I have always been a sensitive person and whenever I have felt something, I have felt ‘it’ in a big way. So on my journey as stepmum, whatever feelings I had to deal with I felt with such force that I remember thinking one day ‘I can’t keep this up!’ Here I’ve listed the ways which have helped me deal with these feelings. Most of these aren’t new ideas and not specific to being a stepmum. It’s just as a stepmum I believe I’ve had to deal with the extra emotions that come with this role.
As I practice in yoga (and there are many other activities where the ‘breath’ is focussed on) breathing is an art form. Taking five deep breaths, in through my nose and out my mouth has helped me respond not react to situations. I have also used this technique at work too when stressful situations have escalated. I don’t make a big scene out of breathing and perhaps you might not even notice me taking a moment to breathe in these situations! I also practice breathing through yoga and meditation and truly believe that these activities help lower the heart rate, blood pressure and reduce overall cortisol (the stress hormone) levels when practiced regularly.
Respond not react
As mentioned above I strive to respond and not react to situations. Sometimes my stepsons will say or do something that triggers a strong emotional reaction from me. I am lucky enough that my stepsons rarely say or do these actions to purposefully bait a reaction from me; I know not all stepmums have this kind of relationship. I have learnt that often my reactions are to do with the adult relationships, history and previous experiences that I am involved in and are not directed at the children. When I react emotionally to my stepsons I often later feel guilty for ‘taking it out on them’. Of course, we are all human so I slip up but this is one mantra that I strive to live by.
As you can probably guess writing has always been helpful for me to acknowledge emotions and allow them to pass. I have written more since becoming a stepmum than I have in my whole life. It started with some irregular journal writing, then some structured writing (following a reflective cycle process) until I believed that my experiences and what I’ve learnt were worth sharing. That’s where these blog posts originate from and hopefully, they might help someone on their own very personal and challenging journey.
The benefits of physical activity are widely known and populated through the media on the many health promotion initiatives from our government and private organisations alike. So I won’t harp on this point, it is just so important that I need to mention it amongst these other factors. I also don’t mean that you need to join a class or a gym or buy expensive equipment. Since my son was born all I’ve managed are walks around the block and some yoga sequences through YouTube. However, if I go a few days without doing these activities I feel it, emotionally and physically.
I think it’s always important although not always easy to communicate my feelings to my loved ones. As I said above responding rather than reacting is my goal, although I slip up as we all do. Even though I am trying to respond to the situation rather than emotionally react I still believe it is important to describe what I’m feeling to those around me. Often this occurs later on after the moment has passed. Most often I describe what I have been feeling to my husband, which has been integral for our relationship as well as my emotional health.
Practicing gratitude is so ‘in’ right now but I’m fully aware that this notion has been around for a while. Why I found it difficult to start was finding a regular time and place to think about what I’m thankful for, and work out what exactly am I thankful for? So for me, I found my shower each evening was generally an uninterrupted regular time where I could unwind from the day. It has gone hand in hand with me thinking of what I’m grateful for. Initially, I set myself a goal to think of three things, which can be as little as waking up to the smiling face of my baby or feeling the warm sun on my skin. Now once I focus on gratitude what I’m thankful for simply flows: moments, experiences, feelings and achievements however big or small. I cannot tell you the subtle yet significant effect this has made to my overall mental health.
Taking time for Me
In my post on ‘What I’ve Learnt as a Step Mum’, I write about the importance of taking time for me. I often feel guilty doing so but honestly as little as 10 minutes a day (usually before bedtime when the house has usually quietened down) makes a big difference to my state of mind. This along with the above points especially practicing gratitude, quieten my mind and allow me to sleep well (usually) and tackle the next day with a clear head.
Sydney Ferguson* might be a pseudonym, however, the experiences she shares are true. A mum to a four-month-old boy, stepmum to three boys aged 6, 10, 12, wife, daughter, sister and aunty who resides in Australia. Her house always has country music playing in the background and you can find Sydney most days working with the horses, gardening or practicing yoga. Blessed with one dog, two horses and multiple chickens and birds, she is not only a human mum but also a fur mumma too and loves both of these roles. The aim of her sharing her experiences is to connect step mums and provide a safe place for discussion on the unique, confronting and sometimes humorous challenges faced in this role. You can find her sharing her experiences at fb.me/mystepmumjourney or guest writing for numerous mum blogs nationally and internationally. Connect with Sydney through @mystepmumjourney and through firstname.lastname@example.org