Stepmoms know it only takes seconds for their home to become engulfed in emotional flames. When this happens, the stepmom can get burned and left frustrated, angry, sad and alone. Knowing how to recognize the signs of an “emotional fire” and having a pre-planned exit can be very beneficial.
While I was in the process of developing a fire escape plan for my own home, I realized that as a stepmom, I could learn a few things from the United States Fire Administration on protecting my sanity during times of heated stepfamily issues.
Identify Your “Threats”
It is important for stepmoms to identify emotional fire threats. As a stepmom, we have frustrating situations to deal with. Some of them we can’t anticipate. Others are like clockwork. Yet one thing they all have in common is that we typically can’t control whether they happen or not and yet they have the potential to send us into a tailspin and set the four walls of our home on emotional fire.
Take some time to figure out what gets you frustrated. Is it when the kids come back from their mom’s house? Is it when your partner gives into their kids or when he overrules something you’ve said? Do you cringe every time you go to a school function and the ex-wife is starring daggers through you?
You get the picture. Identify some of the stepfamily situations that you want to run and hide from then use the Special Considerations below to develop your own personal stepmom escape route:
Have Two Escape Routes For Every Situation
In keeping with the USFA’s guidelines, it is best to practice your designated escape routes and to always have two escape routes from every hazardous situation. Practice for stepmoms means being flexible. Identify what works and what doesn’t and always having a back-up plan.
If our primary escape is to physically leave our home when our stepkids get dropped off after an extended visit with their mom and it becomes impossible for us to leave, we can turn to a secondary plan of calling a friend on the phone to talk for a while. And just as the USFA recommends that you only purchase safety ladders from reputable companies, you only want to call a friend who will listen, validate and give you hope. Calling someone who will listen but then feed your own fire of negativity will only leave you feeling burned by the situation. You might want to give your friend a “head’s up” and make sure they will be available to talk during the time you feel might be hardest.
Another potential for fire is school related functions. Let’s say you show up at your stepdaughter’s basketball game and the ex-wife makes it very clear you are not welcome. You may not be able to leave the game but you can call a friend and/or get online and find solace in a positive online community.
It may even make sense to ask a friend to call you during a time when you are at a family type function to check on you and give you an emotional break.
Immediately Leave The Situation
You’ve got an angry ex-wife texting you rude and insulting comments – don’t read them. When your husband is telling you mean things your stepkids have said about you – kindly tell him that you know he means well but you don’t want to hear it.
If anyone is saying hurtful words to you, try saying “I won’t engage in this” and walk away. This can be hard to do but remember you can’t fight crazy but you can go crazy trying. If you can’t reason with the unreasonable then trying will only cause your blood pressure to skyrocket.
In the case of a real fire, we have no choice but to evacuate the premises. Often we can’t physically leave our home, school function, etc. when tensions flare but we can stop, drop and roll so to speak. We can stop our part, and refuse to engage and can excuse ourselves and leave the “confrontation.” This is a great time to call a friend or get online. Twitter, Facebook and the StepMom Forum in StepMom Magazine are great places to connect quickly with other positive like-minded stepmoms who can validate your feelings and boost your spirits.
Always try and take the safest exit route, but if you must escape through the “stepfamily smoke”, take the Fire Marshal’s advice and “crawl low under the smoke and keep your mouth shut.” Just like real smoke, another’s words can be toxic which can serve to overcome your better judgement and cause you to say things you will later regret.
You can’t regret what you didn’t say!
Never Start Hot Conversations When Another is Burning
If you are engaged in a difficult conversation with someone related to your stepfamily, stick to the topic at hand.
Throwing in more things that upset you will only fuel the fire and cause it to rage on.
Often we are the ones who can start a fire with our words. It is important to approach delicate topics like conversations about our stepchildren lightly. Personally, I know what buttons to push with my husband and I will admit that I have pushed them to get his attention in the past when it pertained to his daughters. That was and always will be an unwise decision.
Our partner often goes into “protection” mode when we start listing all the things we don’t like. The louder we talk and the more rapid fire we shoot things at them, the faster they retreat.
If a topic is a hot bed for you and your partner, make sure it is a good time for both of you to discuss it. Throwing additional items or frustrations on top of a fire that is raging is like throwing gasoline on an open flame – the fire is going to get hotter immediately and take a lot longer to put out and nothing productive will come of it.
Remember fires that get out of control are destructive.
Designate A Meeting Place Outside
While it is important to escape the fire, it is always essential that you regroup and make sure everyone is okay. After the flame has gone out, you will need to circle back around and evaluate what lead up the emotional fire and what worked and what didn’t work so you can be better prepared next time.
It’s always a good idea to talk to your partner after the emotions have cooled down. Our spouse loves us and wants to make things easy for us. Finding a good time to talk through things is essential.
Once Out, Stay Out
As children, we learned “never go back into a burning building!” We need to remember this advice as stepmoms. Sure, after we’ve walked away we can think of a million things we wished we would have said, texted or done but once you are out – STAY OUT! Going back into a hostile conversation and/or situation is never a good idea.
If you keep your mouth shut you will never put your foot in it. – Austin O’Malley
If your partner is in a difficult conversation with his ex-wife, leave it between them. I know you want to help and support your guy and the best way is to let him deal with the mother of his children. By staying out of it, you become his calming force at the end of the day. If you aren’t sure what your partner needs in this type of situation, ask them (when you are not in the midst of an ex-wife war).
Fireproofing Your Emotions
Often, in the moment of our stepmom frustration we can feel instantly alone and misunderstood. Switching our emotional thoughts and escaping the moment can bring peace. Creating an escape plan from emotional land mines can help us create that peace.
Spend some time thinking about some of the activities that relax you? If you like to read, have a good book on hand. If it’s hard to be home during different times, plan to run your errands. Do you enjoy volunteering for a local charity? Schedule your volunteer hours when you know you’ll need an emotional boost. Identify which friends have the power to lift your spirits. Even though our partner may be our best friend, if our emotional crisis is at the hands of his children and/or ex-wife our spouse may not be the best choice with whom to share our struggle.
In the event of a fire, time is of the essence and everyone needs to know ahead of time what the escape route is to avoid panic and ensure a safe exit. This holds true for stepmoms and the emotional fires that we walk through. Having an escape route will help the stepmom from getting burned and keep her sanity in tact.
Do you have an escape plan? What areas in your life cause the "hottest" flames?