Please contact Evil Stepmom at ESM@evilstepmom.org with your questions or ideas about stepfamily living with 17-30 year olds.

 



Articles & Interviews
Bouncing Back: How to Improve Your Resilience as a Stepparent

Stepparents require a special kind of resilience: the ability to bounce back from slights, oversights, and sometimes-downright meanness delivered by the children of the man or woman you love. We need to be our best selves, love our mate, and work toward calm, 1:1 relationships with each of our stepchildren in the face of family dramas, old family patterns, and being an outsider. And all of this while still having a job, kids of our own, aging parents, and a two-hour commute each day.



Research has shown that resilient people have habits that help them gain composure over time, and practices that help them keep their composure on the spot in difficult situations. Here are some things we know resilient people do to prepare themselves for hard times, and some tactics they use when faced with a challenge.


Things resilient people practice doing daily:

Eat right. People who manage their blood sugar throughout the day tend to handle stressors better. In preparing to handle day-to-day stress, eat regular, balanced meals and snacks and watch the sugar. Over time, this will change your ability to cope with life’s little surprises.

Sleep. Sleep is the best antidote for impurities. It repairs the body and releases the mind. When working on your own resilience, there is no substitute for rest. Research proves over and over again that sleep is the single best thing you can do to increase your capacity to tolerate stress.


Relax. Anything that brings your heart rate down and deepens your breath and concentration—walking on the beach, baking, meditating, singing, praying—will improve your ability to cope with life’s disappointments and challenges. When we are able to focus on and control our breath, we can control our heart rate, thus soothing ourselves. This is one way in which resilient people shockproof their systems.


Build your bounce-back muscles. Resilient people don’t wait for a crisis to work on their coping skills. Like weight lifters, resilient people are out there dealing with the tough stuff every day. When something truly heavy comes along, such as divorce, illness, or infertility, they are prepared due to their habit of facing difficulty head on. People who’ve been avoiding stress, on the other hand, don’t have as many coping mechanisms at their disposal and often aren’t prepared for life’s inevitable set backs.


Get perspective. Resilient people are able to put the current situation in its proper context. While a job loss never feels good, resilient people can see the possibility for other jobs and the end of unemployment. The person who gets stuck in the muck of “being unemployed” as a permanent state, who can’t see a future with a job in it, is someone who’s going to have a very difficult time bouncing back.


Things resilient people practice doing in challenging situations:



Self-observation. You can only be in control of yourself for as long as you can see yourself and your behavior in your current situation. Resilient people can see what they’re doing in response to what’s going on around them. You can’t self manage if you can’t see what’s happening in a fairly fact-based way, which would include your own role in the situation.



Take a break. Resilient people have a way of seeing when a situation is spiraling out of control and helping to wrap it up or postpone the action. Any excuse to give yourself and others a little time and space to collect themselves during an intense interaction usually helps everyone. When you can’t see yourself any longer, it’s a good time to take a break. When people are out of control, nothing productive can happen.



Take a drink. In a difficult situation, resilient people will figure out a way to organize themselves. Slipping out of a meeting or difficult family conversation for a moment to get a glass of water may sound too simple, but it could give you just the time you need to gather yourself, regain your perspective, and get clear about your goals in this situation.



Take a breath. Resilient people keep breathing. Focus on your exhale in particular. People tend to take great long inhales then rush their exhales out when they take a deep breath. By slowing down and focusing on your exhale, you’re affecting the vagal system—the part of the brain that fine tunes mood and feeling. Using your own breath, you can manually turn down your reaction to what’s going on around you.


Don’t avoid, don’t blame. Some people spend a lifetime avoiding stressful situations at work, in their family, and with their friends. They’re always waiting for things to get easier. They participate as little as possible, holding onto the hope that some day life will not be so difficult for them. 



People who blame others also get in the way of their own resilience. They are forced to act, talk, and live like victims, stuck in a hopeless and helpless posture. Since a victim cannot, by definition, fix herself, others must do the work for her. This is the chief benefit of victimhood.



As human beings we are faced with the decision to either avoid situations that are risky and uncomfortable, or to move toward challenging issues and work on developing our composure, equanimity, and courage to act. Resilient people lean into tough situations. As a result, they know more and do better the next time around.


Think of everyday hassles as an inoculation. By watching yourself in the stressful situations you’re handling every day—family finances, a looming deadline at work, a 16-year-old stepson who just got his drivers’ license—you will be developing your coping muscle, your resilience. So don’t worry about finding situations to practice in, just work on observing yourself and your reaction to the stressors you’ve already got at home, at church, at school, or at work.


Be thankful. Resilient people realize the importance of regular challenges to work on our coping skills. So give thanks for the gifts of small stressors in your life—they help you see yourself more clearly, and build up your ability to cope when something really difficult does happen. Which none of us can avoid forever.

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