Finding Postive Ways to Deal with Toxic People by Gayla Grace

Finding Positive Ways to Cope with Toxic People

Toxic people can invade our lives and create havoc on relationships. But we can find positive ways to respond to them.

I experienced a toxic person last year who wrote an unkind comment on my blog after I posted about National Stepfamily Day. I had highlighted what being a stepparent is all about and affirmed stepparents for the important role they play. The comment came from a mom I didn’t know who was offended by my terminology. This mantra immediately came to mind:

I considered how to reply to her comment:

Being a stepparent involves knowing your role and not over stepping your boundaries!!!! Being a stepparent does not involve calling the REAL PARENT BIO. I would be very disgusted if my child came back calling me BIO MOM. You need to stop that. You’re a stepparent. It’s not your place to give the Parents names other than MOM or DAD.”

I read the comment again, wondering why she had capitalized momdad, bio, and real parent. Perhaps she wanted to emphasize the importance of being a “real parent” over a stepparent. It’s not the first time I’d seen unkind comments on my blog toward a stepparent. I don’t like them. But I can choose whether I’m offended by it. And I can do my part to promote peace in the midst of it.

When confronted by toxic people, remember:

You don’t have to give another person power over your emotions.

Mahatma Gandhi reportedly said it this way: “Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”

Finding Postive Ways to Deal with Toxic People by Gayla Grace

Stepfamilies often foster tense relationships as a result of unhealed hurts. If we spend our time trying to change our stepchildren or fretting over an ex-spouse’s behavior, we end up frustrated. With intentional effort, however, we can promote positive attitudes and behavior with unreasonable people.

Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” If our spouse’s ex learns we’re not going to fight back when he/she invokes drama, the game ends. If we don’t react to our stepchild’s unreasonable behavior, it’s more likely to stop.

Our peace of mind is too valuable for us to allow a toxic person’s words to offend or anger us. Someone needs to be the reasonable one in an unreasonable person’s life. I’m not saying taking on that role will come naturally or that any of us would get it right every time. But with God’s help, we can take the high road.

Remember the apostle Paul’s words: “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” Philippians 4:13.

 

If you would like a free 8×10 printable of the “I am in control of my emotions” image, you may download it by clicking here.

3 Tips for Overcoming Fear on Your Stepparenting Journey

I remember the scene of years’ past. I couldn’t stop the tears that spilled down my cheeks as I hugged my daughter goodbye. Saying goodbye for eight months as my 22-year-daughter left to carry out her calling in Mozambique had left a knot in the pit of my stomach.

As we drove away, I wondered how I would cope with my fears. Concern of the environment in Africa escalated in my mind: the prevalence of AIDS and malaria, the less-than-ideal medical care, the language barrier, and the comforts of home that were gone. She had barely left my arms and I already longed for her return, wishing I could shield her from the dangers of what lay ahead.

As my husband and I sat silently in the car, God began to speak to my heart. Although it wasn’t audible, I couldn’t deny His words.

3 tips for overcoming fear on the stepparenting journey by Gayla Grace

“Will you trust me?”

It’s easy to trust God when we can control what’s happening around us. But trusting God with the unknowns isn’t easy. When the custody battle looms. When your stepchild’s defiance escalates. When your spouse talks about leaving.

Fear. Uncertainty. It can envelop us.

If you’re facing fear on your stepparenting journey, don’t let it defeat you.

Here are three steps to help:

1. Live one day at a time.

An AA slogan that alcoholics rely on during recovery, “live one day at a time” takes away the fear of tomorrow. “If I thought about never having another drink,” an alcoholic once told me, “I would never stay sober.  But focusing on getting through one day without a drink is manageable.”

It’s the same for us. If we focus on how we’re going to survive with our stepkid challenges for the next ten years, we’ll never make it. But if we choose to look at what we can do today to make it manageable in our home, we can cope with the day. What step do you need to take today? Ask your spouse for his support of your stepmom role; set some boundaries with your stepchildren. Can you escape with a girlfriend for a relaxing evening?

2. Choose to stay positive in not-so-positive circumstances.

It’s especially important to be intentional about staying positive when you’re overwhelming or oppressive circumstances. We CAN control what we choose to think about. In Jan Silvious’ book, Big Girls Don’t Whine, Silvious writes, “Big Girls control what their minds dwell on. If you can’t control anything else in your life, you can control what you think about.”

In an interview with popular speaker Patsy Clairmont, she discussed her challenge with agoraphobia–a fear of open spaces and large groups of people. Clairmont emphasized that her release from the prison of agoraphobia began when she changed the way she was thinking. She focused specifically on Philippians 4:8 that says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Her thoughts began to improve by consciously “thinking on good things,” and “believing maybe I could be well.”

We can do the same—focus only the encouraging aspects of our situation, or perhaps thoughts that are worthy of praise, such as the positive characteristics of our stepchild. What we think about matters!

3.  Give up control and submit to God’s plan. In other words, let go and let God.

Here’s a poem I read recently on this topic in Courage to Change:

As children bring their broken toys, with tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God, because He was my friend.
But then, instead of leaving Him in peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help, with ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried, ‘How can you be so slow?’
‘My child,’ He said, ‘What could I do? You never did let go.’”

We want to fix and control instead of giving to God. I often remind myself that  “His ways are higher than my ways and His thoughts than my thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8).

My daughter returned from Mozambique a new person.

More mature.

More sure of who she is.

More like Christ.

In the midst of it, I gained a deeper trust in God and His ways as I walked through my fears.

What steps do you need to take to walk through your fears confidently?
Can you share any other tips to help?

Blended Families – 4 Tips for Dealing with The Ex

Blending families can create a unique set of problems. Sometimes it may seem solutions are hard to find. Today, my friend, Holly Robinson, shares some tips for creating a cordial relationship with the ex-wife. Please welcome Holly, read her story, and share your thoughts in the comments.

I never meant to marry a man with children. When I fell in love with Dan, I shied away from a commitment because we each had two young children. Forget sex and romance! The minute we tied the knot, I worried that life would be all about daycare, fretting over mortgages, and orthodontist bills.

We got married anyway, despite my fears and doubts. On the wedding day itself, it started to rain early in the morning, a light drizzle from a pewter sky. Luckily, we had ordered tents for the backyard. The rain added to the beauty of it, as the tents caught a kaleidoscope of falling leaves, like handmade Japanese paper in red and gold.

Because the ceremony included our four children—by then, they were 5, 6, 7 and 8 years old—our guest list of 96 people included 42 children and ranged in age from three months to 91 years old. No wedding could have been more beautiful. Yes, I cried.

However, I was right about the whole stepmother gig being hell on wheels. One particularly bad night with my stepson Drew drove this point home. My kids were with my ex that weekend; Dan and I had just gone to bed when suddenly there was a retching sound from the doorway. And there was Drew vomiting on the floor.

Dan jumped up to tend to him. I threw on an old nightshirt and helped him clean up Drew, then Drew’s bed, and finally the floor. We gave Drew medicine to bring down his fever and mopped him with cool washcloths. For a while, Drew called out pitifully for his mother, his favorite stuffed animal, and his treasured bedtime story – none of which I could provide. We did what we could to comfort him, but I’d never felt so helpless.

“We have to call his mom,” I said finally, near tears.

Dan didn’t want to do it—it was late, and he hated the idea of having to ask his ex for parenting advice. But I insisted: if this was my kid, I’d want to help him feel better. Maybe his ex could help me tell Drew the story he wanted to hear, at the very least, even if we didn’t have the book on hand.

I made the call. And, to my surprise, his ex—who had been understandably cool since the wedding—was worried about her son and glad I’d called. She recounted the story to me over the phone and I “read” it to my stepson. He fell asleep, finally, and woke up feeling fine the next day.

With that call, I realized I’d broken through some sort of barrier. I was determined to start thinking of my husband’s ex as an ally. After all, she was the mother of the stepkids I was beginning to love. By being polite, and even friendly and helpful, to her, I hoped to make both of our households more peaceful. Dan still had trouble communicating with his ex, but from that point on, I made sure to keep the lines of communication open and reached out to her often. She began doing the same, calling me for advice or information when her children had a behavior issue or needed a scheduling change. It was never ideal, but it was definitely civil.

Last month, I went to my stepson Drew’s birthday party. He’s out of college, but he wanted everyone—his dad and me, his sister and stepsiblings and half-brother—to celebrate his birthday. I came away from the party thinking, wow, we did it. We didn’t just play a game of happy families. We really are one.

Being civil to your husband’s ex isn’t always easy. But, if you take the high road and treat her as a potential parenting ally instead of an enemy, I promise things will start going more smoothly. With time, you may find yourself joining her on the trip to settle your stepson or stepdaughter into a college dorm room, celebrating a wedding together, or taking pictures of a grandchild’s first birthday. These are the milestones ahead of you—provided you can let go of the past.

Step Parenting Tips on Handling the Ex-Wife

A few tips to help you get started:

  • Ask your husband’s ex for advice about the kids, especially when it comes to household rules and behavior. Don’t worry. It won’t lessen your power or position with your husband—he just wants you two to get along, and she’ll appreciate the fact that you respect her opinions.
  • If your husband fumes about his ex, don’t fan the flames. Yes, of course, he loves to say his ex is bossy, money-grubbing, a cold fish, or whatever—obviously, they got divorced for reasons. But there are always two sides to every story—and sometimes more. Listen with compassion, but remember that your goal is to keep the peace at home, so your stepkids will grow up happy and secure.
  • Stop competing. Your stepchildren will never love you better than they love their mom. Think of yourself as the alternate on the team: you will have your shining moments, like when you realize you and your stepdaughter both love musical theater or when your stepson says you’re a pretty good artist. But she’s their mother, and no matter how she behaves—or misbehaves—nothing will change that. You’re still playing an important role in the lives of these children, so take your job as a role model seriously and give it all you’ve got: love, compassion, humility, and humor.
  • Be flexible. There will be times when your husband’s ex may seem like she’s gunning for him—and for you in the bargain. She might suddenly ask for a different weekend, or skip having the children visit. She even wants you to take the kids all summer when she was supposed to have them half-time. Think about things from her point of view and, most importantly, from the perspective of your stepchildren: what’s better for them? How can you make their lives easier, not more difficult? They’ve already gone through a lot of loss with the divorce. It’s your job—sorry, you’re the adult—to make them believe that people love them and care about their needs, even if it means sacrificing that romantic weekend with their dad or having to scramble for daycare so you can get to work.

Eventually, the kids will grow up. When they do, you want the door to be wide open, so they can come home to a family that loves them for years to come.

Bio: Holly Robinson is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Open Salon, and Parents. Her novel, BEACH PLUM ISLAND, is Holly Robinson at her best, a story about family, love and buried secrets. 

Overcoming Self Doubt as a Stepparent

Today I share a guest blog post by a fellow stepmom: Julie Langley of Shreveport, LA. Her story as a stepmom offers comfort and hope!

Overcoming Self-doubt as a Stepparent

 

I have both married and single friends. Those with kids and those without. Some knew they wanted to be parents from the moment they began to think of their future. Others don’t have children either by their own choice or because of health concerns.

I never had that desire to have a baby. As my 20s turned into 30s, I knew it was likely that someday I might marry someone with children. That was fine. I could handle it. Then I met Kevin, widowed with two girls. We fell in love and married a year later. Everything was perfect… or so I thought.

The day after we returned home from our honeymoon, he went to work, and I was left alone with an 8 and 13-year-old. Both had different needs and were in different places in life. They longed for a connection with a mother figure, but teetered on the familiarity of handling things in their own way. They pushed me to see what they could get away with and challenged me to think outside the neat little box I had envisioned for my life moving forward.

Self-doubt set in quickly when I realized this was more than babysitting. It was my life. I questioned then, and still do five years later, if the decisions I make daily concerning the kids are right. What do we do today? What do I cook? Should I be a rule setter or just try to be their friend?

I quickly learned that boundaries had to be established, and I couldn’t always be the fun or cool stepparent.

There was a time for homework, cleaning rooms and doing chores, and a time to relax, have fun and play. When my husband came home from work, there needed to be time for us to sit down alone and talk about our day. There also needed to be time for the girls to tell about their day. So, as part of our crazy busy day, we have dinner at the table every night to sit down as a family and reflect.

I continue to learn that God, as our Heavenly Father, is always doing things on our behalf for the greater good. We may not understand how, why or even when, but His timing is perfect. As His children, we may get frustrated, angry or confused, but He is ultimately in control.

The first week of being a stepmom I was on my knees a lot praying for wisdom and sanity. I also found myself calling my own precious mother for advice, wisdom, or just to say “thank you” for the things she taught me. Perhaps someday I can be the “mom” on the other end of the line offering wisdom to one of my stepdaughters.

It’s not about being stern or being cool. It’s about being present, setting boundaries and meeting needs in the moment. Every day we are faced with new situations, obstacles, and challenges.

I remind myself often of the verse in Jeremiah 29:11 that says, “For I know the plans I have for you. This is the Lord’s declaration – Plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

The key to success as a stepparent is knowing Who is in control and letting God be the author of your story.

Julie’s Bio: I’ve been married to Kevin for four years. I had almost given up on dating when I met him through eHarmony. I said I would never do online dating, but then I may have never met Kevin. I grew up in Canton, Texas, where I served in various roles over a 15-year period at the local newspapers (six to be exact), including editor. When we married, I moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, where Kevin and his two girls Hannah, 18, and Emily, 14, lived. I brought one very spoiled puppy to the family, and later we added two extremely goofy cats to the mix. During my journalism career, I have written for a number of publications, and aspire to publish one of my many fiction books.


Need more encouragement for your stepparenting road? Look for Gayla’s new devotional book, Stepparenting With Grace, to be published by Worthy Publishing, August 2018.

Or check out her current one here.

 

Five Ways to Find Peace During the Holidays by Gayla Grace

Five Ways to Find Peace During the Holidays

Today my friend, Barb Goldberg, shares her thoughts on celebrating the holidays as a stepfamily.

 

 

What is the first thing that crosses your mind when you think about stepfamilies and holidays?

I’m guessing it isn’t peace!

Stepfamilies have an advantage over other families. We know that we have to practice our mediation skills. And we know that we have to establish our peace processes now.

Stepfamily or not, holidays are stressful! But a stepfamily holiday experience can be holiday stress on steroids.

In addition to the everyday chores of a holiday, we get to juggle divorce agreements, children’s schedules, ex-wives, extended family, egos, and gifting. All within a 24-48 hour time frame.

Although it may sound like a nightmare, peace is within our grasp.

Here are five tips that can take your holidays from a war zone to a haven of thankfulness and serenity.

  • Generosity of time
    Be flexible with the schedules. It’s important to keep those agreed-upon commitments, but if a parent runs late, let it go. Relatives may be visiting and holiday events can make you forget about time. Roll with it. Children hate to hear those arguments. It completely stresses them out.
  • Fight the urge to compete
    It’s easy to fall prey to gift wars. In a subconscious battle to win your stepchildren’s love, don’t start buying expensive presents to impress them. The only person who will be impressed is the executive who runs your credit card company. Children know what you’re doing and it’s a bad lesson to teach. Keep the gifts thoughtful regardless of what the other ‘side’ is giving.
  • Write the ex a note
    Holidays are a great time to be grateful and thankful. Write your stepchildren’s parent a note and let them know how much you appreciate their children and the time you spend with them. If you have any other lovely things to express, please do so. There is still nothing like getting a written note.
  •  Act the way you want the holiday to be.  If you still feel like ‘humbug’ when you envision your holidays, act the way you would like them to be. Human behavior is contagious and you will spread cheer when you pretend. Even if you are miserable, don’t show it on the outside. You will be shocked at how you will be convinced by your own show.
  • Swallow your tears and volunteer!
    Volunteering is the best way to spend your time. If you are without your children this holiday, it is the best distraction. If you are with your children, it is the best lesson. Helping others will put your stepfamily woes in perspective. They really are not very serious when you look at the grand picture.

Stepfamily life is a precious gift because it truly does teach us how to celebrate holidays with the perfect spirit. We are lucky. Happy holidays!

Barbara Goldberg

Saving the World, One Stepfamily at a Time

Barb is the author, blogger, speaker, and teacher for The Evil Stepmother Speaks. Barb teaches the art and science of stepfamily management.

Her book, The Evil Stepmother Speaks: A Guide for Stepfamilies Who Want to Love and Laugh is a funny, must-read.

For additional holiday tips, check out our holiday e-book,

Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace,

 co-authored with Heather Hetchler of CafeSmom. 

It’s packed with proven tools, tips, personal stories, and new holiday traditions you can create with your stepfamily. And a list of recipes!

It’s a great way to help you find peace at the holidays.

 Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace by Gayla Grace & Heather Hetchler

Change is Inevitable. Can We Learn to Trust God and Adapt?

One phone call. That’s all it took to change our stepfamily forever.

“I just got the news. She passed away earlier today,” my husband said. The finality of the words stung.  I thought about my teenage stepchildren facing life without their mom. Saddened, my heart ached.

I knew it would affect all of us. Like the ripples after tossing a stone into a lake, the effects would soon make their way into our home.

We had weathered some rocky storms as a stepfamily in the nine years my husband and I had been married. We were finally settling into a comfortable relationship, finding what worked for our family. I felt blessed for our newfound harmony.

Losing their mom left a cavernous hole in the hearts of my stepchildren. My relationship with them suffered as they dealt with their grief.

It’s easy for me to trust God when things are going well. Yet, when I face circumstances I don’t understand and that I cannot change, my faith tends to waver. You too? My husband and I had been praying for his ex-wife to be healed. That was not God’s plan.

Change is inevitable. Can we learn to trust God & adapt? by Gayla Grace

My mind was bombarded with questions that had no answers.

  • Would the children move across state lines and come live with us?
  • Could our home accommodate two more?
  • How would they cope as they struggled to accept their mom was gone?
  • What could we do to help with their troubled emotions?

The path before me was unchartered and unknown. I would have to trust God with what lay ahead.

Solutions were not easily or quickly found.

Tension mounted in our home.

Tempers occasionally flared.

We waded through months of confusion and anxiety.

At times, my husband and I did not see eye to eye.

Yet, when we let go and surrendered to God’s plan, peace engulfed us.

Soon after her mother’s death, my stepdaughter began college and didn’t relocate. My stepson lived with his stepdad and younger half-brother for a while longer before moving in with us. For healing to begin, we had to give up control and trust God with the outcome. Then and ONLY THEN did we begin to experience peace and begin to see positive changes.

It’s been more than ten years since my stepchildren lost their mom. Now, as young adults, both of them live out of state and are thriving. I’m thankful for healthy, loving relationships with them.

These days my own mother’s health is waning as she struggles with late-stage dementia. My stepchildren understand the sadness that accompanies the loss of a parent and offer compassion toward me.

I still struggle with God’s plan at times, particularly as I watch Mom suffer.

I want it to be my way, and I have a hard time letting go of control. But I know His ways are sovereign.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.  “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Trusting God’s plan is hard. Have you learned to trust His plan with your stepfamily? Will you share it with us?