Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

What’s stressing you today? Have the little things of life become big things because you’re having trouble letting go? Is your stepchild relationship experiencing a small leak that’s about to lead to a blowout?

How we react to what happens around us determines a hostile or peaceful outcome. If my stepson shoots a glaring look my way, I can choose to ignore it or I can let it ruin my day. If my stepdaughter challenges my thinking on something I believe in, I can spout off a defensive remark or I can stand firm in my position while shrugging my shoulders.

There are a multitude of things that happen every day in our stepfamily relationships that are not worth getting stressed about. When we identify which battles we want to fight, and leave the rest alone, we find more serentiy for our journey. 

My good friend and stepfamily authority, Ron L. Deal, says his whole perspective on life changed after he lost his son from a brief illness. He says he doesn’t stress anymore about a spilled drink in the living room or whether every paper gets put in the recycling bin. Life is simply too short to spend our days bothered over trivial matters.

In his book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff, Dr. Richard Carlson says he plays a game with himself called the “time warp.” He says, “I made it up in response to my consistent, erroneous belief that what I was all worked up about was really important. To play “time warp,” all you have to do is imagine that whatever circumstance you are dealing with isn’t happening right now but a year from now. Then simply ask yourself, ‘Is this situation really as important as I’m making it out to be? Will this matter a year from now?’ Once in a great while it may be — but a vast majority of the time, it simply isn’t.”

So, next time your stepchild leaves his laundry in the washing machine and goes to school, leaving it for you to finish, remind yourself that it won’t matter a year from now. That doesn’t mean you don’t address the issue when he comes in from school and seek to correct it from happening again, but it does mean you choose not to stew over it the rest of the day.

Are you sweating the small stuff in your stepfamily relationships?

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New Beginnings

I love the first day of a new month. I can look at what happened last month and celebrate the highs. I can also recount the lows and commit to a better month from the beginning.

For those of us living in the South, March marks the end of Winter and beginning of Spring. This morning my 10-year-old son rode his bike to school in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. The promise of nicer weather lifts my spirits while I tackle the challenges of life.

As I recount the previous month, I focus on what I did right in my stepparenting relationships and what I need to do differently. I’m thankful as I reflect on an incident with my stepson that I handled better than usual.

This past Sunday, my stepson spent the afternoon with us. He was complaining to his Dad and me about several relationship issues he’s struggling with. I quickly identified what I felt the problem was and wanted to blurt out his faults and how he’s contributing to the issues. Instead, I kept my mouth shut and began to pray for my  husband as he counseled his son. I know that my husband has much more influence with him than I do. And although he might not make the same suggestions I would, he has a good understanding of his son and how to help him.

Stepparenting requires us to discern when to talk and when to keep our mouth shut. More often than not, we need to voice our opinion in a private discussion with our spouse, and let him/her address the issue with his/her child. The blood bond that the biological parent shares with his child allows him a greater chance of success in correcting behavior without alienating the child than the stepparent. 

It’s also important to pray for our spouse, and pray specifically for wisdom, on the parenting journey. I love the reminder in James that says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

I’m thankful today for a new month. I pray it offers you a new beginning in your challenges.

Do you need to focus on a n fresh start in your stepfamily relationships? 

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Expect the Unexpected On Your Stepparenting Journey

I have a good friend who is raising her step-granddaughter because her stepdaughter has proven too unstable for the responsibility. I have another friend who could be assuming full custody with her husband of her three stepchildren because their biological mom continues to struggle on the road of addiction.

Difficult happenings on the stepparenting journey that cannot be predicted. They’re all around us. As a stepparent, will you muster the effort and energy to go the extra mile when your family road takes a turn of events?

I believe we are called to do what we can to keep our family intact if we sign up for the role by saying, “I do.”  (Aside from abuse, of course). We unite with our spouse as a team and commit to minister to our stepchildren through the ups and downs of stepparenting. It doesn’t mean the road will be easy, but God will give us the strength and power to sustain us on the road He allows us to walk.

In their book, The Smart Stepmom, Laura Petherbridge and Ron Deal acknowledge some of the complex issues that can show up unexpectedly on the stepparenting journey and how a smart stepmom deals with them. Here are a few thoughts to ponder:

“A Smart Stepmom:

– discovers the things she can control and releases the things she can’t.

– is prepared. She isn’t naive or ambused by complex stepfamily issues and is flexible to cope with matters that she didn’t see coming.

– is constantly growing and learning about wise stepparenting and parenting techniques.

– has a strong support system with other women who share her values.

– recognizes that there are limits to her contributions to decision-making regarding her stepchildren’s lives

– accepts that sometimes being a stepmother is going to be unfair and lonely.

– acknowledges that she may not see the fruit of her sacrifices until the children become adults.

– believes that her value is determined by the price Jesus paid for her and that she is precious in God’s eyes. This awareness offers her enduring peace even in challenging circumstances.”

Has your stepparening journey taken an unexpected turn? How are you coping?

Stepfamily Detours – Where Are You Headed?

I recently went to lunch at a friend’s house who lives outside the city. I had never been to her house and since I’m directionally challenged, I got lost (it happens frequently, unfortunately). Since I recognize my lack of common sense with directions, I carry a Garmin with me. Once I plugged the address into my handy GPS, I was able to find her house without a problem, despite my detour.

Stepfamilies often take detours down roads they’ve never seen before. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a GPS that gives us clear directions every time on which path to take? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. But we can decide we don’t want to stay stuck on the detoured road and take the necessary steps to find our way to the right path.

For instance, our family took a detour down the custody battle road many years ago after my stepchildren lost their mother. It was a difficult road that we had never been on before and had no idea which direction to go. So, we sought professional help through legal counsel.

We considered the choices we were presented and weighed our options. We prayed about the right direction for our family. And then we made a decision that began to take us off the detoured road and back to the right path. We went down several roads with twists and turns before arriving at our destination, but we finally reached a successful end to the journey.

Some detours, such as our custody battle, take years to resolve. They don’t have neatly wrapped, black and white answers. But we don’t have to allow the enormity of the situation to overwhelm us and stagnate us on the detour.

If we keep moving forward with the next step we believe we are to make, we will find our way to a route with better scenery. We don’t have to stay stuck in the detour. But if will require intentional effort on our part.

Where are you on your stepfamily journey? Are you stuck in a detour? What steps to you need to take toward your destination?   

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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?

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Stepfamily Traps – Are You Caught in One of Them?

Sensitive issues in stepfamilies can rise up unexpectedly and bring inner turmoil like a gust of wind. Some issues can be easily resolved with few lingering afteraffects, but other challenges create traps that stepfamilies get hung in and linger on for months if not worked through properly.

So, I want to address common stepfamily traps in the next few posts and solutions for coping with them. I would love to hear from you as to what traps you’ve overcome or suggestions for the traps we discuss.

Trap #1: Trying to Replace the Biological Parent

When we spend a lot of time with our stepchildren, we may begin to feel we can replace their biological parent. Particularly if our spouse has custody of his children, we bond with our stepchildren through day to day interaction. We may feel that we do a better job parenting their child than their non-custodial parent and try to take over their role.

It usually doesn’t take long for a stepchild to let you know if you’re overstepping your bounds. Even if the relationship with his/her natural parent is a rocky one, your stepchild is emotionally vested with his parent.

In her book, The Courage to be a Stepmom, Sue Patton Thoele says it best, “The fact is that no matter how wonderful we are, no matter how much we add to our stepchildren’s lives, and no matter how much they love us, in most cases, blood is thicker than remarriage.”

When we try to replace our stepchildren’s parent, we lose. We can’t take the place of their biological parent, even if that parent is a loser! The best approach for a stepparent is to be an additional parent.

Our stepchildren can never have too many adults in their lives who are willing to love and accept them unconditionally. As the relationship with our stepchild strengthens, we can move into a parental role but we should never assume we’re trying to replace the biological parent.

My girls have a very strong relationship with my husband as their stepdad but he has never tried to replace their dad. During our early years he would say, “I know my role. I’m the stepparent.” What he meant was, “I will love and care for them as a parent, but I recognize they have a biological dad.”

After fifteen years of marriage, my husband plays an important stepparenting role. He enjoys a stable and loving relationship with my girls — a result of day by day love and interaction, investing in their lives as a stepparent, mindful of the role their biological dad plays.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

Are you stuck in a stepparenting trap? What do you need to do differently to get out? Will you share it with us?

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