Facing the Challenges of Adolescent Stepchildren

I recently began teaching a Sunday School class for 13-14 year-old girls at our church. Some days I wonder why I agreed to do it. Since our youngest son is the same age, I’m seeking to invest in his youth group and get to know his peer group.

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As I observed the girls at a youth event recently, I couldn’t help but notice the drama that surrounded many of them as they related to one another. My first inclination was to step away and escape the uncomfortable feelings that began to arise as I reminisced about difficult adolescent years with my stepdaughter.

My thoughts turned to, “Do I want to re-live the drama I’ve moved past that naturally accompanies girls this age?” I could choose to bail and escape the headaches that will accompany the role I’ve taken on.

I must tell you the answer to the question I asked myself was not a resounding “Yes.” However,  I can say this is where I believe God has placed me for this season.

So I have a choice. Will I change my thinking to how I can help these adolescent girls and invest in their emotional and spiritual maturity, or will I selfishly choose to run, leaving behind a part of God’s plan for me right now?

It reminds me of the choice I made when my stepchildren were adolescents. Many days I wanted to run and escape the heartache I was experiencing as a stepparent. Rejection. Loss. Disrespect. Unfair treatment.

I considered leaving. I pondered my option of becoming a single parent again. I wasn’t sure I had the strength to endure the challenges thrown at us as our stepfamily walked through the minefield of adolescence.

But I reconsidered the vow I’d taken when I married. I knew God had placed me in the lives of my stepchildren and had a role for me to play– to invest in their lives emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, to be a light in the midst of darkness, to show them a relationship with a loving God they might not experience otherwise.

Would I run away from God’s plan for me through a difficult season? Would I choose to completely detach so I didn’t have to experience the pain of rejection again? Or would I allow God to use me to help raise two of his children and heal the wounds they had experienced, growing and maturing me in the process?

I’m thankful today I didn’t quit. It was during their adolescent years that my stepchildren unexpectedly lost their mother after a short battle with cancer. The loss further complicated our stepfamily dynamics and created challenges I didn’t know how to face.

But with the Lord’s help, we muddled through. And today I can look back and know that I played an important role in the lives of my stepchildren during a difficult season.

I’m reminded of an appropriate phrase I’ve heard stepfamily expert Ron Deal say, “Stepfamilies were not made for the emotionally fragile.” And I’d like to add: the emotionally fragile stepparent won’t make it through adolescence.

If you’re in the midst of parenting adolescent stepchildren, don’t negate the importance of effective communication and conflict resolution. If you need help in these areas,  please find a counselor, pastor, or coach who can help–one trained in stepfamily dynamics.

Adolescence can bring out the worst in stepfamilies, leaving behind a trail of destruction. Be prepared to deal with it with good communication and conflict management skills.

If you’re looking for support as a stepmom, or maybe just a few days of respite with women walking a similar journey, I hope you’ll consider joining us at our next Stepmom Retreat. You’ll find laughter, hope, healing, and friendship with others who understand the road you’re on. Come enjoy the amazing Cooper hotel and spa in Dallas. Learn more here: http://bit.ly/2j1wko6

If you’re parenting adolescent stepchildren, step back and take a deep breath. It’s not easy. They’re in the midst of significant change and so are you. But don’t give up!

There are blessings on the other side.

Can you share tips on how you’ve overcome adolescent challenges with your stepchildren? I’d love to hear them.

Pic by Vlado

Are You Thriving or Surviving as a Stepparent?

I’m recovering from the stomach virus -bleh- and I can tell you that for the last two days, I’ve simply survived!

You know the feeling, right? You can barely lift your head off the pillow and wonder if your stomach will ever feel normal again.

Thankfully, today I’m better! I’m beginning to think I can thrive again as a person! But for awhile, I questioned if I would ever feel good again.

Sometimes those same feelings invade us as a stepparent. Days are just plain hard. The pain of rejection or hurt from being misunderstood creeps in and swallows up our ability to thrive. Tears flow freely because we’ve been down this road before and begin to wonder if things will ever get easier. We tell our friend, “I’m barely surviving on this stepparenting journey.”

Don’t lost hope. We all have those days. But you don’t have to stay stuck there. Realize that God can use your pain to teach you and mature you. Character is birthed out of pain.

And then you will find a way to thrive again.

In his book, “The In-Between,” Jeff Goins quotes a difficult stepfamily story:

“Eighteen years ago my daughter revealed that her stepdad was sexually abusing her. In all the fallout afterward, I waited, prayed, and worked toward healing. Three years passed before the sun began to shine again on our lives, and many more years passed before complete healing happened for all family members. In the waiting, I grew closer to God and stronger in my faith. I learned to ask God, “What do You have for me to learn from this situation?” rather than demanding, “Why did You let this happen?”

There was a period of surviving before this family could thrive again. But instead of wasting her pain, this mother grew closer to God and stronger in her faith.  She made every effort to learn the lesson God wanted to teach her during that difficult period.

We don’t get to thrive every day on our stepparenting journey. Sometimes there are lessons to be learned along the way. Sometimes others in our stepfamily have lessons to be learned before we can thrive again. But there’s always hope for a new tomorrow if we don’t give up.

Success is only found after a period of struggle in almost every endeavor. But the pain of surviving gives us gratitude for the days of thriving. Without the storms, we would never see the rainbows.

If you’re simply surviving today, keep pressing forward toward thriving again. You’ll find the rainbow when it’s time.

Are you in a season of thriving or surviving? Will you share it with us?

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” – Helen Keller

Pic by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Stepparenting is Messy

I sent my son to bed last night with consequences for his lack of obedience on a homework issue. He wasn’t happy with me and barely said good night as I left his room. But as his mom, seeking to raise a responsible young man, I knew I needed to address the issue, even if he didn’t like it.

He bounded out of bed this morning with a smile on his face and a big good morning. The night before had become a thing of the past that he wasn’t going to hold a grudge about because as my biological child, he doesn’t stay mad at me long, even when I dole out consequences. He’s quick to forgive and let go of ill feelings toward me.

It isn’t always the same with stepchildren. I expressed my opinion several weeks ago with my young adult stepson on an issue I didn’t agree with and he let me know he didn’t like it. He hung up the phone mad and called his dad to fill him on the details, hoping his dad would side with his opinion. For two weeks, my stepson and I had little communication. I knew the conflict would strain our relationship for a short period of time.

I try hard not to compare my stepchildren and my biological children but it’s easy to notice differences in how they respond during and after conflict. The blood bond that exists with biological children gives them a connection that doesn’t easily break. But the fragile thread that exists with stepchildren, particularly in the beginning stages of relationship-building, can easily be severed.

Stepparenting is messy – there are not black and white answers. It’s easy to say we need to defer issues of conflict and let the biological parent handle them but that can’t always happen. My stepson had called me on a different issue that naturally led to the issue that caused conflict. Did I overstep my bounds in how I expressed my feelings with my stepson? Maybe. Would I have expressed it the same way to my biological child? Yes.

How do you cope when it seems you’ve been misjudged in your stepparenting role? For me, I remember that I’m more than just a stepmom seeking affirmation from my stepchildren. I’m a wife, a daughter, a sister, a writer, a loyal friend, and a child of Christ. God’s love for me is unending. I cling to His promise in Ephesians 3:18 that says, ““And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may  have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Isn’t that beautiful? We can’t escape the love of Christ.

If we allow our worth to be dependent upon how our stepchildren treat us or feel about us, we set ourselves up for hurt. But if we remind ourselves that God’s love for us is everlasting, even if we fail or others mistreat us, we make room for peace.

How do you cope when stepfamily relationships seem messy? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Related Posts:

Setting Boundaries with Your Stepchildren

Overcoming the Pain of Rejection as a Stepparent

Coping with Stepfamily Drama

Trusting God’s Plan on a Difficult Journey

It’s easy to trust God’s plan when the journey is easy and comfortable. But it’s much harder when the days are long and the circumstances don’t make sense.

That’s the journey my husband and I found ourselves on several years ago. The events of our stepfamily didn’t make sense. I wanted to understand it. But I learned to live by faith, trusting God on the journey.

I included this story in our e-book, Stepping with Purpose. Feel free to download the book for more encouraging stepmom stories.

Trusting God’s Plan

 by Gayla Grace

During his sophomore year of high school, my stepson, Payton, suffered a back injury at an end of season football game that sent him to the hospital. As he was leaving the Emergency Room with my husband, Randy, he confided to his dad with tears in his eyes, “I’m thankful to be living here and be given the care I need.”  Unfortunately, that had not always been the case.

Two years prior, Payton stood by his stepfather in a custody hearing against his dad and boldly stated his desire to continue living with his stepfather and older sister.  His mother had passed away after a year-long battle with cancer, and his stepfather sought legal custody.  We lived more than 300 miles away, but longed to provide the stability and support Payton needed.

Fighting a custody battle came as a complete surprise after Payton’s mom died. But as his biological father, Randy felt certain he would be awarded custody of his son. However, we were unprepared for the accusations and false representation of our family. After hours of testimony at the pre-trial hearing, the judge ruled in favor of Payton residing with his stepfather until a complete custody trial could be scheduled.

We were baffled. We didn’t understand the judge’s decision. But we knew God was in control and sought His divine plan for Payton. I trusted in the words of Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

In the upcoming weeks Randy and I agonized over the reality of fighting this battle. We had three other children at home and knew they would be exposed to negative and stressful surroundings. We didn’t want to alienate Payton and finally opted to give up our right to a custody trial, focusing on our long-term relationship with Payton rather than a short-term fix.  We sensed God’s hand at work and wanted to surrender to His plan.

The following year was harder than we expected as we strove to support Payton through his grief while living hundreds of miles away. We were confused, anxious, and discouraged as we watched Payton live in a neglectful environment with unhealthy choices. The journey was hard, but we remained committed to draw closer to Payton and support him through the healing process.

As the months marched on, we noticed subtle changes. Payton began asking to spend more time with us. He seemed to enjoy hanging with his siblings and it appeared that healing and growth were taking place.

And then one day, a turn of events led to an unexpected call from Payton.  He confided in his dad about some drug-dealing activity his step-dad was involved in. Payton had temporarily retreated to his aunt’s house and didn’t know what to do. Randy determined he had to remove Payton from his step-dad’s home immediately. Surprisingly, without opposition or legal proceedings, Payton came to live with us the next week.  It was truly a miracle that only God could orchestrate.

It had been 18 months since his mother died, and Payton seemed relieved to come into our home. It was a smooth transition because he had been given the time he needed to grieve the loss of his mom with his sister and half-brother. He had worked through much of his anger and bitterness with a hospice counselor and could now allow others to reach out to him to further the healing process.  He settled in easily, making new friends and comfortably starting a new school.

Surrendering to God’s plan for Payton was humbling and disappointing at times. I wanted to offer my support as his stepmom through the early stages of his grieving process, but wasn’t given the opportunity.  I came to understand that he couldn’t have accepted my help in the beginning. God had a better plan that allowed Payton to grieve and heal with his stepfather and biological siblings who had suffered the same loss.

By trusting God’s sovereignty, our family gained renewed relationships with one another. I learned to seek God’s guidance and cling to His Word for direction. And although God’s plan might include a difficult journey that I don’t like or understand, I know I can trust it and commit to follow it.

How are you trusting God through a difficult journey? Will you share it with us?

Related Posts:

Overcoming the Pain of Rejection

When Do You Seek Custody of a Stepchild?

Encouragement for You As a Childless Stepmom

I’m not a childless stepmom. But I have the greatest respect for those of you who are.

For many years, I didn’t give much thought to what it would feel like to be a childless stepmom. But after talking to several of you and watching how you do life, I realize the ultimate sacrifice you make as a stepmom without children of your own.

We know that a stepmom doesn’t get to experience the “firsts” of a biological mom. The first one to have a child with your husband. The first one to experience parenting with your spouse and your baby. The first one to make any kind of a decision regarding that child and a host of decisions later.

But a childless stepmom never gets to experience those events or realize the joy of having a biological child, even if it’s from a previous relationship.

Many childless stepmoms I’ve spoken with are not childless by choice. Infertility plays a role all too often. And the roller coaster of trying to conceive takes a heavy toll every time.

If you’re struggling with infertility or any kind of extended wait, you might find comfort from a devotion posted by Tracies Mills with Proverbs 31 Ministries, titled “Waiting for God’s Best.” It speaks of the 20 year wait Isaac endured before his wife, Rebekah, gave birth to their twins (Genesis 25:26). Waiting is hard. And waiting without answers can be unbearable.

A childless stepmom faces different challenges than a stepmom with her own children. She is misunderstood by the parenting community and perhaps not even accepted by other moms. She endures the same parenting challenges but receives little reward for her efforts.

So if you’re a childless stepmom, I affirm you in your role. God bless you in your efforts to make a difference in your stepchildren’s lives. And although others may not appreciate or recognize the important role you play, you can be assured that you, as a stepmom, have value.

Are you struggling in your role as a childless stepmom? Do you need to reach out to other stepmoms?  Will you share how you cope with the challenges you encounter?

 

Saying Good-bye is Never Easy

We’ve sold our home in Conway (Praise the Lord) and recently put a contract on a home in Bossier City, Louisiana. We will be moving in just a few short weeks. And the good byes I find myself in the middle of are harder every day.

The church choir I’ve played piano for the last three years gave me a nice send-off tonight. I have some wonderful friends who I’ve cried with, laughed with, and sung with. It’s hard to say good-bye to long-term friends as we move.

But it reminds me of good-byes that we sometimes have to deal with in stepfamilies. Good-byes that are not our choice but are driven by someone else’s decisions.

In her book, The Stepfamily Survival Guide, Natalie Nichols Gillespie talks about some difficult good-byes her family has endured with her stepdaughter, Lorra. “Lorra has chosen as an adult not to continue her relationship with her father and me for now, and Adam and I have sobbed on many occasions over her decision. The family all know that I have had nightmares on multiple occasions that one of my stepdaughters is getting married and I am standing outside watching through the windows because I am not allowed inside the church!”

That’s a difficult good-bye. But Natalie Gillespie can’t change the decision her step-daughter has made. She can simply pray that she will have a change of heart someday.

Good-byes are never easy. But with God’s sustaining strength, we can endure them.

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13)

Related Posts:

Stepparenting Heartache

Stepparenting Heartache Part Two