Stepmothers: Protect Yourself

14 09 2010

There is a lot of advice out there on blogs and in books (including my own) that tell stepmothers what they need to do to make a stepfamily run more smoothly. There are lots of people to tell you how to make things easier for the kids. There are experts to show you how to co-parent more successfully. I, myself, have given you some of that advice. I’ve told you to cultivate an open heart and let go of anger. This is all good. However: You must also protect yourself.

It goes against our expecations of what family life is supposed to be like to think that we should protect ourselves from our family, but in stepfamilies it’s a skill you must learn.

When you’ve given your all to your stepkids and they turn on you it hurts like hell. When you’ve busted your butt to make your home a wonderful place to be for everyone and they hate it, it stings. When you’re ignored for the billionth time or your birthday is forgotten or your meal is hated or your help is denied, IT HURTS. In those times it is CRITICAL that you protect your lovely heart. Arm yourself. Do the personal growth work it takes to have a healthy and strong self-esteem. Surround yourself with friends who remind you who you are. Go on those date nights with your spouse. Read books. Take breaks. Go out of town.

A caveat: I’m not talking about total emotional disengagement. I’m talking about being more proactive in situations you know are going to hurt you. If you know you’re going to get angry tonight because you’ve cooked a beautiful meal and the kids are going to complain, ask your husband to cook. Get takeout. Tell the kids to trade off nights and let them cook. Order pizza. Make peanut and butter a jelly sandwiches and save the cooking for nights when they’re not with you.  See what I mean?

Some very well-meaning people call this owning your emotional response or taking responsibility or acting like an adult, but using those words can make us feel ashamed or silly for feeling what we feel. I call it protecting yourself.

Protect yourself, dear stepmother. You’ll be a happier human being, a more loving wife, and a far better stepmother if you do.

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11 responses

14 09 2010
Kate

This helps alot. I have learned to back away and protect myself, but it took me a while and it hurt. Im glad you wrote this. It can be very painful.

15 09 2010
deb

hi kate, just passing and read your comment. ive just discovered this site and its great to read encouraging stuff. my steps are 2 teenage girls and they are both going through apathy for their dad and total rebellion at the moment. its heart renching when weve had relative stability for ages. ugh. I particularly cant resist the odd text specially when theyve not been around for ages, or they dont call their dad on his birthday. again with the ugh. vent vent keep on trying kate. we are all doing a great job. x

14 09 2010
Ohio

Thank you for this wonderful post. It is as if permission has been granted to care for myself – first! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

15 09 2010
Jenna

Amen sister! I don’t think we can spread that message too often. Taking care of ourselves makes all the difference in the world! 🙂

15 09 2010
Carrie

I totally support this view.

16 09 2010
Cynthia

I thought I could feel your pain leaping off the page and I wondered what episode had triggered this column. I’m only two years into my step marriage and went way overboard at first in the giving department. I thought I could be wonder woman and make this the healthiest family ever! And I nearly lost myself in the process. I’m working back now to a happier medium and am finding my stepfamily appreciates me more this way than before. Grab that ME time whenever you need it, ladies. They don’t tell you to “put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others” for nothing!

17 09 2010
Susanna

Thank you so much for sharing this. I really needed to hear it. I feel sometimes as if nothing I do is right (and my stepdaughters are grown women!), and I just want to go off and cry. Maybe instead I’ll just go for a walk or do something nourishing for myself.

22 09 2010
Ana

Thank you for the post. But I tell you that there are more times when you don’t get the ME time either because you have to be home and do your laundry, clean, and work and just chill. I am very emotional today and just need to vent somewhere.
No, I don’t dislike anyone but I wish I had never gotten into this. In these 4 years, I don’t think I have felt at ease. I just want to feel peace. I just want ease. I wish I had looked the other way than to have gotten into this. I’m tired and I don’t have energy left to do anything. I want peace.
Thank you for letting me write this.

22 10 2010
Bonnie

I love this article!! I have experienced this just the last month!! It does hurt so bad, I have done as you have said and protected myself. I’m glad to know that others do the same!!

27 02 2011
Jessica

All I have to say is that I sit here with tears in my eyes feeling SO relieved that it is “normal” for me to feel this way. I try so hard to cook meals they will like and plan events they will enjoy just to get rejected. THANK YOU for making me feel OK about it all……I just hope I survive it. ❤

2 05 2012
Sherry

This has absolutely been the worst week with my stepdaughter- I lashed out this past weekend and let myself down in how I handled things. I’ve been re-married just a year, as of last week, and we’ve had my stepdaughter living with us full time for the past 3 months, helping her sort out severe mental illness issues. While I love my husband very much, I can honestly say this is more, way more, than I ever thought we’d be handling. So, I’m sitting at work, reading this, and can hardly hold myself together. Thank you so much, all of you, for your comments. They really speak to where I am right at this moment.

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