v. dis·en·gaged, dis·en·gag·ing, dis·en·gag·es
1. To release from something that holds fast, connects, or entangles.
2. To release (oneself) from an engagement, pledge, or obligation.
To free or detach oneself; withdraw.
“Disengage from the situation!” “Just disengage from your stepchild if they are causing you pain!” “I would just disengage from my husband if he was acting like that.”
These are common tidbits of advice that stepmoms receive. But the bigger question is:
“How do you disengage and still stay connected?”
While disengaging from someone or something does lessen the pain it doesn’t solve the problem that is causing you to want to disengage. As the definition states above, disengage involves withdrawing and how can you have a healthy and fulfilling marriage if you are disengaging from your husband and/or the child he brought into your marriage.
Do you stop asking about their day? Do you stop talking to your husband about their child and the struggle that brings you pain? Do you stop going to soccer games or parent teacher conferences to avoid confrontation from their mom? Just how do you disengage? Walking away from the pain may make the daily ride “easier” but it doesn’t address the struggles causing the pain and it isn’t drawing you closer to your husband nor his children.
When we disengage a few things can happen. The biggest drawback in my opinion is the hardening of your heart. When you disengage from a person or situation that is causing you pain, you often start to slowly put up a wall. You withdraw emotionally even if you are physically present and that can present it’s own issues. Sure you are still loving that person but you are loving them from a distance. You are lessening your vulnerability to be hurt. That may sound great… no pain… but when you want to give and receive unconditional love you have to be vulnerable. When you are married… you are vulnerable. When you are a parent…. you are vulnerable.
In my journey as a stepmom, disengaging from negative comments (not the person) is the best disengagement! And I speak from experience. Years back, I tried disengaging from my youngest stepdaughter and it didn’t work. Her struggles continued, her roller coaster of emotions continued. My disengagement did not erase the impact her choices were having on the family and on me and her father. Me not asking her about what was going on at school might have helped me not physically feel sick when I would hear the answer but it was like walking around my family room in the dark: the toys were still strewn everywhere, there was dust on the TV but I just couldn’t see it in the dark.
For me, disengagement made me feel worse. I disbanded that approach and did some soul searching. I want to be there and help and if it hurts to do that then I have to work through that. The best thing was for me is to put distance between hurtful things said and done and how I choose to process it.
Here are some truths about being a stepmom that remind me to not take things personally and help me disengage from the hurtful words not the person hurting:
My success as a stepmom is not tied to my stepchild’s choices and behavior. Measure your success as a stepmother by the love you give not by the response you get back. Because divorce and/or death of a parent is loss for a child, they are often operating from a place of pain. While remarriage is a second chance at love for you and your husband, it’s a reminder to a child that mom and dad will never be together again. We know that hurting people hurt others and often kids are operating from a place of pain. It doesn’t give them a license to say or do hurtful things but it can help you understand that their choices and behavior are not tied to your role as stepmom.
Hurting people hurt others. Disengage from the hurt not the hurting person. As mentioned above, separate the hurt from the hurting person. Have boundaries and consequences for poor choices. We can choose to withdraw from the person causing the pain but if we are committed to staying in our marriage than withdrawing and hardening our hearts will not build into a marriage that we want to grow and flourish.
While someone’s choices may impact me, they are just that – SOMEONE ELSE’s choices and I am not responsible for their choices. Do not take on another’s choices as your own. We may hear “you ruined my life,” “you took my dad away,” “my life would be perfect if you weren’t in it,” “if you cared about me, you’d leave me alone,” and more from our stepkids and we may hear even worse from their mother. Remember: these are their words not your doing. Do not take in these words as truth of who you are.
My value is not tied to another person’s opinion of me. While we should be open to honest feedback about ourselves, feedback and bashing are two different things. Do not measure your value by others. At Church this past Sunday, our pastor shared these words “your value is not tied to your valuables.” So true. Our value comes from the one who created us and God loves us all. He sees us as the beautiful creations He made us to be.
“You don’t always get back what you give!” (this is a little gem of a phrase I just learned from my friend Lisa on Twitter). Lisa said it so well. And this may be one of the hardest stepmom truths to swallow and accept. We give and we give and as stepmoms (and I would say parents in general) we may not get back all that we give but we are called to give anyway. When we give to give and not expect anything in return, it helps.
Hope these truths I’ve come to know help. While disengaging would numb the pain we feel it would also serve to numb our relationships and wouldn’t solve the problem bringing the pain. If anything we could have more issues as our withdrawing would impact our marriage and relationships.
“An engaged woman is always more agreeable than a disengaged. She is satisfied with herself. Her cares are over, and she feels that she may exert all her powers of pleasing without suspicion. All is safe with a lady engaged; no harm can be done.” Jane Austen
Would love to hear your thoughts on disengaging? Have you found yourself disengaging from a situation or person in your stepfamily? What tips would you share? What did you think of the stepmom truths shared? Are they helpful to you? As we share with one another and have open and honest dialogue as stepmoms we continue to grow, support and encourage one another.
Look forward to hearing your take on disengaging! Let’s talk….