My New Year’s resolution that will make me a better stepmom and partner!

The dust has settled and I’ve had time to reflect on 2017! It’s been a fabulous and life changing year. Today, I applied for a mortgage so we have a lot of exciting things to come in 2018.

Like most parents, I have strengths and things I wish I was better at.

But I am a strong believer in setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely (SMART) so I am only setting one goal related to my steparenting. In fact, I think it is absolutely ridiculous to only set goals once a year so once I’ve achieved this stepmom goal, I will set another. We’re always growing right?

This year I’ve decided to get off the emotional rollarcoaster.

As stepmums, we are involved with all kinds of emotionally charged situations. For example, sometimes, my stepchildren can’t wait to get to our house but other days they don’t want to come. In the past, this has caused me anxiety because I’ve worried that I am the reason they don’t want to come over! This hard to take when you’re working so hard to help them live lives full of opportunities.

What I need to remember is that I am they adult and they are the kids.

They have been put in a difficult situation that asks them to deal with ‘adult issues.’ They didn’t ask for this. Their lives have been complicated by the adults around them.

Of course, the boys’ emotions will change from minute to minute! But the best thing I can do, for them and me, is refuse to ride the emotional rollarcoaster with them. This will make me a better step-parent and partner but it will also make me A LOT happier.

Here’s how I have outlined my stepmom resolution using the SMART Goal Strategy:

Specific- Instead of reacting in an emotional manner and letting a situation control my day, I will reflect on the situation logically for 5 minutes. I am going to use the 5/5/5 rule (will this matter in 5 minutes, 5 months or 5 years?) to measure whether this is really a big deal. Thinking with a clear head will allow me to take the best course of action.

Measurable- I will know I’ve achieved this when I am able to let go of emotional situations and not let them consume me within 5 minutes (yes, I am crazy and I will actually time it).

Achievable- In order to achieve my goal, I am also going to make sure that when I feel anxious, I either discuss it with G right away or write it down so that we can discuss it together later. I can do this! It will make me happier and allow me to be a better stepmum!

Relevant- As a stepmum, the things that stress me out reoccur. The situation may be different but my reaction isn’t. I am going to develop a process for dealing with my emotions that is systematic and logical.

Timely- I am going to give myself until the end of February in order to make sure that the deadline isn’t too far away! Then I can review and revise it! If I feel like I’ve got a handle on this, then I’ll celebrate and set another goal!

Have you set yourself a Stepmom SMART goal yet?

Remember that perfection is not achievable but you can get pretty close!

You’ve got this ladies! I’d love to hear about your stepmom goals! Comment below. x

 

 

 

 

 

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Calling All Stepmoms: Escape Your Negative Thoughts Now!

Let’s just admit it. We all fall down sometimes. All of the good intentions and knowledge in the world can fail us. Last night, this happened to me. We went to see Star Wars followed by a visit to Pizza Hut. Thinking back, parts of the evening made me glow because it’s wonderful to see how we’ve grown as a family. But there was one black mark on the evening (This is where my obsession with perfection gets the best of me).

The boys begged G to sit with them in the film and at Pizza Hut, which left me feeling like the one who was unimportant and unwanted. I felt like the extra and not only that, I didn’t get to have quality time with G.

So the negative thoughts kicked. I started to think, “I do so much for this family and yet, I am always going to be second. I am always going to be the extra despite all of my efforts. I started to think, “Why do I even bother? I am only making things more difficult for myself!”

Of course, I don’t always feel this way but The “Star Wars Episode” wasn’t the first time I’ve felt like this.

Many of the stepmoms I speak to feel like they’re just the extra along for the ride.

All stepmoms will know that being a stepmum takes guts! No matter how “girly”  you are, you need to be a ninja and a wizard all at the same time.

To achieve bliss as a stepmum, you need to recognise YOUR negative thought patterns (because they might be different from mine) and find ways to stop them getting the best of you.

You need to have complete belief in yourself and your abilities (that doesn’t mean it can’t and won’t waver).

I’ve had people say to me, “I could never be a stepmum. I couldn’t handle being with a man who didn’t put his children first and I wouldn’t be able to handle coming second.” I call bullshit on this.  If you start to believe the myths that society throws at you, you will drown. When I start to wonder whether I’ve got it all wrong and I really should’ve listened to my family, colleagues and friends, I look in the mirror and say, “You are a force to be reckoned with. You are intrinsic to this family and you are worthy.” For this to work, you need to be able to say it with belief and conviction so choose something that suits you. If you like, borrow my mantra until you find yours but make sure you say it like you mean it!

Be brave enough to ask for what you want and be prepared for the fact that you won’t always get it (because life doesn’t work that way). 

This is a hard one but if you’re not brave enough to ask for it you won’t get it. Don’t put yourself at the bottom of the ladder. If something is important to you, say it at the time. Because afterwards isn’t good enough. You have not chosen to be part of a family in order to come last and you can’t blame anyone but yourself if you’re not clear about what you’d like to happen. You need to be able to have an open and calm discussion with your partner about what you would like to happen because you can’t expect them to guess. This also gives your partner the opportunity to explain their point of view and for you to reach a decision together.

Put things in perspective. 

I use the 5/5/5 rule to separate myself from the emotions I am feeling so that I can look at something logically. Will this matter in 5 minutes? 5 months? 5 years?  This isn’t a new trick but it can work wonders when you feel stuck in a negative vibe and just want to get on with your day already!

Remember the words of Yoda: “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”

Go out there and rock it ladies!

 

4 Questions to Help you and your Husband have a Conversation about your Stepchildren and their Behaviour!

We had a brilliant weekend. We played in the snow, read books and watched Love Actually!

It wasn’t with out its bumps though.

The boys have become typical ‘pre-teens’ and are starting to push the boundaries a little bit.

It’s just the little things. For example we’ll say it’s time to go to bed and that we expect them to be quiet and they’ll see how much noise they can ‘get away with’. We’ll say everyone needs to help unload the groceries and one of the boys will conveniently take a little longer getting his coat and shoes off so that the job is done by the time he arrives in the kitchen to help.

This doesn’t sound like a big deal (and it isn’t really) but G and I are used to only having to say things once.

On Sunday night, G had to speak to the boys four times before they were quiet at bedtime. I will admit that on this occasion, I seemed to forget everything I know about step-parenting and I wasn’t the most helpful partner. Instead of letting G deal with the boys’ behaviour and then discussing how we could deal with similar issues in the future, I made multiple suggestions to G that he really, “ought to be more strict, that they weren’t taking him seriously and that it was all ridiculous!”

I know. Not helpful. But in that moment, I couldn’t help myself.

G and I make a point of having regular conversations about behaviour management in order to make sure we’re both on the same page. We have these conversations frequently so that we can adapt our strategy to the different challenges that arise as part of stepfamily life. On Sunday night, instead of jabbering in G’s ear about how he wasn’t handling the situation properly, I should’ve waited until we were both ready to have a productive conversation about the boys’ behaviour.

However, so many stepmums who I speak to seem reluctant to have these important conversations with their husbands! Some find it awkward, others don’t feel as though their partner wants to listen to their concerns and even more are worried that the kids will begin to see them as the evil stepmother if they begin to set boundaries for themselves. So instead they suffer in silence.

I’m all about sharing things I’ve learned and helping stepfamilies succeed so here are some questions that should help you discuss behaviour and discipline with your husband. I have a tendency to approach these sorts of conversations in a systematic and militaryesque manner which isn’t effective. I’ve found that these sorts of conversations are much more positive when approached in light and open manner (easier said than done)! This means that your partner is less likely to feel as though they’re being dictated to.

1. What are the rules and expectations when the kids are at your house?

2. What does good behaviour look like to each of you?

Prepare yourself for the fact that you may have different views here and that you both might need to compromise. Try to be flexible without sacrificing the things that are most important to you.

3. What will the consequences be when the rules are broken and who will be responsible for making sure they happen?

4. What will discipline look like when you have the kids and your husband isn’t there and are you even comfortable with taking care of the kids on your own? Every family and every relationship is different so make sure you’re honest.

Stepfamilies are always evolving so you’ll need to come back to this conversation frequently.

Good luck and remember: “If at first you don’t suceed, try, try, try again.” — W.E. Hickson

You’ve got this! x

 

 

4 Tips to having a Brilliant Stepfamily Christmas!

My youngest stepson’s birthday is on the 21st of December. Last year, we spent part of his birthday scaling trees, in the dark, searching for perfect pine cones. Why? Because G and I hadn’t been organised enough to get Christmas ornaments. We’d tried. I’d picked out fabulous ornaments from Ikea online but by the time we actually got there, they’d sold out (they’d also sold out of Christmas trees).

We managed to acquire a tree on the last day of school because my youngest stepson told the receptionist that, “His Daddy still didn’t have a Christmas tree,” and she kindly let him walk home with it at the end of the day. G and I also bought the last box of Christmas lights in town for 50% off.

With the tree up, we still needed to decorate it which led to why we were clambering up trees on the longest day of the year. We decided to create ornaments from pine cones, spray paint them gold and hang them on our tree. The boys had a great time,we got to have a family adventure and in the end, the tree looked beautiful.

pine cone ornaments
My mother would be shocked. I actually managed a craft oriented task!

Everything turned out brilliantly and we had a great Christmas holiday but this year we are planning ahead. It’s the responsible thing to do. The Christmas holiday is important to us. We all need a rest and stepfamily life is already complicated enough. Last Christmas, we got lucky. When it comes to stepfamily life, flying by the seat of your pants is like flying too close to the sun. Like Icarus, at some point you’re bound to fall. In true military style we’ve come up with an SOP (standard operating procedure).

In order to make sure we have a brilliant Christmas this year, we are:

Planning when we will have the boys and what we will do as a family well in advance! The Christmas holidays are a very busy time and we don’t want the kids to feel like they’re being pulled in fifty different directions and co-parenting conflict does not create a pleasant holiday atmosphere. We also want them to be able to continue Christmas traditions they share with their Mum as well as build new family traditions with us.

Planning in time for us. If you don’t plan it, it’s not likely to happen. G and I want to take some time to enjoy each other’s company so we’ve planned in a few date nights (these don’t have to cost money) and we’re going on a mini break to Norway to visit some of my family.

Sorting out the tree, grocery shopping and presents before the holiday mania begins (so this weekend). I know this statement makes it sound as though I don’t enjoy any of this–decorating the tree is one of my favourite parts of Christmas–but his means we can avoid spending our holiday in overcrowded shops (maybe that’s your thing but it’s not mine) and it means that we have time cook a fantastic Christmas dinner (everyone helps with at least one thing), bake cookies with the boys, visit G’s family, watch Christmas films and actually enjoy the Christmas atmosphere.

Being flexible. With all the planning I’ve suggested above it’s easy to get a picture of what your ‘Christmas should look like’. I am telling you now. It is not going to go exactly to plan (I remind myself of this regularly). Be prepared and accepting of change. Holidays are often stressful and the last thing you want is stepfamily drama adding to it! Have a conversation with your partner and identify what is important to the two of you as well as a few things that you guys feel ‘must happen’ for your stepfamily to have a wonderful Christmas holiday (I know this seems like the opposite to being flexible). Once you have your ‘must happens’ established, it will be easier to accept other changes which are bound to occur.

So take some deep breaths, remember to be proactive and not reactive and drink some wine.

Merry Christmas!

 

Truth: The only people who are going to understand your situation are other stepmums.

I’ve read no end of articles telling me that the only people who will understand my feelings about being part of a stepfamily are other stepmums.

And every time I read one of these articles, I have an ‘ah-hah’ moment and I think to myself I must remember this so that the next time I need to vent, problem solve, or express my feelings I can make sure that I am speaking to ‘the right person’.

By ‘the right person’ I mean another stepmum.

Because your friends and family aren’t going to get this unless they’re also step parents. 

I love my friends and family and they are incredibly supportive but they don’t really get what being a stepmum means and that means that they aren’t always the best people to discuss my stepfamily issues with.

I know that some of my friends and family would be hurt if I told them that it isn’t helpful for me to discuss my stepfamily ‘puzzles’ with them. They do try their very best to be supportive but they’re are extremely few situations where I want to hear the words:

“Well, he better be worth it if he has three kids!”

“But don’t you think the Boys’ Mum has a point?” (Of course I consider her point of view, and sometimes I even end up agreeing with her but most times I just need to say how I feel. And that should be okay).

“You’ve made your bed and now you’ve got to lie in it.” 

And other phrases of that ilk.

Equally well, you need to find the right stepmum community for you. I found that a lot of the groups on social media were extremely negative and didn’t really focus on finding positive and supportive solutions to problems.

So, I’ve made sure that the people I’ve followed on Twitter or the Facebook groups I’ve joined are focused on proactive and positive solutions to the ‘complications’ that arise from stepfamily life.

I also check in with a few of the stepmums I know through work and have a quick review of the good, the bad, and the ugly! It’s brilliant when a quick lunchtime chat means that you head home with a much more positive outlook on things.

I am constantly looking for ways to expand and develop my stepmum circle. I think wine on Wednesday evenings might be the answer!

Make it your goal to expand your stepmum circle! We all need each other so that we can enjoy the privilege of being part of a stepfamily.

 

Co-Parenting–Remember, you’re all on the same side.

One of the first things people tend to ask me when they find out that I am a stepmum is, “What’s his ex-wife like?” There was a time when this probably would’ve been my first question. Now I know better.

Now my only answer to this question is that,”it doesn’t really matter what G’s ex-wife is like.” My response sometimes causes some raised eyebrows but the fact is that no matter how difficult a co-parenting relationship is, everyone involved usually has the same goal. My mum has always said, that when it comes to parenting, “everyone does their best with the skills they have.” In my experience as a teacher, coach and now as a step parent, this statement is almost always true. G, the Boys’ Mum and I all have the same goal; we may approach things differently. We may value different things but we all want the boys to be healthy, safe and happy.

It’s easy to forget this when you’re in a tricky situation. Initially, I used to get upset by our co-parenting conflicts. I found myself obsessing over them which was not at all helpful as it neither resolved the problem nor added to the brilliance of my day!  However, I have found that reminding myself that we are all working together, makes it much easier to cope. It helps me to be more patient, sympathetic and logical rather than overly emotional (which does still happen from time to time). As a result, co-parenting conversations can be productive rather than destructive and I can make sure that we come to a solution that we are all happy with.  I also recommend wine.

Remember, it’s not easy but nothing valuable ever is! X

 

4 Ways for Stepmums to Leave Negative Judgments Behind!

I hate it when people tell me, “Well, you chose a man with children,” and give me an unsympathetic look. As if anyone knows what they’re getting into when they decide to become a step-parent! But just like other parents, step-parents need people who are there to listen and support them.

It feels utterly horrible to seek help from someone close to you and leave the conversation feeling judged, demoralised and insecure. It’s incredibly easy to feel this way whether you are taking your first tentative steps into stepmotherhood or you’ve been practising the art of stepmotherhood for years. In my experience, people assume that because I am not a ‘real’ mum I couldn’t possibly understand, that I am far too young to be a good parent (Hello, I teach teenagers how to be brilliant human beings every day!), or that by being with a man who has children from a previous relationship I am ruining my life. None of these judgments are helpful (judgments rarely are)!

Here are some ideas of how you can leave all that negativity behind and step forward:

  1. Everyone needs a buddy! In order to flourish as stepmums, we must learn how to leave these unhelpful comments behind and find supportive networks that help us move forward (because this job is already hard enough). In my opinion, no one says it better than Atticus Finch: “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” There are plenty of Twitter and Facebook groups to join where you can discuss your step-parenting triumphs and difficulties. Take the time to look for one that suits you because if it doesn’t meet your needs, you won’t find it helpful. I’ve also made an effort to connect with acquaintances who I know are also step-parents. Their experiences may be different to mine but they definitely know how important it is to have someone to celebrate and commiserate with.
  2. Celebrate the small successes. It can feel awkward to share your ‘warm and fuzzy’ stepmum moments. I know that I’ve felt like it’s almost inappropriate for me to gush about how well the boys have done at sports’ day. Don’t be shy! Take a moment to dance around the staffroom to celebrate that your stepson recieved a merit for sitting smartly in assembly (Yes, I actually did this)! By highlighting the positives, it’s easier to forget the yucky moments. If dancing isn’t your thing, find another way of acknowledging those small victories.
  3. Surround yourself with positive messages. This sounds incredibly cheesy but it works. I’ve used phrases like, “You can do this!” or “You are smart. You are kind. You are important”. I have post-its with positive quotations and phrases in key places, my computer monitor, my handbag and even the pockets of some of my coats. You can also set reminders on your phone that will pop up and give you some encouragements or there are apps such as Mindful Moon which provide you with inspirational and positive quotations.
  4. Find a Playlist. I am passionate about music and dance so I use music to help me process my feelings. I slip my headphones on when I go for a walk,  when I’m on the train and even when I’m in the bath. I’ve got playlists for every feeling under the sun. For those of you who are super busy (aren’t we all?) Spotify even makes them for you!

Remember that it might take a few goes at making these strategies work for you so don’t give up at the first hurdle. Test and adjust. Just remember: you’ve totally got this!