Coping with Unexpected Challenges on Your Stepfamily Journey

I sat by my phone anxiously, watching every text that came across. My niece was having a baby, and I wanted to know the details. Was it a boy or a girl?  What was the name? How big? How was my niece doing?

ID-100396479So many questions. The answers were slow to come. And then a revelation no one expected.

The baby was delivered, and all seemed to be fine. A beautiful baby girl. Eleanor Joy. My niece was doing great.

But without warning, another text crossed my screen. Something wasn’t right. A diagnosis no one suspected had surfaced.

Beautiful Eleanor Joy had Down Syndrome. The doctor was certain of it.

I shuddered as I reread the text. No! It can’t be! I thought. The extensive ultrasounds. The routine prenatal visits. How was it never discovered? How will my niece and her husband cope with this unexpected turn?

Questions without answers. They dominate life. How do you handle them?

In our stepfamily journey, we had an unexpected turn eight years into our marriage. We had moved past the hard transitions, and our family was beginning to enjoy more peaceful relationships. Our four children could sit at the dinner table without fighting (on occasion!)  and hope was on the horizon.

But the call from my husband’s ex-wife with unexpected news shook our family to the core. She had colon cancer—late stage. Read more

Experiencing Peace in Your Stepfamily Holiday

The countdown to Christmas is upon us. How are you doing? Are you surviving the hustle bustle or  looking for ways to flee from the chaos?

ID-100216742Blended families have unique challenges that make holidays complicated and often stressful.

But we don’t have to give into the chaos.

We can savor the moments of joy and remember the Reason for the season.

We can make an intentional choice to focus on the positive when negative happenings occur or conflict erupts.

After 20 years of blended family holidays, I could give a list of 20 tips to help you find peace amidst the chaos. But I’m going to give only one.

Manage your expectations.

I know—it seems too simple.

But… it’s often the root of conflict and disappointment through the holidays.

Are you struggling with expectations? Cleveland Clinic suggests you write down your expectations to help determine whether they’re realistic and what feelings are hidden behind them. Look for potential stressors tied to each one and what you can do to alleviate uncomfortable feelings surrounding the expectation.

Here’s an example:

Spend meaningful time with my stepchildren during the holiday break.

Is this realistic? Are your stepchildren teenagers who focus more on themselves than others? What constitutes meaningful?

A more realistic expectation might be: Look for ways to have conversations with my stepchildren in a relaxed setting.

This expectation can be achieved in most every home and builds relationships in the process. Instead of an elaborate expectation, you strive for an attainable goal.

And the end result is peace and contentment.

Now it’s your turn. What expectation is creating angst for you? How will you redefine it to lessen the stress you feel surrounding it?

Will you share it with us? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

For a dose of encouragement every day, pick up a copy of our stepmom devotional, Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. 

Pic by vectorolie







How to Celebrate Mother’s Day as a Stepmom

If there’s one holiday that stepmoms would rather not celebrate, it’s Mother’s Day. It can be a hard day because we’re reminded of the time and energy we invest in our stepchildren’s lives with little or no reward. And if our stepchildren do try to show their appreciation, it’s often an awkward and insincere effort, usually prodded by their father.

So what’s a stepmom to do? Do we create expectations of what our stepchildren should do for us? Do we allow the biological mom to get all the attention for the day? Do we insist that honor be bestowed upon us?

If you play an active role as a stepmom, you deserve some recognition for your efforts. That doesn’t mean you’ll get it from your stepchildren. Some children feel it dishonors their mom to show appreciation to their stepmom on Mother’s Day, particularly if their mom invalidates or competes with the stepmom’s role. However, there’s nothing wrong with asking your spouse to honor and acknowledge you for your ongoing efforts with his children.

I’ve learned to enjoy Mother’s Day with no expectations from my stepchildren. If they offer me a gift or choose to honor me in some way, I’m thrilled. But even if they don’t, I remind myself it’s a privilege to take part in shaping another child’s life and affirm myself for what I offer. I know my husband appreciates the role I play and we will celebrate the day together.

Some stepchildren love to recognize their stepmom on this special day and will make a sincere effort to let you know how much you mean to them. A host of variables play into how a stepchild reacts on Mother’s Day. The length of the marriage, the age of your stepchildren, the biological mom’s behavior, and the environment in your home contribute to your stepchild’s behavior. If your stepchildren honor you, embrace the offering. But if they choose not to, don’t take it personally.

Here are a few suggestions to help you enjoy the day, regardless of what your stepchildren do. Pick one or two, or construct one of your own, to create a day that will leave you feeling special for the valuable role you offer your stepfamily.

1. Spend Saturday night at a Bed and Breakfast and wake up Sunday morning to a scrumptious breakfast prepared for you. Re-connect with your spouse as you reminiscence and celebrate the good things happening in your stepfamily.

2. Find another stepmom who’s having a difficult time and spend the afternoon with her. Encourage her efforts and talk through her challenges. Laugh together and affirm one another. Find positive ways to offer your support on an ongoing basis.

3. Abandon your house and spend the day at a nearby lake, beach, bike path or hiking trail. Absorb the beauty of nature while you count your blessings in your life. Set goals with your spouse that will help you become more connected in your stepfamily such as regular game nights, stepmom-stepdaughter shopping dates, or movie nights as a family.

4. Attend your favorite church or place of worship wearing a beautiful corsage, signifying the important role you play as a stepmom. Take pride in participating in your stepchildren’s lives as an additional parent.

5. Give yourself the gift of relaxation with a good book, time at the movies or a day at the spa with a girlfriend. Eat at your favorite restaurant and tell your family you’ll be taking the day off from chores. Pamper yourself in whatever way feels special to you.

Mother’s Day doesn’t have to be a difficult day for stepmoms. If you create expectations of how you want your stepchildren to honor you, it will result in disappointment. But if you choose to create your own special day, you’ll make memories that leave you feeling blessed to be a stepmom. So go ahead – plan your own celebration! You deserve it!

How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? Leave a comment – I’d love to know!

If your spouse is looking for a gift idea for you, suggest a ticket to our next stepmom retreat! We’ll be in Asheville, North Carolina September 26-28th. Come join us! Details here:

Pic By Iamnee



How to Make Your Second Wedding Something Your Kids Will Enjoy

Holly RobisonI’m including a guest post today from Holly Robinson, author of a new novel that comes out today, April 1st — Beach Plum Island. As a mom and stepmom herself, Holly offers some great tips on making your second wedding a success with the kids.

Leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for Holly’s new book, an engaging novel with stepfamily dynamics and a compelling story line. (see details below)

“How to Make Your Second Wedding Something Your Kids Will Enjoy” By Holly Robinson

When I became engaged to my second husband, I was excited about planning our wedding.  There was just one catch:  with four young children between us—a  boy and a girl from each side—I had no idea what that wedding should look like.  This marriage would grant me the title of “stepmother,” so I was faced with the thorny public relations nightmare of stepmothers everywhere.  To my stepchildren, I was the reason why their father no longer lived with their mother.  And my own children saw my remarriage as a hostile act, as if I’d cranked up the drawbridge with their dad stranded on the other side of the moat.

Our wedding seemed like a logical place to begin creating the loving bonds that we’d need to sustain us as our two families began learning to live in harmony.  My first marriage had been all about tradition:  I wore a white dress, we held the reception in an elegant inn, and my husband and I left immediately for a Cape Cod honeymoon.  What had I learned from that experience?  A traditional wedding, no matter how much it makes you feel like Cinderella, doesn’t guarantee that you will live happily-ever-after.  This time, I wanted to design a wedding that spoke volumes about the love I felt not only for my husband-to-be, but for our children, ages 6, 7, 8 and 9.  This meant putting together a ceremony that would mean something to the kids, too.  Here’s what worked for us:

Plan Your Wedding as a Family

Make the wedding a family activity.  Our two daughters had strong opinions about everything from what dress I should wear to what the invitations should look like, and our sons were brilliant when it came to thinking of things to do during what they insisted on calling “the wedding party” instead of a reception.  Within reason, we let them have their say.

Keep the Reception Casual

Even if the wedding is in a church, with children in tow you’re not going to want a formal reception.  Outdoor weddings are perfect for kids.  We held ours in the back yard with a caterer and a DJ.  A friend took the photographs.  If your yard isn’t big enough, arrange the reception at a local park or beach. 

Invite Only Close Friends and Relatives—and Their Kids

Our wedding list eventually was made up of under 100 guests—our closest friends and relatives, plus their children.  This meant that over half of the guests were under twelve.  Chaos alert!  But then our sons had the brilliant idea of giving the kids their own separate food table.  This saved our budget as well as our sanity:  we catered high-end food for the adults, but kid-friendly food like macaroni and cheese, plates of fresh fruit, and cupcakes, too.

Provide Babysitters or Entertainment

It’s essential to have child wranglers available at the reception so you and the other adults can enjoy yourselves.  We hired two teenagers to corral our children and their friends into line dancing and games.  We also hired a pair of clowns to do face painting and magic tricks for an hour at the reception. 

Don’t Leave on Your Honeymoon Right Away

As much as your children might enjoy themselves at the wedding, they will probably be anxious afterward.  If you can put off your honeymoon even for a couple of days, it will help normalize things for them.  We spent our wedding night at a local hotel while my mother stayed with the children.  The next morning, we were back early to give everyone breakfast, including relatives from out of town.  And that was the best moment for me of all, really:  knowing that we were going to sit down as husband and wife, surrounded by family as our new lives began.

Bio: Holly Robinson is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Open Salon and Parents. Her new novel,  BEACH PLUM ISLAND, is Holly Robinson at her best, a story about family, love and buried secrets.

Holly's bookLeave a comment to be entered into a drawing for her new book!



Why Stepmom Sisterhood is Invaluable

My oldest daughter left for Mozambique, South Africa in May of this year, just a few days after completing her teaching degree.  At 23 years old, she wanted to explore a long-term missions opportunity before she committed to a teaching job back home. She will be there through the holidays this year.

I knew that’s where her heart was and would not consider keeping her from going, but I miss her greatly. Before she left we lived across state lines, so I was used to not seeing her every week but I talked to her regularly. Without a phone in Africa, our only means of communicating is through Skype or Facebook.

When I talk to other moms about how it feels to have your young adult child in another country, they don’t “get” it. Even those who have children across several states don’t understand how it feels to not be able to pick up the phone and reach them or know you can hop a plane and see them the same day. I find myself jealous when I see pictures of moms and their young adult children spending time together. I feel isolated in my world as a Mom with a child in another country. Some days, I would love to talk to another mom who understands it.

I think that’s what happens to us as stepmoms. We live a life that others can’t understand unless they’ve walked the journey. Moms have no idea what it feels like to have the parental responsibility of a stepmom with very little authority. They try to relate and equate their feelings as a mom but they just don’t “get” it. Others don’t understand the loneliness and isolation that accompanies the stepmom journey.

The value of stepmom sisterhood should not be underestimated. If you don’t have stepmom friends, I encourage you to find some. That was part of the purpose of our stepmom retreat and I love seeing how ladies continue to connect with each other via social media since returning home. If you can’t find local stepmoms, reach out to a stepmom group online. There’s a great group of Twitter stepmoms who share their struggles and encourage one another.  If you’re looking for online groups, however, be careful to only associate with those who are trying to support each other and solve their stepparenting challenges, not create drama and bash the exes.

Ron Deal, blended family director of FamilyLife, is compiling a list of stepfamily groups who are meeting locally in churches throughout the US. I’ll have access to that list when he posts and will share it. My husband and I joined a stepfamily group early in our marriage that helped us understand stepfamily dynamics and find answers to our stepfamily challenges. I’m forever grateful to that group for rescuing a wounded marriage.

How about you? Where are you finding support for your stepmom journey? Don’t do it alone. Start your own group if you need to. But don’t neglect  stepmom sisterhood. It might be the one thing that keeps you sane!

Where do you find stepmom support? I’d love to hear about it!

Loving Your Stepchild Won’t Happen Naturally

If you’ve been married or living with a stepchild longer than six months, I’m sure you recognize the truth in this statement. As much as I wish it to be true, loving a stepchild doesn’t happen naturally.

I talk to stepparents every day and I hear stories of how everybody got along so well until they married or began living together. Then relationships began to change.

It’s not uncommon for a stepparent to begin a stronger role as a parent when stepkids are living in the home, often creating friction in the relationship. And naturally, there’s no hiding who we really are with one another when we live together. Suddenly we begin to see a different side of our stepchild.

What do you do if you feel less than loving toward your stepchild? Don’t panic. And don’t berate yourself for it either. It’s natural.

Give yourself permission to grow a relationship with your stepchild over time. Don’t put expectations around the relationship or define what it’s supposed to look like. Your relationship with your stepchild is YOUR relationship. Don’t compare it to someone else’s or feel guilty for your feelings. Loving a stepchild takes time and effort.

If you’re doing your part to reach out to your stepchild and bond through relationship-building behavior, then accept whatever stage the relationship is at. Some days you might feel love for your stepchild and the next day feel not-so-loving 🙂 But time is on your side and as you build experiences and memories together, love follows.

It may never be the same type of love you have for a biological child. And depending on other variables (age of child, influence of other bio-parent, etc.) there might a degree of distance that you can’t change. But don’t give up. Continue to do your part to grow a loving relationship with your stepchild.

The rewards of stepparenting don’t appear early in the journey. But they’re far more rewarding down the road because you know you earned those rewards–they didn’t happen naturally just as a love for your stepchild won’t happen naturally. But it can happen!

Cherish your relationship today. Not the relationship you wish it were or the relationship you expect it to be next year. Where are you at today? It’s okay if it’s not perfect. Acceptance is the first key to change.

And if you want to grow a deeper love for your stepchildren, accept them for who they are and offer grace more freely for their shortcomings, expecting nothing in return. I know it’s  not easy but you’ll be blessed in the process!

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  Galatians 6:9

Other thoughts on learning to love your stepchildren? I’d love to hear them!

Pic by Stuart Miles