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Distancing Yourself From Stepchildren: How to Disengage

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When I first heard about distancing yourself from stepchildren, I was taken completely aback. It felt counterintuitive at best, and cruel at worst. Isn’t a stepmom supposed to play an active role in her stepchildren’s lives and do so with a smile on her face?

As a child of divorce myself, I had a hard time wrapping my brain around why a stepmom would need to disengage. I (incorrectly) assumed distancing yourself from stepchildren was done with malice and intended to create a divide, but in reality, it’s a means to further connect the family.

If you’re feeling burned out, unappreciated, or resentful, it’s time to step back, friend. Above all else, you should prioritize your peace. The family can’t be good if you’re not good. More on this in a bit…

You’re allowed to change your mind.

You might be thinking, “But Kristen! I’ve already been so involved. I can’t step back now! What kind of message would that send?”

And I hear you. I do. But you are allowed to change your mind. If the role you’re currently playing doesn’t serve you, then you cannot continue in that same role. Something has to change.

Our role as a stepmom is fluid and requires flexibility and adaptability. It’s okay to change your mind as your stressors, needs, and role change.

Just because that’s what you wanted or needed before, doesn’t mean that’s what you want or need today. And that’s okay.

Distancing Yourself From Stepchildren: How to Disengage

“If it costs you your peace, it’s too expensive.” – Anonymous

Disengaging is a two-part process. You won’t disengage in one fell swoop and distance yourself from stepchildren completely. You’ll do some self-reflection and step back from tasks, conversations, and parts of your role that cost you your peace.

Then, you’ll communicate the new role you have in mind to your partner and explain why this is a necessary step for you and your peace.

Part 1: Recognize the unique value you add to your family

In my early days as a stepmom, I tried so hard to be version 2.0 of his ex. I worked diligently to show up for my partner and his daughter in the same ways she had (cooking dinner, keeping a clean home, doing arts and crafts together). But it felt forced. It felt like I was going through the motions and failing to do any of those things perfectly.

I was burned out and growing more and more resentful as the days passed. Could I do this? Was I cut out for the stepmom role? Maybe my family deserved someone better than me.

I felt like I was failing because I was trying to show up in my family in a way that wasn’t authentic to me. I wasn’t being true to myself and my strengths and the tasks I wanted to do in and for my family.

The day that I realized that and started showing up as ME, everything changed. My light came back, and our family dynamics shifted.

Identify the ways that you add something special to your family and the tasks that you enjoy doing for your family. Redefine your role, and take a step back from the things that you don’t enjoy, that don’t feel authentic.

Part 2: Communicate your decision to your partner.

This is not a decision you made lightly or selfishly. It’s a decision you made for the health and happiness of your entire family, and you need to stand behind that decision.

When you aren’t resentful or burned out, you will show up better for your family. You will enjoy them more, and they will enjoy you more! It’s a win-win for everyone when a stepmom sets the role that feels authentically right for her which allows her to thrive and truly come alive in her stepfamily.

Proper communication in this scenario is vital. Let your partner know this isn’t an attack on them or their children, a strike from parenting duties until demands are met, or any other negative action. Distancing yourself from stepchildren will actually allow you to show up better for your family.

Be patient. Remember that “disengaging” likely seemed harsh or felt uncomfortable to you when you first heard of it. Allow your partner time to adjust to the idea and recognize the merits of this decision.

Welcome to the rest of your life.

The day that I realized that my inability to show up authentically for my family was actually doing a disservice to my family, and started showing up as ME instead, everything changed.

My light came back, and our family dynamics shifted.

Bring your light back, stepmom. Show up in the role that feels right for you, and get back to enjoying your family and home.

P.S. Still not convinced distancing yourself from stepchildren is right for you? Maybe you believe one of these disengaging myths.

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