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Start Thinking Smaller.

Upset mother with hands on head among mischievous little girls
Upset mother with hands on head among mischievous little girls

It’s not just the antidote to overwhelm, it’s the answer to most of your stepmom problems.

There are only two reactions to overwhelm. You either become paralyzed or you spin your wheels. If you’re one of those people who find that being overwhelmed makes you more productive, it’s not really overwhelm, it’s more like challenge.

Overwhelm is a challenge too, in its own way. It challenges us to find another response to this combination of high expectations, low resources and zero hope of prevailing. This is just as true inside your blended family as it is in the workplace.

The most important skill you need to develop is the ability to think small, to break the problem down to the tiniest actionable step, and then make just one miniature move.

For example, weekends with the step-kids are total chaos. They are wired when they arrive and the transition is always difficult. They are demanding, loud and needy. Your partner copes by focusing on the TV. They complain about what you make them to eat. They drop their stuff everywhere and the house is a mess.

Where can you begin?

Here are some tiny things you can do keep from feeling overwhelmed.

  • Put 10 drops of Rescue Remedy into a tall glass of water and sip. Repeat as needed. This will calm your nerves and leave you able to drive the car, unlike a glass of wine which is an otherwise excellent suggestion if escape is not part of your game plan.

  • Suggest a routine “welcome activity” that’s the same every time they arrive: pizza, bowling, ice cream, music, card games, waffles, whatever. The predictable routine will be welcome and help them calm down sooner. You don’t have to do it, by the way. It’s the suggestion that’s tiny.

  • Don’t make the food. Problem solved. If that feels too big, go smaller – just get dad to dish it out and put it in front of them.

  • Find something to do outside of the house. For yourself, I mean. You don’t have to be there every minute the kids are visiting, and they will be glad to have dad all to themselves. Think of something small – take yourself out for a cup of tea. Go for a walk. Sit at a bookstore.

  • Do the ESR (Emotional Stress Release) move. Go somewhere you can close the door. Close your eyes and lightly cover your forehead with one hand. Visualize the crapstorm happening on the other side of your closed door for 20 seconds or so. Now, replay that little video clip and tack on a lovely, calm, utterly pleasing end sequence. Smile and take a deep breath.

  • Repeat this phrase, aloud or silently to yourself: “I am not responsible for this. My only job is to help my partner be a good parent – it’s not to do any of the parenting for him.” The next step is to let go of how it looks with you not doing any of his parenting.

Start small – you can pick just one of these tiny gestures and if it feels good, go ahead and try another one.

All that matters is that you keep moving. Change might be glacially slow in coming, but this too shall pass.

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