Most of us are not very productive inside a cluttered, cramped and disorganized space. We can all agree that having a clear mind, free of distractions and disorganization is just as important as having a nice physical space to work, play and rest in.
We are all familiar with the sense of satisfaction that comes from getting rid of things we no longer use or of having clean empty spaces in our offices, cars, and homes. There is a huge weight lifted off our shoulders from having the ability to purge things that are no longer serving us. We can all agree that we breathe a sigh of relief when we toss out old things or give items back that we should have returned long ago. In stepfamilies, things can get complicated. With so many people and feelings to consider no wonder, many stepmoms are left feeling overwhelmed, anxious and even depressed by all the demands that come with being part of a stepfamily.
Most of us are familiar with the term “own your stuff” but when it comes to our family many of us forget what aspect of an issue is ours and which aspect belongs to someone else. It can be hard to determine if we need to do something different or if the other parties involved need to reflect and rethink the way something is being handled. In traditional families everyone has a blood relation and or bond with the children involved, in traditional families there are usually no Exes intervening in the lives of the current couple and family. In stepfamilies, however, the children, the Ex, and the in-laws have feelings that “should be” considered within a step couple.
As a stepmom, you know all too well that emotions can get cluttered and jumbled up pretty quickly between stepmom, the step couple, the ex, and the children involved not to mention the opinions of people outside of your stepfamily dynamic.
Allowing Space and time to sort through the emotions of everyone involved can often be a game changer for individuals as well as for stepmoms and stepfamilies. It gives people the opportunity to sort through and collect their own baggage and politely give baggage back to its rightful owner. As a stepmom learning to sort out your feelings, thoughts, and opinions from those of others stepfamily members can mean the difference between a healthy vs. an unhealthy stepfamily dynamic.
Sorting through your emotions about being a stepmom, a second wife, or a girlfriend within a stepfamily can be challenging. It’s hard to take on a role and make it your own when you feel you are being compared to your partner’s ex or when your relationship is being compared to things “during the good old days” when your partner and his/her ex were still together. Although step parenting is hard, there are ways to reduce a stepmom’s tendency to second guess herself and to stop taking responsibility for feelings and emotional baggage that came before you.
Keep reading for the 5 ways stepmoms can sort through emotional baggage and clutter.
Continuing to take on the emotional clutter and baggage of others.
As a stepmom, you might feel like it’s your responsibility to problem solve, and feel guilty over circumstances you did not create. It’s admirable to want to fix things for people you care for and to want them to “feel better” at the moment. The act of taking on the feelings and issues of others may feel like the thing to do, but in reality, it can lead to resentment and feelings of overwhelm.
Research shows that women who take on the role of being a stepmother have the most difficult role within a stepfamily. Stepmoms are often perceived as being the cause of conflicts within stepfamilies, but the reality is these issues occurred before you came along. As the outsider in a stepfamily, stepmothers are usually the ones pointing out the issues they observe because sometimes expectation is for them to patch things up and “make it better.”
If you have been taking on the emotions of your partner, your stepchildren and your partner’s ex is not healthy for you as an individual or as the member of this delicate family unit. Taking on “their stuff” is not a recipe for success in your stepmother role. You can only provide quality interactions to a level that matches your own health and mental wellbeing.
Sorting and releasing emotional clutter & baggage
Right now you may feel like it’s hard to determine which feelings and issues belong to who within your stepfamily. You might feel like you’re in over your head. But if you are willing to own your own baggage and develop the insight and reflection to know what baggage belongs to you and what baggage belongs to your partner, and their ex you can find the sweet spot between individual and happiness as a couple. Sometimes it’s necessary to claim and acknowledge your part and give the other issues back to their rightful owner so you can begin to shift the manner in which you navigate your stepfamily challenges.
You will begin to walk with more confidence as a stepmom when you acknowledge that everything in your stepfamily is not your fault. You won’t second guess yourself as much in your daily interactions with your stepfamily when you realize some of the challenges you face as a stepmom are not personal, that it is more about the dynamic of being a stepfamily it is not about you as a person.
You have the ability to “own your stuff” and to simultaneously discern whether some of the challenges you face are your own personal limitations or if it is the result of the feelings and resistances of your partner or their ex and possibly your stepchildren.
5 ways stepmoms can sort and toss out emotional baggage.
Take a look at these 5 tips to sort and toss out emotional baggage in your stepfamily:
When we interact and have a conflict with others it’s human nature to say to yourself “Am I the problem or is it them?” so of course stepmoms would experience these thoughts as well. You may have had the experience of talking to your partner about his ex, or the fact that your step kids refuse to help with chores; to your shock, you were met with defensiveness and anger. Your partner is normally loving and caring, but when it comes to talking to him or her about their family that came before you, and how it is affecting your relationship, you may not recognize your partner. You might begin to blame yourself and think “was it something I said?”
The truth is it might be something you said, but other times it could be that your partner might be hypersensitive about any constructive feedback or criticism about his/her children. Your partner might even be defensive about any suggestions you have about how to better manage his ex. When you are self-reflective and aware of how you show up when you interact with others you are in a much better position to take things less personally that you might get blamed for. Being self-reflective as a stepmom can help you step back, assess, and realize that certain issues are not yours to fix. You will be empowered to know which issues you can work on as a stepmom and which issues and emotional baggage you can hand back to your partner for him or her to sort through.
#2 Develop and trust your intuition
Sometimes our gut tells us when we are being sold a bill of goods. Stepmoms are in a difficult circumstance where they are expected to be okay with their partner’s ex being involved all in their relationship all the time because they share children. Stepmoms are also expected to take over the child rearing with a smile when their partner’s children visit. If you are getting a feeling deep down that this is not right, then go with it. If your gut is screaming, “His ex should not be calling at 2 am” then have a talk with your partner about their interactions with their ex. The reality is your partner’s children need him but his or her ex does not. Go with your feelings, they may not always be right but a discussion about your feelings is a sign of a healthy relationship. If your feelings are being completely discounted then it may be time to seek out help with a therapist. The children, your partner, and your partner’s ex all have a right to their feelings, but so do you. When your feelings are being brushed aside that’s an indication that it’s probably not your emotional baggage that needs sorting. You can toss emotional baggage that is not yours back to the person it belongs to.
#3 Observe familial patterns
All families have positives and opportunities for growth and your stepfamily is no different. Do your best to pay attention to the way certain issues are handled, how routines are managed and how conflicts are resolved. For example, if your partner refuses to enforce a bedtime and it’s affecting your step kids morning routine and you’re responsible for taking them to school then this a pattern that existed before you.
You might be blamed if the kids are late to school or if you are visibly frustrated when you take them to school. This lack of routine is not an issue that “belongs” to you, it’s something that your partner needs to take responsibility for. If the lack of consequences and structure with his or her children is negatively impacting you this is more about their resistance/emotional baggage regarding setting limits than is about something you need to do differently.
#4 Setting Boundaries
As a stepmother and as a woman it may be hard to disentangle your emotions from those of your stepfamily members, but doing so will help you develop healthy expectations. It’s one thing to empathize with your partner and your stepchildren but another thing to feel pressure to take on their emotions as your own. Being able to put up a chain link fence between you and your emotional baggage and that of your partner, step kids, and the ex could be a recipe for happiness. Just because the ex is feeling angry doesn’t mean you have to carry that on your shoulders.
If your partner is having trouble creating and enforcing rules, with his/her kids that is something your partner is responsible for improving. It’s not a requirement for you to spin yourself crazy being the only one looking for child-rearing solutions. If your stepchildren are resentful or feeling hurt that you are in the picture, it’s great to feel bad for their situation, but it’s unhealthy to allow their feelings to affect your level of involvement and participation with your partner. It’s okay if your step kids don’t want you around, but it’s not their choice and they still need to respect you. Creating boundaries allows you to decide what you will and won’t tolerate within your stepfamily. The emotional baggage of being a stepmother and getting used to your role is challenging enough without you making everyone else’s feelings become your issue as well.
#5 Being Assertive
Many women struggle with telling others what they want and what they don’t like. Stepmoms often feel pressure to be sugary sweet to overcompensate for the evil stepmother myth. Being assertive and making your needs known can be hard at first, but getting into the habit of speaking up for yourself and your needs is one of the best ways to manage your emotions as well as keeping the emotions of others from spilling into your overall well-being.
#6 See a therapist
If you are a stepmom who struggles with self-blame and calming your inner critique please seek out help. I have experience working stepmoms at all stages of their stepmother journey. I understand how hard it might be to find a safe space to work through all the difficulty this role brings. Please click here to reach out for a free 15-minute consultation.