Learning to Accept the Things You Cannot Change

“Mom I have mono. The doctor thinks I’ve had it six or seven weeks. He says I might need to quit my job so I can finish out the school semester while trying to get well.”

My daughter’s words were distressing. A 21-year-old college student living in another state, I knew she had been sick but never guessed it could be mono. I felt powerless as to how I could help.

A few days later I received another call from my 21-year-old stepson, also a college student living out of state. “Gayla, I have bronchitis. The doctor put me on an antibiotic but says I need to take a few days off work and get plenty of rest.”

Again the feeling of helplessness came over me. Accepting my role as a mom living 250 miles from three of our children has been agonizing for me at times. But I can’t change it.

It reminds me of the years my stepdaughter and stepson lived with their mom more than 300 miles away and how helpless I felt about their circumstances. My stepson suffered from severe allergies and asthma but lived in a home with two parents who smoked. When he came to visit, we went to the doctor, refilled prescriptions, and sent instructions back home regarding the need to keep him isolated from smoke.

But the instructions were often disregarded.

I couldn’t change his circumstances. I couldn’t change the behavior that took place in their home. I could only control my reaction to it.

The stepparenting journey will inevitably bring unpleasant circumstances and difficult behavior we cannot change. Maybe it’s an ex-pouse. Perhaps it’s a rebellious teen-ager. Or it could be an unforeseen circumstance that disrupts your home, like my husband’s job loss that resulted in an unwanted re-location.

Regardless of the situation, we find peace when we accept what we cannot change, and choose to focus on our reaction and ability  to change what’s within our power.

I’m not saying it’s easy. I’ve had my share of pity-parties when I’ve cried out to the Lord about living so far from our children. I’ve pleaded and bargained with Him to change our circumstances.

But I don’t find peace there. I don’t find answers to my struggles. I find discontentment and hopelessness.

I find peace only when I go back to the Serenity Prayer and sincerely pray:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,                                                                                                             Courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.”

What about you? Are you trying to change a circumstance you need to accept? Or have you found peace through acceptance? I’d love to hear from you.

Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Creating Healthy Boundaries with your Ex-Spouse

Coping with Stepfamily Drama

Coping with  Stepfamily Drama Part Two

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

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

Do you find yourself comparing the growth of your stepfamily to your neighbor’s next door? Do you talk to your stepmom friend at work and wonder why her stepfamily seems to be having such smooth sailing while your family is stuck in the muck?

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

My husband always calls our family “remedial blenders.” Our relationships didn’t come together within the first five to seven years of marriage as stepfamily research suggests. In fact, some of our toughest years as a family were seven to ten years after our marriage.

Does that mean we were doing everything wrong, slowing the progress of our family blending? Certainly my husband and I made our share of mistakes as stepparents, but we also had some challenging variables to contend with that influenced the relationships in our family.

One of the biggest factors that determines how well a family unites is whether the ex-spouse allows his/her children the freedom to embrace a relationship with the stepparent. His/her attitude toward the stepparent can greatly influence the child’s ability to accept and love a new stepparent.

Unfortunately, as a stepparent, you have no control over what happens in the other home that influences the relationships in your home. I clearly remember the half-hearted hugs and stand-offish behavior I received every time my stepchildren returned from their mother’s home. I always wondered what kind of conversation went on about me while they were gone. I’m sure it was best I didn’t know.

Because my stepdaughter was ten when we married, her age also influenced our ability to bond. I didn’t understand when she began pulling away from the family as she progressed through adolescence but it was part of her growing-up process, a time of buiding her own identity separate from the family, that naturally takes place during the teen-age years.

Stepfamily research also suggests that the hardest relationship to develop is the stepmom/stepdaughter one. Instead of blaming myself for our prickly interactions, I would have done better to accept the fact that some of our challenges were simply intertwined in our tendency as two females in the same household to butt heads. When my oldest biological daughter traversed through the teen years, we encountered some of the same tensions.

It was also normal for my stepdaughter to desire a stronger relationship with her biological mother, leaving me in a dispensable role. Because of her natural bond with her mother, she couldn’t naturally bond with me.

After my husband and I were married eight years, we learned my stepchildren’s mother had colon cancer. My stepchildren stood by helplessly the next year, watching their mother slowly digress, then pass away. The pain of her loss left raw emotions they didn’t know what to do with, negatively impacting our stepfamily relationships.

So I no longer carry the responsibility for the remedial blending that occurred in our family. We could have never predicted nor controlled the circumstances that occurred. But we could control our reaction to them and our commitment to press forward, despite the odds.

What about your family? Were you hoping for smooth sailing as your relationships came together? Do you wonder why your family doesn’t look like the stepfamily next door that seems to be having an easier time? Don’t compare. It’s dangerous.

Those who have the easiest time as a stepfamily never appreciate the value of their relationships because they didn’t have to work for them.

If your family takes longer than you desire to unite, don’t despair. Celebrate the victories along the way. Affirm the value of what you’re creating. And be thankful for the challenges. Because you’ll always know it would have been easier to quit.

But you didn’t.

Can you recognize the uniqueness in your  circumstances that influence your relationships? Will you share how you cope with it?

Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Coping with Loss in a Stepfamily

Stepfamily Trap: Denying our Feelings

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Do You Feel Like an Outsider as a Stepparent?

Tears rolled down my face as I left Bible study. In an unfamiliar church, surrounded by strangers, I missed my life from our prior community we had been forced to leave.  I began to question if I would ever belong again. I felt like an outsider everywhere I went.

Fast forward eight months and I’m slowly beginning to feel a sense of belonging in our new town. I still see unfamiliar faces everywhere I go but sometimes I see someone I know who says hello. Occasionally I have a friend ask me to lunch. And most of the time I know how to find my way around in our new town.

I recall those feelings as an outsider during the first decade of our marriage. Every time my husband’s kids began talking about prior experiences I wasn’t part of, I felt like an outsider. When they cracked inside jokes among themselves, I felt like an outsider. And when I wasn’t readily accepted into their circle, I felt like an outsider.

It’s not uncommon for stepparents to feel like outsiders. Sometimes it gets better with time but sometimes it doesn’t. You can only control one piece of the puzzle that determines whether you will become an insider. Your stepchildren control the rest.

You can do your part to become a part of your stepchildren’s lives, but they ultimately decide whether they will let you in or not. It may seem unfair, but unfortunately, it’s reality.

In my Bible study group, the ladies welcomed me as an outsider with open arms. They wanted me to feel part of their group. They weren’t threatened by my being there. It didn’t affect their relationships with other members of the group if they also developed a relationship with me. There was plenty of love to go around. As a result, I now feel like an insider.

Becoming an insider as a stepparent is vastly different. Our stepchildren don’t usually welcome us with open arms. Particularly if they have two active biological parents, they aren’t looking for another parent. A loving relationship with us often threatens the relationship they have in their other home. As stepparents, we are expendable.

How do you cope with that?

On days you’re feeling like an outsider in your home, you embrace the relationships where you know you’re an insider. I am an insider as part of the couple relationship with my husband. I will always be an insider with my biological children. As a Christian, I’m an insider as part of God’s family. I’m an insider in my profession as a writer. And I’m an insider with my dear friends who know me intimately, and still love me.

You can also pray that your stepchildren will grow to love you and accept you as an insider. But if they don’t, it’s okay. I know you have insider circles that will help navigate your path through the outsider relationships at home.

How about you? Are you feeling like an outsider? Has your insider status improved since the beginning of your marriage? I would love to hear about it.

Other Posts You Might Like:

What is our Role as a Stepparent?

Will You Embrace the Opportunity for Grace with Your Stepchild?

Somedays It’s All About Perspective

“The toilet’s overflowing Mom!” My son’s words echoed down the hall from my room. I walked into the bathroom to a small stream of water running onto the floor. My son was holding a plunger, prepared for action. But as we watched, the water began to subside and we decided to flush. That was a mistake!

                                                  flickr

Water poured over the toilet lid, out the bathroom and down the hall. I couldn’t stop the gushing water! I  began plunging furiously, water spilling out on all sides. Thankfully, the clog was quickly relieved and  water began moving in the other direction – down the toilet!

As the clean up effort began, my son and I both lost track time of time (my husband was already at work). Before we realized it, the clock reminded us we were running late. As I drove my son to school, I knew he would be tardy.

I reflected on my week as I drove home with a heavy heart and deflated spirit.  Just days before I had learned one of the few friends I have in our new town was moving soon. That same day I dealt with our leaking swimming pool that had an unknown source and was requiring water every other day to keep it full. I began thinking about the tuition bills piled on my desk for a new semester with our three college kids. My spirit began spiraling to match the dreariness of the weather.

When I arrived home I read a prayer request from my aunt concerning a custody battle her son is enduring with his two daughters. Her son’s heart is broken as he’s restricted from being a part of his children’s lives. It’s a bitter battle with little hope of a fair judgment.

It prompted me to be thankful for the part I get to play in my children and stepchildren’s lives. Our relationships aren’t perfect and our family interactions aren’t always harmonious, but I’m thankful for the role I have. We’ve been down the custody battle road, and I’m thankful we’re not there today.

With four children living outside our home as young adults, I don’t know all that is happening every day. But I do know if they need something, they will call. Somedays it’s a shoulder to cry on, somedays it’s an opinion on a pressing issue, somedays it’s a little extra money to get by until their next paycheck. But today, I’m thankful for unrestricted visitation and communication with our children.

Life is hard. Life is stressful. But, somedays it’s all about perspective. Now please excuse me while I go wash towels.

How is Your Perspective? Does it Need an Overhaul Today?

Related Posts:

You Don’t Have to be Super Stepmom

When Stepparenting Isn’t What You Expected

Are You Prepared for the Unexpected this Holiday?

 “I took a fall tonight and I’m at the hospital. I’ll be okay but I need you to pick me up when you get to town. Please hurry – I don’t know if my house is secure because the paramedic broke the window to get in.”

Those were the words spoken to my husband this past week-end as we were driving to Austin, TX for a visit with his mom and step-dad. We knew his step-dad had been in the hospital for several days due to complications from his diabetes but we were shocked to hear the news from his mom, and concerned about the urgency of the situation. But once we heard the story, we spoke with her about being prepared for an unexpected event in the future.

When my mother-in-law fell she was home alone. She hit the floor hard and couldn’t get up but managed to reach a nearby phone. However, when the ambulance came to pick her up, she couldn’t get to the front door and the paramedics had to break a window to enter the house. It was an added stress to the situation that could have been prevented if there had been an extra key hidden outside, as the paramedics requested in case of another unexpected accident.

We can’t always anticipate what kind of events are going to invade our home at the holidays, particularly in a stepfamily. But we can prepare ourselves for unexpected events by managing our expectations throughout the season. Here’s a snippet of what we included in our new e-book, “Thriving at the Holidays: A Stepparent’s Guide to Success:”  in regards to expectations.

“At the holidays, we manage our lists, our schedules and our budgets. Yet the most important items to manage during the holiday season are our expectations! As stepparents, we are committed to our families and because we want to give our blended family the gift of a joyous and peaceful holiday, we often take it upon ourselves to bring that joy and peace.

While holidays seem like the perfect opportunity to show your stepkids how much you care about them, this time of year can easily become a source of disappointment and frustration. The problem lies in the fact that we have little-to-no control over those around us. When we attach expectations to those in our stepfamily with whom we have little to no influence over, we set ourselves up for potential heartache.

…Whatever expectations you allow to enter your head also enter your heart and your home. It is important to manage expectations so they don’t manage us.”

How do you manage your expectations during the holidays? Will you share what works for you?

Related Posts:

Holiday Tip: Accept What You Cannot Change

Holiday Tip: Take Care of the Small Stuff