Coping with Unexpected Challenges on Your Stepfamily Journey

I sat by my phone anxiously, watching every text that came across. My niece was having a baby, and I wanted to know the details. Was it a boy or a girl?  What was the name? How big? How was my niece doing?

ID-100396479So many questions. The answers were slow to come. And then a revelation no one expected.

The baby was delivered, and all seemed to be fine. A beautiful baby girl. Eleanor Joy. My niece was doing great.

But without warning, another text crossed my screen. Something wasn’t right. A diagnosis no one suspected had surfaced.

Beautiful Eleanor Joy had Down Syndrome. The doctor was certain of it.

I shuddered as I reread the text. No! It can’t be! I thought. The extensive ultrasounds. The routine prenatal visits. How was it never discovered? How will my niece and her husband cope with this unexpected turn?

Questions without answers. They dominate life. How do you handle them?

In our stepfamily journey, we had an unexpected turn eight years into our marriage. We had moved past the hard transitions, and our family was beginning to enjoy more peaceful relationships. Our four children could sit at the dinner table without fighting (on occasion!)  and hope was on the horizon.

But the call from my husband’s ex-wife with unexpected news shook our family to the core. She had colon cancer—late stage. Read more

Tough Times Never Last, but Tough People Do

It’s been a tough week in Bossier City, Louisiana, where I live. Life-threatening storms swept through our community with 20 inches of rain over a two-day period and flooding that left many families homeless.

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School dismissed for three days while displaced families from mandatory evacuations of heavily-populated neighborhoods sent families in 3500 homes away from the comfort of their usual surroundings.

As I thought about friends coping with the devastation this morning, I reflected on Robert Schuller’s book, Tough Times Never Last, but Tough People Do, that I read many years ago. It is a tough time for a lot of people right now.

But there is always hope for better days. Within a few hours of hearing about yet another young family who lost everything in the flood, I learned that Samaritan’s Purse was headed to LA for rescue relief. What a blessing to read their plans to help:

“Our teams bring in equipment and as soon as the water recedes, they roll up their sleeves to help flooded families get the mud out of their homes, sort through water-damaged personal belongings, and pull out damaged sheetrock, flooring, and insulation. Our Billy Graham Rapid Response Team Chaplains will be alongside to pray with and encourage flood victims.”

Samaratan's Purse

Sometimes in the midst of our challenges, it feels like there is no hope. But tough-minded people are created in the midst of tough circumstances if we don’t give up.

Maybe you’re in a tough season right now as a stepparent.

Perhaps you feel invisible in your role as a stepmom and no one notices the constant sacrifices you make.

Maybe you face another day of rejection from your stepson.

Maybe your spouse refuses to support your stepparenting efforts.

Perhaps the biological parent in the other home undermines the relationships you seek you build.

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Why Healthy Boundaries Matter in Your Stepfamily

I didn’t realize I was in an emotionally abusive marriage. But I was. Married at 23-years-old to a man chasing the dream of success as a medical physician, I was along for the ride.

But all too soon, the ride got very bumpy.

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Arguments turned into character-attacking rants. Nights of alcoholic rage became the norm.

Convinced it was my fault, I tried harder to be a better wife. Nothing changed. My self-esteem plummeted under the weight of shame.

I wish I could tell you I recognized the dysfunction in my marriage and sought help. But I didn’t. At least, not until far-reaching damage had been done to me emotionally.

Eleven years after saying “I do,” I finally gathered the courage to walk away. With two young daughters to raise, I refused to subject them to the emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse I was experiencing. Al-Anon—an organization dedicated to families of alcoholics—gave me the tools I needed to set healthy boundaries that enabled me to start a new life.

Unfortunately, boundaries couldn’t save my alcoholic marriage that included a history of relapse and destructive patterns. But I learned life-changing lessons on how boundaries impact relationships.

As a result, I’m sensitive to others in emotionally or physically abusive relationships. I quickly recognize fuzzy or negligent boundary setting. And I see it often in stepfamily relationships.

Sitting across the table from a stepmom in tears, I suspected a boundary problem. As the conversation continued, I listened to her describe her stepson’s fits of rage and disrespectful language toward her and her husband.  At 17-years-old, he was controlling their home with his behavior. But she didn’t know how to change it.

“How does your husband respond to his son’s actions?” I asked.

“It becomes a yelling match to see who can get in the last word,” the stepmom responded. “I often leave the house and take our daughter with me. I can’t stand to watch it unravel. But the real problem exists when my husband isn’t home and the behavior gets directed at me. His outbursts are becoming increasingly more violent and I’m scared to confront his anger—he’s bigger and stronger than I am.”

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Coping with Difficult Emotions as a Stepparent

The memoir’s scene grabbed my attention.

Taya Kyle, widow of the American sniper, Chris Kyle, describes a fragile setting where her emotions run deep.  At her husband’s funeral, Taya prepares to say a few words about her beloved, fully aware it will be one of the hardest things she’s ever done.

To gain the courage and strength she needs, she reminds herself of her husband’s life-changing words, which get her through.

“When you think you can’t do something, think again. The body will do whatever the mind tells it to.”American Wife

Kyle’s memoir, American Wife, tells a tragic, but brave, story of love and loss amidst war and faith. A decade-long marriage survives long stretches of Chris’s absence while he repeatedly puts his life on the line in major battles of the Iraq war. Finally returning to civilian life, Chris and Taya work hard to rebuild their family.

But one day, the unthinkable occurs. While attempting to help a troubled vet, Chris is murdered. After surviving countless attempts on his life in war, his final breath is taken close to home in a way no one understands. Within moments, Taya becomes a widow and single mom of two.

Raw emotions spill out as she struggles to cope. Her authentic story-telling reveals depression coupled with fatigue and insomnia.

Amidst a heart-breaking backdrop, however, a beautiful story unfolds. Taya refuses to give up and begins to rebuild a life for her and her kids with faith, resilience, and determination to fight against her overwhelming grief.

I’ve heard it said that one never really gets over loss—you simply learn to cope with it. Taya’s story describes how she copes by finding meaning and connection to Chris through a shared mission of honoring those who serve others, especially military and first-responder families.

Stepfamily Grief

The poignant memoir reminds me of the anguish of stepfamily grief. Although not the same as Taya’s grief, it’s real. It’s often overwhelming. And it’s experienced differently in every home.

Maybe you’re grieving the white-picket fence life you yearned for that didn’t come true with remarriage.

Or perhaps your grief stems from a stepchild who chooses not to embrace you as a stepparent.

Maybe your loss comes from a deep place of hurt that your spouse refuses to recognize.

Stepfamilies experience grief. How are you coping with yours?

Will you choose to find joy and rebuild a new life with faith, resilience, and determination? Will you stand on God’s promises that He will walk with you through days that include loneliness, isolation, and grief?

Will you keep trying on days you want to give up?

If you need a lift today, check out Kyle’s memoir for encouraging words on how she coped with incredible grief.

Pick up a copy of our devotional book, Quiet Moments for The Stepmom Soul: Encouragement for the Journey.

Enlist a counselor or stepfamily coach.

Or come to our upcoming stepmom retreat at the beautiful Winshape Retreat Center.

But don’t get stuck in your grief. Reach out. Embrace your faith. Find hope for your journey. There are better days ahead if you don’t quit.

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

How do you cope with stepfamily grief? Will you share your hope with others?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Biggest Tip after 20 Years in a Stepfamily

My husband and I celebrated 20 years of marriage last week. There were many years I didn’t know if we’d make it to our next anniversary.  Today, I’m thankful for where we are as a stepfamily.

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I’ve grown emotionally, spiritually, and mentally in so many ways since I began this journey. I’m thankful for what stepfamily life has taught me; I’m a different person than when I started. Last year I wrote a post on What I’ve Learned in 19 Years as a Stepmom. 

I must admit, however, that I’m most thankful our hardest years are behind us. You can read about some of our struggles here: Trusting God’s Plan for Your Stepfamily and The Myth of the Perfect Stepparent. 

There are a lot of suggestions I could give for how we’ve made it 20 years. But today I want to focus on one—or maybe it’s three :). If you asked for my biggest tip for long-term success, peace, and harmony in your stepfamily, here it is:

Make your marriage a priority, trust God through the rough patches, and don’t give up just because it’s hard.

I know—you’ve heard that before, right? Maybe it seems too simple. Maybe you don’t like it. But it’s worked for us.

When our marriage was in trouble (which happened within our first year), we began counseling. My husband and I both uncovered leftover baggage from our previous marriages and family of origin issues that affected us. It was painful to look at my part in how I wanted to be right and insisted on having the last word when we argued or how I considered my way of parenting superior to Randy’s.

I didn’t like having to consider how my 11-year marriage to an alcoholic skewed my thinking about relationships. Trust no longer came easily for me and I put one foot out the door before I gave our marriage a fair chance. I had worked hard in my previous marriage but it failed anyway. I had to dig deep and make myself vulnerable again in a marriage when I didn’t know the outcome.

I questioned our efforts constantly—what were we doing wrong?Although you hear it takes 4-7 years for a stepfamily to blend, it took longer than that for us.  There were things we could have done differently, no doubt, but the truth is, the complexities of our stepfamily life with four children and two ex-spouses made life hard. And just as we were making progress in healthy relationship-building, my stepchildren learned their mother was battling colon cancer. Her death a year later was devastating for everyone.

Your circumstances are different than mine but I suspect you have your own challenges. Days you want to quit. Relationships you want to give up on. Questions that don’t have answers.

I know. It’s hard. I’ve been there.

Will you dig deep? Will you trust a loving God who wants to hold your hand as you walk through difficult circumstances?

Will you do the hard work of looking at your own issues instead of always considering someone else needs to change? Will you persevere when the road stretches out endlessly?

The easy way out is to quit. But you’ll never experience the blessings of the long haul if you do.

I’m thankful I’ve stayed—through the good and the bad.

Make your marriage a priority, trust God through the rough patches, and don’t give up just because it’s hard.

Do you have other suggestions? I’d love to hear them.

If you’d like more nuggets of help, check out our devotional book on Amazon:

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Dear Stepparent: It’s Okay to Nurture Your Needs

I used to believe that my needs should come last. I’d stay up late to finish laundry or rise early to put a meal in the crockpot before heading to work. If you peered into our home, you’d see resentment from an unrealistic routine that boiled over into behavior that was less than Christ-like.

One day I decided my needs were important too.

I’m not saying I never do those things anymore, but it’s rare. We teach our kids to do their own laundry as teenagers and meals at our house are simpler than they used to be. If I find myself overwhelmed due to chores or a schedule I can’t manage, I ask for help.  I bet my husband would tell you I’m easier to live with now.

ID-100169128The demands of stepparenting increase with summer upon us. Long days of a surly teenage attitude or a week-long vacation with a stepchild who disses you can send even the calmest stepparent into a fit of madness.

How do you cope?

Read more