How to Cope as an Outsider in Your Stepfamily

Today I’m including a devotion I wrote recently that will be included in a new stepmom devotional book Laura Petherbridge, Heather Hetchler and myself are working on. Enjoy!


“…We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4).

“I feel invisible in my own home.” I could see the pain in my friend’s eyes. “My husband and stepchildren know how to do life without me and I often feel excluded. I don’t know how to break into the inner circle that surrounds them.”

Nodding in agreement, I reflected on my own feelings as an outsider in our early years. I remember my heart aching when my family told jokes I didn’t understand, reminisced about past experiences I wasn’t part of, or left me out of their activity.

Feeling Like an Outsider in my Stepfamily

Finally, I decided I would accept that some days I had to cope with the outsider role. I couldn’t force my stepchildren to let me into their insider circle. But I could take care of myself when the familiar feeling of loneliness set in. On those days, I would call a friend to go to coffee, catch up on my Bible study, or hit the gym for a workout with my buddies. By engaging in activities outside the home, places where I had my own identity, I better coped with the loneliness I felt at home.

I’m thankful to call myself an insider in God’s family. I’m unconditionally loved and accepted into God’s kingdom. I’m also an insider as part of a couple relationship with my husband, my family of origin, my biological kids, and my profession as a writer. If I recognize my insider status in other areas, I cope better when I’m left out of the circle at home.

Thought of the day: I can’t force my stepchildren to let me into their inner circle. But I can be content in the role I play, finding gratitude in other places of acceptance.

Dear Lord, thank You for accepting me into Your kingdom as Your child. Help me focus on You when I feel displaced in my home.

The Benefits of Conflict in Your Stepfamily

I recently returned from a week long vacation with my extended family to the mountains. It was a wonderful time of relaxing and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation surrounding us.

Beauty of God's creation

But it wasn’t a conflict-free, trouble-free vacation. They never are, are they?

As I reflected on our trip after I returned, I couldn’t help but parallel the conflict that happened in my biological family-of-origin to that of what happens in stepfamilies. I was raised in a very stable, traditional home with three sisters and two parents who did a wonderful job (not perfect) rearing their four daughters and equipping us for life.

However, we are still four imperfect 50+-year-old women who sometimes have conflict amongst ourselves.

Does that mean our family is dysfunctional? No.

Does that mean we don’t love each other? No.

Does that indicate we need to quit going on vacation together? No.

Could it be we are simply an imperfect family seeking to do life together amidst stress, difficult circumstances, and changing dynamics? Yes!

And when those variables come into play, it’s not unusual that conflict follows. You see,  our family is facing the undeniable reality that my mom’s dementia is progressing much quicker than any of us want to admit. And it’s having far-reaching effects with all of us.

Stress, difficult circumstances, changing dynamics, … and as a result, conflict.

I would venture to guess it’s no different than what’s happening in your stepfamily.  What difficult circumstance are you facing? How is change affecting your family? What is the biggest stressor you’re dealing with right now? Is it creating conflict?

The good news is: conflict isn’t all bad. Conflict is an indicator that something needs to change. And it’s usually a direct result of someone speaking up in regards to something they’re unhappy about.

So, conflict in your stepfamily uncovers someone’s need to address an issue that might need to change for the benefit of the family.

Without conflict, we ignore or internalize what we’re unhappy about and it never changes. And when we internalize our issues instead of addressing them, we create other problems for ourselves that will  show up later such as a volcano of anger that spews, underlying frustration with your family, an ulcer, high blood pressure, and a host of other physical issues.

What’s important with conflict is how we handle it. I’ve addressed this issue before at Tips to Help if You’re Experiencing Conflict in Your Family and Resolve Conflict as it Occurs and several other blog posts. If you struggle with resolving conflict properly, I hope you’ll take time to educate yourself on this very important topic. I wrote a complete article on it, “Fighting Fair: 12 Tips to Help You Manage Conflict and Strengthen Your Stepfamily,” for Stepmom Magazine that can be found here. 

Use conflict in a healthy manner to solve problematic issues in your stepfamily. Don’t skirt around it or ignore it. Address it! (Properly please). And then bask in the beauty of resolve.

Can you share the benefits of conflict resolution you’ve experienced in your stepfamily? Id love to hear about it.  




Coping with a Troubling Ex

I’m including a guest post today from Shawn Hartwell, founder and CEO of StepSpeak in Quebec, Canada.

My girlfriend and I often struggled and fought in a toxic relationship. I wanted us to be together but didn’t realize I was making the same mistake over and over again, trying to sustain a relationship that took its toll on me emotionally.

After I became a stepfather I was relieved I didn’t have to contend with the biological father of my stepson. However, in stepfamilies, we often have to deal with emotional confrontations with ex-spouses. Here are a few tips I’ve learned.

1. You can’t control other people.

It would be wonderful to be able to control every aspect of our lives of the people we encounter, but it’s simply not possible. I wish I had learned this years ago when, as a teenager, I was so filled with rage that it blinded me. I was not able to see the truth through the glasses of emotional anger that I was wearing at the time.

The sooner we accept the fact that whatever this person is doing in our life cannot be controlled, the sooner we’ll be able to look at things in a more objective way, instead of allowing our emotions to control us.

2. Know when to go to battle.

We tend to give our minds too much freedom to alter the reality that we see, much like how an abuse victim and his or her abuser don’t see the situation in the same light. Talk it out with yourself and determine if the issues you’re about to bring up really warrant a discussion.

There are often situations that we think are problems, when we’ve actually created a much bigger problem in our head than really exists. Choose the battles you need to fight with your ex carefully.

3. Use your free time wisely.

Time is the most valuable resource we have. I treat time with more value than money and material possessions. As a stepparent, we often feel that when our stepchild goes with his biological parent, we’re missing out and will digress with the bonds we’re seeking.

However, when our stepchild is gone, it’s a great time to develop our own interests and spend quality time with our spouse. It also helps to alleviate the tension we feel toward the biological parent if we focus on our own needs and enjoy time to ourselves, rather than focus on what we’re missing with our stepchild.

4. Know your options and when you need outside help.

You can never underestimate the power of seeking advice from friends, family or a professional. There may even be situations where you need to consult an attorney or a law enforcement officer. I have seen the effects of not alerting the proper professionals or authorities.

If you suspect abuse or negligence of your stepchild, don’t hesitate to get help.

Coping with a troubling ex can be, well…troubling. However, it doesn’t have to encompass your life. Make smart decisions in taking care of yourself, seeking to meet your own needs, in addition to the needs of your stepchild, as you work through difficult issues that arise.

How do you cope with a troubling ex? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Shawn Hartwell is a laid-back, free thinking, young and driven person who wants to help people, secure my family’s future and leave my mark on our world. I enjoy biking, walking, jogging, nature, tea culture, spending time with friends & family and learning new things in areas of interest. He blogs at StepSpeaks here.


pic by David Castillo Dominici

How to Cope with Difficult People in Your Stepfamily

We all have them – maybe it’s your stepdaughter. Or your husband’s ex. Or perhaps it’s your mother-in-law. If you’re honest, there’s probably at least one person in your stepfamily who’s difficult to be around and creates tension when you’re together.

When Disharmony is the Norm by Gayla Grace

How do you cope with them? Here are a few tips:

1.  Don’t give that person power over your emotions.

We don’t have to allow hurtful words to affect us. When someone says mean things to or about us we have a choice: will we let those words penetrate our heart or will we let them roll off, recognizing mean words often come from an unhealed hurt.

I recently learned of a physical altercation that happened between a biological mom and a new stepmom. During a weekend handoff, the bio mom lunged at the stepmom with an intention to harm. The stepmom had done nothing to bring about the response. Unfortunately, the bio mom has not accepted her husband’s remarriage and a new stepmom in her daughter’s life.  If the stepmom recognizes where the hurtful words come from—an unhealed hurt—she can let the event roll off without giving the mom power over her emotions.

2)  Seek out healthy people to hang with.

If we’re surrounded by healthy people, we are less likely to let an unreasonable person affect us. If our ego does get bruised from hurtful words, we can turn to others to help re-build our esteem instead of lashing back. It also helps to minimize the time we spend with negative people. If you have an unreasonable stepchild coming for the week, plan some time away with friends or your spouse to maintain a healthy image of yourself and your surroundings.

3) Accept the relationship in its current state.

If we spend our time trying to change another person or fretting over a tense relationship, we create frustration for ourselves. A peaceful heart comes when we accept a difficult relationship as it is and seek to do our part to improve it. Also, recognize that unreasonable people sometimes thrive on drama. I like to consider the words of the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

4) Be a positive role model

Commit to taking the high road as often as possible. Someone needs to be the mature person in an unreasonable person’s life – how about you? We can influence others through positive attitudes and behavior. If our ex-spouse learns we’re not going to fight back when he/she becomes unreasonable, the game ends. If our stepchild doesn’t get a rise from unreasonable behavior, it’s more likely to end. Positive attitudes and behavior with unreasonable people, however, take intentional effort. Are you up for it? Remember: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:19)

5) Maintain healthy boundaries.

Respect yourself enough to create boundaries that work for you. If you’ve had a difficult day and aren’t in a good place emotionally, don’t walk into a tense conversation with your stepchild over chores that didn’t get done. Ask  your spouse to do it. If you know the unreasonable person in your stepfamily who chooses to pick battles with you is going to attend your stepson’s band concert, make sure you don’t sit by him/her. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself – no one else can do it for you. And you’ll maintain a healthier demeanor for whatever situation occurs when you know you have the right to maintain boundaries that work for you. Check out this post if you need help with boundaries.

Unreasonable people tend to show up more frequently in stepfamily relationships. Stepfamilies often have unhealed hurts that foster tense relationships. But we don’t have to get sucked into the dysfunction and allow others to have power over our emotions or influence our reactions. If we accept that some interactions will be difficult and some persons in our stepfamily will be unreasonable, we have a healthier attitude to cope with the behavior when it occurs. We will also appreciate the relationships with reasonable people in our lives even more!

Can you offer other tips for dealing with unreasonable people in your stepfamily?

Could you use some stepmom encouragement? Join us at our next stepmom retreat where you’ll find hope, healing, help, and camaraderie with other stepmoms! Details here:


Experiencing Conflict in Your Stepfamily? Tips to Help

Holidays are stressful! Are you feeling it yet? Add the complexities of a stepfamily and it can quickly get out of control.

blogHow we manage conflict dictates how healthy our relationships are and oftentimes, whether we head to divorce court or not. However, when done correctly, conflict—with healthy, fair disagreements—can actually encourage stronger relationships.

In their book, The Remarriage Checkup, stepfamily authority Ron Deal and researcher David Olson discuss the differences in how couples handle conflict. “Research has suggested that happy and unhappy couples alike share the same number of conflicts. Unhappy couples just can’t get through the differences – they get stuck in them. Healthy couples, by comparison, are much more likely to find creative solutions to their differences and work them out (80 percent versus only 28 percent of unsatisfied couples).”

Conflict doesn’t have to be bad. It’s simply a sign that something needs to change in the relationship. It turns bad when we attack the person, in the midst of conflict, instead of attacking the problem.

Stepfamily conflict often centers around the kids. One of the most frustrating areas for stepmoms includes a passive husband who doesn’t properly discipline his kids and so she steps in, becoming the bad guy. This situation creates conflict in the marriage that’s ongoing if it’s not addressed and managed properly.

So how do you address conflict properly? How do you fight fair? Here are twelve tips to help:

  • For starters, both parties must agree to remain in control. When emotions are escalated and nasty words start flying, resolve never occurs. If the situation proves to be too volatile at the moment, take a time out and come back when both of you can discuss the matter calmly.
  • Commit to be fair and flexible with solutions as you work through the issue. Come to the discussion with both ears open to hear your partner’s take on the disagreement. Don’t insist your way is the only way, even if you think it’s the right way.
  • State the problem clearly—be specific. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. “I statements” take ownership of our feelings and needs and communicate them to others without placing blame. It’s easier to hear, “I feel insecure when you ignore me,” rather than “you make me angry when you don’t listen to me.”
  • Address conflict as it occurs. Don’t let issues pile up until you’re ready to explode. If your partner neglects to address your stepson’s lack of respect, don’t let it go on ten times before discussing it.
  • Keep conflict away from the ears of your stepchildren, especially if it’s about them. If you’re seeking to bond with your stepchildren and they hear you fighting about them, you take huge strides backward.
  • Be a team player. Your partner is your ally. If you insist you must win for a successful outcome, that means your partner has to lose. It’s not a competition, it’s a partnership.
  • Don’t try to resolve conflict through e-mail or texting. Give your relationship the respect it deserves and take time to confront conflict face-to-face. If you begin a disagreement while texting, stop. Resolve to finish the discussion in person.
  • Don’t bring up old issues that have nothing to do with the current conflict. Put boundaries around the subject at hand to find resolve with one thing at a time, preventing explosive arguments.
  • Pick your battles. Particularly if you’re raising teen-age stepchildren, mine blasts can occur at any moment; however, you don’t have to engage at the slightest misbehavior. If your stepdaughter had a bad day and rolls her eyes at you, remember, it’s probably not about you.
  • Steer clear of name calling or character assassination. Hurtful words create deep wounds that don’t heal easily. Stick to the issue instead of diverting to the person.
  • Listen more than you talk. I’ve heard that women speak about 20,000 words per day, close to 13,000 more than the average man.  I’m convinced God gave us one mouth and two ears so we would listen more and talk less.
  • Offer grace freely. Be quick to apologize and slow to hold grudges. When we don’t forgive, we suffer mentally, emotionally, and physically. Forgive and let it go.

It’s also important to recognize our part of conflict. It takes courage and humility to take a personal inventory and consider how we contribute to conflict. But it’s important!

When conflict comes knocking at your door, don’t despair. If you commit to practice healthy conflict management, you’ll find your relationships deepen through resolve. You don’t have to get stuck arguing about the same ‘ole thing.

Are you up for a challenge? Pick your weakest link when it comes to conflict. Where could you improve? Then determine to do conflict differently and watch what a difference it makes in your relationships!

For more holiday tips, check out our holiday e-book, Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace. It’s a great tool to help you 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 by imagerymajestic

*Originally published in Stepmom Magazine October 2013


Your Parenting Style: How Does it Affect Your Stepparenting?

blog picOne of the biggest struggles in stepfamilies is learning how to parent together and working through the conflict that naturally surrounds parenting.

Your parenting style plays a huge role in how much and how often you have conflict in regards to the kids so I’m going to give some detail on the three major parenting styles: authoritative, permissive, and authoritarian.

Parenting research shows the healthiest style of parenting to be the authoritative. This parent shows a high level of control in the home with a high level of warmth. Boundaries are enforced regularly but a child also feels loved and valued. Discipline is done in a way that is supportive, rather than punitive. Ideally, this would be the parenting style enforced most often by both parents in a step couple relationship.

A permissive style, as indicated by its name, is a parent with permissive standards and few demands of the children, along with a very loving, warm nature. It would seem that children thrive with this style, also known as indulgent parenting, but it naturally leads to children being in control of the home, which is never a good thing–especially as they move into their adolescent years.

The third parenting style that researchers refer to is an authoritarian style. Authoritarian parents enforce strict standards with little regard for a tender, compassionate relationship. Children raised with authoritarian parents often show signs of anger and resentment due to the heavy control and lack of relationship in the home. The danger in step couples is for a stepparent to lean toward an authoritarian style of parenting with lots of rules and a minimal relationship. Rules without relationship leads to rebellion in stepfamilies.

In a step couple, it’s natural for individuals to lean toward different parenting styles. The differences can complement each other if they’re not too extreme. However, struggles will occur frequently if the biological parent leans toward permissive and the stepparent leans toward authoritarian. This will create anger and resentment for stepchildren and high conflict for the step couple.

Parenting must be a team effort in your stepfamily. The biological parent should be the primary disciplinarian as much as possible (in an authoritative role). The stepparent, particularly in the early years, should be focused on relationship-building, not rule-enforcing. However, the biological parent must support the stepparent’s efforts when he or she chooses to play an authoritative role, which will naturally happen at times.

If you’re a stepmom parenting with a husband who leans toward a permissive style, I recommend you purchase Laura Petherbridge’s book, The Smart Stepmom and read the chapters together that address the stepparenting team. One is titled, “Dad Smart: She Can’t Do it Without You,” and “Dad Smart: Pitfalls and Good Intentions.”  There’s also good information in Ron Deal’s book, The Smart Stepfamily, on this topic.

If you’re a stepparent who leans toward authoritarian parenting, I recommend you step back and let your spouse take the lead in parenting his or her children. Give yourself a break! Your stepchildren will grow to love and respect you quicker and you will have more harmony in your home.

You CAN find compatibility as a parenting team but it takes time and perseverance. There will be times of disharmony in your home, but that doesn’t mean you’ve failed–it’s a natural progression to the process. My husband and I have determined that we will “agree to disagree” at times when we are at different spectrums on our parenting opinions. If there is little risk in the parenting choice, we let it go and allow the parent of their biological child to make the decision, even if we don’t agree with it.

Laura Petherbridge says, “Do you want to be right or do you want to have peace?” After almost 2.5 decades of parenting, I recognize there’s more than one way to parent. Keep a long-term focus: what matters in the end with parenting is the adult you’re creating in the process.

What is your parenting style? How does it affect your stepfamily?

Pic by nokhoog_buchachon