A Healthy Stepmother . . . Leaves the Big Stuff on the Table

A Healthy Stepmother . . . Leaves the Big Stuff on the Table

This post was originally part of a series on self-soothing from the summer of 2011. While the big stuff topics for stepmothers are relevant every day, they can be even more important to remember and reflect upon during the holidays. May you find many moments of peace in these last few weeks of 2015.

I struggled a long time to write this blog post because we’re headed into discussions of the big stuff and how to self-soothe. The big stuff stirs up our internal stuff. Self-soothing is all about how we manage our emotions and what we do with our actions in the face of the big stuff in our stepfamily. Remember, I’m not a psychologist or a counselor or a stepmother coach. I am a stepmother who has studied human behavior for many decades and is now shining the “patterns of behavior” light on this issue of being a stepmother.

The last few weeks, when you were practicing making space, taking inventory, paying attention to your patterns, all of those studies were to lay the groundwork upon which to process your big stuff. The stronger your groundwork practice, the stronger your self-soothing in the internal stuff.

One of the simplest ways to self-soothe is to leave the big stuff where it belongs. That’s it . . . leave it sitting there on the sofa or the table. Don’t even pick it up. You can walk all around it. You can look at it. You can even touch it, but it’s best if you can leave it lying there while you do.

I’ve thought we need those intermittent warnings that you hear at the airport . . . “please do not leave your luggage unattended, any luggage left unattended will be destroyed.” Our stepmother version could be . . . “please do not take on the big stuff that isn’t yours, any big stuff you take on that doesn’t belong to you could explode at any moment.”

FullSizeRender 2If you have picked up a big stuff issue, you’ve noticed how hot it gets. The three really big stuff issues that come up for most stepmothers? One is the pursuing of the child’s love. Another is the judging of the mother. And the third is the rescuing of the child. Any one of these can burn you, all three together and you’ve got a bonfire. Continue reading

A Healthy Stepmother . . . reflects on Santa.

In 2010, I wrote the first version of Santa Sophia, a Christmas poem for stepmothers. I’ve been tinkering with it since, each year knowing another truth about this process or thinking of another word here and there that shape the message more like it happens in our hearts and in our homes.

Whatever your plans this year, whatever your family constellation, whatever your burdens, my wish for you is to know the hope of connection and the sanity of shared experience. In many families, a stepmother is isolated from her own people, estranged from them, or so engaged with her stepfamily she forgets to be with family and friends.

She can drift and float along, with nothing to anchor her experience and her heart.

Maybe this year you will reach out, outside the silence of aloneness, out past the rejection, and beyond the pain. Open yourself to letting another stepmother into your life, or reaching out to one newer than you. Let your vulnerability be a connection with someone you can trust.

There is no rushing. We are not in a race to get somewhere. We can take our time, cultivate deeper relationships, and go back to heal pieces that will help us move forward.

Santa Sophia: A Christmas Poem for Stepmothers
©2014 K.Cottrell 

Twas two nights before Christmas, when all through the land
Not a stepmother was sleeping, not even on demand.
The fireplace was lit in the living room there,
A sign of the peace we prayed we’d soon share.

The children were texting all snug in their beds,
While Netflix and Instagram danced in their heads.
With hubby cat-napping, and I with my book,
We’d just settled in to our warm winter nook.

When out in the drive there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my Kindle to see what was the matter.
Over to the window, I was pulled by a feeling,
And gazed through the glass with open-mouthed reeling.

The stars they did shine on the occupants inside,
And lit up the house where worries collide.
When, what to my sleep-deprived eyes should appear,
But one electric car and eight rambling black bear.

Opening doors they did bound, bringing anchoring ideas,
I knew in a moment, it was Santa Sophia.
Warm fur, curious noses, the black bear they came,
And she whispered and encouraged, and called them by name.

“Now, Baloo! Now Brer! Now, Ben and Ted-ster!
On, Humphrey! On, Bamse! On Bruin and Buster!
They went into the house, to the young, to the old.
Shuffling here and now there, finding hearts that were cold.

As old memories of pre-divorce family repeat,
The pain and the loss, bitter pills children eat.
Into the house, the black bears they did amble,
With satchels of honey, and hurts to unscramble.

And then, in a twinkling, in the rooms up above,
The soothing and healing of each warming love.
As I listened in silence, afraid to turn around,
Into the living room Sophia came with a bound.

She was dressed all in tencel, from her head to her toes,
And her clothes were all silvered with buttons and bows.
A bundle of sticks she had flung on her back,
She could have built fire, without even a match.

Her eyes, how they shone! Her laugh, a delight.
Her smile so warm and so absolutely right.
With capable hands, she reached for my heart,
And began to transform my pain into art.

A stick of gum she chewed loudly, and then gave a sneeze,
And the noise of it told me, she’d do as she please.
She had a kind face and a whole bunch of chutzpah,
She nodded when she laughed, as if saying … good’on ya.

She was darling and strong, a right sassy old self,
And I sighed when I saw her, and gave in to myself.
A wink of her eye and a twist of her head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

She spoke not a word, but went straight to work,
And filled all their hearts, even cleared out the murk.
And laying her hands alongside temporal lobes,
She called forth a wish for peace round the globe.

She summoned the black bear, to me gave a nod,
And away they all drove to the next of stepmoms.
And I heard her exclaim, as they disappeared from view,
“Stepmother, take heart … this year you’ll see through.”

 

 

A Healthy Stepmother . . . and Three Radical, Un-Lofty Goals for the Holidays

Quick, it’s time for you to remind yourself to step back, sit back, fall back, get back, lay back, and pay back. Pay yourself back for every time you’ve ever over-extended and pretended.

Holiday gatherings at this time of year aren’t that different from holidays at other times of the year, in general. They are a thousand times different from other holidays, in specific. Decades of tradition, ritual, and cultural meaning ascribed to a certain song, a favorite dish, or a secret handshake create a recipe for exclusion of stepmothers.

If you’re a long-time reader of this blog, you know my pet project is convincing all of you to refrain from doing other people’s work. And, I don’t mean sweeping the sidewalk to your front door when the kids forget to do the chores.

I mean letting children do what they are capable of doing, which is much, much, much (please, add another much) more than we think they can.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . radical, un-lofty goalsI mean letting adults do what they are capable of doing (i.e. feel pain, worry, take care of others, consider and plan for the day, and advocate for children). Especially, when it comes to their own children. Yes, I do mean letting parents take care of their children.

The father, presumably your husband or partner, takes care of his children on his time. If he needs your help, you wait for him to ask you. You refrain from jumping in simply because you see what needs doing next.

The mother, presumably your husband/partner’s ex-spouse, takes care of her children on her time. You refrain from jumping in simply because you see what needs doing next.

Just because you can see it, doesn’t mean it belongs to you. 

Are you with me? The following ideas are things I wish I had considered ten years ago, but please use your knowledge of yourself, your spouse/partner, and the circumstances in your relationship to decide if these things will be helpful for you. Making your own decision will be good practice for you, especially when you’re feeling pressured into helping others.

Three radical, un-lofty Goals for the rest of 2014.

  1. Stay home for one of every three family outings. Sleep. Meet up with girlfriends. Read. Fume. Write in your journal. Surf Facebook. Or, stay home for two of every three and dance to loud music throughout the house. Hell, dance to loud music in the park or at the mall. Walk the dog. But, resist the urge to attend every family outing between now and January 1st. While you’re at it, let your spouse know he/she can play hooky for one of the family outings, what the heck.
  2. Spend one hour together without clothing, under the covers, every week between now and the end of the year. Just be there, no agenda. Agree you will leave the agenda out of it. You are there to meet up, eye to eye, safe and warm under the blankets, and say hello. Talk. Worry. Cry. Hug. Fight….no, wait, I don’t mean that, you do too much of that already, skip that one. If there isn’t a time in your day or evening without children around, wake in the middle of the night and take your clothes off. Spending an hour with no clothes on under the covers with your partner will, at the very least, remind you there are things in life more important than arguing, even if that is simply being held. At the very most, you will have shared intimacy at a time when you need it most. It’s preferable that you touch skin to skin, even a foot or a toe or holding hands, or whatever else you can can agree is being called for at the moment. Ahem. And, if the ahem doesn’t take very long, STAY under the covers for the whole hour, even if you fall asleep. 
  3. Answer all requests with Can I get back to you on that? In your impulse to belong, join, and be seen as generous, you can get stuck in the yes. In reality, you’ve got a choice. You are not the end-all, be-all for anyone. Not even your children. Write this down, Can I get back to you on that? Use it, every single time someone asks for your time, attention, or help. Can you help me with raking the leaves? Can I get back to you on that? Can you mend these pants for me? Can I get back to you on that? Can you meet me for coffee on Thursday? Can I get back to you on that? Mommy, I need treats for the school party. Can I get back to you on that? And, of course, what you do while you’re getting back to them is check your calendar and make sure you don’t have back-to-back appointments, double-bookings, or too many things on one day. During the holidays, make fewer appointments. And, of course, some of the kid requests get a higher priority, they are children. But, not everything is urgent, not even the treats for the school party. This is why the gods and goddesses made Trader Joe’s.

Un-lofty goals? Yes indeedy! Who said all the good goals were lofty goals involving getting our needs met by serving everyone else? The words maid, servant, janitor, dishwasher, or [fill-in-the-blank] come to mind. Doing all those things perfectly simply leads to anxiety and depression and the feeling you’re never good enough.

Un-lofty goals, on the other hand, are decadent and yummy. Although, in most families, un-lofty goals will be seen as radical, they are exactly what is needed. Un-lofty goals will help you feel like you are playing hooky. Which is good, since this is the kind of hooky you were meant to take. This is the kind of hooky that will restore your spirit, tickle your fancy, and open the doors and windows of your thinking so you can create your own top-three list for the next family outing.

There you go, three radical, un-lofty goals, and all. Clothing required for blog reading and commenting.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . Knows Thyself, Pt 4: Feet

Let’s check in with how the first three focuses of our Know Thyself series have gone (Catch up with us here, here, and here.). Do you now find you have increased ability to share the focus of your attention between what is going on around you and some aspect of your physical self? Can you more easily hold the thought-thread of your comfort in your mind as you go about your days?

The good news is that you can come back to these ideas over and over and focus on the one (at a time) that piques your interest on that day or week.

This week, let’s focus on what it means to stand on our own two feet. It’s cliché to talk about the stress of the holidays, but in many ways it’s true. Usually this time of year finds us valiantly smiling as we manage task after task and feeling more overwhelmed than that many other times of the year.

Maybe if we felt more solid, it would be easier to manage the busyness. Maybe if we could feel stable on the ground, we could bring our focus more clearly to observing how our feet connect to the ground.

Let’s run through a simple awareness activity.

Remove your socks and shoes and stand on a floor that doesn’t have carpet. Pay attention to which parts of your feet press the most on the floor. Do your heels press more than the front of your feet? Do the balls of your feet press more than your heels? Do you lean more on the inside edges of your feet or more on the outside edges of your feet? Are your toes positioned on the floor closer together than your heels? Are your knees closer together than your feet? How tall do you feel standing here?

Walk around your house with your bare feet and pay attention to where the line of force travels when you touch the ground. In other words, how does your foot touch the floor? Do you come on to your heel first or on the outside edge of your foot? Do you roll off the big toe or the second toe when your foot comes off the ground? Many people think you shouldn’t walk on the outside of your feet at all. This is not true. There is a fabulous description of how the bare foot contacts the ground in The Barefoot Book by Daniel Howell. This book is well worth the read since it explains everything you ever wanted to know about healthy feet and how to make them even healthier.

Now, put your socks on and stand in the same place that you were standing when you were bare-footed. Notice how much you can sense of your foot touching the ground compared to how you noticed the pressure when you had bare feet. Now put your shoes back on and look for the same things. Do you lean more on your heels or more on the front of your feet? More on the inside edges or more on the outside edges? Do you find it’s easier to notice these things when you stand without socks and shoes?

Now…..what to do this week.

Spend some time with bare feet. Five minutes in the morning before work. Ten minutes after work while you’re getting dinner ready. If you can sneak around the block with the dogs and it’s not too cold to go barefoot, that is the super duper bonus time. Each time you walk with your shoes off, pay attention to the shape and texture of the ground. Let this way of your foot touching the ground without shoes become comfortable. Invite the kids to do walk barefoot with you.

Once you are paying attention to the comfort of your feet whether you have shoes on or not, you can begin to pay attention to which of your shoes are most comfortable and whether they fit well. You can find a guide to fitting your shoes on my website, kimcottrell.com.

There’s no need to think you have to go barefoot 100% of the time, however spending some amount of time barefoot each day will improve the health of your feet and your overall health. It will also increase your sense of being surefooted and solid in everything in your life. I know some of you live in climates where bare feet would be fantastic year-round. You are the lucky ones. Those of us who live in the northern states and other places in the world where it’s cold have greater challenges when it comes to barefoot experiences. I would love to live in a place where I could go barefoot every day the year.

As you can imagine, the metaphors are numerous about how you use your feet to walk on the earth and how you live your life. I have written about going barefoot on several occasions. One of them about noticing I was stomping when I was angry and how barefoot walking helped me calm is here. Another one about finding center is here. These might be useful.

This examination of how we stand in our own skin is a favorite topic of mine. Let me know if you want more of it and more of how your healthy feet keep your whole self healthy. Personally, I think the people who will inherit the earth are the ones who can move quickly. Pssst, limit the amount of time you spend in heels and in shoes that don’t bend when you hold the heel and the toe and twist. Each morning, ask yourself, “Which pair of shoes will allow me to run fast, jump high, and get me where I want to go?”

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A Healthy Stepmother . . . introduces the self-soothing series.

soothe/so͞oT͟H/Verb
1. Gently calm (a person or their feelings).
2. Reduce pain or discomfort in (a part of the body).

My husband and I are approaching our fifth wedding anniversary. We’ve been together over seven years. When we married, I grabbed all the stepmother books I could find. I combed the stepmother chat rooms on the internet. I was looking for someone to tell me we would be alright. I wanted to know we would be one of the 33% of the remarriages that succeed.

When I read that it takes seven to 12 years for a remarried couple with children to adjust, to advance through all the stages of a family adjusting to new constellations of alliances, I freaked out. That seemed like such a long time. I was 46 when we married and we weren’t getting any younger.

We did indeed go through all those stages, just like the researchers suggest. Apparently, we are pretty average, though we’d like to think we’re amazing and special and awesome. We are amazing, special, and awesome, but we have also been hurt and it has taken us time to find our way back to feeling whole again. Today, we are much stronger and in many ways, I feel like our honeymoon is just beginning.

I was recently talking to my stepmom-girlfriend and she commented on this calm place in which I had settled. I promised her I’d blog about the idea of self-soothing and this self-soothing series was born, but first a couple of disclaimers. Continue reading

A Healthy Stepmother . . . finds Okay.

Daily, I walk my beautiful dogs. The little one is constantly frightened and when she sees another dog, she feels threatened and she barks to defend her territory. Because of that, the big dog gets riled up and they both lunge and bark.

I’ve worked with them for a long time to stay calm when other dogs approach. We passed three dogs today and with just a few voice cues from me, they remained calm.

If they can learn a new behavior so can I, and so can you. It is possible to teach ourselves to discern and gather information and shift our responses so we can have lives that feel okay.

Could we agree that in any given moment, Okay could be good enough?

Okay is not being all things to all people. Okay is not believing as if this moment and this fight is going to do you in. Okay is not preventing your husband from feeling his feelings, as if you can spare him the heart-ache of his lifetime.

Okay is enough to let your pulse relax and your brain unwind. Okay is adequate for building relationships slowly and over time, relationships that have a future.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . and a possible future.

It’s possible that someday, we’ll all look back and reflect that life didn’t have to be this hard for stepfamilies. It’s possible.

It’s possible that the larger culture will become accustomed to families who are married, divorced, remarried, and remarried again. It’s possible.

It’s possible that this generation of stepfamilies who are the trailblazers, with more older stepmother, more stepmothers without children of their own, and more career women becoming stepmothers, will lend a hand to bring civility and reason to the process of learning a new family structure with no strings attached to the outcome. It’s possible they will set the record straight that stepmothers are not in competition with the ex-wife. It’s possible.

It’s possible that children will no longer feel odd for being from a family of divorce, because someday more children will have two homes than one. For better or worse, children of divorce will become the norm. It’s possible.

It’s possible that someday your stepchildren will look directly at both you and their dad and say, “Hey, thanks . . . that was a really great time and a nice dinner. I appreciate it!” It’s possible.

It’s possible that someday kids won’t have to choose between parents. Maybe psychologists will have discovered some new strategies for adults to sort through and figure out their childhood so parents don’t hold their kids hostage. In those cases, the kids will be free to come and go and flow between homes and the stress level will drop dramatically. It’s possible.

It’s possible that someday the ex-wife will voluntarily call and give information about things that relate to the children, important things like healthcare and school attendance. It’s possible.

It’s possible that every human will behave respectfully toward every other human, acknowledging that the other person has needs just as he or she does. It’s possible that even children will understand this because they will see adults treating one another with respect and kindness and they will understand that is the best way to create a collaborative future. It’s possible.

It’s possible that someday, sadness will be sadness, untainted by anger. And, grief will be lived out loud and processed without manipulation. It’s possible that children will learn these lessons at an early age and grow to be twice, no three times, as compassionate as their parents’ generation. It’s possible.

It’s possible that if you stub your toe, it hurts. And, it’s possible that it wasn’t someone else’s fault. You just stubbed your toe.

It’s possible.

A Healthy Stepmother . . . grows a longer fuse.

Once upon a time, there was a woman who lived in the wilds of Step-Land way off around the block from where you live. You know her, you’ve seen her. She is giving her best, married to a man with children from a previous marriage. She’s intentionally behaving in a way that feels respectful and honorable, but it’s the hardest thing she’s ever done. She’s holding back what she might say so she won’t hurt anyone or make more problems.

This woman, Mary, could not be outsmarted or fooled or disregarded. She was not out for warfare, but she came into her stepfamily completely aware that there would be difficulties and that nothing is as simple as it seems. She knew she would need additional resources, but when the counselor suggested that she grow up, she knew she would have to do the work of figuring it out on her own.

Mary was a stepdaughter herself, so she had compassion for her step kids and compassion for their mom. She had compassion for her husband and she had compassion for herself. But all that compassion didn’t count for much when everyone was upset and no one talked about their feelings.

Answers were slow in appearing as the children tried to find comfort in the past and in competing with one another and the tension between the ex-spouses was thick. Thick was a word that described most of their holidays, thick like too-heavy blankets, thick like air that is hot and humid, thick like layers of ice over a lake.

Mary sat back and watched. She knew that everyone was struggling and she knew that she was not the solver of any of their problems.

And one day as she watched, she noticed that even though her stepson had said something rude, her heart had stayed steady and her pulse remained low. Her breathing was still calm and not skyrocketing and she smiled. From that day on, she began a study of her vital signs. She knew that her blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing were all related and that even if she couldn’t directly affect her blood pressure, she could influence it through her breathing.

One day at a family gathering, she noticed that her own brother reacted in a short-fuse way. Raised by the same people, she had learned to react to things that went wrong with a big emotional reaction, the same as he had. She studied some more and as she watched and watched, she saw how the process played out, so very predictable and routine, almost scripted. Thus, while she was not the cause of stepfamily problems, she had been influenced by her own family history in how she responded.

She let that percolate for a time.

And one day, she began a new strategy. Every time there was a shift or a rudeness or a lateness or a snub or non-communication in her stepfamily, she focused on the things she could change. She let her breath out slowly. She softened her eyes and her face. She let her shoulders down. She let go of her smile and she focused on breathing evenly.

One day, she noticed that she was able to listen to things that would have sent her reeling. And she stayed calm and her breathe was slow and soft. Sometimes she needed to walk out of the room to get the rhythm and she kept at it. Finally, she could keep her own equilibrium regardless of the anxieties of those around her and regardless of what they did to help themselves feel better.

Finally, the day came when she barely jumped or reacted. On that day she looked at her husband and rolled her eyes and laughed in response to part of the meal being left on the dishes when they went in the dishwasher. She connected with him and moved on.

Note: Even if this seems simple, it is not. It took years for Mary to get to the point where she smiled and wasn’t ruffled. If you decide you want to work with yourself on your own reactions, for you, for no one else but you, to get you back . . . well, go slow, go easy. Go softly.

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 . . .