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.

Sisterhood of Stepmoms Retreat

Why Attend a Sisterhood of Stepmom Retreat?

Sisterhood of Stepmoms (SOS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping any woman dating, engaged or married to a man with kids find help, hope, and healing. We walk alongside women to offer answers to the challenges that accompany the journey.

Our SOS team is making plans for our 4th annual retreat at the Dallas Cooper Hotel and Spa September 22-23, 2017. We have some wonderful speakers joining us and will have workshops on topics that include:

      • The Ex-Wife: How to Cope with a Difficult Relationship
      • Parental Alienation Syndrome
      • What About the Kids:  The Effects of Loss
      • What Healthy Boundary Setting Looks Like
      • When You Want a Baby of Your Own
      • The Full-Time Stepmom
      • First Aid Kit for Your Marriage
      • Adult Stepchildren
      • Your Emotions Don’t Define You
      • And More!

 

Here are a few comments from women who have attended our retreats in the past:

“It meant the world—meeting the other stepmoms was life-saving!”

“I have felt so alone but this gave me tools to use to better the environment in my home.”

“It is priceless to know women who understand your heart and your hurt.”

“The stepmom retreat experience means hope to me.”

I hope you’ll consider joining us! You’ll find all the details at Sisterhood of Stepmoms. 

I’d love to meet you there!

Stepparenting: Nine Tips to Help You Rise Above the Daily Grind

9 Tips for Rising Above the Stepparenting Daily Grind by Gayla Grace

A knot formed in my stomach as I watched my son, a high school soccer player, clutch his chest and bend over, gasping for air. Mouth wide open, he stood almost lifeless. I knew what was happening.

Asthma had struck again.

Play on the field continued; no one noticed Nathan was barely breathing. My lips quivered as tears welled in my eyes. “Take a knee, son. Flag for help,” I hollered. My heart began to race. I knew the danger of the scene.

His hand went up. Finally, the referee saw him. Nathan started walking off the field and straight to his bag. I watched every movement as he pulled out his rescue inhaler and put it to his mouth. Breathing the medicine into his lungs, I exhaled a sigh of relief. The immediate crisis was over.

Walking to the car after the game, Nathan said, “I hate asthma.” Although he works hard to take every step his doctor instructs, the daily grind of asthma won out that day. The cold winter air, the back-to-back tournament games, the overexertion on the soccer field—it was more than his body could take.

The same happens with stepparenting. We try to do everything right as we manage the challenges that come our way. But sometimes it’s not enough. Stepparenting continues to be a struggle, even after 4, 8, or 15 years together. Some things get easier, but some things don’t.

How do you keep moving forward when you’re tired of the daily grind of stepparenting?

 

Here are a few suggestions.

  1.  Don’t assume responsibility for your stepchildren’s behavior.

Freedom comes when we recognize we can do our part to encourage good decision-making, healthy friendships, and mature behavior, but there are other influences—that we can’t control—that also play a role. Don’t take responsibility for your stepchildren’s poor choices.

  1. Steer clear of negative people – including other stepparents who choose negative thinking.

Find solutions to your challenges instead of complaining about them. Look for out-of-the-box answers. Don’t give up when the outlook seems distressing. There are always new tomorrows but we must commit to start again, try new solutions, and avoid dismal thinking.

  1. Cherish the good days and on hard days, remember “this too will pass.”

Life is hard, whether you reside in a stepfamily or not. Even after 22 years as a stepparent, I have days when I’m frustrated with my stepchildren’s choices or angry with my husband’s decisions regarding them. But we have a lot of good days together as a family. Those are the days I choose to focus on and let go of the hard ones.

  1. Spend time away from your stepchildren.

Create your own space to retreat to for healthy self-preservation. Go to a movie by yourself. Spend the afternoon with a good book and your favorite latte. Plan a few days away with a girlfriend. Make time for You!

  1. Find a friend, minister, or counselor who will listen, without judgment or condemnation, when you feel you’re going over the edge.

You will have irrational days, no matter how long you’ve been a stepparent. Some days we just don’t cope well, or life takes a turn we don’t like. Find support to help work through your feelings.

  1. Reach out to other stepparents – find ways to support those struggling on the stepparenting journey.

We naturally take our eyes off our challenges and ourselves when we focus on others. Help another stepparent find answers to their struggles—it will likely help you with your own.

  1. Nurture your marriage.

You’ve heard me say it many times but it’s worth repeating – your stepchildren will someday leave home. Mine have both flown away and I’m thankful we didn’t neglect our marriage during the child-rearing years.

  1. Rise above your circumstances.

Create a heart of gratitude. Don’t get out of bed in the morning until you’ve listed five things you’re thankful for in your head. Do it again when you go to bed. Joy can be found in the midst of challenge, but we have to choose it.

  1. Find solace through faith.

Recognize that God knows what you’re going through and will walk though it with you if you seek Him. Meditate on Scripture. Pray. Join a Bible study. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8

If you’ve been a stepparent long, you understand the daily grind. But you don’t have to get stuck there. It’s a choice.

What other suggestions would you give to help cope with the daily grind of stepparenting?

 

 

 

Gayla Grace with Three Reasons Stepfamilies Need Traditions

Traditions – Three Reasons a Stepfamily Needs Them

 

holiday-traditions-for-gg

“Family traditions are a great way for stepfamilies to connect with one another. Family members come together and work toward a common goal in a non-threatening environment. Traditions can be as simple as making paper chains to count down the days toward Christmas (one of my kids’ favorites) or more involved such as helping serve a meal at the homeless shelter. The goal is to find activities that the family enjoys and will look forward to doing together.”

It’s been seven years since I originally penned those words. Little has changed except now the kids are older and we don’t make a paper chain. Some of the kids are now married, so we’ve adjusted our traditions to include spouses and to accommodate the schedules of these new families. Well, now that I think about it, maybe more has changed than I realized. But I still believe family traditions are one of the keys to successfully navigating the holiday season as a stepfamily.

With traditions, everyone knows what to expect and works at accommodating their schedule to allow time to participate.

There are three benefits to creating traditions.

  1. Traditions create bonds. Bonds are strengthened as the family does something together. Think of the strands of a rope. One strand by itself is weak, but when woven together with more strands, the rope becomes stronger. Creating bonds makes your stepfamily stronger.
  2. Traditions provide a means of expressing love and laughter. These emotions help protect a family from brokenness and conflict. Working for a common purpose creates a sense of loyalty to each other and the family.
  3. Traditions create special memories. Memories that will be cherished long after family members pass on. Reminiscing of times’ past with loved ones can help ease the loneliness that creeps in when celebrating the holiday without that special someone.

Traditions are important and flexibility is key to making them work in stepfamilies.

Continuing traditions already in place also helps to provide routine and predictability.  Routine during the hectic holiday time just might offer some stability to otherwise unstable emotions that seem to surface this time of year.

It’s never too late to start family traditions. They offer a sense of belonging that can help cement relationships. Bring your family together and enjoy some new traditions this year!

What are some of your family traditions?

Encouragement for the Stepparenting Journey

 Words of encouragement from Randy & Gayla

If you have trouble seeing the video, please click here.

My husband, Randy, and I recently celebrated 21 years of marriage. We’ve made it more than two decades together!

During our first year of marriage, I would have told you I wasn’t sure we would make it past year two. The challenges of blending four children together, ages 3-10, were harder than we anticipated. We did a lot of things wrong. But we did a few things right, too.

We were recently asked to share some tips and encouragement with families in our church who are walking the stepparenting road. I hope it encourages and empowers you also as you listen to what we’ve learned over 21 years as a stepfamily.

Points to remember:

  1. Be committed for the long haul.
  2. If it’s not life or death, let mercy prevail.
  3. Make the marriage relationship a priority.
  4. Manage the ex-spouse with grace and mercy.
  5. Recognize that your needs count too.
  6. Pray for wisdom…daily.
  7. Don’t take everything personally.
  8. Remember that rewards often come at the end of the journey, not the beginning.

You’ll notice at the end of the video I mention a class we’ve started here in the Shreveport area.

If you live close, we’d love to have you join us!

Do you have other tips or nuggets of encouragement? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

 

 

 

 

The Unexpected Blessings of Stepparenting

“Who will walk the girls down the aisle when they marry?” I cringed at the awkward conversation my ex-husband had started. Concerned about the relationship that had developed between my two daughters and their stepdad, Randy, my ex-husband raised the question. “We will do what the girls want to do,” Randy replied. A brilliant response, I thought. 

Fast forward ten years later. My daughter, Jodi, married this past weekend. A few months before the wedding, Jodi approached the subject with Randy. “Dad, I’d like you to walk me down the aisle. You’re the one who’s been there for me.”

Wow!

My steady-Eddie. That’s what I call my husband. Randy has walked through the good and the ugly with my two girls. Temper tantrums, sassy attitudes, adolescent meltdowns, controlling boyfriends, parking lot fender-benders, late night phone calls, teenage drama, failing grades, bad decisions, and so much more.

Randy never walked away. He wanted to. He talked about it a few times. But perseverance won out.

And now… after 20 years of stepparenting, an unexpected blessing.

Blessings of stepparenting

Well-deserved by a man who’s given unselfishly to his stepdaughters.

Not perfectly, however. Randy will be the first to tell you he’s done a lot of things wrong as a stepdad. But the girls see his heart. As young adults, they recognize his well-meaning intentions.

I know it doesn’t always happen this way. Stepfamily weddings can be awkward and less-than-joyous. If you’ve experienced that with your stepchildren, I’m sorry.

But there are blessings amidst the challenges of stepparenting.

Simple things. A smile from across the room. A request for your opinion on a sensitive issue. A light-hearted evening that includes laughter and hugs with your stepchild.

Your blessings will look different than mine. Or my husband’s. Sometimes they’re disguised and hard to find.

Expect them. Look for them.

Live in the now. Experience the joy of today. Don’t hold onto regret or I-wish-it-were-different.

Above all, let grace and mercy prevail in your home.

And you’ll find your own unexpected blessings of stepparenting.

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3, NIV).

What unexpected blessing have you experienced as a stepparent? Will you share it in the comments? I’d love to hear from you.