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.

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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

How to Co-Parent Successfully

Taken from our e-book, “Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace,” I want to share some thoughts on  how to make co-parenting work.

Our son, Nathan, hangs with a friend whose parents are divorced. Nathan came back from a birthday party, talking about meeting his friend’s dad for the first time. As the conversation ensued, I learned both parents were at their son’s party and casually spoke with one another throughout the evening. I remember thinking to myself, what a blessing they’ve given their son.

Not all co-parenting situations can be as amicable, but the goal of co-parenting is to put aside the differences that dissolved your marriage and do your part to have a cooperative relationship.

Stepfamily living brings stress and tension, which easily carries over into the co-parenting relationship. Intentional effort is required to get along, including sacrifices and tongue-taming. If disagreements arise, it’s important to keep them from children’s ears. Adult issues need to be confined to the adults.

Co-parenting doesn’t mean we try to control what is happening in the other parent’s home. When we divorced our spouse, we relinquished control of how our children will be parented in their home. But the biggest challenge of co-parenting, learning how to be amicable in a relationship with someone you couldn’t get along with in marriage, is the link to success when parenting children after divorce.

Successful co-parenting strategies include setting boundaries about how you will be treated. If you’re dealing with a hostile ex-spouse, it often works best to communicate via text or e-mail. Don’t put yourself in a vulnerable situation that could lead to emotional abuse.

Strained co-parenting gives you an opportunity to practice displaying the gifts of the Spirit as defined in Galatians 5:22, 23: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” I know it’s not easy but as our children watch us model kindness and goodness or patience and self-control in the midst of rude or unkind behavior, they learn the value of asserting those qualities in their own lives. And we gain the satisfaction of knowing we took the high road, even when it wasn’t easy.

Drama and stepfamily living too often co-mingle, but you don’t have to let the onslaught of drama ruin your journey. Take every opportunity to conquer it with a positive perspective, peaceful interactions and determined effort to work through the challenges.

What tips can you add to help co-parent successfully?

Related Posts:

Co-Parenting With a Difficult Ex-Spouse

Co-Parenting Collisions

How To Co-Parent Successfully with Your Ex-Spouse

When Stepparenting is Messy

I sent my son to bed last night with consequences for his lack of obedience on a homework issue. He wasn’t happy with me and barely said good night as I left his room. But as his mom, seeking to raise a responsible young man, I knew I needed to address the issue, even if he didn’t like it.

He bounded out of bed this morning with a smile on his face and a big good morning. The night before had become a thing of the past that he wasn’t going to hold a grudge about because as my biological child, he doesn’t stay mad at me long, even when I dole out consequences. He’s quick to forgive and let go of ill feelings toward me.

It isn’t always the same with stepchildren. I expressed my opinion several weeks ago with my young adult stepson on an issue I didn’t agree with and he let me know he didn’t like it. He hung up the phone mad and called his dad to fill him on the details, hoping his dad would side with his opinion. For two weeks, my stepson and I had little communication. I knew the conflict would strain our relationship for a short period of time.

I try hard not to compare my stepchildren and my biological children but it’s easy to notice differences in how they respond during and after conflict. The blood bond that exists with biological children gives them a connection that doesn’t easily break. But the fragile thread that exists with stepchildren, particularly in the beginning stages of relationship-building, can easily be severed.

Stepparenting is messy – there are not black and white answers. It’s easy to say we need to defer issues of conflict and let the biological parent handle them but that can’t always happen. My stepson had called me on a different issue that naturally led to the issue that caused conflict. Did I overstep my bounds in how I expressed my feelings with my stepson? Maybe. Would I have expressed it the same way to my biological child? Yes.

How do you cope when it seems you’ve been misjudged in your stepparenting role? For me, I remember that I’m more than just a stepmom seeking affirmation from my stepchildren. I’m a wife, a daughter, a sister, a writer, a loyal friend, and a child of Christ. God’s love for me is unending. I cling to His promise in Ephesians 3:18 that says, ““And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may  have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Isn’t that beautiful? We can’t escape the love of Christ.

If we allow our worth to be dependent upon how our stepchildren treat us or feel about us, we set ourselves up for hurt. But if we remind ourselves that God’s love for us is everlasting, even if we fail or others mistreat us, we make room for peace.

How do you cope when stepfamily relationships seem messy? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Related Posts:

Setting Boundaries with Your Stepchildren

Overcoming the Pain of Rejection as a Stepparent

Coping with Stepfamily Drama

When Anger Boils in Your Stepfamily

As I felt my heart begin to race, I knew I had to settle  down before I said something I shouldn’t. I said a quick prayer to calm my soul and ask for guidance. My anger was boiling. And I wasn’t sure how to proceed with the conversation.

When Anger Boils in Your StepfamilyI was in a heated discussion with my stepson on a decision he was making that I didn’t agree with. At 22 years old, I don’t meddle in his decisions and we rarely disagree, but this was a financial decision that affected me and my husband also. So I calmly stated my opinion on the subject and he balked.

I could tell we weren’t going to come to an agreement, and I knew I needed to involve my husband. So I ended the conversation with, “I can’t and won’t tell you what to do, but I’ve given you my opinion.” I ended the call and sat in silence,  stunned at how quickly I had allowed anger to overtake me.

In her book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, Lysa Terkeurst re-enacts a difficult day at home with her kids when everything goes wrong – including the way she handled it. She went to bed that night an emotional wreck with nothing to show for her day but regret. But she allowed a different perspective to change the way she would react in the future as she deemed:

“I can face things that are out of my control and not act out of control.”

An applicable quote for stepfamily life! How often do we face things that are out of our control? Do we act out of control as a result?

I knew if I stayed on the phone with my stepson, I would eventually act out of control. He and I didn’t agree on the subject and it wasn’t going to change. I needed to involve my husband for resolution.

When my husband came in from work, he had already heard the story. My stepson immediately called his dad to vent after leaving our conversation. I wanted my husband’s opinion on the issue and was prepared to humble myself if he didn’t agree with  the position I had taken. Thankfully, my husband supported my opinion and helped his son understand why.

Difficult interactions occur in stepfamilies frequently, especially in the early years when relationships are forming. But we have a choice as to how we will react when our anger boils or our feelings are hurt.

Terkeurst goes on to say, “Remember, feelings are indicators, not dictators. They can indicate there is a situation I need to deal with, but they shouldn’t dictate how I react. I have a choice.”

During my stepson’s teen years, I didn’t always see my feelings as indicators. Sometimes they were dictators that threw me into an angry tailspin. Instead of involving my husband for resolution, I tried to do it myself with angry words or extreme consequences. But I learned that conflict with my stepchildren was resolved more peacefully (and my anger boiled less often)when I united with my husband and we confronted the situation together.

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

How about you? How do you handle it when your anger boils in your stepfamily?

 

Six Steps for Coping With Stepfamily Storms

 Over the week-end, we braved severe storms with damaging tornadoes in Central Arkansas. My family and I retreated to our “fraidy hole” more than once to seek protection from our frightful surroundings.

As I listened to the blare of tornado sirens and attempted to comfort my tearful 9-year-old son, I reflected on what options we have during storms. I compared weather storms to emotional storms that occur in stepfamilies. I thought about ways we can cope during stepfamily storms that allow a healthy outcome without a lot of damage. Here are a few steps to consider:

1. Stay calm – don’t overreact. It’s easy to raise your voice and exaggerate what kind of storm you’re dealing with during times of conflict. Solutions don’t emerge naturally when emotions are heightened . If you find yourself out of sorts, it’s best to take a time out and leave the conflict. Be sure to come back later and address the difficulty.

2. Pray for wisdom and guidance for the situation. Find a time and place to be still and listen for God’s direction. Meditate on Scripture and be patient as you search for answers.  James 1:5 tells us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

3. Brainstorm and talk through your options with another person. Seek out an objective party who can help you sort through your emotions and solutions for the conflict. Find a pastor, counselor, or friend who has your best interest at heart and can offer a healthy opinion. My husband and I used a professional counselor in the early years of our marriage to help us get unstuck during periods of heavy conflict.

4. Wait it out. Many times, storms dissipate with time. Don’t jump to conclusions or insist on taking steps that might make matters worse. When my stepson chose to continue living with his stepdad after his mom died, we were devastated. My husband could have demanded that he come live with us right after the funeral, but he believed it would alienate his adolescent son and cause further pain. We waited out his decision, tormented by some of his choices over the next year. Finally my stepson came to live with us with a willing heart after he took the time he needed to grieve with his stepdad and older sister.

5. Take one step at a time when the conditions are right. As solutions emerge, move slowly toward resolution. Take the next healthy step toward reconciling with those involved. Don’t expect harmony overnight but do your part to mend relationships.

6. Maintain a positive attitude and trust God for the results. We may not see an end to our storm, but we can trust God with the results. I love this quote by E.L. Doctorow as applied to stepfamily challenges: “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” We may not understand what’s happening around us or see an end in sight but we can choose to keep going anyway while we Let Go and Let God. (AA slogan)

Storms are frightening. We won’t always react as we should or take the right steps, but if we refuse to give up on our stepfamily relationships, we will find solutions in our storms.

Other Posts You Might Like:

It’s Always Too Early to Quit

Confront Conflict Head-On

Conquering Conflict: Get a Grip on Your Pride

Grasping the Value of Boundaries as a Stepparent

As I was listening to my friend complain about the disrespectful behavior from her stepson, I couldn’t help but think, “Why haven’t you established some boundaries that would allow you to take care of yourself instead of putting up with his self-centered behavior?

We can require respect from our stepchildren, even if they don’t like us. Our actions or inactions teach others how to treat us. It helps to team up with our spouse and set some ground rules (i.e. yelling is not allowed, even when you’re angry), and then follow through with consequences if they’re not followed.

It isn’t our role as stepparents to be walked on, taken advantage of, or neglected. We have needs and wants also, and it’s okay to express our needs and learn how to take care of ourselves.

For example, I learned many years ago that I don’t deal well with chaos. It makes me nervous to spend a lot of time in an environment that is loud or uncontrolled. Since my husband and I have five children, I can’t completely avoid those situations.

However, I’ve learned that if I take a time-out for myself when we have large groups of kids at the house and let my husband be in charge for awhile, I can regroup and come back to the interaction refreshed. I want our kids to be comfortable having their friends over, so I’ve learned how to cope with my limitations.

I’ve also learned that I have less patience with my stepson and his ideas of post-college life than I do my stepdaughter’s quest for mature decision-making about her future. I’ve learned that my husband can guide my stepson better without the judgment and lack of understanding I experience. It’s more natural for me to spend my emotional energy influencing my stepdaughter regarding her long-term relationship or my biological girls with their current struggles.

As stepparents, we make constant sacrifices for our stepchildren and may see few rewards, particularly in the beginning. If we give up too much of ourselves in order to meet the constant needs of others, we will wind up frustrated or resentful. It’s our responsibility as stepparents to determine what we must do to take care of ourselves adequately.

I like the way Sue Thoele discusses boundaries in The Courage to be a Stepmom:. “With practice and commitment, taking care of ourselves and setting self-nurturing limits can become second nature. Cultivating the ability to say “no” to unreasonable responsibilities and expectations makes it easier for us to say “yes” to love and laughter.”

Do you need to practice saying “no” this week?

Related Posts:

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent: Part One

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent: Part Two