When Stepparenting Days Turn Dark

I’ve spoken with several stepparents recently struggling with dark days. One stepmom described her life as “hopeless.” Another spoke of daily, overwhelming challenges with her stepdaughter.

I started my blog four years ago this month after coming through some difficult years with my own stepchildren. I’m thankful to be a better place now as my stepchildren are young adults and our relationships are good.

But, I understand dark days.

My devotional this morning was titled, “When We’re in the Dark.” It gives a powerful illustration of the beauty of dark days. I hope you find it helpful on hard days.

“In the famous lace shops of Brussels, there are certain rooms devoted to the spinning of the finest and most delicate patterns. These rooms are altogether darkened, save for a light from one very small window, which falls directly upon the pattern. There is only one spinner in the room, and he sits where the narrow stream of light falls upon the threads of his weaving. “Thus,” we are told by the guide, “do we secure our choicest products. Lace is always more delicately and beautifully woven when the worker himself is in the dark and only his pattern is in the light.”

May it not be the same with us in our weaving? Sometimes it is very dark. We cannot understand what we are doing. We do not see the web we are weaving. We are not able to discover any beauty, any possible good in our experience. Yet if we are faithful and fail not and faint not, we shall some day know that the most exquisite work of all our life was done in those days when it was so dark.

If you are in the deep shadows because of some strange, mysterious providence, do not be afraid. Simply go on in faith and love, never doubting. God is watching, and He will bring good and beauty out of all your pain and tears.—J. R. Miller.

The shuttles of His purpose move

To carry out His own design;

Seek not too soon to disapprove

His work, nor yet assign

Dark motives, when, with silent tread,

You view some sombre fold;

For lo, within each darker thread

There twines a thread of gold.

Spin cheerfully,

Not tearfully,

He knows the way you plod;

Spin carefully,

Spin prayerfully,

But leave the thread with God.

—Canadian Home Journal.”

“I will give you the treasures of darkness.” Isaiah 45:3

Devo from Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman

For more holiday tips, follow my blog and  Heather Hetchler’s blog at CafeSmom  as we share tips from our holiday e-book, Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace, every Mon, Wed and Friday. Our e-book is a great tool to help you and all stepparents find peace during the holidays and beyond. It’s packed with proven tools and tips, personal stories and a list of recipes and new holiday traditions you can start with your stepfamily.A Stepparent's Guide to Success

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pic By Photokanok

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Stepparent: Wrap Yourself in Grace

I cringed with guilt as I watched my son pull a uniform shirt out of the dirty clothes to wear to school. Ugh – how had I failed to get the laundry done?

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I’m overwhelmed some days during the holiday season. I can’t keep up with where I’m supposed to be or what I’m supposed to be doing. There’s shopping, parties, Christmas concerts, decorating, baking, gift wrapping, and there’s… writing deadlines, coaching clients, and conference calls. Add in the daily family responsibilities and it’s easy to hit overdrive!

After I dropped my son at school that day, the guilt started again. I need to get those gifts in the mail, I should have done more shopping by now, I forgot to call my stepdaughter and check on her job situation… But then I stopped. I decided to start over with grace.

My thoughts changed to: I’m doing the best I can.  I’ll tackle the laundry as soon as I get home. I’ll ask my husband to go to the post office. I’ll text my stepdaughter and see how she’s doing. I’ll work on shopping after I finish my writing deadline. I don’t have to be perfect.

Are you pushing yourself into a frenzy of guilt? Are you expecting more from yourself than is feasibly possible? Step back and wrap yourself in grace.

Retrace your steps. If your stress set off a string of harsh words, apologize. If your head is spinning from an overly-committed schedule, cross something off. If your house needs cleaning before company comes, hire some help. But don’t strive for perfection. Sometimes good enough is, well, good enough.

Step back and remember the reason for the season. It’s not all about what’s under the tree or hosting the perfect Christmas party. It’s about celebrating with those we love and building memories through good times and bad. Your stepkids won’t remember if you bought the perfect present ten years from now, but they will remember if you apologized for a less-than-perfect parenting moment.

Grace is a beautiful gift. When we offer it to ourselves or to those around us, it multiplies.  One act of grace deserves another. If you forgive yourself for your failure, you have energy to start again. If you hold onto the guilt, you succumb to defeat.

Give yourself the gift of a grace-filled holiday season. And offer it freely and often to others. You’ll find joy and peace in the process.

How will you offer grace to yourself today?

For more holiday tips, follow my blog and  Heather Hetchler’s blog at CafeSmom  as we share tips from our holiday e-book, Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace, every Mon, Wed and Friday. Our e-book is a great tool to help you and all stepparents find peace during the holidays and beyond. It’s packed with proven tools and tips, personal stories and a list of recipes and new holiday traditions you can create with your stepfamily.  Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pic by Natara

Experiencing Conflict in Your Stepfamily? Tips to Help

Holidays are stressful! Are you feeling it yet? Add the complexities of a stepfamily and it can quickly get out of control.

blogHow we manage conflict dictates how healthy our relationships are and oftentimes, whether we head to divorce court or not. However, when done correctly, conflict—with healthy, fair disagreements—can actually encourage stronger relationships.

In their book, The Remarriage Checkup, stepfamily authority Ron Deal and researcher David Olson discuss the differences in how couples handle conflict. “Research has suggested that happy and unhappy couples alike share the same number of conflicts. Unhappy couples just can’t get through the differences – they get stuck in them. Healthy couples, by comparison, are much more likely to find creative solutions to their differences and work them out (80 percent versus only 28 percent of unsatisfied couples).”

Conflict doesn’t have to be bad. It’s simply a sign that something needs to change in the relationship. It turns bad when we attack the person, in the midst of conflict, instead of attacking the problem.

Stepfamily conflict often centers around the kids. One of the most frustrating areas for stepmoms includes a passive husband who doesn’t properly discipline his kids and so she steps in, becoming the bad guy. This situation creates conflict in the marriage that’s ongoing if it’s not addressed and managed properly.

So how do you address conflict properly? How do you fight fair? Here are twelve tips to help:

  • For starters, both parties must agree to remain in control. When emotions are escalated and nasty words start flying, resolve never occurs. If the situation proves to be too volatile at the moment, take a time out and come back when both of you can discuss the matter calmly.
  • Commit to be fair and flexible with solutions as you work through the issue. Come to the discussion with both ears open to hear your partner’s take on the disagreement. Don’t insist your way is the only way, even if you think it’s the right way.
  • State the problem clearly—be specific. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. “I statements” take ownership of our feelings and needs and communicate them to others without placing blame. It’s easier to hear, “I feel insecure when you ignore me,” rather than “you make me angry when you don’t listen to me.”
  • Address conflict as it occurs. Don’t let issues pile up until you’re ready to explode. If your partner neglects to address your stepson’s lack of respect, don’t let it go on ten times before discussing it.
  • Keep conflict away from the ears of your stepchildren, especially if it’s about them. If you’re seeking to bond with your stepchildren and they hear you fighting about them, you take huge strides backward.
  • Be a team player. Your partner is your ally. If you insist you must win for a successful outcome, that means your partner has to lose. It’s not a competition, it’s a partnership.
  • Don’t try to resolve conflict through e-mail or texting. Give your relationship the respect it deserves and take time to confront conflict face-to-face. If you begin a disagreement while texting, stop. Resolve to finish the discussion in person.
  • Don’t bring up old issues that have nothing to do with the current conflict. Put boundaries around the subject at hand to find resolve with one thing at a time, preventing explosive arguments.
  • Pick your battles. Particularly if you’re raising teen-age stepchildren, mine blasts can occur at any moment; however, you don’t have to engage at the slightest misbehavior. If your stepdaughter had a bad day and rolls her eyes at you, remember, it’s probably not about you.
  • Steer clear of name calling or character assassination. Hurtful words create deep wounds that don’t heal easily. Stick to the issue instead of diverting to the person.
  • Listen more than you talk. I’ve heard that women speak about 20,000 words per day, close to 13,000 more than the average man.  I’m convinced God gave us one mouth and two ears so we would listen more and talk less.
  • Offer grace freely. Be quick to apologize and slow to hold grudges. When we don’t forgive, we suffer mentally, emotionally, and physically. Forgive and let it go.

It’s also important to recognize our part of conflict. It takes courage and humility to take a personal inventory and consider how we contribute to conflict. But it’s important!

When conflict comes knocking at your door, don’t despair. If you commit to practice healthy conflict management, you’ll find your relationships deepen through resolve. You don’t have to get stuck arguing about the same ‘ole thing.

Are you up for a challenge? Pick your weakest link when it comes to conflict. Where could you improve? Then determine to do conflict differently and watch what a difference it makes in your relationships!

For more holiday tips, check out our holiday e-book, Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace. It’s a great tool to help you find peace during the holidays and beyond. It’s packed with proven tools and tips, personal stories and a list of recipes and new holiday traditions you can create with your stepfamily.  Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace

Pic by by imagerymajestic

*Originally published in Stepmom Magazine October 2013

 

What Are You Thankful For in Your Stepfamily?

What Are You Thankful For?

It’s easy to take our everyday blessings for granted in America. As I listen to my daughter’s daily life in Mozambique, Africa I realize how blessed I am. I’m thankful I get to do my laundry in a washing machine instead of a bucket. I’m thankful for hot showers every day. And I’m especially thankful for a warm house on cold days.

But I’ve also learned to be thankful for hard lessons learned during tough stepfamily seasons. I don’t want to live those days over again and I’m glad they’re far removed, but here are a few things I’m grateful for:

I’m thankful for grasping the value of perseverance and what it means to be in it for the long haul as I developed relationships with my stepchildren.

I’m thankful for the chance to learn what patience looks like in everyday life.

I’m thankful for the choice of loving children who aren’t my own and knowing I have positively influenced them.

I’m thankful for second chances. For relationship do-overs.

I’m thankful for the beauty of forgiveness and how it changes relationships.

I’m thankful for gaining the insider status in my stepchildren’s lives after suffering through years as an outsider.

I’m thankful for ex-spouses and what I’ve learned about myself through broken relationships.

I’m thankful for supportive friends and family who wouldn’t let me quit even though I desperately wanted to at times.

I’m thankful for a husband who didn’t give up on me when I made bad choices as a stepparent.

I’m thankful for my stepchildren and what they’ve taught me.

I’m thankful for the Lord Jesus who has walked every step of my stepparenting journey with me.

What are you thankful for? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For more holiday tips, follow my blog and  Heather Hetchler’s blog at CafeSmom  as we share tips from our holiday e-book, Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace, every Mon, Wed and Friday. Our e-book is a great tool to help you and all stepparents find peace during the holidays and beyond. It’s packed with proven tools and tips, personal stories and a list of recipes and new holiday traditions you can create with your stepfamily.  Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace

Pic by nongpimmy

 

 

Trudging Through the Bumps of Your Stepfamily Holiday

What holiday challenges are you facing? Yours will look different than mine but I’m sure you  have some. We have a choice as to how we will respond to those challenges.

My oldest daughter will spend both Thanksgiving and Christmas in South Africa this year. She’s been gone since May on a long-term missionary assignment and as the holidays draw closer, I find myself grieving.

I  couldn’t keep the tears from slipping down my cheeks recently at the grocery store. It caught me off guard to see the carton of Eggnog next to the milk I was buying. Eggnog is my daughter’s favorite beverage at the holidays. No one else in our family drinks it but I always buy it especially for her. I couldn’t leave the aisle quick enough as I realized I wouldn’t be buying it this year.

Grief attacks happen for parents and kids alike at the holidays. Maybe you’re grieving the loss of what you’d like your holiday to look like but know it won’t. Or maybe you’re unhappy with the schedule that’s been arranged with your kids or your stepkids. Many stepparents grieve because of the outsider feeling they sense during the holiday season.

If you’re struggling with grief for any reason, seek to fill up your love tank. Look for ways to offer love to others or ask for love from others, such as your spouse. Let your spouse know when you’re having a difficult day. Ask for what you need — don’t expect others to read your mind.

Take another stepparent or someone who needs a friend to lunch. When we connect with friends and  encourage others, we take the focus off ourselves.

Don’t ruminate over your problems with others. I love this quote I read recently by Rita Schiano, “Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.”  Accept the situation and make the best of it. This too will pass. The sun always shines again after the rain.

Count your blessings. Look for things to be thankful for. Although my daughter won’t be here next week on Thanksgiving, I’m thankful we can Skype with her that day. Maybe you won’t be with your kids on the holiday, but you can send a note or a special text to let them know your heart is still with them.

You can expect bumps as part of your holiday journey. But you don’t have to allow them to control your emotions.

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalm 31:24

How do you trudge through the bumps? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For more holiday tips, follow my blog and  Heather Hetchler’s blog at CafeSmom  as we share tips from our holiday e-book, Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace, every Mon, Wed and Friday. Our e-book is a great tool to help you and all stepparents find peace during the holidays and beyond. It’s packed with proven tools and tips, personal stories and a list of recipes and new holiday traditions you can create with your stepfamily.  Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace

pic by renjith krishnan

 

 

Stepfamily Challenges and Holiday Fruitcake

Today I’m posting a guest post by Laura Reagan-Porras, MS, a parenting journalist and sociologist. She gives a few tips for thriving through stepfamily holidays.

One Part of New Normal and Two Parts of Stepfamily Doesn’t Equal Holiday Fruitcake

blogThe holidays present special challenges for stepfamilies. I divorced 13 years ago and remarried 7 years ago. Through trial and error I’ve learned a few things about what works and doesn’t work. As a clinical sociologist, I also facilitate co-parenting education groups.

Marriage and family sociologists estimate at least 1300 new stepfamilies are form every day!  According to the U.S. Census, over 64% of families will have at least one step-relationship at some point in the arch of the family. We are the new norm!

Holiday Helps

·         Let Go of Expectations

My husband invited our daughters to his parents’ Christmas Eve dinner but didn’t push them to go. They were older and had their own traditions established with me as their biological parent prior to the new marriage. My girls chose to go to dinner with his parents but didn’t want to stay for the gift giving extravaganza since they didn’t know extended family members well. Tweens and teens may need to take their time embracing an extended family.

There is not a perfect holiday family activity that will make everyone suddenly feel closer.There is not a perfect holiday meal. There is no perfect gift that will heal divorce. There are only opportunities to connect and connection can be defined in a variety of ways. Children may choose to connect or they may not, depending on where they are in the process of accepting and feeling  part of the stepfamily. Wherever they are in the process is valid. 

·         Be Open and Flexible

“My mom doesn’t make the turkey that way.” A brave step parent might respond by saying, “Tell me how your mom does it. I might want to try it like that sometime.”  If the child says, “Daddy’s Christmas tree has the ornaments I made when I was little.” A wise stepmom might say “That must be really special to have those memories and ornaments on the tree. Will you help me make an ornament for our tree?  Biological parents can support the stepfamily dynamics by sharing with the child, “Not everyone does things the same way; we can try a new way.” Learning to live with different people and different styles is a positive skill that helps kids of stepfamilies their interpersonal and professional lives.

·         Keep It Simple

Keeping activities simple helps diffuse tension and helps new family members get to know each other without pressure. Here are some ideas for starting new family traditions.

–          Watch a holiday DVD and string popcorn for the tree.

–          Go to a holiday movie in a theatre together.

–          Go Christmas caroling around your neighborhood, laugh with each other, let kids be silly

–          Go to church, synagogue or mosque together.

–          Volunteer together at the charity or non-profit of your choice.

–          Bake holiday cookies together.

–          Make New Year cards for military service personnel.

–          Trim the Christmas tree together as a family

Family is about being loved and accepted for who you are, no matter how family is defined or configured. Don’t let stepfamily challenges ruin your holiday fruitcake this season.

Laura Reagan-Porras, MS is a parenting journalist and sociologist. She facilitates co-parenting education classes. Laura and her husband, Medardo are enjoying the benefits of stepfamily blending with two daughters. She can be reached at lreaganporras@gmail.com or LinkedIn.

For more holiday tips, follow my blog and  Heather Hetchler’s blog at CafeSmom  as we share tips from our holiday e-book, Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace, every Mon, Wed and Friday. Our e-book is a great tool to help you and all stepparents find peace during the holidays and beyond. It’s packed with proven tools and tips, personal stories and a list of recipes and new holiday traditions you can create with your stepfamily.  Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace

 Pic by artur84