of trauma, or really what trauma was, until much later in life, and it was a lot to undo all of that. So my hope is to help families mitigate some of that.


Yeah, I just I want to make sure that, particularly in blended family dynamics, where all of those tensions are even more complicated right, I think we all know from personal experience, holidays can be challenging, family gatherings can be challenging. It's kind of par for the course in families because the love is so fierce and therefore sometimes the conflicts are so fierce as well. Unfortunately, however, I find in blended families, all of that is elevated even more, because I think part of it is people feel that they don't have control, they don't have the say, and that is one piece of it, and that is really difficult to let go of and learn how to flow with. And another piece is because some of these dynamics so what I realized, where the similarity with my step-parenting journey was between my immigration journey, is that even though I was fluent in the language coming in as a step-parent and knew the culture really well, I still felt the same way, almost like I didn't know the language and I didn't know the culture.


And I think the reason is we take for granted there are inherent rhythms to families that are established and everybody is in on it. It's like second nature and it's not consciously. I don't think we're consciously aware of these things. So how we speak and the shorthand and the internal little, you know references to things and just the rhythm, like, for example, oh, this is how we have breakfast in the morning. We don't do it this way, right, like whatever, whatever that is, there's a particular flow to the day and to life and there's a shorthand, I think, with reading, what each other needs and how each other functions, and everybody is on board with it, except for the people coming in.


So whether it's the step-parent or if they also have kids that they're bringing with them, those folks are out of the loop and it's not something that's easy to explain and hand over a rule book. For that's what I call it. Like we need to get to know each other's rule book. It's because it's not we're not realizing right, like how we function and what we need, until somebody points it out, or until maybe we're confronted with a situation where suddenly it feels like somebody really doesn't understand us, and so I think those kinds of things add to the conflict and the tensions, naturally. So until that gets at least ironed out to the degree where we have a better sense of how that flows and how to work with it, I think that is where there's additional conflict and additional challenges.

Karen Covy Host


So these, you know the rhythms that you're talking about are those challenging, even in situations where there's simply a step parent coming in? Or is this something that you see that shows up more when it's blending families? In other words, there's one parent and children on one side, one parent and children on the other, and you're trying to blend those two families together?

Maria Natapov Guest


I think it's in both situations. I mean, in my experience, even though I was the only step-parent I didn't have children I was bringing in it was still very prevalent and I had to figure out how to adjust it. It's also, I think, really isolating, and I think part of that is that the step-parent has their own expectations or hopes they're bringing in, and then so is the divorced parent and moreover, let's face it again, being a divorcee myself from my previous marriage and being a child of divorce, everyone is healing from divorce and it's extremely painful and that's not something to be taken lightly. It is a pretty significant life event and kids are not able to express the depth to which they're impacted. They are not even usually able to recognize it. So naturally, it becomes really complicated for them to make sense of it, find the new normal or even have the sense of security like it's okay, we will get through this and I will be okay. Just having that knowledge and having that hope can be really difficult and challenging.

Karen Covy Host


Well, if you're the step parent coming in, or even if you are the bio-parent, we'll say what kind of behavior should you be looking for in your child or step-child that tells you something is wrong, something is off? Maybe they can't put words to it or a definition to it, but you, as the adult can see we've got to dig deeper here. What are you looking for?

Maria Natapov Guest


Sure. I think there's definitely tall tale signs and I'll share a few. I mean, I call it behaviors coming out sideways. So if a child is particularly irritated and that can look like things that I think sometimes we tend to take for granted as common behaviors, like a little bit of attitude, a little bit of a cold shoulder, a little bit of, you know, a snub maybe, or kind of shoving, like kind of chucking their backpack. Perhaps that's just one small example. Right, things of that nature, where it's basically slightly kind of passive, aggressive behavior, may tell you that something is wrong, they're upset, there's something going on for them. So I think those are common telltale signs.


However, I really believe it's about fostering open communication all along, so not necessarily waiting for there to be an issue to address, but actually fostering like this is hard. There's many complex layers before it starts to build up to a point where it's too much.


Let's create an environment where we're discussing these things and we're making it okay to explore and observe and process and name what's happening and oftentimes oh sorry, just one quick final point is just oftentimes, as I said, kids can't pinpoint what it is, so they need the adult to say hey, are you experiencing any of this, for example, a common one are you feeling kind of torn between, like mom and me, or dad and me, feeling like you're kind of caught in the middle and like you're not always sure, like maybe we're both expecting things from you and you just sort of don't know which, what to do, or you're worried about hurting one of our feelings or something like that.


Like that's a really common one, that happens. And that's just one example, and there could be so many complex, layered things, like, for example, with step-parents. Very commonly they feel oh, if I like this person, does that mean I don't like mom or I don't like dad? Or it's called the loyalty bind, like am I betraying mom or dad? No, they're not going to have these words necessarily, but the emotions are there, just because they can't name them or identify them.

Karen Covy Host


So, all right, let's wind back just a little bit and say you are a parent, you have children, you're divorced and you are dating somebody and you're thinking of making a blended family, whether that's just with you know whether the person that you are dating and want to marry has children or doesn't have children. Right, you’re bringing an outsider into the home or into the environment, or you're moving into their environment with your kids. How do you set yourself up for success? How do you create that environment that you were talking about, where it's okay to talk about things right from the beginning?

Maria Natapov Guest


Hopefully they're talking to their children about the divorce, right? So hopefully, I mean in an ideal scenario, the parents would tell the children together they would be available to nurture the children, because naturally it likely is going to be devastating for them, and then each one during their parenting time is checking in, right and maybe sharing like, hey, you know, this has felt hard, has it been hard for you too? Or what's the hardest thing for you, right? Just kind of normalizing, naming the things instead of having it be the elephant in the room. And I think also what's really useful is when a parent, even if they think they may be dating or just contemplating dating, ask the child hey, what do you think about me dating? How does that make you feel what comes up for you? And allowing them to just share openly.


I think one of the most challenging things that is easier said than done is to create a space that is nonjudgmental, which is not easy because naturally we're humans and we're going to have a response when we hear something from our child that feels, you know, that hurts or is upsetting. But doing our best to almost prepare ourselves mentally, emotionally, ahead of time, like knowing we're going to have this conversation, they might say, oh, I really don't want you to date, you know, and kind of being prepared for that response so that you can remain as neutral as possible, because they sense it. When you get tense, they sense it, they pick up on it. When you get anxious, they pick up on it. If you're uncomfortable having the conversation, they pick up on that too, and it's going to be a deterrent.

Karen Covy Host


Sure, but let me play devil's advocate for a moment here, because there are a lot of parents that I know who I've coached and who have said look, you know, I have at some point I have a right to have a life, right? So where do you draw the line between having the conversation with your child and trying to give them the nonjudgmental space where they can express an opinion, but then you turn around and say but it's my life and you can have an opinion, but you don't get to decide what I do or don't do. Because I think a lot of parents feel controlled by their children and well, I can't do that, I can't date because my children don't like it. And I'm talking about even parents who have adult children. Their kids have an opinion, right. So where do you draw that line?

Maria Natapov Guest


Yeah, well, I think so. Thank you for asking. That is a great question. I think it is a bit complicated and I'll share my thoughts.


So, first of all, when you have children who are living at home and who are not adults right, because technically an adult child, they have the option, theoretically they're an adult they could move out. Now, maybe because of life circumstances, something else is going on and they're not. However, they could, they're an adult, they are technically able to take care of themselves. However, a child who's underage, they are not able to do that and they definitely didn't ask to be thrown into the situation of having their parents be divorced and that is painful enough. I'm not saying by any means for the parents not to date, I'm just simply saying that to bring that person into the child's world before they're ready, before having the necessary conversations and helping them move forward, right, like a lot of this has to do with acceptance and healing wounds, right, that's what we're talking about. Honestly, that's true as much for the parents as it is for children, and I definitely understand and empathize because, again, I've been a divorcee, so I understand what it's like when you have not gotten your needs met. You know, the marriage fell apart in my case, for example, years and years way before that it actually officially ended and it's so necessary, right for us to be open and willing to be open to new relationships and new possibilities For me. I wasn't looking for it, it just found me.


However, I do think there's something to be said for you know, definitely making sure you are processing your emotions and that you don't just jump into another situation that essentially the same patterns are repeating. But, that piece aside, I'm certainly not saying you know, let your children call all the shots. Your personal life is your personal life. You deserve to be fulfilled and you don't want resentment to build, because if you sacrifice that much which nobody's asking of you, it's true Resentment is inevitably going to build. What I'm simply suggesting is as far as how much interaction that person has with the children and how present they are or how much their presence is maybe forced on them. That's directly what I'm speaking to and I'm suggesting pull back on that and have the conversations with your child to ensure they're getting the support they need in order to make sense of the situation, adjust to the situation and come to terms with the fact that your life is going to move forward in that way.


There's a way that you can right Like just these conversations it's not a one and done, it's a slow like I call it plant seeds, water them a little bit right and, just like with I literally call this concept nurture the seeds. When we are, you know, planting seeds, you're not going to over water them, because that's not going to make them grow faster, it's just going to kill them. And you're not going to starve them with the water. You're not just going to say, oh, I planted them, I watered them one and done, and now I'm done because you realize that's also not helping them to grow.


So, just like with these concepts they're big concepts so you need to plant the roots, allow them to take you know, to take, to take and then you need to kind of nurture and water them along the way and that is how your kids are able to come around and understand and adapt that life is moving forward. It's going to look different than it was before. However, it gives them a chance to adjust and to wrap their minds around it and hopefully again, if you're able to create a safe space, they can tell you their concerns openly and you can either support them through it yourself or find them the right supports that they need, be it a coach, be it a therapist, a support group, et cetera. But that's really what I'm suggesting, not suggesting the parent put their life on hold.

Karen Covy Host


Okay, so let's say that the parent doesn't. The parent is in a situation where they've blended families, whether that's through marriage or not, because it could be either way, right. But there's a parent and the parent's bio children and another parent and maybe their bio children too, or maybe not. Whichever way it goes, and things are not going well right, the children one parent's children, biological children just aren't accepting either of the other, the step-parent, or of the step-parent's children. What kind of tips or tools would you tell the step-parent to try to utilize to get things in a better place?

Maria Natapov Guest


Sure, first of all and I think this is a really common mistake and I am guilty of it, I was guilty of it so, for the step-parent because they're not a biological parent, it's connection over consequences.


So sometimes the step-parent comes in and they feel the ownership of well, I'm a caregiver and I need to hold you accountable, I'm responsible for discipline, and, no, you're not responsible for discipline, and I do have a workaround for that.


It's not that you can't have just a general exploratory conversation like, hey, this isn't how we do things, you know, or a conversation about how we treat each other, or something like that. But that's very different than drawing a hard line in the sand, you know, possibly punishing the child or getting really aggressive with the child. That is the kind of thing that tends to create a lot of conflict and ruins the relationship, because the child instantly is thinking to themselves you're not my parent, and even if they're not saying that to you, that's what they're thinking, that's what they're feeling and it creates a rift. So my suggestion is to just back off, if that is happening, if that has been the dynamic, back off from that and find ways to connect, to take an extra interest in whatever it is that they're into finding positive interactions and positive experiences to build that rapport, to build that connection and to develop that mutual you know just appreciation for each other.

Karen Covy Host


Yeah, I'm curious. I don't mean to interrupt, but thinking about this because I know this is a question a lot of step-parents have. If I am the step-parent as opposed to the biological parent, should I discipline my step-child at all, or is that the job only of their biological parent?

Maria Natapov Guest


I think it depends on what's available, for example, it depends on the child, it depends on the circumstances, but it has to be at a point where it feels natural and it feels like there's room for it, and what I mean by that is it has to start off slow and grow into possibly the ability to be able to discipline, and that only really typically impacts young children. So if you're coming in like before the age of seven or eight, but if it's over that age, a lot of times it's just not available. Now they'll let you know. You can feel out the relationship and it's certainly something to discuss again with your partner, their biological parent, and kind of explore and maybe you dip your toe in and you see how it goes and that's a good indication. But my suggestion is to start really slow and almost not expect that that will be available to you.

Karen Covy Host


What happens if you are in the flip side of that situation? So, for example, it's your partner who is disciplining your child and it puts you in an awkward situation because you don't like what the partner is doing. Maybe you do, maybe you don't, but let's assume you don't like the discipline, either what they're doing for discipline or what behavior they are disciplining. You don't like it, you don't appreciate it, but you're kind of walking on eggshells. How do you have those conversations in a way that isn't threatening to your partner but also gets the point across of hey, this isn't okay with me.

Maria Natapov Guest


Yeah, hey, this isn't okay with me. Yeah, I would say I mean you don't want to make necessarily, unless it's really out of hand and you're concerned because things are getting extremely aggressive or possibly even borderline violent, I would say you don't want to necessarily make a huge deal about it right there on the spot. You want to diffuse it and maybe, even if things are, if you are noticing tension, like your partner's getting upset and getting stern, and maybe you're noticing your child is getting upset, just say, hey, maybe we just need like a break, Maybe we all just take a couple of minutes break and we just take a breather and we shake it off and we can come back to it. And then perhaps you take that opportunity to go to your partner and say, hey, we need to have a chat about this. You know, like we need to discuss this further because I have some concerns and, again, depending on the level of I talk a lot about self-regulation so depending on where that partner is, if they're really upset and they're really heated, they're not going to be able to hear you very eloquently express what your needs are in that moment.


It they're not going to be able to hear you very eloquently express what your needs are in that moment. It's just not going to happen. You can speak it, you can say it, but they're not going to hear you and chances are they're going to get defensive and it's kind of going to go downhill and it's going to create more issues. However, if you just let them know I'd like to discuss this further and I would like us to have a different approach around this so maybe, like if we could just kindly like leave it alone a little bit, or if we could just sort of like soften this right now and then can we find a time to talk at a later time. That's sort of the best way to address that particular situation. So you've sort of stepped in, you've sort of diffused, you've redirected and you've let them know you would like to have a conversation about it. You have some concerns and you're not trying to resolve all of it on the spot of step families.

Karen Covy Host


Do you find that trauma is something that I'm going to go out on a limb here, that exists in most step families, or only some? Because the nature of a step family is there was either a death or a divorce that ended the original marriage right On one side, or maybe on both sides, and so are you always dealing with trying to heal trauma, or sometimes, maybe that's not the case.

Maria Natapov Guest


I think it's a little bit tricky because trauma even though I know it's a huge buzzword right now it's just an overwhelm, Like it's our bodies. I have a really good definition. I don't have it handy, I could go grab it, but essentially it's a situation that feels overwhelming to the senses and we don't have the tools to completely process and deal with it right there on the spot. That's essentially what it is. I know we assign that to many different things, but one key component to understand about it is that it is only able to be identified by the individual themselves. So all the therapists they can help you to, to guide you towards a better understanding so that you can identify whether it was traumatic or not. But and you know, there may be like certain tells again in behavior, because some people just are not. They've been through so much stuff they're just not good at being able to identify. That's. That's one of the things. Unfortunately, that happens with severe trauma. But it all depends on the person's individual experience, and by that I just mean that what may be traumatic to one person might not be to somebody else. It depends on their level of resiliency, how they're wired, even down to their central nervous system. For some they can handle a lot more and others can't, and so that's what I mean. It's a very individualized thing.


So I think the key component with regard to divorce and blended families to understand is and I think we have statistics around this is that it all depends.


So, naturally, it's a significant event, but I think it all depends on how the parents handle it and the environment that is created for the child. As in, if the parents are able to co-parent really well and support the child emotionally and be able to get along well and create a really amicable environment, then I think it significantly mitigates. So, yes, it's an adjustment, yes, there's some sadness, but I think it significantly mitigates the impact. However, if that isn't happening, I think that's when things can feel quite heavy and there can be all kinds of fallout and all kinds of impact on the child that have kind of long, long standing consequences for them, Some of which they might not discover until years later on right, Because, like I said, if they're not having the support and they, they don't often have the ability to identify all the things and all the ways that things are impacting them, because they just don't have the language, they just don't have the experience yet. Their brains are still in development. They might not realize it until years later.

Karen Covy Host


So what kind of advice would you have for somebody who is contemplating becoming a step-parent, In other words, taking their relationship with a significant person in their life to the next level, to the point where one or the other of them is going to live. They're going to live together. The child will be there, maybe two sets of children, bio children from each one. What advice would you give to them so that when they do become that step-parent, when they do blend families, they can do it better?

Maria Natapov Guest


Yeah, there's a couple of things that come to mind. One is try to involve the kids it depends, of course, on the age of the kids but at the very least have some meetings, have some times where you guys are all together to sort of test it out and maybe before you're actually going to move in together, like make sure you've maybe had some sleepovers together or you've gone on a little mini vacation together, like see what happens, in case there's major things that come up that you guys need to explore or work through or work on together. Those are great ways to identify some of that. Another piece is, again, if the kids are a little bit older and by that I mean, you know, even around the age of five involving them a little bit in some of those conversations, so that they don't just come home one day and it's like, oh, these people moved in so kind of involving them in some of the conversations, like here's what to expect. Do you have concerns about that? What do you think about this? Kids?


When you give kids a choice, even if it's just between one or two or one or three things, you will gain a lot more cooperation, because they feel that they have say so that is just a huge component of it. So the more you can share with them what's coming up so that they can orient themselves, that helps to curb anxiety and just worry and stress. And then the more that you can give them little ways perhaps to have a choice in the matter and to have some say in the matter. That is going to go a really long way too, and I strongly suggest implementing family meetings where everybody gets an, that everybody is valued and that their voice matters. It's going to be really magical because they're going to feel that you know this is how we talk, that like I matter, my opinion matters, and they're going to feel a lot of pride in that.

Karen Covy Host


Well, let's talk for a second about those family meetings. I mean, can you say more about that? Are you talking about, like, okay, every Friday at five o'clock we have a family meeting and everybody talks about whatever they want? Or is it that they're more random and you only have a meeting when there's some issue? And how do kids, or even adults, put issues on the table? Do you talk about one topic or a million topics? How are these?

Maria Natapov Guest


Great question. So my suggestion is to make them regular and don't just discuss the bad stuff. Discuss the good stuff too, Like, hey, what are we going to do for that family fun day? Or hey, we have this vacation coming up. What does everybody want to make sure that we incorporate in our trip? That way they don't just have a negative connotation and there's a real cohesion and a real togetherness and that everyone is looking forward to these conversations, so that there's a good mix, right, and it's also just like in life, like there's some things that are maybe not so good and then there's a lot of other things that are really good. So I think that's, in best case scenario, that's a really healthy dynamic to try to aim for if possible.


But my suggestion too is keep them semi-regular, because everyone's busy and I think sometimes, especially if it can be done on a weekly basis, just because it's so easy to be like. This is what I do on a Friday, at this time of day, for example, or whatever the day is, that works for you. But that is just easier for us as creatures of habit and with our brains that love to go on autopilot, to keep in mind and almost naturally, intrinsically incorporate into our lives rather than trying to ad hoc plan around another thing that becomes not only stressful but also becomes an additional kind of burden for us to have to figure something out about. So I strongly suggest to try to keep it regular at a time that is convenient and you want to kind of be fresh, right. Ideally you don't want to do this after dinner on a weeknight when you're rushing to get the kids to bed.


You want to try to pick a time that you know things are going to be mostly relaxed and everyone is going to be alert and present for the conversation and I suggest cap it.


So maybe it's a half hour or you know, maybe if you need an hour, then you do say an hour, and have maybe a list and choose some issues to discuss and then the time runs out and then you save it and you discuss the other things. Next time maybe you give everybody like three minutes to talk, right, because you want to hear, you also want to hear input from other people. So maybe one person is asking to address something, but you want others to be able to have some say as well and you know, share their thoughts and ironically this even goes to discipline for the kids. You will be surprised when you involve them in the conversations of hey, what should the consequences for this be? How creative they are, how honest they are and how much they actually will buy into whatever you agree to, Because again they had say they got to have say on what the consequences would be for something.

Karen Covy Host


Yeah, That makes all the sense in the world. What but I don't know if families do this. I know this was always big when our kids were younger is the idea of a family dinner, and I know that's not always possible for every family. Our schedules are all crazy and kids are in activities and all of that, but would this be the kind of thing that you could talk about at dinners, or is this too heavy? Like you said, it needs its own separate focus.

Maria Natapov Guest


It's a great question and I think it depends a little bit on the family and the individuals, and I'll share a little bit. So for my family I know when my husband and my daughter get stressed, the first thing they do is like their stomach clenches up, they need to go to the bathroom, they can't eat. So it depends on sort of the subject matter and it depends on who you're dealing with. For me that's not the case. I can easily eat and talk, and even if it's a very serious conversation with heavy subject matter. So I think some of that also has to be taken into account. But again, you want to try to make this as much not a burden as possible and to have it be able to easily fold into something you're already doing. So maybe, for example, if you share a pickup and you're consistently like okay, these are the days that we pick the kids up, maybe that's a good time to do the meeting, perhaps depending on how long your ride is.


However, at the same time, transitions can be difficult. Maybe that's absolutely not a good time, but maybe there's like some way that you can build in like we're going to, we're going to chit chat during the ride, or maybe you guys get to play or sit on your iPads or whatever during the ride, but then we go to a playground and you get to play a little bit, and then we do our family meeting and then we go home. So maybe it's just something that can easily be folded into what you're already doing and kind of tacked onto a routine activity or a routine event that feels easy. That might even be like just a nice way to set yourselves up for success and have that check-in right, like it also could easily serve as a reminder like hey, remember, this is what we agreed to. Like let's just kind of recap real quick. You know those kinds of those kinds of things as well. It just depends on what makes sense for your family and for your situation.

Karen Covy Host


That makes sense. Well, what if a family, a step family or a blended family is struggling? What kinds of resources are there for them? How would they find you or someone like you?

Maria Natapov Guest


Yeah, there definitely are their step parent coaches out there and, of course, you know, there are therapists. I strongly suggest my one big caveat and I love to get on a high horse about this and I'm sorry but I have to I feel it's my duty I think it's so important to speak to multiple professionals and what you're looking for more than anything else is a click like does this person make sense with what they say? Can I listen to how they work and what their thoughts are and their philosophy and do I agree with it? Does it make sense to me?


And also personality wise, sometimes you know we are for some people and we're not for other people, and that's really important. You want to feel comfortable. You want to feel that you can be completely honest and that it feels safe to be honest. You're not going to be judged because you're not going there to, you know, put on a show or do a checkbox. You're there and you want to get support and in order to get support, you have to feel completely comfortable with a person and you have to feel that there's a sense of ease naturally to your conversations with them and that you can trust them and so and really I don't like that word so much, but connect right, like that you can connect with them, and so I think that is the number one most important thing for something so personal as talking about your family and how things are for you.


It's already a challenging time, so you don't want to create anything that causes more friction or becomes an obstacle. So that would be my recommendation. But, yeah, I think if you I mean luckily we live in an age of technology, so everything's on Google I would say, if you're looking for a therapist, definitely ask them specifically about blended family related issues. How much experience do they have? Do they have any personal experience with it? That is really key because those issues are unique in nature to just a regular family dynamic. And yeah, those are my main points. But as far as me, I mean, I'll share how you can find me.

Karen Covy Host


Please do. How can people find you if they're looking, if they wanna learn more, they wanna work with you?

Maria Natapov Guest


Sure, you could just Google Maria Natapov, that's N-A-T-A-P-O-V, but my website is called Synergistic Step Parenting, so two Ps when you spell that com. And then I'm also on LinkedIn and that's at Synergistic Step Parenting, and I'm also on Facebook and that's at Maria Natapov.

Karen Covy Host


That's wonderful, and I just I have to ask you one more question before I let you go as a step parent coach. Are you working exclusively with the parents, or do you ever work with the stepchildren too?

Maria Natapov Guest


That's a great question. So I work one-on-one, funny enough, and thank you again for asking I work with the step-parent, but I also work with the divorced parent who is looking to create cohesion as they're folding in their partner into the mix as well, so helping them strengthen the relationship with their children, helping them really ensure that their children are going to adjust well to this new person as the relationship continues forward and they're strengthening that dynamic and that bond. And yeah, I do sometimes involve the stepchildren or the children in the sessions. It all depends on if they're old enough and if it makes sense to do so. The reason I work exclusively one-on-one most of the time is that I want to empower the person to go out and utilize what we're talking about and actually create the change that they're looking to create themselves. But if it makes sense to pull other people into our conversations, then that's definitely something we do.

Karen Covy Host


This is awesome. This has been such a great conversation, Maria. Thank you so very much for sharing all of your pearls of wisdom.

Maria Natapov Guest


Thank you so much, and thank you for the amazing questions. I'm so happy that you asked them. Sometimes I want to speak to these things, but it doesn't occur to me and the opportunity isn't there. So thank you so much.

Karen Covy Host


You're welcome. It was my pleasure, and if those of you out there listening or watching enjoyed this as much as I did, please do me a favor give the episode a thumbs up, leave a comment and, most importantly, like and subscribe to the channel. It means more than you'll ever know. So thank you so much, and I look forward to hearing from you again or seeing you again next time.

Head shot of Karen Covy in an Orange jacket smiling at the camera with her hand on her chin.

Karen Covy is a Divorce Coach, Lawyer, Mediator, Author, and Speaker. She coaches high net worth professionals and successful business owners to make hard decisions about their marriage with confidence, and to navigate divorce with dignity.  She speaks and writes about decision-making, divorce, and living life on your terms. To connect with Karen and discover how she can help you, CLICK HERE.


off the fence podcast, parenting after divorce, parenting issues

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