Saturday, March 18, 2017

Making Pain Work For You ... continued....

Making Pain Work For You ... continued....

I wrote this series of tips some years ago after I'd broken my elbow. The pain, inconvenience and lengthy recovery process (that taught me such a lot) reminded of the step-journey.


Thankfully, just around the corner of the supermarket where I fell was a Medical Centre. As soon as I was able to be moved I was taken to it and, although between my arrival and my pain relief there were many questions asked, an oxygen mask forced on me, X-rays taken, more questions asked…….ultimately my pain was relieved.

Some step-situations can be too painful to deal with on your own. If you are in one of those do yourself a favour and seek professional assistance. Be assured that there is no shame in seeking help. It doesn’t mean that you are incompetent, weak or crazy. With many more professionals having greater awareness these days of issues that are commonly experienced by stepfamilies seeking help merely means that you are wise enough not to struggle on your own when it isn’t necessary. Like me, you may have to undergo some painful prodding and it may take some time before your pain is relieved, but a step-relationship savvy counsellor will assist you to get there.


For me there was no choice. Because my elbow was broken in a complicated fashion it had to be pinned and wired back into place, which meant an ambulance ride to hospital, 8 hours of waiting in the emergency ward and finally, surgery.

Some step-situations can be resolved easily, others may be helped through support, yet others require more expert help and then there are those that need to undergo surgery. As you are no doubt aware, surgery always comes with a risk. That’s why you have to sign numerous bits of paper so that if something did go wrong you cannot blame the surgeon, anaesthetist or hospital. But if there is no other way for you to get better, you will need surgery despite all the risks. If your marriage (partnership) requires surgery, go for it! Get the best surgeon you know, trust that the outcome is going to be right for you…and get it over and done with. Putting it off because you’re scared of what might happen, because you fear even greater pain, because you are so used to living in pain that you cannot imagine a different way of being, is not going to solve anything, it just prolongs the agony!


I was told that I’ll have my plaster cast on for numerous weeks and that I’ll be quite incapacitated for a long time afterwards. This, of course, was terribly inconvenient. I couldn't drive. Showering was a difficult process. Getting dressed was a challenge. Everything that used to be easy was now really difficult. Oh darn!!

If your relationship requires more than just casual help it may take some time to heal. During this time you probably won’t feel too great. When things that used to work for you don’t work any more you might no longer feel like yourself. This can be frustrating, even scary. You may feel helpless, impatient and might be wondering: Why did this happen to ME? Rather than driving yourself crazy with questions that don’t have an easy answer, remember that all this will pass in time. In the meantime the best you can do is just go with the flow.


I was also told that I’ll have to have extensive physiotherapy in order to get my arm to function normally again. This turned out to be time-consuming, costly, inconvenient and not least of all, really  painful.

For you (or your step-situation) to heal it will also require hard work. You may need to do things or to put up with things that are time-consuming, costly and painful. You’ll probably encounter times when it will all seem too hard or too painful and you’ll want to give up. Don’t despair, all of that is part of the process! Going through the healing process is rarely fun, but the ultimate outcome will be worth it. 

Everything article on this blog has been written BY SONJA RIDDEN. Sonja is a therapist, relationship coach, author, trainer and popular speaker. She was the founder of The Step Stop - your first step to stepfamily information, education and support and the author of ‘Hell…p! I’m a stepmother’.

Please feel free to share these articles with your friends but remember to include SR's authorship and a link to this blog. 

If you feeel that you are benefitting from the articles on this blog you may also be interested in the Stepmom Summit Interview Package, which features over a dozen coaches, counsellors, authors, speakers and fellow stepmums - including my good self - that reveals successful ways to deal with many of the challenges you are pretty sure to encounter along your stepmom journey. To learn more about this package, click here. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Making Your Pain Work For You

Making Pain Work For You

Suffering immense pain throughout this past week as a result of a nasty tooth and gum infection that necessitated a root canal treatment - (OMG, how much pain can anyone deal with?) - reminded me of the article I wrote quite a few years ago when I broke my elbow. I hope that you glean some wisdom from it: 


I wrote this series of tips some years ago when I broke my elbow. The pain, inconvenience and lengthy recovery process (that taught me such a lot) reminded of the step-journey:

When I slipped, fell and hurt myself it certainly wasn’t something I’d expected would ever happen to me.

Living in a stepfamily it’s useful to expect the unexpected. For instance:

*One moment you barely know that you even have stepchildren (because the ‘nasty ex’ won’t let them visit), the next moment they land on your doorstep, suitcase in hand saying: “Dad, I thought that I should move in with you for a year or two – you don’t mind, do you?!"

*One moment your stepkids seem to think you are super cool and two months later, after a few unpleasant incidents, run-ins and disagreements they only ever refer to in terms that are anything other than kind.

*One moment you are planning for Christmas with all the troops, next thing you know the ’ex’ has spirited your stepkids away with promises of Christmas in the snow/at the beach/on the moon…..
Let me assure you, stepfamily life will bring a lot less unpleasant surprises if you expect the unexpected.


As I found myself writhing on the supermarket floor (where I had slipped and fallen) I quickly realized that despite all the plans I’d had for that day/week/month, I wasn’t going anywhere (at least for a while).

When the unexpected occurs in your life or things simply don’t work out the way you had envisaged, dreamed or planned, go with the flow. The more stubbornly you cling on to your previous ideas, thoughts and plans, the harder reality will bite and the more it will hurt. Going with the flow means (as the phrase implies) that like water in a river you make your way under, over or around the obstacles in your path. If you encounter a really big obstacle, your flow may even be interrupted for a while. That’s okay, it’s a normal human response. But like the flow of water in a river won’t be stopped for any length of time, going with the flow means that no obstacles will have the power to stop you for too long either.


Just as I needed to be tough and not allow the excruciating pain to overwhelm me until it was finally relieved by a very welcome shot of pethidine (an hour and a half after the incident!) there will be times in a stepparent’s life when nothing short of being tough will stop them from becoming too overwhelmed, crumbling under the strain and buckling under the pressure.

Life requires toughness - the ability to grit ones teeth and endure. No one who walks this earth has it easy. When we are in pain it’s easy to look around and see all the other people going about their business as normal – not a trace of pain to be seen on their faces and we long to be just like them. Guess what? They too have their struggles; they too have endured significant pain at some point or other and/or have their times of difficulty yet ahead. There is no such thing as an easy life…..and the older you get the more you will come to understand this. So, when you hit a tough spot, grit your teeth and hang in there!


Although the customers and staff of the supermarket where I had taken my fall rallied around me, they couldn’t do much more than collect the bits and pieces that had fallen out of my hands (wallet, mobile, handbag) and make me as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. Despite their inability to change my situation, I really appreciated their kindness and concern. It was nice to know that I wasn’t on my own.

As stepparents we need to accept any support we can get. Even if the support we are getting doesn’t change our situation, it can still be incredibly helpful. A stepparent’s support could be:

*A friend offering to look after the new baby whilst you make special one-on-one time for your distressed stepdaughter…or…take a well-deserved break…or…go shopping without appendages –yippeee!

* Another step mum suggesting a heart-to-heart when your stepson’s just told you that he hates you and no matter what you’ll try, you’ll never replace his mum…or…the ‘ex’ is making yet another demand on your already strained finances…or…your partner turns yellow with jealousy every time you spend time with your biological kids.

* A parent who’ll take your kids and step kids off your hands so that you and your man can have a weekend away to sort out your differences…or…to catch up on some much needed sleep… or… to reconnect and just have fun.

Even if it doesn’t look like the supporting hand can do much to stop your pain, never say ‘no’ to someone offering help!

It's so important to find and accept all the support you can get. Are you aware that there is a Stepmom Summit Interview Package which features over a dozen coaches, counselors, authors, speakers and fellow stepmums - including my good self - that reveals successful ways to deal with many of the challenges you are pretty sure to encounter along your stepmom journey. To learn more about this package, click here. 

Making Pain Work for You will be continued in next week's blog.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Guilt - A Common Emotion In Stepfamilies!

Guilt - A Common Emotion In Stepfamilies! 

We've only just had Christmas - a time that's difficult enough for a stepmum and now, of course, it's school holidays - a time that more often than not sends shivers down a stepmother’s spine. At these times of the year one can find them scurrying around the children’s rooms, tidying, dusting and making their beds; shopping for things that would not ordinarily be found in their pantries; generally preparing their homes, their nerves and their emotions for the imminent onslaught. THE STEP-KIDS ARE IN TOWN…AND THEY ARE HERE TO STAY FOR A WHILE!!!

It’s often at these times that stepparents feel as though they are on an emotional roller coaster. Some will look forward to the time they can spend with the children, others will dread every moment of it. Nearly all will (or have in the past) experience a sense of guilt which could be focused on: “I should be happier for the kids that they can spend time with their dad”. “I shouldn’t be feeling such a sense of dread.” “I shouldn’t be so angry at having to share my partner or be so jealous of them.”

The re-partnered biological parent doesn’t get off scott-free either. He or she might be plagued by thoughts such as: “I am so looking forward to having my kids around for longer than a day or two, but sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. My partner might be cranky for days; will probably hound me to be stricter; send them to bed earlier; not let them do what they want…and just spoil everything. ALL I WANT IS FOR THE KIDS TO BE HAPPY (I hardly every see them anyway) AND MY PARTNER TO BE HAPPY TOO. But no matter how hard I try, it just doesn’t work. The kids are unhappy and my partner is miserable too. I just can’t win!!!” So as we can see, the re-partnered biological parent also experiences a sense of guilt that frequently is hidden under a mask of frustration, anger or resignation.

Throughout the years I have been working with people in step situations, I’ve found that guilt is the most faithful (albeit destructive) companion on their stepfamily journey. Guilt can promote healthy and helpful change, but often will do little more than load a burden on its carrier’s shoulder that can be so heavy it immobilises him/her. Unfortunately once immobilised, the carrier of guilt is unable to move in any direction - neither backwards to change the original causes of guilt, nor forward to make the needed changes to ensure a happier and successful future.

Because the issue of guilt affects both the stepparent as well as the re-partnered biological parent, this post is one that you will benefit from reading together and from making a topic of discussion. Yes, you SHOULD DEFINITELY talk about this!!!!

Whilst there are multitudes of reasons why stepparents and re-partnered bio parents feel guilt, I’d like to focus an a few that are raised time and again in therapy.

For the stepparent these are:

1. Not living up to expectations - their partner’s and/or their own.
2. Jealousy - Feeling unwanted, displaced and often negative about their stepchildren.

For re-partnered biological parents whose children remain in their original household these are:

3. Not being available to their children as they once were – being restricted in their input, time, attention and nurturing ability.
4. Feeling as though their new partner isn’t doing the right thing by their children.

Let’s take a closer look at these:


1. Not living up to expectations:

As a stepparent you can be heavily burdened by you partner’s expectations. They usually want you to be just as happy as they are when their kids arrive for the weekend or an extended stay. As they dearly love their offspring they may find it rather difficult to understand that you don’t share their feelings. They may be disappointed and distressed if you show or express your lack of enthusiasm. As you probably have a genuine desire to please your partner, this may cause you to think ……”I really should feel differently about his/her kids” and may well cause you to experience a painful sense of guilt.

The guilt can even intensify if you have an expectation of yourself to be “super dad/mum” to your stepchildren and find that you can’t…if you don’t really like them….if you don’t know how to handle them when they are around… if they don’t show any signs of liking you despite huge efforts on your part… if you don’t treat them as kindly as you know you could or feel you should, etc………..thus you might consider yourself to be a bad/wicked/nasty stepparent – a true failure!!


Know and accept your limitations. It is not likely that you will love your stepchildren (certainly not straight away). It is equally unlikely that they will love you. If your partner has unrealistic expectations of you in that arena, these are vital to discuss and dispel. Do what you can to connect with your stepchildren; make every effort to see them in a positive light; and do all you can to make them feel at home - but don’t expect miracles. You don’t have to love them in order to make room for them in your life. What you will have to do is make some sacrifices, learn to deal with your feelings if they are overwhelming and negative and to make the times when your step kids are around as easy on yourself as possible. If you take the pressure off yourself, you’ll find that these times will pass more peacefully and are much less likely to leave all of you in emotional tatters.

2. Jealousy - Feeling unwanted, displaced and often negative about the stepchildren:

When the stepchildren are around, stepparents often feel like the fifth wheel on a car. Whilst this is not unusual, it is painful just the same. This feeling can be intensified by an overenthusiastic and insensitive partner, who may be blissfully unaware that you have neither been spoken to nor have you spoken for the last 20 minutes. In such a scenario it would not be surprising if you were wondering whether anyone would even notice if you just snuck out… disappeared for the duration of the holiday, or….simply died. Whilst not wanting to be overly dramatic, that’s what step folk sometimes share with me. They seriously question their place in their partner’s lives. They wonder whether they are truly loved and wanted for themselves or are merely there to fill the hole his or her children have left in their partner’s heart. Needless to say, this does nothing to warm the stepparent’s feelings towards their step kids. On the contrary, they may become consumed with bitter jealousy, obsessed with their partner’s behaviour when the children are around and rejecting of the kids – not a recipe for a happy home/holiday/relationship, but a nice mixture to cook up a large dose of guilt.

Remember that it’s quite natural for your partner to go overboard with the children, especially initially and if he/she doesn’t see them all that often. They may not be aware what’s going on for you. In fact, they may be oblivious to your feelings of being displaced and unwanted as soon as the kids arrive. So, the onus is on you to tell them. When you do, be sure to use non-shaming and non-blaming language and to choose your timing wisely. Don’t raise the issue halfway through a special birthday dinner for one of the kids. Don’t raise it when you are overflowing with painful emotions…but be sure to raise it! Your partner needs to know how you feel. Explain your perspective and TOGETHER be as creative as necessary to find some helpful strategies and solutions that suit all concerned.


3. Not being as available to your children as you were way back when.....:

This can be extremely painful for you and induce enormous guilt, especially if the separation was caused or instigated by you. Your guilt is likely to be increased even further if your children are upset when they have to leave to go “home”… if you feel that they aren’t well cared for at their other home…if their behaviour towards you (and/or your new partner) indicates that your ex-partner is influencing them against you (and/or your new partner)…if they are unhappy.


Remember that you cannot undo what’s already been done. Pouring energy into regrets, into “if only’s” or into attempting to control what goes on in your ex-partner’s household, their mind and emotions is counterproductive. Don’t focus on what you cannot do, instead put your focus and energy into what you can do!

YOU CAN explain the benefits of having two homes to your children – ensure you do this in an age-appropriate way that is meaningful to them.
YOU CAN confront your ‘ex’ if you feel that your children aren’t receiving appropriate care. It’s best if you do this after making every effort to establish whether your feelings have a factual basis. If you confront, be sure to do this in the least threatening way possible. Only pull out the “big guns” if absolutely necessary.
YOU CAN explain to your ex-partner what damaging effects it has on the children you both love if either of you malign the other. If he/she is not receptive to YOUR explanations, you may be able to enlist the help of relatives (or a professional) for this purpose.
YOU CAN refrain from playing power games with your ‘ex’ and ensure that you do not malign him/her in retribution.
YOU CAN tell your children at every opportunity how much you love them and care for them.
YOU CAN create healthy boundaries that ensure you don’t allow your children or your ‘ex’ to manipulate you.

4. Feeling as though the new partner isn’t doing the right thing by your children.

Be assured that this is very common amongst re-partnered biological parents and can be caused by:

* A sense of over protectiveness.
* Feeling that their new partner isn't welcoming or understanding enough.
* Being aware that their new partner does not share the feelings they have for their children and a fear that this might be harmful to their kids.
* Feeling as though they don’t understand or appreciate your children’s pain.
* Being concerned they impose too many and unreasonable limitations on your children
* Thinking that they are too strict.
* Fearing that their kids are missing out.


Discuss this issue with your partner. Ensure that you let them know beyond any doubt that you love them just as much as you love your children. Listen to your partner’s grievances and concerns which could be such as: “When your kids are around, you completely ignore me.” “When I exert my authority, I feel like you really resent it”. “When the kids don’t listen to me and you don’t back me up, I feel undermined and invisible” etc……Discuss these issues (and any others) and don’t stop talking until you’ve come to some sensible and workable agreements. Your partner will be much more likely to embrace your children if he/she is assured of your understanding, love and support.

In summary, I’d like to really encourage you to get rid of any and all guilt you may be feeling because guilt leaves you wide open to manipulation. It makes you vulnerable to criticism and to being controlled. As a result of guilt you may fall victim to your ex-partner's emotional blackmail, may be tempted to give in to unreasonable and (sometimes even outrageous) demands. You may become blind to your children’s bad behaviour which will only enrage your partner and put your current relationship at risk. You may feel unable to create healthy and useful boundaries around you and your current family and…ultimately, you may feel so trapped and unhappy that you’re driven to actions you will regret later on.

Shedding guilt can be one of the most difficult tasks you will face on your stepfamily journey. However, as it is vital to the success of your second marriage, it is of critical importance. Once you’ve learned how to effectively deal with your guilt feelings you will be in a much better position to make healthy choices for yourself, your children and your new family. Your life will seem so much better and all concerned will benefit. As this can be such a difficult task I would encourage all of you who find this issue too hard to tackle without expert, to seek out professional assistance. Keep your eye on the website for my forthcoming article on the topic of Manipulation.