National Stepfamily Day, celebrated on September 16th, is a day that recognizes the changing landscape of American families and supports the efforts of stepfamilies to provide its members with stability. It isn’t always easy to be a stepfamily member, and we stepmothers, especially, have the most difficult role according to most mental health experts. Consequently, we deserve an extra acknowledgement for our dedication and commitment for providing our stepchildren with a loving home.
Here are some tips to deal with the many challenges we face:
1. Revise your expectations about stepfamilies: Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding about stepfamilies is the myth that stepfamilies “blend” over time. While some stepfamilies do “blend,” many don’t. Too many stepmothers believe this myth, which creates an expectation for you to live up to. When the family doesn’t blend over time—which happens more often than not—stepmothers naturally feel ashamed and guilt-ridden about “failing” in some way. The truth is that “blending” is an ideal that occasionally occurs, but not a reality for most stepfamilies, nor a prerequisite for happiness. Members don’t have to love each other for stepfamilies to be happy; they just need to be respectful and compassionate. When your expectations are realistic, you feel happier.
2. Increase Your Positive Emotions: Many stepmothers are filled with rage, resentment, and bitterness from their stepfamily situation. While it’s completely understandable how women develop these negative emotions, unresolved anger doesn’t serve any useful purpose, and actually is toxic, corroding one’s health and ruining relationships. You can release negative emotions by choosing to focus on the positive aspects of your lives. This will give you a higher probability of attaining a sense of well-being. Here are two ways to focus on the positives in your lives:
Keep a gratitude journal
Expressing gratitude for the good things in your lives can be a challenge when most of your time is filled with chores and hard work. Even when things are going well, you may take good fortune for granted, and be complacent about expressing thanks. This is an easy mistake to fix, and keeping a gratitude list is an effective way to release stress, and improves physical and emotional well-being. Research has found that people who kept gratitude journals exercised more regularly, felt physically healthier, had more energy, and experienced more positive emotions and life satisfaction than people who recorded negative or neutral sentiments in a journal. They also experienced more optimism about upcoming events than those who did not keep journals, and were closer to achieving their goals after a two-month period.
Pay attention to the moment
You will be happier and healthier if you learn to savor life’s daily pleasures. Live in the moment, become more aware of everything you do, and enjoy the little things in your life. For instance, take pleasure in savoring the spray of hot water on your body when you shower, relishing your first sip of coffee in the morning, and snuggling with your pet. Your senses can be fully alert to everything surrounding you by practicing mindfulness of the moment, and this will help you to better appreciate your daily experiences.
3. Strengthen your Marriage: To be content as a stepmother, your relationship with your partner must be the most important priority in your life and his (right after your own well-being which should always come first.) A strong, effective partnership is an absolute necessity to survive the stresses of stepfamily life with your dignity and self respect intact. Couples who develop a positive climate in their relationship take time to have fun together, listen to each other in a caring manner rather than with criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or by giving each other the silent treatment. Happy marriages are filled with kindness, compassion, and respect, characteristics that promote emotional health for each partner.
4. Disengage, when necessary: Disengaging can be quite effective for those of you who are burned out from excessive responsibilities, over-involvement in stepfamily crises, or enduring toxic relatives for too long. Disengagement is a process in which you pull back from some responsibilities or relationships. Withdrawal can be gradual, from just one activity that causes you distress, to completely avoiding an abusive stepfamily member. When you limit your contact with difficult people, you are no longer in a position to be ignored, rejected, or taken advantage of. Disengaging is not necessary for all stepmothers. It is a method of last resort, an option to use after you have tried all the other ways to improve your circumstances, without success. In some circumstances, disengagement can be the most effective means to regain control of your life.
5. Reach out to other stepmothers for support and acknowledgement: Being a stepmother can be a lonely experience even when surrounded by many family members. You may not feel comfortable sharing your difficulties with family and friends, concerned that you will be criticized and judged, so you stuff your negative feelings inside where they can fester and grow. You can release these negative feelings by sharing them with those who understand what you are going through. Connecting to other stepmothers can soothe your deepest wounds.
Give these suggestions a try. They have helped many other stepmothers achieve contentment and happiness.