Dear Stepparent: You’re an Olympic Champion!

Have you been watching the Olympics? What’s your favorite sport? Mine is women’s gymnastics. The athletes make it look so easy to throw themselves across the floor in beautiful techniques and hoist their bodies in ways that seem impossible.

As a Stepparent, You're an Olympic ChampionAs I listen to stories of the Olympic champions’, I find myself comparing them to the challenges of stepparenting and the champion role we play every day. Here are a few parallels I’ve noticed:

1. It’s emotional. Often.

I’ve seen a lot of tears since the Olympics started. Some are tears of joy—many are tears of defeat. One coach said, “Without the passion and the emotion, you wouldn’t have an Olympian.”

The same is true of stepparenting. If we didn’t care deeply about our stepchildren, we wouldn’t feel the intense anger, sadness, and anxiety surrounding their choices and their reactions toward us. Our emotions speak loudly of the significant role we play in their lives. We’re champions because we take on the role of parenting someone else’s child and endure the emotions that follow.

2. Investing time and energy doesn’t always lead to the success we desire.

Former gold medalist Ilya Zakharov of Russia was hoping for another medal in the men’s 3m springboard diving event. Just four years ago in London, he performed an impressive forward 4 and 1/2 somersault that scored him 100 points and the gold medal. His Rio dive was to be a forward 2 and 1/2 somersault with 2 twists. Sadly, he didn’t get the momentum he needed off the board and didn’t finish the dive in time, landing in the water on his hands and feet. His score for the dive…a bit fat O. After continued investment in his sport, he didn’t succeed at what he had worked toward.

Our view of success as a stepparent doesn’t always follow the time and energy we invest in it. Variables beyond our control often keep our stepchildren from developing a relationship with us. Loyalty conflict toward a biological parent can play a role in keeping a stepchild in a guarded position. But God sees our heart and measures our success as a champion by the effort we make, regardless of the final result. “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)

3. It requires special techniques to cope with the stress and strain.

Many Olympic athletes in Rio have used “cupping,” an unusual treatment, to recover from the strain that accompanies the rigor of performing competitively. Described by WedMD as “an ancient form of alternative medicine in which a therapist puts special cups on your skin for a few minutes to create suction,” athletes turn to the unique method to help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, and soreness. It isn’t proven to have consistent results but many athletes, including the most decorated Olympian of all times—Michael Phelps—use the special technique to cope with the strain of their sport.

Stepparenting also involves emotional stress and strain that seems unbearable at times. The relentless demands on our time, society’s pressure of what role we are to play, the emotional tug-of-war with the biological parent, and the unending mind games stepchildren often play with us, can lead to  discouragement without hope. But when we use faith-filled solutions such as prayer, Scripture reading, meditation, and fellowship with other healthy stepparents, we find the energy to cope and succeed as champions.

4. Good coaching is mandatory. 

Many Olympic athletes speak of changing coaches when they begin training for an Olympic event. They know that mediocre methods or inexperienced coaching will not lead them to an Olympic medal.

Stepparenting challenges also require coaching/counseling during difficult seasons. Coaching needs to come from an experienced professional who understands stepfamily dynamics. Traditional family methods with stepfamilies don’t lead to success. If you’re stuck in your stepfamily difficulty, check out my coaching page to find hope. Champions turn to good coaching when they need help.

5. Champions don’t quit when they fail.

Many Olympic athletes train year after year before achieving the success they’re after. It would be easy to quit, but quitters don’t succeed.

USA skater Jeremy Abbott endured an agonizing fall during the men’s competition of figure skating in the 2012 Olympics in London but got back up and finished his routine. When interviewed later he said, “My personal story has always been about perseverance. Maybe I’m not an Olympic champion but I can teach the world, when you fall you must get back up.”

When you fall down as a stepparent, you also must get back up. My article, “Perfectly Flawed—Advice for Stepparenting,” describes my husband’s imperfect journey as a stepdad and his rewards from persevering. We become champions in our stepparenting role when we keep trying, even though we want to quit. I know it’s hard. I’ve been there.

I applaud your efforts as a stepparenting champion. I wish I could visit with you over a cup of coffee about your biggest struggle. But remember: God sees every effort, even if the results aren’t what you’re hoping for.

I love the Olympic Creed and think it can be applied to stepparenting as well:

The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take  part, the important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.  The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

Do you agree? I would love to hear your comments.

If you need some encouragement on your stepmom journey, I hope you’ll consider joining us at our upcoming stepmom retreat Sept 16-17 in Dallas, TX at the beautiful Cooper hotel and spa. We offer a variety of workshops including:

  • When the ex is challenging
  • Legal aspects of stepfamily life
  • Traumatized or hurting kids
  • The full-time stepmom
  • The childless stepmom
  • Setting boundaries
  • Adult stepkids
  • How to keep the romance alive
  • How to pray for your stepfamily
  • And More!

Get all the details here:

Pic by Salvatore Vuono


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2 replies
  1. Jenn Thompson
    Jenn Thompson says:

    This was encouraging to me! Participating is what counts. Being willing to fight well and struggle through the hard times is not easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.
    As a childless step-mama who is the parent who seems to make the most effort and care the most about growing my stepson in to a good and Godly man, I feel the weight of the Olympic torch firmly in my hand.
    Wish I could attend your upcoming retreat, as several of the subjects look really good to me. But I am not able, so I will pray that those who do attend will be blessed!
    Do you have any blog posts or articles about being the only parent who disciplines consistently?

    • Gayla Grace
      Gayla Grace says:

      Hi Jenn, I’m glad the post was helpful. I understand the weight of what you’re feeling and applaud your efforts as a stepmom. I don’t have a post specifically on the only parent who disciplines consistently, but I thought this one might be helpful on the daily grind of stepparenting.

      You can also do a search on my blog page and find several posts related to the rewards of stepparenting. That might be helpful also.

      God bless you! Keep your chin up. Gayla

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