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Summer Sanity in Stepfamilies – Is There Such a Thing?

June 22nd, 2010

School’s out and summer vacation begins…

Vacation for kids and stepkids is hardly a vacation for the parents raising them. “ Do this, do that, take us here, there and everywhere…NOW!”

The kids complaining -THERE’S NOTHING TO DO. The begging -Can so and so come over? I need money to go to the mall? Everyone else gets to go ______ or do _____ except me!  You’ve heard it all a million times.

The moody sulks, the tears, and the energy…oh my! And by the way kids, especially preteens and adolescents, are the CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE, because that’s what they’re supposed to be.  (Aren’t you glad your kids are normal?)

Even though my kids are grown up now, I remember the long summers when they were young. Relentless and exhausting.  You work yourself to the bone to please, accommodate, and satisfy.  And you worry way too much about how the “little darlings” are doing…where they are and WITH WHOM.  If you’re a stepparent, you wonder if you’re fitting the bill at all! Still you go for perfection.  Doesn’t every parent want to be the best?

So stop yourself! Step back. Take a break.  You have to say NO sometimes.  Take care of YOURSELF.  You do count… you do have a life!  Have some fun.  Go to yoga or exercise class, get a pedicure, have a drink with a friend. Get off the computer, get out of the car, and leave the dirty dishes in the sink.

Free yourself up, breathe, and relax.

Gotta go now.  I’ve been on the computer way too long.  I’m going for a walk.

See you later…

How will you take care of yourself this summer during those long summer days?  Think about it and make a plan, if necessary. Leave a comment here so others can learn from you too.

Susan Wisdom
Licensed Professional Counselor
June 2010

Tired of Stuck? – You CAN Make the First Move to Change

June 15th, 2010

If you always do what you did… you’ll always get what you got.
(Old Southern expression)

There’s no place where this is more evident than in stepcoupling.  If you’re doing the same crummy things over and over, repeating the same fights, feeling the same bad feelings…you’re stuck with what you got.

Do you ever think that it’s time to change?  Do you ever think that you could play a part… like maybe changing yourself and your behaviors?

Being in a stepcouple and stepfamily is a perfect opportunity for self-awareness and change. Stepcoupling is not for wimps or weaklings… but rather the strong and brave.  In stepcoupling, you have a fresh chance to move forward from the past, take responsibility for who you are and what you want to develop in your stepfamily. In stepcoupling, you’re given a chance to stand up to the plate and change – a chance to build new relationships with yourself… your spouse…your stepchildren…your own children… even your ex-spouse.

Seize the opportunity!

If you find that your fights only lead to anger, blaming, and jealousy, back off and take a look.  Experiment with a new view and approach. Start with having a conversation with yourself.  Reflect back on the reasons you fell in love and agreed to partner up as a stepcouple.

Think about what you thought it would be like and compare it to what it is.  I’m sure your complaints have to do with kids and stepkids, problems with interfering exes, not enough time together…and who knows what else.  We’ve all been there!  The honeymoon is over and reality presents itself on a daily basis.  This is the time to build and normalize the relationship you want.

Think about you and your partner as a stepcouple team.  How do you want that partnership to be?  With love…aka attraction, sex, need, compatibility… as the glue that sealed the deal in the first place…how do you keep that connective glue working for you? Your goal should be to build an effective …and loving… day-to-day working stepcouple team?

In developing a working partnership, you begin with effective communication skills.  You talk calmly and openly because this is the only way your partner will be able to listen, stay and respond. (If you’re angry and blaming, he’ll react with a fight or flight reaction for sure!)   You set the pace.  As a stepcouple, you want to be able to hear, understand, respect and depend on each other now… and in the future.

Let’s be honest!  While staying calm and open is important in stepcoupling, it’s also very hard to do. Emotional buttons get pushed easily with all the challenges in stepfamilies… stepkids driving you crazy, difficult exes, child support payments that stress beyond belief. There’s always something that pushes you to the limits.

And when that happens, WHO do you want to listen and sooth you, calm you down, and love you through it? Answer: you want your partner to be there for you!  If the stepcouple can learn to support and be there for each other, everyone will benefit…adults as well as the kids.

Set the stage by practicing these positive behaviors in your stepcouple relationship.  When it works, enjoy the results. When disappointed, don’t give up.  Keep trying.

Don’t wait and hope for others to change.  The change can start with you.

Susan Wisdom
Licensed Professional Counselor
June 2010

Playing the “If Only” Game – Doesn’t Work in Stepcoupling

June 2nd, 2010

In stepcoupling, it starts with falling in love…of course!  We’re convinced that we’ve found the right mate in spite of some concerns … like kids, exspouses, child support payments, parenting responsibilities, etc. No worries though. It’ll work out over time.  And for many, it does

For others – not so well.  Many people in stepcouples ARE SURE that their choice was right and that they’d have the perfect relationship IF ONLY… her kids weren’t part of the deal …or the ex would suddenly vanish from their lives… or he’d met you first before marrying her.   This is what people believe and vigorously play out in the If Only Game of stepcoupling. This way they don’t have to change, stretch, or take responsibility.  It’s a great excuse.

I’ve seen and heard stories of people believing these myths with all their hearts. I’ve seen stepcouples live in separate quarters of houses – she with her kids and he with his, eating meals and raising kids separately while the stepcouple shares little more than a common bed together.  I’ve seen 2 mini families living together in one house with tension building between the two forces. Each parent protects themselves and their offspring from the other side.  They say they “love each other very much”…until they can’t stand each other.  It’s not surprising that these relationships end in divorce. They have plenty of reasons to blame the other side and leave in a huff.  Parting shot is  if only … or if only you…

They love each other, but they just can’t deal with the day to day hassles and responsibilities of stepfamily life.  They live for the breaks from the kids, their weekends alone to rekindle and be intimate. They live in two different worlds that conflict with one another– one, loving, protecting and raising one’s biological kids and the other sustaining a stepcouple relationship.

Successful stepcouples can handle both with integrity and appreciation for what it is.  They don’t obsess about what they don’t or can’t have, or what they lost in the past.  They work on what they have together.  They do so with conscious attention to boundary issues and conflicts. They communicate and deal with the issues openly.

Lets face it!  Accepting some one else’s children and inviting them into your own family is definitely a challenge.  Dealing with one’s ex-spouse is hardly smooth and natural. Dealing with a partner’s ex is even harder. It all takes motivation, maturity, and incredible patience.

Three questions for stepcouple partners to consider when dealing with stepchildren and exes:

  1. Given that your stepchildren won’t simply disappear, do you want your marriage to endure?  If it continues, they’ll be present.  Is this prospect tolerable?
  1. Are you willing to consider the possibility that you could have a different relationship with your stepchildren, even if they don’t change?
  1. Are you willing to consider including rather than excluding your stepchildren?  Are you willing to consider doing something different?

(Excerpts, Page 63, Stepcoupling: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Marriage in Today’s Blended Family, Three Rivers Press, 2002.)

These are hard questions, but it’s only by doing some honest thinking about yourself and your situation that can lead you to stop playing the If Only game and work towards accepting/embracing what you have.  What you have is a stepfamily which includes children and exspouses from previous relationships…and that’s just the beginning.

Susan Wisdom
Licensed Professional Counselor
June 2010

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