I'm not talking about dramatic interpretations of things, rather arguments caused or created because one side doesn't want to accept or hear what the other side is doing or saying.
This kind of drama drives me to distraction. Actually, it saddens me and exhausts me and makes me want to throw in the towel to whatever or wherever I'm at. I don't consider myself a quitter which is why I prefer to step back from things rather than quit them all together.
Since coining the Stepmom Stepback phrase, I've had a lot of women ask how to do it "How do I step back?" "How do I disengage?"
I'm in the throws of stepping back from a few things myself lately so it seems timely to write a post on how to step back without losing your mind.
Step 1. Recognize the need to step back. It's very difficult to do the other steps if you don't even realize you need to step back. How do you recognize if you need to step back? If you're thinking or muttering phrases like
- "I would be so much happier if I didn't need to do _______"
- "Why am I the only one doing _______"
- "I'm so tired of ____________. How can I make it stop?"
Step 2. Prepare for some discomfort. Jennifer Newcomb Marine reminded me of this when I first started my Stepmom Stepback. I remember it vividly: "It will feel uncomfortable at first because you've grown used to a certain normal." She was right on with that advice. There were times that stepping back felt uncomfortable and I thought I wouldn't be able to do it. There were times I felt like I should cave and go back to the old normal. Over time it felt more comfortable to step back and now that feels normal.
Step 3. Figure out your boundaries. This doesn't involve a discussion with your partner -- just yourself. This also takes a great deal of introspection if you really want to reap all of the benefits. If you're a journaler, this is a great exercise; if not, find a piece of paper and write a list of what is frustrating you about your current situation. Do you feel like there is something that is sucking all of your energy? Are there situations or circumstances you no longer want to be a part of that you can realistically back out of? Can you think of things you wish you could stop doing but don't because your partner would be mad?
Step 4. Look inside yourself to determine why you've previously accepted this situation/these tasks. We all have our reasoning for why we took on a task or role. I know for me, I often want to feel needed. I also tend to feel like if I don't do it no one else will. This goes for a lot of things in my life -- work and personal. I tend to become over-responsible because I want things to be successful. I want everything to go smoothly for everything to be done right. That last phrase, something being done right is where I get caught up in my own web. Who is defining what is right or what is successful? My definition varies from everyone else's which makes it impossible to achieve and I'm human enough to realize that I can't achieve the impossible.
Step 5. Determine what you would change to reap maximum happiness for yourself. When I first started stepping back, the thing I wanted for myself was role clarity. I'd become so consumed in everyone's lives -- my husband's, my stepkids', etc. -- that I honestly couldn't tell where they stopped and I began. I had been doing so many things to make up for my husband's absence that I could no longer figure out if I was Parent #2 in residence, Dad's wife, a second mom, etc. I'd accepted a couple of years ago that I didn't want to have my own children and here I was acting as if I had somehow miraculously helped birth my stepchildren. One side of me was scheduling doctor's appointments, meeting with school officials, signing forms, etc. while the other side of me was hearing "You're not their parent!" Lest you think I need to be checked for a psych evaluation, these were actual things that were said and/or done, not voices I heard in my head. All I wanted was for Mom and Dad to be just that -- Mom and Dad -- so that I could be the parent I wanted to be: Dad's nice, loving wife -- aka "Stepmom."
Step 6. Remind yourself: The world will NOT come to an end if I step back. This is a more diplomatic way of reminding myself and my fellow stepmoms that they are not Mom or Dad. It took two people to bring the child(ren) into the world and you weren't one of them. No amount of biology can change that fact. You don't have to love or agree what Mom and/or Dad decide for their children but remember: it's their children. You're stepping back so what Mom and Dad do for their children shouldn't matter so much to you anymore anyway....right?
For those of you who are considering stepping back from other things -- like work projects, friendships, etc. the same thing still applies: There are other people who can -- and should be able to -- do the things you're feeling overwhelmed with. Unless you're the only ER doctor and nurse in the hospital that day no one will die if you can't get to it right away.
Step 7. Start taking baby steps -- backwards. This is an important step and one that should be done carefully to achieve the best results. Now that you've figured out where your boundaries are why you've been prone to doing things in the past, it's time to unravel yourself from the tangled situation. Find one thing that you can pull back from -- for some people, it may be not doing the dishes on the nights the kids are in residence. For me, it was having the kids with me for dinner most nights. I started taking my life back. I would schedule dinners with friends or even with my mom and stepdad so that I had a reason to be out of the house for the evening. I had to remind myself and I had my support system (aka, Mom) remind me: I'm not Mom or Dad. I am allowed to have a life too.
Step 8. Find a support system...that doesn't include your partner. This is like a diet and you're going to need people who can remind you to keep on keeping on when you feel like you may stumble. Do not, under any circumstances, in the first few weeks or months declare to your partner or your kids that you're stepping back or disengaging. That's like telling the enemy "HEY!!!! I'm going to bomb your place next week -- hope you don't mind!" If you need a fellow stepmom to be your 'sponsor' during these first few weeks, then head to your favorite stepmom community or website and find a stepmom buddy you know will help you. The best ones are those that have stepped back successfully.
Step 9. Continue to unravel yourself. Once you've made it this far, you deserve a big congratulations. No feat is too small when you're trying to negotiate peace among yourself and others who feel like they're trying to bring you down. Seriously. Pat yourself on the back that you've successfully stepped back even if a little bit. Keep the momentum going while also realizing that the more you step back, the more you're going to be using tough love as a means to parenting or partnering. This was -- and still is sometimes -- a tough one for me. As I mentioned above, I'm tired of drama so I have been known to appease my spouse and my stepkids rather than practice tough love and do what's better for me.
Step 10. Find your comfortable point and then observe. I've been stepped back for a while and I probably feel happier than I have in years. I don't martyr myself anymore and nearly all of what I contribute to my family is out of genuine love and not because I think it will win me bonus points with my husband, the kids or their mom. My husband would probably tell you I'm a much happier person to be around. I continue to observe ways I can tweak my vantage point from this stepped back place I call home now. I've made adjustments over the past couple of years and at times finding myself actually surprised that I'm wanting to help out more.
I'm curious to know from blog readers who has stepped back successfully and at what point did you have your "A Ha!" moment that you'd known you needed to step back. For others contemplating it or not sure if they should do it, is there anything you're curious about that I didn't mention?