When Stepfamily Pain Overshadows Holiday Joy

The facebook status of my friend was heart-breaking:”After 25 years of working for the same company, my wonderful hard working amazing husband was told he does not have a job. Our world has turned upside down…” A hard situation to face at the holiday season.

sad christmasBut the reality is, we’re all dealing with tough stuff. Stepfamilies, especially, often carry pain throughout the holiday season. So, how do you cope? Here are a few suggestions:

1) Don’t dwell on the negative.  Try to find something positive about your challenging reality. The holiday season when we walked through my stepson’s custody battle was one of the hardest for me. It seemed as if I got out of bed every day with a dark cloud over my head. But I tried to focus on the blessing of the relationship with my husband and his willingness to walk a difficult road together that might not include a happy ending.

2) Trust God’s plan for your family even if you don’t understand it. I love the words of Charles Spurgeon: “When you can’t trace God’s hand, trust His heart.” God wants what’s best for you and your family. However, life is often understood backward;  circumstances don’t make sense with our finite eyes. But we find peace when we trust God’s plan, even if we don’t understand it.

3) Do your part to overcome the pain. Don’t allow yourself to be a victim, wallowing in self-pity. If you’re struggling with a stepfamily challenge that seems to have no end, seek support. Talk with other stepmoms (healthy-minded ones). Find a counselor educated in stepfamily dynamics. Use Scripture and prayer to find answers. But don’t stay stuck in your pain without reaching out.

4) Consider the joy of perseverance.  When I complete a long run as I train for running events, I find joy in the perseverance of completing a 10 or 12 mile run. I know I’ve pushed myself to the limit and I wanted to give up, but I didn’t. The same holds true with stepfamilies. We will be pushed to the limit, but the joy comes in refusing to quit. I’ve written about it more here: “Stepparenting Feels Like I’m Running a Marathon.”

5) Read our holiday e-book for encouragement. Stepmom Heather Hetchler and I wrote our e-book, Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace, to offer hope and encouragement to stepparents. We know how difficult the holiday season can be – we’ve walked the road in our own stepfamilies. I hope you’ll consider purchasing and reading the e-book as a gift to yourself.

I don’t know what pain you’re facing in your stepfamily but I pray you don’t allow it to overshadow the joy of the holiday. I want to offer the privilege of praying for you if you share your concerns with me. I’d love to hear from you. “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

I love Lysa TerKeurst’s quote from Unglued: “We can’t always fix our circumstances, but we can always fix our minds on God.”

Are you facing stepfamily pain? Will you commit to a positive perspective and intentional effort to keep it from overshadowing your holiday joy?

Related Posts:

Your Holiday Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Meaningful

Trusting God’s Plan on a Difficult Journey

Is the Heartache of Stepparenting Worth It?

A Glimpse Into One Stepmom’s Story: The Good and the Bad

She was looking forward to some time alone as her husband left for a business trip to India. With three stepchildren in the throes of the teen years, life wasn’t easy. Married for less than two years, she had no idea the challenges that would erupt when she wed.   

But she had signed up for the journey. When she said, “I do,” she committed to be a part of her stepchildren’s lives and wasn’t going to give up now. As a corporate executive, she had been through tough times before.

So how would she counter the hard days in her stepfamily? How would she keep going when her stepfamily relationships were struggling?

She educated herself to deal with the challenges. She read stepparenting books. She attended Ron Deal’s stepfamily conference. She sought counseling. She united with her husband to stay afloat. She read God’s word. She prayed.

And she stayed active in her stepchildren’s lives, even when it might appear they didn’t want her there. Soccer games, dentist appointments, band rehearsals, and a host of other kid activities made their way to her calendar. She sought to show love and support to her stepchildren in whatever way possible.

She altered her work schedule to allow more time at home when her stepchildren were there. She stepped off the corporate ladder and chose to work from home as much as possible.

And she committed to a new life that included love and rejection, smiles and glares, happiness and exasperation, and contentment and doubt.

Would she trade it for a different life? Some days, yes.

But will she quit? No

Although she yearned for time alone with her husband out of town, she opted to spend time with her stepchildren. When her 16-year-old stepson called and offered to mow the lawn, she welcomed him. After he finished, she offered to take him to dinner and  asked if he would go to church with her that evening and he agreed. At dinner, they carried on meaningful conversation about  his goals and future opportunities. She encouraged him to steadily work toward his aspirations.

When she dropped him at his mom’s that evening, her stepdaughter came out to say hello. After a brief hug and a few remarks about her first week of school, her stepdaughter retreated inside and she returned home for the evening, thankful for a good day as a stepmom.

A caregiver book I’m reading, Strength for the Moment, tells the story of a man who volunteered to care for an aging man–one who was a hermit and hoarder. The caregiver bonded with the man, Howie, and adjusted to a daily routine of caring for him. After dementia and Parkinson’s disease took control of Howie, he was forced to be moved to a nursing home. But the caregiver continued to visit him, unable to neglect the love he felt for the man. After leaving the nursing home one day, distraught that Howie was still alive when he was such a burden on others, he asked God why He didn’t take Howie home.  Suddenly he realized, “Howie was there for me! God was teaching me how to love someone even when he offerered nothing in return.”

As stepparents, we all face days when our stepchildren offer nothing in return. We want to turn our backs and start down a different road. But as one caregiver discovered,  God can teach us how to love others, even on days they offer nothing in return.

And God can teach us to be thankful on days our stepchildren offer love and laughter too – because those are the days that keep us going.

I applaud my sister, Jan, for continuing a stepmother road that has not been easy. The good and the bad – it’s all part of the stepparenting journey. But blessings abound for those who persevere. Love ya sis!

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)

Do you agree? What blessings have you experienced as a stepparent? I would love to hear about them.

Related Posts:

As a Stepparent, You’re An Olympic Champion!

Learning How to Love My Stepchildren

Are You Willing To Go the Distance as a Stepparent?

The Value of a Stepdad

 My husband, Randy, and I will celebrate 17 years of marriage this year. My youngest daughter,  Jodi  (pictured) was 2 1/2 years old when we married. I had no idea what an influence my husband    would be with Jodi.

Jodi bonded easily with Randy from the beginning. She wanted to call him “Dad” at an early age, but my ex-husband forbade it. So, she called him by his first name until she got old enough to make her own choice. Then, she called him Dad.

Jodi’s biological dad floated in and out because of a life wrecked by addiction. There were many months we didn’t know where he was or if he was still alive. But every step of the way, Randy was there for her.

Randy will readily admit he wasn’t a perfect stepparent. As we blended our four children, we experienced emotional melt-downs and parenting collisions. We faced ex-spouse pressures and co-parenting conflicts. But Randy stayed the course, through the good and bad.

During Jodi’s elementary years, Randy taught her to ride a bike, helped with homework, and carpooled her to sleepovers and birthday parties. During middle school, Randy was Jodi’s biggest cheerleader as she tried out for the track team – running with her during her training season, and attending every meet he could. And through her high school years, Randy stayed close by her side – counseling her through boyfriend dilemmas, challenging maturity in her faith, and encouraging wise choices in her every day walk.

So, it was only natural when Jodi was selected for Homecoming Court as a high school senior, that she asked Randy to escort her on the football field. It was a proud moment for him that Friday night to walk arm in arm as her dad, a reward for many years of faithful stepparenting.

The stepparenting journey takes a different route for each of us. Some get to play more active roles than others. But we can each have a positive impact on our stepchildren if we commit to the journey, persevering through the challenges, celebrating the victories, and cherishing the relationships that are developed along the way, even if they aren’t perfect.

Do you recognize your value as a stepparent? If you’re a stepdad, how will you celebrate Father’s Day? I would love to hear from you.

Related Posts:

Creating a Stable Stepfamily: Commit to the Long Run

Character that Counts

Do You Feel Like an Outsider as a Stepparent?

As a Stepparent, Some Days are Harder Than Others

  I knew my stepson had been having gastrointestinal problems for several weeks and we encouraged   him to make a doctor’s appointment. Since his mother died of colon cancer,  he knows his risk factors for that disease.

But  it hurt my feelings to learn he had  gone to the doctor and never even  mentioned it to me. As a mom, I’m usually the first one to instruct the kids on insurance cards, co-payment amounts, etc. when they go to the doctor. But instead, my stepson confided only in his dad regarding details of the appointment.

In the early years of our marriage, I would have berated myself for doing something wrong that was keeping my stepson at a distance. But after several years of stepparenting, I no longer blame myself when my stepchildren choose to leave me out of what’s happening in their lives. I know I have done my part to be an involved and loving stepmom along the way but cannot force positive reactions from them.

After a recent disagreement with my stepson, he said to me, “I love you Gayla, but you’re not my mom. My real mom would have given me her approval on this.” I had voiced my opinion on a choice he was making that I didn’t agree with, and he let me know that my opinion didn’t matter. The disappointing words still ring in my ears.

Loyalty issues run deep with stepchildren and can keep them from loving a stepparent because it feels disloyal to their biological parent. Sometimes as kids grow older, they work through those feelings, allowing a close relationship with a stepparent. But sometimes they don’t.

If you’re having a hard day as a stepparent, don’t lose hope. Persevere in your relationships even when your stepchildren don’t. Draw near to the Lord for guidance and comfort. Be assured that He sees your efforts and will bless them.

“Come near to God and He will come near to you.” (James 4:8)

Are you experiencing challenging days as a stepparent? Where do you look for hope?


Related Posts:

Hope for the Future in Your Stepfamily

When Stepfamily Life Gets Messy…

God is Enough for the Stepfamily Struggle You Face

Six Steps for Coping With Stepfamily Storms

 Over the week-end, we braved severe storms with damaging tornadoes in Central Arkansas. My family and I retreated to our “fraidy hole” more than once to seek protection from our frightful surroundings.

As I listened to the blare of tornado sirens and attempted to comfort my tearful 9-year-old son, I reflected on what options we have during storms. I compared weather storms to emotional storms that occur in stepfamilies. I thought about ways we can cope during stepfamily storms that allow a healthy outcome without a lot of damage. Here are a few steps to consider:

1. Stay calm – don’t overreact. It’s easy to raise your voice and exaggerate what kind of storm you’re dealing with during times of conflict. Solutions don’t emerge naturally when emotions are heightened . If you find yourself out of sorts, it’s best to take a time out and leave the conflict. Be sure to come back later and address the difficulty.

2. Pray for wisdom and guidance for the situation. Find a time and place to be still and listen for God’s direction. Meditate on Scripture and be patient as you search for answers.  James 1:5 tells us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

3. Brainstorm and talk through your options with another person. Seek out an objective party who can help you sort through your emotions and solutions for the conflict. Find a pastor, counselor, or friend who has your best interest at heart and can offer a healthy opinion. My husband and I used a professional counselor in the early years of our marriage to help us get unstuck during periods of heavy conflict.

4. Wait it out. Many times, storms dissipate with time. Don’t jump to conclusions or insist on taking steps that might make matters worse. When my stepson chose to continue living with his stepdad after his mom died, we were devastated. My husband could have demanded that he come live with us right after the funeral, but he believed it would alienate his adolescent son and cause further pain. We waited out his decision, tormented by some of his choices over the next year. Finally my stepson came to live with us with a willing heart after he took the time he needed to grieve with his stepdad and older sister.

5. Take one step at a time when the conditions are right. As solutions emerge, move slowly toward resolution. Take the next healthy step toward reconciling with those involved. Don’t expect harmony overnight but do your part to mend relationships.

6. Maintain a positive attitude and trust God for the results. We may not see an end to our storm, but we can trust God with the results. I love this quote by E.L. Doctorow as applied to stepfamily challenges: “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” We may not understand what’s happening around us or see an end in sight but we can choose to keep going anyway while we Let Go and Let God. (AA slogan)

Storms are frightening. We won’t always react as we should or take the right steps, but if we refuse to give up on our stepfamily relationships, we will find solutions in our storms.

Other Posts You Might Like:

It’s Always Too Early to Quit

Confront Conflict Head-On

Conquering Conflict: Get a Grip on Your Pride

Step-Relationships Change as Time Passes

Our family enjoyed a long Easter week-end with four of our five children home. As I watched our kids interact, I couldn’t help but reminisce of times past when we encountered constant bickering and conflict among them. But now, with four of our children in their young adult years and only one child at home, the relationships have matured and grown beyond what I could have ever expected.

In the Easter picture of the kids, it’s interesting to take note of how they arranged themselves. My two biological daughters are on each end with my stepdaughter in the middle. In early pictures of our family, my bio children always stayed close to each other and stood side by side. But as years have changed their relationsips, they easily assume positions next to their step-siblings.

I would love to give easy, pat answers on how to mold relationships in blended families. But there are no easy answers.

It requires time, perseverance, and unending prayer. It requires constant nurturing of your marriage.  It requires going the extra mile when you don’t feel like it. It requires sacrificing some of your needs and wants for the sake of others.

But I can tell you from experience, the rewards are worth the effort.

I know there are days you want to quit. I’ve been there. Especially during the early years of our marriage, I remember thinking that single parenting was easier than trying to blend our family. If my first divorce hadn’t been so painful, I would have probably walked out. But after 16 years as a stepparent, I’m thankful I didn’t give up.

I’m also thankful that step-relationships change as time passes. It’s worth investing your time.

How have your relationships changed? Will you share it with us?

“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

Related Posts:

Are You Willing to go the Distance as a Stepparent?

Nuggets of Wisdom from Co-Author Laura Petherbridge: The Smart Stepmom

Coping with Change