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Secure Your Mask


by Kelly Kirkendoll Shafer

(Take from "29 Ways to Make Your Stepfamily Work")


When you create a stepfamily, you bring your own hopes, fears and baggage to the new family. Either from divorce, the death of a spouse or bumps and bruises from childhood, most of us have hurts that need to heal. Take the time, as they instruct on airplanes, to secure your own oxygen mask first. Deal with your divorce, grief and other issues from your past.


What happens if you don’t address your “unfinished business”?  Studies show you’ll most likely repeat your past mistakes. And, you won’t have the energy needed to successfully navigate the issues you’ll face in a stepfamily. Stepfamilies are emotionally intense and take a surprising amount of energy. Attend to yourself. Then you can effectively assist your partner, children and stepchildren.


For my own sake, and that of my children, I knew that repeating my past mistakes was a luxury I could not afford. While it was easy to see the role others played in painful parts of my life, it was much more difficult to see my own. But that’s where I needed to focus - on myself, intent on learning and growing from my mistakes. While we can’t escape bringing baggage to our new lives, it helps if we can check much of it at the door, before crossing the threshold into stepfamily life.



Try these healing strategies and helpful resources:


If you’ve experienced…



Divorce recovery groups or workshops

Death of a partner

Grief support group (through counselor, community or religious organization)


Co-dependents Anonymous

Sexual, physical or emotional abuse

Support group, counseling center

Alcohol/drug abuse (yours)

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or similar group

Alcohol/drug abuse (a family member’s)




Additionally, any of the strategies below can help:

ü      Commit to one-on-one counseling

ü      Write in a journal

ü      Read self-help books

ü      Attend parenting classes or workshops

ü      Tap into your spiritual source (see Way #15)

ü      Talk openly with a friend or clergy member you trust



© 2004 Kelly Kirkendoll Shafer. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the author.


Kelly Kirkendoll Shafer is a mother of two/stepmother of three (ages 7-15), freelance writer, speaker and the author of "29 Ways to Make Your Stepfamily Work." She is a regular contributor to Your Stepfamily magazine, the official publication of the Stepfamily Association of America, and she publishes the Stepfamilies Work! website and free monthly newsletter.  Contact Kelly here kellyshafer@charter.net.

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