If you want to find out what’s REALLY going on in your cozy corner of the world, ask a stepmom. We’ve just got a “knack”. We are keen, wildly discerning, and we just…know. Words don’t have to be spoken for us to feel something is off kilter. We like being prepared, too. Surprises might be fun at your nine-year-old’s birthday party, but they aren’t any fun to most of us. Speaking as a stepmom, I know this to be true. This quarantine has been full of more surprises than I can list right now. But speaking of lists, we created one that you might find helpful in this maddening season. We HOPE we don’t have to refer to it too often in the future, but should we need to, here are 10 Pandemic Solutions with the Stepfamily in mind.
- Notice What’s Happening. – Before you say you don’t have time for the news or you just don’t like watching the news, you MUST stay informed. There’s just no easy way to break it to you. We MUST be aware of what’s going on around us. Little did we know what was happening on the other side of the world would cause millions to file for unemployment. Little did we know that what was going on in a time zone 12 hours ahead of us would deplete our supply of paper goods at the local Piggly Wiggly. We had some signs, though. You can check out the full list of 25 pandemic signs at the link below, but here are some to be aware of should there be a “next” time: Listen for mayors in major cities discussing pandemic plans. Listen to what those plans actually are. Peruse the latest TED talk topics as a supplement to news topics. Pay attention to the latest popular discoveries at our top accredited universities. https://www.genengnews.com/a-lists/blinking-red-25-missed-pandemic-warning-signs/
- Be mindful. – Stay aware. It’s easy to go on autopilot as we navigate through the day with so much on our minds. Who is going to take Jack to baseball? When is the next parent-teacher conference? Did the kids like what I packed for lunch? Do we help Susan buy her mom some flowers for Mother’s Day? We already have so much swirling through our brains. But to stay aware, we MUST practice mindfulness in all situations. Be present. https://psychcentral.com/blog/7-easy-ways-to-be-mindful-every-day/
- Take The Emotion Out. – When we first hear the news about school closures and quarantine requirements, we might want to crawl into a fetal position under our weighted blankets. I know this hasn’t been the best of times for many of us. I humbly will tell you that the tension has been very high at our home as well. I did find peace when I forced myself to reframe my thoughts and not look at this forced time together through an emotional filter. We can only do what we are capable of doing, which leads me to No. 4. https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/how-to-control-your-emotions-so-your-emotions-dont-control-you.html
- Do What You CAN Do, Shelf What You Can’t – Custody agreements might not be gospel when it comes to pandemics. I am not an attorney so I’ll leave that to the experts, but I do know the events of the last couple months are causing some interesting conversations in Family Law. That being said, assess what you, your husband, the biological mom, and the stepdad can do separately and together. A good time to discuss a plan of action for times like this is when things are calm as opposed to chaotic. It will be beneficial to EVERY member of the family if mature and civil conversations can happen about where the child will reside during the quarantine, who is responsible for schooling, who is responsible for checking homework, who is going to maintain the home, etc. https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/6-ways-to-stop-worrying-about-things-you-cant-control.html
- Commit Your Plan To Paper – As soon as you devise your emergency plan, type it out or email it to all family members as a guide. This will help all of you to have a guide and directions should we find ourselves facing these issues again. https://www.extendoffice.com/documents/excel/4557-excel-create-to-do-list.html
- Choose Your Words Wisely – During this unsettling time, emotions are all over the place. We are hanging out 24-7 with teens going through major hormone changes, adolescents who need a lot of attention and supervision, and spouses who wonder why we have to run everything by the “ex”. Then someone has the NERVE to tell us they are tired of having chicken and pasta for dinner. We feel our blood pressure rise and we can hear our heartbeat in our ears. Before we blurt out heated words like “starve” and “spoiled”, we need to check ourselves. Who’s the adult here? We are. Avoid put-downs and demeaning language. We need to guard our tongues and our voices. “Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” ~ Rumi https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/26-brilliant-quotes-on-the-super-power-of-words.html
- When You Must Be Harsh, Be Careful – There are times when we have to discipline. There are circumstances when a raised voice is the only voice that gets attention. Don’t be afraid of discipline and rules. Kids and teens actually like rules. It makes them feel safe and loved. We have seen time and again young people respond well to household chores. Rules and structure can provide comfort by boosting self-esteem. It also is respectful for all members of the family to know what is expected of them. Less misunderstandings and hurt feelings occur when the role of each family member is determined. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/discipline.html
- Where To Go From Here? – So you said it. The words just tumbled out of your mouth before you could reign them in. Or maybe YOU were the emotional punching bag today and you are left feeling drained and anxious. Being around each other SO MUCH right now puts all of our lives under a microscope. We see hurt reflected back at us. The BEST thing you can do in those moments is FORGIVE. Saying “I’m Sorry” with a repentant heart can help your relationship to heal, it can fight depression, and it can improve your blood pressure. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692
- Lead Your Home – Your children are watching you during this time of heightened stress. They are watching how you handle stress and conflict, and they will model what they were taught when they have their own families. Follow the Four C’s of Parenting: Care, Be Consistent, Allow Choices, and teach Consequences of those choices. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/parenting
- Let It Be – Once of the most powerful prayers of modern time starts with, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. This old prayer by theologian Reinhold Niebuhr can be applied to the stepfamily and all we face together. It also can be applied to this pandemic. Some things we can change, some we can’t, and may we understand that critical difference. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Reinhold-Niebuhr
Lynnette R. Flatt/Dr. Jeannette Lofas
The Stepfamily Foundation
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,
Stepfamily Foundation Social Media Director
“Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalms 90:12 ESV
Do you remember some phrases your parents or grandparents said that seemed to stick with you well into adulthood? I remember Mom saying throughout my youth, “Our lives are only a vapor.” It never made a lot of sense to me back then. When you are young you feel as if you could live forever. Your shoulder doesn’t creak and pop when you extend your arm. You can eat a fistful of peanuts, jalapeños and cheddar cheese without your stomach revolting. You can rise early and stay up late without suffering too much the next day. A “vapor”? Life felt like it always was just beginning when I was a child, teen, and young adult.
I’m 44 now, and it has dawned on me that I could be at my life’s half-way mark (or already lived beyond it). Mortality feels different now. Life can be random and cruel with its brevity. Yes Mom, you win. My first 44 years went by with lightning speed.
I also remember a lesson or sermon about “the dash”. This particular dash referred to is the dash on your tombstone or obituary, say 1974 – 20XX. Pastor asked, “What are you doing with your dash?” That stuck with me, too. A vapor. A dash. Both of these things sound so fleeting, fast…and short.
So what does a vapor and a dash have to do with being a stepparent? It has EVERYTHING to do with it. We already have a truncated period of time with our stepchildren since we have not known them since birth. Unless they live with us full time, we also have limited influence with them during the formative years.
We know in our blended family and co-parenting community that our role as a stepparent takes a lot of mental, emotional, and sometimes physical energy. Are we using that energy wisely? Executive Mentor and Coach Kelly Talamo teaches his audience, “There is an energy drain in everything you do. Choose wisely. ” Think about that for a minute. Everything we choose to direct our attention to saps a bit of our daily allotment of energy.
In this short amount of time that we are given to guide our stepchildren, are we focused on positive energy suppliers? For example:
- Are we hung up on a title? Just because you aren’t “the” mom or dad does not mean you aren’t “a” mom or dad. Don’t get hung up on how your stepchildren address you. Let them call you what is comfortable for them. Anything forced only will cause resentment.
- Are you LISTENING to your stepchildren during the valuable time you have with them? Allow them to SHARE stories about school, their new puppy, the vacation they took with mom or dad, their grandma’s awesome cookies, or ANYTHING they want to share. It is important that they feel comfortable talking about their life with the other parent without judgment. To discourage such conversations is destructive to their well-being, and is quite simply, parental alienation.
- Is your precious time being wasted by the woes of online negativity? Be mindful of what you post on social media. My husband and I have a love-hate with Facebook. It is a great way to catalog pictures and share experiences with those who have the best interest of your family at heart. However, social media has become a tool of destruction to many, the blended family included. NEVER bad-mouth the other parent, even if you think you’re being “safe” and not using his or her name. Kids are smarter than we sometimes give them credit for being, and they know what you are doing. JUST DON’T GO THERE. Vent to others you trust in private, but don’t air your grievances on social media. (This can apply to other topics as well. Be a classy human being!)
There are MANY others, but I will leave you with these important three tips for now.
Allow Jesus to be magnified through you today. Use your dash wisely. We have this one earthly existence, these few seasons of life. Make it count!
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog! I don’t take your attention for granted. This is a work in progress and I hope to share something with you every day. I am not a psychologist or a counselor. I am, however, very passionate about helping other stepparents with prayer, inspiration, and hope. I care about you! Please leave me a prayer request and I will pray for you. YOU ARE NOT ALONE! I hope to be resourceful to your stepparent journey. God Bless You!