When I look back at my stepparent journey I can’t believe how much time I wasted on things that I either couldn’t control or at the end of the day didn’t bring me closer to my goal of having a stepfamily & life I love.
It seemed as soon as the title of stepmother descended onto my head, I went from a confident, fun-loving, and relationship building person to suddenly becoming an anxious, worried and needing-approval-type of gal. I questioned everything I did when it came to my stepson’s mother – How should I behave with my partner and stepson when she was around? Was she happy with my interactions with her son? How could I make her feel comfortable with my presence? Was she judging me? – and the list went on and on.
I spent all this time in the early years caring about how my partner’s ex may be judging me or felling that it became way too easy at times to forget about me and my feelings. I mean the truth was I actually liked myself a hell of a lot and my partner loved me for me. But I was still spending a massive amount of time and effort seeking approval from someone that I hardly knew.
Not all relationships are of equal importance
It took me a few years to sort out that not all relationships are of equal importance and didn’t require the same amount of my time.
When I did, I was astonished at how much time I was spending on or with my stepson’s mother compared to my other relationships – my true friends and family. Now to be fair it was early days, my stepson was young so we were having two times per week face-to-face handovers and still sorting co-parenting issues and obstacles, but STILL – how you spend your time kind of defines who you are, right?
So I started by ranking relationships based on how much their opinions of me ‘should’ matter to me with the idea that I would spend most of my time on people whose opinions of me are truly important and less on those whose opinions shouldn’t matter much. Of course, distinguishing how much care to give to other people’s opinions of you is an individual exercise. As an example, my list looked like this:
• How I thought about myself and the opinions of my partner, my stepson, my kids, my parents and siblings mattered most
• Close friends and my employer mattered a lot, but not more than my immediate family
• Colleagues and neighbours should matter a bit less
• Acquaintances shouldn’t matter very much, and
• People I run into on the street or meet casually at an event or party shouldn’t matter at all.
Having knowledge about someone doesn’t mean you have a close personal relationship
When it comes to whose opinions of me should matter most, my stepson’s mother was (and still is) at best an acquaintance. But I was caring about my interactions with her as I would a close friend or my employer. And, that wasn’t all my own doing.
There are a couple of unique circumstances that can lead a stepparent to believe that the relationship with your partner’s ex is more significant than it is.
Firstly, for your stepkids their other biological parent will obviously sit on the top of their list and it is a stepparent’s job to encourage and support that relationship to the best of their ability. In doing that, boundaries can oftentimes get blurred. Wanting the best for your stepchildren can mean that your partner and you may need to give more attention at times to an ex than you would generally spend on or with a different acquaintance or colleague of yours.
Secondly, just by living in a stepfamily, you are privy to a great deal of personal information about the ex. For example, I know all the important dates in my stepson’s mum’s life, I am aware of when she purchases a new car, gets a new job, is pregnant, has a new relationship or moves to a new home. These personal milestones are usually only shared between close personal friends and family members. Not casual acquaintances. But in stepfamilies the information is shared and having this knowledge can lead a stepparent to misjudging the importance of the relationship. It’s important as a stepparent to remember that having knowledge about a person doesn’t equate to a close personal relationship that warrants your time, attention and care.
Once I had my list, I did a quick pie chart dividing how much of my time I was spending on each of those 5 categories of relationships above and realised that I was giving my stepson’s mother (and some other people in my life) much more time and attention than they actually warranted. My time – just like yours – is a limited resource, so the more time I spent on her the less time I had for my partner, my stepson, my immediate family and myself.
How to figure out who you are spending your time on?
This little exercise was my ‘ah-ha’ moment in moving toward stepparent happiness and we hope it may be yours too.
Putting my relationship with my stepson’s mother into a true perspective, understanding that I can acknowledge and support the level of importance she holds for my stepson without taking any of that on myself and taking control of how much time and care I actually allocate to her as my acquaintance was… well, it was life-changing.
And it worked because to stop caring doesn’t mean being careless. It means putting your time and attention on the things and people – including yourself – that are absolutely most important.
”Stop Caring So Much” exercise template – free to download
Spending some time distinguishing who and what you are going to give the majority of your time to can be a great way to kick off the new year. So, we’ve created a template of the exercise outlined above so that you can give it a try for yourself. You can access it for free right here: Stop Caring So Much – Exercise Template.
We’d also love to hear about your outcomes and which relationships you’ll be focusing on most in the comments below.