Remember the TV sitcom, “The Brady Bunch”? Mom and three girls meet dad and three boys to live mostly happily ever after (with the help of Alice, the housekeeper). That plot-line made living in a stepfamily look like a piece of cake. Real stepfamilies don’t find life together to be so easy. They learn it takes patience, wisdom, and lots of work to have successful stepfamily life.
When a first marriage ends, it is normal to say as you grieve and recover, “Next time I’m going to do this right. I’ve learned from my mistakes.”
But second marriages are not like first marriages. They come with kids, ex’s, child support and visitation schedules, wounds as well as learnings from first marriages, and all the particulars of trying to make a new family work. It takes a different set of skills to make stepfamilies successful. On October 5 IDEALS will have a special stepfamily workshop. At this workshop participants will learn 10 research-based skills for successful stepfamily living.
Here is one of the skills: Each parent should spend some time each week with his or her biological child. As stepfamilies form, the new couple needs and wants to spend time together. That’s important! It is important to also spend quality, individual time with a new stepchild. This helps you get to know each other so trust can develop. BUT it is also important for a parent to spend quality, individual time with his or her own child. Otherwise the child will feel like he or she has been traded in on a new family. That feeling will lead to resentment and behaviors that show the resulting distress. A simple fix is to maintain individual quality time.
If you would like to know more hints for making successful stepfamilies, visit our workshop page to learn more about the workshop.
Knowing what makes a successful stepfamily is the first step to having one!
-Mary Ortwein, Director, LMFT
With reality TV shows on almost every channel during primetime, we can all begin to wonder- is any of this actually real? While a lot of what comes on these shows may be staged or edited to entice the viewing audience, considering what is reality is an important question. What makes someone real? How do you know when someone is being real in a relationship?
These questions point to the power of genuineness. At times, we all may lie, fake, or withhold information to “save face,” control how others view us, and to ensure people respond to us in a predictable way. However, by acting in this way, we are missing an opportunity to be real in our relationships so that they can grow and go to a deeper place emotionally. We also are missing the opportunity to be honest with ourselves and to own the feelings that we are having about a particular situation.
In thinking through genuineness, these are a few points that can help us become more real with how we express ourselves to others. Many of these ideas are outlined in Susan Campbell’s book Getting Real, which is referenced in IDEALS’ group curriculum Back on Track, written by Mary Ortwein, Sharon Bryant, and Benita Peoples.
Notice your own experience and then express it. Self-awareness is a key point in being genuine, which includes noting your thoughts, feelings, concerns, and desires at any given moment. This awareness will allow us to share our experience and therefore be more genuine in our relationships when doing so.
Invite a response while keeping distinct views. Once becoming self-aware and then expressing yourself, ask “What do you think about what I just said?” This type of statement will allow you to know if you are communicating your thoughts clearly. However, it is good to keep in mind that though your experience may be very different from another’s, it is important to accept that person’s view as there own, not yours. Often, when we hear a family member expressing their frustration or anger at a given situation, we are inclined to feel the same emotions. However, noting that your experience is different and not feeling the pressure that one of you needs to change increases your self-awareness and genuineness.
Genuineness can be a powerful tool in developing more meaningful relationships. It not only increases our self-awareness but also will grow the value of honesty in our personal and professional lives. So, while reality TV may be entertaining in all of its drama, the person sitting beside you on the couch may be the one with whom a real, meaningful adventure can grow.
-Kristi Dugger, staff therapist
I’ve heard it said that a person can tell where another’s priorities lie by looking at his or her calendar and checkbook. I agree, but a blanket statement such as this can be discouraging in situations where there is little we can do to change our current circumstances. For example, if my calendar reflects weekend visits and my checkbook reflects alimony, my priority is likely seeing my children (though this doesn’t make my situation any easier to deal with). In reality, not many of us have the option of doing first what we value most. So, what can you do when you find yourself in the midst of a situation that requires a lot of your mental, emotional, or perhaps even financial capacity? Self-care.
Self-care is tending to your personal health—emotionally, mentally, physically, or spiritually—in order to improve your well-being, regardless of your circumstances. Self-care is paying attention to your body, mind, and soul, and taking action to guard against or prevent stress and worry from building up in your life. Here are some self-care tips to consider:
1. Exercise and watch your diet. If you are consistently tired and lacking energy, consider what you are eating that may be contributing to your lethargy. For example, too much sugar or carbohydrates may leave you feeling sluggish, whereas incorporating fresh fruits, vegetables, and protein sources into your diet may boost your energy level. Or, going for a relaxing walk or a jog after a long day may be enough to release endorphins and increase dopamine levels, which can lead to your feeling more optimistic and energetic.
2. Pick up a hobby, join a group, or recreational sport. Add something to your schedule that you would enjoy doing, which would break up your normal routine. Perhaps you always wanted to take a pottery class or a cooking class?! Maybe you would just like to get a group together to play pick-up basketball in your neighborhood or at the local YMCA. Whatever you decide to do, it needs to be good for your mind and soul. In other words, make sure it’s a stress reliever for you!
3. Rest and relax. Maybe all you want is to be by yourself for one hour a week! As in all self-care endeavors, carve out the time to do so. Make arrangements for someone to watch the kids for an hour, or finish up all your paperwork before you leave for the day. Then, once you’re alone, leave your to-do list and other menial tasks behind. Take a nap, read a book, pray, enjoy some tea on your porch, or learn a deep breathing exercise:
We all have obligations and responsibilities, time pressures and scheduling conflicts. But among those responsibilities is self-care, not for ourselves’ sake as an end, but for the sake of our relationship with others. We cannot be our best in relationship to those around us if we have not first kept our own health in check. Your heart, mind, body and soul are God’s gift to you. There will never be another like you, nor will anyone else’s life influence others the way yours does. With this in mind, please…take care.
-Kensi Duszynski, staff therapist