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For Stepparents: How To Stop Obsessing About Things That Aren’t Your Responsibility

I’ve had a conversation with my good friend: a “newbie” stepmom who is obsessed with proving herself to her stepchildren and her husband. She is still stuck in the so-called “Phase 1” of stepparenting: trying to wrap her head around her husband’s children and understand her role within this new blended family.

She came to me to seek advice. 

I have been a stepmom for some time now so I can consider myself more experienced in giving her advice that I would also like to share with all “newbie stepparents”.

Stepparenting Can Be A Challenge.

If you don’t know what to do, or how to act in certain situations when living in a blended family, it may feel like an enormous challenge for you. Often, you may feel overwhelmed and somewhat disorganized in your everyday life. This too has been ‌a struggle for me in my first year of stepparenting.

  • I used to “obsess” about my stepchild’s education and diet.

That is a typical trait of a stepparent that wishes to prove himself/herself worthy. It’s a trait of insecurity.

My friend caught herself obsessing about her stepkids’ education. She is a well-educated lady and has always been very ambitious. Her stepchild’s biological mother doesn’t seem to care about the child’s education as she hasn’t finished high school herself. So why should her daughter become any better? 

While my friend and her husband would like to encourage the children to do better.

Not because they are strict or because they feel superior, but because the children can do better when encouraged, supported, and loved.

Two households, both unlike in dignity.

The issue is that my friend’s stepkids spend one week with the biological mum, while the other week with her and her husband. So without a consistent approach and teamwork from both sides, co-parenting doesn’t work and the children become confused regarding the expectations.

With my friend and her husband, the children enjoy doing their homework, because they both spend time with them, helping them when they feel discouraged. They attend extracurricular activities, go to the theatre and opera, and ‌they spend a significant amount of time outside. 

Children receive attention. 

Mila

While in the care of the biological mother and the stepfather, they skip school, don’t handle homework, and have a sedentary lifestyle. 

My friend feels like this difference in parenting approaches may damage the children in the future, and so does her husband.

But what can they do?

Take the children into their care just because they are better, more involved parents? Even if they did — the courts often prefer mothers over fathers. There has to be a significant detriment to the child for the primary custody to be given to the other parent. 

A court is should not be an option. 

You are not the parent.

My dear friend keeps obsessing when the children aren’t in their care and keeps asking herself repeatedly.

  • Did the kids do her last week’s homework?
  • Did they go out at all or were they just on the couch?
  • Did they have noodles again for dinner?”
  • Did the mum let them play with those kids that bullied them last month?

Her obsessive thoughts would seldom remain unanswered questions.

There would be a voice inside of her head that would answer every one of them and add a few more scenarios such as “They skipped football practise, instead they drank Coca Cola and ate chips all day playing Call of Duty and watched influencers on YouTube”.

She argued with her husband over this occasionally. Which has not only hurt him but her as well. If she continues thinking this way, in the long run, these irrational thoughts would cause her resentment toward her stepchildren and their mother.

Resentments ruins relationships.

She tried to distract herself from thinking too much about her stepchildren by completing various tasks: cooking, cleaning, gardening, reading, exercising, you name it — she has done it.

By evening, her thoughts have decreased but were still present.

You’ve just tired them down. You’ve done a lot for the day, you’ve distracted yourself with various activities and you did none of those mindfully or fully present. The obsession over your stepkids’ lives grew into the obsession of distracting yourself from your obsession!

Mila

When obsessing about your stepchildren, ‌realize that these obsessions are not going anywhere, the same way the biological mother is not going anywhere. So why keep fighting them? When they will always beat you up?

There are so many great stepparents out there who have influenced the lives of their stepchildren. And many of them were struggling in the beginning: picking fights with a stronger opponent (obsession), knowing they would fail, and ultimately setting themselves for failure. I was one of them. 

So what if, perhaps, today you know the difference and try another approach instead? If you are a slave to your obsessive thoughts about your stepchildren, then you are in a good place and safe place. 

I’ve been where you’ve been. You can break free from the chains and arrest the obsession instead.

It is possible but takes practice (a lot of practice).

How Do You Stop Obsessing Over Your Stepchildren?

  • Surrender Yourself

It’s essential to surrender yourself to your obsession and admit that you are not in control of it. That is the hardest part, many of us don’t like to admit that we are not in the control. To some, the concept of admitting an inability to “do it-all” may trigger additional thoughts of unworthiness and cause you to suffer even more.

But please, remember — you are worthy! Embrace the negative feelings. Don’t fight them, as you know where that would lead: further arguments, resentment, frustration, and even breaking up with your partner, perhaps?

When you are ready to admit and surrender to your obsession, I can promise you, that you will feel free.

Now we have a stepping stone put in place. We know that negative thoughts are present and that these thoughts will be part of you always. Good job, now you are one step closer to becoming a happier stepparent. 

  • Think About What You Are Actually Thinking

The moment you obsess about your stepchildren or their biological parents or anything else (work, family, weather, government regulations) — practice awareness. In plain words, think about what you are thinking.

Embrace the thoughts and give them a big hug. By thinking more deeply about your fears, you will pin them down.

Are you obsessing over your capabilities as a stepparent? Blaming yourself for your stepchild’s misfortunes or pitfalls? Are you comparing yourself to your stepchild’s biological parent? Are you frustrated because your stepchild’s biological parents have different beliefs, attitudes, and/or personalities?

  • Question Your Thoughts

As soon as you identify the thought, you can challenge it.

Thinking about something does not mean that the thought is true or that it will happen. For example, thinking your stepchild is failing English doesn’t mean that they will. Often, our thoughts are just guesses and not facts. Therefore, it is helpful to challenge your obsessive thoughts, because they can make you feel like something bad will definitely happen, even when it is highly unlikely.

Watch out, it’s a trap!

Sometimes your anxiety results from falling into negative thinking traps. Thinking traps are overly negative ways of seeing things. Challenge your thoughts by asking the following questions:

  • What are the facts that are making me believe in such a thing?
  • What could be more realistic thinking?
  • What would I tell my stepchild if she/he came to me with negative thoughts, asking for support?

How To Seek Support.

Now, when you use the above tips, you will see black on white that the thoughts that have made you “obsess” and feel poorly are unworthy of your nerves!

In the beginning, the above dialogue won’t be easy, but as they say: practice makes perfect.

By staying willing, open-minded, and honest with yourself, and demanding less from yourself. You will be a much happier stepparent. 

Please remember — you are the stepparent, not the parent.

Don’t let negative thoughts or obsessions come in between you and your amazing blended family. It will take time, but you will get there. One step at a time. Sometimes the best thing to do is to actually just step back.

Share your worries, and your obsessions, be it by writing them in a journal or speaking openly about them to your close circle of friends, support group, or with Partners in Men’s Health. 

Share even the most stupid thought! Because there are no stupid thoughts, only actions. 

Every thought unshared is one more drop in the cup, and we don’t want to get it filled up. Get rid of that excess baggage before you hurt your back. And you don’t want that now, do you?

It takes a courageous, loving, and exceptional person to become a stepparent. To love, nurture and care about a child that is not theirs. Stepparents, just like my friend, you and me — are warriors. And we are worthy because we choose to unconditionally love a child that isn’t our own.

Be kind to yourself. 

Mila

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