A few months on from my adventures in extreme self-care, it’s challenge time again.
The challenge concept is a useful one. Especially the accountability factor – there’s nothing like thinking hmmm, what am I going to post as today’s self-care? to motivate me to actually take some time out.
Over the past few months, intermittent bouts of depression have made it clear that some aspects of the way I function as a stepmother need work.
Oh, I always have a smile, produce afternoon tea on demand, and generally find the balance of firm-but-friendly to motivate unwilling kids for the morning get-to-school marathon.
So, what should be different?
I HATE that word. It always implies a judgement imposed by someone else, almost invariably someone who through lack of experience is completely unable to comprehend the complexities of a given situation. Or, infinitely more cutting, a self-judgement.
I’ve been struggling, but not really with the issues I imagined would be problematic before getting involved with the boys. Originally, I was afraid I would lose my temper, not be able to be present with them, or get culture-shocked by the transition from life as a self-directed single woman to spending large slabs of time with three kids.
Unexpectedly, perhaps, it’s not been those factors that have been the problem; from an outsider’s perspective, then, it’s all happening as it “should” be.
There are shoulds actually being neglected in our various homes – they’re just a different kind.
Honesty, or perhaps authenticity, is the first one. There are so, so many times when I don’t speak up, or find myself going along with situations I don’t agree with. It’s a habit that was preserving surface harmony, but sapping my happiness underneath.
Being more honest doesn’t mean verbalising every frustration or criticism of the kids to the Lovely Man, or becoming hurtfully or abrasively assertive like a 90s cliché. I’m trying for increased authenticity, not a convenient whipping boy. And there are times when I need to accept that the Lovely Man and the Boys’ Mum will make their own decisions for their own reasons, and that those decisions presumably make sense inside their heads if not inside mine.
Overall, though Little Miss Shut Up (gotta get that one on a t-shirt) here really, really needs to morph into Little Miss Speaks Up.
But whether it’s expressing that No, I’m not comfortable loaning the Boys’ Mum our car for her holiday, asking the Lovely Man not to volunteer for anymore fifteen hour shifts on public holidays, or telling Boy A that I expect him to say hello when I collect him from school, the new focus is going to be on calmly and skilfully speaking up in a non-accusatory way.
I accept that asking for what I want doesn’t guarantee I’ll get it. Not even close.
But nobody is psychic, and especially in stepfamilies, if you don’t ask, you surely don’t get.
So each day, I’m going to try to respond clearly and honestly to situations that before would have seen me dropping my eyes and staying mute.
Recently, for instance, the Lovely Man said at dinner:
I thought you boys were really helpful with the cleaning up today, didn’t you B?
Now, one of the Lovely Man’s most endearing qualities is a hefty touch of Pollyanna. In fact, the whole lets-tidy-up process had been about as easy as pulling teeth from a Komodo dragon, with lots of go-slowing resistance from the Boys. So I gulped and said:
Actually, while it was good that you helped a bit, I think you could have actually made an effort tried harder rather than making us stand over you every second. Why do you think adults spend so much energy getting kids to do things they could do quicker themselves?
And I explained that it was because we value cooperating and believe that encouraging them to take responsibility for their mess helps build their characters.
OK, so they stared blankly at me, like I’d offered them vampire sandwiches for lunch.
But I tried. And even if nothing changes, saying it out loud felt so much better than the old nod-and-smile response that I would have given before.
Are there any ways you would like to be more honest in your stepfamily this week?