Avoid the holiday step-stress

Christmas season is here with us. The joy and excitement of the holidays is so real. Family and friends coming together to celebrate the birth our Lord Jesus as well as the years accomplishments, ups and downs. Its a time to celebrate, a time to learn from the year behind. Warm fuzzies everywhere. Perfect right? Not quite. You see the holiday season can be quite stressful for step-families. It’s a reminder of the loss in their lives, it’s a time of conflict over various holiday matters for the bio/step parents involved, the children might dread the holiday season, they might act up or be rude due to the emotional strain.

For those in step-families here are 10 tips to help you enjoy this Christmas Holiday;

Have a plan

Planning is the key to having a smooth and pleasant holiday season. With every step-family there is usually more than one home involved. It’s therefore important for the co-parents to plan in advance. Which holiday will the kids spend with whom and for how long? This should be done way in advance in order to iron out early enough any colliding schedules.

Consider the children’s need. The kids never choose to be in a step-family and the also struggle with it just as you do so consider what they would like to do for the holidays. Be flexible and sensible for example if you have them full time and they would like to spend more time with their other parent allow them to do so without making them feel like they are asking for too much.

What about the gifts?

The best part about holidays is the gifts. Children can be particularly fond of this part. It’s therefore important that parents (bio or step) ensure that the gifts given to the children are equal. There should not be any excesses as this creates a feeling of favoritism which can be a source of conflict for both the parents and children. Parents should be able to sit down and agree when a major gift is involved.

Work out everyones role and responsibilities 

Agree on the roles and responsibilities of the children and grown-ups wherever it is that they will be spending the holiday more so if the holiday will be spent at home. Children thrive in an environment of direction and predictability. It also builds their sense of responsibility and parents should be keen to praise when the roles are performed well.

Let the children help with the festivities for example putting up the tree, decoration, helping with some cooking, setting the table, singing carols, dressing up in costumes etc. these are fun activities that everyone will enjoy and get them in the holiday spirit

Respect

Respect and civility is important especially in cases where holidays will include everyone. Exes should act respectfully toward each other. Any conflict only hurts the children and creates a dull holiday spirit.

Don’t forget about parenting 

Its easy to overlook parenting and discipline during holidays. Do not tolerate bad behavior and manners. If you need to put your foot down or even punish a child for something unacceptable do it. Holidays are no exception for good behavior.

Create your own history and memories 

The holidays are great opportunity for you to create some family rituals, instill good morals and behavior. So think of something that you can do every holiday season. For example everyone can take turns to say something they are grateful for that year, family lunch with everyone where each members cooks something etc. whatever tickles your family’s fancy

Be grateful

Make sure to thank everyone for their contribution to making the holiday special. Thank Mum, dad, step-mom, step-dad and children (bio and step) for making it a blessed day.

Finally, make sure you have loads of Fun. After all it is the holiday season right?

Have yourselves a fantastic Christmas Holiday!

Mother’s day advice for stepmoms who dread the day

I remember my first Mother’s day as a stepmom. ” Wendy”? My stepdaughter called. “You know its Mother’s day; would you please help me to pick out a gift for mum? You’re so good at picking out gifts”, she said.  My initial reaction was “of course, I would be thrilled to do it”. I actually thought it was quite nice that we had gotten to a place where she felt that she could come to me with a sensitive request like this one. I told my partner about her request so as soon as we were done with the Sunday church service we drove down to the mall. While we were going through the aisles searching for the perfect gift it dawned on me what I was doing. I went from zero to angry real quick. What in the world had possessed me to agree to this request? Why was I spending time picking up a gift for my stepchildren’s mother? I was pretty sure she wasn’t looking for one for me to thank me for being so good to her children so why was I the one being nice to her? I was visibly upset and disturbed and as the wheels in mind kept turning, my feet stopped moving, I no longer wanted to help but it was too late to back out. My partner noticed the sudden mood change and sought to find out what was wrong but it didn’t feel right to share my feelings smack in the middle of Nakumatt. Being the emotional person I was it would not have come out without being accompanied by tears so I gave the classic “nothing is wrong” answer. He must have quickly figured it out because he immediately took charge, picked a box of chocolates and off were to the check-out counter. That day was unbearable, not so much because of the experience of getting the mother of my children a gift but the realization that it did not  matter how good a maternal figure I was to the children, they never perceived me as a mother and expecting them to do so would only cause me disappointment. One of many turning points I have had in my journey.

 

Mother's day (1)

 

Mother’s day has got to be one of the most difficult holidays to deal with for stepmoms; especially the full time ones, the ones who have full custodial care of their stepchildren. The ones who do all the work a parent is supposed to physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually without any appreciation. The ones, who have changed the diapers, helped with the homework, given the advice, attended teacher parent meetings, school plays, prize giving days, baptisms and graduations. Those who have bailed out their stepchildren over and over again.  For the newbies, you have at one point hoped that being this mother figure, your stepchildren would see, acknowledge and appreciate you for what you do for them. However at some point you were forced to quickly snap back to reality and realize that they don’t see you as a mother at all. Or perhaps they do but they do not openly appreciate you for this on normal days let alone Mother’s day. This is why this day of the year can trigger either happiness or sadness. If you are man reading this and you wonder why your spouse is in a dull mood on Mother’s day, now you have a clue as to what could be going through her mind.

I completely understand the roller-coaster stepmoms have to go through. On the one hand you are expected to have unconditional love for your partner’s kids and an ability to endure all things and sometimes even clean up messes you had no part in making in the first place. Yet, if you express normal feelings associated with the raising of children—like the frustration, disappointment and fatigue that come along with the job—you are viewed as selfish and evil. You are damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

So how can you let yourself off the hook this Mother’s day; while at the same time making it easier for your stepchildren as well? For starters;

Set the right expectations.

Expecting your children to recognize you and shower you with gifts this Mother’s day is setting yourself up for major disappointment. Do not put unnecessary pressure on yourself or the children. Let the children do what they think is best. If it somehow involves you, then you are one of the lucky few. By all means enjoy it. If it doesn’t, do not take it personally. It’s not an attack on you or who you are.  Also do not try and sabotage or come in between any plans that they may have with their biological mothers. Whenever the children feel that their loyalty to their biological parent is threatened; either by your words or actions, they will resent you for it and this only increases the strain in your relationship. Children constantly battle loyalty conflicts where they feel that loving you and showing it openly directly translates to betraying their mother. Make it easy for them by removing yourself from the equation.

I have worked with some stepmoms who have no intention to replace the biological mother but their partner finds it difficult to accept this. They put pressure on the children to respond to the stepmom as they would their mother. During this time your partner may go to the extent of asking the children to acknowledge you or even buy you a card or some kind of token. While this is a noble intention it does more harm than good. Talk to your partner about this; let him know you are comfortable with the fact that the children do not view you as they do their biological mother. Chances are they never will. On the flip side, nothing prevents him from getting you a gift himself as a token of his appreciation for all your effort and sacrifice. So gents, if you feel your wife has been a great stepmom by all means show your appreciation for her on this day.

Work on developing thicker skin

Society has unrealistic expectations and sometimes extremely uninformed opinions about stepmothers and the role they play in the family especially in this country where step-families are an open secret. As a personal rule I don’t waste my time trying to explain stepmom life or justifying anything to anyone who has not walked in my shoes. Only stepmoms would truly understand your thoughts and feelings especially during this time. Try your best to let any rude or insensitive comments bounce off you. Seek out the support of other stepmothers who know exactly how you feel and who will not judge you for it.

Focus on the things you are grateful for

Consciously shift your focus to the positives rather than the negatives in your family life. I know all too well that it is not easy building the relationship with your stepchildren and that we are all in different stages of the journey. It’s very easy to get caught up in all the things that are not working. Dwelling on these things reflects negatively in your own personal mood as well how you relate with your partner and the children. Instead of marinating on these negative things, focus on what is good and working. Rejoice in every step that has been made in the right direction.

Whether this Mother’s day is a good or bad day, it is only one day in an entire year. Find something to be grateful for and let go of everything else. It is such a relief when you discover that you can be happy even if every aspect of your life is not all fine and dandy.

Spend the holiday with your mother

Instead of forcing on a celebration with your stepchildren, why not spend the time with your mother? Try to make it special for her. You will be surprised how great you will feel when you focus your energy on her instead of yourself. This works for a lot of other stepmothers who choose to spend the holiday with their mothers or with women for whom they care for deeply. Treat yourselves to a massage, brunch with friends or whatever it is that you two will enjoy. By doing so you are actually taking the pressure off yourself and taking control of your own happiness.

I hope this can help you and other stepmothers have a more enjoyable Mother’s Day.

 

Mother’s Day for Step-moms. Husbands, You Carry The Day

While the whole world celebrates Mothers Day this year, millions of mothers receive calls, messages and gifts from their children wishing them a Happy mothers day. Thanking them for all the care and love they have received from them since they set foot into this world. At the same time, millions of stepmothers in the world wonder whether they will receive a call, a message or a gift to thank them for the care and love they have given even though they do not hold the title ‘mom’. Those whose stepchildren appreciate and embrace them and whose spouses have seen and appreciated their work are lucky to get some form of appreciation. Others are not so lucky.

If there is a day of the year that can trigger either happiness or sadness for a step-mom it’s Mothers Day. One of the reasons why this day has such extreme emotions is because many step-moms feel like they do all the work a parent does physically, financially, emotionally and spiritually without any appreciation. They may have changed the diapers, done the homework, given the advice, attended teacher parent meetings, school plays, prize giving days, baptism, they may have bailed out their children over and over again but they don’t get to enjoy the pleasures associated with being a mom. They do all the work but since they don’t have the title, its easily overlooked, forgotten and unappreciated so if you are wondering why your spouse is in a dull mood today, now you have a clue as to what could be going through her mind.

Many of the step-moms I have spoken to concerning this particular holiday have made it clear that Mothers Day is not about the gifts or the flowers but its about wanting to feel like what they do matters. That it counts for something and that its appreciated and not just on one day but everyday of the year.

Whereas you cannot force the children to do something special for your wife on Mother’s Day, as the spouse you can show your appreciation for what she does. The truth is, for many stepmoms, the only person who is there to celebrate them is their husband. The kids will most likely spend Mother’s Day with their bio mum and rightfully so. Therefore husbands, celebrating your spouse today and every other day of the year often falls on your shoulders.  She loved you and your children enough to choose and accept one of the most challenging and thankless jobs in the world. Acknowledge her work and thank her for it. Give her words of encouragement when no one else remembers how much effort it takes to be a step-parent.

To all mothers, stepmothers, adoptive mothers and all women who give care to children in any capacity.  Living In Step Africa acknowledges, honors and appreciates you today and wishes you a Happy Mothers Day!

10 tips to help your step-families enjoy this Christmas Holiday

Its been a while since I wrote my last post. I wish i could claim writers block. For some strange reasons it always seems like a cool thing when I see it in movies. I am pretty sure the writers reading this would completely disagree with me on that. Aaaaaaaanyhoo, I was busy getting married to the man I told you about on my very first post which you can catch here 🙂

I am back now and it’s my favorite time of the year. Christmas season is here with us. The joy and excitement of the holidays is so real. Family and friends coming together to celebrate the birth our Lord Jesus as well as the years accomplishments, ups and downs. Its a time to celebrate, a time to learn from the year behind. Warm fuzzies everywhere. Perfect right? Not quite. You see the holiday season can be quite stressful for step-families. It’s a reminder of the loss in their lives, it’s a time of conflict over various holiday matters for the bio/step parents involved, the children might dread the holiday season, they might act up or be rude due to the emotional strain and the fact that step-families are not “cool”

That’s what we need to change. The only way we can do that is if everyone accepts that step-families are slowly becoming the norm in Kenya and that parents, teachers, children, churches all have a responsibility to change their view on step-families first in order to impact the society in general. We can make it work. We can make it OK to be in a step-family and be proud of it. It all begins with me and you.
So for those in step-families here are 10 tips to help you enjoy this Christmas Holiday;
  1. Planning is the key to having a smooth and pleasant holiday season. With every step-family there is usually more than one home involved. It’s therefore important for the co-parents to plan in advance. Which holiday will the kids spend with whom and for how long? This should be done way in advance in order to iron out early enough any colliding schedules.
  2. Consider the children’s need. The kids never choose to be in a step-family and the also struggle with it just as you do so consider what they would like to do for the holidays. Be flexible and sensible for example if you have them full time and they would like to spend more time with their other parent allow them to do so without making them feel like they are asking for too much.
  3. The best part about holidays is the gifts. Children can be particularly fond of this part. It’s therefore important that parents (bio or step) ensure that the gifts given to the children are equal. There should not be any excesses as this creates a feeling of favoritism which can be a source of conflict for both the parents and children. Parents should be able to sit down and agree when a major gift is involved.
  4. Agree on the roles and responsibilities of the children and grown-ups wherever it is that they will be spending the holiday more so if the holiday will be spent at home. Children thrive in an environment of direction and predictability. It also builds their sense of responsibility and parents should be keen to praise when the roles are performed well.
  5. Let the children help with the festivities for example putting up the tree, decoration, helping with some cooking, setting the table, singing carols, dressing up in costumes etc. these are fun activities that everyone will enjoy and get them in the holiday spirit
  6. Respect and civility is important especially in cases where holidays will include everyone. Exes should act respectfully toward each other. Any conflict only hurts the children and creates a dull holiday spirit.
  7. Don’t forget about parenting as sometimes tends to be the case during holidays. Do not tolerate bad behavior and manners. If you need to put your foot down or even punish a child for something unacceptable do it. Holidays are no exception for good behavior.
  8. The holidays are great opportunity for you to create some family rituals, instill good morals and behavior. So think of something that you can do every holiday season. For example everyone can take turns to say something they are grateful for that year, family lunch with everyone where each members cooks something etc. whatever tickles your family’s fancy
  9. Make sure to thank everyone for their contribution to making the holiday special. Thank Mum, dad, step-mom, step-dad and children (bio and step) for making it a blessed day.
  10. Fun! Fun! Fun! After all it is the holiday season right?
Have yourselves a fantastic Christmas Holiday!