When Stepparenting Days Turn Dark

I’ve spoken with several stepparents recently struggling with dark days. One stepmom described her life as “hopeless.” Another spoke of daily, overwhelming challenges with her stepdaughter.

I started my blog four years ago this month after coming through some difficult years with my own stepchildren. I’m thankful to be a better place now as my stepchildren are young adults and our relationships are good.

But, I understand dark days.

My devotional this morning was titled, “When We’re in the Dark.” It gives a powerful illustration of the beauty of dark days. I hope you find it helpful on hard days.

“In the famous lace shops of Brussels, there are certain rooms devoted to the spinning of the finest and most delicate patterns. These rooms are altogether darkened, save for a light from one very small window, which falls directly upon the pattern. There is only one spinner in the room, and he sits where the narrow stream of light falls upon the threads of his weaving. “Thus,” we are told by the guide, “do we secure our choicest products. Lace is always more delicately and beautifully woven when the worker himself is in the dark and only his pattern is in the light.”

May it not be the same with us in our weaving? Sometimes it is very dark. We cannot understand what we are doing. We do not see the web we are weaving. We are not able to discover any beauty, any possible good in our experience. Yet if we are faithful and fail not and faint not, we shall some day know that the most exquisite work of all our life was done in those days when it was so dark.

If you are in the deep shadows because of some strange, mysterious providence, do not be afraid. Simply go on in faith and love, never doubting. God is watching, and He will bring good and beauty out of all your pain and tears.—J. R. Miller.

The shuttles of His purpose move

To carry out His own design;

Seek not too soon to disapprove

His work, nor yet assign

Dark motives, when, with silent tread,

You view some sombre fold;

For lo, within each darker thread

There twines a thread of gold.

Spin cheerfully,

Not tearfully,

He knows the way you plod;

Spin carefully,

Spin prayerfully,

But leave the thread with God.

—Canadian Home Journal.”

“I will give you the treasures of darkness.” Isaiah 45:3

Devo from Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman

For more holiday tips, follow my blog and  Heather Hetchler’s blog at CafeSmom  as we share tips from our holiday e-book, Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace, every Mon, Wed and Friday. Our e-book is a great tool to help you and all stepparents find peace during the holidays and beyond. It’s packed with proven tools and tips, personal stories and a list of recipes and new holiday traditions you can start with your stepfamily.A Stepparent's Guide to Success








Pic By Photokanok






Stepfamily Challenges and Holiday Fruitcake

Today I’m posting a guest post by Laura Reagan-Porras, MS, a parenting journalist and sociologist. She gives a few tips for thriving through stepfamily holidays.

One Part of New Normal and Two Parts of Stepfamily Doesn’t Equal Holiday Fruitcake

blogThe holidays present special challenges for stepfamilies. I divorced 13 years ago and remarried 7 years ago. Through trial and error I’ve learned a few things about what works and doesn’t work. As a clinical sociologist, I also facilitate co-parenting education groups.

Marriage and family sociologists estimate at least 1300 new stepfamilies are form every day!  According to the U.S. Census, over 64% of families will have at least one step-relationship at some point in the arch of the family. We are the new norm!

Holiday Helps

·         Let Go of Expectations

My husband invited our daughters to his parents’ Christmas Eve dinner but didn’t push them to go. They were older and had their own traditions established with me as their biological parent prior to the new marriage. My girls chose to go to dinner with his parents but didn’t want to stay for the gift giving extravaganza since they didn’t know extended family members well. Tweens and teens may need to take their time embracing an extended family.

There is not a perfect holiday family activity that will make everyone suddenly feel closer.There is not a perfect holiday meal. There is no perfect gift that will heal divorce. There are only opportunities to connect and connection can be defined in a variety of ways. Children may choose to connect or they may not, depending on where they are in the process of accepting and feeling  part of the stepfamily. Wherever they are in the process is valid. 

·         Be Open and Flexible

“My mom doesn’t make the turkey that way.” A brave step parent might respond by saying, “Tell me how your mom does it. I might want to try it like that sometime.”  If the child says, “Daddy’s Christmas tree has the ornaments I made when I was little.” A wise stepmom might say “That must be really special to have those memories and ornaments on the tree. Will you help me make an ornament for our tree?  Biological parents can support the stepfamily dynamics by sharing with the child, “Not everyone does things the same way; we can try a new way.” Learning to live with different people and different styles is a positive skill that helps kids of stepfamilies their interpersonal and professional lives.

·         Keep It Simple

Keeping activities simple helps diffuse tension and helps new family members get to know each other without pressure. Here are some ideas for starting new family traditions.

–          Watch a holiday DVD and string popcorn for the tree.

–          Go to a holiday movie in a theatre together.

–          Go Christmas caroling around your neighborhood, laugh with each other, let kids be silly

–          Go to church, synagogue or mosque together.

–          Volunteer together at the charity or non-profit of your choice.

–          Bake holiday cookies together.

–          Make New Year cards for military service personnel.

–          Trim the Christmas tree together as a family

Family is about being loved and accepted for who you are, no matter how family is defined or configured. Don’t let stepfamily challenges ruin your holiday fruitcake this season.

Laura Reagan-Porras, MS is a parenting journalist and sociologist. She facilitates co-parenting education classes. Laura and her husband, Medardo are enjoying the benefits of stepfamily blending with two daughters. She can be reached at lreaganporras@gmail.com or LinkedIn.

For more holiday tips, follow my blog and  Heather Hetchler’s blog at CafeSmom  as we share tips from our holiday e-book, Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace, every Mon, Wed and Friday. Our e-book is a great tool to help you and all stepparents find peace during the holidays and beyond. It’s packed with proven tools and tips, personal stories and a list of recipes and new holiday traditions you can create with your stepfamily.  Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace

 Pic by artur84

When You Fail as a Stepparent, Don’t Give Up

I’m including a devotional today I wrote recently for stepparents. I hope you find it helpful.

When You Fail as a Stepparent, Don't Give Up

                “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”  Hebrews 12:1

With tears in her eyes, the new stepmom described her recent trial. As she entered her home after a stressful day at work, her teenage stepson welcomed her with a disrespectful remark. She reacted in fury, saying words she wished she could take back before slamming the door as she exited the room. The fragile relationship spiraled further downward.

None of us like to admit that we fail from time to time. But, as imperfect beings in a sinful world, we can expect we will fail. What matters most is how we react when it happens. If we ask for forgiveness and seek a new direction, relationships can be mended. If we choose to learn from our failures and move forward, we gain strength and wisdom on the journey.

There are multiple accounts of human failure in the Bible, but the Apostle Paul’s description of failure resonates with me: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Romans 7:18)

I have failed miserably as a stepparent at times.  I have reacted with impatience, anger, and selfishness. I have allowed my needs to come before my stepchildren’s needs. But I refused to give up on my stepparenting journey when I made mistakes. I have chosen to move past my failures, asking for forgiveness from God and from my stepchildren, while seeking to change my ways with God’s strength and guidance.

Dear Father, give us the courage to keep trying when we know we’ve failed. Give us wisdom and perseverance to continue the course you have set before us. 


Picture by David Castillo Dominici

What Stage of Remarriage Are You In?

I was recently talking to a stepmom who’s struggling in her role with her stepdaughter. In hearing some history of the relationship, I could see the normal progression that often happens in stepfamilies with various stages of integration. How a stepfamily navigates the stages of remarriage determines the success or failure of long-term relationships.

monkey fami

As noted in Dick Dunn’s booklet, New Faces in the Frame, most stepfamilies work through a progression of stages.  We start out in the infatuation/honeymoon phase and everything is grand. Many couples at this stage are blind to the difficulties they will encounter as a stepfamily. They negate their children’s feelings about their relationship and refuse to listen to others’ opinions.

But it’s not long before things begin to change and we move into the questioning phase and begin to wonder, “What have I done?” “Why did I think this would work?” During the questioning stage of my remarriage, I reflected on how it seemed easier to be a single parent than cope with the daily challenges in our new family. I had committed to my new marriage, however, “for better or for worse,” and endeavored to continue the journey. For many remarriages, the questioning stage will make or break a family.

The most critical stage: the crisis stage comes next. Levels of crisis vary from minor bumps to major explosions, but this stage represents a turning point in which family members seek change. Challenges build until someone reaches for help. It’s a productive stage if families confront the problems and begin to find solutions. Unfortunately, many couples give up and call it quits at this stage.

The last three stages usually occur somewhere between the second and fifth year of remarriage. Complicated stepfamilies that include children from both partners will likely take longer. It’s also not unusual for stages to be re-visited. But as families reach the latter stages, hope begins to surface and tensions begin to ease.

The possibility stage offers positive thinking toward improved relationships. Following the crisis stage, the stepcouple emerges with renewed energy to seek family harmony. After struggling for years, the family begins to unite. Broken relationships begin to heal and day-to-day life appears easier.

The growth stage follows on the heels of possibility. Although there has been some growth from the beginning, families in this stage recognize a steady pace of growth, with more steps forward than backward. Family members feel accepted by one another and problems are resolved quickly when they arise. Stepparents feel comfortable in their roles and tension with ex-spouses has eased.

The last stage: the reward stage is reached only after years of intentional effort. For many stepfamilies, it is never reached because they give up. But for those who persevere, the reward of harmonious relationships and sense of accomplishment from a united family outweighs the burden of what it cost to get there.

Stepfamilies offer children a chance to heal from broken relationships while learning how healthy relationships relate to one another. Researcher James Bray published results from a ten-year study with stepfamilies that indicated a healthy, stable stepfamily can help overcome some of the negative psychological effects of divorce. And while remarriage with children may be challenging, intentional effort and commitment can lead to satisfaction and reward in the long run.

To see my complete article on the stages of remarriage,  published in Calgary’s Child Magazine this month, go here.

What stage of remarriage is your family in? Have you successfully navigated some of these stages? I would love to hear about it!

Related Posts:

Making Your Remarriage Work: Separate Marital and Parenting Issues

Debunking Stepfamily Myths: Do You Get Caught in Their Web?

Don’t Settle for Mediocrity in Your Remarriage

What is Your Role as a Stepparent: Friend or Parent?

 In working with stepparents recently, I’ve noticed a common thread that spells disaster in the  early years of stepfamily development: the tendency for the stepparent to play a strong disciplinary role instead of allowing the biological parent to be the primary parent to his/her children.

I recognize the pattern because it happened in our home in the early years of our marriage.  Struggling with leftover guilt from my divorce, remarriage, new step-siblings for my children, and constant change, I became a permissive parent. I didn’t want to address misbehavior or dole out consequences. So my husband began doing it instead.

My husband’s intentions were good but the fall out of his actions was not good. His relationship with my girls wasn’t strong enough to withstand the negative side of parenting that occurs with discipline.   And it set him up to fail as he became an unlikeable stepparent.

Stepfamily authority Ron Deal says, “Kids will love an unlikeable parent, but rarely even like an unlikeable stepparent.” 

Tough words. It doesn’t seem fair. But it’s reality.

Stepparents cannot afford to overstep their boundaries. If we want to establish a long-term, loving relationship with our stepchildren, we have to start as a friend, rather than a parent.  The biological parent needs to take the primary disciplinary role as much as possible.

With younger stepchildren, the disciplinary role may move quicker into the hands of the stepparent if a loving, trusting relationship develops. But with older stepchildren, ages eight and up, it’s likely to take longer.

Other factors influence stepfamily relationships. My daughters’ father resisted any type of relationship between them and their stepdad and made confusing, negative remarks about my husband. It slowed down the relationship-building process because of the loyalty conflict they endured.

When my stepson lost his mother after a battle with colon cancer, our relationship took several strides backward. Grief, anger, and confusion surrounded my stepson. Although I had moved into a disciplinary role after several years of marriage, I reverted to a friend role. I allowed my husband to take over the primary disciplinary position again because my stepson began fighting against my maternal role.

If the biological parent takes a passive disciplinary role, problems ensue. Children need to be held to behavioral standards, and if the biological parent neglects his/her role, it’s natural for the stepparent to step in. But that’s not the answer. In The Smart Stepmom, co-authors Laura Petherbridge and Ron Deal commit an entire chapter to the importance of engaged fathers: “Dad Smart: She Can’t Do It Without You.” Recommended reading if you’re suffering in this area.

Stepchildren come in all sorts and sizes. Some will embrace a stepparent in their lives, quickly developing a loving relationship, which allows you to begin a disciplinary role almost immediately. However, most will not. Allow the child to set the pace and determine your role as your relationship develops for a better chance at a meaningful, long-term relationship.

Do you agree? What has been your experience as a friend or parent to your stepchildren? I would love to hear your comments.

Related Posts:

Learning to Accept the Things You Cannot Change

What is our Role as a Stepparent?

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

Mother’s Day is Coming: How Will You Celebrate as a Stepmom?

In honor of Mother’s Day in 2011, Heather Hetchler and I put together an e-book of encouraging stories written by stepmoms for stepmoms. We offered the book, Stepping with Purpose, to bring hope to stepmoms who often have a difficult day on Mother’s Day.

Stepping with Purpose as a Stepparent

The ebook is still available on my website and Heather’s,  but for the next few weeks  I want to post some stories from the book. I hope you find encouragement from them as we approach Mother’s Day.

Acceptance by Jackie Brown

 There are many events in our lives that are life changing; marriage, childbirth, divorce, death and remarriage. I remarried in October 2006 and I became an “instant full-time stepmom” in February 2008. My husband and I received a phone call on the way home from a beach trip in late February 2008 informing us that my stepdaughter’s mother was in the hospital with heart problems and may not live through the night. Hope’s mother passed away four months later.

My dreams did not consist of being a full-time stepmom at this time of my life. My sons were grown, and raising a child again was a very devastating thought to me. I was still a newlywed and had plans and dreams of traveling with my husband and spending time together. I was also used to going and coming as I wanted. My husband works in the evenings so I had “me” time while he was at work to do things that I wanted to do.

Having a stepchild come into your home to live is very challenging. There can be a war of wills since everyone is adjusting to different lifestyles. I realized my stepchild was entering a different environment in which she had to abide by different rules, habits and traditions. I learned to be patient.

Having my stepdaughter 24/7 was not what I planned. My life became a roller coaster of angry, sad, unhappy, and at times, depressed feelings. The reality is that “I” suffered a loss too … a loss of the way things were and the way I wanted them to be. I learned firsthand that there are many things you have to accept in the role of being a full-time stepmom:

Accept that your time, space and privacy are different than they once were.

Accept that being a stepmom is unfair and lonely at times.

Accept that you may not see the fruits of your sacrifices until the stepchildren become adults.

Accept that there will be many sacrifices that go unnoticed.

After some time and crying out to God, I realized that I had to ACCEPT these circumstances. In the dictionary, acceptance is the “willingness to receive or to welcome.” To accept, you have to believe. You have to come to terms with a reality and choose to live in spite of it. Acceptance has been (and still is at times) a huge battle for me. Here are some things that have helped me through this:

First, I firmly believe this is God’s will for my life at this time. I know without a doubt this is not an accident. I feel that I was put in Hope’s life and she was put in my life for a reason that only God knows. There have been times that I questioned the why’s, but I’m trying to live with acceptance and faith.

Accept this time in your life and take the steps needed to honor God in this. Trust God in ALL areas of your life.

Second, have a plan or a vision about your relationship with your stepchildren. think about your impact and influence on the child today and how it will impact them later in life. What you put into this relationship is what you will get out of it. Spend time with them developing traditions just the two of you have together and traditions as a family. My stepdaughter and I do a Bible study together at Starbucks. It gives us both a time of talking and getting to know each other.

Be yourself with your stepchild and realize that you and her are different. Develop a relationship of trust, love, and guidance.

Give the relationship time to develop. It will not happen overnight. Have patience during this time.

Third, take time alone to unwind, release and relax doing what you enjoy doing – hobbies, exercise, blogging, journaling. Do whatever releases stress for you. Don’t keep stress bottled up. Also, make time to spend alone with your spouse. Have a regular date night without the children.

Finally, have a sense of humor. Laugh at yourself. Don’t expect things to be perfect. Enjoy this time in your life with all the ups and downs and struggles and rewards that come with a stepmom.

In closing, understand that life is just hard at times. As women, we juggle the responsibilities of wife, mom, stepmom, daughter, sister, aunt, friend and employee. Yes, it is scary and unpredictable at times. Recently, my mom told me that I should be honored and humbled that God chose me to be Hope’s stepmom.

Yes, I’m honored and humbled that God chose me. In doing so, He is teaching me to be more like Him. How awesome is that!! And now, I continue on the journey!

Jackie Brown said “I do” for the second time in 2006 to a wonderful man of God. She has two sons, 25 and 28, and step-daughter, 16.

What has been difficult for you to accept as a stepparent? I would love to hear your comments.