It feels good to talk to other people about our struggles.
This can be anything from indecision over what sandwich to order at lunch, what outfit to wear to a job interview or when we have struggles with our parents, life partners, kids and stepkids.
I think it feels helpful to talk things through. I think we feel supported and less alone when we have others to share our experiences with. Things feel less scary when we are with others. When we share our stories with others we can feel better.
These are all good things.
In my personal experience as a human, a wife, a stepmom, the daughter of divorced parents I have found a few reasons why sharing our family struggles with our friends or online strangers isn’t always as helpful as we might wish.
These are just my opinions which I share with you in the hope that they give you some support and something to think about. I am a life coach and if you want therapy or legal advice please hire a lawyer or a doctor.
Your friends may not have the skills to help you.
If they don’t have the skills they will still probably try to offer advice and what they suggest may not only not help it could create additional unpleasantness.
You tell your friend a story about a dinner you burned and they offer you a new recipe. Thank you but not helpful. I mean it already happened not sure how a new recipe is what you thought I was looking for there.
One time I was shopping with all the kids and it was a little chaotic. I shared that story with a friend and she told me that the store opened at 7 am. It was not a helpful tip. Did she think I should go at 7 with all the kids or that I should go before the kids got up. It was never really clear.
I gave you two very simple examples but this really can create problems.
I had a person reach out to me this week because she was very nervous about sending her child with a food allergy to school. She called me because I have experienced that myself. It is a hard process to go through as a parent. It can be very scary. I don’t actually know this person very well but she got my name and number from a mutual acquaintance and she called because she was talking to her friend about the concerns because somebody told her that it was illegal for teachers at school to give the epi-pen. She was freaked out. Afraid she’d have to homeschool. I actually encouraged her to meet with the allergy doctor who is an expert on the rules. That’s who I worked with to help me when I was going through it. I did also share with her that as far as I know that person was just wrong because my kid had an epi-pen in the office every year.
Our friends and family mean well but they just aren’t always the best people for all the situations. Sometimes they are. If your friend is a car mechanic and you have a question about the noise the car is making … go for it that seems like a great match.
Friends may not have the personal experience to even understand the context or situation of what you are experiencing.
Again, unfortunately this often doesn’t stop people from offering advice and this can sometimes be uncomfortable.
A very common example of this is when a new stepmom who is struggling will try to talk to a friend who is not a stepmom and has no experience in this situation will listen and then reply with, “Isn’t this something you should have expected as a stepparent?”
That response can be pretty painful to hear and not at all helpful even if it might be somewhat accurate. This is like telling somebody who is in pain from a broken leg that they got in a fall while skiing – oh well you should have known you could fall and break your leg. Perhaps accurate – Not helpful.
Again our friends mean to be helpful but they are not always the best people to help.
On the flip side finding people who share the experience we are going through can feel very supportive and be helpful.
An example first time new moms find it helpful to hang out with new moms who are all going through similar situations.
It’s not a friend’s job to solve our problems.
It’s not even their job to always listen to our issues.
Most friends that are good friends will do this because they are our friends. At least for a while.
But we’ve all had that friend who every time you see them all they can seem to do is talk about the same thing over and over again.
Sharing with friends can put strain on the friend relationship.
This is something that is not exclusive to blended family and stepparent situations. This also happens in other stressful situations.
Our friends will want to be there to support us and they will for a while. Eventually people like to be friends with others who are enjoyable to be with. If everytime you see your friends all you want to do is vent about your family situation, your friends may someday choose to hang out with other people.
This can be a painful and isolating experience for the friend who is struggling.
Real quick this is possibly going to get a little more serious.
As soon as you share information you lose control of that information.
Many of us experience this when we are teenagers and we tell a friend that we have a crush on somebody and we think it’s private but they turn around and tell that person.
Ugh … it’s the worst.
It happens frequently in family conflicts.
This is a sneaky thing that happens and can have enormous impact on people. I see this mostly showing up in two ways.
First the person who shares a story with a friend who knows the other people in the story. The friend then shares the story with one of the other people and the original person feels betrayed and often exposed and insecure.
For example, a new stepmom is struggling with the behavior of her new stepkids. She confides in a friend and lets it all out. She feels so much better after she shares all the terrible behavior of the child, she shares that she does not understand how the bio mom could be such a poor parent and how unsupportive her new husband is in backing her up in the house. She leaves the conversation feeling lighter and better.
Until later when she learns that the friend who also knows the bio mom went and told her those things. The bio mom who is the ex calls her husband and unleashes her anger at him. The husband is embarrassed, feels judged and it causes a huge fight between the couple.
Yuck .. right. That’s not what anybody wants.
The next way I see this show up is on social media. I cannot stress this enough. Please never think that anything on social media is anonymous or secret. It’s just not.
Here is a not at all uncommon experience that I have witnessed too many times to count.
A stepparent is experiencing something that they aren’t sure how to handle. They turn to a social media group or online forum to ask for support and advice. They get suggestions and help from strangers.
There are two ways this goes wrong.
First of all, it might be terrible advice. We talked about that earlier.
Post almost anything in a family online forum and one of the first responses will be – you should leave. Sometimes that might be what you want – most of the time it’s not helpful.
An even bigger thing I see that concerns me is when (not if but when) this information is copied and used against you in an argument with the other people involved or given to lawyers or social workers where it may be used against you.
Once you put your information out there – you have no control of where it goes and what people do with it. There are some very extreme examples of this going horribly horribly wrong for people. It sucks because most of the time people are just asking for help and support.
In my very first adult job my boss told me before you send an email imagine it being read in front of a judge. I think it’s a good tip when it comes to sharing anything about your family on social media. My kid graduated from preschool – passes the test. I think my husband might be cheating on me – you might not want that out there.
What can you do instead?
It is my opinion that it is very helpful to have tools and resources to help express the thoughts and feelings that come up in our families. Otherwise they just build up inside and we feel terrible.
I am a big fan of two things we can do all by ourselves.
Get moving. Go for a walk or a run or whatever you enjoy. An hour is a good amount of time for this. Away from the family. Listen to music you enjoy or just silence.
Write it out. One of the most powerful tools I use for myself is that I take a few minutes each day and write in a journal. When I was deep in the struggle of being a new stepmom these pages were often full of big emotions. It helped me a lot because it gave me a place to put these thoughts and I didn’t need anybody else involved. Often after I wrote this stuff out I ripped the pages into a zillion tiny pieces because I never wanted anybody else to see the things I wrote.
I am also big believer in having a support team that you can talk to. I worked with a wide variety of people when I was a new stepmom. I think it would have been amazing to have a support group of stepparents and it’s something I brainstorm about how I can someday offer it to my community.
How can you try to decide who is a good person to talk to?
In my opinion, I think you are looking for somebody who has skills and resources to help and that you feel is safe and trustworthy.
Also, in my opinion, this is somebody who is most often not actually involved directly in your family.
This can be a therapist who is either a psychologist or a psychiatrist. In my experience, a good place to start this search can be with your primary medical doctor who may know professionals in this field. Also I think that’s a confidential inquiry. These days there are even online resources for this which makes it more possible to work with somebody outside of your direct circle of contact and that can be helpful.
If they do not think they can help you they will hopefully refer you to somebody who can help. Not always though. The way I found my first life coach is because my therapist told me I didn’t need any more therapy. I still wanted more support.
This could be a marriage or relationship counselor. You can google for those resources in your town.
It can be a religious advisor if this is part of your community. Again, I will offer caution that if they know people in your family what you tell them may get back to the other people involved. It’s not supposed to be that way but there are too many stories of this happening to pretend that it doesn’t happen.
It can be a support group. You can look for stepparent support groups they are out there. They are in person and online. You can look for mom groups. I have lots of non-traditional suggestions about this so if you read this and want some ideas drop me an email and I’m happy to share.
It can be a life coach like me. You can find out about how to work with me here.
A note: I am a life coach and not a therapist or doctor. If you are in emotional crisis or severe distress you can and should consider calling a mental health crisis phone line. In the US the National Alliance for Mental Illness has a phone line at 1-800-950-NAMI. You can also google it.