Let Go of the Guilt – Part Two

As a stepparent, do you carry around unnecessary guilt? Do you beat yourself up when you make a mistake or don’t have a perfect day with your stepchild?

Guilt is a harmful emotion. It keeps us from enjoying present-day peace and sets us up for self-defeating behavior. Unless the guilt is justified from wrong behavior, it’s time to let go of it.

I think that as stepparents we expect too much of ourselves and can never measure up. Then, we feel guilty because our expectation doesn’t match reality.

My husband, Randy, and I are both stepparents in our family. I always compared my role as a stepparent to his two kids to his role as a stepparent to my two kids. But, everytime I contrasted the stepfamily relationships, I came up short. Randy’s relationships with my children were stronger than my relationships with his. Following my comparison each time came guilt.

What I finally realized was there are completely different dynamics in the relationships. My two girls call my husband Dad and consider him their primary father figure. Their natural father has proved unstable and unpredictable during their years of growing up. Therefore, they’ve embraced Randy as their stepdad and have a healthy, loving relationship with him.

On the other hand, my stepchildren had an active mother in their lives until she passed away. I sensed that she competed with me in every way, discouraging any kind of relationship with her children.

My stepdaughter went to live with her mother as a young adolescent, creating less of an opportunity for me to bond with her. My stepson also lived with his mother for several years during the period of her terminal illness and death. Since her passing, it’s easy to recognize the loyalty conflict he struggles with that prevents him from forming an intimate relationship with me.

So, I finally decided that if I was doing my best to demonstrate unconditional love and acceptance with my stepchildren and continuing to strive toward a healthy, growing relationship, I would not feel guilty over less-than-perfect bonds with them. I realized that my stepchildren and the dynamics in their “other home” also play a role in what kind of relationship I’m allowed to develop with them.

Stepfamily dynamics are different in every home. Some stepfamily relationships form very close bonds and some never get past an acquaintance stage. But if you’re doing your part to develop healthy, loving relationships, regardless of what your relationships currently look like, let go of the guilt. It serves no constructive purpose.

What are you feeling guilty about that you need to let go of?

Related Posts:

Let Go of the Guilt – Part One

Take Care of Yourself Spiritually, Physically, and Emotionally

Setting Boundaries as a Stepparent

Back to School Tips, Part Three – Resolve Conflict as it Occurs

I was shocked to learn of a family today whose son has left for college and his mom hasn’t spoken to him in several weeks. There was a conflict within the family while they were on vacation and the conflict was never resolved. So, now several members of the family are not speaking to each other.

That is tragic to me! How do you allow your son to leave for college and expect him to have a successful year when there is unresolved conflict and hard feelings with his family?

But, could it be that we do that in our own families and don’t realize it? Is there unresolved conflict with an ex-spouse that impacts your stepchildren/children every day? Are the children in your home expected to go to school and function at 100% when they left a battlefield back home? 

Our children are hugely impacted by what happens in our homes. If there is unresolved conflict, it will carry over into their lives and affect every aspect of their day. We owe it to our children/stepchildren to work through angry words and hurt feelings with direct communication.

As a new school year begins, it’s a great time to evaluate how well we’re doing with the parent in the other home. Are we doing our part to cooperate with them regarding a new school schedule, the kid’s needs, and any issue that came up during the summer months? Do we need to offer an apology or show mercy toward them for unresolved conflict?

In his book, The Smart Stepfamily, Ron Deal offers advice on what happens  when we refuse to work with an ex-spouse. “An old African proverb says, ‘When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ Biological parents who fight and refuse to cooperate are trampling on their most prized possession – their children. Elephants at war are totally unaware of what is happening to the grass, for they are far too consumed with the battle at hand. Little do they know how much damage is being done.”

Our children need to be able to go to school and concentrate on their school work without worrying about conflict among relationships in their homes. We must do our part to resolve conflict as it occurs.

Are you using healthy communication to work through conflict?

When Our Stepchildren are Hurting

During my stepson’s adolescent years, he often lashed out at me with hateful looks and angry words. I was caught up with feelings of injustice and couldn’t see his emotional pain.

When a friend said to me, “Hurting people hurt people,” it began to make sense. My stepson had situations in his life that he didn’t like and couldn’t control and therefore, took his feelings out on the nearest target: me.

I couldn’t always offer forgiveness readily but I would find a way to get to that point. I knew our relationship would never develop if I couldn’t act as the adult and do the right thing, regardless of his actions.

Our pastor offered some insightful thoughts on forgiveness today that I think are worth sharing. It doesn’t make forgiveness any easier but it does remind us of our role.

1. Forgiveness is always the responsibility of the person who is injured. When my stepchild offends me, I can’t wait until he offers an apology to forgive him. It is my responsibility to offer forgiveness, regardless of his actions.

2. Forgiveness is usually based on grace. I love this one! We don’t forgive others only when we think they deserve it. They may never deserve our forgiveness. But I didn’t deserve the forgiveness Christ offered me on the cross either.

3. Forgiveness might bring mutual peace. But then again, it might not. Offering our forgiveness doesn’t guarantee it will be accepted. The relationship may not be reconciled through our amends. But we can find peace through our forgiving actions.

We often become so focused on our own problems that we don’t recognize the loss and pain our stepchildren are suffering.

It isn’t easy being a stepparent. But it isn’t easy being a stepchild either.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

Do you need to offer forgiveness to someone today?

Encouraging Words

Our family is on vacation and spent some time yesterday with our oldest daughter who lives out of state. (my stepdaughter). We were reminiscing about years’ past and laughing about some difficult interactions we’ve worked through. I told her I felt bad about some of our “less than perfect parenting moments” and she said, “It’s okay. I don’t think anyone was permanently scarred by them.”

Those were encouraging words to me. We are not perfect parents but we are doing our best to show our kids what a Christ-centered home looks like.

I know I will blow it again as a parent/stepparent. But I will be quick to ask for forgiveness and get back on the right track with those involved. And I will choose not to allow guilt to prevent me from positive parenting moments today.

Do you need to affirm your value today as a stepparent?

Offering Forgiveness

I recently spoke with a stepmom whose family is under a great deal of stress due to the rebellion of her teenage stepson. Hurtful words and damaging comments have strained relationships within the family.

She knows she must offer forgiveness for words hurled at her but is struggling with her emotions from the situation.

In their book, The Smart Stepmom, Ron Deal and Laura Petherbridge offer thoughts on forgiveness: “If you are waiting until the feeling to forgive comes upon you, it’s unlikely to occur. Forgiveness is an act of obedience to God because we trust him and believe He has our best interest at heart. When we cling to revenge, anger, and rage it often destroys us spiritually, emotionally, and physically.”

They go on to say,”Christ paid too much for his beloved ones to become slaves to anything, much less hatred. He wants his children free. And a person is never free when he or she is weighed down with the ball and chain of bitterness. When the cold shackles of revenge are tightly clasped around our wrists, it’s impossible to lift our hands in praise to Him.”

It’s easy to become entangled in the throes of bitterness when we’ve been hurt. But when we allow ourselves to do that, we become slaves to emotions that don’t go away. We won’t find freedom in that condition.

Forgiveness is never easy. But it is essential to healthy relationships.

Who do you need to offer forgiveness to today?