Stepfamily life doesn’t feel natural. It’s a blending of individuals who wouldn’t be navigating family life together. It is undefined, yet we have biological roles to play. Some fall into the roles easier than others and some never do.
For us stepmoms we try to find our way through this nebulous place every minute of every day. We hold the space for our partner. We hold the space for our stepkids. We hold the space for the ex. We want to be liked by the children, the ex, the previous shared friends. We want to be part of the family. We want to feel we belong. But we tend to put ourselves last in an effort to manage and care for everyone else because it’s the “right” thing to do. Putting your self-care back in the trunk while you put everyone in the front seats will put you on the fast track to being agitated, resentful, and disconnected.
Let’s start with where we can contribute. We have influence over our household, our partner, and the kids, but we don’t have control. This is where things can get challenging. We live in a space where our role is being defined after a family has been in place, whatever the health of that family dynamic was/is. We are navigating uncharted waters in our homes to find a natural flow. Some days it feels like you’re all sailing together into the beautiful sunset on calm waters, but other days it feels you are the lone hiker trying to reach the summit.
We all want a sense of control, it’s in our ego to fight for this. Most of us don’t even realize when it’s creeping in, but suddenly we find ourselves in a place of extreme frustration or anger. Control will get you satisfaction in the moment, but it ultimately gets you nowhere. It feels good to feel you’ve “won”, but we are all trying to live in harmony and create balance while raising kids who didn’t choose this life they are living.
Instead of having a power struggle with yourself or others in the family consider making suggestions (not demands) on what you are feeling could be an alternative way. Offer suggestions on how you see where things could run smoother. You have a valid perspective and deserve to be considered, but you don’t want to beat anyone over the head with your suggestions…especially your partner. He deserves to have one topic at a time given to him. You will get further in your discussions if you stick to a topic and don’t bring in a whole list of grievances. This will allow for him to trust you and not feel undermined and ultimately he will be open to more of your suggestions in the future. But the moment you voice it, let go of any attachment to the outcome. This is where your work will be.
I have ridden the roller coaster of being helpful and suggesting things. I’ve overwhelmed my partner and then I would be frustrated and annoyed because I’ve lost the sounding board and partner in my household. Let me be your tour guide here and save you some trouble: Approach one topic at a time with your partner and then let go. Give him space to process before you approach with more. If you are attached to how he wants to raise his kids you’ll end up living in a world of frustration. It takes time, it takes trial and error, and it takes patience, but you both kind find your way of relating to one another that feels good to you both. Celebrate the baby steps as they lead into the creation of new patterns.