“I’m going to be more present, more responsible, and less
drunk self destructive.”
New year resolutions have a bad rep. The main issue with them, apart from often being completely unattainable, is that their success isn’t always measurable.
And if you can’t work out whether you reached your goal (how many times you fell off the wagon…), how are you expected to keep the work up?
I would argue that new year resolutions can be remarkably effective if set out well. Here are some which I’ve used in the past, and which could help you lose some of the emotional weight that you’ve been carrying around.
1. Try calling The Ex something else.
Along the same lines of why no one should call you ‘That Woman’ ever again, this has to be my no. 1 mindset shift of 2020.
There are two reasons that removing “The Ex” from your vocabulary is such a great idea:
- it removes the power that the previous relationship might have in any conversation about your stepchild’s mother. “The Ex” will always refer to the life before you, even if you don’t consciously realise it. That alone used to give me butterflies, and maybe it does to you too;
- “The Ex” is pretty much exclusively used in a negative context. If it wasn’t then you’d probably be using your stepchild’s mother’s name to refer to her by now, rather than a title. Negative emotion indicates power over a person; you feel the need to vent about them, and they’re taking up space in your head.
Removing the negative connotations in the way you address your stepchild’s mother also removes this power, and the unnecessary hark back to the past that you inadvertently treat yourself to.
Try calling her “[my stepchild’s] mother” instead. Maybe one day you’ll even work up to her name. I made a conscious effort to do this at the beginning of 2020, and it’s now completely natural. I feel lighter, freer, and more in control of my emotions.
(Although, I admit, it wasn’t until I was no longer tempted to add “that b1tch” every time that I really knew my anger was subsiding. I know, Joe Exotic could learn a thing or two.)
Give it a try! And let me know how it goes…
2. Purposefully allocate time to talk about anything and everything other than the conflict in your life.
You don’t even have to let your partner in on this one necessarily – it’s one you can do all by yourself.
I’m always conscious that couples’ advice usually relies on both parties being willing to change something. Or even to see that there’s a problem in the first place. If you’re going through a bit of an ordeal with this one, maybe give yourself a break and use this as something you can instigate without any buy-in from your partner.
It’s simple really. Decide to talk about something, anything, other than the reason you’re really quite pissed off with the other household, or your stepchildren, or your extended family, and then do it.
Put it in your reminders, and tick it off every day that you manage it. Before you know it, it’ll be second nature.
The flip side of this is to make sure that you also allocate time to talk about the things that have really got your goat. It’s about being selective with your time, rather than avoiding the subject. You’ve still got to talk!
[As a side point, one of the reasons Stepmom Magazine in particular seems to have been so successful is that it has been used by stepmothers to help their other halves recognise the issues they’re facing. By reading it from someone else, the anxiety the stepmother is feeling is given some authority. Just some food for thought if you find your forehead bruised from all that brick wall bashing…]
3. Redefine your personal brand.
This might sound a bit too corporate for your liking, but I’d argue that it’s actually really useful in helping you work out your boundaries.
Defining your personal brand is all about how you what others to see you, and what you want to be known for.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”Maya Angelou (allegedly, I hasten to add)
This, which may or may not be attributed to Maya Angelou, is exactly what personal branding is all about. What do you want people to feel in your presence? How do you want them to react to you?
It also links in with one of the more favoured parenting tips of the decade – children need you to react in a predictable way. Working out your boundaries, and what you stand for, goes a long way in managing this.
How does one define a personal brand?
Start with pen and paper, dear stepmother.
To help you, let’s take this article from Forbes and make the points relevant to us:
- Have a focus – don’t be all things to all people. Work out who the most important people in your life are, and build your message around that.
For example, the most immediately important people in my world are my son, my stepdaughter and my fiancé. I want to be approachable to all three of them, and this overarches the different relationships I have with each. This is my focus, and forms the centre point of how I want them to view me.
- Be genuine. Your personal brand should reflect you, and not who you think you should be. That means no longer comparing yourself, or measuring your connections against those of your “competitors” (read: your stepchildren’s mother, or your partner’s family…). Write down your strengths, and how these feed into what you want to be known for, and not what you think you should be known for.
- Tell a story. In fact, don’t be afraid to tell your story. I read a piece in Stepmom Magazine a while ago giving tips on bonding with your stepchildren. Letting them in on your life pre-them, your passions, why you fell for their parent… it helps you to form real connections, which sometimes we assume will just happen (and, sometimes, do not).
- Live your brand. And this is why we can bring this concept into our personal lives – because why limit personal branding to the corporate world when its very basis is who you are? What do you believe? Where do you stand in parenting, what does friendship mean to you, what are you passionate about?
“Your personal brand should follow you everywhere you go. It needs to be an authentic manifestation of who you are and amplify what you believe.” With this in mind, your personal brand is not only a reflection of a series of job functions like marketing, finance or creative but also ideals like giving back, thoughtful leadership or mentorship.Goldie Chan, writing for Forbes.
Do check out the full article – I think it’s highly adaptable.
It might seem a bit abstract for a “measurable” list…
… but don’t forget that you’re using this concept of a personal brand to work out your boundaries. That means what you will and will not stand for in your home, and how you interact (or don’t) with the difficult people in your life.
You can come back to the list, or mind map, or however you roll in response to the above throughout the year. You’ll see such a difference by the end of the year if your newly defined boundaries are working.
It’s also a useful exercise to show you what Kristen Skiles of Stepmomming means when she says “stepmomming is what you do, not who you are.”
Some other resources, whilst we’re at it:
- Five personal branding lessons from Ruth Bader Ginsburg
- How to build your personal brand, Squiggly Careers podcast – see below (particularly the points about doing versus saying)
- A Strong Personal Brand Will Enhance Your Life, No Matter What You Do For a Living
4. Set aside one evening every week to rediscover your passion.
This is something you’ll touch on by redefining your personal brand, and is probably the one essential resolution I’d give you for 2021.
“Bloody hell Stilettos, I just don’t have the time.”
You do though. You can make time for anything that’s really important to you – and this really should be. (See my Crimbo article here for why exactly that is.)
Take Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian. He wrote a book about the year he learnt a particularly technically intense piano piece by Chopin – whilst he was also orchestrating his newspaper’s reaction to WikiLeaks (one of the only media outlets reporting on it for the first few months), and the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone.
I would say that he’s not a massively accomplished pianist, but he managed it by breaking his days down into chunks of time and planning them out ahead of the day. Whether it’s ten minutes or hourly chunks doesn’t really matter; the most important thing is having the plan in the first place.
It would be hugely hypocritical of me to say that this is easy to maintain. I’ve managed it at some very specific points in my life, none of which are current, but I know it works.
Another simple way is to write some goals first thing in the morning. It doesn’t have to be many – in fact, the fewer the better. But if you know that you absolutely must get those one or two things done that day, you will do it.
And remember, it might take 10,000 hours to get really very good at something, but each one of those hours pays 10 times over in how it makes you feel afterwards. With 2020 being what it was, this is even more important than ever.
5. Find just one new stepmother to connect with out there.
Just one, that’s all. Easy, right?
Well, no not necessarily. Actually it’s only this year that I connected with another woman in the real world who was also a stepmother. But that is exactly why I started up this blog.
There are, literally, millions of us out there in the world, and this is where social media comes into its own (if we let it). I’ve connected with some really amazing women through stepmuminstilettos, so do come over and leave some comments, or drop someone a message. It’s a fantastically welcoming community (what’s the collective noun for stepmothers – team? collective? mob? SMOB – Stepmothers of Britain, ha, we’ll work on it).
There was even a woman who stole herself to ask, on supportourstepmums, whether anyone else out there had started their relationship through an affair with someone else’s husband. If you can ask that and not be belittled or pitch-forked, you can ask anything. [FYI – this is a private account, but I’d very much recommend requesting to follow. It’s genuinely supportive, fun and friendly, and there’s some immensely positive stuff on there.]
6. Drink less, but better.
This is actually one of my own for 2021. Less but better, and not just wine either.
Coffee is a huge anxiety inducer, and anxiety is absolutely not something any stepmother suffers from a lack of. I do love the stuff though, more than is healthy, and rather than cut it out I’m just going to be more selective about what I’m drinking and when.
Wine, same. Also gin. Spend a little more, savour a little more, feel better about life. Winner winner.
You can measure it by the number of glass bottles you’ve accumulated at the end of the year, if you like…
7. Put an actual limit on the amount of time you spend stalking social media.
I would never tell you to “just stop” doing something. I know it’s not that easy.
We all know that stalking your stepchild’s mother’s instagram is a very bad idea. It makes us nervous, unhappy and uncomfortable. And yet, and yet… it’s almost impossible not to sometimes. It’s a punishment, and it’s an addiction.
So, rather than telling you to just stoppit, try limiting yourself to a few minutes a week perhaps. One day, you’ll forget to check, and then you’ll be free.
8. Put an actual limit on the time you spend thinking about That Thing.
Similar to the above, just “not thinking” about something doesn’t work. Let yourself mull it over for a bit, but make sure you limit the time spent on it. Struggling with the “stopping” bit? Set a timer! Seriously, it sounds ridiculous, but it is highly effective. Once that alarm goes off, move on to bigger and better things.
There’s so much more to your life than the conflict you find yourself thrust into. The conflict in a stepfamily is largely nothing to do with the stepmother anyway – especially if you do your best not to participate in it. You therefore shouldn’t be punished by having to think about it when you have better things to do with your time.
As with most of these, you can give yourself a target in your reminders, and tick off when done. It’s entirely measurable, and I know you can do it.
And remember, resolutions aren’t just for the New Year.
It’s no biggie if you don’t manage these straight off. You can change anything in your life, at any time. It’s just a bit more at the forefront of our minds at this time of year.
As for me, my resolution for 2021 (after Dry January) is to find once and for all my favourite brand of English Sparkling Wine. We’re going through a vineyard renaissance over here, didn’t you know? It’s very exciting, buy local!
And of course, to keep writing to you. My dear stepmothers. Thank you for being the wonderful, accepting, understanding heroes you are, and have a wonderful start to 2021.