This is the time of year with plenty of gatherings for friends and family that create opportunities for fun and frivolity. A time to celebrate, share, give and receive. It’s joyous and magical. But for some, it shines a spotlight on everything wrong and on those things missing. It can be incredibly overwhelming. The source of the burden can come from so many things in the complicated life of stepfamilies. Getting together with judgmental extended family members and in-laws, battles with bitter ex-spouses, disappointed or angry children and tragically, children who are alienated from their parents and depressed partners. Even feeling depressed and isolated as a stepmom.
It can be a time of powerful reminders of painful and unhealthy dynamics and profound loss. So many people want to shut the doors on celebrations, parties and gifts. So how can you support yourself and/or your spouse as you navigate this hectic emotionally charged month?
For the stepmom: Breathe. Yes breathe. Find a quiet spot just for yourself. Slow, deep breaths that fill your rib cage. Then an exhale that drains the stress and sadness/anger in your jawline, your shoulders, around your heart and your stomach. Repeat the cycle until you are relaxed. Visualize your family, social or work event or situation you are challenged by. Envision yourself being calm, strong and peaceful, surrounded by silver light. Whatever is the source of your stress falls away as it touches your silver light. Breathe in your strength, breathe in calm and peace. Let that be your mantra as you navigate these next few weeks.
Find the opportunity to breathe and visualize, stretch, drink tea, journal or colour. Time away from the noise just for yourself so you can breathe, think and relax. Then set the intention that the silver light surrounding you will always be there as you meet with difficult people or circumstances. You’ve just set a simple boundary! Once you get in a place of peace and strength you can support the others in your home. But the peace starts with you.
For your spouse: Now you can approach your spouse with calmness and greater clarity. You are his greatest support. If you are more relaxed, it can help him calm. How does your spouse handle stress? Does he feel it physically in the form of headaches? Does he feel it mentally losing sleep or being forgetful? Does he respond emotionally responding in anger or frustration?
Stress, grief and loss are typically experienced in these similar forms: physical symptoms, mental symptoms, emotional symptoms or spiritual symptoms. Support him by meeting him in the way he grieves or handles stress. Send him for a walk with the dog or go with him for physical support. Get him a good book or an empty journal to write in for mental support. Watch a funny movie together to make him laugh and support him emotionally. Support him to talk to his spiritual advisor or reconnect with hope to support him spiritually.
For you as a couple: Nourish your relationship this season. Find time alone for the two of you. If you can’t afford a date night away then tuck the kids away in bed early. Night owl teens or preteens? How about giving them special permission to stay up to watch a movie on TV or read or something that keeps them in their room? Then lock your bedroom door and go into stealth mode. Have a picnic in your room, read each other bits from romance novels (or whatever inspires you); write each other love notes and pass them back and forth, create a family vision board or just be silly and have fun. You can talk about what’s been happening but remember to end your night on a positive note. For the next few weeks send your spouse texts or emails with little notes of appreciation. It will come back to you tenfold. I promise!
Have a blessed Christmas and holiday season!
Ali Wilks has a BA in Psychology and an MSc in Human Ecology specializing in Family Studies. She is also a certified stepfamily coach, the owner and founder of Step by Step Mom – a stepfamily/stepmom coaching business and Wellness Editor at Stepparent Magazine. 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.