Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Am Really Not that Wicked!!

When we have a picture-book image of the way family life should be, like I did, it’s really easy to become resentful of those we perceive are hindering us from achieving our ideal. If the culprit is the ‘ex’, we usually feel justified in having a less than positive attitude, if it’s the stepchildren, we might find ourselves empathizing with the wicked stepmother we remember from our childhood fairy tales. If we think that our partner isn’t doing his share in making things work, we may well be fuming at him. Whoever the culprit may be, chances are we feel pretty darn angry.

Anger is a common emotion experienced by step-parents. Whilst it usually doesn’t feel too great, be assured that it is a normal human response to circumstances in our lives that we don’t like and over which we feel out of control. So, it’s normal, it’s human, it may even be totally justified - trouble is, it doesn’t get us very far. So, what do we do about it? Let me give you an example:

THE FIRST STEP is to be honest about my feelings. When I am angry it’s vital that I acknowledge and ‘own’ my anger. Even if I am angry because the ‘ex’ has changed visiting arrangements for the third time, my partner is off on a golfing weekend whilst I am ‘stranded’ with his darlings (grrrrrrrrr!) or the little sweetheart is having a screaming fit. Let me assure you - I’ve been there, done that. The only helpful thing to do (whilst this doesn’t come naturally to most people) is to accept the anger as my own – in other words, don't blame it on the ‘offender’.

So, after acknowledging that I am angry, THE SECOND STEP is to consider the thoughts that accompany this emotion. Sometimes it helps to write them down so that I can examine them more carefully later, after I’ve cooled down. I might think, for instance, that I am being treated like the housekeeper by my partner who has left me to take care of his children whilst he is enjoying himself on the golf course. Grrrrrrrrr! If this is so, chances are that underneath my anger hides a layer of hurt – possibly made up of what I think is my partner’s selfishness, his lack of consideration and his expectation that I WILL TAKE CARE OF THINGS.

If I recognise this for what it is, it will stand me in good stead when I take THE THIRD STEP - to confront my partner. Rather than blowing up and spilling my resentment, frustration and anger all over him, which is exactly what I feel like doing, I need to keep my cool and explain clearly how his actions have caused me to feel.

Addressing the issue in this way has a number of benefits: Rather than putting my partner into an immediate position of defense, which is the position most people adopt when they feel attacked, it allows him to remain sufficiently open to actually ‘hear’ and ‘absorb’ what I have to say. That way I stand a much better chance of helping him see the situation from my point of view which is, after all, what I want him to do as I don’t want the same thing to happen again. ..and if I haven’t backed him into a corner, he might even find it in his heart to say “sorry”.

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