The holiday whirlwind of activities is finally over and you’re left wondering where the new year will take you. Perhaps you resolved to lose weight, get in shape, or improve your finances. You can also resolve to improve your stepfamily this coming year. Here's five resolutions to consider adding to your list.
(1) Accept that stepfamilies are different and get informed about stepfamily dynamics. The Stepfamily Association of American insists on use of the term “stepfamily” because stepfamilies are intrinsically different from other types of families. There are tons of books, forums and websites available offering help and advice. Perhaps you can read one book a month or a chapter per week. Set the pace that works for you, but get informed.
(2) Find support with others for parents and stepparents. It’s not easy to build a stepfamily, especially in the critical first few years. Don’t underestimate the power of talking about your experiences with others in the same boat. Sharing your stepfamily’s triumphs and trials with others who relate to your situation can be affirming and empowering. Last year I made a new friend who is also a relatively new stepmom, and our monthly get-togethers to talk about our lives have become a highlight within my zany schedule and helped me better cope with the demands of being a stepmom and a wife.
There are support groups available to help stepfamilies. If there’s no support group in your area, materials for starting one are available from the Stepfamily Association of America. Support groups are often available from therapists specializing in stepfamilies, and talking with a trained therapist or counselor can help you, your spouse and your children grow as a stepfamily and as individuals.
Online posting and chat groups can also help you connect with others. If you are like me and occasionally feel the need to go nuclear (beware the atomic stepmom!), then you are probably better off venting at sympathetic ears than ripping your stepfamily metaphorically limb-from-limb. Some of these groups can also help your channel your anger into positive action steps after you cool down.
(3) Choose interaction over inaction with your stepfamily. It can be very easy to let the chaos of daily living and our own fears of rejection and rocking the boat to stop us from reaching out to our own stepfamily members. Resolve not to be strangers. Don’t pester your stepchildren to death with requests for activities, but don’t give up on doing things together.
Explore who the people in your stepfamily are – find out what they like and dislike. My gang likes arts and crafts – give them some paint and something to stick it to besides my furniture, and wham, you see some incredible creativity. Make pizzas, go on a camping trip, form a cheering block at a child’s sports meet, celebrate good report cards with a special meal, or play a board game. Another great way to interact is through giving back to the community – contact a local charity and find out how your stepfamily can do a project together to help the organization – either on-site or at home.
(4) Set aside couple time and pay attention to your spouse. Setting aside time as a couple when you are taking care of kids and dealing with stepfamily dynamics can be tough. I’ve found that I have a tendency to worry so much about the kids and their adjustment and physical needs, that building my marriage lands on the back burner when the kids are around.
Carving out couple time is critical. If your children don’t see you and your spouse spending time together, being affectionate, helping each other with chores, joking around, resolving a disagreement, or going out on a date for just the two of you occasionally – how else will they learn what a healthy marriage relationship should look like?
Paying attention to your spouse is important. Little things can mean a lot – helping with a meal, assisting with picking up a child, a note in a lunch bag, or a back rub. I’ll never forget how pleasantly surprised I was to come home one day and find my husband had cleaned the tub so I could take a bubble bath.
(5) Take time for yourself. The pressures of balancing families with multiple careers, maintaining a household, raising children and investing in a marriage can be overwhelming. Remember to set aside time for yourself. If that means you need to go for a walk, watch a sports event, join a Bible study group, sign up for a health club, get your nails done, read a book, visit a friend, or do something else that is totally “yours” then do what it takes to cram it into your schedule. I’ve found that I’m happier and a better wife and stepparent when I take a little time for myself.
Best wishes for a joyous New Year.
A thirty-something wife and stepmom, Dawn Miller writes a column on life in blended families at http://www.thestepfamilylife.com .