When Beauty Follows Pain on the Stepparenting Journey on Stepparenting with Grace

When Beauty Follows Pain on the Stepparenting Journey

The handwritten note that fell out of the envelope surprised me. My stepson didn’t mention he sent a note with my Mother’s day gift. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I read words that took me back in time. I began to reminisce about a very rocky season that I wasn’t sure I would get through.

 

When Beauty Follows Pain on the Stepparenting Journey on Stepparenting with Grace

It was 2004. My stepson was 14 years old and had just lost his mom from a difficult battle with cancer. He had been living with her and his stepdad over 300 miles away. My husband naturally assumed he would bring his son home to live with us following the funeral. But my stepson and his stepdad had different ideas.

The custody papers presented to my husband by the sheriff’s department came as a complete surprise. His son’s stepdad had applied for custody. It made no sense. We were prepared and willing to take him into our home.

The battle

The battle began with a preliminary custody hearing that included my stepson on the witness stand. We were in another room, but our attorney outlined the setting to us. I had been presented as the evil stepmother. Despite my efforts to be a caring stepmom who tried to fulfill a maternal role when my stepson was in our home, I was painted as someone quite different. The hurt I experienced that day took a long time to work through.

When Beauty Follows Pain on the Stepparenting Journey on Stepparenting with Grace

The Beauty

That’s in the past now. My stepson did eventually come live with us and in time, with God’s help, we mended our ways. We worked to rebuild a relationship that included a steady flow of grace and forgiveness. Slowly, he began to let me into his life. I never wanted to replace his Mom. I simply tried to play a maternal role to a boy who didn’t have a mom.

That was 13 years ago. At 27 years old, my stepson now lives out of state.

I’ve often wondered if my tireless efforts as his stepmom even mattered.

The letter I received this year on Mother’s Day told me they did.

Although my stepson never called me Mom, the letter started with:

“MOM!! Happy Mother’s Day!! I wanted to take time and express my
appreciation to you as my mother!! You have been there through
everything. My first love, my first heartbreak, high school and college.
You’ve literally been there for it all. Thank you. For giving me advice
and good examples over the years. Even though I know I pushed back
for many years, I now realize I had a great MOM all along. Thank you
for always being there for me. Love you, Gayla. Your son.”

If you need some hope and encouragement on your stepmom journey, please consider joining us at our upcoming Sisterhood of Stepmoms retreat. You’ll find all the details here: http://sisterhoodofstepmoms.com/dallas-texas-2017/

Will you share some highs or lows of your stepparenting journey?
How are you celebrating them?

 

Let’s Talk Stepfamily Realities, Not Myths

There are almost as many legendary stories about stepmoms, stepdads, and stepfamilies as there are stars in the sky. Yet, many of these stories are myths. Simply not true. Like the myth that stepmoms are wicked (think Cinderella!) or that the stepfamily is the same as the first marriage family. Who makes this stuff up anyway?

I think many of us believe these myths, then bring them into our new marriage and family. How long does it take us to realize they are myths? That they are not true and they do not dictate how our stepfamily will grow and develop. Believing these myths creates discontentment and unhappiness in your stepfamily.  Today I’m sharing some thoughts from one of my favorite stepfamily resources The Smart Stepfamily by Ron Deal.

1. Love will happen instantly between all family members.

Really? Have you found this to be true? I did not. My reality was watching our kids have a difficult time during our dating. My husband would say, “We’ll just love ’em through it.” But that will not always (if ever) work. Deal says, “Love in the sense of ‘love your neighbor’ is attainable; love in the sense of deep family bonds may or may not be achieved.” Deep family bonds will take time and may always look different that biological bonds.

2. We’ll do it better this time around.

It is easy to think, “I’ve been married before, I know what to do this time.” Marriage, while never easy, is made more difficult with kids. And in a stepfamily, we all have a history. Don’t compare your current marriage to a previous one. Accept the good and the bad of marriage. Live in the reality of your current marriage, recognizing it too will have challenges.

3. Everything will fall quickly in place.

Seriously? Has this been your experience? My guess is no it hasn’t. Let’s remember that “quickly” is a relative term and I am fairly certain quickly does not happen in stepfamilies. Deal says, “The stepping-stone of patience is critical to stepfamily development. Becoming disillusioned with how your family is progressing is an almost universal experience because progress never happens on your timetable. Remember, the average stepfamily takes seven years to integrate.” Seven years? Let’s bookmark that in our brains!

4. Our children will feel as happy about the remarriage as we do.

Often stepchildren are not happy about their parent’s remarriage. You need only attend a few re-marriage weddings,  to find children who are not happy about their “new family”. Stepfamily experts say kids are often a year behind the adults in accepting and progressing with a new family. Children deal with things differently than adults. We shouldn’t rush our children to catch up with us emotionally. Deal says, “What a blow it is for parents to realize that remarriage is a gain for them, but another loss to their children.” Remember, time is your friend.

5. Blending is the goal of this stepfamily.

We call ourselves blended families because we are combining people from two families into one. Think about what happens in a blender when we make a smoothie, this is NOT what we want to happen in our stepfamilies. Deal says, “More realistic is a process by which the various parts integrate, or come into contact with one another, much like a casserole of distinct parts. For example, biological parents and children will always have a stronger bond than stepparents and stepchildren, even if all goes well. This is not to say that different members of a stepfamily cannot be close. Many will develop deep emotional bonds, but there will always be a qualitative difference.”

Have you read Deal’s book? Are there myths you believed or still believe? I’d love to about chat about this in the comments.

Related Posts:

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

Learning How to Love My Stepchildren

 

5 ways to promote harmony in stepfamily relationships by Gayla Grace

5 Ways to Promote Harmony in Stepfamily Relationships

5 ways to promote harmony in stepfamily relationships by Gayla GraceI didn’t walk to the altar with my first husband with intentions of divorce. Unfortunately, the demands and strain of his profession as a physician pushed him to unhealthy means to cope. Alcoholism reared its ugly head.  Near the end of our 11-year marriage, I began to attend Al-Anon, a support group for families of alcoholics.

I memorized the AA slogans and used them to help me face everyday challenges.

After I divorced, I realized that AA slogans didn’t have to be confined to problems in alcoholic relationships.

I recognized the value of them in other ways when I married into a stepfamily.

Here are 5 of my favorite AA slogans. Powerful sayings, they can help promote harmony in your stepfamily relationships.

1) Let go and let God

To most of us in stepfamilies, problems are part of life. My stepfamily is not exempt. I recognized  I could not fix the problems myself. Oh, I tried! I wasted precious time trying to control the situation or find a solution. Peace came when I let go and let God handle the situations. The key—when I LET GO. Answers to our challenges don’t always come quickly, but waiting on God’s solutions is always better than forcing mine to work.

2) Let it begin with me and Be part of the solution, not the problem

It’s easy to point out how everyone else is contributing to a problem. Instead, I need to step up and be the example for forgiveness, kindness, patience, and goodness toward our stepchildren. Our actions speak louder than our words.

It’s also our responsibility to work toward a solution, not become part of the problem. I’m the first to admit I sometimes talk about a problem instead of look for an answer. We become what we focus on. Will you choose to focus on the problem or a solution?

3) How important is it?

Too often, we make things bigger than they really are. I clearly remember a conflict ten years ago that I created. I insisted that all our children attend my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. My stepdaughter, who had a strained relationship with me at the time, was living with her mom and didn’t want to go. I was angry when my husband didn’t force her to be there. I made a big deal out of it, creating further conflict with my husband.

Fast forward ten years to my parent’s 60th-anniversary celebration. My stepdaughter and I had mended our ways and she wanted to participate in the celebration! I’ve finally learned that many of the battles we choose to fight will resolve themselves over time.

4) One day at a time

Building trust takes time, change takes time, healing old wounds takes time; there are no immediate ready-made solutions. This day is all I have to work with, and it is all I need. If I am tempted to worry about tomorrow’s concerns, I will gently bring my mind back to today.” (Courage to Change: One Day at a Time in Al-Anon)

Living one day at a time allows us to focus on the problems at hand, let go of the problems of yesterday and trust God with the problems of tomorrow. We can’t change the past OR the future. We can only make a change in today.

5) Keep an open mind

Stepfamily relationships evolve over time.  Sometimes they get worse before they get better. If the solution you are trying doesn’t work, keep an open mind. Remain flexible. Try to embrace the change with an eye toward long-term success in your relationships, not ready-made answers. Be open to their thoughts and ideas of your spouse. Try to stay united with your spouse.

Other slogans of AA that can be applied to the stepfamily journey include: Easy does it, first things first, just for today, keep it simple, listen and learn, live and let live, and think. 

If you’re interested in learning more about their slogans, go here.   Al-Anon resources (for families of alcoholics) are helpful also.

I love AA slogans and can find ways to apply them every day.

How will you use an AA slogan to create stronger relationships in your stepfamily or have you applied one already? Will you share it with us?

I have a printable to share with you. Click here to download and print Steps for Dealing with Difficult Situations.

 

Gayla Grace on Birth Order Angst in Stepfamilies

Birth Order Angst in Stepfamilies: How to Help Step Siblings Adjust

 

“I don’t have to mind you!” The comment spewed from my oldest daughter, Jamie, to her older stepsister, Adrianne. Jamie had been the oldest child in our family before I remarried and refused to take direction from another sibling.

Adrianne was my husband’s first-born daughter—age 10 when we married. Jamie was my first-born daughter—age 5 when we married.  Both girls held the role of “the boss” of their younger siblings (or so they thought!)

Jamie was now the middle child in her new stepfamily. And Adrianne thought SHE was the boss.

Birth order struggles are real.

When you combine two families, it’s easy to forget the effects of birth order change.

We had never considered the birth order collision that would take place between these two. We expected them to get along, but how could they when both of them were fighting for the same role?

Jamie now had a big sister and Adrianne needed help learning to relate to a younger sibling. One that resented being thrust into the middle child position.

Dr. Kevin Lehman has written an entire book on the effects of birth order in a stepfamily, titled:  Living in a Stepfamily Without Getting Stepped Helping Your Children Survive the Birth Order Blender.

Here’s one important suggestion he gives:

When a child who is born into one birth order lands in another position in his blended family, do not treat the child as something he is not. He may have to take on different responsibilities or play different roles at times, but never forget who he really is.

Time helps with the adjustment of birth order changes, just like it helps with most other stepfamily adjustments. Jamie never stopped being the oldest, but she did learn to enjoy having an older sister.

In their young adult years, pictured below, Jamie and Adrianne have found love and understanding for one another that reaches beyond the tension of their early years.

Like many changes that have to be considered when families merge, the effects of birth order changes need to be considered also.

Do you have a birth order story to share from your stepfamily? I’d love to chat with you in the comments.

Gayla Grace on the price of forgiveness

The Price of Forgiveness

Gayla Grace on the price of forgiveness

After my first marriage ended, I held onto unforgiveness. I had been mistreated and I justified my actions from a wounded soul. I didn’t want to consider how my unforgiveness contributed to my lack of peace and affected my daily walk with others and with the Lord.

Communication with my ex-husband was strained. Co-parenting seemed impossible. One day I realized how I contributed to the difficulty with my unforgiveness.

Wounded from hurtful words from our stepchild or misunderstood by our spouse, we hang onto unforgiveness, hindering our relationships. We feel justified because we’ve been wronged. As a result, tension in our home co-exists with every interaction.

The price of unforgiveness is a burden of resentment, a poison of bitterness, and strained relationships. The price of forgiveness is love, freedom, and peace.

Why do we choose poison over freedom?

Because when we’ve been wronged, forgiveness is hard. It doesn’t happen naturally. We have to seek the Lord’s help and make an intentional choice to go against our human nature and forgive.

Christ paid a huge price so we could experience forgiveness. His death on the cross is a powerful reminder of the sacrifice He offered us. But even Christ struggled with doing what the Father asked of him. Matthew 26:39 says, “He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Some days we’d rather say, “Not your will but mine.” My will includes justifying my hurt and wallowing in my wound. My will seeks to take care of myself instead of considering others’ needs. Unfortunately, my will also leads to a life of heartache and disappointment.

Our pastor’s words recently spoke to my heart, “Unforgiveness is demanding that other people be perfect, and that’s a standard You can’t meet!” If I fail to forgive my stepson for an imperfect action, I’m expecting he’ll never have to forgive me for a wrong. I make imperfect choices every day. Why, then, do I hold onto unforgiveness?

Forgiveness provides the key to unlock the tension in stepfamily relationships. We’re called to forgive, even when it’s not our fault.

It’s not easy, but

.

Have you held onto unforgiveness or experienced the peace that comes from forgiving? Let’s talk in the comments.

Gayla Grace on praying for your stepfamily

Resolutions for Your Stepfamily: The Power of Prayer

 Gayla Grace on the importance of praying for your family

I was in a neighborhood prayer group for almost seven years before moving to Louisiana. We met weekly (at 6:00 am!)  to pray for the needs of each family represented. I joined the group when my husband and I were fighting a custody battle. It was a very difficult time—my stepson had lost his mom to cancer and his stepfather applied for custody. These ladies became my support group.  I cried when I left them, sensing I could never replace their friendships. It seemed only natural to start a new prayer group after we moved.

Year after year of praying diligently for my stepfamily has resulted in some amazing healing. My stepson has changed from an angry adolescent who wanted to isolate himself from our family to a maturing young adult who loves and cares for each family member.

This year my birthday card from my stepson had this personal inscription: ““Happy birthday. Happy to call you a part of my life and supportive figure, with all your wisdom. I love you and thank you for everything you do. May your day be blessed.”  (As the kids get older, I am getting smarter! *wink*)

 I don’t write this to brag about my relationship with my stepson. I write to encourage you and give you hope. Strained stepparenting relationships are not unique. You should know you are not alone. I’ve been there. I’ve had many days that I wanted to quit my job as stepmother! But as my stepchildren reach their adult years, they show me their appreciation more and more.
I am convinced that the hours I’ve spent praying for my stepfamily and our relationships have made a difference. Our family was broken when my husband and I married 21 years ago. Only God could have put the pieces back together.
I believe we need to spend more time talking to God about our children than talking to our children about God. I firmly believe we should talk to our children about God, but we can’t underestimate the power of praying for our children and stepchildren.

 Prayer is a powerful discipline that we often neglect.

I love Stormie Omartian’s words in The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children,

I have found that only God can give you the wisdom you need. And He will give it to you when you ask for it. But prayer is not telling God what to do. Prayer is partnering with God to see that His will is done.

Prayer changes relationships.

 What resolutions are you making for the New Year? I hope you’ll include prayer. 

If you are on Twitter, connect with me @GaylaGrace. I’d be happy to pray with you about your stepfamily needs.

Here’s a picture of our kids from my daughter’s wedding this September. I’m thankful to see our kids lock arms with big smiles. (My stepson is on the far left).
wedding-5kids-1