Now that the season of bright lights and big expectations is here, it is a good time to share a few ways to help you manage the stress and anxiety this time of year often brings for stepfamilies. There are so many competing priorities and responsibilities. We often find ourselves stretched with additional commitments, additional expenses, and additional stress! Not to mention, when we are SUPPOSED to be enjoying time with our loved ones, this season can highlight painful loss. We must take time for ourselves and balance that with the time we feel we must make for our family, our friends, and our spouses. Contending with the chaos to create peace can take some intentional effort, but it doesn’t have to be hard.
Start with Faith
Faith isn’t hard this time of year. For many, it’s Christmas! We celebrate the birth of a miracle baby, and that’s what faith is all about. For other religions, it’s a magical time of celebration. Or is it? Merriam Webster Dictionary says that to keep the faith means “to continue to believe in, trust, or support someone or something when it is difficult to do so”. As a stepparent, our faith is tested daily. We must extend this grace to not only ourselves, but to our children, our stepchildren, and our partners. But, particularly our partners. After all, it will be them that we share the rest of our lives with as the kids grow and move on with their own lives. We must believe in and trust our spouse, that they are doing the best they can and we support them in doing that. A good stepmama friend of mine says she has learned to graciously allow her husband to be as good- or bad- a parent as he is, no judgment. She is also quite good at sidestepping the negative tailspin that sometimes is the result. Showing them that we respect them and their decisions (even if we don’t agree with them) will light them up brighter than the twinkling lights on the exterior of your house.
Have a Little Hope
In my work, I often share that some of the healing that we all need comes from taking the telescopic view rather than the microscopic view. When we focus on the details of here and now, we forget to keep our heads up and look at the bigger picture, where we want to go and how we want to get there. I remember reading about Nelson Mandela and how his hope kept him alive while he was imprisoned for 27 years, despite brutality. His hope inspired me. How can a man who has been discriminated against, traumatized and degraded for his values and his beliefs sustain hope in a hopeless situation? He never let “them” win. At times, we feel our situation is hopeless, but hope is faith’s fire. And as Mandela stated: May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.
Create a Space of Love
Self-love is critical. If you can’t first love yourself, where does the rest come from? You cannot give what you do not own. If you believe that love starts with or comes from someone else, then that source can be finite and fickle. If you have love for yourself in abundance, then the spill over flows to others around you. Self-love is never a finite source. There are people, I can honestly say, I do not love but, I send them loving energy and compassion. A big piece for me is not taking things personally and, that starts with self-love and self-confidence.
Take stock of the things that you find peace in, that bring you joy, and focus on the things that are going well. When you do that, the good, small things become more defined, more clear, bigger, and sweeter. As you notice the small things, then you start noticing the big and you start to notice that they are everywhere. And when you see it, believe it, and share it with your family. We all shine when we are encouraged, noticed, seen and feel that we are valued. That is where your power lies. That is a foundation builder.
Make Peace a Priority
The noise and the chaos can be overwhelming. But, having peace in your head, your heart and your soul are survival tools all stepparents need. Peace doesn’t come easy. It requires intentional time and effort, in other words, it requires self-discipline. Don’t let anyone take away your self-care time and opportunities. Especially you! The more you are taking some breathing space, time to clear your head and be right in your heart and soul the easier it is to keep the low hum from becoming an overwhelming roar. The little things bounce off you better and don’t accumulate. Follow your heart and listen to your gut about where to start and the next steps to take. They won’t steer you wrong.
My hope is that you are able to incorporate some of these ideas to help you be your best and bring your best to your family this holiday season. Warmest wishes for joy and peace to you and your family.
Ali Wilks has a BA in Psychology and an MSc in Human Ecology specializing in Family Studies. She is also a certified stepfamily coach and the owner and founder of Step by Step Mom – a stepfamily/stepmom coaching business. Her other job is with Children’s Services, since 1998, in Edmonton, Alberta. She is currently a trainer on Edmonton’s Caregiver Training Unit teaching classes on building skills, providing advocacy and support for foster, kinship and adoptive parents. These classes include building the essential skills in raising nonbiological children from the foster care system who present with special needs. Ali is a stepmother of 3 adult children (with a couple of grandkids too) and the birth mother of 2 beautiful girls.