Taking care of yourself in stepfamily

It may seem a little strange in a discussion about family relationships to talk about taking care of number one, but believe me it’s a really important and healthy thing to talk about and do, especially in a stepfamily. Why is self-care so important in a stepfamily? Great question! I’m glad you asked. 

Do you remember the safety announcement that always occurs on an aeroplane just before take off, ‘parents if you are holding an infant and we hit turbulence and the oxygen masks drop down from overhead, put your own oxygen mask on first.’ Now this can sound really counter-intuitive to any caring parent, as our instinct, nine times out of ten is to put our child’s safety first and in a sense, put their oxygen mask on them first. However, stop for a moment and think about it, if you lose oxygen and pass out then your child is really in trouble. You are not going to have the capacity to care for them and to continue to keep them safe if you are deprived of oxygen. Looking after yourself, is in fact, looking after your children and is actually a very responsible thing to do as a parent. 

When it comes to being a parent in a stepfamily what does it mean to look after yourself and put your oxygen mask on first? 

For me, I think the first step, and it may seem kind of obvious, but it is to recognize that you are a person. That you are a human being with thoughts, feelings, needs, wants, aspirations and desires. As an adult person, you can think and reflect on these things for yourself. Your roles as a parent and partner require you to do a lot for others and shoulder certain responsibilities, but you also have needs yourself that need a look in now and then. 

By being mindful of the need for self-care we are thinking about balance with the focus being on how do I care for myself well so that I can meet my responsibilities and care for others well? In a sense self-care is about stewardship. If I own a car and don’t register, insure and service it then I will not be meeting my responsibilities of taking good care of my car and I won’t have a safe vehicle to drive around myself and my kids. I could have an accident and hurt someone and not have the funds to cover the costs of repairs. If I own it, then it is my job to take care of it ‐ and that includes my own person and selfhood. 

It’s actually about self-respect and taking care of yourself like you would one of your external responsibilities or your property. If you aren’t doing so well in either of these departments there may be some issues for you in self-respect. When we respect ourselves we are willing to take care of ourselves and the things, people and responsibilities, which include ourselves, in our care. Good self-care starts with self-respect. Good self-care includes two things: what we keep out and what we let in. Keeping out things that are unnecessarily draining which we deal with through healthy boundaries and limit setting. Letting in the good is what we do to put in good and supportive things in our lives such as good nutrition, exercise, supportive friendship and activities that are meaningful and enriching. 

Cheryl Richardson in her book Extreme self-care: transform your life one month at a time, recommends that we be very intentional about self-care and not leave it up to a matter of chance or something we do when we get around to it. She recommends that we tune into any part of our lives where we feel deprived and consciously figure out where that feeling of deprivation comes from and take constructive action to do something about it. She goes on to say, 

“From years of personal experience, as well as from the work I’ve done coaching many caring and hardworking men and women, I’ve learned that when we care for ourselves deeply and deliberately, we naturally begin to care for others ‐ our families, our friends, and the world ‐ in a healthier and more effective way.” 

Self-care is about putting into ourselves so that we can continue to input into others. It’s recognizing we cannot give out from an empty vessel. It’s about getting and keeping the personal and inter-personal balance right and ultimately being about to stay the course on the stepfamily journey.

Posted on 20 May 2017 in - Library - Family and Parenting

Marcia Watts

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