Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Climbing The Step Ladder - Step 1

I wrote this article many years ago for a parenting magazine. Because it briefly summarises my own experience as well as the journey I travelled throughout my stepparenting days, I thought I'd start this new  year by posting it on this blog. What you are about to read is part 1 of a 3 part article, which I hope will provide some encouragement to you.

When I married, some 20+ years ago, I not only acquired a husband but also ‘inherited’ two boys, aged 3 and 4. Young, impressionable and still believing in the ‘living happily ever after’ fairytales of my childhood, I attacked my ‘new job’- that of a stepmother, with energy and gusto. The first hiccup occurred when the children’s biological mother, who had been an inconsistent but important presence in their lives, decided that she really wasn’t needed any more and simply disappeared (not to be seen again for 14 years). This threw the children into confusion, distress and grief – feelings, which took many years to resolve. For me it was merely the beginning of a long and sobering journey through every conceivable emotion (mostly painful ones!). I felt overwhelmed, cheated and despaired. I was convinced that I was a failure at this mysterious thing called mothering, was resentful at the many difficulties that step-parenting seemed to present, was angry with my husband, the children, the vanished ‘ex’ and most of all with myself. I wanted to run away, declare this whole step-parenting thing a big mistake and start over somewhere, somehow - ALONE.   

Instead I chose to struggle on, until about 10 years into my marriage and two natural sons later when, physically exhausted, emotionally drained and spiritually bankrupt, I decided that if anything was going to change in my family life experience, the change would have to begin with me. This was the turnaround and the first step that led me onto a different journey – one of self-discovery, personal growth and development. An understanding of the following LIFE SKILLS was birthed throughout this time and helped make the second half of my step-mothering experience a much easier and more pleasurable one. 
Life skill 1- Respect yourself 
Do you know that you can only give to others what you have yourself? For instance, if you don’t have a coat, you cannot give it to someone else who might be freezing. Likewise this is true for your internal treasures and possessions. You cannot give love, compassion or nurture to anyone else if you do not have it for yourself. As most of us never question whether we possess these treasures until we are called upon to share them with someone else, it can come as a terrible shock when we discover our own emotional bankruptcy. If this has happened to you, do not despair. It is never too late to acquire these treasures  – in fact, right now is a good time to begin. 
Respecting yourself means listening to your own needs, desires, hopes and dreams. It means treating yourself with the kindness, caring and love you would extend to your very best friend. It means cherishing your body, soul and spirit and providing for each what they need in order to be healthy, well fed, balanced and content. 
Respecting yourself means learning about yourself – discovering who you are, your good sides as well as the ones you aren’t so proud of and accepting them all as uniquely yours. Practical ways you can respect yourself as a stepmother: 
  • Realize that you have chosen a difficult journey.
  • Examine your expectations of how it should be and accept the reality of how it is.
  • Make a list of the things you enjoyed doing pre step-parenting and ensure that you continue doing at least some of them.
  • Make time for yourself (to nurture your soul!) – paint, write, play tennis, work out at the gym, listen to music - do something daily, no matter how small, that pleases you.
  • Tune in to your feelings. Realize that disappointment, anger, hurt, confusion and rejection are feelings that are common to the step-parenting experience.
  • Talk about these feelings to someone you trust – don’t bottle them up!
  • Ensure that you release your stress in a healthy way - meditate, listen to relaxation tapes, jog or do whatever has worked for you in the past.
  • Discover the positives in your situation and re-affirm them when the going gets tough.         ....and be sure to celebrate every joyful moment!

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