Recently, whilst spending some time overseas where it currently is winter, I experienced some magical days. Not a cloud in the sky, mountains clothed in a crisp white mantle, a welcome absence of crowds - in other words, a lovely week of skiing, far too much eating, drinking and heaps of fun.
Floating down one of Austria's mountains, wind blowing through my hair I had a lovely free, not a care in the world sensation; an enjoyment of the moment; a longing for time to stand still. Back on the chair-lift, I pondered on the importance of allowing time to stand still once in a while; to get off the treadmill every now and then; of shutting out the cares, concerns and worries of everyday living; of recharging the batteries. Whilst this, of course, is true for everyone, it is especially true for step-parents. Why? Because step-parenting, even in the best of circumstances, is a stressful task. The more stress we experience, the more we drain our energy reserves until one day we may find ourselves running on empty. I don’t know whether this is an experience you’ve ever had - I have and I can tell you that it isn’t much fun. Whilst not at all pleasant, it did, however, teach me an important truth. UNLESS WE OURSELVES TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR REFILLING OUR EMPTY TANKS, NO-ONE ELSE WILL. So, how can we 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 “but 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 I realize that we can get into such a work frenzy that we really and truly do believe that we cannot afford even a little 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, 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? Each one of us has the power to dream. We must dream (envisage) it before it can 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 walk 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 perhaps doesn’t hurt so much. Please understand that I am not endorsing escapism, but 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 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 you notice, complimenting them and expressing 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, ease your way into the evening. Perhaps you could even tell him or her that you love them.
TRY LESS AND TRUST MORE
As step-parents 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 stepmum or stepdad than we perceive the biological parent to be or to make up to them what we think they are missing. We could be twisting ourselves into pretzels proving our stepmother or stepfathering abilities to our partner, our superior position to the partner’s ex or 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 on trying but I am recommending that you adopt a trusting attitude at the same time. Trust yourself to be the best step-parent you can be. Trust your partner to understand, appreciate and love you even if you aren’t (or your performance isn’t) as perfect as you’d like to be. Trust that your step-children will appreciate your efforts one day. Trust that everything will be okay eventually.
TAKE TIME TO LAUGH
A step-parent’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 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 “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.
If you adopt (at least some of) the above ideas, your life will soon seem a lot less complicated than it may appear right now.
A few more practical ideas are:
WEEKLY – Do something special with your partner. Have a romantic dinner, a visit to the movies, theatre, ballet, opera (whatever takes your fancy). Have some quality time together when you talk about things that have absolutely nothing to do with your step-situation. Have fun together!
Do something nice with a friend (or friends). Have a girls (or boys) night out, visit a movie, a coffee shop, a restaurant, exercise, play your favourite sport, walk by the beach.
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 dear friends, go to a retreat – rest, sleep, read, simply 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 yourself a favour and do it!
The following is an excerpt from “Hell…p, I’m a stepmother” – chapter title “Stress and Depression”.
“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’…..”
Physical exercise is a great release for both physical and emotional tension….
Relaxation exercises have long been regarded to be effective techniques for stress reduction…..
Meditation can be very useful….
Hobbies are important in keeping a healthy balance in your life….
Sleep is of utmost importance….
Etc……….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 FREELY AND WITHOUT RESENTMENT TO THE OTHER PEOPLE IN YOUR WORLD!