As I was walking along the beach, admiring a school of dolphins frolicking in the waves, I was very conscious of the fact that the life most of us lead these days is incredibly stressful and leaves little time for 'fun and games'. Yet it’s the 'fun and games' that help us balance the huge bag of demands that seems to rest on everyone’s shoulders. Whilst just about everyone appears to be carrying such a bag, adults in step-and blended families often literally stagger under the weight of theirs. How can YOU lessen the load in your bag? This is what I would like to address today:
Step 1 – CHECK OUT WHAT'S IN YOUR BAG:
As a step-parent your bag may be filled with expectations or demands such as:
a. I will be a fantastic step-parent.
b. The s/kids must always come first.
c. I have to be all things to all people.
d. I can cope ....and will manage the step-load .... all on my own.
e. There’s so much to do I don’t have time for me any more.
f. I must hide my real feelings.
g. I can't not cope.
h. There is so much to worry about.
Step 2 – CHALLENGE THE STUFF THAT'S IN YOUR BAG:
Don’t just accept what’s in your bag simply because it’s there - it could be there for all the wrong reasons! The demands you may find in that bag could be someone else’s expectations; perhaps stuff that you’ve carried with you all the way from your childhood, or maybe expectations you’ve placed on yourself as a consequence of your first marriage breakdown; or perhaps they are things you believe might help your new relationship. Challenge them!!!
As you challenge them it'll be useful to give some consideration to the following:
a. I will be a fantastic step-parent
Becoming a fantastic stepparent is certainly a good and worthy intention and goal, but it’s really important that you don’t load yourself up with expectations that may be impossible to fulfill. It would be useful to explore what “fantastic” actually means to you. If it means patience, understanding, kindness, caring, respect and flexibility that’s great! If it means “I’ll win those kids over in no time”, “they’ll be champing at the bit to stay with us”, “I am going to put up with anything they’ll dish up” etc., that’s likely to fall into the unrealistic expectation category. If you load these kinds of expectations onto your shoulders you are likely to set yourself up for disappointment and failure which neither serve you nor your stepfamily well. Instead, JUST RELAX AND TAKE THINGS AS THEY COME.
b. The s/kids must always come first
I understand that since re-partnering there could be heaps of children coming and going to and from your house – your front door may even resemble a revolving one. But even so, that doesn’t mean that you should put them - their desires, wants and needs - first at all times. In fact, putting the children, whether they be your own or your stepchildren, before your relationship with your partner is a recipe for disaster. Number 1 priority in stepfamilies is the couple’s relationship, which doesn’t mean that you ignore the kids. It does mean, however, THAT MUCH OF YOUR ENERGY SHOULD GO INTO ESTABLISHING AND RETAINING A GREAT RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR PARTNER. I realise that this requires a delicate balancing act but your children (step-and bio) will benefit much more from this than from you catering to their every whim.
c. I have to be all things to all people
Why do I need to be all things to all people? Because if I am not, everything will crumble all around me.
If you work on that assumption all you are likely to achieve is a nervous breakdown. The “little ol’ you that there is only one of” cannot possibly be all things to all people. All people usually means your own children, your partner’s children, your ex, your partner’s ex, your current in-laws (or out-laws, whatever the case may me) and your original ones, your partner’s former in-laws (grandparents, uncles and aunties to your step-children) and loads more. So, why even try? Remember that what REALLY matters is that you are in tune with your partner and in agreement about your collective brood. Whilst it would be nice to have a comfortable relationship with everyone else - and my words are not meant to discourage you from making your best efforts towards achieving this - it is certainly not essential and isn’t worth losing too much sleep over. Just be yourself and have the faith and confidence that BEING YOURSELF IS GOOD ENOUGH.
d. I can cope ....and will manage the step-load .... all on my own
Whilst managing your step-circumstance is certainly desirable, it is quite unrealistic to believe that you will be able to manage it on your own. The step-parenting role demands a lot of emotional support and, depending on the number of step-and biological children and your circumstance, it may also require substantial physical support. In order to achieve a happy and balanced stepfamily existence it is absolutely essential that you have your partner’s full support. Stepfamilies in which this support is freely given have a much greater chance of success and long-term survival than stepfamilies in which this support is lacking. So, make sure that this is understood by your partner and ASK FOR THE SUPPORT YOU NEED.
e. There’s so much to do that I don’t have time for me any more
The 2nd priority when you take on a stepfamily is that you ensure you have some quality time for yourself. If you are totally worn and weary from all your new responsibilities, resentful from feeling completely overloaded, constantly running around doing things for others without proper regard for your own needs, you’ll not make it very far. Step-parents’ burnout rate is huge! Second marriages disintegrate even faster and in greater numbers than first marriages. Don’t allow yourself to become a statistic. Take care of yourself and ENSURE THAT YOU GET ENOUGH TIME FOR YOU. This is not a sign of selfishness, as is often assumed - it is an important investment for your own and your stepfamilies future health and success.
f. I must hide my real feelings
Healthy relationships can only grow in soil of vulnerability, honesty and trust. If you live with the impression that you cannot discuss your true feelings with your partner, your relationship is doomed to certain failure - if not straight away then sometime in the future.
In order to have a successful and happy relationship IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT EACH PARTNER IS WILLING TO RESPECT THE OTHER’S THOUGHTS, FEELINGS, HOPES, DREAMS AND NEEDS. It is essential that you hear each other out, even if what you are hearing is distressing to you. It is essential that you try and resolve any issues of conflict together rather than hiding them from the other in the hope that they will disappear of their own accord. They won’t!…and the earlier in your relationship you find the courage to tackle them, the easier they will be to resolve.
g. I can't not cope
Unless you are “superman” or “wonder-woman” chances are that you will encounter times along your step-journey when you feel unable to cope. Guess what, that’s normal - it's called life!!! It is very important that you give yourself permission to be as imperfect as the rest of the population. If you find yourself in a non-coping state you MUST let your partner know. TOGETHER WORK ON SOME STRATEGIES THAT WILL ASSIST YOU IN REGAINING YOUR COPING ABILITIES. If necessary, enlist the help of relatives and friends or gain the support of community based services or a step-savvy professional. Whatever you choose to do, don’t struggle on your own in the misguided belief that not coping is the same as being weak.
h. There is so much to worry about
Do you know anyone who’s achieved anything through worry? I don’t suppose you do because worry has never yet removed anyobstacles from anyone’s path. It seems a human tendency that we worry about so many things, many of which never even occur. All worry achieves is sleepless nights, stomach aches, resentment, stress, grouchiness, anxiety and if you engage in worry for long enough….clinical anxiety and/or depression.
The antidote to worry is to ‘take the bull by the horns’. To tackle the issue that has you worried by:
- Bringing it out into the open - that means that you are no longer hiding and suppressing it, which immediately robs it of power.
- Talking about it to someone - that someone could be your partner, a friend, a professional – whoever seems the most appropriate person to share it with.
- Make a decision about what you CAN DO about the circumstance or thing that worry you. This puts you in charge of IT, rather than allowing IT to be in charge of you.
- Act on your decision.
Step 3 - DISCARD EVERYTHING THAT DOESN'T REALLY NEED TO BE IN YOUR BAG:
When you’ve gone through this process and have considered my comments, comments which are based both on my professional and my personal step-parenting experience, you’ll find that so many of the things that have caused you a major headache or a really stiff neck (from carrying such a heavy bag) shouldn’t be in the bag in the first place. Once you get rid of all the stuff that doesn’t need to be there you won’t recognise your bag. It’ll be so light that you have a lot more strength and energy to focus on the issues that have real importance. You’ll now even be able to make time for some well-deserved relaxation; might re-discover an inclination to introduce “fun and games” into the relationship with your partner (wink, wink, nudge, nudge….say no more!) Last but not least you’ll be traveling lightly enough to have a much better chance of actually enjoying your stepfamily.