Tuesday, January 17, 2017

TAKE A DAY AT A TIME

Take A Day At A Time

Whenever I step into a new year it seems like I face an empty canvas, surrounded by pots filled with the most glorious colours. I visualise sticking my hands into the pots, applying one wonderful colour after another and creating a magnificent painting. I step back from it every now and then to see more clearly where the painting may need more attention  - a little more blue in the background, a touch of green over there, perhaps a splash of red over here. What excitement, what fun, how wonderful to create something new - I love it.

Sometimes, though, I get into a bit of a painting frenzy. As I believe that I have the ability to paint far more paintings than I’ll be able to fit into the remainder of my life, I want to paint, and paint, and paint until I drop. This, of course, isn’t a good idea as I also need to eat, sleep, play and do the multitude of mundane things that make up life. So, what to do? At the beginning of the year I set a variety of goals for myself and have found this to keep me, if not totally then at least reasonably focused on maintaining a sensible balance in my life. Although some of my goals are simply a progression from the goals I had the previous year, others are quite different. As I was writing them down the other day it occurred to me that some of them might also be useful to you. Since each one of them is worthy of exploration, I'll share them with you one-by-one in our coming posts. The goal I am going to look at today is:

TAKING ONE DAY AT A TIME

I don't know about you, but I have the tendency to think about a thousand and one things all at once - especially when I am excited about something. My thoughts might be running 5 minutes, 3 hours or even 2 years ahead whilst at the same time I might stand in front of the fridge wondering what on earth I opened it for. Frustrating, isn’t it? And although I am sure that we all do this at times, if we do it all the time it means that we aren’t really living in the ‘here and now’. We shortchange ourselves by not being in the experience, whatever that experience may be. If it’s excitement about some future event that occupies our mind, we at least sacrifice the moment for something pleasurable. If, however, we are in deep concern, worry or dread then we really don’t do ourselves any favours. Whilst anxious feelings can be pretty difficult to let go of, they usually serve no purpose at all. How many fingernails do we have to chew in order to avert some terrible event? How many worry lines will ensure that the dreaded incident is not going to occur? You get my drift? Will one ounce of worry change what the ‘ex-wife from hell’ will dish up next? Will any amount of dread stop the stepchildren from running wild and leaving all their mess for you to pick up after their weekend with dad? No, of course not. And yet, we all do it.

Given that no-one is exempt from this rather bad habit, perhaps learning the art of taking one day at a time is a great goal for us all. How do we do that? Let me give you a few ideas.

1.            We need to remember that this day, in fact this very moment, is the only time we REALLY have. As we all have a tendency to live life as though it were an endless journey, it’s important to remember (at least occasionally) that in reality this is not so. All we have at our disposal is RIGHT NOW. So, let’s make the best of it, whatever that means to each of us.

2.            Although it’s great and I believe, totally essential, to have long-term dreams, visions and goals that we can and should go after, it’s equally important that we don’t only invest in the future but spend some of our wealth (our time, our energy, our talents, our finances…) today. It’s not much good planning to taking that child-free holiday you and your partner desperately need in order to keep your love alive in 3 years time because by then it may be too late to rescue your relationship. It isn’t a good idea to put off communicating important things to the important people in your life. Say “sorry” to your partner now if you’ve hurt him. Tomorrow, the day after or a week from now the right moment may have passed and you may live to regret not having done it sooner. Tell your stepchild today what you like about him or her, you may not get another ‘perfect’ opportunity like the one that presents itself TODAY. Call your parents and tell them that you love them when you think about it. Don’t put it off or you may miss your chance.

3.            Don’t allow fears of tomorrow to spoil your today. Instead consider what you can do about the issues that cause your fears and tackle them head-on. More often than not it’s the things we feel are outside our control that cause us the greatest anxieties, insecurities and discomfort. Take charge of the things you are able to control and let go of the ones you are unable to control. Do something! Sometimes any action is better than no action.

4.            Take one step at a time. Yes, your progress may be slower that way but you can be far more certain that you won’t run out of steam before you get to your desired destination. Often when we try to take giant leaps instead of getting to the ‘promised land’ fast, we end up in a soggy puddle. As everything in step-situations progresses by different time frames to those that are usually considered the norm, TAKING ONE STEP AT A TIME should be a daily mantra for step folk.

* Stepchildren very likely will not rush into your welcoming arms the first time you lay eyes on them. Take it one step at a time. To begin with just settle for connection. Allow them to get used to you before you start looking for more.

* The relationship with your partner will not follow the reasonably predictable path that your first-time married friends may tread. Take it one step at a time. Remember that he has appendages (kids) that take an important place in his heart who will, whether you like it or not, affect every plan, every decision and, in fact, everything that happens in your life.

*  Even having biological children with your new partner will require a taking one step at a time approach. Think carefully before you take this mammoth step. Consider the effects this will have on everyone in your already existing step/family. If one of you may be hesitant about increasing the current  ‘mob’ wait until you both feel happy with this decision. Raising a child on your own, as you have possibly already discovered, is a difficult task. Raising a child on your own even though you DO have a partner but one who refuses to be emotionally or practically involved, is harder still. Don’t take that risk. Take one step at a time - think about it, talk about it and make a mutual decision or simply wait.  

5.            Live in the moment. Because my head is constantly filled with a thousand new and exciting ideas, I find this a particularly difficult stress-free as possible. Living in the moment means enjoying everything you do as you are doing it. Whilst you sit at breakfast allow your awareness to be on whatever it is you are eating and drinking. As you walk or drive your step/children to school use the time to communicate, to ask questions and to listen to the answers, to encourage, affirm and to be fully there - body, soul and spirit. They’ll sense if your mind is on whatever you are planning to do next. When you are at work, immerse yourself. When you are at play, play with all your heart. When you are with people, be there with every fibre of your being. Remember, it’s every new moment linked to the last that ultimately makes up your life.

I believe that learning to take one day and one step at a time is a challenge for most people. Often it seems so much easier to live in the past or in the future. There’s certainly nothing wrong with looking back or with gazing ahead. Remembering the happy times of our past can be very pleasurable. Remembering the difficult experiences of our past is sometimes essential in order to find emotional balance and healing. Dreaming of a wonderful future is important and becomes a powerful tool in purposefully pursuing a cherished goal.  Neither of these places is bad and I would wholeheartedly encourage you to revisit the past (when appropriate) and to envisage a future (ideally one filled with joy). Where I would advise caution, however, is for you to live in either of those places. REMEMBER TO CHERISH TODAY. YESTERDAY IS BUT A DREAM. TOMORROW IS BUT A VISION OF HOPE. LOOK TO THIS DAY, for it is the only day YOU HAVE. (modified).

And here is a little FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

*** Happiness is to be found along the way, not at the end of the road, for then the journey is over and it is too late. Today, this hour, this minute is the day, the hour, the minute for each of us to sense the fact that life is good, with all of its trials and troubles, and perhaps more interesting because of them. (Robert R. Updegraff)

***The key to change is to let go of fear. (R. Cash)

***It takes many inches to make a mile. We can only move by inches, one inch at a time. It's when we look miles ahead and wonder "how are we going to get so far?" that we fail to move forward at all. The paradox is that we can choose to live life "in the rear view mirror" and remain so far back that moving forward, even an inch, is most difficult. Most important, we must always keep in mind that anytime we suffer a setback while moving forward, it will always be just a matter of inches, and not miles. (Rick Beneteau)

*** Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.   (C. Sandburg)


***It is each new moment linked to the last that ultimately makes up your life. Cherish the moment, for it is your life. (Sonja Ridden)

In the next few weeks I'll help you explore just how you can stay on target with planning for your future whilst staying grounded in the present. In the meantime why not grab a Stepmom Summit Interview Package, which features over a dozen coaches, counsellors, authors, speakers and fellow stepmums - including my good self - and reveals successful ways to deal with many of the challenges you will be likely to encounter along your path. To learn more about this package, click here. 



Monday, January 9, 2017

How To Make 2017 Your Best Year Yet

Most people want the New Year to be a whole lot better than the year that was. Some just hope fervently that fate might make it so, others cross this threshold filled with a whole heap of New Year’s resolutions that, in most cases, are forgotten or discarded by mid-January. Yet others decide to invest time in thinking and planning just how they would like things to be different in the New Year.

Having taken myself through this exercise at the beginning of each new year  throughout the past decade, I have discovered that it’s a great tool that helps me feel far more in control of my life and is an excellent way to create the changes I want.

So, what are the main questions I ask myself? They are very simple (...and remember:  simple is good!):

§  Where am I headed?
§  What do I want to achieve?
§  What do I need to do in order to achieve what I want?

In the hope that you might use this tool to make your stepfamily journey a more joyful and satisfying one - or for whatever other changes you may wish to make in your life - I’ll give you some basic examples. Here goes:

I. Where am I headed?

Given that you are reading this blog, my guess is that your answer would be something like this:

I plan to be:

§  in a marriage or live-in relationship with a partner who has children from a former marriage or relationship.
§  in the role of second wife/partner with or without children of my own.
§   in the role of part-time or full-time step-parent.

II.  What do I want to achieve?

Your answers to this question may be many and varied. My guess is that some of them would be:

(a)   A better relationship with my step children - That could be getting more respect; feeling more wanted; accepted; included; appreciated etc.....

(b)   Greater support from my partner - Feeling that he stands right beside me in my struggles to 'find' my role with his kids; getting rid of that uncomfortable '5th wheel on the car' sensation I have when his kids are around; knowing beyond doubt that 'he has my back' even when my thoughts about a stepfamily matter aren't the same as his, etc......

(c )  Less antagonism with my partner’s ex - Wanting her to understand that I am not the enemy nor am trying to compete with her; feeling less angry and frustrated about the way she seems infiltrate every aspect of our lives; wanting her to know that I am not an evil stepmother etc.....

III.  What do I need to do to achieve this, or in other words: What does this require of me?

This is a tough question as it places the responsibility for change squarely on your shoulders. So - I hear you think - does this mean that "I need to let everyone else off the hook?" No, it does mean that at all. What it does mean, however, is that you recognise and accept that the only thing over which you have complete control is your own attitude and behaviour.

To give you an idea of how this can work for you I’ve chosen a few possible answers relating to question II.

( a) A better relationship with my stepchildren may require:

§  That I demonstrate greater acceptance, understanding and compassion for them and their plight. 
§  That I recognise that they probably need more time to adjust to their new family circumstances.
§  That I let go of my pre-conceived ideas and expectations of them.

I imagine that right now you are thinking: A better relationship with his kids simply requires that they show greater acceptance of me and better behaviour towards me. And of course I agree that this would help a great deal, but I also know that no matter how much you might want it, you have no power to make this happen and therefore need to focus on what YOU CAN DO, rather than on what THEY MIGHT DO.

(b) To obtain greater support from my partner requires that I:

§  Have a clear idea of exactly what kind of support I am looking for.
This may involve:
Writing a list of my needs and deciding which of these needs can be met by me or my friends and which of them realistically can (and ideally should) be met by my partner.

§  Tell my partner clearly what I need from him.

This involves: 
Having courage. 
Getting my timing right.
Choosing words that don’t put my partner on the defense.
No judgments, recriminations or threats and definitely no huge emotional outbursts. 

§  Ask my partner what type of support he needs from me.

This involves:
Being willing to hear his truth and being open to his needs.
Exploring with my partner which of his needs can realistically be met by me.
Making a commitment to doing the best I possibly can to meeting his needs.

(c) What does having less antagonism with my partner’s ex require of me?

§  Do I have to express more goodwill towards her?
§  Should I make more of an effort to meet her halfway?
§  Might I need to let go of judgments, anger or feelings of resentment?

Again I can hear you moan: But she is impossible. It doesn’t matter what I do, she’s decided that I am ‘the bad guy’ and nothing seems to make any difference. She  is the one who needs to change, not me!!!

True, true….I totally agree!...but I also know that, short of a miracle, this is not likely to happen…well, certainly not in a hurry. So, in the meantime, in order to make your own life more satisfying, YOU need to do what YOU can to make the best out of a difficult situation.  If you’ve already done all you can, perhaps the answer to your questions needs to be:

§  Letting go of the expectation that she will ever accept, appreciate or like me.
§  Accepting the way things are, even though they are far from the way I’d like them to be.

I absolutely know that this is much easier said than done! Remember, I’ve been in these situations myself and I can tell you that, although not easy, it IS possible.

I hope that this process, whilst somewhat simplified for the purpose of this post, will give you some food for thought and that it might encourage you to take a little time to ask questions of yourself that only you can answer and, last but not least, that you will have the courage to answer them honestly. 

....If you need help with this process don't despair. Tune in next week to find out how you can go about moving forward with this without shedding too much blood, sweat and tears.....


Sunday, January 1, 2017

LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP


A woman often enters the stepfamily experience with stars in her eyes. Wrapped in a cloud of love and optimism she confidently floats down the aisle, smiling serenely at the cute little step-angel flower-girls who are absolutely adorable clad in their frilly attire and happily strewing orange blossoms onto the wedding path. A perfect day - hallelujah choruses soaring – heaven on earth! Right? .....

Absolutely…until…the following morning when the very same little step-angels barge into the honeymoon suite, loudly arguing over who will be the first to crawl into bed with daddy, and she realises that this was not exactly what she’d had in mind for her first morning of wedded bliss.

Surely this couldn’t happen to you, right? Well, if you intend to become a stepmother, it just might! 

To minimise the potential of such a rude awakening, the number one suggestion I have for anyone intending to become a stepmum in 2017 is: "Look before you leap!" Get to know your love-object inside-out and spend as much time as possible with him when he is in the company of his kids. Then, be brave and as objective as possible, put your emotions aside and take a good, hard look at reality. (Because that's no easy task, it also helps to get some input and feedback from your trusted friends). How much do you REALLY want to have his children in your life? Remember, if you marry this man, his children and everyone connected with them, will also become a part of YOUR future!


Here are some questions to ask yourself that once answered, will help you make an informed decision:
  • How does the love of your life behave when his children are with him? Do you still feel like you are an important person in his world or does he turn into an over-indulgent stranger? Who calls the shots, him or the kids?
  • Does he have a civil relationship with his ex, or are they in constant conflict? How are they fighting their battles? Are their disagreements played out through their children?
  • Has he worked through the failure of his first marriage or is he still angry or bitter? Does it seem as though he carries a great sense of loss, guilt or resentment?
  • How does he feel about the possibility of having more children? Does he embrace the idea, or does he tell you that the number of kids he already has are more than enough?
  • Does he have the financial security required to support an expansion of your family should this be on you agenda? Will your income be needed to support his former family as well as the current one?
  • What are his expectations of you? Does he want you to become a surrogate mother to his children - someone to deal with all the mothering challenges but has none of the rights?
  • How do you envisage your life 6 months, 1 year or 5 years from now? Can you see yourself being happy given the restrictions, sacrifices, challenges and complexities that marrying a man with baggage will bring? 

If you come up with a positive answer to these questions you stand a fair chance of not falling victim to the 60% second-marriage divorce rate. If not you’d be well advised to carefully rethink your relationship intentions. All of you - your partner, his children and you - deserve the best. If partnering means one of you needs to make massive sacrifices, the potential for this to cause insurmountable conflict and resentment is too great for a happy outcome. You only live once. Look before you leap!

If you decide to go ahead and make 2017 the year that YOU embark on the stepmum journey remember that having lots of excellent information will set you up for a good start. What better way to do this than get the Stepmom Summit Interview Package, which features over a dozen coaches, counsellors, authors, speakers and fellow stepmums - including my good self - and reveals successful ways to deal with many of the challenges you will be likely to encounter along your path. To learn more about this package, click here.