Time With Stepchildren

The Quarantined Stepfamily

How many of you remember the song “Road to Nowhere” by The Talking Heads?  I find myself humming that song during (what could be) a very long quarantine phase inside my house.  After a solid week of this, Robert Plant’s “Crazy On A Ship Of Fools” is in my mental rotation as well.  Not sure why, maybe it’s just catchy. (Sarcastic smile.) 

I’ve been wondering how all of my stepmom friends are, a.k.a. my “step” sisters. Ladies, how are you doing? Is this a time of rest, refocus, and clarity or are you slowly losing your minds? I think I know the answer to that, and I certainly don’t judge you. In fact, I’ve had a challenging week and weekend as well.  
With that being said, here are some quick ideas for your sanity toolbox.  Please feel free to add to the list your ideas as well.

  • When you need space, allow yourself to have it.  Rooms have doors for a reason.  Doors, in my opinion, are every bit as important as fire and the wheel.  You are the adult, not the child.  You have every right and reason to allow yourself to nap, write, read, pray, or just stare at the wall as you find clarity again.  I don’t advise shutting yourself off from your family all day every day, but I do KNOW it is important for all humans to have boundaries.  Boundaries and little “time outs” throughout the day actually allow us to be mentally rested and more engaged (and engaging) with our families.
  • Greet your stepkids each day how you would like to be greeted.  This morning I was already irritated with the stepson before he woke up.  I was tallying all the things he does not help with around the house.  I was allowing myself to get all spun up before a “good morning” left my lips.  I planned to really let him have it when he woke up.   I heard his bedroom door open and then he slinked downstairs, looking a bit matted and vulnerable.  The “talk” could wait.  Instead of launching into his day with a detailed “To Do” list, I changed the atmosphere of the moment.  I reached out to give him a hug, and it was very comforting for us both.  In that moment I realized that he just as well could have come downstairs with a list of grievances about our current situation.  But, he didn’t.  Hard talks can come later in the day.  Start the morning off on a positive note.  
  • But, don’t forget the To Do list.  I work two remote part time jobs and my husband and I own a small business.  Keeping all three afloat AND running a household in this global crisis is not for the wilting lily.  I took out the trash yesterday and ran the cans to the curb.  My husband and I each did a load of laundry.  I cleaned and vacuumed the rooms on my own personal chore list.  My husband cooked.  I did a mountain of dishes.  My stepson, who is out of work right now, did nothing.  I finally was able to sit down at 9:30 pm, and I was about to pop.  This morning I vented to my husband, and he was very understanding.  He could sense my frustration.  If I’m frustrated, it affects OUR relationship.  Well, thankfully, the chores were addressed.  When my stepson came downstairs late this morning he was given a list of house duties.  It isn’t more than he realistically can handle, and they aren’t things I wouldn’t do myself.  However they are things that will keep our home running smoothly and efficiently.  

So let’s get practical about some of this.  Set guidelines and deadlines during this time.  Chances are some of your “deadlines” haven’t stopped, so neither should those of your stepchildren.  Yes, school might be different right now for them as well as work responsibilities, but don’t let them fall into complacency.  By 10 a.m. tomorrow morning or whatever time works best for your family, have your stepchildren give you a list of some ideas they have for cleaning and organization.  Go over the list as a family and decide what would be very helpful to you household during this time.  

Some ideas could be:
Organize the garage/Organize the linen closet/Organize the sock drawer/Clear bedroom of cups, trash, dirty clothes/ Help with laundry/Help with dishes/Help with yard work (as safe for your environment)/Dusting specific rooms

When the chores are complete, do something FUN as a family, something that requires thought.  The Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration recommends classic games like backgammon and chess.  These games teach critical thinking, strategic planning, and even reason.  A deck of cards can be entertainment for an afternoon or evening as well.  

  • I don’t know what I would do without my stepmom support groups and my counselor.  I know many of you ladies understand me when I say that some other folks would minimize our problems. You’ve been there, haven’t you.  You are at lunch with some of your friends who are parents in “original” families.  You mention a difficult situation you are facing with your stepdaughter and/or the biological mother.  Your friends mean well, but more than likely they’ve said reductive statements like, “You knew what you were getting into” or “You must be overstepping your boundaries”.  My dear “step” sisters, find for yourself a mature and trustworthy group of stepmoms in an online forum while we are unable to venture out into large groups. Enlist the help of a stepfamily counselor as well.  Many, including us, can provide counsel electronically. It could save your marriage and your sanity.  I reassure you, you are safe here.

Hey, sorry about the ear worms of music, too.  Maybe soon we’ll be humming some Jimmy Cliff’s  “I Can See Clearly Now”.

“I can see clearly now the rain is gone

I can see all obstacles in my way

Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind

It’s gonna be a bright (bright)

Bright (bright) sunshiny day.” 

Yours In Step,

Lynnette Flatt

Stepfamily Foundation Social Media Director

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