November 14, 2013

(Barely) Mastering Step-Parenthood with Yoga. ~ Nicole Riviere

Step parenthood is a delicate role.

It’s tough, a constant ego-buster, and while parenthood can already be a thankless job, step parenthood can be thankless times two. You won’t get a whole lot of praise, validation or recognition.

It’s a constant practice in selflessness, and unlike regular parenthood, if you do end up getting love or respect from your step kids, it feels like you’ve won the lottery.

Considering that over 50 percent of families in the United States are remarried or re-coupled, I was baffled at how few resources there are out there for stepparents.

During my toughest times with my blended family, I had no support group and only one book,The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Step Parenting. I ended up turning to my yoga practice for guidance.

In the fall of 2007, I met my three future stepchildren. I was so excited. I’ve always had a good rapport with kids. I was a nanny for 10 years and taught dance classes to kids and teens. I was sure the kids would love me just as I already loved them. I had high hopes and an idealistic mindset.

The truth is, meeting the kids was awkward. It was just okay. They wouldn’t really look me in the eyes.

I understood that I presented a conflict. They had been raised primarily by their mother, so their belief system was her belief system. I challenged those beliefs, simply by showing up.

After that, in an effort to get them to like me, I over-extended myself. I bought them gifts often, cleaned their room, baked them cookies.

I would try being myself—and then tried being a more perfect version of myself, someone who never made mistakes. I tried being motherly, later to learn I was overstepping my bounds.

It often felt like I was walking on eggshells, and I continued to overcompensate. I would buy kid-food and get my yoga classes covered on the weekends we were to have them, only to be cancelled on last minute.

Resentment and anger set in because of the lack of thanks or appreciation I received. There were also problematic dynamics between the two households: dad’s and mom’s. Inevitably, I would make mistakes. It felt like I couldn’t do right for awhile.

Once piece of advice I got from the idiot’s guidebook was to take the high road. Later, I would learn what it meant to be generous without overextending. I learned patience and how to be kind in the face of adversity. I knew that no matter how the kids or their mother received me, I had to stay positive, at least in front of them.

Understanding the lessons of karma, I knew that whatever  I did or said would have a
ripple effect. If I wanted to have a good relationship one day with my step kids, I had to keep acting in ways that would be conducive to the future I wanted with them, no matter what.

The day my now-husband and I announced to the kids we were getting married, I got clear on my role. I gave each child a card that told them my job was to love and support them in any way I could and that I would be there for them if they needed me.

Pre-step parenthood (prior to the actual marriage) was a series of struggles, crumbled expectations and let downs. Today, I’m a grateful and contented stepparent. I love my step kids and our family. It’s not perfect, but there is harmony.

Through it all, I make my yoga practice a priority and try living my yoga. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Abhyasa. Practice. Or, put another way—effort.

Keep showing up (for the kids and family), and show up some more. You can do this and still let the kids have their alone time with their biological mom or dad.

Try not to take anything personally, especially the kids’ attitudes or bad moods. Keep participating in their lives, gently. There will be moments where you can’t participate, perhaps because of conflict within the family. Just stand back and be available to them, and let them know you are there if they need you.

Give them space. You don’t have to do everything.

You are not their mom, or dad; you are a ‘bonus’ parent, and a friend. There will inevitably be setbacks, times when you feel like all the progress you’ve made with the kids was just deleted and you find yourself at the beginning again. That’s the most important time to show up. Be a beacon of unconditional love.

Vairagya. Non-attachment or surrender.

After you show up, let go of any specific outcome or goal. This is definitely easier said than done. Let go often—all day, everyday. Set your ego aside.

A lot of what you do for the kids, and sometimes even for the biological parent will be overlooked and unappreciated but know that all that you do is sacred, and just trust that you’re laying some precious groundwork for the years to come. There is no guarantee you’ll become loved and respected, so let it go and just love the kids.

Remember that parenting and step parenting is often a thankless job. Be selfless, with zeal!

In the meantime, make your self-care a priority. Whether it’s going to a yoga class, getting a mani-pedi, hang out time with good friends, meditation, taking a walk or whatever; remember to fill your cup. Don’t mistake selflessness with depletion.

Step parenthood has been a surprising and awesome experience. Today I have a good relationship with all three of my step kids, and my stepdaughter and I are very close. I love her like she’s my own.

The moments I thought it was hopeless or wanted to give up was where the magic happened.

Yoga teaches us to stay awake and pay attention to the pains and pleasures of life and
to accept what is. It teaches us to endure what must be endured. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.


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Assistant Editor: Michelle Margaret/Editor: Bryonie Wise

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Nicole Riviere