Stepmom Burnout: What to do about it

This article first appeared in the September 2014 issue of Stepmom Magazine.

Stepmom BurnoutBurnout is unfortunately very common among stepmoms. It happens when your emotional (and sometimes physical) tank is on empty and you just have nothing left to give, which is why the littlest things are suddenly enough to set you off.

You know you’re burned out when you’re snarling about things that typically wouldn’t bother you—the kitchen cabinet left ajar, the lone sock in the hallway, the stepchild innocently asking you what’s for dinner. You feel more sensitive than usual and get upset at the drop of a hat. You feel like you are doing everything. You’re shuttling the kids to and from school, helping with homework and after-school activities, preparing dinner, keeping the house in order and working a full-time job. Things are feeling very unfair.

When you get to this point, the scales of responsibility are usually heavily imbalanced. You feel angry, resentful, hurt and exhausted. You’re mad at everyone. In addition, your self-confidence may have plummeted because you’ve put all of your needs aside in order to meet everyone else’s.

Most women are pretty bad at saying no because of the fear associated with it. We’re afraid our partners will be mad at us for placing more responsibility on their shoulders. We’re afraid of alienating the kids. We fear that our families will look down on us and that society will judge us. And on top of that, we have this false belief that other women are handling everything perfectly. We may feel like we’re failing but what we really need is a break.

Most men, on the other hand, are really good at taking time for themselves. Have you noticed they make time for their hobbies and projects? And they do it without the guilt! It usually pisses us off because we don’t understand the concept of putting our needs first— we call it selfish. But in reality, we could take a lesson from them in this department.

The fact is, the more you do, the less everyone else does. So, if you think you’re burned out or are on the verge of burnout, here are some steps to help you recharge.

1. Stop. The bottom line is you’ve taken on too much responsibility. It’s time to give some of that up. Start with choosing one thing (or more if you’re feeling daring) that could easily be handed over to someone else and then let your partner know you need that to happen.

2. Delegate. Take an inventory of all the household chores and who actually does them. Then reassign the chores so they’re more evenly distributed. Kids of all ages can take on varying levels of responsibility, so don’t let their young ages deter you from this. At the same time, be prepared for things not to get done exactly as you would do them— and learn to be OK with that. If you live by the saying, “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” you’ll never recover from burnout.

A lot of stepmoms get frustrated at this point because the kids and partners don’t always step up. It can take patience and a lot of self-control to not fall back into old patterns, but that’s how you reached the burnout phase in the first place, so stand your ground and find a way to be comfortable with stepping away even if others are refusing to be responsible for themselves. The house may be messier, but the world won’t stop spinning.

3. Communicate. Let your partner know you’ve reached your limit and need a break. Explain that in order to be a better wife and stepmom, you need to start taking better care of yourself and that this might mean stepping away for a bit. Reach out to friends, family, the daycare center and carpool groups for help. Start thinking outside the box in order to find help if it’s not readily available to you.

4. Rediscover your passions. Everyone needs something stress free and fun to focus on. Start thinking about activities that nourish your soul and energize you. What brings you joy? What activity captivates you and brings a smile to your face? Now commit to that activity at least once a week!

5. Let go of guilt. Self-care is as important as breathing, so stop feeling guilty about making yourself a priority. Understand that, when you agree (or insist) on doing everything for everyone else, you are doing them a great disservice. You’re robbing your partner of the chance to step up and be a better father, and you’re robbing the kids of the pride that comes with responsibility.

The happiest women are those who make time for themselves. They value themselves enough to put their well-being at the top of their priority list, knowing that it will result in them ultimately being happier wives, moms and stepmoms. They have a circle of friends with whom they communicate on a regular basis. They feel entitled to take care of themselves and engage in activities they love, so they’re in the best possible shape—physically and mentally—to be positive, loving and willing participants in their families.

 © 2014 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

Stepmoms, what does self-care really look like?

Self-care for stepmomsThis article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of Stepmom Magazine

Many women aren’t sure what self-care is, so they mistakenly think it means being selfish, and they feel guilty when they attempt to do something for themselves. One reason for this is because it wasn’t modeled for us as children. Most of our moms sacrificed everything for us, so we never saw our moms take time out for themselves or enjoy hobbies— especially not at our expense.

When I recommend self-care to stepmoms, I’m recommending they do activities that achieve two goals:

1) Give them a break from their daily stress

2) Refill their emotional tank/feed their spirit/bring them joy

We all have things that do this for us, but we often forget them because we let life get in the way. It could be dancing, painting, walking the dog, going to the gym, cooking, reading, getting a manicure, etc. You might have to think back to when you were a child to find out what you really enjoy doing.

As far as things that all stepmoms should do, you should carve out time, at least once a week, for this activity. This shouldn’t be thought of as a “nice-to-have.” It should be a non-negotiable “must-have.”

It’s important that you spend time away from your source of stress. You can’t recharge when you’re surrounded by the same environment that adds to your stress. Even if family life isn’t stressful at the moment, this should be something you do with friends or alone, because if you’re with people you either feel obligated to take care of or even want to take care of, it’s defeating the point.

I know there are women out there who are convinced they just have NO time for this. I often say that something needs to change if this is the case. Dad needs to step up or they need to reach out to family and friends for support. But in these cases, just five minutes alone in the bathroom can make a difference, even if it’s short lived.

Stepmoms with young stepdaughters are important role models who can teach them what it looks like to value themselves. Boys are naturally pretty good at doing what they want for themselves, but girls often struggle with this. (Think of all the people-pleasing women you know.)

When you’re taking good care of yourself, you gain a sense of confidence that carries over into other aspects of your life. When you’re feeling good about yourself, you’re more likely to feel good about others and less likely to take things so personally. And when you return to our family more patient, less stressed and more peaceful, everyone wins.

© 2014 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

Why your husband says “Yes” to his ex

Why your husband says yes to his exThis article first appeared in the October 2013 issue of Stepmom Magazine

Do you hate it when your husband’s difficult ex asks for something and your husband jumps on the yes wagon? Or, even worse, when she wants something seemingly unreasonable – and even though you can tell from a mile away that he’ll regret it – he still complies? You’re probably wondering, why on earth is he still being kind to her? Why is he still doing things for her after the way she treats him? Well, you might be surprised to find that in most cases, men are not being wimpy or sac-less. They’re being driven by their instincts.


Here are six possible reasons your husband says yes to his ex when you think he should be saying no:

  1. To protect you. I know it seems counter intuitive and you don’t feel protected, but your husband has been dealing with her for years and really wants to keep the conflict out of your house and away from you. His way of doing that is to pacify her. Giving in to her may seem like no big deal to him because in his mind if he can keep her wrath away from you, it’s well worth it.
  2. He doesn’t think he can win. Alison Armstrong, creator of Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women, suggests that for most men, if they don’t think they have a 90-95% chance of winning something or succeeding, they won’t even try. It’s their instinct to conserve their energy for wins. This means if he has a history of losing court battles or being involved in long, drawn out conflicts with no resolution, he might just be too emotionally exhausted to bother. To him, it’s just easier to say “yes.”
  3. It’s his instinct to provide for her. Yikes! Ouch! What?! Yes, I know, this is a hard one to hear. But it’s the truth. This is one of those instincts that may be misguided because it’s in direct conflict with protecting and providing for you, but nevertheless it may exist. Women often have trouble understanding this, because we don’t have the same instincts as men. We have an especially hard time understanding this if the ex has been high conflict, participating in alienating the kids from their father, engaging in court battles, harassment, and other behavior that, as women, we would never tolerate.
  4. It’s a habit. In some cases, it really is that simple. Seriously, after a man has been providing for a woman for so long, it can be a really hard habit to break. It’s very similar to him and his ex’s dysfunctional habit of fighting, which you’ve probably witnessed. That dynamic can take years to change or undo.
  5. He feels that he’s providing for his kids through her. He may be willing to do something she requested or demanded if he thinks it will benefit the kids. This benefit may be direct, what she’s asking actually is better for the kids, or indirect,  simply by avoiding conflict with her he’s protecting them.
  6. He’s afraid of losing his kids. This is a very real and valid fear that some fathers have. Moms hold a lot of power, and it’s easy for us as stepmoms to want our men to fight for their rights instead of giving in. But he may not feel compelled to do this (refer to #2) or he may not be financially able to fight for his kids, if it should come to that.

So what’s a wife to do? 

  • Stop calling him a wimp and stop giving him a hard time every time he says yes to her. When you complain, all he hears is criticism, which only serves to create or perpetuate conflict between you two. It doesn’t compel him to change his behavior. He sees your complaints as his failure to make you happy, which causes a large amount of shame and discomfort in him, resulting in his shutting down.
  • Recognize that it usually takes a big violation on the ex’s part, something that he considers unforgiveable, to get him to start saying “no” to her. This is something he has to learn and experience on his own, it’s not something you can convince him of or push him into.
  • Brush up on your communication skills and learn how to make requests, not demands. You’ll have a much better chance of him being receptive to your request if he doesn’t feel criticized or bullied. An example of this would be “Honey, I know you had a good reason for agreeing to x, but I feel really anxious about y, so next time do you think we can look into some other potential solutions?”

Remember that he’s mostly functioning from instinct, which is hard as hell to temper. Try to appreciate his intentions and that ultimately he wants you to be happy, which means protecting you from something he’s had to deal with for way too long.

© 2014 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

Stepmoms, who is responsible for your feelings?

So many of us have been under attack for so long (by an ex-wife, stepchild, boss, co-worker, etc… ) that we forget one very important fact: It’s no one else’s job to take care of us – but ours. 

Self-careIt’s not your husband’s ex-wife’s or the kids’. It’s yours. When you’re wondering how someone could behave the way they do or how they could treat you so poorly, it’s because they’re trying to take care of THEMSELVES the best way they know how – and that is often in conflict with taking care of YOU. It might be an irrational, dysfunctional or unhealthy way – but their end goal is still to make themselves feel better – not make YOU feel better. 

When you’re wondering why they haven’t apologized or how they can be so hurtful, remind yourself that it’s not their job to behave in a way that ensures your comfort. It’s not their job to be kind, respectful or healthy. If it was, the world would be a perfect place. Not going to happen.

Soooo…. Stop trying to understand other’s motivations and expecting them to treat you kindly. Instead, remember it’s YOUR job to take care of you. That probably means boundaries to protect yourself. Protect yourself at all costs, because they don’t and won’t have your comfort, security or safety in mind. They have their own.

© 2014 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

Stepmoms, what do you provide for your family?

Peace for stepfamiliesMarrying into a family with so many challenges had taken its toll on me. The stress had suppressed most of my best qualities. And then recently I decided I had had enough of that. After all, no amount of trying to control or resisting the challenges did any good. If anything, it just made me more unhappy. So I decided I wanted to get back to who I was – before all of this.

Immediately, a picture of myself popped into my head: Me laughing. As long as I can remember, that’s who I was, someone who was often laughing or at least had a huge smile on her face.

And I thought, yes, those are my gifts: My natural sense of happiness; The ease in which I smile. The way I can find humor in just about anything, especially myself.  What a gift I could give my family – to be that person again.

Do my stepkids get to experience that? Probably more than the average person, but not to the extent of who I really am.

The day after I decided to be me again, we were with my husband’s entire family for the holidays and I found myself laughing, having a great time. I laughed more that night than I had in a long while. Afterwards, my husband commented on how much fun I am to have around and how he loves what I bring to his family. My mother-in-law commented on how much she loves my laugh.  How it sounds like I’m always having so much fun. Even my 13 year old niece said that that’s why she was laughing so hard, because my laugh was contagious.

Sure, that night I saw things around me that would normally bring me down, but I didn’t let them. As soon as I caught myself judging, I stopped those thoughts. I just told myself it was none of my business what others were doing or saying or how they were behaving. And I released that burden of wanting things to be different. How do you know you’re judging? If you’re thinking or using the word “should,” then you’re judging.

The truth is that no amount of judgement will make anyone behave differently. No amount of judgement will bring my family peace or increase the connection between us. But my smile? My laugh? Being more easy going? Yes. Those qualities add love to my family. And in the end, that’s really all that matters.

What are the qualities you love about yourself that you’ve been missing lately? What are your gifts? How would you and your family be different if you were to share those gifts with them?

© 2013 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

Stepmoms, you have the power to choose peace

Stepmoms, Our Thoughts Create RealityToday I received some not-so-nice messages in my inbox. This situation served as a lovely reminder that we have the power to let a situation eat at us all day, or not.

It’s so easy to get dragged down into someone else’s drama with themselves, when it’s directed at us. We want to defend and protect ourselves; have our voice heard. But then who wins? I was thinking about what this person said to me and all the different responses I could have made. I started obsessing about the injustice and how it didn’t matter what I said, it would do no good because their beliefs about me made it impossible for them to see any other perspective.

A half hour later I realized I was setting myself up to carry this with me for the rest of the day, if not longer. By thinking about it over and over, I was teaching my brain to keep thinking about it. So, in the shower (no idea why, but this is usually where I snap out of things), I remembered that the way this person treats me is about them, not me. So what if I just shrugged it off? What if I gave it zero value? It would be like someone telling me they don’t like cereal for breakfast. “Um, okay.” And that fact would leave my brain in about 10 seconds and I wouldn’t think about it again, because it has nothing to do with me – it’s completely about them. The same concept applies when someone confronts you in an aggressive manner and accuses you of things that aren’t true. Sure, they’re trying to make it about you, but it’s not. So why give it any meaning? Why keep it alive with your thoughts?

That’s a lot of power we have, to decide what to hold onto and what to let go of. And although some situations are obviously more difficult than others, it’s still in our hands to choose peace. We just have to make a conscious effort to do so.

© 2013 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved