I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase “rules are made to be broken.” It seems that the same holds true for New Year’s Resolutions. In January 2013, Forbes contributor Dan Diamond reported that of the 40% of Americans who even bother to make resolutions, “just 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals.” Why so few? There are a number of theories: the goals are too vague, too lofty, too numerous, or even that people forgot they even made them to begin with!
Merriam-Webster defines “resolution” as “the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict, problem, etc.” So for those whose attempts at change fail, are they really resolving to lose weight (the #1 resolution according to the Daily News), to save money, to get a new job, etc.? Or are they just wishing those things would happen? Coming up with the resolution does not seem to be the problem, but finding an actual solution and acting upon it is where people fall short.
Maybe it’s ok if we don’t lose those frustrating 5 pounds, but our families are too important and too precious to just make wishes and take no action. Oftentimes, stepparents feel helpless in their efforts to improve their family dynamic. They wish their stepchildren liked them more. They wish “The Ex” wasn’t so difficult. They wish and they wish. And wishing is great – it’s where it all starts. But let’s make the start of 2014 the time to take those wishes and find solutions to make them realities. Here are a few common issues that stepparents have and some suggested solutions. This is just intended to give you an idea of how to structure your resolutions. They are worded as SMART goals, which means they are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. This is a common goal-setting practice in business organizations and it translates very well into family organizations.
Problem: “I wish my stepkids liked me more.”
(Re)solution: “I resolve to take my stepchild to a movie of his/her choosing by the end of February.”
Does taking a child to a movie make them like you more? Not necessarily. But it’s an opportunity for just the two of you to share something and to get to know each other outside of the home. Once that has been done, find other ways to get to know the child and give them the opportunity to get to know you. Remember, love is not automatic. It comes over time.
Problem: “My marriage is more about the children than about us.”
(Re)solution: “I resolve to have a least one date with my spouse/partner every month, starting in January 2014.”
Making sure you have time alone with your partner/spouse is absolutely critical in all marriages, but even more so in stepfamilies. You need to remind yourself why you chose to be in this challenging situation in the first place, and it’s most likely because you love the biological parent of these children. Spend time alone together and remind yourself of that. You won’t survive in the new family otherwise -- not very easily, anyway.
Problem: “I often feel like an outsider in my own home.”
(Re)solution: “I will work with my spouse to refurnish the living room by the end of March and put out for display at least 3 pictures from my past so that I am not surrounded only by my new family’s history and not my own.”
When at all possible, it’s best to start a stepfamily in a new home rather than the stepparent moving into the home of the family they are joining, but this is often not financially or logistically feasible. In cases like this, you must surround yourself with things that are yours. It might feel superficial at first, but as with everything else in step, it’s a start.
Hopefully, these examples will help you structure a new type of New Year’s Resolution. One that is action-oriented; not just wish-oriented. And if you’d like a little help getting started, check out the Stepfamily Solutions of NYC Meetup Group when January’s event will be a working session of turning wishes into real resolutions.
And throughout it all, remember to heed the advice of Jeannette Lofas, Founder and President of the Stepfamily Foundation: “ . . . don't forget to guard your sense of humor and use it! The step situation is filled with the unexpected. Sometimes we don't know whether to laugh or cry. Try humor. “
Happy New Year to all. Keep wishing, but be sure to keep resolving . . . and keep laughing.