Dear Stepparent: Chase After Progress, Not Perfection

Dear Stepparent: Chase After Progress, Not Perfection

I talk to stepparents all the time who blame themselves for a poor relationship with their stepchild. “If only I had more patience with my stepchild, if only I had more time to spend with him, if only, if only, if only.”

The truth is, it probably wouldn’t matter if you were the perfect stepparent. You might still have a disjointed relationship with your stepchild.


Because there are so many other variables that help determine what kind of relationship you and your stepchild will have.

That doesn’t take you off the hook. It’s important that you continue to work toward a loving, meaningful relationship with your stepchild. But it also helps to recognize that you don’t control the whole picture.

Dear Stepparent: Chase After Progress, Not Perfection

Outside Influences

Your stepchild has other people and circumstances that influence his or her relationship with you. Here are the most common ones:

  • If the biological parent in the other home is discouraging a relationship with you as the stepparent.
  • If your spouse isn’t supporting you in your stepparenting role.
  • If your spouse is a passive parent and as a result, you step into the parental role too soon.
  • If your stepchild has lost their biological parent to death, there are likely ghosts in the closet that affect your relationship.
  • If the biological parent in the other home is dysfunctional, your stepchild feels pulled toward that parent.
  • If you married while your stepchildren were in their teen years, they’re more interested in seeking independence than bonding with new family members.
  • If you had a short dating period with your partner, it’s likely your stepchildren didn’t have enough time to process their feelings of loss, which will impact your relationship with them.

Down the Road

After we had been married several years, my two girls had bonded well with my husband and began calling him Dad. I was jealous of their relationship. It looked different than the one I had with my stepchildren. Convinced I was doing something wrong, I didn’t realize how the variables affecting my stepchildren—like a mom who discouraged a relationship with me—kept them at a distance.

We try to do everything right as a stepparent, thinking that will create the relationship we’re seeking.

The reality is, we aren’t responsible for and cannot change many of the variables that influence the relationship with our stepchild.

Time is on your side. I’m thankful today for healthy, thriving relationships with my adult stepchildren.

Chase after progress, not perfection and you’ll experience rewards down the road.

Have you seen rewards on your step journey? Share them with us!

3 Tips for Overcoming Fear on Your Stepparenting Journey

I remember the scene of years’ past. I couldn’t stop the tears that spilled down my cheeks as I hugged my daughter goodbye. Saying goodbye for eight months as my 22-year-daughter left to carry out her calling in Mozambique had left a knot in the pit of my stomach.

As we drove away, I wondered how I would cope with my fears. Concern of the environment in Africa escalated in my mind: the prevalence of AIDS and malaria, the less-than-ideal medical care, the language barrier, and the comforts of home that were gone. She had barely left my arms and I already longed for her return, wishing I could shield her from the dangers of what lay ahead.

As my husband and I sat silently in the car, God began to speak to my heart. Although it wasn’t audible, I couldn’t deny His words.

3 tips for overcoming fear on the stepparenting journey by Gayla Grace

“Will you trust me?”

It’s easy to trust God when we can control what’s happening around us. But trusting God with the unknowns isn’t easy. When the custody battle looms. When your stepchild’s defiance escalates. When your spouse talks about leaving.

Fear. Uncertainty. It can envelop us.

If you’re facing fear on your stepparenting journey, don’t let it defeat you.

Here are three steps to help:

1. Live one day at a time.

An AA slogan that alcoholics rely on during recovery, “live one day at a time” takes away the fear of tomorrow. “If I thought about never having another drink,” an alcoholic once told me, “I would never stay sober.  But focusing on getting through one day without a drink is manageable.”

It’s the same for us. If we focus on how we’re going to survive with our stepkid challenges for the next ten years, we’ll never make it. But if we choose to look at what we can do today to make it manageable in our home, we can cope with the day. What step do you need to take today? Ask your spouse for his support of your stepmom role; set some boundaries with your stepchildren. Can you escape with a girlfriend for a relaxing evening?

2. Choose to stay positive in not-so-positive circumstances.

It’s especially important to be intentional about staying positive when you’re overwhelming or oppressive circumstances. We CAN control what we choose to think about. In Jan Silvious’ book, Big Girls Don’t Whine, Silvious writes, “Big Girls control what their minds dwell on. If you can’t control anything else in your life, you can control what you think about.”

In an interview with popular speaker Patsy Clairmont, she discussed her challenge with agoraphobia–a fear of open spaces and large groups of people. Clairmont emphasized that her release from the prison of agoraphobia began when she changed the way she was thinking. She focused specifically on Philippians 4:8 that says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Her thoughts began to improve by consciously “thinking on good things,” and “believing maybe I could be well.”

We can do the same—focus only the encouraging aspects of our situation, or perhaps thoughts that are worthy of praise, such as the positive characteristics of our stepchild. What we think about matters!

3.  Give up control and submit to God’s plan. In other words, let go and let God.

Here’s a poem I read recently on this topic in Courage to Change:

As children bring their broken toys, with tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God, because He was my friend.
But then, instead of leaving Him in peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help, with ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried, ‘How can you be so slow?’
‘My child,’ He said, ‘What could I do? You never did let go.’”

We want to fix and control instead of giving to God. I often remind myself that  “His ways are higher than my ways and His thoughts than my thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8).

My daughter returned from Mozambique a new person.

More mature.

More sure of who she is.

More like Christ.

In the midst of it, I gained a deeper trust in God and His ways as I walked through my fears.

What steps do you need to take to walk through your fears confidently?
Can you share any other tips to help?

5 Things Stepparents Have in Common with Olympic Champions

Have you been watching the Winter Olympics? What’s your favorite sport? Mine is women’s figure skating. The athletes make it look so easy to throw themselves across the floor in beautiful techniques and hoist their bodies in ways that seem impossible.

As I listen to stories of the Olympic champions’, I find myself comparing them to the challenges of stepparenting and the champion role we play every day.


Here are a few parallels I’ve noticed:

1. It’s emotional. Often.

I’ve seen a lot of tears since the Olympics started. Some are tears of joy—many are tears of defeat. One coach said, “Without the passion and the emotion, you wouldn’t have an Olympian.”

The same is true of stepparenting. If we didn’t care deeply about our stepchildren, we wouldn’t feel the intense anger, sadness, and anxiety surrounding their choices and their reactions toward us. Our emotions speak loudly of the significant role we play in their lives. We’re champions because we take on the role of parenting someone else’s child and endure the emotions that follow.

2. Champions don’t quit when they fail.

Many Olympic athletes train year after year before achieving the success they’re after. Most experience significant bumps along the way with temptations to quit.

USA snowboarder Shaun White walked away from the 2014 Winter Olympics without a medal, although he was heavily favored. The next four years included questions and hardships. He fell during a training session at New Zealand three months ago and required 62 stitches across his forehead, lips, and tongue. Afterward, he questioned whether he wanted to go back out and face the dangers of his sport. But he wouldn’t give up the chance for another Olympic gold. And with a gutsy performance amidst stiff competition on the halfpipe, he secured another gold medal.

When you fall down as a stepparent, you also must get back up. My article, “Perfectly Flawed—Advice for Stepparenting,” describes my husband’s imperfect journey as a stepdad and his rewards from persevering. We become champions in our stepparenting role when we keep trying, even though we want to quit. I know it’s hard. I’ve been there.

3. Investing time and energy doesn’t always lead to the success we desire.

Figure skater Nathan Chen, favored to win several events, had a disappointing debut with his first event. He finished fourth in the men’s short program after a fall and a couple other bobbles. He admitted to his disappointment, but put it behind him and excelled in later events.

Our view of success as a stepparent doesn’t always follow the time and energy we invest in it. Variables beyond our control often keep our stepchildren from developing a relationship with us. Loyalty conflict toward a biological parent can play a role in keeping a stepchild in a guarded position. But God sees our heart and measures our success as a champion by the effort we make, regardless of the final result. “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)

4. It requires special techniques to cope with the stress and strain.

Olympic athletes in Rio used “cupping,” an unusual treatment, to recover from the strain that accompanied the rigor of performing competitively. Described by WedMD as “an ancient form of alternative medicine in which a therapist puts special cups on your skin for a few minutes to create suction,” athletes turned to the unique method to help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, and soreness. The most decorated Olympian of all times—Michael Phelps—used the special technique to cope with the strain of competitive swimming.

Stepparenting also involves emotional stress and strain that seems unbearable at times. The relentless demands on our time, society’s pressure of what role we are to play, the emotional tug-of-war with the biological parent, and the unending mind games stepchildren often play with us, leads to discouragement. But when we use prayer, Scripture reading, meditation, and fellowship with other healthy stepparents, we find the energy to cope and succeed as champions.

5. Good coaching is mandatory. 

Many Olympic athletes speak of changing coaches when they begin training for an Olympic event. They know that mediocre methods or inexperienced coaching will not lead them to an Olympic medal.

Stepparenting challenges also require coaching/counseling during difficult seasons. Coaching needs to come from an experienced professional who understands stepfamily dynamics. Traditional family methods with stepfamilies don’t lead to success. If you’re stuck in your stepfamily difficulty, check out my coaching page to find hope. Champions turn to good coaching when they need help.


I applaud your efforts as a stepparenting champion. I wish I could visit with you over a cup of coffee about your biggest struggle. But remember: God sees every effort, even if the results aren’t what you’re hoping for.

I love the Olympic Creed and think it can be applied to stepparenting as well:

The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, the important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.  The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

Do you agree? I would love to hear your comments.

Blended Families – 4 Tips for Dealing with The Ex

Blending families can create a unique set of problems. Sometimes it may seem solutions are hard to find. Today, my friend, Holly Robinson, shares some tips for creating a cordial relationship with the ex-wife. Please welcome Holly, read her story, and share your thoughts in the comments.

I never meant to marry a man with children. When I fell in love with Dan, I shied away from a commitment because we each had two young children. Forget sex and romance! The minute we tied the knot, I worried that life would be all about daycare, fretting over mortgages, and orthodontist bills.

We got married anyway, despite my fears and doubts. On the wedding day itself, it started to rain early in the morning, a light drizzle from a pewter sky. Luckily, we had ordered tents for the backyard. The rain added to the beauty of it, as the tents caught a kaleidoscope of falling leaves, like handmade Japanese paper in red and gold.

Because the ceremony included our four children—by then, they were 5, 6, 7 and 8 years old—our guest list of 96 people included 42 children and ranged in age from three months to 91 years old. No wedding could have been more beautiful. Yes, I cried.

However, I was right about the whole stepmother gig being hell on wheels. One particularly bad night with my stepson Drew drove this point home. My kids were with my ex that weekend; Dan and I had just gone to bed when suddenly there was a retching sound from the doorway. And there was Drew vomiting on the floor.

Dan jumped up to tend to him. I threw on an old nightshirt and helped him clean up Drew, then Drew’s bed, and finally the floor. We gave Drew medicine to bring down his fever and mopped him with cool washcloths. For a while, Drew called out pitifully for his mother, his favorite stuffed animal, and his treasured bedtime story – none of which I could provide. We did what we could to comfort him, but I’d never felt so helpless.

“We have to call his mom,” I said finally, near tears.

Dan didn’t want to do it—it was late, and he hated the idea of having to ask his ex for parenting advice. But I insisted: if this was my kid, I’d want to help him feel better. Maybe his ex could help me tell Drew the story he wanted to hear, at the very least, even if we didn’t have the book on hand.

I made the call. And, to my surprise, his ex—who had been understandably cool since the wedding—was worried about her son and glad I’d called. She recounted the story to me over the phone and I “read” it to my stepson. He fell asleep, finally, and woke up feeling fine the next day.

With that call, I realized I’d broken through some sort of barrier. I was determined to start thinking of my husband’s ex as an ally. After all, she was the mother of the stepkids I was beginning to love. By being polite, and even friendly and helpful, to her, I hoped to make both of our households more peaceful. Dan still had trouble communicating with his ex, but from that point on, I made sure to keep the lines of communication open and reached out to her often. She began doing the same, calling me for advice or information when her children had a behavior issue or needed a scheduling change. It was never ideal, but it was definitely civil.

Last month, I went to my stepson Drew’s birthday party. He’s out of college, but he wanted everyone—his dad and me, his sister and stepsiblings and half-brother—to celebrate his birthday. I came away from the party thinking, wow, we did it. We didn’t just play a game of happy families. We really are one.

Being civil to your husband’s ex isn’t always easy. But, if you take the high road and treat her as a potential parenting ally instead of an enemy, I promise things will start going more smoothly. With time, you may find yourself joining her on the trip to settle your stepson or stepdaughter into a college dorm room, celebrating a wedding together, or taking pictures of a grandchild’s first birthday. These are the milestones ahead of you—provided you can let go of the past.

Step Parenting Tips on Handling the Ex-Wife

A few tips to help you get started:

  • Ask your husband’s ex for advice about the kids, especially when it comes to household rules and behavior. Don’t worry. It won’t lessen your power or position with your husband—he just wants you two to get along, and she’ll appreciate the fact that you respect her opinions.
  • If your husband fumes about his ex, don’t fan the flames. Yes, of course, he loves to say his ex is bossy, money-grubbing, a cold fish, or whatever—obviously, they got divorced for reasons. But there are always two sides to every story—and sometimes more. Listen with compassion, but remember that your goal is to keep the peace at home, so your stepkids will grow up happy and secure.
  • Stop competing. Your stepchildren will never love you better than they love their mom. Think of yourself as the alternate on the team: you will have your shining moments, like when you realize you and your stepdaughter both love musical theater or when your stepson says you’re a pretty good artist. But she’s their mother, and no matter how she behaves—or misbehaves—nothing will change that. You’re still playing an important role in the lives of these children, so take your job as a role model seriously and give it all you’ve got: love, compassion, humility, and humor.
  • Be flexible. There will be times when your husband’s ex may seem like she’s gunning for him—and for you in the bargain. She might suddenly ask for a different weekend, or skip having the children visit. She even wants you to take the kids all summer when she was supposed to have them half-time. Think about things from her point of view and, most importantly, from the perspective of your stepchildren: what’s better for them? How can you make their lives easier, not more difficult? They’ve already gone through a lot of loss with the divorce. It’s your job—sorry, you’re the adult—to make them believe that people love them and care about their needs, even if it means sacrificing that romantic weekend with their dad or having to scramble for daycare so you can get to work.

Eventually, the kids will grow up. When they do, you want the door to be wide open, so they can come home to a family that loves them for years to come.

Bio: Holly Robinson is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Open Salon, and Parents. Her novel, BEACH PLUM ISLAND, is Holly Robinson at her best, a story about family, love and buried secrets. 

Learn how the 90/10 principle can change your stepparenting

Learn How the 90/10 Principle Can Change Your Stepparenting

We experience all kinds of challenges on our stepparenting journey. Whether it’s a rebellious stepchild, a combative ex-spouse, or a loneliness that pervades your home, here’s a strategy that can help.

How the 90/10 principle can

Have you heard of the 90/10 principle? It’s a Steven Covey principle that says:

“10% of life is made up of what happens to you. 90% of life is decided by how you react.”

How do we translate that to stepfamily life?

Here are a few examples:

You can’t control influences from the other home that affect your stepchildren’s attitude toward you. But you can control your response to their behavior. You can refuse to be offended by a cold stare or apathetic demeanor and commit to maintaining a positive perspective.

You can’t control the behavior of an ex-spouse. But you can decide to stay out of the conflict and give your spouse freedom to manage it without your interference.

You can’t control whether your stepchild makes a bad choice, but you can control how you react. You can get angry and demean your stepchild, or you can calmly discuss the incident with consequences.

You can’t control the effects of loyalty conflict that bleed into your home and affect your relationships. But you can choose to be kind toward your stepchild when he talks about his mom,  which in turn influences his relationship with you.

Our circumstances may not be within our control. But our reactions are!

A personal example

A few years ago, we had an ongoing refrigerator problem at our house for more than six weeks! A technician came out three separate times, replacing various parts and fixing it momentarily. But it never stayed fixed for long! Our home warranty wouldn’t allow us to replace the refrigerator without their approval.

One day I was so angry over the slow response and a non-functioning refrigerator, that I unleashed on the technician (Not a good response). It didn’t solve the problem and only made me feel bad later for my behavior.

Finally, my husband and I decided to purchase a spare refrigerator. We had been considering the need for a second appliance anyway, and it solved our problem. A few weeks later, the home warranty company decided our refrigerator was non-repairable and replaced it. We were thankful for the decision but had quit stressing over their lack of efficiency and solved the problem ourselves.

We face stressful circumstances every day in our stepfamilies. Our relationships are affected by how we act and what we say.

We have a choice: will we act proactively or will we react?


Overcoming Self Doubt as a Stepparent

Today I share a guest blog post by a fellow stepmom: Julie Langley of Shreveport, LA. Her story as a stepmom offers comfort and hope!

Overcoming Self-doubt as a Stepparent


I have both married and single friends. Those with kids and those without. Some knew they wanted to be parents from the moment they began to think of their future. Others don’t have children either by their own choice or because of health concerns.

I never had that desire to have a baby. As my 20s turned into 30s, I knew it was likely that someday I might marry someone with children. That was fine. I could handle it. Then I met Kevin, widowed with two girls. We fell in love and married a year later. Everything was perfect… or so I thought.

The day after we returned home from our honeymoon, he went to work, and I was left alone with an 8 and 13-year-old. Both had different needs and were in different places in life. They longed for a connection with a mother figure, but teetered on the familiarity of handling things in their own way. They pushed me to see what they could get away with and challenged me to think outside the neat little box I had envisioned for my life moving forward.

Self-doubt set in quickly when I realized this was more than babysitting. It was my life. I questioned then, and still do five years later, if the decisions I make daily concerning the kids are right. What do we do today? What do I cook? Should I be a rule setter or just try to be their friend?

I quickly learned that boundaries had to be established, and I couldn’t always be the fun or cool stepparent.

There was a time for homework, cleaning rooms and doing chores, and a time to relax, have fun and play. When my husband came home from work, there needed to be time for us to sit down alone and talk about our day. There also needed to be time for the girls to tell about their day. So, as part of our crazy busy day, we have dinner at the table every night to sit down as a family and reflect.

I continue to learn that God, as our Heavenly Father, is always doing things on our behalf for the greater good. We may not understand how, why or even when, but His timing is perfect. As His children, we may get frustrated, angry or confused, but He is ultimately in control.

The first week of being a stepmom I was on my knees a lot praying for wisdom and sanity. I also found myself calling my own precious mother for advice, wisdom, or just to say “thank you” for the things she taught me. Perhaps someday I can be the “mom” on the other end of the line offering wisdom to one of my stepdaughters.

It’s not about being stern or being cool. It’s about being present, setting boundaries and meeting needs in the moment. Every day we are faced with new situations, obstacles, and challenges.

I remind myself often of the verse in Jeremiah 29:11 that says, “For I know the plans I have for you. This is the Lord’s declaration – Plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

The key to success as a stepparent is knowing Who is in control and letting God be the author of your story.

Julie’s Bio: I’ve been married to Kevin for four years. I had almost given up on dating when I met him through eHarmony. I said I would never do online dating, but then I may have never met Kevin. I grew up in Canton, Texas, where I served in various roles over a 15-year period at the local newspapers (six to be exact), including editor. When we married, I moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, where Kevin and his two girls Hannah, 18, and Emily, 14, lived. I brought one very spoiled puppy to the family, and later we added two extremely goofy cats to the mix. During my journalism career, I have written for a number of publications, and aspire to publish one of my many fiction books.

Need more encouragement for your stepparenting road? Look for Gayla’s new devotional book, Stepparenting With Grace, to be published by Worthy Publishing, August 2018.

Or check out her current one here.