A Healthy Stepmother . . . gives an anytime-gift.

He loves his kids. It breaks his heart to not live with them. He thinks of them constantly and though he’s made his peace with the fact that they are elsewhere, he’s tracking them. He worries when they are having problems. He worries, about all kinds of things.

He’s a divorced dad, like so many other divorced dads, who doesn’t have the connection to his kids that he wants and needs.

His connection to them is frail, and yet not. On the surface, it seems they are so easily swayed to dislike him or be hurtful or ignore him. Sometimes, in the growing up years, the kids will even manipulative him to get what they think they want from him. But, under all that, and before and after the anger, he’s the dad. He just is. It doesn’t matter where he lives, he belongs to them. Just as they belong to him no matter where they live.

When he takes a wife and seeks to find peace and love in his life, it’s easy at first to get swept into all the wishing for how things could be easy between them all. That fantasy gets smashed soon enough and there are years of intense discomfort all around. He wants to see his kids, but feels sad that they treat his wife the way they do and that they can’t all get along. Still, he often misses his kids.

Most of the time, he can ride on the top of the ripples that get set in motion when there is tension between all these people that he loves. He can ignore some of the small stuff and give space to them to sort out their feelings. Other times, he clarifies and sets limits around what is okay or not okay. Sometimes, he wants to ignore the tensions and can’t, but he finds a way to deal with it that keeps him connected to his loved ones. Sometimes, he just has to bury himself in whatever will hold his attention.

And occasionally, the ripples are so big they wash over the sides of his craft and capsize his big plan to keep his own equilibrium. In those rare moments, he casts about for some way to hang on and there you are with your hand out so he can find his balance and keep his footing. You look into his eyes and yours say, “I get it that this is a tricky situation. I might not like where it’s going or how it feels, but I’m here with you, beside you, and in support of you being with your kids.”

He sees what you mean. He understands the gift. He sees that you can stay connected to him throughout the unpredictable nature of his relationship with children who don’t live with him. That means everything.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . holidays and resisting the urge.

I have no idea how I made it through the first few Christmas holidays with my husband and his three kids. I have no memory of the things I did to get through the days. I have a few very dramatic and negative memories surrounding schedules and who was where and when. I have a few very touching and meaningful memories surrounding a gesture a child made toward me or an experience we shared during those days. But, mostly, I blocked out how uncomfortable and frustrating it was.

Sadly, it was likely painful and uncomfortable and awkward for the kids and their dad, too. I thought at the time it was my fault everyone was struggling. I lived through meals where my husband’s ex and her extended family were the main point of discussion. I lived through present exchanges where I felt like an after-thought. I lived through meals where everyone became silent when I spoke.

I survived.

Over the years, I developed some self-preservation tactics. While the kids had the option to get mad and stomp out or punish me with silence, the scene of these often muted good-byes was and is my home. My husband invited me here. I was, and am, going to trust him and not second-guess him or make him prove he wants me here.

As the holidays approach, I’m writing a few notes to remind myself about what I can do to stay grounded for the next few weeks. Maybe some of these ideas will be useful for you. Most of them are free, almost none of them involve things you might never do, and you can practice them year-round.

1. Listen to yourself and act accordingly.
It’s likely that at least 50% of your difficult times seem difficult because you’re tired. Often, you’ve done too much and if it’s all new, it’s exhausting. Some days you might need a nap. Some days you might need silence. Other days, information would be helpful so you can understand the complexities of the history of your new relatives. Still other days you could need familiarity. Surround yourself with a place to retreat for naps or alone time, photo(s) of good times with your own relatives, and a calendar full of dog walks. Resist the urge to push yourself past your limits. You are not super-anyone.

2. Get clear about your role.
It’s not your job to make Christmas fun, good, lovely, wonderful, amazing, or the-best-ever for anyone. Let me say that again . . . you are not responsible for making sure that anyone or everyone has a good holiday experience. Resist the urge to take that on as your own. Every single person in your household will have the kind of holiday he or she can hold in his or her heart. You can schedule experiences that let them have an opportunity, but you cannot make them have a fun time or insist that they enjoy it or even guarantee that it will be memory-building. Take your “I’ll-be-everything-to-everyone” hat and put it way back in the back of the closet with your off-season clothes until you really need it or deserve it. That will be never, but that’s another blog post.

3. Schedule friend time once a week by phone, an online chat, or in person.
Get out your calendar and call all your girlfriends, sister, mother, or your stepmom girlfriend. Make sure that you have a girlfriend date scheduled weekly between now and the end of the year. Each weekly session would ideally be at least 30 minutes long and you would include topics such as how you are feeling about yourself, how things are going, what you hope for the holidays with your family, and how you are taking care of yourself. You could also report the things your husband is doing to support you and explore how you might ask for any other kinds of support you need from him. Resist the urge for this phone call, chat, or coffee meeting to turn into a skewering or bashing of the ex-wife. This is your Christmas, not hers. This is your time to focus on what you need for you and what is in your heart and soul. If you spend your time calling her hateful names or analyzing what she is doing or not doing, it’s very counter-productive. You are much better off to focus on what you feel inside and to talk about what you dream of and hope for your weeks ahead. Plan how to meet your needs. Yes, how you can meet those needs for yourself. Not how your husband can meet your needs, not how the kids can meet your needs. The question is: How can you meet your needs, for yourself. How?

4. Schedule couple time, hire a sitter, barter with a friend.
Go out with your husband away from your home without children. If this is a dog walk, if this is a shopping trip, if this is to the movie, make sure you get once a week time with your husband. Just walk and breathe and don’t even try to talk. Go to the movie and hold hands, silently. Run through the gift list or actually look for a gift, but leave the big worries for later when you are back at home. Compartmentalize. Find a way to build a sacred boundary around your time together. Give signals that tell your husband you are thinking of him. If you need a hug, ask for one. Do not wait until he thinks of it. Resist the urge to berate him for not thinking of it. If you listen to your needs and you determine you need a hug, ask. Keep it simple. Keep it direct.

5. Decorate for yourself.
Maybe you live in a home where the kids like Christmas but they won’t spend time decorating with you because you are not their mom. Maybe you are putting things on the tree that they remember and you don’t put them up in the exact correct location. First of all, decorate for you. Schedule and advertise the tree decorating so that if they want to attend, they’ll can make plans to be there. Resist the urge to take complaints about your efforts not being the same as past years in a personal way. Wait. Just wait. Let those comments roll off. If there are decorations you know are special, set them aside so the kids can put them on the tree. I have a Santa collection and every year I dibs the mantle for the wooden, glass, ceramic, and metal Santas and the candles that need to be lit every night.

6. Decorate yourself.
Dress up. Resist the urge to go to the store in your sweats, even for a quick errand. Instead, get out your nice jeans or your favorite holiday outfit and wear them, often. Get a Santa hat and go grocery shopping. One year, I flew to Colorado to visit my cousin and wore a Santa hat all through the Chicago airport. I had so much fun meeting and talking to people. The hat was an instant friend-maker. Guaranteed to help you feel in the spirit. You don’t need to buy new clothes, in fact, I’d recommend against it. Just get out the things you save for special occasions and wear those. Your favorite clothes will feel more comfortable and more secure, and you can enjoy being inside a cocoon that is yours, all yours.

7. Get out the candles.
Light the candles every single day. I used to buy pillar candles but now I’m all about tea lights. They are self-contained, they go out after about 4 hours, and they are stable and will not fall over or spill. I have several candle holders now and change out the tea lights on a daily basis. Yes, I go through a lot of them but in the end it’s less expensive than pillars or tapers, it’s safer, and I get the lift of the festive feeling every single day. No resistance here.

8. Cook your favorite meal.
Make a meal that you love . . . with food you love to eat. The day after Thanksgiving I cooked all day and made a meatloaf packed with all kinds of vegetables, a side dish of brussels sprouts, and a casserole of fennel gratin. It was a meal I’d been dreaming of for weeks and it tasted amazing. That was my Thanksgiving. Do that for yourself. If you know your family doesn’t like your favorite types of foods, then send them out shopping or to the zoo and have your friends over to enjoy your cooking. While we’re on this subject, let your husband cook the meals for the kids. Or let him plan what they will be and help you prepare. Or, go out. Or, have the kids help you cook. Resist the urge to schedule yourself to do all the cooking, especially over the holidays. If you are not a custodial stepmom, let him cook for his kids. It makes so much sense. He knows what they like, they really want him to cook for them anyway, and he was probably cooking for them before you came along. And, even if you don’t like what he will serve them, eat a bite or two. Resist rejecting it. I know I turned my nose up at some of it because I didn’t want so much pasta, etc., but eating a small portion or even just a bite paid off. Sort of like what I expect the kids to do when they get served a meal they don’t like.

9. Scale back everything.
It seems like the holidays arrive and there’s 10 times the work to do. The shopping, the meal preparation, visiting, and cleaning the house so it’s ready. Resist the urge to sign yourself up for all these jobs. Divide and conquer. You start with, so and so is coming over for dinner, who is going to vacuum the living room and who is going to wipe down the bathroom sink? Even if you have never assigned chores or talked about this as a family, just bringing up the subject when everyone is together and spelling it out like that, it’s remarkable how adaptable everyone suddenly becomes, including your husband. Another idea is to scale back on how many things you schedule over the vacation. Stay home and keep things simple. We have two or three dinners for every holiday because of the way our family is constructed. This year, I was going to do the big traditional meal again on the final family dinner and my husband said, no, no, no, no, no…we are going to get deli meat and nice cheeses and build sandwiches. In the end, we made a sandwich bar and everyone built his/her own. No wonder I love this guy. As it was, I was exhausted by then and not as talkative as usual, but I hung out and watched and listened and enjoyed. It was a nice time. A very nice time. Minus the hype.

10. Plan a couple getaway for January.
Find a way to get out of town. Send the kids to grandma’s house or plan to go away when the kids are at their other house. Whatever you do, schedule a getaway for after the holidays. Knowing were leaving on a certain date has meant everything. Every time I’d get frustrated or feel crowded or hurt from being ignored, I’d think of the getaway and feel better inside. Nothing to resist here.

These ten items are my anchors for taking care of myself at any time, but especially during the holidays. I’m sure I’ll think of more as I go through these next few weeks and I’ll blog about them. In the meantime, I need to get my online chats scheduled. Excuse me . . .

A Healthy Stepmother . . . reads a Christmas poem.

Did you catch the poem I posted for you on YouTube?

In that post, I connected you to my YouTube channel and read it aloud to you. I’m experimenting with some audio postings and some readings of other material I’ve written. You can find the wording written on the YouTube posting.

I wrote Santa Sophia with you in mind. I wrote it with me in mind. I wrote it with my stepmom girlfriend in mind, and my amazing 4-legged companions.

The Santa is a woman, Sophia, which means Wisdom. She is wise, sassy, not afraid to be herself and she shows up in an electric car and has 8 very cool travelling companions. The ursus, black bear, more precisely Americanus Ursus, are the teddy bears of our dreams and our awakening. Hence, the names they bear (pun intended).

My hope is that this will be a poem for you to listen to in any time of need, but particularly at this time of year.

Let the holidays begin!

 

A Healthy Stepmother . . . gets a Christmas wish.

The holidays are coming . . .

Usually that’s enough to cause any stepmother to shudder. This year I decided to re-write a old poem and turn it into a modern-day wish. Something I could dust off each year to reveal the sentiment that lives in my heart but that gets beat down by the day-to-day stuff.

This poem goes out to every stepmother, no matter whether you’ve been naughty or nice, no matter what anyone thinks of you, no matter how hard a day you’ve had. Every one of us needs a dream, a little sliver of hope that things can change. Just a little.

This is for you.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . ReSETs.

After a few intense weeks building my updated webpage and editing and tweaking and adding and making the new page look just-so, there came a day when it seemed time to sit back and relax for a few days before I completed the last round of edits. But, first, there was the matter of a testimonial and creating a link to the website of the person giving me the testimonial.

Done.

So I pressed Publish Updated Pages.

And went to view the updated pages only to find the site was NOT THERE. The webpage redirected me to my Mobile Me account and there was no information about my site and none of the work that had been there just seconds before was visible.

No expert, I did know that the information was there but that something was lost in the link between what I had created and where it was viewable.

After an hour of fiddling, I restored the page and my website was viewable but I still could not complete that one last update. In fact, I kept getting a message asking me to sign up for a Mobile Me account. Clearly I already had one and it was not accessible the way I was trying to get to it.

I went to bed.

The next day I sat down to problem-solve again, remaining calm in the face of my looming frustration. That’s when I discovered the online chat support. I quickly submitted my question.

Melissa, a technician, responded to my query and clarified my question and then told me she thought she could help me.

Whew, please let it be so.

She asked me to log out of Mobile Me. Then she asked me to log out of iWeb where I’d built my website. Then, she asked me to log back in to Mobile Me and then sign in again to iWeb.  Finally, I was to publish my updates.

As if by magic, I logged on, was admitted and opened iWeb and hit the Publish Updated Pages button and within seconds my updates were there for the world to view.

It was as if a big happy face sat on my shoulder helping me breath a sigh of relief and I felt giddy from the simplicity of it all. I profusely thanked Melissa and filled out the survey about the online chat support.

. . . then, a very looooooooooong pause to reflect on what had just happened.

When the computer gets turned off or a program gets shut down, it gives the system time to go back into the inner workings of itself to restore itself to its previous functional state. In my case, I had changed my Mobile Me password and iWeb did not recognize it. It was only after I had closed them both and reintroduced them to one another with all the new passwords that the system worked. That restore and repair function is built into almost all the computers and programs and electronics now. When you have a hiccup, you turn the thing off and begin again and as if there were magic, the hiccup is gone. Sure, some major issues can arise, but 90% of the time your problems will be take care of by the ReBOOT, aka ReSET.

That’s what I need in my life as a stepmother. I need to hit the ReBOOT button now and then, maybe more now than then, and take advantage of the restoration of me to my previous functional self. The reboot would also help me to recognize or be reintroduced to the players in the family drama, me, my husband, and sometimes the kids, after we’ve had alterations in our contents or changes of passwords.

I know I’d benefit from a ReSET more often than I take one. And, with the holidays approaching, I’m giving myself some homework to watch more closely for those times I feel little glitches or irritations or impending mood swings. I want to catch them early and say ReSET. I’ll see you in five or 30 or in an hour or after I’ve folded clothes or done something that guides me back to me. I like that feeling of being able to roll with whatever comes along and I can’t do that when I don’t feel like me.

ReBOOT.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . and the surprising function of depression.

My mother was depressed. She was the mother of four children, married to a man who pushed every single boundary and later the wife of a man with three children from a previous marriage. But, being a stepmother was not what caused her depression, it only added to it. No, her depression must have stemmed from her childhood and living with warring parents, one of them likely manic-depressive.

For years now, I’ve wondered about the aspects of my mother’s behavior that were truly her personality and contrasted those with aspects of her behavior that I thought were some muted version of who she might have been had she not been depressed. I blamed her for some years, for not being more present, for not sharing more about how she felt, for not connecting in a deeper way with us, her children.

She died in 1984 and these days I hold her in my heart as a sacred memory that lives on in me. That she loved me, I know without a doubt. What remains is an acceptance that she and I had what we had as long as we had it. I miss her presence in so many ways. Terribly at times and in a more muted way at others.

My thoughts turned to her recently during my study of my family’s behavior patterns, specifically, anxiety and depression.

Do you ever do that? Do you look at your family as if looking at them through a window back in time? What was it like to be in that family, back then? What were the strategies people used to cope with feelings, disasters, and rites of passage? How was the family pattern carried on by each family member? Did they take after one person more than another, or were they some blend of the parents or grandparents? Can you identify with the notion that your family has a pattern? How does that pattern serve you now, at this point in your life? How might it serve you in your future?

So, I ponder all these things as I work with my own behavior to see how it can shift and adjust to each situation, so that I can be adaptable and resilient and sustain myself and not become stuck or extinct, and all the while maintain my integrity.

I look around and see the patterns of my family so very clearly, my father’s anxiety and my mother’s depression.

And, this morning it came to me like a bolt of lightning that my mother’s depression served as a buffer between her and worrying about everyone else. She did not choose to be depressed, but in her depression, she was not able to obsess and worry about her father and her mother and her sister and her husband or her friends or her son or her daughter. Her world became quiet and soft and she tended to the tasks of the day like getting dinner on the table and making sure there was enough milk in the refrigerator for the four kids who went through gallons of it.

I arrived at this insight while musing on a conversation with my husband in which he was sighing with contentment and saying what a great life we have. Since I share that life with him and I don’t have quite as deep a sigh, I wondered why. I know I worry about relationships and the interactions between loved ones, I worry about all kinds of things. So, I began tracking back to where that worry came from. If I recognize that some of my worry is about my legacy of being a female (see The Female Brain), I can also see that a great deal of my anxiety and the interpretation of events and interactions is something I learned.

If I learned it, I can unlearn it.

Or at least soften my level of worry.

Or at least smooth it out so it is seamless and unwrinkled.

And then I felt a momentary wave of jealousy for my mother, in her cocoon of muted living otherwise known as depression.

Maybe I just wanted her to have been cocooned because I’d like to think of her as protected in some way. I’d like to think of her as not having had to hurt in the ways I know she hurt. In the ways I have been hurt. But I think she actually did have some distance from some of the pain.

In the middle of all that thinking, I stopped.

Choose between worry and depression? Weeeeeellll, give me worry any day. But, it makes sense to me why so women are more likely to be at risk of anxiety and depression in a stepfamily situation when their husband has children from a previous marriage, Stepmonster, Wednesday Martin. I dipped precariously close to falling into that abyss and somehow worked my way back out to stand now beside my husband and marvel at what a good life we have.

We do. I’ll take it. I’ll keep it. Forevs . . . as the kids say.

But, get this . . . I’ll keep my worry.

My worry helps me know I’m pulsing, moving, breathing, sighing, gazing, pondering, and caring about my loved ones and my world around me. I’ll monitor the pattern of my worry and anxiety and interrupt it as often as I can to make sure I maintain my health on all levels. And, sometimes I’ll let go of the worry and later I’ll pick it right back up again.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . listens to Mavis.

Happened to hear this song today . . . and it seemed like such an anthem for so many of us. A stepmother down the street from me feels completely isolated and alone and unheard and unseen. And I remember feeling that way, but longer ago. And, some of you that read this blog, you have told me you’re isolated and not with a stepmother-sister. So, this is a shout out to all of you who are in your house, on your street, in your community but still feeling alone.

And, to prove her point, she’s been singing songs like this for a long time . . .

As she says, everybody has a friend of a friend of a friend . . .

A Healthy Stepmother . . . buys time.

She pulled in the driveway and turned off the key. She didn’t get out of the car, instead she sat there, observing the rush of emotions that came as she read the text message that the kids were coming to dinner, unplanned. She waited for some inspiration, but instead felt caught, trapped, resentful.

In about a nano second, her next thought came . . . you need solitude.

She sat there, buying time, running through fantasy scenarios in her head. Maybe no one would notice she’d come home. Maybe the dogs would not run around and go crazy because someone had arrived. Maybe her dear sweet husband would see that she just needed a few minutes to collect herself.

She sat there, buying time. Breathing, feeling, noticing.

Photo courtesy Photos8.com

She let go of the blame game, including the one about feeling bad that she wasn’t happy and joyful because they had company. She just sat and noticed and listened to her gut. What bothered her wasn’t about blame or what she wanted or didn’t want. It wasn’t about what should have happened. It was simply that she was tired. Plum, to-the-core tired. She had no more energy to sort through feelings, no more energy to worry about how life was supposed to be. No energy to worry about what the kids needed in order to feel okay.

Her gut told her to let the blame game go because to hold it and carry it and let it grow into anything was an old habit that got her nowhere and wasn’t true anyway. But sadly, she’d learned that game all too well from watching her parents. At any point in her past, she’d have come charging out of the car, stalked into the house and huffed in silence until her husband begged her to say why she was upset. She’d have told him she felt hurt, unconsulted, and left out. (See the post about learning to feel lonely and having it be okay.)

Knowing that she was tired, knowing that she wanted some space to let her feelings calm. Knowing she wanted to make a move from a calm state of mind, she sat there, buying time.

It worked. Her husband came out to greet her. He wondered what time she’d like to eat dinner. She confessed to him that she was absolutely exhausted and needed a few minutes to lie down before dinner. They settled on a time and she left the front seat of the car to enter the house.

She went to the bedroom and shut the doors so not even the dogs could get to her. She closed all the drapes and lay down. With eyes closed, she contemplated how tired she was. With eyes closed, she became aware of her heart wanting to be open and present, aware it was already trying to expand to include being close to others and letting them be close to her. She could also feel resistance, her thoughts still stuck in the past.

She lay there, buying time. She waited, her heart waited. She breathed, she noticed. After a brief but long stretchy-like time, she joined her family downstairs. She was ready then, her transition complete and she gratefully took part in the conversation that flowed from, between, and with them. There, at the dinner table, she gratefully received the food her husband had prepared.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . demonstrates her strength.

Your strength can come in many forms. Sometimes it will come in the form of saying out loud what no one else can say. Sometimes it comes in the form of silence. Other times it means you go for a walk while your husband spends time with his kids, sometimes it means taking part in the pizza fest at your husband’s side.

A few other ideas appeared in my email inbox this morning in the form of Seth Godin’s blog. I subscribe to Godin’s blog and it arrives daily, a little pffffft message for me to read and ponder for that day. It always involves a reminder about authenticity and connection because that’s what today’s marketing involves. Seth Godin used to work for Yahoo and then founded Squidoo and wrote a kazillion books, of which Permission Marketing and Ideavirus are my favorites. Now he travels the globe talking about how to connect with your customer. He’s spot on with this one.

Here’s the email.

[You're getting this note because you subscribed to Seth Godin's  blog.] 

Demonstrating strength

Apologize
Defer to others

Avoid shortcuts

Tell the truth

Offer kindness

Seek alliances

Volunteer to take the short straw

Choose the long-term, sacrificing the short

Demonstrate respect to all, not just the obviously strong

Share credit and be public in your gratitude

Risking the appearance of weakness takes strength. And the market knows it.

Email to a friend

And, it occurred to me that your market as a stepmother is your husband and your stepchildren and the ex-wife and your relatives and his relatives and all the friends and family who surround you.

Soooooooooo . . .

Maybe this is what it means to take the high road. Maybe when you do these things that are listed in Godin’s blogpost you are demonstrating your strength. Of course, you are also a market. Your husband is marketing to you. His ex is marketing to you. His kids are marketing to you. They just might not think of it that way, but they could get a lot more of what they want in life if they did. But, that’s another blogpost.

Demonstrating your strength is much more difficult to do than to act out, avoid, or ignore. So go slowly, practice, and be kind to yourself.

My favorites on this list include . . . well, all of them. It’s too hard to choose one over the others. They are a package deal. Any and all of them demonstrate strength. If we can use these strategies with strangers to build trust and a business that is strong and clear and true-intentioned, we can use the same strategies in our families.

You will have to wait a long time for the outcome of your efforts to be known.

You will have to exercise all the patience you ever thought you had.

You will have to wait, wait, and wait some more.

And, eventually, something will begin to grow. The connections you wanted with your spouse will grow. The connections with yourself will grow. And, let’s hope the extensions and additional growth occurs between you and the others in the extended family, for that will bring peace to every single one of you.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . works toward being healthy.

Health is a roller coaster, which means that one day you’re on the top of your game; energetic, sassy, quick to discern, and unstoppable. The next day you’re lethargic, uncomprehending, and reactive. And, health isn’t limited to just up and down, there are all the shades of up and all the shades of down and the contours of each. There are curves and loops and slants on the turns of the roller coaster that contain the nuance of your health on any given day.

Your health is one thing you have some influence over.

Your lifelong health is something you can begin to influence at this very moment. Excuse me for a moment while I take a sip of my coffee. It’s my first cup of the day.

Fact is, we’re bombarded with information about how to take care of our bodies, our clothes, our food, what to eat, what to not eat, what to wear, what to not wear, what to do for exercise, how much of it to do, how little is too little, and how much we should sleep. It’s overwhelming all the ways we should be behaving. And, for what? So we can feel good that we are minding, being good, following the expectations.

I recently read a great blogpost, Nourished Kitchen, about cereal and why most box cereal is bad for you and especially bad for your children. I was talking about it and my mother-in-law commented that she was very upset. She thought Cheerios were good for you and helped reduce your cholesterol, just like they say on the box. And to find out that they weren’t, well, she was mad. She’d been led to believe something that wasn’t true. She had let someone else make her decisions for her.

I think we are each doing our best just like she was. It’s just that there are so many things we think are good for us in our society and people are very opinionated about what is best. It’s very hard to track it all. My own thought is that the degree to which we need to focus on our physical, social, emotional, environmental, or spiritual health changes in proportion each day. One day, I need to walk 8 miles, the next day I really need to focus on cleaning out the spare room so I can be in a peaceful environment. One day, I want to eat only fruit and the next day I’m all about oatmeal and a piece of chicken.

And then there’s the “family” or whatever you choose to call your band, pod, coalition, or group, otherwise known as a stepfamily.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you can sail through the stepfamily events without a hitch. Oh yeah, something might irritate you and other things might make you raise an internal eyebrow. But mostly, you’re able to keep yourself feeling some sort of equilibrium inside. Your blood pressure stays in a normal range and your heart isn’t breaking.

Other times, well, let’s face it, it’s hard. You might do a great job of censoring yourself while the event or interaction is going on and then go home and have a huge fight with your husband. Or, you might go home and crash and sleep for 24 hours. Those are pretty sure signs that the effort to stay in that censorship mode was exhausting. Also, learning to identify that pattern might be worth a lot. It might prevent a lot of disagreements that wouldn’t need to be disagreements.

Health moves and flows and recedes and ebbs. It is no more a constant state than being warm or cold. It fluctuates with the events around and within the busyness of one’s life.

I’ve long thought I could influence my own health. My work is all about helping folks get out of old stuck habits so they have new ways to get to a satisfying and potent life. I practice the same strategies for myself. So, when I recently read Mindsight, by Daniel Siegel, I was thrilled to see that his book so clearly spells out all the physical and physiological evidence for re-engineering your brain by changing what you are doing.

Literally, when you learn to do things in a new way, you are growing new synapses in your brain, new neural pathways for information to travel. It’s as though you can heal your own self by creating a new way of doing something. It’s not about simply creating a new way of thinking. No, it’s more that learning new option means you have a new way of doing and being, otherwise known as new behavior. Learning and life are a process, the intermingling the physical with the mental.

Health is a multi-faceted concept. It’s not about being “good.” It’s about being dynamic, responsive, spontaneous, centered, and upright. It’s about integrity, intensity, and waxing, and waning.

Listen to yourself. Listen for those days when you need to be low-key. Listen for those days when, if you push yourself, it’s as if you pushed yourself over the cliff. Listen for the times when you can step on the gas and really go, because those days are there too, ready to be accessed and enjoyed. Listen and watch for the times when you need lots of armor, there will be those times. Then, keep watch for the times you can lay down the armor and expose yourself. Grow those events and carry less and less armor over time. Give yourself time to go slow and time to inch along. Give yourself time to think and wonder and time to rush ahead. Give yourself a day of salad greens and a day of dark chocolate. Give yourself a day to learn something new.

There is never just one right answer. You have the answers, trust that, even when others would like to make you wrong or tell you what to do.