The Art of Surrendering

16 02 2010

Over the course of the last couple of weeks I have struggled with a bad case of carpal tunnel. It first began with tingling in the fingers and eventually grew into pain in both wrists and arms. I’m a writer. To not have the use of my hands is like robbing the bird of the ability to fly. At first I didn’t believe it was as bad as I thought and so I continued to use my hands. The pain worsened. Then I was angry. How could this happen? I’m a writer I need my hands! The next day I sank into sadness. Instead of doing anything proactive, I sat on the couch and watched bad TV for hours. After a couple of weeks of this cycle I finally got to place where I surrendered to the fact that I really do have a problem and decided to do something about it.

I began to research voice-activated software. I went to my local computer store and found a copy of the software and loaded it up the same day. Problem solved! What you’re reading right now is actually what I’ve spoken into the computer instead of typed. And what’s really surprising is that I actually enjoy it. I feel like I’m in a science-fiction movie.

This experience reminds me of stepfamily development. When you first realize that stepmotherhood is going to be more difficult than you thought, you struggle to believe it. This is not what your life is supposed to be like! Marriage is supposed to be wonderful and fun especially the first couple of years. Then you get really angry about it. And after a while you move into sadness. For most people it isn’t until we’re backed into a corner that we can finally surrender our expecations and fantasies and decide to do something about our situation.

Here are some things for you to consider doing if your back is against the wall:

1. Learn about stepfamily development. If you’ve read my book or my blog, then you know that education is my number one priority. I would say that about 90% of the letters I receive from readers include a problem that is normal with stepfamilies. Often times if a stepmother knows that what she’s going through is normal she feels a lot better. Another problem is that we are trained to expect certain things based on first family development. So when normal stepfamily things happen we think something is terribly wrong. Our instincts about what should be happening in our homes are incorrect. For instance, you can have really bad relationships with your stepchildren and still have a happy marriage.

2. Find help. There are more than 15 million stepmothers in the United States alone. You don’t have to feel isolated. Reach out to other stepmothers. Find a professional who can help you. Try therapy with someone who knows about stepfamilies. Or consider coaching with a stepfamily expert.

3. Look for ways to feel good. Researcher Barbara Fredrickson has developed what she calls to Broaden and Build theory. Basically what she found is that the more positive emotions we feel, the more positive emotions we feel. And when we are feeling good we are able to see a bigger picture. We are able to problem solve better. We are able to come up with creative solutions that we couldn’t when we were focused on negative feelings. When I tell you to do fun things on my blog it’s not because I’m a Pollyanna, it’s because research tells us that it puts us in a space where we are more capable of getting ourselves out of the muck.

4. Get it out and move on. I think it’s wonderful that so many online groups have emerged for stepmothers. However, I think there are some problems associated with the online forums and groups. If all we do is focus on the negative, the negative is what we will bring to ourselves. Marriage researcher John Gottman found in his more than 30 years of research that when couples are in trouble, they tend to focus on the negative stories from their partnership. For instance, when asked about the day of their wedding instead of telling good stories, as they might have done a few years ago, they focus on the negative things that happened on that wonderful day. They recast their history to focus on the negative. It’s important that women have a place where they feel like they can vent their feelings. But that cannot be the only thing you do. Vent your feelings and then pair it with positive action of some kind.

5. Don’t beat yourself up. When I was in the middle of the cycle of grief about the fact that I would not be able to work in the same way I used to be able to, it would have done me no good to tell myself I was a jerk for feeling the way I was. Feelings are not good or bad they simply are. You are not a shameful horrible person because of the things you feel.

6. Your way isn’t the only way. Ultimately, the art of surrendering is about realizing that your way of doing things is not the only way. I am a person who loves habits and rituals. It’s the only way I can work from home and still get my job done. But that means that sometimes I think there’s only one way to do things. I get so rigid in my thinking. And if my schedule is interrupted I get very flustered, even angry. But as I learned this week, typing is not the only way to write. When I apply this lesson to my stepmothering, I can see that my way of living is not the only way.


What to Do When All Hope Is Lost

10 02 2010

I’ve had many letters recently from stepmothers who have hit rock bottom. So I wanted to write a post about what to do when you feel that all hope is lost and you can see nothing ahead but darkness. Most of us feel paralyzed when we’re in that hopeless place. We don’t know where to turn or what to do to start feeling better or to heal our families or our own bruised hearts. I am not going to pretend that I can solve this for you but I am going to suggest some actions you can take to help turn your gaze back to hope.

Protect your heart. Realize that you are worthy of love, you are loveable, and you deserve to be treated with respect. Handle your heart with care. Work to build your self-esteem like you build your muscles in the gym. What is one thing you can do today to protect your gorgeous heart?

Plan something to look forward to. The feeling of anticipation can help us quickly move from despair to hope. First plan something small that you can do in the next week or two that gives you that zing of excitement. Spend an afternoon at the coffee shop with a good book, head to a spa for a decadent treatment, or buy tickets to a show. Then sit down with your spouse to plan some bigger outings. For instance, you might plan a trip somewhere just the two of you next winter. Start ripping pictures of beach views or European cities or rugged mountains out of magazines. Make a file and then go out and purchase one small thing for the trip.

Stop talking. If you and your spouse have been around and around about something (money, sex life, the kids, the BM) then take a holiday for a week (or two if you’re really brave) from talking about anything challenging. Any time either of you are tempted to bring up a hot topic, have a code word or phrase you can say:  “This is the house of no fighting!” You have plenty of time to talk about your conflict later. Right now, be quiet.

Ride it out with gentleness. Sometimes you have to ride through challenging times. The first three years of stepfamily development, for instance, are some tough years when you have to create a strong marriage, bond with your stepkids, set boundaries with ex, get used to living with new people, etc. etc. etc. The list goes on. Remember that you will come out the other side of these challenging times. While you’re in this difficult place, be extra gentle with yourself, please.

Fill your well. For those of you who have read Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, you’ll recognize this one. She maintains that an artist has to fill her creative well or she will be depleted and won’t be able to create new things. This is true of all of us. So take a break from your life and fill your well with things you love to do that make you feel light-hearted and glad to be alive. Do this at least once a week if not once a day. Filling the well can be anything from a trip to an outing to ten deep cleansing meditative breaths. It can also be as simple as stopping to look at the ocean or the snow-covered trees.

Stepmoms in Fiction

10 02 2010

Hi Gals:

There’s a new novel out in the U.K. that sounds interesting.It’s called The Stepmothers’ Support Group by Sam Baker. You can get it from now and it will be available in the U.S. in June. Has anyone read it? If so let us know how it is. The author wrote an interesting roundup of stepmothers in fiction here:

Not surprisingly many of the stepmothers are not the most lovely characters, but there are a few with redeeming qualities!

Stepmom Circles Podcast: Role Ambiguity

4 02 2010

Tune in to my first Stepmom Circles Podcast of 2010 to hear a conversation I had with Claudette Chenevert of Coaching Steps about role ambiguity: one of the most challenging aspects of stepmothering. Because there are no known models for stepmotherhood–besides the wicked stereotype–we get to choose what kind of stepmother we will be. That’s a challenge and a gift! Listen to my free Stepmom Circles Podcast to hear what kinds of roles tend to work best for stepmoms. You can also check out my book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom for some exercises that can help you identify what role you’re comfortable with. And in the March issue of Stepmom Magazine, Erin Erickson will have an article about this important topic so keep your eye out for that. Here’s to finding a role that fits you and your family perfectly!

How do I tune in? Click the link above for this episode or visit HERE to browse all the Stepmom Circles shows.