Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Power Of Choice

As I was trotting along on my morning walk today my thoughts were focused on a problem I’m struggling with 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. Have you ever seen or heard the Serenity 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 stepfamily situations, 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…are in despair over not being able to 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:

The issues that spring to mind here (assuming that you’ve tried all you could) 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 all of 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 a shocking one, you can choose to limit your emotional investment. If you’ve tried all you can you can, choose to stop trying. You can decide that it will not affect our feelings towards your stepchildren, that you won’t let it affect the relationship you have with your partner, etc. You can “find” the changeable things and go about making those changes.

2. A similar process can apply to the relationship you have with your ex-partner. You can decide that it isn’t that important now that you have a new family and can “let go” of the expectation that you can make it better.

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 that might help you at least “understand” why they behave the way they do. You could make an effort to connect with other step-parents who are sure to be sharing some of your difficulties and understand most of your “woes”.

4. You can (and should) do anything and everything in your power to enlist your partners’ support, letting 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 we can be certain of, and it’s that certainty that gave me a new lease on life once I became aware of it. We can perhaps change our circumstances but WE CANNOT EVER CHANGE ANOTHER PERSON. The only thing that we have total and complete power to change is OURSELVES.

How can that translate into your reality?

1. You cannot control what the terrible “ex” will or won’t do, but you CAN CONTROL HOW YOU RESPOND to this and how far you allow it to affect you. You can decide whether he or she is worth having a nervous breakdown over.

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 him.

3. You cannot control your stepchildren’s feelings, their anger, resentment, jealousy, confusion, sadness, loyalty issues etc., but you CAN CONTROL HOW YOU RESPOND to them. 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 loving at all, you can also choose to draw boundaries that define what they may and may not do whilst they are in our home.

4. You cannot control whether your partner will or will not support you but you CAN CONTROL HOW YOU RESPOND to this. In order to create a functioning stepfamily you need a lot of support and it is vital to have a support network. Ideally your partner heads this network. If he does not, it is up to each individual to decide whether they choose to struggle on alone or not. If you decide to carry the load on your own, be sure to remember that this is your choice. If you feel that you cannot/will not/do not want to do it in this way, you may be faced with some tough decisions. Remember it is YOU who controls what happens next.

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 hoping against all hope…to railing against my “horrible fate”…to wanting to run away…to realizing that if anything was going to change in my situation - my thoughts, my feelings - the change had to begin in me…to working on myself …to seeing change occur as a consequence of that work… to growth and maturity…to acceptance…to peace…to joy.

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

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)

The 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….”

For more info on Hell...p! I'm A Stepmother, click here.

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