Tag Archives: Self-Care Challenge

The Getaway

I’m spending a couple of much-needed days away at the moment while the Lovely Man takes a week’s “Boy Time” in the kids’ city.

As much as I support the Boys getting time alone with their Dad, it wasn’t a plan I was particularly happy about initially – there’s nothing like feeling excluded from what I consider my family (even if the other people in it don’t feel the same way about me!) to reinforce those inevitable stepmother outsider feelings. The Boys actually get a lot of time with their Dad without me there, and the timing of this particular trip certainly hasn’t felt ideal…

But now, looking out of my hotel window at the blue sky and glassy river beyond, I feel very glad to be here, catching up with myself as I am outside and beyond my stepmother role.

Part of the “shutting down” feeling that I get from being depressed (and just as a reminder, stepmothers suffer stress and depression at significantly higher rates than other stepfamily members, mothers without stepchildren or women generally) has included a kind of distancing from spending time with people I love, so it feels like a big step forward to have invited a couple of friends and my sister to each spend a night with me as part of this mini-holiday.

And in between their comings and goings I’ve got hours each day to myself for walking on the beach, shopping, reading and writing. I also carefully chose the cheapest hotel I could find that had a gym so I can keep up with the all-important exercise regimen that’s been so helpful in lifting my mood and cutting the dreaded rumination cycle off at the knees.

I’m very lucky to have this option – lots of other women wouldn’t be able to get away from work, or couldn’t spare the extra cash that three nights in even an inexpensive hotel costs. As much as I love our home, the Lovely Man’s long hours and extra travel to see the Boys without me for two weekends in four means I spend way too much time alone there, so actually being in a different environment is a big part of the self-care investment of this trip.

Especially for stepmothers without children of our own, there’s an enormous benefit in getting away from our usual routine and consciously connecting with the things that make us who we are beyond our partner and his kids.

Common sense tells us there are real benefits to getting away, even if the best you can manage is sending your man and the children out for a day of Dad-Kid time and consciously taking that few hours to do something enjoyable that you have let slide away under the pressure of stepfamily life. Or for some women maybe deliberately setting out to do something new and different might be more nurturing – what about packing a book, a blanket, a sandwich and a drink, heading to the prettiest park you can find and turning your phone off for a guaranteed two hours of solitude? I’ll stow that idea away for the next time the Boys come to visit…

I’ve put so much energy into cultivating my relationship with the Lovely Man and with his kids that the most important relationship I have got neglected. It feels so good to be gradually getting back together with me again.

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Filed under Family, Self-Care Challenge, Stepfamily Life

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Being a Care Bear - it's a killer

I’ve been on unplanned blog downtime for a month or so now.

Life has felt very overwhelming. Kid stuff, ex stuff, relationship stuff, me stuff, Lovely Man stuff, our incredibly dense schedule, and the endless travel and separation from the Lovely Man that being an involved long-distance stepmother entails have all been taking a heavy toll on my “sparkle”.

There is lots of research out there on the high rates of depression experienced by stepmothers, presumably for all the reasons above and then some extras. Wednesday Martin talks a lot about this less than delightful aspect of stepfamily life on her blog, and in her book, Stepmonster.

I thought, apparently incorrectly, that being aware and educated about stepfamily life was going to keep me well. That knowing that I wasn’t alone, that almost every other stepmother on earth was experiencing or had experienced similar stuff could bolster me against the slow bleed of joy, the takeover of my old life by stepfamily dramas. In the end, though, it seems that even having the biggest stepfamily library in the Southern Hemisphere is not by itself enough insurance.

For other stepmothers and anyone else in the same place, I’ve come across a fantastic book, The Depression Cure by Stephen S. Ilardi. It’s all commonsense stuff, mostly, but it feels right.

So I’m fighting back and trying hard to rebuild a basic self-care regime of exercise, getting outside, avoiding rumination, seeking connection and eating better.

Part of my get well plan is also this blog, which my psychologist has suggested I return to as part of feeling like myself again.

I also need to recommit to speaking up about what is and isn’t okay with me, instead of being what conflict professionals call a “Care Bear” – someone who gives away more than is sustainable for them. It might seem all nice on the surface to be Ms-Endlessly-Supportive-Sucks-It-Up, but in the end, playing Care Bear is a guaranteed happiness killer.

Changing these habits is hard, and I have to take a deep breath each time I say something that goes against my fluffy pastel nice-girl instincts, but there have been some big wins for honesty in the last week or so.

It’s not easy on the Lovely Man, being part of all this while having a lot to cope with himself. I’m very grateful for his support.

So anyway, I’m back – a bit weak and watery at present, but hoping to be back in full voice ere long.

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Filed under Communication, Counselling, Self-Care Challenge, Speaking Up Challenge, Stepfamily Life

There’s an app for that – iPhone applications for stepmothers

Ok, perhaps I’m being a trifle silly and self-indulgent with this post. But a bit of frippery is good in the middle of the week, and silly is sometimes surprisingly sustaining.

And for me my iPhone is more than a phone; it’s a family member. One that never complains on long car trips. Which gets it extra bonus points.

And yes, it’s true that probably most of these apps are no more applicable to stepmums than they are to Mothers Who Birthed.

But if you have the care of children (not infants – given that I first menaced into the boys’ life when Boy C was five I’m going to let that aspect slide for want of credibility), and sometimes those children, or you, need distracting/managing/pacifying (point me out either a stepkid or a stepparent that doesn’t!), then these apps come tested and recommended.

Exercise. I already wrote about Couch to 5k, but Gateway to 8k and (especially) Runkeeper are also pretty nifty for those times when you just need to escape. Exercise is one of those self-justificatory, don’t-need-a-reason activities that give you a get out of jail free card when you’re about to throttle someone.

Byline. For reading my stepmum blogs. Anywhere. Anytime. And it will cache them for reading even when I’ve got no reception.

Pzizz Relax. This incredibly useful guided mediation tool allows you to have timed power naps and wakes you up refreshed when your snooze is up. Can be used with optional hypnotic suggestions and “Aurora 3D” effects, also known as “binaural beats”, which are said to help induce a relaxed and suggestible brain state. Give Pzizz a go when you’ve been up late with kids who won’t settle, when you can’t seem to stop ruminating about the difficulties of steplife or just when you need to relax. It really, really works. And it’s great for regular self-care.

Epicurious allows you to search recipes based on one or more main ingredient, meal or course you are catering cooking for, a cuisine type, dietary considerations, the type of dish and the season or occasion. You can search by keywords, save favourites and generate shopping lists.

I’m a keen cook, and the thought of stirring industrial-sized vats of the bland gloop that results from eliminating almost every known ingredient or flavouring because one or other of the boys won’t try doesn’t like it nearly does my head in. Epicurious at least lets me explore a range of options.

The boys also love using it to choose recipes; and when they are involved they tend to try much broader groups of foods.

Another free app with a database of less foodie-type meals and a super cool high-kid-appeal slot/fruit/poker machine-style format for spinning up recipes is Dinner Spinner. I’ll mention that a lot of the recipes it links to seem to include cans of Cream of Mushroom soup and leave you to judge whether that communicates “time-saving homestyle deliciousness” or “gloopy 1970s casserole” to you…

Stanza is a book reader. It’s so well laid out that the format is being adopted by other purpose-built reader gadgets. It’s very pretty, with a page-turning simulation that the boys love. And I love being able to download hundreds of classic books with kid appeal for them to read in random moments of boredom or when we’re travelling. For free!

At the moment Boys C and sometimes Boy B are listening to me read aloud The Wind in the Willows. We can’t find our lovely old hardcover edition amidst the chaotic forest of Lego sculptures at present, so it was iPhone to the rescue. And the benefit is that with the lit screen I can read to them in the dark, helping them to settle for sleep that much sooner.

Games. The Boys looooove playing games on the iPhone and we mostly keep it as a special treat, or to palliate annoying waits and car trips. Enduring favourites include Yahtzee, Flight Control, Doodle Jump and Touch Physics; all of which are non-violent and/or cooperative.

Apologies to non-iPhone geeks, but the little plastic and metal phone thingy really makes a big difference in my time with the kids, and I sometimes, quite frankly, wonder how I’d manage without it.

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Filed under Food, Kids, Me, Random

Focusing on the strengths – followup

The Lovely Man and I flew in to the Boys’ city yesterday, and all day I was feeling anxious about collecting them, about what they might do or say in the throes of Transition Fever that would be hurtful or rejecting.

I told the Lovely Man about the feeling, and he (accurately, I think) compared it to the trepidation he experiences when he has to see the Boys’ Mum, a kind of how will she make me feel bad today feeling.

At school pick-up time, I waited in our local after-school treat café for the Lovely Man to drop Boys B & C off, while he dashed away with Boy A for a doctor’s appointment.

To my surprise, the younger boys were really happy to see me!

Boy C broke into a huge smile – he has a gorgeous, wide toothy smile – and gave me a cuddle, saying that he’d missed me, and he and Boy B chattered happily with me all afternoon about their pets, their friends, their new teachers and their planned additions to the Hugest Most Ginormous Lego Collection in the southern hemisphere.

Last night at their bedtime, the Lovely Man hollered out that it was time for The Wind In The Willows, a nightly reading ritual I have with Boy C.

As I came in through the door, I overheard Boy C saying to the Lovely Man:

B is one of my very favourite…. umm…. not really parents, but people.

I got into bed with him to read, and after the Lovely Man left I said to him:

No, it’s not really quite like a parent thing, is it, cause you’ve already got a mum and dad.

He agreed that it was a bit different.

But you’re a very special boy to me, Boy C, and I love you a lot.

He put his arms around me and I kissed the top of his blond head.

Boy B came in and spent a few minutes hanging around pretending not to listen to the story, until eventually he crawled into in Boy C’s bed with us and I read The Wind In The Willows to them both.

It was a watershed day, and really nailed home to me that my new plan to focus on the good relationships in my stepfamily and not fret so much about the challenging ones has been the right choice.

Instead of worrying about Boy A’s completely predictable rejection, refusals to answer me, dismissive and negative comments and grumpiness, instead of struggling to engage with him and ending up feeling miserable and unwanted, I had a really fun evening playing with, reading to and hanging out with the younger boys.

Because I didn’t give Boy A the chance to disrespect me by trying to chat with him, offering to make him afternoon tea, asking about his day or any of the other attempts to connect that I usually make, his brothers didn’t have to watch him being rejecting toward me, which normally seems to induce a mini loyalty conflict in them, particularly for Boy B.

After all, if their older brother hates me and my “usurpation” of their Mum’s “rightful place” so much, it’s not going to be completely ok for them to like me. Understandable enough, I guess.

Interestingly, even Boy A was better this morning, volunteering several remarks in the car on the way to school that were not specifically about my manifold failings, obvious idiocy or poor choices of hometown, family or car.

It’s early in the week yet, and I’m sure there will be new pits to navigate before Friday,  but it’s such a relief to feel that we’re off to a good start and that the hazy blueprint I had mapped out in my mind before this trip has firmed up and taken shape into something reassuringly useful.

So, each day of this visit, I’m going to make an effort to do my self-care and to focus on my strengths.

What are the strengths in your stepfamily?

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Filed under Family, Kids, Lovely Man, Me, Self-Care Challenge, Stepfamily Life

Self-Care Challenge – followup

One of the things that stop social networking being a useless timesuck, in my view, is finding ways to make the tools work with us to further our existing values and goals.

One value I am trying to live each day is supporting myself so that I can meet my goal to continue supporting my Lovely Man effectively in the care of his Boys.

So, with this goal and value in mind, I’ve decided to run my self-care diary on Twitter under the #self-care tag.

I’ll keep a paper diary as well, and may not tweet self-care every day, but one of the crucial lessons of this Self-Care Challenge was the importance of holding myself accountable by publicly committing to my self-care plans.

So if any stepmothers would like to join me by tweeting their self-care commitments, I’d love to have you along!

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Self-Care Challenge – Day 7

Ummm, I didn’t walk the dog yesterday.

Bad. Evil. B.

My self-care challenge has been most useful by showing just how much I need to make self-care an active priority. If it’s not actively planned into each day it just doesn’t happen, I’ve found.

And given that we’re about to head interstate for a week with the Boys, becoming aware of the need to plan self-care and getting into the habit of scheduling and doing it before we leave has been good practice for the next few days, when I’ll be in the KidHaus with the chips down and the stakes high.

I think a self-care diary would help me stay on track, even if it’s just a stack of post-it notes on the bedside table. Or maybe I could use my iPhone. Surely there’s an app for that!

Today, for the final day of the challenge, I’m going to bake something yummy with Billie Holiday playing in the background. So soothing!

And (finally) take the dog for a walk.

Thanks to everyone who has followed, commented and been involved in my inaugural Self-Care Challenge Week!

Let’s keep asking ourselves –

What’s one thing I like to do, just for me, that makes me feel good about myself and that I can do today?

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Filed under Food, Me, Self-Care Challenge, Stepfamily Life, Writing

Self-care challenge – Day 6

I’ve still got sunburnt legs from surfing on Saturday morning (who’d have thought that the surfboard would rub all the sunscreen off my legs!?), so running is out for today’s self-care. Hot, itchy thighs are not fun!

It does need to be exercised-based, though, so today I’ll plan to take the dog for a walk along the loop where I usually run. There are some steep hills, so we’ll both get to work our muscles a bit, even if not at high speed.

My little sojourn on the front step was really soothing last night; I came back inside in better and less troubled spirits and was able to talk what was bothering me over calmly with the Lovely Man.

That small step of recognising what I needed to do to self-soothe and doing it in turn allowed me to think the situation through and gain access to more adaptive ways of thinking and talking about it.

As a bonus, I got to spend time listening to the night noises, which I love.

How are you going to take care of yourself today?

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Filed under Communication, Lovely Man, Me, Self-Care Challenge, Stepfamily Life, Writing