Do you find yourself retreating from family life and responsibilities because your role as a stepdad is emotionally overwhelming or frustrating? Do you feel tension when you are around your stepkids? Do you think your stepkids are driving a wedge between you and your spouse? Do you find it easier to disengage than to continue to invest emotional energy into building a relationship when your stepkids balk at your every effort?
I understand you for making that decision. We only have so much to give before we reach emotional limits and can’t give any more. When I was a public educator, I experienced this in high doses daily. Stepdads who are not received warmly by their stepchildren, or who are treated with unkindness or isolation are most likely to retreat from participation in the family. While it is good to take breaks to emotionally recharge, avoiding all uncomfortable family situations should not be a long-term solution to dealing with your emotional stress. Permanently avoiding confrontation, discomfort, and negativity is the easy thing to do, but it is the path of least resistance and doesn’t actually do much good. I challenge you to use your much-needed personal retreats as opportunities to refuel and recommit to your family.
Benefits of Retreating
From the Battle of Hastings in 1066 to the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War, retreats are not always signs of defeat. In your life, you should use your personal retreats as opportunities to relax from being a stepdad, reflect on your impact as a stepdad, research ways to improve your relationship with your stepchildren, and recommit to trying new communication strategies as a stepdad. Isolating yourself from the stress you experience doesn’t have long-term benefits. You must use your respites as preparation time so when you return to the front lines, you are better prepared.
Reflection during your retreats is essential. If we give ourselves time, our brains will work to solve problems we are facing in our lives. This has probably happened to you many times on the job or while working on projects and hobbies at home. Solving complex social situations is within the purview of our brain power. However, it does require practice.
You can practice reflecting by starting to record your thoughts in a private journal. I think calling a trusted friend (or a professional coach) with whom to brainstorm and vent is also a good idea. Doing both will allow you to become more aware of your thinking patterns and your beliefs. A professional coach will help you shift your paradigms so you feel more in control and capable of change.
You might need to remind yourself over and over again why you initially chose the life you have chosen. You are not a victim here. You made a definitive decision and decisions come with consequences. You may be struggling with the impact your decisions have made in your life, but that is normal. You chose to get married to someone with kids for a reason. Remember that reason when times get tough. Perhaps your reasons have changed with time. That is normal also. Recommitting to being a wholehearted participant in the family is a goal you must make if the marriage and the family are going to stay together. Avoiding situations that cause tension and frustration will never solve your problems. You have to confront issues to get them behind you. Once they are behind you, they will have less control over your emotions, thoughts, and actions.
It is common for stepdads to retreat from family responsibilities when times get tough. As long as retreating is not the end goal, retreating for a time has several benefits. Retreating is a great time for a stepdad to reflect on his thoughts, relax, and recommit himself to accomplishing goals. A stepdad should use his personal retreats as a time to think about his role in the family, how his actions have impacted members of the family, and what actions he can take to have a more positive impact. Backing away from stressful situations will not have long-term benefits. Stepdads must deal with the stresses of blended family life head-on, confront them, and use strategies to deal with them. Backing away will deteriorate family functionality, cohesiveness, and solidarity.
Previously published here and reprinted with the author’s permission.
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