The stress of (step) family vacations

Family vacations are supposed to be a time for family fun, bonding and making memories. But they can be a very stressful experience for stepmoms.

For parents, it’s a chance to take their kids somewhere fun and to get some quality time with them. But for stepparents… it can often mean staying in close quarters, for long periods of time, with the feeling of “outsider” magnified.

It can also bring with it disappointment if you expected to get some one on one time with your partner, and it just doesn’t happen.

Stepmoms often think they don’t have options when it comes to family vacations. They think they have to go along with what the rest of the family wants to do, without ever speaking up about what they’d like to do or taking time for themselves. Not so!

Here are some tips to help you enjoy that family vacation a little more.

  1. Schedule in some YOU time. That’s right, make sure to plan ahead for time to get a spa treatment, spend a few exploring hours on your own, basically anything to give yourself from a break from the long hours with the family.
  2. Schedule some time for you and your partner. Again, plan ahead to make sure this doesn’t get missed. Don’t leave it up to chance. Call ahead and make plans for someone else to watch the kids (very feasible depending on where you’re staying), or if you’re not staying somewhere with built-in child care, brainstorm with your partner ways to make sure you get some connection time. If he knows your expectations ahead of time, he’ll be much more likely to make an effort to make it happen.
  3. Plan an adult vacation at a separate time. It’s sad to say, but most of the stepparents who go on family vacations don’t actually feel like they’ve taken one. The family vacation is often very kid-focused, which is fine in a nuclear family where parents are glad to sacrifice everything for their child and love having their time focused on the child, not so much for a stepfamily. So maybe you need to look ahead and plan for the whole year, but defintiely make sure you build in a vacation for just you or just you and your partner.
  4. Stay home. Seriously, most kids love having alone time with their parents, so opt out of a family vacation every now and then. Sure, your partner may be disappointed, but that’s OK. He’ll feel better when he returns home to a brand new, super happy and loving partner who took some time to herself to recharge. 

When you’re relaxed on your vacation, everyone else is relaxed too!

© 2017 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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Tips for the introverted stepmom

Introvert stepmom aloneThere are many stepmoms struggling to fit in and find peace in their families, not because they don’t get along with their stepchildren, but because they’re introverts in a family of extroverts.  And introverts and extroverts often have conflicting ways of being in the world.

According to Psychology Today, introversion is a personality trait defined as someone whose energy is drained by social interactions; they give energy away when interacting with others.

Therefore they need recovery time, which usually means solitude, to recharge and refill their energy tank. Whereas an extrovert gains energy when they spend time with others. Therefore they feel energized after spending an evening socializing.

Susan Cain, author of the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking“ addresses the misconception that introverts are shy by noting, “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.”

She also explains that “Introverts may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”

Other common misconceptions about introverts are that they’re:

  • antisocial
  • boring
  • stuck up
  • lazy
  • selfish

These make sense when you look at them from an extrovert’s mindset. Extroverts are energized by being around others, so someone who thrives in solitude can seem uninterested or uninteresting. But it’s not so.

Introverts can be social and chatty and thoroughly love going to a party, but those activities will drain their energy leaving them with an empty tank.

Different degrees of introversion

There are plenty of people who fall in the middle of the introversion/extroversion spectrum. Some introverts really thrive in quiet spaces and are very quiet, whereas I’m a pretty chatty introvert. There are no hard and fast rules and introversion can look differently depending where you are on the spectrum.

But the one constant is that we all have our energy drained when interacting with others and require solitude to recharge.

For those who fall clearly on one end of the spectrum, living with family members on the opposite end of the spectrum can be challenging.

In regards to how introverts spend their time, most prefer:

  • small groups to large social events
  • reading a book to going to a party
  • quiet to loud environments
  • meaningful conversation to superficial small talk

Can you see how introversion really isn’t conducive to being around kids most of the time?

Parenting/stepparenting is an extrovert activity

The nature of the parent/stepparent – child relationship is often one way; very give – give because kids are self-centered and require a lot of care. Depending on the age of the child, a large amount of interaction with them is required; chatting, playing, etc… but they have very little to give in return, especially to a stepparent who usually doesn’t receive the love and affections that are afforded to parents.

Since an introvert’s energy is such a precious commodity, they prefer to engage in activities with a “high rate of return,” meaning they get something meaningful from the interaction, such as connection. This is why they prefer deep conversations to superficial ones.

So you can see how caring for kids can be an activity that is extremely draining to an introvert – with a pretty low rate of return. The introvert stepmom will give and give and give during her caretaking time with the child and if her tank is low to begin with, it’s sure to be empty by the time she’s done.

And since an empty tank can breed resentment, depression, anger and exhaustion, taking the necessary time to recover and recharge is crucial to an introvert’s well being.

How to educate your family about introversion.

Most people aren’t educated about introversion and extroversion personality traits, so they usually take offense when an introvert wants her solitude.

If your stepkids are extroverts or if their mom is an extrovert and that’s what they’re used to seeing, your introvert ways are going to seem foreign to them. They might think you don’t like them or that you’re boring because you prefer reading a book to entertaining the neighborhood kids. Laying this issue out on the table for all to see can be a real eye opener for everyone involved. 

  1. Have the whole family take this online quiz to see where everyone is on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. http://www.quietrev.com/the-introvert-test/  It can give your family a better understand of how each of you function differently.
  2. Have a conversation about introversion. Depending on their age,  you can use a battery analogy. They probably have a cell phone or gaming device that they can relate to, so explain that when they use the device the battery gets lower and lower until they need to charge it. And if they don’t charge it, the device will run out of power. Liken their usage of the device to your interacting with others.
  3. Have a discussion about how each family member’s introversion or extroversion traits show up. For example, you need to go to your alone zone after a school event where you had to interact with other parents. Or maybe your stepson or partner really thrive when the house is loud and full of people. You can even create a light-hearted way of acknowledging each other’s traits, such as saying “your introversion is showing” or “I see your extroversion is in full force.” This can serve to help family members stop taking the behaviors personally, and instead just calling it out for what it actually is: simple differences in personality.

Introverts need a plan

Introverts need to plan for recovery time because our society really isn’t introvert friendly. It’s assumed if you’re not going, going, going, then there’s something wrong with you. And if you take a time-out, then you’re obviously selfish and/or lack the skills to hack it. By being intentional and planning for solitude, you’re sure not to get caught up in society’s (or even your family’s) unrealistic expectations of you.

Here’s how:

Start by making a list of all the daily extrovert activities you engage in. By being aware of your inventory and energy requirements, you’ll be able to plan for recovery time appropriately.

Your list of extrovert activities might include:

  • kids’ sleepovers at your house
  • after-school activities where you have to interact with the parents
  • birthday parties
  • family dinners with partner’s family – or your own
  • your job

After you have your inventory, think about how much energy you’ll need to get through the activity without feeling like you’ve been run over by a bull dozer. Then schedule in time for solitude before that activity.

For example, if the kids are having a sleepover, let them know that the sleepover will be starting a little later in the evening. If your partner doesn’t support that, then make sure you go to your alone zone with headphones on. Once you feel recharged, you can make an appearance.

If you can’t find solitude before the activity, make absolute sure you plan for some afterwards. This is  non-negotiable.

You’re an adult, in control of how you spend your time. Learning to stand up for what you need will serve you greatly in these situations.

When you create your inventory, take into consideration the following:

  • The length of time of the event. If the event is longer than you’re comfortable with, can you make an early exit? If not, you may need to plan for extra recharge time before or after.   
  • Who’s involved? Will you be interacting with people you’re close to where you might experience a high rate of return? Or will it be mostly strangers and acquaintances, providing you with a lower rate of return?
  • How much interacting will be required of you? For example, an award banquet will require less social interaction than a party and therefore be less draining. 

These will help you determine whether the extrovert activity will yield a higher or lower rate of return. The higher the return, the less recovery time you may need.

A word about work

One of the most common areas introverts might not realize they’re extroverting is at work. Does your job require you to have face-to-face meetings throughout the day? Are you on the phone making calls all day long? Giving presentations? Interacting with people throughout the day? Most jobs require extroverting, so you’re going to be exhausted and need recovery time when you get home.

But then you get home and the kids are there and you’re expected to immediately jump into caretaker role, making dinner, watching the kids etc… Let your partner know that you need some recovery time before you jump into your stepmom role.

If you’re finding that’s impossible, then take a few extra minutes in the car on your way home.  Be creative and make it happen. No one benefits from you attempting to function on a low or empty tank.

How to live comfortably with extroverts

When it comes to living comfortably, everyone will have to do some compromising, since extrovert and introverts are in such conflict with what energizes them. Here are some suggestions that will help everyone get their needs met:

  • Each family member should have a place they can recharge. A quiet space for the introverts and a noisy space for the extroverts.
  • Instead of allowing kids to have sleepovers every weekend, try every other. Or they can sleep out.
  • If the rest of the family (majority) wants to watch TV or play loud video games, you can go to your quiet zone. Or if a single person wants to play a loud video game, he can use headphones.
  • On the days you have the kids, think about limiting your other extroverted activities. For example, can you schedule less face-to-face work meetings on those days?
  • Have a set time for extrovert activities that take place in the common areas of the house. “OK kids, you can play video games (noisy) for an hour , then I need you to put the headphones on.” That’s what a compromise looks like.
  • Always have an escape route. For example, if I’m going to a social function where I’ll be surrounded by either strangers or acquaintances, I know I’ll be good for 1- 2 hours and then I’ll start to get exhausted and will want to leave. Whereas my husband might want to spend more time there. So I might drive separately or he’ll plan to find another ride home,  so I won’t be stuck there after I’ve reached my limit.

Bonding with extroverted kids

When it comes to bonding with your extroverted stepkids, it will help for you to engage in activities that don’t completely drain you. It’s more important that you’re able to show up and be present for the kids to the best of your ability for a shorter length of time than it is for you to be “on” for hours but in an exhausted, depressed or resentful state.

Shoulder to shoulder activities can be great because they require less direct, face-to-face interaction. These might include cooking, teaching how to knit, coloring, watching a movie or going on a walk. It’s also okay to let the kids know that you’re happy to play for 30 minutes but then you need an adult time out.   

It may seem silly or even ridiculous that you have to plan for recovery time, but you can only benefit from doing so. Most people never think about introversion and extroversion being a reason for conflict or tension, but it often is. Being aware of these differences and having open communication on a regular basis with your family about them can ease some of the tensions and remove the misconceptions about each other.

When we stop taking behaviors personally, we’re free to respect and appreciate each other’s differences. And that makes it so much easier to live in harmony with those who are different than us.

Interested in working with me? Click here to see how I can help.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE Aug 2015 ISSUE OF SM MAGAZINE

© 2015 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved

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How much communication between your partner and his ex-wife is “too much”?

Communicating with exClients ask me all the time, how much communication between my partner and his ex is normal and necessary? Obviously this depends on the age of the kids, whether or not there are mental/physical/emotional issues that require more frequent communication, and how healthy the relationship between your partner and his ex is. Younger kids will require more frequent communications, while by the age of 16 most communication can be directly between teen and parent.

In his book “Keeping Kids Out of the Middle,” Benjamin Garber, PhD gives some excellent guidelines around communication, advising co-parents on exactly what is “too much.”

  1. It’s too much when it’s constant. Barring emergencies, most co-parents seldom need to communicate more than once a day. Many manage with a single communication each week or each parenting period, whichever is briefer.” So unless there’s a constant crisis at your home, those multiple texts a day are unnecessary.
  2. It’s too much when it’s intrusive. Co-parenting communications that edge beyond the kids’ needs, interest, successes and failures and into adult personal matters aren’t necessary.” As soon as a co-parent starts to wander into topics outside of the kids (assuming the other parent isn’t interested), it’s time to shut down communication.
  3. It’s too much when it serves to keep you artificially connected. We must never use our children and our mutual responsibility as their caregivers as an excuse to maintain adult relationships.” Some ex-wives love to use their kids as an excuse to stay connected to their ex. They’ll share inappropriate, personal details of their lives, believing that sharing a child with someone gives them lifelong rights to invade their ex’s personal space with continued, unwanted communications. They might invite them to dinner or ask them for drinks, because it’s “best for the kids.” No. What’s “best for the kids” is a conflict-free home. And that often means limited communication if you’re dealing with a difficult ex.
  4. It’s too much when it becomes harassing, abusive, intimidating or otherwise destructive.” Insults, judgements, continuously bringing up the past and past grievances, blaming and accusing – these are all destructive and may require extreme boundaries, such as a communication restraining order.

If co-parents have  a mutually respectful, friendly relationship and communicating more often works for them and their current spouses, then great! Otherwise, these guidelines are helpful in letting parents know that you don’t need to be in constant contact about the kids to be effective co-parents.

© 2015 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

Interested in working with me? Click here to see how I can help.

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Confessions of a(n) Enlightened Stepmom

Stepmom confessionUpdated 1/2016. This article was first published in 2011 for No One’s the Bitch. 

I consider myself pretty successful in my transition from single girl to stepmom and I’ve always had the best of intentions when it came to my husband’s ex-wife.

And yet, I’ve made some moves that seemed right at the time, but weren’t.

Here’s one of them:

Being right

I won’t get into the details for privacy’s sake, but basically, I was tired of feeling like my husband’s ex-wife was pointing her finger in our direction for everything gone bad in her household, so I spoke up. Rah-rah, good for me, right??

I even did it in a way that was diplomatic. I didn’t call her names or tell her what I thought of her. I simply sent her an email giving her some really great advice.

I told her the truth; that until she took responsibility for her own life she would never be happy.

Then, thinking that I could enlighten her even further, I proceeded to explain that if she continued to blame others for her situation, she’d never have a healthy relationship and her unhappiness would continue.

All the while, I’m thinking, ‘This is great advice! These are the things her friends should be telling her!’ After all, read any book by Deepak Chopra or other spiritual leaders and you’ll find the same advice. She simply had never heard such wise words and once she did, she’d see the light. It worked for me in my life, so I’d be selfish not to share such knowledge with her. Right?

Yes, I actually believed I was being helpful.

Oh, how naïve I was.…

She’s not interested in what you have to say

To put it mildly, she wasn’t “thankful” for the unsolicited advice, she wasn’t “enlightened,” and she didn’t suddenly see (what I perceived as) the error of her ways.

After a few days, I had some realizations and sent her an apologetic email. These were my thoughts:

  • Each one of us is living in our own reality. Me and my husband’s reality is VERY different from hers.
  • Nothing I could ever say or do would convince her to see the situation from our perspective.
  • She’s viewing life from her own childhood experiences, life experiences, her own values, her own lessons learned. And we’re viewing them from ours.
  • We cannot tell someone else what their truth is.
  • Even if I was spot on with her truth, the last person she’d be receptive to hearing it from is me.

No matter how right we think we are, no matter how much we think we have life figured out, even if we’re convinced we are holding the key to happiness in our hands and want to share it with the world, it’s really only the key to OUR happiness.

So before you waste one more precious moment fretting over the other woman, realize that no matter how justified you think you are, how wronged you think you’ve been, trying to change her will be the biggest waste of your time and emotional energy and will only serve to sink you deeper into her world.

Acceptance

To do this we start by trying to accept that she is who she is. It doesn’t mean we have to like her, be okay with her actions, respect her as a person, or even have contact with her. It just means we say goodbye to expending our energy on wishing she was different.

It means we take back our power by redirecting our energy onto ourselves, our marriage, and our family; where it belongs and where it will benefit us most.

In the end, we can either spend years fighting her, or we can let go, accept her and focus on the good things in life. I’m not saying it’s an easy choice, but it’s a choice that is ours to make.

Where to start

If you decide this is something you want to try, but it seems like an impossible task, start with baby steps. Think about one incident where you’ve been triggered and take some time to think about it from her perspective. What need of hers was she trying to meet by doing what she did? What was she trying to protect? What was she trying to gain? How was she trying to make herself feeling better?

Once you have a clear understanding of what might have been going on with her, release yourself from the need to correct her or defend yourself. The more you respond to her the more you validate her behavior, so focus your attention elsewhere in a positive way. Leave the house, go for a hike, laugh with a friend, do whatever it is you do to center yourself so you can behave in a way that’s true to who you are and so you can be proud of yourself.

© 2011 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

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8 stepfamily issues that can make or break your relationship

Stepfamily coupleMany couples forget to actually sit down and talk about their expectations for their stepfamily and each member’s role in it. They believe everything will just work itself out, because after all, they’re in love.

But it’s not too long before reality sets in and they realize they’re not on the same page and nothing is as they expected.

If you’ve found yourself in this situation, it’s never too late to have this conversation. Some things you want to discuss with your partner include yours and his expectations in regards to:

  • How involved you’ll be in the various aspects of your stepchild’s life. Your partner may want you to be very involved, while you’re happy standing on the sidelines. Be specific here, discuss areas of school, after-school activities, transportation, discipline, bedtime rituals, transition day rituals, holidays, communication with the ex, etc…
  • Household responsibilities. Do the children have chores? Who makes sure they actually do their chores? Which household responsibilities specifically are each family member responsible for?
  • How do each of you expect the household to run? If you were raised differently, you likely have different expectations here. What do you both need to be comfortable in your home? Where are you both willing to compromise?
  • Meal planning and cooking
  • Finances
  • Your stepchild’s visitation schedule
  • Boundaries with his ex
  • The kids. Your expectations of the kids are likely different than your partner’s. Discuss discipline, responsibilities, bedtimes, meals, homework and any other situations relevant to the kids.

Those are just a few areas that can cause conflict if you and your partner aren’t on the same page. Be sure to go into this conversation with an open mind, understanding that the goal is to have a win-win, where everyone feels their needs are met.

Every member of the stepfamily is thrown off kilter when joining families and everyone will need to make sacrifices. Changes are more successful when they occur slowly, over time, so work on changing one thing at a time, giving everyone time to adjust.

If you’d like help figuring out what your role as a stepmom is, contact me to see how I can help you.

© 2015 Jenna Korf    All Rights Reserved