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.

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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

The Benefits of Conflict in Your Stepfamily

I recently returned from a week long vacation with my extended family to the mountains. It was a wonderful time of relaxing and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation surrounding us.

Beauty of God's creation

But it wasn’t a conflict-free, trouble-free vacation. They never are, are they?

As I reflected on our trip after I returned, I couldn’t help but parallel the conflict that happened in my biological family-of-origin to that of what happens in stepfamilies. I was raised in a very stable, traditional home with three sisters and two parents who did a wonderful job (not perfect) rearing their four daughters and equipping us for life.

However, we are still four imperfect 50+-year-old women who sometimes have conflict amongst ourselves.

Does that mean our family is dysfunctional? No.

Does that mean we don’t love each other? No.

Does that indicate we need to quit going on vacation together? No.

Could it be we are simply an imperfect family seeking to do life together amidst stress, difficult circumstances, and changing dynamics? Yes!

And when those variables come into play, it’s not unusual that conflict follows. You see,  our family is facing the undeniable reality that my mom’s dementia is progressing much quicker than any of us want to admit. And it’s having far-reaching effects with all of us.

Stress, difficult circumstances, changing dynamics, … and as a result, conflict.

I would venture to guess it’s no different than what’s happening in your stepfamily.  What difficult circumstance are you facing? How is change affecting your family? What is the biggest stressor you’re dealing with right now? Is it creating conflict?

The good news is: conflict isn’t all bad. Conflict is an indicator that something needs to change. And it’s usually a direct result of someone speaking up in regards to something they’re unhappy about.

So, conflict in your stepfamily uncovers someone’s need to address an issue that might need to change for the benefit of the family.

Without conflict, we ignore or internalize what we’re unhappy about and it never changes. And when we internalize our issues instead of addressing them, we create other problems for ourselves that will  show up later such as a volcano of anger that spews, underlying frustration with your family, an ulcer, high blood pressure, and a host of other physical issues.

What’s important with conflict is how we handle it. I’ve addressed this issue before at Tips to Help if You’re Experiencing Conflict in Your Family and Resolve Conflict as it Occurs and several other blog posts. If you struggle with resolving conflict properly, I hope you’ll take time to educate yourself on this very important topic. I wrote a complete article on it, “Fighting Fair: 12 Tips to Help You Manage Conflict and Strengthen Your Stepfamily,” for Stepmom Magazine that can be found here. 

Use conflict in a healthy manner to solve problematic issues in your stepfamily. Don’t skirt around it or ignore it. Address it! (Properly please). And then bask in the beauty of resolve.

Can you share the benefits of conflict resolution you’ve experienced in your stepfamily? Id love to hear about it.  

 

 

 

How to Cope with Difficult People in Your Stepfamily

We all have them – maybe it’s your stepdaughter. Or your husband’s ex. Or perhaps it’s your mother-in-law. If you’re honest, there’s probably at least one person in your stepfamily who’s difficult to be around and creates tension when you’re together.

How do you cope with them? Here are a few tips:

1.  Don’t give that person power over your emotions.

We don’t have to allow hurtful words to affect us. When someone says mean things to or about us we have a choice: will we let those words penetrate our heart or will we let them roll off, recognizing mean words often come from an unhealed hurt.

I learned of a physical altercation that happened recently between a biological mom and a new stepmom. The bio mom couldn’t accept the stepmom in her young daughter’s life and during the week-end exchange, erupted toward the stepmom. The stepmom did nothing to bring about the response; the bio mom has unhealed hurt related to her ex-husband’s re-marriage and the stepmom’s role in her daughter’s life. If the stepmom recognizes where the hurtful words come from, she can let the event roll off without allowing the bio mom’s response to have power over her emotions.

2)  Seek out healthy people to hang with.

If we’re surrounded by healthy people, we are less likely to let an unreasonable person affect us. And if our ego gets bruised from hurtful words, we can turn to others to help re-build our esteem instead of lashing back. It also helps to minimize the amount of time we spend with those who tend to be unreasonable. If you have an unreasonable stepchild coming for the week, plan time away with friends or your spouse to maintain a healthy image of yourself and your surroundings.

3) Accept the relationship in its current state.

If we spend our time trying to change another person or fretting over a tense relationship, we create frustration for ourselves. A peaceful heart comes with accepting a difficult relationship as it is and seeking to do our part to improve it, while recognizing that unreasonable people sometimes thrive on drama. I like to consider the words of the Serenity Prayer: “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.”

4) Be a positive role model

Commit to take the high road as often as possible. Someone needs to be the mature person in an unreasonable person’s life – how about you? We can influence others through positive attitudes and behavior. If our ex-spouse learns we’re not going to fight back when he/she becomes unreasonable, the game ends. If our stepchild doesn’t get a rise from unreasonable behavior, it’s more likely to end. Positive attitudes and behavior with unreasonable people, however, take intentional effort. Are you up for it? Remember: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:19)

5) Maintain healthy boundaries.

Respect yourself enough to create boundaries that work for you. If you’ve had a difficult day and are not in a good place emotionally, don’t walk into a tense conversation with your stepchild over chores that didn’t get done. Ask  your spouse to do it. If you know the unreasonable person in your stepfamily who chooses to pick battles with you is going to attend your stepson’s band concert, make sure you don’t sit by him/her. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself – no one else can do it for you. And you’ll maintain a healthier demeanor for whatever situation occurs when you know you have the right to maintain boundaries that work for you. Check out this post if you need help with boundaries.

Unreasonable people tend to show up more frequently in stepfamily relationships. Stepfamilies often have unhealed hurts that foster tense relationships. But we don’t have to get sucked into the dysfunction and allow others to have power over our emotions or influence our reactions. If we accept that some interactions will be difficult and some persons in our stepfamily will be unreasonable, we have a healthier attitude to cope with the behavior when it occurs. We will also appreciate the relationships with reasonable people in our lives even more!

Can you offer other tips for dealing with unreasonable people in your stepfamily?

Pic by artur84

Could you use some stepmom encouragement? Join us at our next stepmom retreat where you’ll find hope, healing, help, and camaraderie with other stepmoms! Details here: www.SisterhoodofStepmoms.com.

 

Why Reality Triumphs in Your Stepfamily

My son has strep throat. As he whined about his symptoms while picking at his breakfast yesterday, I didn’t want to believe him. My to-do list for the day didn’t include a trip to the doctor, a two-hour wait with screaming children sliming their germs beside me, another trip to the pharmacist, and a sick child at home for two days.

But it didn’t matter what I was imagining in my head. My son was sick. If I had sent him to school, the virus lingering in his body would have continued to attack his healthy cells, creating more and more symptoms of illness. Eventually, I would have heard from him and the trip to the doctor would have been later in the day, which would have included even more time in the waiting room with too many germy, screaming kids to count!

It’s the same in our stepfamilies. Maybe your stepdaughter doesn’t want to acknowledge the marriage of her dad to you — her stepmom. Maybe she’s fantasizing that her parents will get back together. Maybe she’s believing the lies her mom is putting in her head about you. But the truth is… reality wins!

Eventually, your stepchild will accept the reality of your presence in their life. Even if the biological parent in the other home is bashing you on all fronts, reality will win. Eventually, your stepchild will recognize that you’re not going away and she needs to squelch her fantasies and begin to develop a relationship with you. At some point, your stepchildren develop a mind of their own, separate from the garbage the other biological parent is feeding them, and form their own opinion of you!

It’s not easy. There may be some squirming and squealing in the process. There might be one step forward and two steps backward. But from my own experience, I can assure you — even if it seems hopeless…it’s not!  Even if there’s a lot of conflict in your stepfamily right now, it eventually subsides. I promise. (If you don’t give up).

I love Dick Dunn’s words in his book, “New Faces in the Frame.” He says, “At first you may see little or no progress. Remember that as children mature, their capacity to understand matures also. True maturity is a life-long process. In time, fantasies give way to reality, and children move on with their lives. Fantasies attach us to the past–letting go frees us for the future.”

Be gentle with your stepchildren as they learn to put aside their fantasies and live with reality. It’s not an easy process, but it will change your relationships over time. Reality triumphs every time.

Do you agree? Is your stepfamily living in reality or still struggling with fantasy?

Pic by Victor Habbick

Have you heard of our Stepmom Retreat? Come join us in April near St. Louis and find hope, camaraderie with other stepmoms, and fun! Details here: http://sisterhoodofstepmoms.com/

 

  

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