How to Positively Impact Your Stepfamily's 'Long Game'
Last week Mike encouraged everyone to celebrate little wins and let go of 'touchdown' expectations. We've practiced this ourselves over the years and it's helped to increase the contentment and enjoyment we've experienced - even while we continued to face challenges in our stepfamily.
But this week I'm going to offer a different perspective. I want to challenge you to back up and look at the bigger picture — because maintaining focus on the long game is so important in stepfamily life, and here's why…
The Short Game vs The Long Game
So often we tend to get caught up in the short game - we're overwhelmed by those daily demands that hijack our time and energy. And if you're like me…you probably end up making snap decisions in the moment without considering the long-term impact of those decisions. The bottom line… we get swept away by the short game and this makes it really difficult for us to keep our top priorities straight.
The Urban Dictionary says 'the long game' is having a long term plan, long term goals, or doing things now that set you up for the future. Sounds good - but what does that look like in our daily family lives? How do the decisions we make every day impact our family's long game?
The Path of Least Resistance
It's natural for all of us to gravitate toward the path of least resistance. As someone whose lived in a stepfamily for 17+ years, I know what this looks like: How quickly can I appease my Ex just to get him off my back…What's an easy fix to make everyone feel better…What can I say (or not say) to dodge a disagreement with my spouse?
We make countless decisions every day to try and circumvent difficulties and maintain as much peace as possible. Sometimes we're blatantly avoiding - but other times we naively do what we think is best…in the moment.
But what if taking the easy road doesn't lead to what's best? What if choosing the path of least resistance, actually ends up destroying our family's long game?
My BIG 'Upset'
When I got divorced, I knew that having a cooperative co-parenting relationship was important, but I struggled every time I had to negotiate with my Ex. He's a demanding, condescending guy who insisted on having everything go his way. And while it's true that cooperative co-parenting is ideal and good for the kids, I really got off track when I failed to maintain healthy boundaries with my Ex. I often agreed to his unreasonable demands even though I really wasn't okay with it and I wanted something different.
I was afraid of rocking the boat and I didn't want to deal with the protests that would certainly come if I spoke up. So I took the path of least resistance — I caved into his demands almost every time. This seemed easier than having to speak up, engage in difficult conversations and attempt to hold healthy boundaries.
But after 10 years of co-parenting, my Ex became misguided and without cause, he took action to prevent my daughter from visiting our home or continuing a relationship with us. I was shocked and unable to respond. Because of my silence and complacency over the years, I was left without a voice. By not holding healthy boundaries with my Ex, I'd dug myself into a dark silent hole and standing up to him now seemed impossible. He had all the power and everyone knew it.
Long Game Impact
You're probably wondering what this story has to do with playing the long game in our stepfamilies. Well…I've come to realize that for years, I'd been playing the short game with my Ex — just trying to get along and appease him. But instead, I should've been thinking about the long game and making decisions based on our family's priorities…the right things!
I thought it was harmless to take the path of least resistance, but I was wrong. This can cause a lot of damage and regrets.
I'd made too many of those 'easy road' decisions and I'd given away my power. Now I was facing a daunting and overwhelming struggle — opposing my Ex and fighting for my parental rights. This greatly impacted our family's long game. We ended up in a 3 year legal battle which drained us emotionally and financially and negatively impacted everyone in our family. Especially my daughter.
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The Easy Way vs The Right Way
I'm sure you've heard these wise words: What children learn from their parents is caught, not taught!
The truth is, that when I chose to surrender my boundaries and allowed my Ex to take advantage — my daughter was "catching" that same the approach toward her dad. Kids learn how to behave and manage their own lives by watching our example. And my example was to take the easy way instead of the right way — I was focused on playing the short game.
As a result, my daughter spent several years in turmoil because she didn't have a good model for how to stand up to a controlling and overbearing father. She just didn't have the capacity or skill to stand against his verbal and emotional mistreatment…until she finally saw me do something different.
Better Decisions Lead to Long Game Wins
Throughout those three difficult years dealing with my Ex in the family courts, my daughter realized that I wasn't going to take the easy way anymore — I wasn't going to give in or give up! She needed to see that I had finally found my voice and that I was determined to do the right thing - for her and for our family. And eventually, she too began to find her voice.
Since that painful season, she's slowly matured and is following my better example. She's learning how to hold appropriate boundaries with her dad, to speak up and stand up for herself.
This is just one example of how playing the short game can be detrimental to your stepfamily's long game. We make so many decisions every day that we may not even think about the impact we're making. I came across this quote from Lisabeth Saunders Medlock, PhD that can help us to shift our focus and become more aware:
"If we place our daily actions into a longer term perspective they become less important, less emotionally loaded, and less urgent. Because if we ask ourselves if each task or decision will be important in 5 minutes or 5 hours or even 5 days, so many times the answer is no. When we are playing the long game every decision on which we choose to make now connects to a longer term goal or desired outcome, a bigger picture. In a sense we are not asking ourselves how much something matters, we are asking how long it matters."
For me, this means that while I was putting a high importance on appeasing my Ex, I wasn't aware of how emotionally loaded my decision making process was in that situation. Would it really matter 5 minutes, 5 hours or 5 days later if I disagreed with him and held an appropriate boundary? The answer is NO! Had I really thought it through and connected those decisions to a bigger picture (a high priority) of holding onto my power and modeling healthy boundaries to my daughter, I could've made better choices. Our family's long game would've been different.
How LONG does it Matter?
The next time you have to make a tough decision (or even a simple one), I encourage you to shift your focus. Are you taking the path of least resistance? Maybe you don't want to upset someone or deal with the retaliation that may come. Are you trying to avoid or are you just unaware?
Be really honest with yourself. Will the outcome still be important tomorrow…or next week? Then make a conscious choice to look at the bigger picture. Consider what you could be giving up and what example you're modeling to your kids. How will each decision impact your family's long game?
I want to encourage you to think about your decision making process and choose to play for your family's long game success. Who knows! You might get to dodge a big upset down the road and you'll never regret doing the right thing!
QUESTION: What's one step you can take toward reaching your family's long game? Leave a comment below…