Stepmothers: Cultivate an Open Heart

30 06 2010

 

 When you’re dealing with people in your family who challenge you with hostility, hurtful words and actions, it can take a Herculean effort to keep an open heart. But remaining open is a worthy goal. Why? Because storing your anger and bitterness in a closed heart will corrupt your spirit and poison your family. The fact is, anger comes out one way or another and you can either work consciously to deal with resentment and opening your heart or you can allow the negativity to eat you alive. I know I sound dramatic, but I believe remaining open is critical to your well-being.

It’s a tall order when you have a stepdaughter challenging your place in the family or an ex-wife badmouthing you to the children. It can be even more difficult when your husband does not support you in front of the kids or expects you to do all the parenting of his children.

Try some of the following strategies to help you maintain an open heart in even the most difficult situations.  

Thank Your Lucky Scars.
You read that right. The scars you’ve developed from painful situations can teach you valuable lessons about your personal journey. Look for the message in the pain that can help you evolve to a more mature, loving human being.

Watch for Patterns.
If you understand why something is happening in your home, it makes it much easier to open your heart. For instance, if you’ve had a good relationship with your stepson except for during holidays, big school events, or the day he returns from Mom’s house, pay attention. It could be that your stepson is experiencing the grief of his parent’s divorce at each of these junctures. It could be a loyalty issue where he feels that if he likes you or spending time at your and Dad’s house that his mother will be hurt.

Develop a Strong Sense of Self.
Women who feel better about themselves overall have an easier time with stepfamily life. That’s because they don’t need everyone in their stepfamily to like them in order to feel good about themselves. If you don’t believe in yourself, remember this: I do and I will hold that belief in you until you can develop it yourself.

Set Your Boundaries.
Learn how to say “No” in a kind and loving way to protect your heart. By setting boundaries about what kind of treatment you will tolerate at the hands of your stepfamily members, you are sending a powerful message to everyone about how to live with an open heart. By protecting your heart with a gentle “No” you are actually giving yourself the needed energy to extend to your stepfamily in more powerful ways.

Nurture Your Compassion
Every time you feel anger building in your heart, use breath to help you connect to the more evolved part of yourself. Sit down and take ten deep breaths all the way into your belly. Then think about the person who is making you angry. Ask yourself what might be causing their behavior. Most of us act out toward other people when we are hurt, grieving, lonely, insecure, or scared.

Lighten Up
Instead of thinking about how hard your life is, try this playful exercise. Instead, view your stepfamily as an experiment so you can take some of the pressure off of yourself and the people who are now connected to you. If you have a surly stepson, brainstorm creative ways you can play with the relationship. Tell him a joke. Do something he likes to do. Tell him about the most embarrassing thing you did when you were his age. The heart responds to fun. Take a light-hearted view and it can help you feel more positive about your relationships.

Let Your Light Shine
This is an exercise in imagination. Close your eyes and think about your heart. Imagine a light is shining out of your heart center bathing everyone and everything around you in love. Shift your shoulders back and down away from your ears so the front of your chest feels broad and open. Breathe.

Cultivating an open heart is not something that happens in one sitting. It is a state of being that we work toward our whole lives. Commit yourself to living with openness instead of remaining closed, defensive, and angry and your relationships will ultimately thrive.

Jacquelyn B. Fletcher is the author of the award-winning book A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom, the co-creator of The Stepfamily Letter Project, and the host of the popular Becoming a Stepmom podcast. This article first ran in Stepmom Magazine.

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One response

2 07 2010
Joyce Johnson

I have to say those are pretty powerful words, definitely food for the heart and soul, not only in a stepfamily situation, but for all types of families.

I have a pretty good relationship with my stepdaughter but as she grows up into a young adult the teen years can be a bit difficult, sometimes even confrontational. I am just happy that I have been in her life since she was quite young and have a good loving foundation to get through the teen years.

I subscribed to these newsletters a couple of months ago, I wish I had known about them a few years ago. You share some very good information here.

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