SALT LAKE CITY — After reading all the comments from the previous articles in this stepfamily series, I think I need to give you the one biggest secrets to making a stepfamily — or any family — happier and more successful. More than any other quality, you need to be mature, and I will explain what I mean.
Mature people are able to recognize when they might be wrong, unbalanced, fear-triggered, or selfish, and they can actually own that, apologize and admit when they need help. Mature people are also more emotionally intelligent grown-ups who are aware of their triggers, faults and weaknesses and don’t get offended over small things.
I realize this is a tall order, though, and we are all (including me) still working on being truly mature. I realize it’s a hard-fought battle against our egos, fears, insecurities and scarcity. I know it’s going to be a lifelong project to grow ourselves up and become mature. But if we can at least see the goal and understand what mature looks like, then we are on the right track and that will make all the difference.
It’s not so much about being perfectly mature (because we know that won’t happen) as much as striving in that direction and working on it. Here are some tips and tricks to help you fight the battle to be more mature:
Choose your battles (and don’t wage war over small things)
Every time something bugs you, ask yourself: Will I think this was a big deal and worthy of causing contention five years from now? If the answer is no, tell yourself this is not a hill worth dying on and go do something to take care of yourself instead.
When we act maturely, we are flexible, easy-going and demonstrate we have thick skin. Many family conflicts start over small issues and continue showing up because members of the family are processing hurt, stress and fear. This means most of the time it’s not about you, and it will pass if you let it go.
Work to understand other people’s fear states
Functioning in a fear-of-loss state, which stepfamilies usually are, means everyone will be offended more easily. In a stepfamily, fear of loss is prevalent and everyone subconsciously thinks they have to protect themselves from every other member of the family.
Their defensiveness is not about you, though. If they get upset at you, remember they are afraid of more loss and it isn’t personal. Reassure them that you care about them and don’t want to take from them or hurt them. Stay in a calm, balanced place knowing these bumps are part of the process to re-establish trust, and this process takes time and patience.
Understand everyone is needy for validation and reassurance in a blended family
Kids often act out as a result of the fear and pain they are processing. When this happens, instead of being angry at them, validate the good kid you know they are inside. Show compassion for the complex emotions they are probably feeling and the way pain makes everyone behave worse. When you show understanding, they will lean in instead of away from you, which will give you more influence.
Plan on taking the punishment from people who were hurt before you were even involved
This happens with anyone who has had any past life. They usually have trust issues and fears that you will inadvertently trigger, even though they aren’t about you. Did I mention mature people have to have thick skin? They do, and this will be critical when blending.
I am not saying you should allow others to mistreat you though. Just handle the conversation about the mistreatment with understanding and patience. Show your love is bigger than your fear of being mistreated.
Never make children feel responsible for making sure you are OK
Children are especially fragile every time they have to move from one house to the other. Each time they come and go, they experience the pain of the divorce all over again. They feel guilty for leaving whoever they are leaving, and you must make sure they know you are fine.
Never make them feel guilty for wanting to spend time with their other parent. That is one of the most damaging things you can do to them. Don’t look forlorn and sad when they leave, because that makes this even harder on them. Be the grown-up who is responsible for his or her own happiness and show kids his or her strength and resilience. This will build relationships of respect and trust with them.
Get professional help if you are struggling
Getting professional help as an adult teaches children that it’s OK to ask for help and OK to not be perfect. It is a sign of strength (not weakness) to acknowledge you need outside help. Strong, mature people know that a little help can make everything easier.
Your No. 1 job is managing your emotions, issues and fears. If you can tell you don’t know how to manage those and you are letting ego, pride, fear or anger show up in your relationships, own that. Get help immediately.
Always be improving your emotional intelligence
Emotionally intelligent people know they can always do better. Read books, go to seminars, get therapy or coaching, listen to podcasts or Audible. There are so many ways to access great personal development help these days. Be someone who is always improving yourself, and your relationships will be rich and stable.
Be the first one to admit your mistakes and apologize
The more you do this, the healthier your family dynamic will be. Things unravel when your ego tries to act perfect and cast others as the bad ones. The truth is, we all have the same value and our mistakes don’t change that. We are all struggling students in the classroom of life, doing the best we can with what we know, but we need to learn more. Owning the fact that you are still learning, but want to do better, and actually getting help to change yourself, shows your family you really love them.
You can do this.
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