We stepmoms can sometimes get lost in the day-to-day... pick-ups, drop-offs, dinner, money... the "who-is-going-to-be-where-and-when." When we get lost, it helps to have a few tips -- some step-life strategies -- in your back pocket (or your tote, or your beaded clutch). My stepkids have been working on their spelling lately, so I decided to go with an A, B, C format...
Always practice self-care. For you to be of any good to others, you have to be healthy -- mentally and physically. I know, it's easy to say that when I'm writing this after the kids have gone to bed, but it's another story when they're tugging on your sleeve asking for more milk, the dog is pacing by the back door, and the phone is ringing, and, and, and... But you may be surprised at what happens when you make yourself a priority. You come home from yoga or coffee with girlfriends, to find that everything and everyone is still in one piece.
Not every problem can be remedied with self-care, but it is space for you to unwind, take a break, and recharge your batteries. It sets a great example for the kids in your life too, when they see you prioritizing your health.
Self-care looks different for everyone, and it's not necessarily a spa retreat (I wish)... it's about taking a few minutes for YOU. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
• Grab a good book and head to a coffee shop
• Meet a friend for a catch-up
• Lock the bedroom door and watch anything starring Ryan Gosling
Boundaries can save your marriage, and your stepfamily. Some people have the notion that boundaries are a negative thing, akin to putting up a wall around you, but boundaries can protect you from unwanted behavior by giving you needed distance.
If your husband's ex is frequently texting you with critical comments about how you care for the children, calmly tell her that you will be blocking her number and all communication will go through your husband from now on (after chatting to hubby first). Most important boundary advice? Stick to it! If you waver, the behavior will not change.
Perhaps hubby does not believe in a scheduled bed time for his kids. This flies in the face of the 8:00 p.m. pjs/teeth brushed/storytime/lights out routine you had imagined. You are the one trying to get the kids out of bed in the mornings when they're grumpy and won't eat their Cheerios... It's exhausting and frustrating. After months of tantrums, you calmly tell your husband that it would make your mornings much easier if they went to bed at a reasonable time. Many conversations later, he still has not budged, so you protect yourself with a boundary. You let him know that you will be leaving the morning routine to him from now on, while you have a long hot shower. Your husband may come around after a few unruly mornings, or not. Either way, you are protecting yourself from the negative behavior that he is inadvertently causing.
Communication! There is no relationship that has ever suffered from too much communication. With the challenges of stepfamily life, it is critical that you and your hubby are able to honestly share your thoughts and feelings.
Most of the time.
Biological parents have a different tolerance level for their own children, so there is no need to tell him all the ways that his kid drove you nuts today. But if something could be changed to make your life easier, speak up! Let him know if you're feeling overwhelmed, need a break, would like the kids to help out more... Remember, he's not a mind-reader.
Communication is key in your marriage, but is also important for co-parents. Hopefully your husband and his ex are on civil terms for the kids' sake, but if they cannot communicate in a healthy way, parallel parenting may be the key -- where parents do not communicate unless absolutely necessary. Each house has its own set of rules, routines and expectations. No communication is better than hostile communication.
Life is busy and complicated, but a few small changes can go a long way to having a more peaceful step-life.
On that note, my wine and bubble bath await... one of my preferred self-care practices.
Breathe deep, love deeper,
(Originally appeared here.)