As a Stepfamily, You Can Expect Challenges

Before my husband and I married, I read everything I could about stepfamilies. I was excited about joining our  families together and wanted to get a head start on how to have a happily-ever-after future.

But as I read, I was deflated by the dismal picture every book presented. I finally quit reading because I couldn’t process the negativity.  I was convinced it wouldn’t be that way in our family.

But I was wrong.

Some of our challenges were to be expected. But our biggest challenges were completely unforeseen. We could have never predicted that my stepchildren’s mother would die of colon cancer within the first decade of our marriage, leaving behind two teen-age children, angry and confused. Following her death, we never imagined facing a custody battle with my stepson’s stepfather over a child that wasn’t his, when my husband was fully capable of raising his son.

 I would have never guessed that my ex-husband would lose his complete career as a physician because of addiction, resulting in  disregard for child support payments and  feelings of detachment and confusion for my two daughters. And just as our family was finding resolution to many of our challenges, we couldn’t have foreseen the loss of my husband’s job, sending us four hours away from our three children in college – a new challenge on the horizon.

Every stepfamily I talk to has challenges. They come in different shapes and different sizes, but they’re there. In his book, The Remarriage Checkup, Ron Deal says, “…the reality of remarriage is that life in a stepfamily is much more difficult than most couples anticipate. The unique challenges of being a stepcouple work against marital success, and only those who intentionally work to overcome them find the reward they dreamed of before walking down the aisle.” (my italics)

What about your stepfamily? Are you experiencing unforeseen challenges? That’s not unusual. But here’s the question:

Are you willing to intentionally work to overcome your challenges or will you be another failing statistic?

Related Posts:

God is Enough for the Stepfamily Challenge You Face

Stinkin’ Thinkin’ Creates Bitter Quitters in Blended Families

Photo by flickr

Marriage is Not Always Blissful – Especially in Blended Families

My husband, Randy, and I celebrate 18 years of marriage this year. If you read my blog often, you know it hasn’t all been blissful.

Marriage is Not Always Blissful -- Especially in Blended Families

I’ll never forget the night Randy called me from a hotel room and said he wasn’t coming home that night. We had been married less than a year and we were struggling as we attempted to blend our four children. I realized the truth of his words, “It just isn’t working Gayla.”

We had had an argument early that evening over the kids and he couldn’t deal with the tension any longer. We both began to question if our marriage could stand the stress of stepfamily life: grasping at how to parent together, coping with difficult ex-spouses, dealing with the rejection of stepparenting, accepting the crazy schedule that left little time for a couple relationship, along with the grind of everyday life.

We had a decision to make: would we fight to keep going or would we call it quits before we gave it a fair chance?

Neither Randy nor I wanted another divorce. We had walked that road and still felt the remnants of pain and failure. We knew we could make it work – but we needed help.

We began seeing a counselor who addressed the difficulty of our stepfamily dynamics. He also confronted us with the unresolved baggage we were carrying and the role each of us was playing in the tension-filled home we lived in. It was painful and heart-wrenching at times, but we began seeing improvements in our marriage and stepparenting interactions.

We also found a stepfamily support group in a nearby church that was studying literature and Scripture specific to stepfamilies. It was a sacrifice to make the weekly meetings, but it was critical to our growth as we integrated with other stepparents and found healthy ways to unite our four children.

Eighteen years later, those difficult days of early blended- family life blur in the rear-view mirror. I wouldn’t want to re-live them, but they are part of our stepfamily memories, reminding us how far our family has come.

We have only one child still at home – it’s the only child Randy and I have together. And I must admit – life is simpler, life is less stressful, life is calmer.

But marriage is not all bliss, even at this stage. Our struggles are seldom tied to stepparenting or difficult ex-spouses now, but we still encounter stressful periods. We have just come through a tumultuous period that put tremendous weight on our marriage. But our commitment of years’ past pulled us through our non-blissful days.

I have a renewed commitment to my marriage. I recognize the short-lived season of child-rearing. And when all our children leave home, I want a thriving marriage.

So, where are you on your marital journey? Are you plunging through the difficult years of early stepfamily life? Can you recognize the growth your family has made through stepfamily challenges?

Are you focusing on your non-blissful days or striving to make the best of whatever season you’re in, committed to the long run of your marriage?

How do you cope with non-blissful days of marriage? Will you share your thoughts?

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The Value of a Supportive Spouse

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How Do You Cope When Your Season of Life Takes an Abrupt Turn?

I knew our move out of state would be a difficult change for me. But I didn’t recognize the change of season I would experience at the same time.

I had a comfortable life in Conway, Arkansas. I was actively involved in the community as a fellow parent, school volunteer, local magazine writer, piano instructor, and active church member.

I spent most of my time involved with our children’s activities and community events. But when we moved, everything changed.

It changed because my season changed. We had two children already in college who were living away from home, but it was easy to connect with them on week-ends or evenings.

Our fourth oldest child graduated from high school last Spring and made plans to begin college in the Fall. And like her brother and sister, she began her college education in Conway.

So, we moved to Shreveport, Louisiana with one child. Our 10-year-old, Nathan, is the only child we have left at home. It creates a lump in my throat as I realize we have begun the descent to empty nest.

How did this happen? How did we go from four children at home, frequent teen-age struggles, frustrating stepchild rebellion, and unexpected late-night crises to a quiet, easy-going environment with a compliant elementary child who rarely ripples the water? 

How did our home move from one that had constant activity with countless children coming and going to a home controlled by the activity of one? 

Suddenly, I recognize the brevity of our child-rearing season of life.

I know it feels like your stepchildren will never leave home and you will always be in an unending struggle with them — but it really does change.

I know it’s hard to recognize that someday you won’t need to have frequent conversations with your difficult ex-spouse about the children’s visitation schedule — but it really does change.

I know it seems like you will never get the laundry finished, house cleaned, and meals cooked on time because there are simply not enough hours in the day — but it really does change.

And when your season of life takes an abrupt turn, how do you cope?

Lean into your faith, and rely on those you love.

Seek help from someone else who has gone through it. Because at some point, we all experience new seasons of life. 

But in our new season, we can find meaning with purposeful involvement in other’s lives around us. We can leave behind the struggles of our stepparenting years and move forward with a renewed faith in maturing relationships with our stepchildren.

So, if you’re in a child-rearing season with difficult stepchildren that seems to have no end, be encouraged. It will not last forever.

But in the midst of it, nurture the relationship with your spouse. Because when the children leave home, and your season of life takes an abrupt turn, your spouse will be there to pick up the pieces with you. 

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Where are you in the seasons of life? Will you share your experience in the comments below?

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The Value of a Supportive Spouse

With Valentine’s Day upon us, it’s a great time to show your spouse what you appreciate about him/her. And if your spouse is a stepparent, make an extra effort to validate his efforts and the important role he plays in the life of your child.

It’s so easy to get distracted with our kids and forget to let our spouse know how important he/she is to us. My husband is a much better encourager than I am and I often take for granted his words of love and support. But without his support, I would have given up on my stepparenting role.

During my stepkid’s adolescent years, it seemed I was emotionally attacked regularly. If someone was unhappy, I became the target for their anger. But thankfully, my husband stood up for me and required that I be treated with respect.

One of the best gifts we can give our spouse if he/she is a stepparent is the gift of support. Stepparenting is a difficult role and if we don’t feel that our spouse is supporting our efforts, it’s easy to give up. There are a lot of ways to show support but here are a few to consider:

Thank him for being a parent to your child.
Compliment his stepparenting efforts.
Require that your children are respectful toward him.
Affirm his worth as your spouse.
Offer him grace when he messes up.
Cook his favorite meal.
Enjoy an evening together without the kids.
Put his needs before yours.
Make your relationship a priority.

If you’re a stepparent also, and you’re not getting the support you need from your spouse, ask for it! Your spouse cannot read your mind and may not realize the struggle you’re experiencing.

Marriage is a union between two people that requires constant nurturing. But the rewards of our efforts far outweigh the work.

How do you show support to your spouse? I would love to hear from you.

Related Posts:

Making Your Remarriage Work: Be An Encourager

Nurture Your Marriage

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Stepfamily Trap: “It’s My Way or the Highway”

“The divorce was final today,” my husband’s co-worker said to him. “We tried to work things out but we could never agree on the parenting of our kids.”

My husband related the conversation to me of a stepfather he worked with who had been married less than five years. Both husband and wife brought children to the marriage and argued constantly about how to parent each other’s child. There was never any unity or give and take between  the couple; it was always “my way or the highway.” Unfortunately, the highway won out.

In his book, The Smart Stepfamily, stepfamily authority Ron Deal says one of the key barriers to marital oneness in stepfamilies that contributes to the higher divorce rate is parent-child allegiance. When a husband or wife chooses to regularly side with his/her child over his/her spouse, it sets the marriage up to fail.

Deal says, “When push comes to shove, the allegiance (or loyalty) between parents and children often wins out over the marriage unless the couple can form a unified position of leadership. If they cannot govern the family as a team, the household is headed for anger, jealousy, and unacceptance. Unity within the couple’s relationship bridges the emotional gap between the stepparent and stepchildren and positions both adults to lead the family.” 

If a biological parent is not willing to build such a bridge with the stepparent, the stepchildren will receive an unhealthy amount of power in the home,” Deal says. “All they have to do is cry “unfair” and their parent protects them from the “mean, nasty” stepparent. This almost always results in marital tension, conflict, resentment, and isolation.”

Unity within the couple relationship must be a priority for a step-couple. It doesn’t happen naturally or overnight, but it can happen with intentional effort and constant awareness. Successful stepparenting happens when a couple takes a unified approach to parenting.

Are you and your spouse on the same team in your parenting efforts?

Related Posts:

Does Your Mirror Reflect the Fruit of the Spirit?

Making Stepparenting Choices that Count

Making Your Remarriage Work: Embrace Flexibility

My husband and I returned from a five-day anniversary trip yesterday to learn some disturbing news. My stepson, a college student living on his own with a roommate, was robbed and held at gunpoint a few days ago at his apartment. In broad daylight, the door to his apartment was kicked open, and two men ransacked his place while threatening him with his life.

I’m thankful my stepson wasn’t hurt and we believe God protected him. Feeling unsafe to stay there, we’re now faced with a decision concerning where he will live. We offered him the chance to move back home, realizing it would be an adjustment for all of us. But we want him to heal from his traumatic experience and be able to move forward without fear.

Change is an inevitable part of life. Stepfamilies encounter more change, on average, than traditional families. As children move back and forth between homes, relationships with ex-spouses and extended family members change, and jobs change to accommodate family needs, transitions seem never-ending.

If we choose to embrace flexibility, our remarriage will fare better.  We may not like the changes that occur, but if we accept them and deal with them the best we can, we will find contentment. If we fight change, we become bitter and resentful with our circumstances.

We can also be assured there will be more change as years pass. Children/stepchildren grow up and leave home, demands of the family change, and new responsibilities surface as our own parents age and the parenting roles reverse. Embracing flexibility offers a healthy outlook for our remarriage as we cope with everyday change.

What change are you currently encountering? Can you embrace a flexible attitude?

Related Posts:

Coping with Change

When a Stepchild Changes Residence

Nurture Your Marriage