Monday, March 15, 2010

The Choice Is Yours

As I was trotting along on my morning walk today my thoughts were focused on a problem with which I am struggling at the moment (my morning walk is when I do my best thinking). As I was chewing this thing over and over in my mind, it occurred to me that there may well be nothing I can do about this problem apart from simply accepting it. I remembered a truth that I've long been familiar with and that is perhaps best expressed in the Serenity Prayer.

IIn case you are not familiar with this prayer, it reads like this:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

For us who live in stepfamilyland it can be really important to take hold of the sentiment expressed in this prayer.

In our step-experience we come across a multitude of things that we want to change, feel we need to change, try to change, work really hard at changing, think we won't be able to stand it if we cannot change, expend a lot of energy in being angry or frustrated about it not changing and often have to travel a long way before we can finally accept the fact that maybe this particular issue simply cannot be changed.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change:

Some of the issues that spring to mind here - assuming that you've tried everything possible - could be:

1. Your relationship with your partner's ex - it might be shocking, might always have been shocking and may continue to remain this way.

2. You could have a similarly dreadful relationship with your own ex-partner that, despite all your efforts, nothing short of a miracle would change.

3. You might have a difficult and painful relationship with one or even all your stepchildren.

4. You could be hungering in vain for your partner's support in the areas that make you feel like you're constantly climbing uphill without a mountain peak in sight.

The courage to change the things we can:

If we follow through with the same issues as are raised above this could look like the following:

1. If you cannot change the fact that the relationship with your partner's ex is shocking you CAN choose to limit your emotional investment. If you've tried everything possible you CAN choose to stop trying. You CAN decide that no matter how good or bad the relationship between the two of you may be you will not allow it to affect your feelings towards your stepchildren or those towards your partner. You CAN choose to focus on the changeable things and go about making those changes.

2. A similar process can be applied to the relationship you have with your own ex-partner. You CAN decide that whatever relationship you have with him simply isn't that important now that you have a new family and can let go of the expectation that you can heal the relationship between him and you.

3. You can try and connect with your stepchildren in different ways. Maybe the old ways just weren't working for you or for them. You can learn more about them in the hope that you'll at least least understand why they behave the way they do. You could also make an effort to connect with other step-parents. They likely share some of the difficulties you encounter and therefore will understand many of your woes.

4. You can (and should) do anything and everything in your power to enlist your partner's support. You should let him know about your struggles, fears, difficulties, insecurities, concerns and the multitude of issues that you are ill-equipped to deal with on your own.

....and the wisdom to know the difference:

This is perhaps the greatest challenge of all. How do we know the difference? Often with great difficulty, sometimes not at all. But there is one thing that we can be certain of. It was this certainty that gave me a new lease on life once I became aware of it. This truth is that we can sometimes change our circumstances but WE CANNOT EVER CHANGE ANOTHER PERSON. The only thing that we have total and complete power over changing is OURSELVES.

How could that work for you in the context of our examples?

1. You cannot control what the ex will or won't do, but you CAN CONTROL HOW YOU RESPOND to what she does and how far you allow her behaviour to affect YOU. You can decide whether she is worth a nervous breakdown.

2. You cannot control your ex-partner's internal temperature - his resentment, unpleasantness, hatred or anything else about him but you CAN CONTROL HOW YOU RESPOND to his behaviour.

3. You cannot control your stepchildren's feelings - their anger, resentment, jealousy, confusion, sadness, loyalty struggles etc. but you CAN CONTROL HOW YOU RESPOND to the children. You can choose to be kind in the face of their unkindness. You can choose to be loving despite the fact that they are not. You can also choose to draw boundaries that define what the children may and may not do whilst they are in our home and enforce them with respect and love, etc....

4. You cannot control whether your partner will or will not support you, but you CAN CONTROL YOUR RESPONSE. In order to create a functioning stepfamily you need a lot of support and it is vital to have a support network. Ideally it's your partner who is your greatest supporter. If he is not it is up to you to decide whether you choose to continue your step-struggles alone or not. If you decide to carry the load on your own be sure to remember each time you get angry, frustrated, overwhelmed and feel unable to cope that this is your choice you have consciously made. If you feel that you cannot/will not/do not want to live life this way you will find yourself faced with some tough decisions that may feel so overwhelming that you fear taking charge of them. All the same, it is vital to remember is YOU who controls where you go to from here.

"Easier said than done" you might say. Yes, I agree! After all I've been there and have done that...all of it - from expecting things to go the way I wanted them to go to railing against my horrible fate. From wanting to run away to realizing that if anything was going to change in my situation the change had to begin with me. From resenting the fact that I had to work on myself to seeing change occur as a consequence of that work. From viewing my stepworld from a victim's perspective to growing and maturing into acceptance and eventuallty also into experiencing peace and joy.

Each one of us holds the power of choice to accept the things we cannot change, to change the things we can and to do whatever it takes to learn how to tell the difference.

Here is some food For Thought:

No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. (Mary Engelbreit

A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes. (Hugh Downs)

We create our fate every day we live. (Henry Miller)

This is the last of human freedoms ,to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to chose one's own way. (Victor Frankl)

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Following is an excerpt from Hell...p, I'm a Stepmother - chapter title Happiness is a Choice

Finding no solutions to the enormous difficulties I was experiencing with my stepson was wearing me down. Nothing I tried seemed to make any difference. My problem grew and grew until it was so large that it filled my entire vision. It was all I could think about, day and night. I would examine it from all angles, try to will a way out of it.

Feeling trapped in a difficult situation in which you are faced daily with seemingly unnecessary problems can certainly warrant distress and despair. These are natural responses to this kind of circumstance. The situation only becomes problematic when you are consistently unable to shake these feelings; they become your permanent companions and you allow them to take charge of your thinking and behaviour


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