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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?

5 Things Stepparents Have in Common with Olympic Champions

Have you been watching the Winter Olympics? What’s your favorite sport? Mine is women’s figure skating. 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 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. Champions don’t quit when they fail.

Many Olympic athletes train year after year before achieving the success they’re after. Most experience significant bumps along the way with temptations to quit.

USA snowboarder Shaun White walked away from the 2014 Winter Olympics without a medal, although he was heavily favored. The next four years included questions and hardships. He fell during a training session at New Zealand three months ago and required 62 stitches across his forehead, lips, and tongue. Afterward, he questioned whether he wanted to go back out and face the dangers of his sport. But he wouldn’t give up the chance for another Olympic gold. And with a gutsy performance amidst stiff competition on the halfpipe, he secured another gold medal.

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.

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

Figure skater Nathan Chen, favored to win several events, had a disappointing debut with his first event. He finished fourth in the men’s short program after a fall and a couple other bobbles. He admitted to his disappointment, but put it behind him and excelled in later events.

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)

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

Olympic athletes in Rio used “cupping,” an unusual treatment, to recover from the strain that accompanied 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 turned to the unique method to help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, and soreness. The most decorated Olympian of all times—Michael Phelps—used the special technique to cope with the strain of competitive swimming.

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, leads to discouragement. But when we use prayer, Scripture reading, meditation, and fellowship with other healthy stepparents, we find the energy to cope and succeed as champions.

5. 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.

 

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.

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.

 

7 Resolutions that Count by Gayla Grace

7 Resolutions that Count

When I married my husband, I set out to be the perfect stepparent.

I read all the books.

I went to the conferences.

I worked overtime to do everything right for my stepchildren.

But I wasn’t a perfect stepmom. I made a lot of mistakes. After more than 20 years, experience has taught me that I don’t have to be a perfect stepmom for my stepchildren to grow to love and accept me.

This year, instead of making resolutions about being a better stepmom, I decided to consider a few resolutions on how to move past my imperfections and keep going on days I want to quit as a not-so-perfect stepparent.

7 Resolutions that Count by Gayla Grace

So, this year I commit to …

1. Remind myself daily that “I can do all things through Christ” (Phil 4:13). Stepparenting is hard. When I try to do it alone, I fail. Thankfully, God wants to walk this journey with me. He will give me the strength and wisdom I need each day if I ask for His help.

 2. Let go of the Stepmom guilt. We all experience it from time to time. We let our mind run away with what we’ve done wrong as a stepparent. Or we compare our stepfamily to our neighbor’s perfectly-blended family and let the criticism begin. Stepmom guilt steps in when we expect everything in our home to be perfect. But that’s never going to happen. Why not let go of unrealistic expectations that keep you bound to guilt when you don’t measure up?

3. Forgive myself when I fail. A defeated stepparent doesn’t parent effectively. When I get caught up in negative self-talk over a poor parenting choice, I continue down a negative path. Forgiving myself for less-than-stellar stepparenting moments allows me to begin again with a renewed mind and a fresh perspective on my parenting challenges.

4. Seek out support from other stepmoms on hard days. My neighbor is a single parent with two school-aged children. She recognizes her need for help in juggling her responsibilities and asks other moms to help with carpool or after school care when work demands become overwhelming. We need fellow stepmoms to walk alongside us with encouraging words and support on hard days. If you haven’t found local stepmoms, check out Sisterhood of Stepmom group on Facebook.

5. Listen to my heart on how to parent my stepchild, instead of others’ opinions. It’s easy to run to the phone and ask our best friend what to do when we’re facing a difficult parenting moment, but if we step back and listen to our heart, we make better decisions. Considering our stepchild’s personality as part of the parenting equation also helps tailor our parenting in a healthier light.

6. Nurture my marriage. Stepchildren eventually exit the nest–both of my stepchildren have. Unfortunately, many step couple marriages don’t make it long enough to see that occur. Strong marriages don’t just happen — they require regular nurturing. I want to reach beyond an ordinary marriage by supporting my husband as his biggest fan and most loyal friend.

7. Take time to run, or quilt, or whatever activity works for me to re-group when the stepparenting strain takes over.  It’s important to re-group and make time for self-care when we’re about to go off the parenting cliff. When I balance the demands of stepparenting with activities I look forward to, I more effectively handle the strains of stepparenting.

As you start a new year, do you have resolutions to consider as a not-so-perfect stepparent? Do you need a mindset do-over that includes room for imperfection and second chances as a stepparent?

Perhaps that’s the ticket to success this year on your not-so-perfect stepparenting journey!

Happy New Year!

Do you have other resolutions to add? Leave me a comment and let me know.

*A revised version of this article was originally published in Stepmom Magazine, January 2014.
Dealing with Anger by Gayla Grace

Five Practical Ways to Deal with Anger in Your Stepfamily

5 ways for dealing with anger by Gayla Grace

“I just want her to affirm my kids. Tell them, ‘Good job,’ every now and then. Act like she cares.”

Those words were shared by a client in a coaching session a few years ago. It didn’t surprise me. I’d suspected that his wife, the stepmother to his two children, had unresolved anger that was affecting her relationships with his kids. I wanted to help her get to the root of it.

It can be a challenge to deal with our anger. But there are questions to ask and steps to take to master the challenge.

  1. What am I angry about?
  2. What do I need from my spouse to help me work through my anger?
  3. What is keeping me from connecting with my stepchildren?
  4. How have I been wounded?
  5. Where does the root of my anger lie?

Admitting our anger is the first step toward resolving it.

Oh, we can bury it. We can tiptoe around it. We can even pretend it doesn’t exist. We can blast others with it. But these things do nothing to RESOLVE the anger. They do nothing to SOLVE the problem. They only serve to prolong and/or inflame the problem.

We need to give ourselves the grace to explore the anger and learn to manage it.

As a stepparent, I understand anger. Maybe you’ve been treated like an outsider. Maybe your stepkids are rude to you daily. Maybe the ex-spouse invades your home emotionally. Perhaps your spouse doesn’t support your stepparenting efforts, or others in your community don’t respect your role.

We walk different paths as stepparents. Some of us get to engage quickly with our stepchildren, forming emotional bonds and life-long ties. And some of us tread uphill daily. For years. And we wonder if things will ever change.

If that’s where you are today, barely treading water, I encourage you to look inward.

Are you harboring anger that needs to come out?

Are you allowing the burden of guilt to keep you smothered?

Anger is a natural emotion.

Embrace it and resolve to make a change.

When the stepparenting journey is rocky, It’s easy to feel like we’re stuck, believing the situation will never be different. Like a truck spinning its tires in the mud, we throw off displeasing behavior that affects everyone in our path. We want to change. But we don’t know how or where to start.

I’ve been there. And it wasn’t pleasant.

I want to help.

Here are five steps we can use to manage our anger:

  1. Identify possible solutions.
  2. Take a timeout.
  3. Stick with “I” statements.
  4. Don’t hold a grudge.
  5. Know when to seek help.*

Helpful stepfamily resources I recommend are:

The Smart Stepfamily by Ron L. Deal

The Smart Stepmom by Ron L Deal and Laura Petherbridge

The Courage to be a Stepmom by Sue Patton Thoele

Another option for you and your family may be stepfamily coaching. I would love to help you find success in your stepfamily relationships and possibly find a fresh perspective. Go to my coaching page for details.

Regardless of where you are, you don’t have to stay there. You are not stuck.

But you will have to be intentional about making changes to really see a difference.

Will you take the risk and seek the help you need to find peace again?

 

Have you experienced anger in your stepfamily?

What suggestions do you offer for coping with your anger as a stepparent?

I would like to read about your thoughts and ideas in the comments.

5 steps to dealing with anger by Gayla Grace

*from the Mayo Clinic-the complete text here.