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* Is living in a Blended Family or a Stepfamily “more than you bargained for?”

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* Is the tension and conflict taking its toll on your relationships

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Mother's Day - Stepmother's Day ??

2009-05-08

Step Institute

MOTHER’S DAY – STEPMOTHER’S DAY ??

As a mother, stepmother and someone who works in the area that I work in, it is truly a testament to the busyness of our lives and it is quite humbling for me to admit that I almost forgot about Mother’s Day this year. At the very least, I had decided that it wasn’t happening for another week or so and I was quite surprised to find out mid week that this Sunday was in fact Mother’s Day. And that quite simply, is why you are receiving this Newsletter in the nick of time – 2 days before the celebrated day.

Which brings me to the theme of our newsletter for this month. How do we celebrate Mother’s Day and for those who may not feel like celebrating it or feel very much on the outside of it, how do you put this day into perspective and make sense of it? Obviously I am speaking mainly to stepmoms right now and from my experience and the experience of many women I work with, this is not a day that often feels celebratory, and that can be especially true in the early years of being a stepmom. So how do you give yourself something that you may either be wishing would come from your partner or his children, and how do you deal with the thoughts that lead to the feelings of being unloved, unappreciated and sometimes simply unnoticed?

I also want to touch on how you can communicate with your partner what would be meaningful and helpful to you on this day. The first thing is to get past the idea that your partner will know what you are experiencing and what you need in order to feel more included in the family and at the very least appreciated by him. We all carry around certain notions about our partners “knowing us” because they love us, and thereby knowing what to do or what to say to make us feel good and this is just simply not the case. For all of us in partnership or relationship, there are usually many things we know about our partner and sometimes we even act on these in the ways that speak to them. But often we don’t, men and women alike. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in working with stepfamilies, it’s that it can be even more difficult for individuals to understand or appreciate someone else’s unique experience, which severely limits the ability to empathize, validate or meet the other person’s needs. So we need to move past the ideas that they should “get it” and that when they don’t “get it” it means they don’t care.

I strongly encourage stepmoms to speak with their partners, without blame and criticism, and simply let them know how it feels to be on the outside sometimes and especially on days like these that have traditionally been special family times for previous families, and that carry a lot of memories, happy and painful. Typically our disappointment can lead to anger so when we communicate with our partner about how we feel, we can end up pointing the finger at people who are disappointing us and not appreciating us, - our partner and his children come to mind.
Being proactive and honest without the anger, which is so much easier if you don’t wait for 5 years to speak to your needs in the relationship and the family, will create a dialogue that will be far more productive in getting some attention to your needs while also nurturing your couple relationship. This is because you’re approaching it in an authentic, honest and straightforward, not accusatory manner.

The other thing to bear in mind is that this Special Day is one like so many other days, where many people are confused about how to actually include us as stepmoms and more importantly how to do it without taking away attention from the biological mother in the picture. So kids that appear on the surface to be disregarding and not appreciating us or showing us any particular attention on this day, or any other day for that matter, are often confused about how to do this and often feel a conflict of loyalty between making this day about their “real mom” and somehow also including us. And many of course, are also simply fixated on their biological mom because this is the way it has always been and without guidance from the adults, may simply not think to do anything different.

I also find that when stepmoms are “left out” it is rarely (not always, but rarely) an overt message of exclusion, but something that naturally transpires out of confusion, lack of knowledge about how to talk about these things and lack of a plan on the part of the adults. Even when a couple separates or divorces, the responsibility falls to each parent to facilitate their children doing something for the other parent on days such as this, birthdays etc. So it takes some planning and forethought. No exception when it comes to stepmothers, or stepfathers. It’s the adults who need to take the lead or make suggestions or even give nudges to the older children around to do some of this.

So it is really comes down to us as Stepmoms identifying what would have some meaning for us on that day, and communicating that with our partner. For many of us, the idea of asking for what we want can seem difficult and unappealing when what we really want is for everyone else who we spend so much time taking care of or maybe just accommodating to, to figure it out or just know what would make us feel good, and then surprise us with thoughtful tokens of their appreciation. When this happens it is wonderful, and yet it is more likely to happen when you have been in a family for a number of years because people know you and especially if you have made the decision to let your partner know over time how this day can have some meaning for you. And then again, it may not happen this way, even after many years.

And then there are those of you who have been slogging it out for years and there just never seems to be any recognition or appreciation thrown your way. If the resistance level to your relationship, on the part of the kids is still high after a long period of time, and it is causing problems in your relationship, then the last thing one should expect, unless you really want to feel disappointed, is for Mother’s Day to offer you anything different. If after you have been in a relationship for a long time and you are experiencing resentment about where you fit in the family and “who cares” anyway, then this is not a Mother’s Day problem, this is a reason for seeking out some professional help to deal with the underlying issues in your relationship and in your family.

The opinions on the subject of Mother’s Day range on this subject so you simply have to choose the one that suits you and is the best fit for your relationship with your partner, and then work within those parameters.

1.) Biological Mother’s Day

Some would say that Mother’s Day is simply that – a Day to commemorate the contribution of one’s mother – of which we only have one. In this case, it is a Day for Biological Mothers. Of course if the children do not have a living biological mother, then there may be more impetus to want to celebrate this day with a stepmom who has filled that void and in many respects become that person to the children. If you choose to leave this day to the biological or adoptive mothers of the world, then you simply remove yourself from the equation, reduce or remove your expectations about it being about you in any way, and then your frustration and disappointment will be minimal. If this is the way in which you choose to see it. I know many folks who choose this option and it works for them quite nicely.

2.) Stepmother’s Day

If you choose to ascribe to the above take on Mother’s Day, then you could choose another day, or a way for either you and your partner, or the whole family depending on the situation, to celebrate your involvement in the family. Ie. Your partner taking you out, with or without the kids, to say thank you for the major contribution you are making in the life of the family. I think this is something we could all do far more of and I tell biological parents all the time, that a little appreciation goes a VERY,VERY long way in easing some of what seem like real sacrifices, in the life of any stepparent.

3.) Calling all mothers – Biological and Step alike.

If you choose to combine recognition of this day for the children’s biological parent and yourself, then there are a couple of main things to be aware of.

Don’t be surprised that even if you take the lion’s share of responsibility for the children, that you don’t get the lion’s share of appreciation and affection. For smaller children, it is sometimes the case, that believing as we want them to believe, that they have enough love in their hears for many people, that they will want to show you their love and appreciation, even in a small way. But for many children, this is a day that has been usually about “their mom” and it can even be a sad day thinking about the way things used to be and how they had to adjust to the loss of their family and all of the changes that brought you together up to this point. So it is often not that they are choosing to disregard us but that they are very preoccupied with their own emotional experience of what can be a very challenging day, full of memories and often loss.

Because of the above, try not to personalize the lack of attention and the kids’ behaviors. When we put stock in a day that can potentially take people in a completely opposite direction because of the heaviness of the issues, then we are setting up for failure. It is often not about rejection but about everyone making their way through. The absence of their past family is not a reflection of how they may see you or think about you as a person; it is quite often just what it is - dealing with a loss around their first family.

Don’t put an inordinate amount of stock into one day. Personally, I believe we put a lot of stock in special days and a lot of pressure on ourselves and others to achieve things that they often cannot, which in essence can be another set-up for failure. So decide how you want to celebrate your stepmom status in this family and in your life and decide with your partner the way which fits best. And then get on with it and with your life which is much bigger than any one day.

Speak to your partner about what would be meaningful to you. If the kids are not with you on that day but with their own mother, take this opportunity to spend time together as a couple and celebrate the reason you are in this in the first place. See it as an opportunity, not another example of how you are not important in their lives. If we make it less about the kids and how they are not paying attention to what we need, partners will often respond by being more than willing to do their part to make this day special for us.

If family commitments on either side, preclude having a special time or day with our partner on Mother’s Day, then plan for it and make it happen at another time. Again, if we stay stuck in disappointment and don’t take responsibility for our needs being met, then anger and resentment are not far behind, all the while we still have not done anything to get our needs met. Every opportunity is one for coming closer together or for driving a wedge between partners, especially in stepfamilies where there are numerous issues for partners to split on. So be proactive and create opportunities to come together instead of growing apart.

Be specific. Let your partner know what you would like, and if it is a surprise that you would like, then let him know that too. The extent to which we make our needs known is the extent to which we increase the absolute likelihood of getting them met. It doesn’t guarantee exact results, but the opposite approach of watching and waiting rarely get us anything except emotional distress.

Make the time to celebrate you and your commitment to your Partner and the Children. Give yourself some credit for the tremendous commitment that you’ve made and accept yourself for everything you do and don’t do for your family. Even when it seems like things could be 1,000% better than they presently are, remind yourself of the enormity of the challenge and why you’ve taken it on. The best way of getting to a better place does not involve blaming yourself or anyone else, but simple working with your partner and getting support as required to meet the challenges ahead. There is good reason that Emily Bouchard of www.blended-families.com calls us Step Heroes. Stepparents make a decision to take on a very important responsibility without the recognition or thanks that we would very much like to count on. It isn’t always part of the equation but we stay the course anyway.

At the end of the day, it comes down to knowing what is important to us, taking personal responsibility for articulating that, understanding with some compassion where everyone else is coming from in making their way through some very complex challenges, and choosing to see the situation in a way that leaves us feeling less distressed, less dependent on other people’s actions for our happiness, and also better able to appreciate what is most important to us in life.

A Personal Thanks and Note of Appreciation goes out to each and all of you, from a fellow Stepmom, who understands the challenges, only too well. YVONNE



 

 

 

 

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