Desperate to recover my sanity, I found myself craving the sight and sound of the ocean. I had the brilliant idea of taking a stroll around a small island near my home while sipping my pumpkin spice coffee.
Turns out, everyone in town had the same idea, and got there before I did to scoop up all of the parking spaces.
With time by the sea no longer an option, I escaped to my next hidey-hole. Starbucks. The humming of my laptop will have to substitute for the sound of crashing waves. At least I have wifi.
I’m seeking refuge, because I’m a recovering people pleasing stepmom with a bad case of Stepmom Burnout.
I continuously gave too much and took too little with no one to blame but myself. People will take as much as you’re willing to give. It’s human nature to do so. It’s our job to conserve our resources so we can thrive long term.
Don’t get me wrong, at times, the less evolved version of me blames my husband. After all, I am human and humans like to blame.
The truth is I’m guilty of repeatedly making mistakes known to cause Stepmom Burnout.
Here are 3 common mistakes that lead to Stepmom Burnout:
I’ve made many more, but Starbucks has a two hour limit on free wifi, so let’s hop to it.
1) I took rejection personally.
During a custody battle, that I did my best to stay out of, the closeness in my relationship with my stepchildren was replaced with distance.
The rejection hurt, of course, and I felt like more of an outsider in my home than I already did.
I knew it was still my job to keep showing up and leave the door open for them, but continuously making myself vulnerable in the face of rejection took a toll.
It took a toll, because I took it personally. I thought their change in behavior was about me, when really, it wasn’t. Very rarely is it about us.
I was the same person that was once hugged goodbye as the person avoided during the now awkward goodbyes.
What I know now that I wish I knew then is there is no bad guy, and it isn’t a reflection on me or even how they feel about me.
It was just a boundary that had to be drawn for BM and the kids to feel secure. For the kids to feel secure with their Mom, and for BM to feel secure with my role in her kids’ life.
Of course, I wish we could be one big happy family where no one ever felt threatened by the existence of another, but my nose would start growing if I told you I would always be graceful as a BM dealing with a Stepmom during a custody battle.
My stepkids didn’t intend to hurt me. Children are born with an innate need for their mother. They are biologically wired to do what is necessary to keep their Mom’s love.
When they reject you, it’s because they’re afraid of losing Mom’s love, not because they don’t like or love you.
The more they love you, the harder they may push you away, if you keep trying to pull them back in. Let them do the do-si-do and come and go as they see fit.
Allow yourself to grieve for what you once had.
It’s ok to be sad sometimes. We don’t have to act on every feeling. Just feel the pain, and it will eventually pass. The headspace app is very effective for learning how to observe your feelings, and give up the need to try and fix everything.
I’ve also learned to set boundaries, to preserve my sanity. Another lesson learned the hard way…
2) I said “yes” when I really meant “no”.
I moved into the home my husband bought and decorated with his 1st wife. There wasn’t room for my belongings unless we got rid of some of his belongings.
As his items were of higher quality than mine, he asked that we keep his in place of mine. I reluctantly agreed. I said “yes” when I wanted to shout “NO”.
I have a low tolerance for conflict, and I didn’t want to be the woman who took over their home. I sold or donated everything I had, along with the condo I bought on my own and called home for almost 10 years prior.
In hindsight, I wish I insisted on a middle ground and educated myself on stepfamily dynamics prior to becoming one.
Saying “no” can be uncomfortable, but that discomfort is relatively short lived. If you say “yes”, when you really want to say “no”, you’re at risk of feeling resentment for a long time to come.
Resentment snowballs. It builds up each time you squeak out an insincere yes. It will take a toll on your health and your relationship with DH and the kids.
Need help saying “no”? Contact me to master the art of setting boundaries in a non-threatening way.
3) I had 1st family expectations for my Stepfamily.
On every big holiday, I tried to recreate the holidays from my past. The kids would come with me to visit my side of the family, and I’d expect them to feel like a member of the family.
My family welcomed them with open arms, but they’re introverted and reserved, as are the kids. It’s hard to feel like you belong when you’re a kid living in a different state and only see these people for a few hours twice a year.
As they get older, they’re less enthusiastic about joining my family in celebrations. I fought this for a long time. Kept pushing them to join me.
I tried to force it like mothers in other cultures force arranged marriages. Because family celebrate holidays together, and these kids are my family.
They would come, and I’d spend the time worrying about them having a good time, instead of enjoying time with my family. Are they having fun, I wondered. What can I do to make it fun?
Let them stay home is what I should have done.
I grew up in a 1st family, and I mistakenly believed my stepfamily could be just like a 1st family.
The bond between stepparent and stepchild needs to build over time. Unlike the bond with a biological parent, it is not immediate. The younger the child, the faster the bond.
Expecting pre-teens and teens to bond quickly with you or members of your extended family will set you up for disappointment.
If you had dreams of your stepfamily being like a first family, you need to grieve the loss of that expectation, and then find a way to appreciate the uniqueness of your stepfamily.
As a stepmom, I get to enjoy the role of an influencer in my stepchildren’s lives. I’m not a biological parent or a friend. I’m a good listener, a trusted advisor and influencer.
It’s unlike any other relationship I have, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Even if it means giving up 1st family expectations.
Summary of Stepmom Sanity Saving steps:
1) Recognize it’s not personal. It’s never personal. Rejection is always about the other person’s needs and insecurities. Not you.
2) Stop saying yes when you want to say no. You’re not doing anyone any favors by continuously sacrificing yourself. As qualitative researcher Brené Brown wrote “choose a moment of discomfort over a lifetime of resentment.”
3) Grieve the loss of 1st family expectations and allow your family to thrive as a stepfamily.