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TABOO TOPICS: Things Most Stepmoms Never Say Out Loud

The feelings that come with stepmotherhood are so taboo that sometimes we don’t even talk about them amongst ourselves. It’s time to come clean! Once you know that many of your emotional reactions are a normal part of stepfamily development and that you’re not crazy, life is much better:

Read the following list of the top ten most common feelings stepmothers have and check off the ones you’ve experienced if you dare. If you haven’t had these particular thoughts but other even more shameful ones then read on anyway because you’re still welcome here.

I have felt:

__ Jealous when my husband kisses or hugs my stepdaughter or angry when one of the kids sits between us on purpose.

__ Scared to discipline my stepchildren.

__Disgusted – I can’t get the picture of my husband and his ex having sex out of my head since my stepchild is a constant reminder he has slept with someone else.

__Invisible to my stepchildren and my husband.

__Horrified at the ex-wife’s behavior.

__Contempt for my husband because he won’t stand up to his children, the ex, or the in-laws.

__Sad because if it were just my husband and me we wouldn’t have all these problems.

__ Tired because I am the one who has to do all the changing to fit into their family.

__Defensive of my children because my husband treats mine differently than his own.

__Hurt because I do so much for the kids and they still treat me like I don’t matter.

Do any of those sound familiar to you? If so, you’re not alone, Stepmother. Stepmoms the world over have felt the very same things. In order to begin moving away from the negativity of such sadness, hurt, resentment, and contempt, here are a few things to try.

Build an arsenal of positive feelings.
Besides educating yourself about stepfamily dynamics, creating positive feelings is the single most important thing you can do. Build emotional connection points with your partner by doing fun things together. Create touch points with your stepchildren by having a laugh about something. I recently watched America’s Funniest Videos with my three stepchildren and it was fantastic to just laugh together…no tension! Exercise or splurge for a makeover so you feel good about yourself. Build those positive vibes in any way you can think of and they’ll influence every other part of your step-life.

Learn about the cycles of stepfamily development.
Here’s a news flash: You’re normal. You’re not crazy. You’re not evil or wicked or selfish. You’re a stepmother. If you know that your feelings of resentment toward his stepdaughter are stemming from the fact that you are the outsider longing for the same level of intimacy with your family that they have with each other, then it can be easier to move toward new feelings such as compassion and empathy. Learning about what is normal can ease your feelings of guilt or shame and open you to deeper bonds with your stepchildren and your partner.

Talk to your husband about what you each think your role is.
Have an open discussion about what each of you thinks a stepmother should be doing. You might surprise each other with your notions about what kind of disciplining and level of involvement a stepmother should have. Be honest with each other about your hopes and your disappointments but keep your eye on the big picture here: You want to create a team approach. The tighter you are as a couple, the stronger your stepfamily will be. Be kind to each other as you talk about these emotionally loaded topics.

Find a stepmom friend you can be really honest with.
If you don’t have a stepmother you can talk to on the phone or in person, find one right now. Make that your goal. You need someone you can let your hair down with about all those thoughts and feelings you have that you can’t share with your spouse or your non-stepmom friends and family. But don’t just vent the entire time. Once you’ve let off steam, help each other brainstorm action you can take to move you to more positive ground.

Counteract negative feelings with a gratitude list every day.
I talk to stepmothers all over the globe and I am fascinated by how sticky negative feelings are. They seem to carry more weight with people than happy feelings so stepmoms tend to forget all the wonderful things they love about their stepfamily life when they are focusing so intently on what is not working. When I start coaching sessions by asking women what their happiest memory of their courtship days are we end up in a much happier place by the end of the session than when we start right in with the challenges. So what are you grateful for about your spouse or stepchildren? What are you grateful to the ex-wife for? Write down five things you’re thankful for every single day.

Turn on your curiosity.
If you are stuck wishing your stepchildren would stay at their mom’s house or fantasizing that the ex is hit by a bus, try turning on your curiosity. Ask yourself questions that spark your interest such as: I wonder why my stepson is so belligerent today. Maybe something happened at school. Maybe he’s hitting puberty? I wonder why the ex is so angry? Could she be scared? Could she be insecure because she thinks I’ll judge her?

You can bet that if you’ve had a terrible, horrible thought about your stepfamily life, another stepmother has had the exact same thought. Even better? Instead of dwelling only on what isn’t working you can decide to focus on positive thoughts and actions that can help you build a happy stepfamily.

This article appeared in the June 2010 issue of StepMom Magazine.
Copyright: 2010-2011 StepMom Magazine

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