What Am I Grateful For? YOU !

I am grateful for those that choose to enter into stepfamily life. Whether you're the stepparent who decides to 'give it a go' with someone who has children from a previous relationship or you're a biological parent who drums up the courage to give love another chance despite past hurts. Both involve courage and give credence to the notion that marriage or long-term commitment is alive and well.

In my work with step-couples I more times than not am faced with one of them—most often the stepparent—feeling as if the things they do contribute little or nothing to the overall stepfamily dynamic. As described by my clients, they end up determining the value of their actions by the responses they get in return. This is unfortunate because despite others' reactions, they're efforts are important and do have value.

As a fellow stepparent I understand how it feels not to have gestures of kindness reciprocated and I am not dismissing the hurt this causes. As a stepfamily coach, though, I know that you—yes, you as the stepparent—do have influence on your family … even if they don’t let you know.

This also applies to the biological parent. What you say and do to both your kids and your partner matters. It is through these actions that the path down which your stepfamily goes is forged. You have an incredible influence on how your partner will integrate into the mix and can help—not force—the relationship that will develop between he/she and your kids.

And for this—stepparents and biological parents who decide to be a stepfamily—I am forever grateful. 


What Am I Grateful For? Ah-Ha Moments … 

What Am I Grateful For? I'm grateful for ah-ha moments. Simply explained as those moments when I realized the "why" behind either my own actions or someone else's in my stepfamily. Even if the other person does not specifically tell me the reason behind their behavior, I benefit from personal derived insight that helps me in my own perspective on the given situation.

For example, when I first came into the picture my mother-in-law had an uncanny knack of sharing with me how my partner's ex-wife would do things. Although she didn't present this information in a way that put down me, I found it extremely hurtful. After awhile the mentions of the ex-wife subsided and I came to realize that she did this because it was her only point of reference. Her son's divorce was the first one she had ever experienced so in her own way she was figuring out what it meant to have an ex-daughter-in-law and a new daughter-in-law simultaneously.

The realization I made was an eye-opening ah-ha moment for me. And even though it didn't change the fact of how I felt about the disclosures, it allowed me to see them for what they were—my mother-in-law's way of making sense of the new stepfamily dynamic and in her own way relating to me. Bottom line, it wasn't a personal attack on me.

Take a moment and reflect on any insights you've made in your "step" role. Be sure not to take them for granted as they provide useful information that will help you in the ever-fluctuating experiences stepfamily life brings. 


What Am I Grateful For? My Own Missteps … Read on to find out why ...

What Am I Grateful For? This goes along with the acting out behaviors I wrote about in my earlier post. In addition to these (which can seem like irritating and purposeful behaviors), I am also grateful for missteps … particularly, MY missteps.

The reason is because they almost force my hand in broaching certain topics with both my partner and stepdaughter. It's important to acknowledge the influence I have on my stepfamily and hold myself accountability for these influences. Nothing does this better than when I –for lack of a better way to describe it—mess up.

Please don’t confuse this with me liking or even welcoming my own mistakes. But since I'm unable to turn back time and undo them, I choose to honor my missteps and go about making them 'right' in my subsequent actions.

For those times when you make the non-wisest of choices in your stepparent role, I offer the below (5) suggestions you can take to turn your missteps into purposefully directed actions that can actually benefit you.

  1. Fine-turn your awareness of how your behaviors –verbal and nonverbal—impact those around you. The words you use and the actions you choose deliver messages, and are most often driven from your current state of mind both emotionally and cognitively.
  2. With heightened awareness you'll start to realize more and more when you say something out of anger—which is only a smoke screen for more deeply seeded feelings such as fear and sadness. Upon this realization, acknowledge it to both yourself and to the person you spoke it to.  Do this in the moment if you’re able to from a non-emotional place or wait until later when your communication will be productive as opposed to destructive.
  3. Accept responsibility with the words you speak. Use "I" statements to communicate how something made you feel and that your resulting behavior was not a good choice. Also, share how you would have preferred to have responded and if you're unsure, ask for the other person's thoughts.  
  4. Listen to the response you get … listen with the mission to "see" the experience from their perspective rather than merely waiting for them to stop talking so you can rebuttal. Repeat back what you've heard them say in order to ensure you understand correctly. If you don't, ask for clarity.
  5. Empathize with the other person. Remember that empathy does not mean you need to agree with their perspective—just acknowledge their right to have an opinion that differs from yours. Implementing the intervention described in #4 above—listening to understand—will help you develop the skill of empathy.

What have I gained from my own missteps? In my relationship with my stepdaughter I've been able to send the message that I'm figuring this "step" dynamic out too … she and I are in this together, each of us stepping lighting (and at times mis-stepping) as we create what our stepmom-stepdaughter relationship will look like both today and in the future.

It has been my journey through my missteps that has led me to great personal insights and the opportunity to learn what drives my own behaviors; and hence, the ability to address those drivers so they start to work to my benefit. Following the steps outlined above, you too can experience a shift in your own missteps from a place of wrong doing to that of a place of growth.     


What Am I Grateful For? Acting out behaviors… WHAT?! Read on to find out why

While it may be confusing at first, I'm grateful for acting out behaviors. Why? Because they offer an opportunity to gain a better understanding of both yourself and the person acting out. And while these behaviors are not preferred, you (just like I) have a choice as to how you perceive them. It is this aspect of the acting out experience that I challenge ... the part that you control … where you place your focus.

You may be wondering how possibly you could perceive an action that deeply hurts as not being directly aimed at you. While these actions may leave you feeling discredited and disrespected, I offer you the below 5 interpretations to consider:

1. As the stepparent you become an easy target onto which your stepchild's anger, frustration, sadness and confusion can be placed. In essence you are a safe outlet for these unsettling feelings because you are not the biological parent. In dumping on you your stepchild isn't jeopardizing (from their eyes) their relationship with their parents.

2. In most cases the behavior is not aimed at you but rather on what you represent. Whether it's you or someone else, the stepparent role is a daily reminder that the child's parents are not together. Even for stepchildren who have experienced the death of one of their biological parents, you are a physical reminder of this loss.

3. Children may feel, even at a subconscious level, that acting out towards you is a way for them to hold allegiance to their parents-particularly the one that is not present. For instance, acting out towards a stepmom may be seen as honoring the biological mother. The same would hold true for a stepdad. Loyalty binds, while normal for stepchildren to experience, are the culprit of this dynamic.

4. Acting out behaviors may be driven by the stepchild's desire to remove you from the picture in hopes their parents will get back together. As a stepmom myself I don't like the sound of this possibility. This desire is not aimed at you specifically, though, but rather at the role you fill. In their mind you may represent the one thing keeping their parents apart. And while this most likely is not the case, it could be their reality.

5. Lastly, acting out behaviors may be their way to 'test' your commitment and if you're in it for the long haul. If you've said that you care than will you still care after they've behaved badly? Will you having said you're committed still be true after something goes poorly? Depending on your stepchild's age these exact sentiments may not be going through their head. Regardless, though, if they've experienced instability with their parents splitting up it's not a far stretch to think they're testing your stability in the new stepfamily dynamic.

With the above possible interpretations to consider, it's important to remember that acting out behaviors are just that … behaviors that stem from something other than what is first apparent. Here is where the opportunity arises to gain a true understanding of what may be driving the maladaptive behavior. And as a stepparent you have a choice to address these or quietly accept their likelihood. 


Did You Know? 

In addition to discovering that stepmoms experience more depression and anxiety than biological mothers, the work of Lisa Doodson, PhD, also found that stepmoms receive less social support in carrying out their duties. This, compounded by the fact that the efforts of stepparents often go unacknowledged, can only perpetuate the feeling that things won't improve. What once felt difficult can now seem impossible.

Living "in step" is a never-ending process filled with discovery, readjustment and trial-n-error. And while some days will be better than others; each one presents a new beginning to either extend an olive branch or focus on self-care –which is an essential component of stepfamily life. Choose what you need in the moment and remain open to making a different choice tomorrow.

The opportunity each day presents to start fresh applies not only to you but to all stepfamily members. Each person learns the ins-and-outs of stepfamily life on a daily basis through triumphs and mistakes made. Try to give them the benefit of the doubt that, just as you are figuring out the "step" dynamic, they are too.