Conquering Back to School Challenges with Your Stepfamily

The back and forth routine that accompanies life in a stepfamily often brings exhaustion. During the school year, it can create confusion, anxiety, and turmoil for our kids.

back to schoolOur children need a stable home environment, free of tension and chaos to succeed in school. If you spend any time at your stepchild’s school, particularly middle and high school, you’ll notice the pressure and demands they face every day.  They don’t need additional mine blasts to contend with at home.

What can we do, as parents and stepparents, to ensure a successful back to school entry? One of the biggest ways you can promote success is to do your part in maintaining an amicable relationship with the other home.

I know – you’d rather eat a cockroach than talk about how to live in harmony with your ex or your spouse’s ex, right? But it’s vital to the well-being of your children and stepchildren. That doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with your stepson’s mom, but you do have to commit to working at a cordial relationship.

I will be the first to admit this didn’t come naturally for me. When my stepchildren lived with us, the relationship between me and their mom carried a competitive and confrontational tone. Instead of extending grace for her shortcomings, I harbored resentment and criticism.

I refused to consider what it must feel like to have another woman take part in raising my children. I put my husband in the middle of our tension by insisting my way. And I alienated my stepchildren when my non-verbal language spoke judgment, rather than love and tolerance for their mom and her ways of raising them.

Some days I would love to go back and offer a softer side toward my stepchildren when they’ve had a bad day at school. I’d be more understanding on transition days when they’ve just come back from their mom’s house and need some time alone. I’d extend grace more freely when they didn’t do their chores to my satisfaction.

But my stepchildren have finished school and the back to school challenges, other than with our 12-old-son, are non-existent. I no longer have to contend with a difficult relationship with my stepchildren’s mother because sadly, she passed away nine years ago after a cruel battle with colon cancer.

So, if you’re in the midst of back to school hassles, step back, take a deep breath, and consider what you can do to sow  peace with those around you. Your stepchildren deserve a fresh beginning at school, with minimal conflict at home.

Will you commit to take the high road as often as possible?

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

How do you handle back to school challenges? Please leave a comment with other suggestions.

Picture by digitalart

 

 

 

 

How to Create Healthy Stepfamily Relationships

I’ve noticed a common theme among step couples I’m working with lately: marital issues compound stepfamily problems. In other words, if you’re struggling with basic marriage challenges, it will spill over into your stepfamily.

amarriage

Here’s an example: let’s say you and your spouse don’t do conflict well. Maybe you say things you know you shouldn’t in a heightened sense of emotion. It’s likely you will say things about your stepchild that you can’t take back that will fester a wound with your spouse. Now a marital issue has become a stepfamily issue.

Or perhaps you struggle with managing your finances properly. You didn’t have to keep track of it that closely when it just involved you, but now money is tighter and you and your spouse constantly argue over the child support payment. A marital problem has become a stepfamily issue.

My point is this: stepfamily challenges are real. It takes a lot of effort to cope with ex-spouses, parent children that aren’t yours, parent children that are yours, manage a job and a household and a dozen other commitments, and maintain a thriving marriage.

So please nurture your marriage. Don’t expect it to function on auto-pilot and keep cruisin’. It won’t. It will crater. And your children will endure another loss.

We all emerge from our childhood of origin with strengths and weaknesses. In stepfamily life, your weaknesses can destroy your marriage.  A weak marriage simply can’t stand up against the challenges. Look in the mirror and determine what you need to change to become a better marital partner.

Do you need to temper your anger? Do you need to practice patience? Do you need to be more intentional with your speech or your listening habits? Do you need to persevere through your challenges?

Ask your spouse. Or listen to what they’re already telling you. What needs to change to create a healthier, stronger marriage?

I didn’t have to ask my spouse. He’s been telling me for years some things that I haven’t listened to well. Then my sister recently told me the same thing. Ouch!

I love the passage in Galatians 5:22-23 that talks about the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.”  Relationships naturally become more harmonious as we polish our rough exterior and exhibit more fruit in our lives.

It’s easy to blame all our stepfamily problems on the kids. But the truth is, if we look closer at ourselves, we’re contributing to the problems with our less-than-perfect attitudes, habits, and weaknesses.

If you stay married long enough, which I hope you will, the kids will leave home. Your marriage will be all that’s left so why not work out the kinks in your marriage NOW? I promise it will benefit your stepfamily in the process.

Healthy marriages create healthy stepfamily relationships. Does your marriage need a tune-up?

How have you created more harmony in your marriage or your stepfamily? Will you share it with us?

If you’re stuck in marital disharmony, I hope you’ll consider professional counseling or check out my coaching page. Don’t give up on your stepfamily until you’ve worked through your marriage challenges. It might be the difference that turns your stepfamily around.

Photo by David Castillo Dominici

 

 

 

 

When You Don’t Feel Love Toward Your Stepchild

I’ll never forget the day my stepson shot back at me, “You’re not my mom, Gayla. My mom would support my decision.”

I disagreed on an important decision he was making and voiced my opinion. I chose not to respond to his hurtful words and for a few days following, I didn’t feel love toward my stepson.

When You Don't  Feel Love for your Stepchild

Does that make me a bad person? No. I’m human. I needed some time to consider what he said and ask God to help me love him, despite my hurt.

I knew there was more behind my stepson’s words than his disagreement. What he was saying to me was, “I miss my mom. I wish she were here so I could have this conversation with her.” But she wasn’t. She had passed away just a short time earlier after a fierce battle with colon cancer. He was reacting toward me in anger to his loss.

It’s not always easy to live with the behavior of our stepchildren and feel love toward them. Here are a few things to consider on those days:

1.  Recognize their loss. Stepfamilies are born of loss and your stepchild might be dealing with layers of loss. As they go through life transitions such as adolescence, graduating from high school, etc. their loss is resurrected from years’ past and felt again. Try to be empathetic toward the feelings that are impacting their behavior.

2. Be the adult. Yes, it’s easy to stoop to the level of one attacking you, but someone needs to act like an adult.  I’m not saying it’s easy – on more than one occasion I had to withdraw from a conversation to keep from saying something I shouldn’t. But if we say hurtful words back, it  compounds the ill effects.

3. Take a time out when you need one. No one expects you to withstand painful happenings without taking time to recharge yourself. Determine what works for you to refresh yourself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Maybe it’s coffee with a girlfriend, a long afternoon walk, or a week-end away with your spouse.

4. Let the biological parent be in the charge. When you’re struggling with less-than-loving feelings toward your stepchild, step back and let the biological parent handle everyday situations. Our emotions get in the way of healthy reactions when we’re hurt, making it more difficult to address misbehavior or parenting decisions.

5. Pray for resolve. Allow God to soften your heart and pray the same for your stepchild. Look past the hurt toward a long-term relationship that’s willing to make sacrifices. It’s not unusual to have days you don’t feel love toward your stepchild. But if you’re in it for the long run, you want to work through those days and seek a long-term loving relationship.

Do you have other thoughts to offer? I would love to hear them.

Picture by Stuart Miles

 

Tips for an Enjoyable Stepfamily Vacation

Throwing family members together for an extended period of time can wreak havoc on even the most stable family. For a fragile stepfamily, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Tips for a Peaceful Stepfamily Vacation

So if you’re headed out for an adventure with your stepfamily, take along a few tools to keep peace. Here are some tips to consider:

1.  Ask your stepchildren for help in the planning stage.

Gather ideas and brainstorm options at a family meeting to gain participation from everyone.  Kids feel included and assume a better attitude about a vacation when they get to offer their ideas. While relationships are bonding in the early years of your stepfamily, make plans for shorter trips to prevent tension-filled days as a result of too much togetherness.

2. Make the trip fun and spontaneous by breaking a few house rules.

Bring along your sense of humor and allow the kids special privileges they don’t get at home. On our first cruise, our youngest son spotted the self-serve ice cream machine the first day. For the first few days, ice cream was only allowed after noon. But by the last day of the cruise, the ice cream rule evolved to ice cream at breakfast and other times throughout the day. The kids knew it was a special treat that would change when we returned home, but they fondly recall running to the ice cream machine together as one of the highlights of the cruise.

3. Be mindful of the kids.

A stepfamily vacation isn’t the time to insist on quality moments with your partner–that can happen on a separate trip with just the two of you. For a successful stepfamily vacation, assume a mindset of creating lasting bonds and memories. Seek to make it a special time for the kids. Even if they don’t acknowledge your efforts now, they will remember the time and energy you spent on family vacations when they get older.

4. Build in down time to rest and recuperate and maintain a flexible spirit.

 Stepfamily vacations don’t always feel relaxing, especially in the early years. Make an extra effort to find activities that promote rest and leisure without a jam-filled schedule. Sit outside and enjoy the sunset or catch the fireflies on a lazy evening. Be willing to change your schedule if plans don’t go as anticipated. Memories are created as family members spend time together doing activities they enjoy, whether simple or elaborate.

5. Keep a positive attitude and expect a few bumps along the way.

Unlikely happenings occur on vacation.  On a cross-country trip several years ago, I watched in horror as a large concrete truck backed into our Suburban, smashing the driver’s window and denting in the driver’s door before coming to a halt. I remember the screaming and sheer panic I felt as I watched the truck ram our vehicle. It screeched to a halt before injuring anyone, but our vacation spirits were dampened as we recovered from the frenzy and repaired our car enough to proceed. We drove the entire week with plastic rattling from the window in an attempt to silence the wind. We laugh with our kids about the disaster of that trip now, but my husband and I had to work hard to keep the tragic beginning from ruining our trip.

Be reasonable with your expectations, particularly in the early years of your stepfamily. Stepparents lose their patience, cars break down, step-siblings argue, kids get sick. Unrealistic assumptions create a sense of failure when plans go awry.

Stepfamily vacations play an important role in creating family identity and a sense of belonging with stepchildren. As relationships bond, it’s easier to spend extended time together. Don’t give up on a peaceful vacation, even if you experience tension-filled days.  Try again next year and the year after that. The memories you’re creating with your stepfamily are meaningful, even if they’re not perfect!

What tips would you add for a peaceful stepfamily vacation?

Related Posts:

As a Stepfamily, You Can Expect Challenges

Stinkin’ Thinkin’ Creates Bitter Quitters in Stepfamilies

The Effects of Patience in Blended Families

How to Cope with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

I’m addressing a question today I received from a reader. How do you cope as a stepmom when you’re dealing with a biological mom who is belittling to you and doesn’t want you in her children’s lives?

The stepmom role becomes harder when the bio mom makes every effort to exclude you from her children’s lives. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon. At the root of this issue lies the fear that the bio mom feels the children are going to bond with the you – the stepmom, and form a deeper relationship with you than they have with her.

It’s an unfounded fear because children almost always have a stronger relationship with their biological parents than they have with a stepparent. However, she’s reacting out of her own fear and communicating to her children that she wants their loyalty. Women are territorial when it comes to their children. If you have children of your own, you understand these feelings, but it doesn’t give the bio mom the right to act belittling or antagonistic  toward the stepmom.

To help alleviate the threat the bio mom is sensing, the stepmom needs to send a message that she has no intention of interfering with the relationship between the bio mom and her children and isn’t trying to replace her in any way. In their book, The Smart Stepmom, Laura Petherbridge and Ron Deal give an example of how to communicate this message which they call “The No-Threat Message.” They suggest doing it in person or via e-mail if the relationship is already strained.

“Dear Meghan, since we are both involved with your kids, I wanted to take a minute to communicate with you. I want to share that I totally understand and respect that you are the only mother of these children. I’m not their mom, and I will never try to take your place. They are your children. I am honored to be an added parent figure in their lives. I view my role as one of support to their father, and my desire is to be a blessing to them. I promise to speak well of you and work together for their benefit. I desire to make their lives easier, not more difficult. Please know that I pray for the entire family. If there’s anything I can do to help the situation or if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.”

Sending the no-threat message doesn’t guarantee the bio mom will accept your position in her children’s lives but it offers her some perspective on how you feel about your role. She is more likely to allow a relationship between you and her children if she doesn’t feel threatened by your behavior and sees you live out the No-threat message.

Unfortunately, some bio moms are mean-spirited and vindictive. In this case, there’s not a lot the stepmom can do to have an amicable relationship. For further insight, I suggest reading the chapter from The Smart Stepmom, “Meet Your Ex-Wife-in-Law: Friend or Foe.” It gives additional scenarios of how to cope with a difficult ex-spouse.

What suggestions would you give this reader? I’d love to hear them.

Picture by Grant Cochrane

Related Posts:

Co-Parenting with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

Creating Healthy Boundaries with Your Ex-Spouse

Recognizing the Need for Boundaries

Ten Ways to Strengthen Your Stepfamily Relationships

It’s easy to think we must be perfect in our stepfamily interactions and make huge steps every day to strengthen our relationships. But that isn’t true.

Small steps on a regular basis can result in huge dividends with your stepfamily.

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Here are ten easy ways to show every day love and harbor positive relationships in your stepfamily:

1) Offer grace freely and often.

2) Think positive thoughts about your stepchildren; if a negative thought pops up – replace it.

3) Say at least one nice thing to each person in your stepfamily daily or as often as you see them.

4) Live “one day at a time” and enjoy the present moment – don’t project into the future.

5) Take care of yourself: emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

6) Strive to keep a thankful spirit.

7) Nurture your marriage with sweet gestures, alone time, and date nights.

8) Send thoughtful text messages when your stepchildren are away.

9) Deal with conflict when it occurs in a healthy context – don’t stuff it, don’t ignore it, don’t exaggerate it.

10) Pray for each member of your family daily.

Other ideas? What suggestions can you give to help strengthen stepfamily relationships?

Related Posts:

Is Your Stepfamily in a Season of Challenge?

Five Ways to Create Stronger Stepfamily Relationships

Lessons Learned About Stepparenting from Tim Tebow

Five Practical Tips for Successful Stepparenting