Thursday, August 6, 2009

Taming the Stepmonster: How I Avoid Burnout

I am the mother of five: two of my own children, three stepsons whom I love as my own. Most times we live in relative peace and harmony, for which I am eternally grateful. They know I love and respect them, and most of the time they love and respect me back. Not bad as far as parenting goes.

But then there are those days. We all have them. But generally speaking, around here "those days" can be traced not to me or their dad, but to something or someone else. The anger, frustration, disrespect comes out sideways. And though I am no psychologist, I am aware and smart enough to know that displaced anger and frustration only comes out when children feel safe. Again, the fact that my children feel safe with me and their dad/stepdad leaves me thankful beyond measure.

Still, it is frustrating. Even when you do not have a combative or mentally unstable co-parent, it can be difficult to be the container for all the anger and frustration a child may feel. Multiply times five, and you have a recipe for emotional exhaustion.

The solution? Disengage. Look at parenting as a spiritual process, in which you are asked to show the love of Christ/loving kindness to everyone, including your children and their other parents. Sometimes this requires careful listening. Sometimes this requires telling the truth in love, in a child's terms. Sometimes this merely requires granting God's blessing to the other parent. Sometimes it requires holding a crying child and reassuring that things will be all right. In any circumstance, it requires you, the parent, to empty yourself of desires, pride, and what have you and allow yourself to react with kindness to every situation.

This is easier said than done. Most times I trend more toward "postal episode" than "spiritual practice." But I am learning and working on it, and I encourage those of you who are working on it too to have heart. You are simply planting seeds which may or may not bear fruit; but it is the planting and not the fruit that is your responsibility.

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