Sometimes, as stepmoms, we can get lost in the day-to-day… schedules, pick-ups, drop-offs, what’s for dinner, money, bonding with the stepkids, making date night with the hubby, the “who-is-going-to-be-where-and-when”.
And when we get lost, it helps to have a few simple tips in your back pocket (or your tote, or your beaded clutch – whatever floats your boat) to remind you of some key steplife strategies. My stepkids have been doing a lot of reading work lately, so naturally I decided to go with an A, B, C format.
Always practice self-care. For you to be of any good to others, you have to make sure you are healthy – mentally and physically.
I know, I know, it’s easy to say that when I’m writing in my room after the kids have gone to bed, but it’s another story when they’re tugging on your sleeve asking for more milk, the dog is pacing by the back door, and you promised to bake a lemon meringue pie for the family dinner this weekend, and, and, and…
But you may be surprised at what happens when you make yourself a priority.
You come home from yoga or a coffee date with girlfriends, to find that everything and everyone is still in one piece. Or, if it isn’t quite up to snuff, at least you have the renewed mental energy to deal with it.
As Rachelle Katz says in The Happy Stepmother: 10 Steps to a Fulfilling New Life: “Too many stepmothers cannot achieve our purpose in life because our time is consumed trying to fix the problems in our stepfamilies. As a result, we feel overwhelmed, out of control, angry, depressed and resentful. You can reduce or even eliminate such destructive feelings if you take the time to fit self-care into your daily routine”.
Of course, not every problem can be remedied with self-care, but it can be a rejuvenating space for you to unwind, take a break, and recharge your batteries. It sets a great example for the kids in your life too, as they see you prioritizing your health.
Self-care looks different for everyone, and I’m not necessarily talking about a spa retreat (I wish)… it’s about taking a few minutes for YOU. Here are some suggestions to get you started, but you’ll find what works best for you.
- Grab a good book and head to a coffee shop
- Keep a journal
- Meet a friend for a catch-up
- Take a class in something that interests you
- Locking the bedroom door and watching anything with Ryan Gosling in it
Boundaries can save your marriage, and your stepfamily. Some people have the notion that boundaries are a bad thing, akin to putting up a wall around you.
However, as Jennifer Newcomb Marine and Jenna Korf state in Skirts at War: Beyond Divorced Mom/Stepmom Conflict, “When used conscientiously, boundaries can provide you with distance and protection from unwanted behavior. But you must continue to customize them for your unique situation until you find what works”.
If your husband’s ex-wife is frequently texting you with critical comments about how you care for the children, calmly tell her that you will be blocking her number and all communication will go through your husband from now on.
Most important boundary advice? Stick to it! If you waver, the behavior will not change. Stay strong ladies!
Perhaps your husband does not believe in a scheduled bed time for his young children.
This flies in the face of the 8pm pjs/teeth brushed/story time/lights out routine you had imagined. You are typically the one trying to get the kids up and out of bed in the mornings when they’re grumpy, won’t eat their Cheerios, put their shirts on inside out, and grunt in response to any question… It’s exhausting and frustrating.
After having socks thrown at you most mornings for the past few months, you calmly broached the subject with your husband, telling him that it would make your mornings much easier if they went to bed at a reasonable time.
Many conversations later, he still has not budged, so you decide to protect yourself by setting up a boundary. You let him know that you will be leaving the morning routine to him from now on, and you’ll start your day with a stroll around the block with Arthur (family dog) instead.
Your husband may come around and see your view after a few unruly mornings, or he may not. Either way, you are protecting yourself from the negative behavior that he is inadvertently causing.
Ideally, you are a stepcoupling team, but sometimes it doesn’t work that way and you’ve got to look out for yourself.
Communication, communication, communication! There is no relationship that has ever suffered from too much communication. With all the challenges that come with living in a stepfamily, it is critical that you and your hubby are able to honestly share your thoughts and feelings. Of course, within reason.
Biological parents have a different tolerance level for their own children’s behavior, so there is no need to burst his bubble by telling him all the ways that his kid drove you nuts today. But if there is something that could be changed to make your life easier and more comfortable, by all means – speak up! Let him know if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, need a break, would like the kids to help out a bit more around the house, would appreciate a date night, etc.
Remember, he’s a husband, not a mind-reader.
Susan Wisdom and Jennifer Green in Stepcoupline: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Marriage in Today’s Blended Family say that you need to “discuss your feelings with your spouse as best you can. Unspoken issues fester, and partners distance themselves from each other. Risky as honesty sometimes seems, the alternative is worse: a relationship in which you can’t be honest”.
Not only is communication key in your marriage, but it is also essential for co-parents.
Hopefully your husband and his ex are on at least civil terms, for the kids’ sake and for everyone else’s. But if they just cannot communicate in a healthy or productive way, perhaps parallel parenting is the key. In this situation, parents do not communicate unless absolutely necessary.
Each house has its own set of rules and parents do not work together to match those routines or expectations. No communication is better than hostile communication.
Last, but of course far from least, is the communication between your husband and his kids, and between you all as a stepfamily.
Kids should always be confident that mom and dad love them very much, and (when the time is right and if it feels right for you) that stepmom loves them too. Open lines of communication can stop little minds from worrying, and while the group chats are very important (around house rules and vacation plans), dad should make time to talk to the kiddos on his own.
Start and end the conversation with hugs and I love you’s.
So, there it is. Three quick tips for your steplife success:
- Always practice self-care
- Boundaries can save your marriage and family
Life is busy and complicated, but a few small changes can go a long way to having a more peaceful life.
On that note, my wine and bubble bath await… one of my preferred self-care practices.
Breathe deep, love deeper,
Erin is a PhD Candidate in Adult Education at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
A certified Stepfamily Coach, Erin has started her own business, Steplife – Stepmom Coaching and Support.
Erin and her fiancée Matt will marry later this year, and share their home with Matt’s two little ones – 8 year-old Oliver and 6 year-old Waverleigh .