Coping with a Troubling Ex

I’m including a guest post today from Shawn Hartwell, founder and CEO of StepSpeak in Quebec, Canada.

My girlfriend and I often struggled and fought in a toxic relationship. I wanted us to be together but didn’t realize I was making the same mistake over and over again, trying to sustain a relationship that took its toll on me emotionally.

After I became a stepfather I was relieved I didn’t have to contend with the biological father of my stepson. However, in stepfamilies, we often have to deal with emotional confrontations with ex-spouses. Here are a few tips I’ve learned.

1. You can’t control other people.

It would be wonderful to be able to control every aspect of our lives of the people we encounter, but it’s simply not possible. I wish I had learned this years ago when, as a teenager, I was so filled with rage that it blinded me. I was not able to see the truth through the glasses of emotional anger that I was wearing at the time.

The sooner we accept the fact that whatever this person is doing in our life cannot be controlled, the sooner we’ll be able to look at things in a more objective way, instead of allowing our emotions to control us.

2. Know when to go to battle.

We tend to give our minds too much freedom to alter the reality that we see, much like how an abuse victim and his or her abuser don’t see the situation in the same light. Talk it out with yourself and determine if the issues you’re about to bring up really warrant a discussion.

There are often situations that we think are problems, when we’ve actually created a much bigger problem in our head than really exists. Choose the battles you need to fight with your ex carefully.

3. Use your free time wisely.

Time is the most valuable resource we have. I treat time with more value than money and material possessions. As a stepparent, we often feel that when our stepchild goes with his biological parent, we’re missing out and will digress with the bonds we’re seeking.

However, when our stepchild is gone, it’s a great time to develop our own interests and spend quality time with our spouse. It also helps to alleviate the tension we feel toward the biological parent if we focus on our own needs and enjoy time to ourselves, rather than focus on what we’re missing with our stepchild.

4. Know your options and when you need outside help.

You can never underestimate the power of seeking advice from friends, family or a professional. There may even be situations where you need to consult an attorney or a law enforcement officer. I have seen the effects of not alerting the proper professionals or authorities.

If you suspect abuse or negligence of your stepchild, don’t hesitate to get help.

Coping with a troubling ex can be, well…troubling. However, it doesn’t have to encompass your life. Make smart decisions in taking care of yourself, seeking to meet your own needs, in addition to the needs of your stepchild, as you work through difficult issues that arise.

How do you cope with a troubling ex? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Shawn Hartwell is a laid-back, free thinking, young and driven person who wants to help people, secure my family’s future and leave my mark on our world. I enjoy biking, walking, jogging, nature, tea culture, spending time with friends & family and learning new things in areas of interest. He blogs at StepSpeaks here.

 

pic by David Castillo Dominici

Surefire Ways to Beat Summer Burnout as a Stepparent

As the summer begins to wind down for many of us, the days are HOT and long. Stepchildren around every day can make for additional challenges.

Coping with Summer Burnout as a Stepparent

I’ve heard from several stepmoms lately who are barely treading water. Even with the best  plans for a fruitful and fun-filled summer, bickering kids with bad attitudes and not enough to do, create challenging days.

If you’re balancing work and a stepparenting role, it’s especially hard to keep your perspective on what to do next and how to stay sane! I’ve had one of those weeks lately!

Here are a few thoughts on how to make it through the rest of the summer without strangling your stepchild (just kidding, I know you’re not really planning that).

1. Check your mindset about the role you play.

Are you trying to play Super Stepmom while the kids are around for the summer, serving homemade meals every night and running them to every activity they request? Stop! There’s enough to do without heaping unrealistic expectations on yourself. Be kind to yourself and how much you’re willing to do.

2. Share your feelings with someone.

Be selective with who you talk to, but airing your feelings always helps. You don’t have to present every gory detail of drama; stick to how the situation makes you feel. Let your friend know you’re not looking for an answer or their advice–you just need to talk about what’s happening. Talking through our feelings also helps us identify our role and how we might be contributing to the situation.

3. Be careful you’re not neglecting your own needs.

If your stepchildren have spent the summer with you, or even a few weeks, reward yourself. It’s always an adjustment to have people in your home who don’t live there and it’s taxing to have stepchildren move in for the summer. Make time for a pedicure, movie with a friend, or date night with your spouse. Bitterness sets in when we constantly nurture others but neglect our own needs.

4. Plan something fun together.

What do you enjoy doing? What activities could the family do together that you would enjoy also? I took our son to the movie recently but negotiated with him on one that I wanted to see this time (that was appropriate for him also). We creates selfish hearts when we always allow our kids to dictate the activity without considering our wishes also.

5. Remember, “this too will pass.”

School will be back in session soon and your long summer days will be over. I’m looking forward to a break from our 100 degree temperatures every day and remind myself that thankfully, this season will soon pass.

Do you have other suggestions for summer burnout as a stepparent? I’d love to hear them.

Pic by digitalart

 

 

Celebrate Mother's Day with Stepmoms

Five Great Ways to Celebrate Mother’s Day as a Stepmom

One of the hardest hurdles to cope with as a stepparent is the reality that we make the same sacrifices as a biological parent but  reap very few rewards for our efforts. In his book, The Smart Stepfamily, Ron Deal gives three reasons why the stepmother role is even more difficult than the stepfather role.

“First, children tend to maintain more frequent contact with their noncustodial mothers. Second, children’s attachment to their biological mother is believed to be stronger than their attachment to their father, making the acceptance and bonding with a stepmother even more difficult. Third, because society expects women to achieve a higher relational standard than men, stepmothers feel greater pressure to build a strong attachment with stepchildren.”

We know it’s not easy being a stepmother, right? Thus, we have every reason to celebrate and affirm ourselves on Mother’s Day for what we do for our stepchildren. But we don’t have to wait and let our stepchildren’s response control our day.

Five Great Ways to Celebrate Mother's Day as a StepmomIt’s natural for stepchildren to honor their biological mom on Mother’s Day. Unfortunately, that could mean the stepmom gets left out.

So why not choose to create your own special day? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Spend Saturday night at a Bed and Breakfast and wake up Sunday morning to a breakfast prepared for you. Re-connect with your spouse as you reminiscence and celebrate the good things happening in your stepfamily.

2. Find another stepmom who’s  having a difficult time and spend the afternoon with her. Encourage her efforts and talk through her challenges. Laugh together and affirm each other for the special role you’re playing as you’re making a difference in your stepchildren’s lives.

3. Abandon your house and spend the day at a nearby lake, beach, bike path or hiking trail. Absorb the beauty of nature and remind yourself of God’s love for you through His creation, His sovereignty over your life, and His willingness to walk with you through difficult times.

4. Attend your favorite church service with a beautiful corsage on, signifying the important role you play as a stepmom. Then spend the afternoon with your spouse creating a “God box” that outlines prayer concerns for your stepfamily on small pieces of paper. As you drop each concern in the box, pray for your family’s needs. Keep the box going for an entire year and re-visit the box next year to see how God has answered your prayers.

5. Give yourself the gift of relaxation with a good book, time at the movies or a day at the spa with a girlfriend. Eat at your favorite restaurant and tell your family you’ll be taking the day off from chores. Pamper yourself in whatever way feels special to you.

Mother’s Day doesn’t have to be a difficult day for stepmoms. Plan your own celebration! You deserve it! And if your husband’s looking for a gift idea for you, tell him to send you to the Stepmom Retreat in September. It will be a great time of fellowship with other stepmoms and a place to find help, healing, and hope on your journey. Go here for details: http://blendedandbonded.com/events/

How are you celebrating this week-end? I would love to hear about it!

Pic by  posterize.  This post was originally posted 5/9/2012

Related Posts:

Celebrating Mother’s Day as a Stepmom

More Mother’s Day Thoughts

 

 

Five Great Ways to Celebrate Mother’s Day as a Stepmom

One of the hardest hurdles to cope with as a stepparent is the reality that we make the same sacrifices as a biological parent but  reap very few rewards for our efforts. In his book, The Smart Stepfamily, Ron Deal gives three reasons why the stepmother role is even more difficult than the stepfather role.

“First, children tend to maintain more frequent contact with their noncustodial mothers. Second, children’s attachment to their biological mother is believed to be stronger than their attachment to their father, making the acceptance and bonding with a stepmother even more difficult. Third, because society expects women to achieve a higher relational standard than men, stepmothers feel greater pressure to build a strong attachment with stepchildren.”

We know it’s not easy being a stepmother, right? Thus, we have every reason to celebrate and affirm ourselves on Mother’s Day for what we do for our stepchildren. But we don’t have to wait and let our stepchildren’s response control our day.

It’s natural for stepchildren to honor their biological mom on Mother’s Day. Unfortunately, that could mean the stepmom gets left out.

So why not choose to create your own special day? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Spend Saturday night at a Bed and Breakfast and wake up Sunday morning to a scrumptious breakfast prepared for you. Re-connect with your spouse as you reminiscence and celebrate the good things happening in your stepfamily.

2. Find another stepmom who’s  having a difficult time and spend the afternoon with her. Encourage her efforts and talk through her challenges. Laugh together and affirm each other for the special role you’re playing as you’re making a difference in your stepchildren’s lives.

3. Abandon your house and spend the day at a nearby lake, beach, bike path or hiking trail. Absorb the beauty of nature and remind yourself of God’s love for you through His creation, His sovereignty over your life, and His willingness to walk with you through difficult times.

4. Attend your favorite church service with a beautiful corsage on, signifying the important role you play as a stepmom. Then spend the afternoon with your spouse creating a “God box” that outlines prayer concerns for your stepfamily on small pieces of paper. As you drop each concern in the box, pray for your family’s needs. Keep the box going for an entire year and re-visit the box next year to see how God has answered your prayers.

5. Give yourself the gift of relaxation with a good book, time at the movies or a day at the spa with a girlfriend. Eat at your favorite restaurant and tell your family you’ll be taking the day off from chores. Pamper yourself in whatever way feels special to you.

Mother’s Day doesn’t have to be a difficult day for stepmoms. Plan your own celebration! You deserve it!

How are you celebrating this week-end? I would love to hear about it!

Related Posts:

Celebrating Mother’s Day as a Stepmom

More Mother’s Day Thoughts

Overcoming the Pain of Rejection

Grasping the Value of Boundaries as a Stepparent

As I was listening to my friend complain about the disrespectful behavior from her stepson, I couldn’t help but think, “Why haven’t you established some boundaries that would allow you to take care of yourself instead of putting up with his self-centered behavior?

We can require respect from our stepchildren, even if they don’t like us. Our actions or inactions teach others how to treat us. It helps to team up with our spouse and set some ground rules (i.e. yelling is not allowed, even when you’re angry), and then follow through with consequences if they’re not followed.

It isn’t our role as stepparents to be walked on, taken advantage of, or neglected. We have needs and wants also, and it’s okay to express our needs and learn how to take care of ourselves.

For example, I learned many years ago that I don’t deal well with chaos. It makes me nervous to spend a lot of time in an environment that is loud or uncontrolled. Since my husband and I have five children, I can’t completely avoid those situations.

However, I’ve learned that if I take a time-out for myself when we have large groups of kids at the house and let my husband be in charge for awhile, I can regroup and come back to the interaction refreshed. I want our kids to be comfortable having their friends over, so I’ve learned how to cope with my limitations.

I’ve also learned that I have less patience with my stepson and his ideas of post-college life than I do my stepdaughter’s quest for mature decision-making about her future. I’ve learned that my husband can guide my stepson better without the judgment and lack of understanding I experience. It’s more natural for me to spend my emotional energy influencing my stepdaughter regarding her long-term relationship or my biological girls with their current struggles.

As stepparents, we make constant sacrifices for our stepchildren and may see few rewards, particularly in the beginning. If we give up too much of ourselves in order to meet the constant needs of others, we will wind up frustrated or resentful. It’s our responsibility as stepparents to determine what we must do to take care of ourselves adequately.

I like the way Sue Thoele discusses boundaries in The Courage to be a Stepmom:. “With practice and commitment, taking care of ourselves and setting self-nurturing limits can become second nature. Cultivating the ability to say “no” to unreasonable responsibilities and expectations makes it easier for us to say “yes” to love and laughter.”

Do you need to practice saying “no” this week?

Related Posts:

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent: Part One

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent: Part Two

Holiday Mantra for Stepparents: Don’t Take it Personally

As we head into the holidays, life gets dicey. Emotions are heightened as we try to find the perfect gift for our stepchild or negotiate that last-minute schedule change with our ex.

And if we, as stepparents, are carrying emotions too closely to our heart, we can easily take flippant comments and haphazard looks personally.

But that’s a recipe for disaster.

When my stepdaughter was younger, I was overly sensitive to everything she said to me. One day we were talking about how she liked her mom to French-braid her hair and she said, “Why can’t you French-braid my hair? I think it’s weird that you don’t know how.”

Well, that was enough to hurt my feelings. I couldn’t recognize the fact that she wanted me to be more involved in her life and this was something we could do together. Instead, I took it as a personal attack.

The stepmom role is a complicated one but sometimes we make it harder because of our insecurities. We think we’ll never measure up to their biological mom and we compete with her and compare ourselves constantly, always coming up short.

If we learn to spend more time improving upon who we are already, we’ll be a better stepparent. And if our stepchild can’t accept us that way, that’s okay. God created each of us as a unique person.

We might be criticized for being someone different than our stepchild understands. Perhaps she can’t accept our short hair because her mom wears her hair long. Or maybe our stepchild doesn’t understand why we work from home when her mom leaves the house every day at 6:00 a.m. for a corporate job.

But, if we’re secure in who we are, it won’t bother us when our stepchild questions our choices. Our natural reaction becomes: I won’t take that comment personally or get defensive. I will accept her thoughts as her own, even if they’re different from mine.

Stepfamily authority Ron L. Deal says it best in his book, The Smart Stepfamily: “Stepparents cannot afford to be insecure. Stepfamilies were not made for the emotionally fragile.”

It’s easy to be overly sensitive to our stepchildren’s comments, particularly through the holidays. But as we become more confident and at peace with ourselves, we’re better equipped to foster a healthy stepparenting relationship, allowing critical or judgmental comments to slide right past us.

Will you adopt the holiday mantra: don’t take it personally? How might that influence your step-relationships?