A Blog about being a stepmom, growth that begins from within and radiates outward into your blended family. Mindful Stepmom, teaching practical mindfulness and everyday practices to increase peace and flow in your role as a stepmom.
Take the quiz and read more about all four stepmom mantras.
Discover all the 4 mantras below: I am loved, appreciated and my contributions matter.
As a stepmom, you may be doing a lot for others. Cooking, cleaning, and general care and consideration for other people’s feelings take effort. You put in that effort as best as you can day in and day out.
That’s a choice that you make, and a commendable one at that! You’re a super star, and definitely deserve recognition and praise for all that you do.
But sometimes you don’t even get a simple ‘thank you’. Quite the opposite, you may get smirk remarks that leave you feeling taken for granted. You may be doing all the “motherly” things, without much credit at all. It’s important to know that your contributions matter and are vital for the well-being of your whole family. Although your partner and stepkids may forget to tell you that you’re appreciated, you can learn to give yourself the appreciation you deserve.
Careful - that doesn’t mean that you settle for less or allow others to take advantage of you. On the contrary, it’s about loving and appreciating yourself enough to know your boundaries and stick to them. It’s important to know that your efforts to be a good stepmom matter. But no matter how much praise and thanks you get from the outside, it will never be enough to fill an inner lack of self-love and appreciation. Until you can learn to love yourself first, you won’t be able to fully receive the love that is around you. So the good news is that if you start truly and deeply believing and living this mantra, you can experience some big positive shifts in your life - I am loved, appreciated and my contributions matter.
Action step: What are 3 things that you appreciate about yourself in your stepmom role? When you start to feel self-appreciation, your mood will start to shift to a more positive and happier vibe. Try this practice of self-appreciation for at least a week, and notice how things begin to shift. Want to learn more? Check out this blog on feeling taken for granted, and discover the two questions you can ask yourself to help bring you out of that ‘taken for granted’ feeling. https://www.annadeacosta.com/blog/what-have-you-done-for-me-lately
I am enough, and it’s safe to be me. I can be open, honest, vulnerable and take my rightful place in my blended family.
At times, it can be difficult to share your partner with children who are in need of his love and affection. And you do so selflessly, with grace and understanding.
But at times, that may leave you feeling unimportant and second-in-line.
If you don’t value yourself, then no matter how much attention you get from the outside, it will never be enough to fulfil that inner lack of self-worth.
By valuing yourself, I don’t only mean acknowledging how great you are (because you are ;) ). I mean getting in tune with your deep desires and needs, and making sure those are met.
You may be disconnected from your own needs and desires, if: - you have a hard time voicing your opinions and preferences (or identifying what they are) - you go with the flow all the time and rarely have needs of your own - you tend to put everyone else first, constantly. It’s vital to know that you are an important member of your blended family. Along those lines, your well-being and personal fulfilment are central parts of the functioning of your blended family. So make yourself a top priority in your life. If you are happy and fulfilled, you radiate a positive vibe that is an attractive force to those around you.
Action step: What are 3 things that make you truly happy that you can do this week? It could be dancing, listening to a certain genre of music, art, reading, writing, sports, going to the spa, whatever you enjoy. Tune into those desires, and ask yourself on a daily basis what it is you need. This practice will start to reconnect you with those deep desires and will leave you feeling fulfilled in your life. Try this practice of fulfilling your desires for at least a week, and notice how things begin to shift.
I am enough, and it’s safe to be me. I can be open, honest and vulnerable and take my rightful place in my blended family.
When we become a stepmom, it can be hard to find our place. A stepmom’s role varies depending on so many factors (the age of the kids, custody arrangements, what biomom is like, to name a few). How one woman ‘stepmoms’ will be different from the next, and your role will change and develop over time.
There may be times when you find it hard to bond with your stepkids or be yourself around them. You may feel uncomfortable or act reserved.
You may think that you need to be someone else – be more ‘motherly’, be more ‘crafty’, be less vulgar, more open, less open… the possibilities for self-criticism are endless.
It’s so important to know that you are enough, just as you are. You can learn to open-up and be yourself around your stepkids in a way that is safe and feels natural. You can take your rightful place as their dad’s partner, and be unapologetic about your presence in his life. You don’t need to walk on eggshells, feel like an outsider, or hide your true self. This starts with accepting yourself just as you are, and knowing that you are enough. When you accept yourself, it doesn’t matter if other people don’t at first. Your self-acceptance is the only real thing that matters. If you can be comfortable with who you are in the presence of your stepkids, you can be a role model of a self-actualized woman in their life. They may not recognize or appreciate it at first, but believe me – the long-term rewards of having this type of role model are invaluable, especially if you’re the only one modeling this behavior in their lives. So it’s a win-win – you feel like you can be yourself, and your stepkids can learn to be their own person one day.
I am supported and it’s safe to let go. I trust in the flow of life and my place in the world.
As a stepmom, you may take on the caregiver role and feel like you need to manage everyone in order for things to work – and you’re probably really good at it. You may act as the middle-person with biomom to prevent conflicts with your partner. You may coach your partner on how to talk to his ex, or how to discipline his kids. You may even manage the schedules and keep things super-organized for everybody.
Maybe you believe that if everyone just did things your way, everything would run much more smoothly – and perhaps it would.
It’s a fine balancing act to manage it all – but you’ve got things under control.
Sometimes though, you may overstep and people may get upset with you for being overbearing or too controlling. You may feel a big burden on your shoulders to manage it all – because without you it will all fall apart.
Helping out is a great quality – when it’s asked for and desired. And it may be (at first). But if your help is unsolicited, or you’re starting to feel resentful about it, it may be time to let go a little bit. If you’re at your breaking point, it may even be time to detach with love.
Ask yourself: - What would it be like if you could let go of control and trust that life will fall into place? - What if you could drop the fear that it will all fall apart if you don’t step in to fix the problem? - What if you believed that everyone and everything would be okay without your help? - What if the burden of controlling the situation was off your shoulders, and you were only responsible for your own thoughts, feelings, beliefs and actions? How would that feel?
The truth is, your greatest power is the power to change yourself. Other people’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs and actions (or lack of action) are not yours to control. You can try, and you may succeed in the short term, but long-lasting change needs to come from the individual’s willingness to change, it can’t be forced or persuaded.
When you can accept this fact and learn to let go (at least a little bit), life becomes effortless. You can relax, knowing that you are safe and carried. That doesn’t mean that you sit back and do nothing. It means that you act strategically and intelligently, knowing your limits and respecting other people’s boundaries and autonomy to make their own decisions.
Action step: Identify one little thing that is out of your control and causing you stress. Now let that one little thing go. Hint* it’s related to controlling other people’s actions, emotions, beliefs and feelings. It’s important to start with something small and manageable and feel the release of letting it go.
For example, if you’re constantly reminding your partner to teach his kids table manners, let that go for a day. You can other people deal with the consequences of their actions, and don’t need to be a caretaker all the time – especially if it’s causing you to feel burdened and resentful. That doesn’t mean you abandon your family and live “to each their own”. It’s about letting go with love and giving others the space they need to develop and grow. They may make mistakes along the way – and that’s okay. We are all on our life journey, we all make mistakes and grow as a result.
Feeling unappreciated and taken for granted as a stepmom.
As stepmoms, we do a lot for everyone else on a regular basis. You may be packing lunches, taking your stepkids to their after-school activities, or taking a back-seat to the kids' daily necessities as dad takes care of them.
Many times, we don’t get much in return for our efforts – not even a simple thank you.
Over time, that can really leave you feeling taken for granted and unappreciated.
Do you know the feeling? Like the old Janet Jackson song goes, you may be asking your partner or stepkids, “what have you done for me lately?” (Irrelevant aside and confession: I’m a huge fan of 80’s music).
But what you should really be asking is “what have you done for yourself lately”?
In my experience, we often feel taken for granted and unappreciated if we are lacking in the self-love department.
What if your limited sense of self-love was actually making the problem worse? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you’re to blame.
But I AM saying that there are things you can do to make the situation better. You have power here, if you choose to accept it, and it doesn’t come from a place of self-loathing and feeling like Cinderella. The truth is – if you whole-heartedly loved yourself, you probably wouldn’t need to people-please in order to feel appreciated. When you truly love and appreciate yourself, you develop a deep sense or inner-knowing about your own value and worth.
When you develop that, you don’t need to receive praise and acknowledgement from the outside.
This doesn’t mean receiving appreciation is unnecessary. Rather, receiving appreciation is a complement to the appreciation you give yourself. If you don’t value, love and appreciate yourself, then no matter how much thanks and praise you get from the outside, it will never be enough to fulfil that inner lack. If you aren’t able to receive compliments and are dismissive of them (“oh this old thing?” when someone compliments your new sweater), this may be a sign you don’t truly appreciate yourself.
This also doesn’t mean that you let people take advantage of your kindness or settle for less. On the contrary, it means that you love and respect yourself enough to know your boundaries and make sure they aren’t crossed. Not in a “bitchy” and cold way, but in a loving and assertive way. For example, if you’re making dinner every night and getting complaints and no support from your partner, maybe you need to stand up for yourself, have a talk with your partner and make some changes before things get out of hand.
So, what if you could activate a deep sense of self-love and appreciation in those moments of feeling taken for granted?
You CAN fill-up your own cup of self-love and appreciation, rather than wait for others to do it or you. When you notice that those feelings of being taken for granted are coming up, ask yourself these two questions:
1) Is a boundary being crossed? Am I doing something I really don’t want to be doing; and
2) How would I show-up if I truly loved and appreciated myself? What would I do?
I believe that when you act with self-love, it is actually the most selfless thing you can do. When you love yourself and feel fulfilled, you can show up fully and truly love others.
Your self-love is the basis for all other forms of love in your life – if it’s lacking, it will show in other areas of your life. On the contrary, if it’s full and complete, you become a force of love in your family.
When you make self-care a priority, you do what makes you feel whole, and become a more confident and radiant person as a result. Think about the people in your life that you enjoy spending time with – it’s likely people who are positive, self-loving, and vibrate with that high-vibe energy. That energy is attractive and draws people in to you. Ask yourself, how can you grow to become more like that positive, energetically attractive, self-loving person?
Self-care doesn’t mean trips to the spa and putting on make-up. It means putting your needs and desires on the table, knowing your own worth, and appreciating yourself. It means making those needs and desires a priority in your life – just like you would prioritize your own child’s needs. As women and care-takers, we can really put our needs on the back-burner, and this will lead to eventual resentment and burn-out.
What can you do to honor your own needs and desires and take care of yourself?
I’d love to hear about it in the comments or via email.
kinda irrelevant side note: I started listening to 80’s music while I wrote this blog and am super-high vibe “I wanna dance with somebody, I wanna feel the heat with somebody, yah I wanna dance with somebody, with somebody who loves me” Whitney!!! I’m dancing as I type this – and dancing is one form of self-care for me, so is writing this blog! If you don’t like 80’s music you may not understand this last comment ;)
I’m honored to feature this article from fellow stepmom and friend, Beth McDonough of BabblingBlonde.com.
I met Beth at a networking event I organized for stepmoms in Toronto this past summer. Beth’s openness and vulnerability in sharing her experience as a same-sex step-couple were truly inspirational. Despite Beth’s unique experience being part of a “nontraditional family within a nontraditional family”, her triumphs as a stepmom are so commendable.
She’s taught me that as stepmoms, we have more in common than what makes us different. I hope you enjoy this honest perspective and can’t wait to hear your feedback. Also, be sure to read to the end and check out the link for my guest post on BabblingBlonde.com
At so many pivotal points through my life, I have found myself at a moment where I’m eager yet afraid to join communities as an outsider. It might be the only child in me, but I continuously feel like that vulnerable one who arrives late to the party and hopes she will be welcomed, instead of having the door closed in my face.
From left: Beth McDonough, Anna de Acosta, Brenda Ockun, Sarah Patterson, Aimee Allen, Claudette Chenevert
I came out as bisexual later in life than most people do these days. At 28 years old, I didn’t realize that my sexuality was fluid until I met my wife. By the time I came to terms with who I am, I felt more like a wannabe than a genuine member of the LGBTQ community. I hadn’t spent my life struggling with who I was. In fact, I was happily heterosexual until faced with my “type” of woman, who just never happened to cross my path in the mountains of West Virginia where I grew up. As a bisexual, I still feel like I take up this awkward space with one foot in the heteronormative world, and one foot marching in the pride parades.
Once I married my wife, I became a newbie in yet another community, and also a bit of an outsider. I’m part of a nontraditional family within a nontraditional family, and I know exactly zero other stepmoms like me. So what could I possibly have to offer this community, and would they accept me, as different as I am?
When Anna de Acosta reached out to me about participating in this summertime gathering of stepmom influencers, I was hesitantly excited, and felt cautiously validated. I had been following Anna for a while because I loved her vibe and her message of mindful living and the practice of trusting your sense of self and intuition. My first immediate thoughts were “these women want to hear what I have to say?” combined with “what in the world do I even have to say that they’ll want to hear?”
Anna helped me craft my message simply me telling me what questions she had for someone in a same-sex stepfamily. My family dynamic might be different, but my pain points are the same, and we all share them. Anna’s message of learning to listen to our inner voice, which she shared more of during our event, has been monumental for me and the process of learning to be authentic and proud of the place I hold within this community. She continuously reminded us that we all have an important message to share, and if we were all the same then well, that would be pretty boring right?
The beauty of this event that Anna put together was that it put real faces to the spirit and energy that every stepmom brings to this community. We each wake up every day as stepmoms without a handbook, without a one size fits all solution to the problems we face. What we have at the end of the day is each other, a group of women with shared experiences and unique perspectives to provide support for the bumps and successes along our individual journeys.
When I knocked on Sarah Patterson’s door in Toronto and met all of these women in person, I wasn’t just welcomed inside, I was celebrated. I no longer feel like an outsider trying to figure out if I have a place. I feel like a valued member of a community that feels not like a place I’m visiting, but a place and people that feel like home. Now, I look forward to celebrating every single stepmom I meet for exactly who they are. Let’s share the wins, commiserate over the losses, and be proud of our differences, together.
Beth McDonough is one of three moms raising one fun, feisty little redhead. Over at the Babbling Blonde, she provides support and inspiration to women in nontraditional families, from stepmoms to LGBTQ parents. Beth is proud of her identity as a queer woman within the community and the perspective she brings to blended families. You can find her on most social media as @babbling_blonde. Head to her website to download the free Essential Co-Parenting Custody Journal and Queer Media Guide.
In a recent call with a stepmom, the issue of stepmom overstepping, meddling and taking-over came up. It’s such a fine balance between stepping-up, and over-stepping… it’s almost like a dance. You don’t want to step on the other person’s toes, but sometimes being in-sync with one another (especially biomom), isn’t easy.
Full disclosure: I love dancing, and I love using analogies to teach, so when this analogy of the two-step came to me, I got so excited I had to drop everything and write about it ASAP.
Thanks to that lovely stepmama for the inspiration ;)
Many dances have a move called the “two-step”.
The way it’s danced depends on the type of music you’re listening to.
There is no “right way” to do the two-step. It varies depending on the music, which ranges from country, fox trot, hip-hop, polka… they are all quite different. You wouldn’t dance that same step in the same way in every situation, it all depends on the music and your own personal style.
Well, if you think about it, the same goes for your role as a stepmom. You are dancing the stepmom two-step, and your way of doing it depends on the music of your family and your own personality. You would never do it the exact same way as someone else who is dancing to the beat of a different family. What's overstepping for one stepmom, is normal for another - and that's okay.
We wouldn’t dance the two-step polka if our family is a hip-hop kinda family.
Get the point?
Now enough with the dancing analogy.
The main point is this – You will find the stepmom style that works best for you in the different situations you encounter. And you will learn that by practicing and making mistakes. You may (and likely will) over-step. You will under-step. And, over time, you will learn to step-up in a way that works for your family.
Then the situation will change - the kids will grow up, biomom will get married, and what was before will be no longer. You may overstep again. But you too will grow and evolve if you’re committed to doing so.
There is no magic formula. You need to do what’s best for you in your unique family situation. Your role as a stepmom evolves and changes over time. And you have a choice - you can either take control of your role, or get swept up in the waves of change.
It's not as complicated as it's made out to be. We tend to focus so much on fixing what’s on the outside, defining our role, cleaning up the mess... but we don’t realize that to make truly meaningful change, we need to start with ourselves. Our greatest power in any situation is the power to control our own thoughts, beliefs, emotions and actions.
Thoughts fuel our actions, so tending to our own inner-world is really so important. The best thing you can do for your family is tune into your own inner-wisdom, listen to your intuition, and honor your own needs.
It’s from that calm, centered, and connected place that you can learn to not take things personally, and live a purpose-driven life despite the chaos that may be happening around you. It’s from that place that your actions will truly be driven by love, and it doesn’t matter if other people interpret that as overstepping or under-stepping.
As long as you are truly connected to yourself, and doing things for your family out of love (not judgement, attack, “shoulds” or proving to someone else that they are wrong and you are better).
The problem is that many stepmoms (and people in general), don’t know how to listen to their intuition.
They may listen to that self-critical, fearful voice, and let that be their guide. They may think they are doing good by trying to control everything, but they are really just acting from suppressed fear. I used to do just that. It's not our fault - we were never taught to listen to our intuition, we were taught to live in fear, competition and defense. Many of that is ingrained in Western society and encouraged by the mainstream media.
Over time, I learned that critical, fearful voice is not my intuition.
Your intuition will guide you to take actions that feel expansive, freeing, and aligned with your highest purpose. When you follow that inner-knowing and act from that inspired and loving place, your life may effortlessly fall into place around you. Opportunities will open up, people will be more open and feel safe around you, and your energy will begin to transform the dynamic of your own family and the world around you. It's simple, but not easy.
Self-improvement and personal development are not for the faint of heart. I can almost assure you that what looks simple won’t be easy. You will need to feel your feelings, be in the darkness, and experience that which you are avoiding. You will have no control over the timing, or the actions of others. But when you do the inner-work and come out on the other side, it opens a floodgate of healing, positive energy and love that didn’t seem possible before.
You will learn to dance your own two-step, and you will inspire others to do the same. So in summary, if you’ve been accused of over-stepping, meddling, or taking over – check yourself. What are you intentions behind the action? Is it coming from a sense of obligation, “shoulds”, fear and judgement, or is it coming from a space that allows you to feel expansive, free and fully self-expressed. Catch your ego – if you’re doing it for the outer praise and recognition, there’s something else there that you need to uncover.
Dance to the beat of your own drum. I dare you to explore your own thoughts, assumptions, judgements and fears. Do the work, go deep, and transform yourself to become the best stepmom, and person, you can be.
Have you had a transformative experience by listening to your intuition? Have you recognized actions that are being fueled by thoughts of fear, judgement, comparison? I'd love to hear about it and help guide you in the comments!
In a recent survey of my stepmom community, I learned (not surprisingly) that the biggest struggle stepmoms identified was the biomom, and various aspects of her presence.
If you are having problems with biomom – whether it be jealousy, bitterness, resentment, communication issues, non-acceptance, lack of discipline, or anything in between – this blog is for you!
Firstly, know that I feel your pain.
The underlying discomfort of having another woman influence your family is common to most, if not all, stepmoms – whether we admit it openly or not.
The biomom may be the perfect mother, or (more often than not) she may be a narcissist troublemaker whose seemingly sole purpose on this planet is to make a giant mess of your life. The latter is probably why you’re reading this blog.
Either way, feelings of jealousy, anger or wishing she would disappear are completely normal from time to time, so don’t beat yourself up for feeling them!
Rest assured - it’s okay, and you’re okay.
Even those who have “good” co-parenting relationships experience these feelings every now and then to differing degrees.
So how can you overcome and gain back control of your life?
Most stepmoms I asked say they don’t know how to work through it, or don’t have the social support.
Well today is your lucky day because I’m going to tell you just how I did it. The answer is extremely simple, but not always easy to implement. It takes practice, so be patient and kind to yourself as you learn to work the solution – RESPOND WITH PEACE, AND LET GO OF THE OUTCOME!
Viktor Frankl, a philosopher and survivor of death camps of Auschwitz wrote, “You can’t control external circumstances, but you can control your response to those circumstances.”
If he can come out of a concentration camp with that perspective, then maybe we can learn something about the hostile situation biomom may be creating in our external world?
The truth is, we can’t control her, nor can we control those external circumstances she stirs up around us.
But we can certainly learn to control our response to those circumstances (although in moments of rage I know it may not seem that way). We can calm down. We don’t have to fight back in anger, play into her game, cause more chaos and look like the crazy person. This doesn’t mean we shut-up and let ourselves get pushed over. Instead, we can let go of the outcome and act in loving and peaceful ways. When we let go, that negative energy biomom may try to throw our way dissipates and becomes nothing.
Letting go of the outcome of our actions is part of the path to inner peace. It doesn’t mean we stop trying, it means we try but don’t fixate on the end result (**but if trying is causing you too much grief and you have no social support, it may be time to let go – see my blogs on detachment part 1 and part 2).
How do we let go of the outcome? What does that mean?
We act with love, but don’t expect a certain reaction (in the short term/immediately, that is).
For example, we can ask biomom to communicate to us about report cards, but when she doesn’t we let that go. We can be cordial and polite to her, but when she’s a bitch back we let that go and step away. We can have a serious talk about the value of honesty, but when she encourages the kids to lie and you see that your conversations with her are going nowhere, you let that outcome go.
That doesn’t mean you do nothing. You can act intelligently by talking to your step-kids or your husband when the situation calls for it. But you don’t react from negative emotions and you don’t try to control her behavior.
This can be really hard, especially when we see the immediate effects as being negative. We may feel an urge to do something to control or mitigate that negativity. But if we stay true to our commitment to respond in peace and let go of the outcome – we can totally shift the dynamic in the long-term.
For example: if biomom is argumentative and causes problems, and you respond by letting it go… she has nothing left to argue with. When she has nothing to fight back against, she will likely get tired of fighting and let it go too (eventually). And if she doesn’t let go and keeps on fighting against the wind, who will look like the crazy one? By letting go of the outcome, you leave her no choice but to let go too, or look like a fool.
It’s so simple, but not so easy.
I know that if you begin this practice, you have the possibility to transform your whole life, not just as a stepmom. You can use this strategy with biomom, your kids, your husband, your work, etc. Respond with peace, and let go of the outcome.
It takes practice, persistence, and patience. I know because I accomplished it, and the results in my own life have been wilder than I could have imagined.
You can do this yourself if you follow the principles, but if you want to accelerate your path to inner-peace among the stepfamily chaos, I’d like to invite you to consider a unique opportunity this summer 2018.
I’m committed to helping you grow and will continue to provide you with free content to make that happen, but if you want it to happen quicker I invite you to join me for a unique, transformational experience you will adore!
For the first time, I’m offering a 4 –week group coaching program in July 2018 where you can work with me for a very reduced cost and get valuable support practicing these principles in an intimate group environment. Learn more about the group program, by applying for a discovery call here.
Stepmoms on the Edge of Evolution is a 4 week coaching program with Anna de Acosta. It includes a 30 min one-on-one intake call to discuss your goals, 2 live interactive group calls per week (60 min each: one live teaching call, one live Q&A call, recordings posted), access to the exclusive Facebook group and support through the group for the duration of the program. The program is based on principles of mindfulness, identifying and transforming our inner limiting beliefs and creating lasting peace in our lives despite the chaos going on around us. I hope you'll join us and create that positive spark in your family.
I’m opening up my coaching services exclusively to stepmoms who are committed to creating positive change in their lives.
Summer is the perfect opportunity to work on releasing your blocks and your whole life can transform as a result in ways you couldn't have dreamed of.
The 90 day package includes 12 sessions with me where I will work with you to create positive change in your stepmom role based on your unique needs and situation.
Apply today for a no-obligation, confidential discovery call to see if you’re a good match to my programs – I’ll answer your questions and help you identify your next steps.
I'm so excited to be offering you these programs. I know that with a little push and some deep transformative inner-work, you can achieve peace in your life as a stepmom. It's not easy, but it's possible if you're willing to invest the time and energy to make it happen.
Have you tried to respond with peace and let go of the outcome? I'd love to hear about it in the comments or via email.
My last blog post a few weeks ago was about detaching with love. Since that post, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback and questions.
- When is detaching appropriate? - What if you can’t detach? - What if you have other kids who are affected by the behavior and you can’t just let it go?
As a follow-up, here’s my part 2 on detachment and disengaging (which in retrospect, maybe should precede Part 1, but oh well, here it goes!).
When should you detach? When just about everything else you’ve tried has failed and your attempts to control are causing suffering.
What if you can’t? You don’t. It may not be right in your situation.
Allow me to explain in detail…
Detachment is letting go of control over an outcome (with love).
Detachment isn’t the first thing to try if you’re a new stepmom. You can think of it as a last-resort, a life-vest not to be used lightly. Detaching or disengaging (same thing) implies that you are already attached or engaged, and are letting go. If you were never attached or engaged to begin with, it’s not possible to detach.
When would you consider using this as a tool in your stepfamily?
If your attachment or engagement is causing you and/or others harm or suffering, that is when you should consider detaching. This harm or suffering can show up as constant fighting or arguing, unhappiness, constant anger, resentment etc. When things become unmanageable and your intents to ‘help’ are not helping, disengaging/detaching may likely be the way to go.
When should you detach? You should consider detachment when all of the 3 following conditions are met: - You are trying to control or change something outside of yourself (usually a behaviour in your stepchildren, their biomom, or even your partner) - AND your partner is not supporting you - AND trying to control it is causing suffering, and becoming unmanageable.
Important aside: I use the word consider because there is never a right or wrong answer. It’s not about what you should or shouldn’t do. Consider detachment and see if it’s right for you. I’m a strong believer that you should never take advice because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Always check in with yourself first and see if taking that advice or strategy feels right for you. If it doesn’t, don’t do it unless you’re comfortable. With that said, if you know it’s what is right and you don’t know how to do it, or are afraid of doing it, don’t let that fear stop you. Get support to do what you know is the right thing.
Getting frustrated or annoyed is usually not a call to disengage. Frustration is a normal part of parenting, and doesn’t mean you should stop engaging in a certain behaviour. But if the 3 conditions I mentioned above conditions are met, and it goes beyond frustration to disrupt your life and cause suffering – consider detaching in that moment.
It’s not about giving up. It’s about stopping the harm that your intent to control is causing. That harm can be towards yourself, your partner, your relationship and your stepkids.
Detaching is not permanent. It can be transient (for a limited period of time) and it can be called for in some situations but not in others. You can detach from one behavior but not another. You can detach from one child, but not another. You can re-engage and attach at any time if the situation calls for it.
But what if you have other kids being affected by the behavior and you can’t detach? Get honest with yourself and ask if you really can’t detach or is that that you won’t detach? If it's something that involves young children, it's your responsibility to take care of them and protect them. You can't just let go of the outcome completely when that outcome can put your children in harms-way.
But is the behavior actually putting them in harms-way? We need to ask ourselves - how important is this? We tend to make mountains out of anthills when it comes to our children. For example, if we're frustrated about the cleanliness of our stepkids’ room and our attempt to control that is causing suffering... that's probably something we can let go of and detach from (unless it's attracting rats and causing public health concerns for the rest of the family).
This is easier to see in ‘extreme’ examples. For example, your teenage stepson is constantly coming home drunk and you're concerned for your other kids safety. In that case, something must be done to protect them and you can’t disengage. We can detach from an outcome while placing clear boundaries on how it will affect the other kids. In the example of the drunk teenager, we may not be able to control his behavior or drinking, but we can and should control how our own young children are exposed it. For example, if he comes home drunk, maybe you set a boundary that he’s not welcome into your home where your young children are asleep. These rules need to be set and enforced with your partner in these extreme situations.
What about those "gray" areas of bedtime, cleanliness, or manners? Those need to be dealt with based on what feels right for you and your family. If you’ve tried to implement rules with no support from your husband and it’s causing you and others suffering, it may be time to let go. If you have a set of rules that you want your children to follow, but biomom doesn’t follow those same rules with her kids, you may need to disengage. It can be hard when your young children follow the example of their older siblings, but if you can’t control it and it’s causing suffering, you need to let it go.
The HOW of disengagement can be the hardest part. If you’re finding it hard to navigate the waters of engagement and disengagement on your own, there are many experts and coaches (including me) who can help you determine when and how to disengage with love. When the situation calls for it, disengagement/detachment can be the perfect solution. Ultimately, when used the right way, it can lead you to feel more empowered and at peace in your situation.
Does that all make sense? I’d love to hear your opinion.
Still have questions about detachment? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, or feel free to email me and I’ll be sure to respond (your question may just turn into the topic of my next blog post).
Maybe they don’t accept you. Maybe they are mean, cold, or disrespectful to you. Maybe their behavior is destructive to themselves and you want to help.
When they’re around, they dictate the mood of the house. You have to walk on egg shells around them, you have to put up with their negativity and bad attitude.
You can’t be yourself.
You feel lost and uncomfortable in your own home. You want the best for this child, but they don’t see that. You want the best for your family.
You’ve tried to control them. That made it worse. You’ve tried to get your partner to control them. That also made it worse.
You’re at your wits-end. You’re resentful. You want to run away and hide when they’re around. You’ve been told to detach, or disengage. You do so, pissed off that you can’t live the life you want, that you can’t have the family you want, that you can’t “blend” effectively. Maybe you feel like you’ve failed in some way. Maybe your partner doesn’t get it, and thinks you’ve given up or don’t care.
You’ve detached. You’ve disengaged, you act indifferent, because that’s what you were told to do. It’s actually not easy. You feel like more of a failure. You’re unhappy. Now what?
If any of the above sounds like you, this post is for you my lovely.
So you’ve detached… but have you detached with love?
It sounds counter-intuitive. If detaching means acting with indifference, then what’s love got to do with it? I see so many people miss the point on this one.
That’s exactly the problem.
When you detach by being indifferent, there is no love.
It’s cold, mean and selfish, and it doesn’t feel good. It’s not what you want for your family, this loveless indifference is not your ideal, but you’ve reached the point of having no other choice to make this family work.
Detachment & giving up.
I first learned about detachment in a support group for families of addicts. It’s the basic idea of letting go of control over someone else’s destructive behavior. Whether it be alcoholism or bad attitudes and comments of a stepchild or biomom towards you, the basic principle of detachment is the same.
After seeing many people “detach”, I’ve learned that the intention behind that detachment makes the world of a difference. Often times, we detach because we’ve given up. We’ve tried everything, nothing works, our lives are unmanageable, so we give up and detach. The energy behind this detachment is often desperate, sad, and cold.
But what if we can detach in a loving way?
We detach with love when we realize that letting go of control is the most loving decision we can make.
And we make that decision from an empowered place, never from a place of defeat and having given-up.
We’re not giving-up. We do care.
We care so much, in fact, that we are willing to respect the autonomy and free will of our stepchildren and partner.
We are willing to let them be, as much as it pains us to let go.
We are willing to admit that we don’t have all the answers. That’s a big deal. It takes a big person to step back and admit they can’t single-handedly fix something. Admit that they aren’t a God. Admit that they need a higher power to intervene.
Admitting that we can’t fix it doesn’t mean that we’ve given up, it means we’re leaving space. Space for our partner and his kids to be. Space for them to figure it out. Space for them to deal with the consequences of their actions and learn the lessons they need to learn, without rescuing them and preventing them from learning those lessons.
They may need to fail to figure it out.
We give them that space to fall or fail, trusting that they will be able to get back up. Watching someone we love fall when we think we have a simple answer is NOT easy.
We’ve come to the point of recognizing that sometimes our interference is destructive to their growth and learning, so we let go.
We trust that they have the capacity to figure it out. We pray for them and send them love and light.
That’s not indifferent, nor is it easy. It’s the utmost respect and love we can provide to our partners – the freedom to be, just as they are.
We detach and trust that our partner and his children have the capacity to see what’s right and wrong, heal their own past hurts, and make decisions for themselves.
We’re not giving-up.
We are lovingly putting into practice a tool that will be of benefit to our whole family.
We’re putting everyone’s best interests first. And we’re pretty awesome for doing this!
Inflicting control has proven to be destructive in our situation – it’s not helping and is causing everyone stress. Nobody will do as we tell them, our help isn’t working, so we’re left with this tool of detachment. It’s not easy to detach. We love our family and want what’s best for everyone.
Some of usmay not like our step-kids, and that’s OK. But we realize that what’s best for our partner’s children is tightly tied to what’s best for our partner and our relationship.
If we can’t detach with love for our step-kids, we do it out of love for our partner. We do it out of love for ourselves. Love has to be the driving force in order for detachment to be an effective tool.
We see that our intent to control is causing more suffering, so we choose to detach with love.
When the situation calls for it, detachment is the most loving act we can do. It’s loving towards ourselves. It’s loving towards our partner and his children, and anyone else who may be involved.
If you detach with love, you’ll often see that everyone else, yourself included, is happier in the end.
Have you detached with love? What were the results? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
When should we detach? What if the behavior is affecting other kids in our household (like our biokids) and we can't detach? Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog, coming soon! Subscribe to my email list by clicking the button below to get free resources and updates when new blogs are posted. It's free and you can unsubscribe anytime.
Now she gets to be the “fun one”, the “cool one” that takes them to exciting places on the weekends, the one that takes them out for junk-food, is put-together, keeps her cool and doesn’t lose her mind because she only sees them a limited time.
That used to be me when I was the part-time stepmom.
Now that I’m with the kids full-time, I get to experience what it’s like now that the tables have turned. I get to be the disciplinary one, the one that feeds them vegetables, the one that gets cranky when they don’t eat those vegetables, and the one that loses her mind every now and then because having four kids full-time is a lot to manage.
I get to be the one who gives-in to their complaining and feeds them store-bought, frozen hamburgers for lunch. The one that feels like a failure every time I give-in or lose my cool in front of them.
To make it even more difficult, you can imagine which one of the above moms a child would naturally prefer (I’ll give you a hint, it’s not the veggie-feeding one).
For me, being a full-time stepmom has been a lot easier overall, but at the same time so much harder. The tables have turned, and as cliché goes, ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’.
When I was the part-time childless stepmom, I complained about having to put up with certain ‘bad’ behaviours from the kids. They weren’t being raised by my high standards, and I couldn’t do much about it because I only had the kids part-time. With my husband’s support, I could enforce rules in my own home, but those rules ended as soon as they went back to moms’ house.
I’m going to be boldly honest and just say it – I thought they weren’t being raised ‘properly’. I thought my way was better. I used to condescendingly and naively thinking that I could do it better.
Well I got what I wished for, the kids are with us full-time. I’m doing it my way now... and I now realize how hard we stepmoms can be on the biomoms (and vice-versa).
They are only doing what any of us do… the best they can.
I’m blessed to have my husband by my side though it all, and can’t imagine what it must be like as a single mom. I’m sure that my ‘best’ in that situation would probably be pretty pathetic. It’s not an easy place to be at all.
Our society is so judgemental of mothers in general. The ‘perfect mother’ stereotype is so indoctrinated into our culture. When we don’t have kids, we never think that we will be one of those ‘bad moms’ who lets the kids stay up past their bedtime on a school night, forgets about their homework, lets them drink soda pop after 9pm, or forgets to pick them up from school.
Expectations are even worse for stepmoms. We are unrealistically supposed to love our step-kids from day 1 and provide for them as a mother would – even though that biological connection that makes mothering rewarding (and tolerable) is simply not there.
In many cases, the truth is simple but hard to accept:
We all do the best we can with what we’ve got, and that is enough.
We pray that what we do is enough to raise happy, thriving little ones who will turn into successful adults one day, and more often than not, it is enough.
We are enough. Our kids are set to go on the journey that they need to go on. They will evolve and grow.
Being a mother of any kind is a selfless and often difficult path to walk, and trying to live-up to society’s perfect standards of what a mother “should” be can really wear us down.
We often perpetuate those expectations by comparing ourselves and judging one another.
We project a façade that we’ve got it all together.
The truth is that nobody has it all together, each one of us has a unique way of doing things, we each have our own answers, and what works for one person doesn’t work for another… and that’s okay.
It’s okay for us to have needs too, it’s okay for us to take care of ourselves, it’s okay to take a time-out.
Our children will get what they need from us, and things will be okay.
We can trust that we are enough, and inspire our children by taking good care of ourselves and living our life’s purpose. We can shine our light brightly - we don’t need to dim it down.
Our example can be their inspiration. Instead of reinforcing the cultural learning of that self-sacrificing mother stereotype (that ultimately brings us all down), we can lead by example and show our children a different way - the self-loving and self-appreciative way.
In the spirit of sisterhood, lets show a little more compassion to those full-time moms, single-moms and stepmoms, who truly go through the ringer and stick it out for the children’s best interests.
Instead of judging one another, let’s praise one another as mothers and women, and raise one another up for all that we do.
We're all just doing the best we can with what we've got.
Share this post with a special mom in your life who may need to hear this message – you’re valuable, your needs matter, and you can follow your heart and be an example for your children to do the same.
Once upon a time, I dated a man with kids (for the record, this was not my husband).
He wasn’t the best father figure – he didn’t always show up when he was supposed to pick-up his girls, and he didn’t pay his child support on time.
But he had a good heart, was well-intentioned, and loved his girls. He was just a little lost, and needed some help to get back on track. And I could show him the way. I had the solution he needed – I could help him mend his relationship with his daughters, and we would all live happily ever after. The end.
That was not the case, and this tale did not have a “Beauty and the Beast”-style ending.
I fell into an old destructive habit of ‘helping fix’ something that was, according to me, broken. According to him, things were fine the way they were and my ‘help’ was clearly not needed. I tried to help anyways. Years later, things ended badly. The end.
I probably should have realized sooner that this relationship with a man who didn’t really put his kids first wasn’t for me. But I stuck it out for far too long and instead of facing reality, I tried to change him, with little success, in order to get the outcome that I desired.
Photo by Alex J. Reyes on Unsplash
Growing up in a family where controlling one anothers' addictive behaviors was the norm, I dedicated the first part of my life to trying to fix those around me.
Thanks to those struggles throughout my life, I’ve finally figured out they key to controlling others! Are you ready to learn my secret? Here it is….
You can’t force meaningful change by trying to control another grown-up’s behavior.
That’s right, you have no control over someone else’s behavior. So do yourself a favor and stop trying to control it! Easier said than done, I know. And I know this is probably NOT the answer you were hoping for, but hear me out, it may just be the answer you need to hear.
DISCLAIMER: Before I explain any further, I want to make it clear that I’m NOT talking about controlling children’s behaviors here (unless your stepkids are adults, in which case yes, this probably does apply).
You have no control over another adult’s behavior.
Influence sure, maybe, sometimes, partially… but control, no, never. When it comes to controlling an adult’s behavior (ie, biomom, in-laws, your partner, adult-children), you have no control. Believe me – I, of all people, know it can be hard to face your powerlessness, especially when someone you care about is doing something that is clearly harmful to their own well-being. The urgency to fix the problem can be all-consuming.
Time and time again, I’ve witnessed those I love drink themselves into an unconscious mess (and sometimes a lot worse). If there’s anything I’ve learned from my lifetime experience trying to change what I saw as “wrong”, “bad” or “harmful” in others it’s this: you can’t force meaningful change in anyone, but you can choose to change yourself.
And changing yourself is hard enough, but I believe it’s possible and in many cases necessary to thrive in a stepfamily.
Every now and then, this urgency to ‘help’ still comes up for me as a stepmom. I feel the need to ‘fix’ or teach the biomom, or control my husband’s way of interacting with the kids. Stepfamily life can really trigger that need to control in any of us. We’re put in a situation where we have to deal with someone else’s kids, who likely have behaviors and ways of being that are not 100% aligned with our vision of what our children should be.
Naturally, we want to help, correct or control the situation. And that desire to help isn’t a bad thing. That desire to help is healthy, and our opinions do matter.
But when we become so attached to our desired outcome, and turn it into our life’s mission, it can be harmful to all those around us, especially to ourselves. Often times when we do try to force change, we are instead consumed by someone else’s problem. We tend to think that we have the answer, or at least that our answer is better than theirs. We don’t trust in the other person’s ability to lead their own life. Deep down, we don’t trust that God/the universe/a higher power will help them, and we unknowingly try to become their savior or higher power.
Maybe OUR way isn’t THE way?
When we make it our life’s mission to force change in someone else’s behavior – whether it be something serious like a drug-problem, or something simple that you consider an annoying habit – you aren’t doing anyone a favor… not the person you’re ‘helping’ and certainly not yourself.
As stepmoms, we often fall into the trap of ‘encouraging’ our partner to live a certain way when it comes to his kids. We feel powerless and we want our opinions to matter, so we react by trying to control the outcome. And don’t get me wrong, our opinions DO matter.
But our opinions are just that, opinions.
We can’t force anyone to see it our way, not our husband, and certainly not the biomom. You can only help those who want to be helped, and you can’t force your will on those who don’t. As the old saying goes, ‘you can take the cow to the watering hole, but you can’t force it to drink.’ FORCE is the key word here.
It’s about letting go of our need to control or FORCE our desired outcome. We can share our opinions from a place of love, but eventually the decision on whether or not our opinion is taken into consideration depends on the other person, and that’s okay.
When we share our opinions without the need to control the outcome, that’s healthy. But when it becomes our mission to change someone else’s behavior or get them to live in a certain way because we want it that way, it’s a recipe for disaster – especially in our role as stepmoms and second wives.
Instead of forcing an outcome, focus on yourself.
We must learn to let go of the outcome, or we can quickly lose ourselves and cut off our connection to our own intuition and inner guidance.
When we focus on ourselves, that’s when true transformation can happen, and that’s when we can find peace among the chaos that stepfamily life can often bring about. It’s a fine balancing act to learn what we do and no not have control over as stepmoms. And what we can control differs from one family to the next. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
What I know for certain, is that when we focus inwards, follow our intuition, and transform ourselves… the world around us transforms in ways we couldn’t have imagined.
Have you ever tried to control a situation and had it back-fire? I’d love to hear from you in the comments or via email.
I have an important question for you – what comes first in your life?
Is it God, spirituality, you, your partner, your relationship, your stepkids, your biokids, your career?
We often tend to think in this pyramidal or hierarchical way, where one thing is more important than the rest, and there is an ‘order of importance’ to the relationships and things that give meaning to our life.
My answer to this question – it’s NOT a hierarchy! Nothing has to come first.
You don’t need to put an order or absolute value to things. That value and importance changes and fluctuates with time.
And if I must choose one thing that comes first… then my family comes first.
My family consists of me, my husband, and our 4 children in no permanent order. My family is united by spirituality as a central force that keeps us together and moving forward.
Whose needs come first can change from one moment to the next.
When my 1 year old is crying and needs a diaper change… her needs come first. When I’m losing my mind and need a break to breathe or dance it off, then my needs come first. When my stepson has a test the next day and needs help studying, his needs come first. When my husband needs a break from the kids and wants to go to the gym, his needs come first. When the biomom is sick and in need, her needs may even make it to the list.
Who or what come first fluctuates and flows.
Rather than putting an absolute order to our relationships and important aspects of our life, we can think of these things as part of a bigger picture that ebbs and flows. When my husband and I first got together, he was separated and had 2 children from his previous marriage that were 3 and 5 years old at the time. He made it very clear to me that his kids come first, and I respected that. It was even attractive to me at the time, because I knew that if we had children one day, they would also come first.
But his words, as honorable as they seemed at the time, were just words. On many occasions he showed me that I did come first, too. And over time we came to see that it wasn’t ‘them versus me’, there was room for the love to go around.
We began to see that our example of love is what’s best for the whole family. And once we began to see that, we started to put the family first. Many times that means putting our relationship first, because our relationship is the basis for our whole family. It’s why we’re all in this together. Through our example of a loving relationship, our children thrive, and by putting ourselves first in many situations, we are indeed putting our family first.
We live in a society where the myth of two parents together is still looked at as the ‘gold standard’ of families.
I think it’s time to break this paradigm of putting the children first, and accept that putting ourselves and our grown-up relationships first is actually what’s in the best interest of the whole family.
I grew up in a broken home with two parents that stayed together ‘for the sake of the kids’ until they broke up when I was in my twenties. I saw first-hand that putting what seems like the children’s needs first is not always in their best interests.
It’s not a matter of putting an order to things (God, them and you)... it’s a matter of putting the family first with your core beliefs & values as the central part of your family that is holding you all together.
Do you have an absolute ‘order’ to the things that are important to your life, or do you go with the flow while holding true to your family vision? I’d love to hear your perspective.