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.

ID-10053020

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

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

 

 

 

 

Are you Willing To Go the Distance as a Stepparent?

My husband, Randy, and I leave tomorrow to travel to Little Rock to run the Little Rock marathon on Sunday. The picture below is after last year’s race – Randy is on the left.

Randy posted a faster time last year than his previous four marathon events. On our way home from LR, we talked about how he improved his time. Many of his training methods relate to similar strategies we can use as stepparents.

1. If it isn’t working, try something different. Randy had struggled with leg cramps toward the end of each previous marathon race. This time, he sought help from a specialty running store and used some magnesium tablets that seem to have prevented the cramps, allowing him to decrease his walk breaks at the end of the race.

If you’re struggling in a particular area of your stepparenting role and don’t know a solution, it may be time to seek help. Find a pastor, trusted friend or counselor who is familiar with stepfamily dynamics to confide in and seek advice. Check out coaching/counseling options that are offered through stepfamily sites (including mine here).

2.  Be willing to invest a lot of time. Preparing to run 26.2 miles in a marathon is not an easy feat. The training schedule involves 18-22 weeks of strenuous running, along with other cross training workouts. Attempting to run a marathon without the training leads to failure.

Successful stepparenting also involves a lot of time. Stepping into your stepchild’s life and expecting an instant relationship only leads to disappointment. Be willing to spend time getting to know your stepchild, understanding his likes/dislikes, and finding common ground on which to build a relationship.

3. Expect setbacks along the way. Long distance training often leads to injury. The workouts are hard and your body begins to break down. An unexpected weakness shows up through a muscle strain, bone fracture, or ligament tear. With adequate rest and therapy, injuries heal and the training can begin again.

Stepparents can also expect setbacks. A difficult ex-spouse, rebellious teen-ager, or unexpected conflict can lead to setback. It may take months or years to work through a difficult phase, but progress can always begin again if you don’t give up.

4. The biggest prize comes at the end but there are rewards along the journey. The medal earned for completing a marathon is placed around the runner’s neck as he crosses the finish line. However, a sense of pride and satisfaction is enjoyed throughout the training period as a runner sets and reaches goals he never dreamed possible.

The greatest reward for successful stepparenting is experienced as stepchildren leave home, appreciative of strong relationships they share with one another. However, stepparenting also has rewards throughout the journey as bonding occurs and love for one another develops.

Successful stepparenting, like marathon training, has rewards worth seeking. But the journey to the finish line can also be cherished when you choose to keep going the distance, even when it’s not easy.

How do you keep going as a stepparent when the road gets tough? Will you share? 

Related Posts:

There’s Beauty After the Pain

It’s Always Too Early to Quit

When Stepparenting Feels Too Hard – Four Ways to Overcome Discouragement

Do you have days when you want to call it quits on your stepparenting efforts? Days when it seems that no matter how hard you try, the results are not what you want?

I had one of those days recently. The challenges were not all related to stepparenting, but some were, and by the end of the day, I was not in a good place emotionally or spiritually. So, I began to consider what to do to change my negative thinking pattern. Here are some ideas that surfaced:

1. Remember that “this too will pass.” Circumstances change, relationships change, and living arrangements change. If you’re having a bad day with a stepchild, remember, he/she will eventually grow up and leave home. We had four children living at home 15 months ago and we now have one. Change is one thing we can count on, but it often brings positive results.

2.Work through difficult feelings with a friend. Allow yourself to be vulnerable with another person and consider your part in the situation. Find support through a prayer group or Bible study. But, if you cannot get past feelings of anger, rejection,or self-pity, you may need to consider stepfamily coaching  or other professional help.

3. Make an intentional effort to stay positive.  In his book, The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale says, “Take charge of your thoughts. You can do what you will with them.” We can choose to think positively about our stepchild who is pushing our buttons and constructively work through conflict, or we can ruminate negatively about his/her shortcomings and create a tension-filled home. Our behavior is the result of our thoughts.

4. Find hope in the Lord. Look to the one true Source for help. Hope in the Lord brings strength, perseverance, and encouragement. Psalms 62:5-8 says, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

Have you had a difficult day recently on your stepparenting journey? Can you offer other suggestions?

Related Posts:

When Stepparenting Isn’t What You Expected

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Coping with Stepfamily Storms

 

Stepfamily Trap: The Danger of Denying Your Feelings

“I thought I would naturally love my stepchildren as my own but the feelings are not there,” my friend, stepmother of two said. “I tried to deny my feelings for a long time, but I’m finally accepting them for what they are.”

Denying our feelings puts off what should be faced. It’s okay if you don’t feel love toward your stepchildren all the time. You might develop more loving feelings as your relationship develops, but you might not.

If we’re really honest, we must admit that some stepchildren are easier to love than others. In her book, Stepmonster, Dr. Wednesday Martin paints a painful, but realistic, picture of how some stepchildren behave. “Our stepchildren do, in fact, frequently try to exclude us. They do things — consciously or unconsciously — that make us feel overlooked, left out, unappreciated. They send subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle signals that they wish we simply didn’t exist, that they’d like to erase us from the picture, or from the message on the answering machine.”

Dr. Martin goes on to tell a story “of a woman who was not invited to her stepdaughter’s wedding, after nearly two decades of marriage to the young woman’s father, ‘because it will be too difficult for Mom.’ Her husband told his daughter that they would attend together or not at all, but the stepmother never really recovered from her hurt and, not surprisingly, ceased making efforts with her stepdaughter for a long time.”

Hopefully, your stepchildren have not been that cruel to you. But, if you’ve been a stepparent long, I would guess you’ve been hurt more than once by your stepchild. That doesn’t make it okay to stoop to his/her level and react with similar behavior, but it is okay to acknowledge how those actions affect your feelings.

I learned early in our marriage that I would need God’s help to love my stepchildren unconditionally. It’s not easy and I don’t get it right all the time, but as I pray for God to soften my heart toward my stepchildren, I’m able to offer them my love and forgiveness. In our early years of marriage there were days I felt my stepchildren didn’t deserve another chance, but then I was reminded that I don’t deserve the love and grace God offers me either.

Feelings are not facts. They will change as your relationships develop. It’s okay to admit to feelings of hurt, anger, and disappointment in your stepparenting role. Just don’t get stuck there. Work through your feelings with a friend, a minister, or your spouse. Or seek professional counseling if you need help identifying your feelings and coping with them.

We can’t allow our feelings to control us. But we can seek to uncover their roots and deal with them appropriately.

What feelings are you burying, in hopes they will simply go away?

Creating a Stable Stepfamily: Get Professional Help When You Need It


If you follow national news, you’ve probably seen the story of the stepfamily in Oregon that has been missing their seven-year-old son for more than three weeks.

The father of the boy has now filed for divorce from his wife, the stepmom, and it appears she may be a suspect in the case. The father has also removed the 18-month-old child they share together from the home, and filed for sole custody.

Overwhelmed stepparents face challenges every day that require more mental and emotional strength then they possess. Stepparenting is not an easy role. But there is help out there for those who want it.

My husband and I sought counseling within six months of our marriage. Blending four children proved more difficult then we imagined and we quickly realized we needed help. We worked with a wonderful counselor who understood stepfamily dynamics and guided us toward healthy development in our stepfamily roles. The counseling we received at that time probably saved our marriage.

In seeking a counselor, I strongly recommend you inquire about his/her training with stepfamilies. If counselors try to counsel stepfamilies the same way they counsel traditional families, it does not work! It’s important to work with someone who understands stepfamily dynamics.

It also helps to ask others in your community about counselors they recommend. Unfortunately, there are too many incapable counselors who can do more harm than good. Finding a good counselor is worth the time and effort it takes.

If you recognize that your family needs help, don’t wait to find it. There are precious children at stake who deserve the chance to be raised in a healthy home.

Do you need help coping with your stepfamily challenges?