The Doctor Is In: Yvonne Kelly

29 01 2009

yvonneGuest blogger Yvonne Kelly, MSW, RSW, founded The Step and Blended Family Institutein Tottenham, Ontario in Canada with her husband Rick. She is a certified Stepfamily coach and counselor. Her latest project is on Step Dating, which I’ll feature more of in later posts. A teleseminar and educational materials  on the topic will be available on her website soon. Yvonne acquired two stepdaughters when she married her husband Rick, and they later had three more children.

Beyond the Holidays

by Yvonne Kelly

Welcome to the New Year – 2009. For many of you I’m certain you found the holidays to be a time of stress (quite normal in stepfamilies I might add) and for others it was a time of rest and recuperation. I’m certain for some, you are still wondering “where is the R and R, after the holidays?” Regardless of what camp you find yourself in, it is time to pick up and move on into this NEW YEAR ahead of us. At The Step and Blended Family Institute, we want for all of you to experience this next 12 months ahead as a year of renewal and change. This doesn’t mean making 12 New Year’s Resolutions, one of which you might actually keep. It’s about deciding that if there is anything you want to learn more about, anything you need support around, or anything you can do to change things for the better, you take the steps to do it. And I will actively applaud you when you take the first step towards doing so. Small changes, efforts and taking initiative are the first steps to improving one’s own life and the world around us. Even when the circumstances around us seem less than adequate, or maybe even downright offensive, there is always at least one thing we have in our power to do, to make it better. Sometimes, that one thing might be simply accepting what it is that we’re facing instead of fighting against it, resisting what is really happening, and thereby increasing our frustration and immobilizing us from taking any action to improve things.

I would challenge each and every one of you to stop, think about just one thing that you could do, or one thing you could say to another person, that might actually bring some relief or resolution or peace to whatever situation you are currently experiencing. I know that for the majority of you visiting this site, you are doing so because you are trying to find the balance in what can be a very complex life as a stepfamily or blended family. I also know first-hand what many of you are experiencing as I am entering my own 15th year in our blended family. So when I say, stop, breathe and decide on even just one thing YOU can do to make a positive change in whatever situation you are dealing with right now, I can say that because I know it works and because it’s what I aim to expect of myself on a daily basis. The other reason that this is the most effective way of helping yourself in any situation, is because each one of us can choose to make changes for ourselves – we have that power; we don’t have that power over anyone else. However, when we do our part, take that first step, utter that first word or make that first gesture, so often we find that our very actions and gestures, positively influence the very individuals we had been hoping would change all along.

The families we live in are complex and constantly changing – there is just no arguing that fact. Most of us at some point, find ourselves facing challenges we had never expected in our lives with very little experience or the answers we feel we need to deal with these situations. But there are answers, there is support and there is a tremendous amount each of us has to offer when we adjust our mindset and start to look at what we can do (instead of what we can’t do) to make our relationships and situations better. That’s where it begins and when we can do that, it will be much easier to invite and engage with other people in improving any situation. So I invite each and every one of you reading this to: decide the things that are not to your liking, can improve. Decide there is a role you can play, and be the one to make the first offer or the first step. And believe that even the smallest forward movement is significant and will lend itself to the next positive movement and before you know it there will be momentum for important and lasting change.

So without having to make too many resolutions to yourself, make one decision – that this will be a better year than the previous one because you have the ability to make choices and to find things that can make it better, even one small step at a time. And if support is necessary for you in a given situation, ask for it, and if there are things you need to learn, then seek out that information.

 Do whatever it takes to move things forward and create the life you want because it certainly isn’t going to happen to any of us otherwise.

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3 responses

31 01 2009
VG

But what happens when you can’t make the life you want and life isn’t so positive, even if you spend all your extra energy (after working, cleaning the house, loving your husband) on being present and positive for your husband’s exwife and children (6 year old doesn’t like having 2 mommies, so I’m no longer a “step-mom” I’m just nothing)? What happens when all you really want to do is run away from it all because after just 4 hours you are absolutely exhausted by living life in the shadow of others, all the while, cleaning up after them, doing their laundry, making their lunches, always giving into their whims and demands? I feel like I’m working at 200% to create a happy, safe, welcoming home for the children, but no one is doing that for me as long as they are around. I hate that I hate this so much, but I’m just exhausted.

31 01 2009
Jacque

Dear VG: Boy, do I hear you! I know I’ve certainly felt maxed out like you have. When it feels like you’re the only one working your ass off for the family and no one appreciates anything you’re doing. It is absolutely exhausting, and you’re the only one who can change it. You get to set boundaries with your family. In fact, you must set boundaries if you want to be happy. This is harder for some women than others. If you’re a people-pleaser who is not used to standing up for yourself, this is going to take practice. But you will be a better stepmother and wife if you take the time for yourself you need, ask for the help you need, etc. etc. etc.

First, sit down and write a list of the things you need from your family. Help with the laundry and dishes? Hugs from your husband or words of thanks for all you’re doing? Time with your girlfriends? Then let them know what you need.

We all feel your pain!

31 01 2009
Yvonne Kelly

Dear VG: This is an all too common story of step moms. I too can completely relate to what your feeling and there were 4 or 5 years in the beginning of my relationship where I just wanted to run at many points along the way. Being willing to take a first step like I talk about in Beyond the Holidays, is just that, a first step. It’s one lots of people aren’t able or willing to do, but it sounds like you are there and have been doing – maybe too much, but you have been doing. I would agree with Jacque that for most of us it is a matter of setting some boundaries to maintain our own physcial health strength (exhaustion is a common by-product of being a step mom), our own sense of individuality – who we are as a person even though we feel we’ve been swallowed up by this new family, and yes, our own SANITY. No one can give away more than we have and be happy at the end of it all. But this is where I appeal to so many women, and I wish someone had been there to help me with this, if we don’t even know our own, limits, how can we expect seomeone else to – partners, children, stepchildren. We are responsible for teaching them how to treat us and that’s why we advocate that stepparents, step moms in particular really know what they’re getting into in the beginning so you can make some pragmatic and raional decisions about what you’re reasonably willing to commit to this new set of relationships in your life.

If we start out as the Super Stepparent, which so many of us do out of the goodness of our hearts and maybe a little bit out of wanting everyone to like us, then it’s hard but not impossible to back this up a bit and do less when we realize how much is expected of us. We advocate for step moms easing in to the role, doing but not doing too much or everything, and not hinging any of it on being appreciated for the extent of our efforts because kids rarely are able to appreciate the full commitment we make to them and step kids even less so. Having said that, a lot of us do put on the Super Stepparent Cape and forge ahead and then we have the job of later pulling back to some extent, or burning out and being bitter.

I woke up out of my dream, or nightmare, one evening when my teenage step daughter was expressing her discontent (to put it mildly) with me about something I hadn’t done or hadn’t done on time and I realized, there is pain behind this behavior and it doesn’t have much to do with me – it has everything to do with her. So I had a new found experience of empthy for her but most importantly for me, I had a realization that I needed respect myself enough to put the brakes on, let her know that I was willing to “do” for her but no longer was willing to do or be everything. I had nurtured this belief in them, that I was willing to do everything, and then I was upset and resentful when they “ran with it” and also didn’t convey any appreciation for my efforts. I had to realize this pattern and take some steps to redress it.

So two quick suggestions beyond Jacque’s great advice to write out what you need by way of help in the family and by way of appreciation from your husband.

1.) Remember that kids don’t show appreciation to anyone easily but this can be taught and it can be your partner’s job to help them with that.
2.) It’s better to modify what you’re willing to do instead of doing everything and expecting proportional appreciation for your efforts.
3.) Even when the kids don’t or can’t show appreciation (and they may be conflicted because of loyalty to their other biological parent) make sure you let your parnter know you need this from him and that will make a huge difference.
4.) When you talk about needing help, reframe it from it being your job to manage the household and you need some assistants, to it’s Our job as a family to get things done and how are we going to do it as a team. This will be a very different approach for them and you may get some resistance because you are introducing a new way of doing things and no one likes that. Expect resistance – it is normal, but know that you are working towards a new way of doing things over time.
5.) Take care of yourself in a way that no one else can do for you and carve out the time to do this so you have the energy for this tremendous job you’ve taken on. Use some of the time that you would now be doing everything for everyone else, to do for you.
and…
6.) Realize that what is happening here is quite normal in stepfamilies. It’s not anything any of us experience as pleasurable but it is the natural growing pains of building a stepfamily. When we start out by doing too much and having expectations of what this should look like and it doesn’t, we naturally feel disappointment and then resentment. But we don’t like feeling this way, and we don’t want to stay in this place, so the best thing is to try something new. That’s what I’m talking about in Beyond the Holidays. We have the power to do some things differently all the while communicating clearlly and honestly with our partners about what we need. And remember, our partners and our stepkids are rarely the enemy – they too are just going along as we would expect, dealing with their own issues about this and not really thinking about how it is impacting on anyone else. So have a voice, tell your partner you, meaning both or you, probably need a new plan, or just a plan, because most step families don’t even have one to begin with. Look at how you can get some of everyone’s needs met, including yours, in a new way so you can build and maintain this family over time, not burn out prematurely.

I wish you the very best of luck with this and I hope this has been helpful.

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