Are you Willing To Go the Distance as a Stepparent?

My husband, Randy, and I leave tomorrow to travel to Little Rock to run the Little Rock marathon on Sunday. The picture below is after last year’s race – Randy is on the left.

Randy posted a faster time last year than his previous four marathon events. On our way home from LR, we talked about how he improved his time. Many of his training methods relate to similar strategies we can use as stepparents.

1. If it isn’t working, try something different. Randy had struggled with leg cramps toward the end of each previous marathon race. This time, he sought help from a specialty running store and used some magnesium tablets that seem to have prevented the cramps, allowing him to decrease his walk breaks at the end of the race.

If you’re struggling in a particular area of your stepparenting role and don’t know a solution, it may be time to seek help. Find a pastor, trusted friend or counselor who is familiar with stepfamily dynamics to confide in and seek advice. Check out coaching/counseling options that are offered through stepfamily sites (including mine here).

2.  Be willing to invest a lot of time. Preparing to run 26.2 miles in a marathon is not an easy feat. The training schedule involves 18-22 weeks of strenuous running, along with other cross training workouts. Attempting to run a marathon without the training leads to failure.

Successful stepparenting also involves a lot of time. Stepping into your stepchild’s life and expecting an instant relationship only leads to disappointment. Be willing to spend time getting to know your stepchild, understanding his likes/dislikes, and finding common ground on which to build a relationship.

3. Expect setbacks along the way. Long distance training often leads to injury. The workouts are hard and your body begins to break down. An unexpected weakness shows up through a muscle strain, bone fracture, or ligament tear. With adequate rest and therapy, injuries heal and the training can begin again.

Stepparents can also expect setbacks. A difficult ex-spouse, rebellious teen-ager, or unexpected conflict can lead to setback. It may take months or years to work through a difficult phase, but progress can always begin again if you don’t give up.

4. The biggest prize comes at the end but there are rewards along the journey. The medal earned for completing a marathon is placed around the runner’s neck as he crosses the finish line. However, a sense of pride and satisfaction is enjoyed throughout the training period as a runner sets and reaches goals he never dreamed possible.

The greatest reward for successful stepparenting is experienced as stepchildren leave home, appreciative of strong relationships they share with one another. However, stepparenting also has rewards throughout the journey as bonding occurs and love for one another develops.

Successful stepparenting, like marathon training, has rewards worth seeking. But the journey to the finish line can also be cherished when you choose to keep going the distance, even when it’s not easy.

How do you keep going as a stepparent when the road gets tough? Will you share? 

Related Posts:

There’s Beauty After the Pain

It’s Always Too Early to Quit

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

Do you find yourself comparing the growth of your stepfamily to your neighbor’s next door? Do you talk to your stepmom friend at work and wonder why her stepfamily seems to be having such smooth sailing while your family is stuck in the muck?

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

My husband always calls our family “remedial blenders.” Our relationships didn’t come together within the first five to seven years of marriage as stepfamily research suggests. In fact, some of our toughest years as a family were seven to ten years after our marriage.

Does that mean we were doing everything wrong, slowing the progress of our family blending? Certainly my husband and I made our share of mistakes as stepparents, but we also had some challenging variables to contend with that influenced the relationships in our family.

One of the biggest factors that determines how well a family unites is whether the ex-spouse allows his/her children the freedom to embrace a relationship with the stepparent. His/her attitude toward the stepparent can greatly influence the child’s ability to accept and love a new stepparent.

Unfortunately, as a stepparent, you have no control over what happens in the other home that influences the relationships in your home. I clearly remember the half-hearted hugs and stand-offish behavior I received every time my stepchildren returned from their mother’s home. I always wondered what kind of conversation went on about me while they were gone. I’m sure it was best I didn’t know.

Because my stepdaughter was ten when we married, her age also influenced our ability to bond. I didn’t understand when she began pulling away from the family as she progressed through adolescence but it was part of her growing-up process, a time of buiding her own identity separate from the family, that naturally takes place during the teen-age years.

Stepfamily research also suggests that the hardest relationship to develop is the stepmom/stepdaughter one. Instead of blaming myself for our prickly interactions, I would have done better to accept the fact that some of our challenges were simply intertwined in our tendency as two females in the same household to butt heads. When my oldest biological daughter traversed through the teen years, we encountered some of the same tensions.

It was also normal for my stepdaughter to desire a stronger relationship with her biological mother, leaving me in a dispensable role. Because of her natural bond with her mother, she couldn’t naturally bond with me.

After my husband and I were married eight years, we learned my stepchildren’s mother had colon cancer. My stepchildren stood by helplessly the next year, watching their mother slowly digress, then pass away. The pain of her loss left raw emotions they didn’t know what to do with, negatively impacting our stepfamily relationships.

So I no longer carry the responsibility for the remedial blending that occurred in our family. We could have never predicted nor controlled the circumstances that occurred. But we could control our reaction to them and our commitment to press forward, despite the odds.

What about your family? Were you hoping for smooth sailing as your relationships came together? Do you wonder why your family doesn’t look like the stepfamily next door that seems to be having an easier time? Don’t compare. It’s dangerous.

Those who have the easiest time as a stepfamily never appreciate the value of their relationships because they didn’t have to work for them.

If your family takes longer than you desire to unite, don’t despair. Celebrate the victories along the way. Affirm the value of what you’re creating. And be thankful for the challenges. Because you’ll always know it would have been easier to quit.

But you didn’t.

Can you recognize the uniqueness in your  circumstances that influence your relationships? Will you share how you cope with it?

Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Coping with Loss in a Stepfamily

Stepfamily Trap: Denying our Feelings

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

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

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

I’ll never forget the first holiday season our family celebrated together. My husband and I had married in mid-October and the holidays descended upon us before we could get settled in our new surroundings. My expectations of a joyous holiday season quickly faded as the reality of chaos and heartache took over.

Blending four young children, managing a harried schedule with two uncooperative ex-spouses while grappling with my expectations of a perfect, first holiday ignited a simmering blaze that burned throughout the season, leaving behind a trail of hurt feelings and defeat.

How could I expect it to be perfect? Because I’m a perfectionist. I wanted to prove to myself and others that, despite the odds of our new marriage and complexities, we could have a perfect, delightful holiday season. I was wrong.

In her book, Set Free to Live Free: Breaking through the 7 Lies Women Tell Themselves, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith writes, “Perfection is not the goal on earth. … Your life is a progressive journey. There will be times of success and times of failure. There will be times of faith and times of doubt. There will be moments of joy and moments of fear. You cannot maneuver this obstacle course we call life and expect to finish the race perfectly.”

I’ve given up the idea of a perfect holiday season. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be meaningful. There may be squabbles among the kids, or sour attitudes while shopping, or a less-than-perfect decorated tree by my children, but that doesn’t mean I won’t cherish the memories of time together as a family.

You see, our time as a family isn’t the same anymore. We only have one of our five children still living at home and we will only all be together briefly on Christmas day. So, I choose to value how small or large our family gathering is and enjoy every moment we have together as an imperfect family.

In our book, Thriving at the Holidays,  Heather writes, “Life rarely goes  as planned and the tighter we hold onto expectations of the perfect Thanksgiving or Christmas, the tighter, tenser and more stressed we are likely to feel. Let the strands of Christmas tree lights, not our emotions, be the only thing that gets tangled up this holiday season. Peace in the heart leads to peace in the home.”

Have you experienced lesss-than-perfect holidays in the past? How did you cope?

Related Posts:

Holiday Tips for Stepfamilies: Face Your Challenges

Holiday Tips for Stepfamilies: Do the Right Thing

National Stepfamily Day!

Did you know today is National Stepfamily Day? It’s a day to celebrate your victories as a stepfamily and affirm your role as a stepparent.

A report from the Pew Research Center that came out in January of this year, reported that 42% of American adults have at least one step-relative in their family. There are now 29.5 million stepparents in the United States, and that number continues to grow.

But are stepparents confident in the role they play? Are there adequate resources to help stepparents on their stepparenting journey?

Stepfamily life is not easy. If your stepfamily is struggling, I want to recommend a few resources. Stepfamily counseling/support saved our marriage during the early years. Don’t wait to get help if you need  it.

Smart Stepfamilies  Ron L. Deal offers the absolute best resources for stepfamilies. He has written several books, conducts nationwide conferences, and offers intensive counseling for stepparents.

The Smart Stepmom workshops  Laura Petherbridge has written a book with Ron Deal titled, “The Smart Stepmom,” and offers workshops on stepfamilies, divorce recovery, and navigating relationships.

Opportunities Unlimited   Gordon and Carrie Taylor offer personal experience and expertise as a resource for relational development in the stepfamily through conferences, counseling, communication skills training and coaching.

Instep Ministries  This non-profit organization offers practical resources to support single, divorced, and remarried individuals.

These are just a few of the many resources available for stepfamilies but I particularly recommend them because they are faith-based.

I hope you will take the time to enjoy your stepfamily on National Stepfamily Day. I affirm your commitment to your stepparenting role and pray you will thrive as a stepfamily.

What will you do to honor your stepfamily today? Please share your ideas in the comments.

 
Related Posts:

What is our Role as a Stepparent?

Encouraging Ebook for Stepmothers

Recognizing the Need for Boundaries with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

When I married my husband, Randy, I told him my ex-husband would not be a problem because he would eventually drop out of our lives. He had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for years and although he was a medical doctor, he was a most unstable person.

However, I was wrong.

Sixteen years later, Randy and I converse regularly about how to cope with the tension my ex-husband creates. His interaction with my daughters frequently results in confusion and anger for the girls. 
 I have spent hours on the phone with my ex-husband, trying to explain how his behavior alienates his children from him, creating a wall of divide that will probably never come down. 
Despite every effort to have a healthy relationship with him, I have concluded that we simply cannot maintain a mature, thriving relationship. And in order to protect myself from an emotional entanglement, it’s necessary to  set appropriate boundaries regularly. 
Now I’m not suggesting this is the case with every ex-spouse. I know many divorced parents who maintain an amicable relationship and successfully co-parent their children together. I strongly encourage healthy interaction with your ex-spouse. But I know from experience, that isn’t always possible.
So, how do you create healthy boundaries with a difficult ex-spouse? I’ll tackle that in my next post but first, I want to explain what boundaries look like.
In their book, Boundaries (which I highly recommend), Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, define a boundary as, “a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsbile. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are  not.” 
Here are some examples from the book:
“Physical boundaries help us determine who may touch us and under what circumstances.
Mental boundaries give us the freedom to have our own thoughts and opinions.
Emotional boundaries help us to deal with our own emotions and disengage from the harmful, manipulative emotions of others.”
Boundaries give us the freedom to create and maintain healthy relationships with others without losing ourselves in the process.
Christians are especially vulnerable to living without appropriate boundaries as we seek to demonstrate unselfish, unconditional love toward others. But Christ doesn’t ask us to become doormats or spineless creatures in the process.
We are created to be in constant fellowship with Him, and that cannot occur if we’re wallowing in self-pity or exploding in anger because of our lack of boundaries with those around us.
Does that make sense? Can you recognize the need for boundaries if you’re dealing with a difficult ex-spouse?
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