Reading this post from stepmama metamorphoses (who has been so inspiring as she works through the process of stepping back from her husband’s ex’s dramas) as well as Sherri’s weekly affirmations at Too Many Toasters, I got thinking about the unspoken mantras that help me cope with the Boys and their Mum when things aren’t going so well.
The first is something I remind myself before every visit to or from the children.
How this goes is up to me.
Obviously, I can’t control what happens during our time with the kids. But I find that my sense of satisfaction is almost entirely linked to how well I feel I respond when challenges come up (and there are always challenges!).
So, for me, it works to remind myself that success, in these terms, is actually something I can control.
Boy A can be as sullen or even as actively rejecting as he likes, the other Boys can be behaving like orangutans on stimulants, the Lovely Man can be grumpy or tired or shut in the office, but if I manage my responses/reactions in a way I’m happy with I can still feel like I’ve done well.
What this involves has varied over time; it used to be that my benchmark was “keep your mouth shut and keep smiling” but increasingly, and with the help of our counsellor, I’m recognising that it’s more important to be authentic and voice my concerns and boundaries than to be a perfect Stepford Stepmum.
The second and third mantras are questions I ask myself.
What is this person really saying here?
This helps me to listen for the true interests and concerns buried in another persons’ words or actions, and hopefully to address those directly rather than get distracted by the emotions or information that we all sometimes use to “top-dress” our communications, for whatever reason.
What is my truth here and how can I speak it?
This has been a big barrier for me. As much as I say I believe I matter in this family, I have tended to not speak up about things that bother me or assert my boundaries, mostly through not wanting to burden the Lovely Man or create extra drama, or through fear of nagging and criticising.
What I’ve found, though, is that one way or another the stress comes out.
And it’s better for me to clearly say how things are for me as they arise and ask for what I need than to have a sobbing conniption at 10pm ostensibly because the Lovely Man is late home from work.
So, when Boy A next tells me or says in front of me, for what feels like the eleventy-billionth time, that his Mum is very intelligent, instead of just repeating “Yes, I know” like an automaton I can hopefully say something like:
Yes, I know she is, Boy A. You’ve said that before. It’s great that you’re proud of your mum, but I’m not sure why you think it’s important to be telling me this?
(As suggested by our counsellor, who says it’s time to for me to start insisting on respectful boundaries in these situations, as opposed to my previous style of just putting up with any old shit in the name of being positive about the Boys’ Mum.)
And while it’s not exactly a mantra, I’ve found in general that waiting to respond to something that is upsetting until I’ve taken time to think about it from the perspective of the other people involved makes me a lot less likely to react in anger or out of pain.
As well, I’ve learned to be watchful about getting dragged down into a spiral of negativity. When I find myself making negative comments or statements about the Lovely Man’s ex or the situation generally to people, then feeling bad or disloyal about what I’ve said, it’s a cue that I need to address my underlying unhappiness, and usually, that there’s something I’m not speaking up about.
What mantras and reminders do you use to get through?