I feel that one of the most important things we can work on for ourselves is how happy we feel at home.
That sounds like it should be easy.
And yet, being happy as a stepmom in a blended family is not always easy.
In my opinion, based on research and my own experience this has changed as my family has changed.
What it took to be happy at home as a single 23 year old was quite different than as a 28 year old wife and stepmom. Then it changed again when I was a 35 year old wife, stepmom and mom.
Looking back over my marriage, stepparent journey I think there are 10 lessons that I learned that together are what helped me create my own happiness within my family.
One of these lessons is when I decided to commit to learning about yourself what made me happy.
Happiness in my opinion is more complicated than it might first seem.
I once read a book that was a bestselling book which was all about how a woman spend a full year systematically analyzing whether she could increase her personal happiness.
It was a bestselling book – you may have read it too. This is The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.
I read the whole thing and the entire time I thought to myself that her method was not something that I think would make me happy. In fact, the initial premise of analyzing her life and charting her progress in these projects just doesn’t sound at all enjoyable. And I’m actually a pretty analytical person. That’s just me. It was after all a best seller.
I want my happiness to be easy. I don’t want it to be a research project with homework and charts.
That’s what I learned from that book – which is an okay lesson. Although at the time it felt a little unsatisfying.
Searching for happiness can sometimes be a little confusing.
Once upon a time my mom told me that she didn’t know how to be happy.
I can remember the moment clearly. It’s a layered and complicated memory.
I was a young adult at the time and I wasn’t sure quite what to do about this when she told me.
I do remember though that I believed her when she said this about herself.
You might wonder why she told me this and that’s it’s own long story.
My mom struggled with clinical depression most of her life and that’s not my story to tell.
I have always felt a sense of gratitude that I didn’t suffer from clinical depression.
It’s not that she didn’t experience joy sometimes. She did. She could laugh at jokes and there were things that she enjoyed. But a long term general sense of happiness was hard for her to achieve and so she would sometimes look for it in what might be called unhealthy places.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons that I feel so called to help stepmoms and moms who are struggling to feel happy in their families find that path.
Why does happiness as a stepmom and mom feel so hard to find?
There have been several times in my lived experience as a wife, stepparent and parent that I have struggled to feel happy.
Maybe you’ve never felt that way. Which is great. Not everybody goes through this.
If you have had that sensation as a stepmom, a bonus mom, a wife or a mom. It doesn’t feel great.
When I was going through this myself I really judged myself harshly for it. However, I have learned that when the Gottman Institute was doing research on relationship satisfaction in families they discovered that 67 % of married couples reported being significantly dissatisfied in their relationship after having children.
It’s not our imagination. This really can be a tough thing to navigate.
As somebody who works with stepparents I just want to highlight that you go from being childfree to an instant family often with no adjustment time. It’s a rapid and challenging adjustment.
I think there are layers of this.
For a long time I struggled because I truly thought that my unhappiness was because of things that other people in my life were doing or not doing.
I put a lot of effort into two things.
Trying to get other people to behave differently.
Altering my own behavior to make up for what they were doing or not doing.
Neither of those worked for me. What happened was that I got real tired and super angry.
Sometimes people call this burnout.
I did not want to feel that way.
I also didn’t know what to do about it.
I tried a lot of different things.
Some worked and some didn’t.
When I found what worked for me I wanted to share that with everybody.
I helped some people but not others. This was a conundrum for me because I thought everybody should be able to be happy in their families.
Like I said earlier I think there are layers to this y’all.
As I was trained as a coach and in working with clients I’ve discovered that it’s not usually the specific actions as much as having somebody (like me) help you go through steps to uncover what actions will work for you.
A good starting point might be asking yourself, What does make me happy? When was the last time I was happy?
Unhappy about who ate the potatoes
I talked to a woman today who is upset that her adult stepson ate a plate of hash browns.
She’s upset because the plate was for the family and he ate it all.
Well not all of it. Some of the people had “made their plates’ but not her husband.
She ate her potatoes and 2 kids ate potatoes. But the husband and the stepson did not.
The stepson was out of the house when the potatoes were made. He came home from his workout and saw the potatoes and other stuff in the kitchen. He thought everybody had eaten so he finished the plate.
The stepmom was in the other room when this happened. She did not tell him not to or anything.
He came to thank her for the delicious potatoes and she exploded in rage because he ate all the potatoes.
She’s mad because the stepson ate the potatoes that were to be split between her husband and the stepson.
We talked about this for 30 minutes. This stepmom was mad. MMMMMAAAADDD.
She did not want to let this anger go.
Nope. Plenty of anger to go around.
As a coach I am aware and I accept that I can’t make her release this anger. That’s not my job. Although when she’s ready I can help her to release it.
She can be as mad as she wants as long as she wants.
Right now she feels like this has happened to her and that there is nothing she can do about it. She’s mad and she wants the world to know and agree with her about the righteousness of her anger. She was a little frustrated that people around her didn’t seem to agree with all this anger over potatoes.
So, I’m listening. Her anger is a valid emotion.
The power move is to figure out how to move through this moment past the anger because it feels pretty crappy.
Before I was trained as a coach I might have jumped into this conversation and offered advice. I might have told her about what I would have done. And if we were alike that actually may have helped a little bit. But if our personalities and experiences did not align then my advice would have fallen short. It wouldn’t have felt helpful or kind. That can happen sometimes if you vent to friends or online. It doesn’t always help.
I kept listening and asking for details. I let her tell the entire story.
She expected her partner to be mad at his son right along with her. But he wasn’t. Her husband just suggested she make more potatoes. Guess what happened then. Yup. That made her more mad.
Have you ever had a time in your relationship where you felt like this?
Just full to the top of anger over something that was happening in the family.
I know that I have.
I know that this felt terrible.
Because when I’m mad there’s no room for fun or enjoyment … everything is just mad.
I guess perhaps there are some people out there who like being mad but I’m not one of them.
I think that we each have our own way of being happy
Sometimes there are similarities between people.Sometimes people in a family are a lot alike. And sometimes we’re not.
Which is why sometimes if you try to copy what somebody else does to be happy … it doesn’t work.
For example, I like to get up early and run with my friends. A 10 mile run to see the sunrise helps me be very happy. A lot of people do not agree with that. A lot of people prefer to sleep in.
Both of those are good strategies.
What is important I think is to do the work to find what will work for you.
Do you want to know what happened with the potatoes?
Well she felt better getting to tell her whole story. It’s important to have a trusted person who will listen to you. It is important.
Only then we were able to talk about how the anger maybe wasn’t just about the potatoes.
You probably could have guessed that, right.
That’s just the final straw that sets off the need to release.
Then the work is about figuring out what is causing the build up and how you want to be in your family. For this stepmom it looks like it might be about empowering herself so she doesn’t feel totally out of control. So she doesn’t feel like she’s trying to do everything for everybody but she doesn’t have any tools to make that happen.
For you it could be different.
In fact, I’m pretty sure for you it will be different. Because we are each unique.
That’s what I mean when I say to work on what makes YOU happy.
We all deserve to have the tools to be happy in our family.
When it comes to finding your path to happiness in a family I have seen a lot of different methods to make that work. I am to help and never to judge.
So, if you are in a spot where you are feeling less happiness in your blended family than you wish you were then click here to learn more about how to work with me.