Thursday, August 20, 2009

How to combat the stress of being a stepmum

My clan a long, long time ago

If you are like the rest of us stepmums, you've probably discovered fairly early in your stepmothering experience that it can be pretty darn stressful at times. It's important to recognise that the more stress we experience, the more we drain our energy reserves until one day we find ourselves running on empty. I don’t know whether this is something that's ever happened to you but can tell you that it happened to me and that I wouldn't recommend it. Although not at all pleasant it did carry a gift - it taught me an important truth: UNLESS I TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR REFILLING MY OWN TANK, NO-ONE ELSE WILL. So, how can you do this?

Here are a few suggestions:

Take a break

No matter how busy your schedule, you can take a break. Ah, I can hear you groaning: " you don’t know what it’s like! I’'ve got to take 3 kids - steps included - to school, take my little one to pre-school, feed the baby, spend numerous hours at work"... and so on. Well, I do know what it’s like and realise that by the time we think about the millions of big and little jobs we have to do we can get into such a frenzy that we really and truly get to believe that we cannot afford even a short break. But I assure you, you can and you must if you wish to remain sane. It’s essential to have at least a little bit of time to yourself each day. During that time you could read, write, meditate, pray, listen to music, let the sun shine on your face or do whatever restores your soul. Drink in the solitude, let your body relax, allow your thoughts to stray, your emotions to idle, your soul to be still.

Take time to dream

How do you want your life to be? What do you want for yourself, your partner, your family? Every one of us has the power to dream. We must dream (envisage) the things we want before they can ever come into being. This doesn’t mean that we deny our reality, it simply means that we need to prepare the path in our mind, before we can actually start walking on it. Dreaming is a powerful tool, especially when the going gets tough. No-one can stop you from temporarily escaping your difficulties by visiting the special place in your mind where life is a lot easier and less painful. Please understand that I am not endorsing escapism but that I am suggesting that it is perfectly acceptable and desirable to rest and relax both your mind and your body from the stresses and strains of life by engaging in some dreaming time.

Do something different

They say that “a change is as good as a holiday”. Now, I wouldn't go as far as that, but I would suggest that doing things differently at times not only ensures that we don't drown in daily monotony but that it also opens great doors of possibility. How would it be, for instance, if you’d take a different approach to your stepchild this week? Instead of commenting on his or her irritating behaviour perhaps you could point out something positive that you've noticed? Maybe you could pay them a compliment or express your appreciation. Instead of rushing to your next purposeful activity as soon as you hit home after a long day at work, perhaps you could sit down with your partner, put your feet up, enjoy a drink, have a chat and ease your way into the evening? Perhaps you could even tell him that you love him?!

Stop trying so hard and start trusting more

As stepmums we try very hard to please. Sometimes we even try to be all things to all people. We might work really hard to be liked by our stepkids, to be a better mum to them than we consider their biological mother to be or to make up to them what we think they are missing. We could be twisting ourselves into pretzels proving our stepmother abilities to our partner, show our superiority to the partner’s ex or proudly display our '“can-do” attitude to society. The possibilities for trying in the step-parenting arena are endless. Now, I am certainly not suggesting that you give up trying, but I am recommending that you adopt a more trusting attitude:

Trust yourself to be the best stepmum you can be.

Trust your partner to understand, appreciate and love you even if you aren't -or if your performance isn’t - as perfect as you’d like it to be.

Trust your step-children that one day they will appreciate your efforts. Trust that everything will be okay eventually.

Take time to laugh

A stepmum's life can feel like very serious business. There is soooooo much to consider, so much to learn, so much to do, so much to think about, so much to contend with, so much to sacrifice, so much to get frustrated about, so much of everything - so much so that it can feel as though we are swimming in an ocean without a life raft in sight. All these are reasons why we need to stand still occasionally and look at the humour of it all. Yes, sometimes it may be little more than “black humour”, but who cares as long as you can laugh about it. Why not try it? Next time you feel like tearing out your hair, find something in the hair-tearing situation that tickles your funny bone and laugh. Some people suggest that a dose of laughter each day keeps the doctor away.

I can't promise you an easy life but can guarantee that, if you manage to adopt at least some of these ideas, your life will soon seem less complicated and less overwhelming.

And here are a few more practical ideas that are SURE to help:

WEEKLY or at least FORTNIGHTLY do something special with your partner. Have a romantic dinner, go see a movie, visit the theatre, ballet, jazz concert or whatever takes your fancy. Have some quality time together - even if you can't go out and have to have your romantic dinner at home AFTER the kids are in bed. Just be sure that during your special together-times you talk about things that have nothing to do with your step-situation. You do enough of that already! Just enjoy a few precious hours of togetherness!

Also WEEKLY or at least FORTNIGHTLY do something nice with a friend. Have a girl's night out, see a movie, go to a coffee shop, have a meal together, exercise together - play your favourite sport, walk by the beach, or just visit each other's homes for a nice break.

MONTHLY take a day off. With your partner, by yourself or with some friends ... just get away from it all! Make it a whole weekend if you can afford it. Spend time roaming the city, take a drive in the country, visit friends, go to a retreat – rest, sleep, read and spoil yourself.

YEARLY take a holiday with your partner, with your friends, on your own. Whatever your choice, make sure it’s without your stepkids in tow. I regard this as absolutely essential for one’s sanity. Make it as long or as short as your budget will allow but DO IT!

The ultimate outcome of stress overload is anxiety and depression. The following is an excerpt from “Hell…p, I’m A Stepmother”:

“Knee-deep in step-parenting, struggling to fit into some kind of mould, bouncing between feelings of determination (to make this work come hell or high water), frustration (because it never seemed to work the way I felt it should), inadequacy (I am such a bad mother!’) and fear (‘what if things never change?’), I was constantly stressed. Sometimes my stress was so great that I felt as though I was rapidly heading towards a nervous breakdown. I was so consumed with everyday life and its inevitable troubles that it never occurred to me to take time out to nurture and care for myself – until one day I fell into ‘the big black hole’…..”..

It helps to take your cues from someone who's walked the same journey that you are walking now. Getting depressed is no fun! It doesn't help you or your situation and, in fact, only makes everything a whole lot worse. Don't go there! Looking after yourself first does not mean that you are inconsiderate or selfish, it simply means that you do what it takes to ensure that YOUR OWN TANK IS FULL ENOUGH SO THAT YOU ARE ABLE TO GIVE TO THE OTHER PEOPLE IN YOUR WORLD FREELY AND WITHOUT RESENTMENT !


Life of a Stepmama said...

Love the post, so true, we have to take care of ourselves so we can be at our best to be with our family etc. I agree with you!

La Belle Mere UK said...

Love this post. Am glad I found your site!!

LBM xxx

Sonja Ridden said...

A warm welcome to Stepmama, La Belle Mere and to all you other lovely ladies who have found my site, welcome, welcome, welcome! I am glad you are enjoying the posts and hope that there will be much more for you to enjoy over the weeks and months to come!

I love having you!
Warm regards,

Lisa F said...

I am 50 years old and one year ago moved into a new home (stress #1) with my fiance, sold my home (stress #2) and am now part-time (bi-weekly)step-mum to his two daughters, now ages 13 & 17. I never planned to have children of my own, and made it to 45 before I met him. I love his children, they love me, and really I couldn't have fallen into a better mess than this one. I am SO happy to have found this site and read this post. I've been running myself ragged trying to keep up with the house, plan, prepare and clean up meals (a change from my previous self-sufficient adult only life) and work full time. I didn't realize how stressed I was until I had a mini breakdown last night. I was able to talk with my fiance, who is very loving and understanding, but felt as if I'm losing my mind. Now I realize that no, I'm not...not really. It's just a lot of big change in a short time and my typically positive go-getter self has taken a big hit. It is so very helpful to know I'm not alone and that what I'm feeling is ok and actually quite normal. I thank you all for sharing!