7 Resolutions that Count by Gayla Grace

7 Resolutions that Count

When I married my husband, I set out to be the perfect stepparent.

I read all the books.

I went to the conferences.

I worked overtime to do everything right for my stepchildren.

But I wasn’t a perfect stepmom. I made a lot of mistakes. After more than 20 years, experience has taught me that I don’t have to be a perfect stepmom for my stepchildren to grow to love and accept me.

This year, instead of making resolutions about being a better stepmom, I decided to consider a few resolutions on how to move past my imperfections and keep going on days I want to quit as a not-so-perfect stepparent.

7 Resolutions that Count by Gayla Grace

So, this year I commit to …

1. Remind myself daily that “I can do all things through Christ” (Phil 4:13). Stepparenting is hard. When I try to do it alone, I fail. Thankfully, God wants to walk this journey with me. He will give me the strength and wisdom I need each day if I ask for His help.

 2. Let go of the Stepmom guilt. We all experience it from time to time. We let our mind run away with what we’ve done wrong as a stepparent. Or we compare our stepfamily to our neighbor’s perfectly-blended family and let the criticism begin. Stepmom guilt steps in when we expect everything in our home to be perfect. But that’s never going to happen. Why not let go of unrealistic expectations that keep you bound to guilt when you don’t measure up?

3. Forgive myself when I fail. A defeated stepparent doesn’t parent effectively. When I get caught up in negative self-talk over a poor parenting choice, I continue down a negative path. Forgiving myself for less-than-stellar stepparenting moments allows me to begin again with a renewed mind and a fresh perspective on my parenting challenges.

4. Seek out support from other stepmoms on hard days. My neighbor is a single parent with two school-aged children. She recognizes her need for help in juggling her responsibilities and asks other moms to help with carpool or after school care when work demands become overwhelming. We need fellow stepmoms to walk alongside us with encouraging words and support on hard days. If you haven’t found local stepmoms, check out Sisterhood of Stepmom group on Facebook.

5. Listen to my heart on how to parent my stepchild, instead of others’ opinions. It’s easy to run to the phone and ask our best friend what to do when we’re facing a difficult parenting moment, but if we step back and listen to our heart, we make better decisions. Considering our stepchild’s personality as part of the parenting equation also helps tailor our parenting in a healthier light.

6. Nurture my marriage. Stepchildren eventually exit the nest–both of my stepchildren have. Unfortunately, many step couple marriages don’t make it long enough to see that occur. Strong marriages don’t just happen — they require regular nurturing. I want to reach beyond an ordinary marriage by supporting my husband as his biggest fan and most loyal friend.

7. Take time to run, or quilt, or whatever activity works for me to re-group when the stepparenting strain takes over.  It’s important to re-group and make time for self-care when we’re about to go off the parenting cliff. When I balance the demands of stepparenting with activities I look forward to, I more effectively handle the strains of stepparenting.

As you start a new year, do you have resolutions to consider as a not-so-perfect stepparent? Do you need a mindset do-over that includes room for imperfection and second chances as a stepparent?

Perhaps that’s the ticket to success this year on your not-so-perfect stepparenting journey!

Happy New Year!

Do you have other resolutions to add? Leave me a comment and let me know.

*A revised version of this article was originally published in Stepmom Magazine, January 2014.
Gayla Grace on how our thoughts impact our family life

Our Thoughts – We Are What We Think

“I talk to my clients five days a week about negative thinking. Our thinking creates problems for us!” said my friend, a professional therapist.

Our thoughts have more power over us than we may think.

Do you find yourself thinking any of these thoughts?

  • My stepchild will never like me so why do I bother trying to have a relationship with him/her?
  • No one understands these feelings of rejection as a stepparent – I’m living on an island by myself.
  • My husband has no idea how difficult this is – it’s useless to talk to him about it.
  • Re-marriage is just too hard – looks like I’m headed for divorce again.

You may have had these or other negative thoughts from time to time. It’s easy to get caught up in a web of negative thinking, especially when it concerns our blended family lives.

We CAN control how we think, but it requires intentional effort.

And doing so will have positive outcomes.

Gayla Grace on how our thoughts impact our family life.

Essentially, if we dwell on the negative parts of our life, every aspect of our being will reflect negativity.

Conversely, if we focus on the positive nuggets of our situation, we create positive surroundings for ourselves.

In his book, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” Norman Vincent Peale supports this thinking when he states, “Conditions are created by thoughts far more powerfully than conditions create thoughts. Think positively, for example, and you set in motion positive forces which bring positive results to pass. … On the contrary, think negative thoughts and you create around yourself an atmosphere [favorable] to the development of negative results.”

Conditions are created by thoughts far more powerfully than conditions create thoughts. I love that!

Dr. Peale is suggesting that we influence our situations with our thinking. So, if we want our stepchildren to respond positively toward us, then we need to create that scenario in our head. When we think positively toward them and expect positive behavior from them, they will begin to respond that way.

Our demeanor reflects what we are thinking.

When we have negative thoughts circling through our mind, we give off negative vibes toward those around us. Our stepchildren can feel our negativity and will react accordingly.

I’ve seen this happen with my own stepchildren. If I choose to dwell on negative thoughts toward them, I respond to them with an insensitive spirit and critical remarks. Even if I don’t say anything, my nonverbal language speaks volumes. They can sense my negativity and respond in anger or frustration.

On the other hand, if I choose to think positively toward them and my verbal and nonverbal language reflects a like demeanor, they feel loved and accepted. It’s easy for them to respond favorably toward a loving spirit.

Are you up for a challenge? Think only positive thoughts about your stepchildren and re-marriage today. If something negative creeps into your mind, turn it around and find a positive twist. See if it makes a difference. I can almost guarantee it will!

I’d love to chat about this in the comments.

Finding True JOY is a Choice

Finding True Joy is a Choice by Gayla GraceA few years ago, seeking to put some joy in our life and spend quality family time together, we decided to go camping during our kids’ spring break. Going to the highest peak in Arkansas to hike, fish, and spend family time around a campfire sounded great when we were making plans.

But we didn’t plan on rain.

Or a flooded tent.

Or wet food.

Or grumpy kids.

Where do you find joy in these things?

Where do you find joy in RAIN?

We know that JOY is a Fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. But how do we FIND joy in stepfamily life when our plans get rained on? And let’s face it, our plans WILL get rained on!

I think it starts with our focus and changing what we focus ON. We can choose to stay focused on our negative surroundings or find nuggets of positive change.

We can make the best of difficult circumstances or stay fixated on our problems.

As a child, I learned an acronym for JOY that can be applied as an adult:

J-Jesus
O-Others
Y-Yourself

If we look to Jesus for help and guidance, we gain wisdom in our decisions and can find joy in our circumstances. If we consider our stepchildren’s needs over our own, we build long-term relationships.

Joy describes an inner peace

It’s a sense of satisfaction that can be attained, regardless of our circumstances. Joy is a choice. We may not be happy with rebellious stepchildren or difficult ex-spouses, but we can choose joy in our heart as we look to the Lord for answers and contentment.

James 1:2-3 tells us to, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Trials are hard and long at times. Our family has experienced custody battles, disharmony in relationships, and the unexpected death of my stepchildren’s mother—events that threw our relationship-bonding backward and spiraled our family downhill for months, even a season at times.

I can’t say I always found Joy in the midst of it. I don’t like my faith to be tested. But I’ve learned that changing my focus matters.

Our camping trip didn’t turn out as we’d hoped.  Drenched sleeping bags and a leaking tarp put an end to our outdoor adventure.  We chose to start home a day early, opting for a movie and nice dinner out.

Since we couldn’t change our surroundings, we chose a different path—looking to find joy in the midst of disappointment.

I’m certain we will experience rain again on our stepfamily journey. It may be a drizzle or a downpour. But we can experience JOY in the midst of it if we maintain the proper focus.

Are you experiencing rain today? Where is your focus?

How can you find JOY in the midst of your rain?

Dear Stepdad: Don’t Quit

With Father’s day just a few days away, I’m posting an essay I wrote a few years’ back to encourage and honor stepdads.

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Dear Stepdad: Don’t Quit

My husband, Randy, will be the first to tell you he has done a lot of things wrong as a stepfather. He has been a stepparent to my two daughters for 20 years. His stepdaughters love him dearly.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

My youngest daughter, Jodi, was almost three when we married, and Jamie was five. Randy had a difficult time with Jamie from the beginning. She didn’t want another dad in her life, and she made that clear to him.

He overheard a conversation between the two girls one night during our first year of marriage. “I hate him too; I can’t believe Mom married him,” Jamie told Jodi. There was little love, or even like, between Randy and the girls in the beginning.

During our second year of marriage, Randy left the house one evening and called from a nearby hotel. “I’m not coming home tonight. I’m not sure I’m coming home again. I can’t cope with the ongoing conflict between you and me and the kids.”

It was a tough season. Randy brought two children to the marriage also and attempting to blend our four kids, ages 3-10, while learning how to stepparent and parent together proved harder than we anticipated. But neither of us wanted to endure another divorce. Randy and I began counseling that year to work through the bumps.

During her teenage years, Jamie challenged us on every turn. If Randy punished her in the slightest, she threatened to call Child Protective Services. She ran away more times than I can remember (but thankfully never went far). After one particularly difficult day with defiant behavior, Randy took Jamie’s cell phone and threw it to the ground. As it busted into several pieces, Jamie began yelling at us both. The night didn’t end well. And I wasn’t sure the sun would come up the next day.

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The Privilege Of a Stepparent

“Please pray for our marriage. I’m afraid my husband is about to walk away.” My heart sank as I listened to the voice mail. The woman and her husband had been in our stepfamily class and I knew there were a lot of struggles. But I didn’t expect her spouse to quit.

The challenges of stepfamily dynamics cripple step couples who don’t have the tools they need to succeed in their relationships. The statistics of divorce are staggering for remarriage when children are part of the package. But divorce doesn’t have to be the answer.

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Yes, it’s hard. It’s overwhelming. And it’s not unusual to feel like your stepfamily relationships will never be where you’d hoped. But if you quit, you’ll never experience the rewards that accompany the later years.

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Facing the Challenges of Adolescent Stepchildren

I recently began teaching a Sunday School class for 13-14 year-old girls at our church. Some days I wonder why I agreed to do it. Since our youngest son is the same age, I’m seeking to invest in his youth group and get to know his peer group.

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As I observed the girls at a youth event recently, I couldn’t help but notice the drama that surrounded many of them as they related to one another. My first inclination was to step away and escape the uncomfortable feelings that began to arise as I reminisced about difficult adolescent years with my stepdaughter.

My thoughts turned to, “Do I want to re-live the drama I’ve moved past that naturally accompanies girls this age?” I could choose to bail and escape the headaches that will accompany the role I’ve taken on.

I must tell you the answer to the question I asked myself was not a resounding “Yes.” However,  I can say this is where I believe God has placed me for this season.

So I have a choice. Will I change my thinking to how I can help these adolescent girls and invest in their emotional and spiritual maturity, or will I selfishly choose to run, leaving behind a part of God’s plan for me right now?

It reminds me of the choice I made when my stepchildren were adolescents. Many days I wanted to run and escape the heartache I was experiencing as a stepparent. Rejection. Loss. Disrespect. Unfair treatment.

I considered leaving. I pondered my option of becoming a single parent again. I wasn’t sure I had the strength to endure the challenges thrown at us as our stepfamily walked through the minefield of adolescence.

But I reconsidered the vow I’d taken when I married. I knew God had placed me in the lives of my stepchildren and had a role for me to play– to invest in their lives emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, to be a light in the midst of darkness, to show them a relationship with a loving God they might not experience otherwise.

Would I run away from God’s plan for me through a difficult season? Would I choose to completely detach so I didn’t have to experience the pain of rejection again? Or would I allow God to use me to help raise two of his children and heal the wounds they had experienced, growing and maturing me in the process?

I’m thankful today I didn’t quit. It was during their adolescent years that my stepchildren unexpectedly lost their mother after a short battle with cancer. The loss further complicated our stepfamily dynamics and created challenges I didn’t know how to face.

But with the Lord’s help, we muddled through. And today I can look back and know that I played an important role in the lives of my stepchildren during a difficult season.

I’m reminded of an appropriate phrase I’ve heard stepfamily expert Ron Deal say, “Stepfamilies were not made for the emotionally fragile.” And I’d like to add: the emotionally fragile stepparent won’t make it through adolescence.

If you’re in the midst of parenting adolescent stepchildren, don’t negate the importance of effective communication and conflict resolution. If you need help in these areas,  please find a counselor, pastor, or coach who can help–one trained in stepfamily dynamics.

Adolescence can bring out the worst in stepfamilies, leaving behind a trail of destruction. Be prepared to deal with it with good communication and conflict management skills.

If you’re looking for support as a stepmom, or maybe just a few days of respite with women walking a similar journey, I hope you’ll consider joining us at our next Stepmom Retreat. You’ll find laughter, hope, healing, and friendship with others who understand the road you’re on. Come enjoy the amazing Cooper hotel and spa in Dallas. Learn more here: http://bit.ly/2j1wko6

If you’re parenting adolescent stepchildren, step back and take a deep breath. It’s not easy. They’re in the midst of significant change and so are you. But don’t give up!

There are blessings on the other side.

Can you share tips on how you’ve overcome adolescent challenges with your stepchildren? I’d love to hear them.

Pic by Vlado