… I would say that motherhood is the ultimate motivator for success. On some level, we choose to achieve for the sake of our children, and to model what that looks like for them so they can see that a mother can be loving and also powerful out in the world. I’m very aware that my mother modeled that for me.
I had the pleasure to interview Tracy Poizner. Tracy is both a mother and stepmother to 4 amazing young people who have all left the nest and are flying like experts! She is owner and practitioner at Tracy Poizner Holiopathic Medicine, a locally based natural health clinic in Kitchener, Ontario Canada. In the last 18 months, she has started a new business around a Facebook community called The Spectacular Stepmom where she helps women leverage the emotional challenges of step-parenting and blended family life for massive advancement in personal growth. Her background in holistic health and her remarkable intuitive insights add value to the coaching relationship she develops with women who want to experience the same degree of confidence and satisfaction in their family life that they know in their capacity as competent business professionals.
Tracy blogs at tracypoizner.com/blog and her recent article “Stop Searching For What Really Matters: Try Noticing What Doesn’t Matter At All” is published in Thrive Global.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career
My first profession was actually classical symphony musician. I had approached my music career with drive and singleminded focus for 20 years, playing full-time in a well-respected orchestra and then, after having a baby, winning an audition for a position closer to my family. When my daughter started experiencing some stubborn health issues as a pre-schooler, I became fascinated with her unexpected response to certain forms of natural medicine. I started to devour all the books I could find on that topic, and one thing led to another until eventually I found myself an accredited practitioner of homeopathic medicine.
Around the same time, my marriage ended, and I raised my daughter as a single professional mom, somehow juggling my full-time symphony position with a secondary job running a busy natural health practice. This was a period of time I also began to meditate in earnest, and after some years (and plenty of prodding from a friend who knew what was good for me), I made my way to a 10-day Vipassana meditation course that truly changed my life.
The atmosphere of silence, the superior instruction and 12–14 hours a day of undisturbed practice combine to create a kind of turbo-charge for inner growth. It was the hardest thing I had ever done in my entire life, and also probably the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.
I’ve since been back several times, but that first experience opened up a kind of window into my intuition that was quite new for me. I had spent all my life trying to think my way out of every problem. Around the time of my divorce, that strategy started to feel less and less reliable. After the 10-day retreat, my thoughts started to be more connected to my feelings, and one day I had the stunning realization that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with the fellow who was my best friend — and, until that exact moment — my completely platonic roommate! Luckily for me, he was of the same mind about that.
So, flash-forward 12 years, and I had the great privilege of helping to usher 3 step-kids into adulthood. I woke up one day with the clear feeling that we had come out the other end of a long dark tunnel, and we were enjoying what others would consider an enviable result. I realized that thanks to my professional and personal capabilities, I probably had developed a very specific skill-set that could be of use in the step-parenting space. And, here I am!
Can you share with us how many children you have?
I have one daughter who is 30 now, and 3 step-children: 19, 20 and 24 years of age who are all the light of my life and I can’t imagine who I would be without them. As I said earlier, they have all lived with us full-time, but only one at a time. I like to joke that we are the serial parents of an only child — we’ve done that 4 times now! Generally we’re all together a few times a year around holidays, and then it’s a very full house.
Where were you in your career when your child was born/became part of your family?
In my case, it’s sort of the reverse — my present career was born as a direct result of 12 years of step-parenting. It also had to do with where I found myself on my own personal growth trajectory; I became aware that prioritizing my own emotional wellness had not only helped me cope with difficult issues including parental alienation and long-distance visitation, but in most cases it was the main reason those problems actually resolved!
I was basically standing in the light at the end of the tunnel and I wanted to be able to shine that light back over my shoulder so other women could find that place too!
Did you always want to be a mother? Can you explain?
Haha! I don’t know if it was always there, but I can say that I remember the exact moment “baby-fever” kicked in and wiped out any other goals I might have had. It was a very powerful, primal desire and I really sympathize with my clients who are struggling to conceive or struggling to convince their partner to add a new baby to what feels like a fragile family situation with his biological kids. Often, couples find themselves at different moments of their life cycle, one who is dying to experience motherhood and the other who already feels worn out from parenting. It’s tragic when this is the only issue they don’t see eye-to-eye on.
I adored being a mother, and I always thought I’d have more children, but my daughter was pretty vocal about how happy she was to be an only child! After her dad and I split up, it never crossed my mind for one second that I might become a parent to someone else’s kids. I don’t think anyone sees being a stepmother in their own future — it’s not a role little girls dream about, that’s for sure!
I think that my experience probably mirrors that of a lot of women, who meet the love of their life and part of the attraction is seeing what a good dad he is to his kids. I was lucky in that I got to know my stepkids over a few years before I was in a romantic relationship with their dad, and they seemed to like me, so that helped me a lot in the years when they had trouble accepting my place in their world.
Did motherhood happen when you thought it would or did it take longer? If it took longer, what advice would you have for another woman in your shoes?
I’ll tell you the moment I stepped into what felt like an actual role as a stepmom. We were on our first real day-trip all together after my husband and I had begun our relationship together. I offered to drive the first leg of the trip home and my partner was in the back seat with his kids. As I looked at them in the rear-view mirror, I could see how desperately they loved their dad and I was struck by the unfairness of a situation where I now got to live with him every day, and they would go home without the most important man in their world. Even though it wasn’t my fault, I felt an obligation to make it right, to try to give them as much of their dad as I possibly could. That felt right to me, like that’s who I needed to be for them.
Even now, 12 years later, that’s still how I think of myself. I’m the person who amplifies their connection to their dad. I think they know that I care about them a lot, but whatever connection we have between us is secondary to that main relationship between them and their dad.
Can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day schedule looks like?
My husband takes care of breakfast time on his own, and that’s one of the best things I did, both for the kids and for myself. He loves to make breakfast so it was a natural moment to leave him alone with his children and let them start the day with a big dose of dad. In my case, I used that time to meditate, but many of my clients find that getting to the gym before the start of a stressful workday is a really essential piece of self-care. Early morning workouts ensure that you start your day knowing that you put yourself ahead of anything else on your schedule, and that’s really important for maintaining a healthy mindset about your value both to your company and to your family.
As moms and/or step-moms, we have to be really mindful about prioritizing self-care. We’re no good to anyone if there’s nothing left of us at the end of the day!
I also care a lot about healthy eating, and I’m a big fan of batch-prepping foods to save time. Leftovers are the absolute bomb, I mean what could be better than a meal all ready to go? I must say, it was hard to keep leftovers around with growing teenagers in the house. Sometimes I would hide a few servings of dinner before it even made it to the table! I cook a lot on the weekends to make sure there’s something ready for the week ahead.
My evenings are almost always spent working — we’re not a TV family at all. I prefer to take breaks during the day to hang out with the kids or to eat lunch with my husband, and family dinner is a must — that happens every night of the week!
Has being a parent changed your career path? Can you explain?
Being a stepmom was the impetus for a major change in my own career path. It drove me towards entrepreneurship as a way to deliver my message about family dynamics and emotional wellness and and to make a bigger impact than what I had previously been doing as a health care practitioner with a local focus. I now work with coaching clients all over the world and it feels very rewarding to have such a broad reach
I’m incredibly passionate about what I have to offer and I still jump out of bed every morning excited about doing this work! The experience of helping to direct 3 young people towards adulthood after having done that for my own daughter was a great privilege and I learned a lot along the way. I feel driven to share some universal principles I’ve identified so other women can learn to parent confidently and feel valued in the role of stepmom.
Has being a mother made you better at your job? How so?
I think motherhood, or step-motherhood as the case may be makes every woman better at her job.
The emotional challenges of parenting and step-parenting have an especially compelling quality. The choice is to grow or fall apart, and the statistics for step-moms are pretty grim, with about 70% of stepfamilies ending in divorce. Those of us who seek out the best resources actually manage to grow beyond what we ever imagined. As we become better and better versions of ourselves, we achieve at higher levels in our professional activities as well. This was true in my case for sure!
On another level, I would say that motherhood is the ultimate motivator for success. On some level, we choose to achieve for the sake of our children, and to model what that looks like for them so they can see that a mother can be loving and also powerful out in the world. I’m very aware that my mother modeled that for me.
What are the biggest challenges you face being a working mom?
Time management is huge for me. I do the bulk of my work from a home office and it’s incredibly hard to stay focused and guard my boundaries! Also, the dynamic between a stepmom and her partner’s kids is fundamentally more fragile than the one a biological parent has. Every time you have to disappoint them or not have time for them is an opportunity for them to buy back into a default stepchild narrative that they are not important to you, or that you don’t really love them. We need to create rituals of connection so that we can maximize the impact we make in our family during the time we have available, especially if it’s limited by unavoidable work demands.
The step-moms I work with who live in the corporate world struggle to see their parenting obligations being respected in the workplace. When you take on parenting responsibilities more or less overnight, they aren’t taken seriously in most corporate cultures. It’s hard enough for biological parents to balance work and family life, but women who become instant mothers are dealing with an immense learning curve at home combined with little to no support at their place of work. It’s a double whammy!
Are there any stories you remember from the early days of parenthood that you want to share?
I remember how my daughter used to fight with me about practising the violin. Of course, I was a musician, so I knew how it was supposed to be done and I wanted her to respect my advice. She needed to push back and do it her own way. I discovered that we could both use this time to get what we needed. I learned to let go of the outcome and just hold onto my end of the rope so she could tug on her end. It became a valuable exercise in holding boundaries for her, which actually had nothing to do with learning the violin. That was a great lesson for me. She became a very gifted singer, by the way, so it turns out she knew best!
Are there any meaningful activities or traditions you’ve made up or implemented that have enhanced your time with your family? Can you share a story or example?
This is an interesting question because one of the main things I encourage step-moms to do is “enhance the Dad experience” as I phrase it. That’s what I was talking about when I said I made it my mission to help my step-kids get the most out of their time with their dad. I did this in little ways, like suggesting special activities or interesting places to visit for when they were here. In the early days, I did it by going along for the long drive to visit them to keep my husband company, and then disappearing so they wouldn’t know I was there. Later on after he moved here, my stepson and I developed a lovely tradition of chatting together just before bedtime, when he would unpack his day and ask my advice. I really treasure those hours we spent together!
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 3–5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?
Absolutely! The thing I suggest to everyone is to start using a Gratitude Journal. If you have to write down 5 things each day that you feel grateful for, and really be present to the emotions that go along with those things, you bring yourself into alignment with many, many positive things in your environment. You start to become aware of more positive, lucky, joyful things as they pass through your world. Some of those things will involve your children or stepchildren, and you’ll give them attention because you’ll be more tuned in to noticing them.
There’s a beautiful practice called “Special Time” that I first learned from handinhandparenting.org and its founder, Patty Wipfler. You can do this in a mere 5 or 10 minutes if that’s all you have, but it makes a huge impact. It’s special because it’s time that you set aside to devote to whatever the child wants to do with you for those minutes. You have to announce how long the session will last and set a timer, you may not be drawn away for any reason and multi-tasking of any kind is forbidden. For some parents, even two minutes of focused attention can feel difficult, so its important to start where you are and expand the practice as you’re able.
I’m a huge proponent of family meals, and I think they should be a part of everyone’s routine. My step-kids thought we were pretty quirky because they didn’t know any other families who ate meals together, but they confess that they loved it. If you think it would feel awkward to transition to sitting around a dinner table from eating in front of the TV, there’s a website with great advice and conversation starters (thefamilydinnerproject.org). It’s worth the effort because time spent eating meals together is the greatest determinant of scholastic success — even time spent on homework is less important to grades than the number of family meals shared together!
The last thing I would mention is bedtime stories. Sometimes parents think their kids have outgrown wanting to be read to, but they’d be wrong. Even teens secretly crave more time with their parents, and the bedtime ritual is an opportunity to connect with them when they can allow themselves to be vulnerable. Chapter books create a great sense of anticipation and cohesion, especially in families where the kids are constantly moving between two homes.
How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
I find that kids are pretty good at dreaming big; they mostly need you to not laugh at their ideas and to offer practical support. I remember the time my stepson was urged by his cousins to audition for a role in a movie. It was a huge challenge because this movie was in French and although he’s pretty fluent, it’s not his first language. He had already made some very funny YouTube videos in French where he played multiple characters, so I spent a lot of time helping him with his confidence and encouraging him to just go for it. He got all the way to the third round of auditions, so it was a pretty good boost for him.
His sister is a very talented singer and guitar player. I think I encourage her by just truly loving to listen to what she does. I honestly can’t get enough of it. Her big dream was to get into the top English literature university program in Canada, and she did it. If I helped at all, it was by reminding her every day that any school would be lucky to have her as a student and that she deserved a place there. We’re pretty big on going after your dreams in this family.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
Oh, this could be a long list! I’ve already mentioned handinhandparenting.org. There is a book that lays out all of founder Patty Wipfler’s parenting strategies called Listen which is a great read. Another great book is The Grown Up’s Guide To Teenage Humans by Josh Shipp. Josh grew up in foster care as a chronically delinquent teenager, so his perspective on parenting through the teen years is actually priceless!
I love The Collapse Of Parenting by Leonard Sax. He describes the chaos that ensues when parents give up on the tough parts of parenting and try to either treat their kids as buddies or as miniature adults who are invited to share in the decision-making around how they are being raised.
Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne is a must-read. My copy is dog-eared, coffee-stained, underlined, flagged and bookmarked on every page! He outlines all the ways kids get overwhelmed and stressed when there is too much stuff, too much activity and too much information in their lives and he offers step-by-step instructions for turning it around in your household.
If I can mention just one more book, it would be Hold Onto Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. The authors offer a potent antidote to the influence of society and social media on our kids and how to get kids re-oriented towards their parents instead of their peers. Most parents find themselves at a loss to to maintain both authority and a loving connection as their kids move into adolescence. It takes a lot of effort in both time and focused attention to keep them interested in what we have to offer them!
I haven’t listened to too many family-based podcasts, but “The Blended Family Podcast” has been around for 4 years already and I love Melissa’s easygoing style and sound advice.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you share or plan to share with your kids?
I’m definitely an optimist by nature, but I know that positive thinking doesn’t come naturally to everyone so I love this quote from Abraham-Hicks:
“Don’t let unwanted thoughts train you to manifest unwanted things.”
I just feel this so strongly. Nothing good comes of expecting a bad outcome and it’s just never a good strategy to habitually knock yourself down to prevent someone else from doing it first. There’s a positive way to look at everything, even if its just to say that we grow fastest during the most difficult circumstances.
If you could sit down with every new parent and offer life hacks, must-have products or simple advice, what would be on your list?
I would love to sit down with every new stepmom, really! My top piece of advice is to see your job as a facilitator of the relationship between your step-kids and their dad. That’s what they’ll appreciate you for, and you’ll have many years to slowly build a bond that’s more about whatever else you bring to their lives.
I would also tell a new stepmom to make sure that you’re not taking over any of dad’s parenting responsibilities. Lots of dads want to use their limited time with their kids to do fun stuff and leave the difficult parts like chores, homework and discipline undone or on the stepmom’s plate. It’s easy to slide right into doing some jobs that really belong to your partner. If you start to feel resentful about something, it’s time to stop doing it!
Finally, it’s not necessary to feel like a mom, or to act like one. I happen to really love my stepkids, but that’s not necessary to being a good stepmom; it’s much more important to offer understanding and encouragement than warm fuzzy feelings. You should stick to what feels comfortable for you and what is well received by the kids. One stepmom I know has a bedtime routine where the kids can request a hug, a fist bump or a whack on the behind. It’s a game that lets her offer real affection where it’s wanted, and a surrogate for affection where a hug doesn’t feel right. It lets them approach and withdraw on their own timeline, according to how they feel that day. I think this is a wonderful strategy and my coaching clients have used it with great success.
Thank you so much for these insights! We really appreciate your time.
About the Author:
Dr. Ely Weinschneider is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist based in New Jersey. Dr. Ely specializes in adolescent and adult psychotherapy, parenting, couples therapy, geriatric therapy, and mood and anxiety disorders. He also has a strong clinical interest in Positive Psychology and Personal Growth and Achievement, and often makes that an integral focus of treatment.
An authority on how to have successful relationships, Dr. Ely has written, lectured and presented nationally to audiences of parents, couples, educators, mental health professionals, clergy, businesses, physicians and healthcare policymakers on subjects such as: effective parenting, raising emotionally intelligent children, motivation, bullying prevention and education, managing loss and grief, spirituality, relationship building, stress management, and developing healthy living habits.
Dr. Ely also writes a regular, nationally syndicated column about the importance of “being present with your children”.
When not busy with all of the above, Dr. Ely works hard at practicing what he preaches, raising his adorable brood (which includes a set of twins and a set of triplets!) together with his wife in Toms River, New Jersey.