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Back to School – Five Tips for Success with Stepchildren

Our youngest son started middle school last week as a 6th grader and has had some intimidating moments at his new school. He started off in the wrong classroom for homeroom but didn’t discover it until the teacher called roll. He left to go to the correct classroom and finally entered the right room–tardy.

The next day he innocently walked through a circle of 8th graders on his way to class and was belittled by the older kids who insisted he “Go around next time!” And later that day he discovered the bus he rides home includes a few high school students who aren’t always nice to the young ones!

bus School is tough for our kids. Their days are stressful and intimidating, especially for those starting new schools. But we can help make their school year a success. Here are a few tips I suggest:

1. Pray regularly for your children and stepchildren. In her book, The Power of a Praying Parent, Stormie Omartian says, “The battle for our children’s lives is waged on our knees. When we don’t pray, it’s like sitting on the sidelines watching our children in a war zone getting shot at from every angle. When we do pray, we’re in the battle alongside them, appropriating God’s power on their behalf.”

2. Evaluate your schedule – have you left room to help with homework? It’s easy to inundate ourselves with too many commitments. I evaluate my schedule regularly to see if I need to change/add/delete anything. Raising children requires time and energy.  Our role as stepparents is even more demanding, mentally and emotionally.  If we give all  our energy to outside commitments and demanding careers, what do we draw from to deal with the inevitable crises and unexpected irritants that will surely come our way?

3. Resolve conflict as it occurs. Our children are impacted every day by what happens in our home. If we refuse to be cooperative with an ex-spouse regarding a new school schedule or negotiating activities, our children suffer. Here’s what Ron Deal says on this issue in The Smart Stepfamily: “An old African proverb says, ‘When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ Biological parents who fight and refuse to cooperate are trampling on their most prized possession – their children. Elephants at war are totally unaware of what is happening to the grass, for they are far too consumed with the battle at hand. Little do they know how much damage is being done.” Someone has to be the bigger person and work to resolve conflict – will it be you?

4. Expect the best of your children. And let them know you love them. Our kids will live up to the expectations we set – they’re looking for someone to believe in them. As I drove my son to school this morning, I told him, “I’m proud of you for keeping a good attitude, even though I know your first days of middle school have not been easy.” Our stepchildren need our support. On days they’re not easy to love, ask for God’s help. “I am with you; …I will strengthen you and help you.” (Isaiah 41:10)

5. Get to know their friends. Make your house the hangout.  If we don’t know our children’s friends, we can’t help them in their relationships. Friends can directly influence what kind of school year our stepchildren/children have. If you’re raising teens, keep food around – it always works. And gently talk to your kids about friends you don’t approve of and why. Childhood friendships are a breeding ground for teaching  what healthy relationships look like.

Are you looking forward to a new school year or dreading it? Will you commit to do your part in helping your children/stepchildren have a successful year?

What other tips do you offer? I would love to hear from you.

Pic by scottchan

Related Posts:

Back to School Routines and Your Stepfamily: Peaceful or Chaotic?

The Myth of the Perfect Stepparent

Change: A Friend or a Foe in Your Stepfamily?

Learning to Accept the Things You Cannot Change

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

Do you find yourself comparing the growth of your stepfamily to your neighbor’s next door? Do you talk to your stepmom friend at work and wonder why her stepfamily seems to be having such smooth sailing while your family is stuck in the muck?

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

My husband always calls our family “remedial blenders.” Our relationships didn’t come together within the first five to seven years of marriage as stepfamily research suggests. In fact, some of our toughest years as a family were seven to ten years after our marriage.

Does that mean we were doing everything wrong, slowing the progress of our family blending? Certainly my husband and I made our share of mistakes as stepparents, but we also had some challenging variables to contend with that influenced the relationships in our family.

One of the biggest factors that determines how well a family unites is whether the ex-spouse allows his/her children the freedom to embrace a relationship with the stepparent. His/her attitude toward the stepparent can greatly influence the child’s ability to accept and love a new stepparent.

Unfortunately, as a stepparent, you have no control over what happens in the other home that influences the relationships in your home. I clearly remember the half-hearted hugs and stand-offish behavior I received every time my stepchildren returned from their mother’s home. I always wondered what kind of conversation went on about me while they were gone. I’m sure it was best I didn’t know.

Because my stepdaughter was ten when we married, her age also influenced our ability to bond. I didn’t understand when she began pulling away from the family as she progressed through adolescence but it was part of her growing-up process, a time of buiding her own identity separate from the family, that naturally takes place during the teen-age years.

Stepfamily research also suggests that the hardest relationship to develop is the stepmom/stepdaughter one. Instead of blaming myself for our prickly interactions, I would have done better to accept the fact that some of our challenges were simply intertwined in our tendency as two females in the same household to butt heads. When my oldest biological daughter traversed through the teen years, we encountered some of the same tensions.

It was also normal for my stepdaughter to desire a stronger relationship with her biological mother, leaving me in a dispensable role. Because of her natural bond with her mother, she couldn’t naturally bond with me.

After my husband and I were married eight years, we learned my stepchildren’s mother had colon cancer. My stepchildren stood by helplessly the next year, watching their mother slowly digress, then pass away. The pain of her loss left raw emotions they didn’t know what to do with, negatively impacting our stepfamily relationships.

So I no longer carry the responsibility for the remedial blending that occurred in our family. We could have never predicted nor controlled the circumstances that occurred. But we could control our reaction to them and our commitment to press forward, despite the odds.

What about your family? Were you hoping for smooth sailing as your relationships came together? Do you wonder why your family doesn’t look like the stepfamily next door that seems to be having an easier time? Don’t compare. It’s dangerous.

Those who have the easiest time as a stepfamily never appreciate the value of their relationships because they didn’t have to work for them.

If your family takes longer than you desire to unite, don’t despair. Celebrate the victories along the way. Affirm the value of what you’re creating. And be thankful for the challenges. Because you’ll always know it would have been easier to quit.

But you didn’t.

Can you recognize the uniqueness in your  circumstances that influence your relationships? Will you share how you cope with it?

Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Coping with Loss in a Stepfamily

Stepfamily Trap: Denying our Feelings

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

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?

 

Back to School Routines and Your Stepfamily- Peaceful or Chaotic?

As another school year gets underway, many stepfamilies are adjusting to new routines. Stepchildren may be adjusting to different expectations at Mom and Dad’s house with homework and after-school activities. Stepparents may be forced to alter everyday patterns to accomodate bus schedules or after-school pickup.

The changing routines can wreak havoc on a stepfamily already struggling with fragile egos and tense emotions.

For stepparents, navigating a successful path through the back to school maze takes a calm spirit and flexible attitude. 

I recall stressful mornings of years’ past as I struggled to get out the door to my full-time job while making sure our four children had breakfast, a packed lunch, school papers signed, an after-school pickup plan, and were headed to the bus by 7:30. I recall telling a counselor during our early years of marriage, “School mornings are too stressful and I’m not sure how to change it.”

Oftentimes, the only thing we can change to make stepfamily living less stressful is ourselves. I couldn’t change the crazy schedule we lived for several years with kids navigating between households, stressful jobs, and defiant attitudes. But I could change how I reacted to the stress of the situation.

When I made an intentional effort to stay calm during the heat of a battle with one of my stepchildren, I made strides toward a positive outcome while resolving the conflict. When I chose to stay flexible through an ever-changing back and forth routine with my stepchildren, I was better able to meet the demands required of me with those routines.

I’m not saying it was easy. I like routine and I want the routine to stay the same every day. But that’s simply not possible in stepfamilies.

I like an orderly home with school papers put in place, and homework assignments completed on time. But  I learned to adjust to the erratic ways of teen-agers who seem to work best with papers scattered all around while completing a project, or head-banging music that  helps them think while they finish their paper at midnight (which was always restricted to their bedroom!)

Back to school routines create yet another stressful period as stepfamilies make adjustments to accommodate one another. But with a flexible attitude and a calm spirit, we can help our stepchildren adjust to their new routines and thrive in their new school surroundings, creating an environment in our home that benefits each one of us.

How is your back to school routine going? Does it need a dose of flexibility or an extra effort toward a calm spirit?

Pic by dan

 

When Stepparenting Feels Too Hard – Four Ways to Overcome Discouragement

Do you have days when you want to call it quits on your stepparenting efforts? Days when it seems that no matter how hard you try, the results are not what you want?

I had one of those days recently. The challenges were not all related to stepparenting, but some were, and by the end of the day, I was not in a good place emotionally or spiritually. So, I began to consider what to do to change my negative thinking pattern. Here are some ideas that surfaced:

1. Remember that “this too will pass.” Circumstances change, relationships change, and living arrangements change. If you’re having a bad day with a stepchild, remember, he/she will eventually grow up and leave home. We had four children living at home 15 months ago and we now have one. Change is one thing we can count on, but it often brings positive results.

2.Work through difficult feelings with a friend. Allow yourself to be vulnerable with another person and consider your part in the situation. Find support through a prayer group or Bible study. But, if you cannot get past feelings of anger, rejection,or self-pity, you may need to consider stepfamily coaching  or other professional help.

3. Make an intentional effort to stay positive.  In his book, The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale says, “Take charge of your thoughts. You can do what you will with them.” We can choose to think positively about our stepchild who is pushing our buttons and constructively work through conflict, or we can ruminate negatively about his/her shortcomings and create a tension-filled home. Our behavior is the result of our thoughts.

4. Find hope in the Lord. Look to the one true Source for help. Hope in the Lord brings strength, perseverance, and encouragement. Psalms 62:5-8 says, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

Have you had a difficult day recently on your stepparenting journey? Can you offer other suggestions?

Related Posts:

When Stepparenting Isn’t What You Expected

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Coping with Stepfamily Storms

 

Looking for Hope on Your Stepfamily Journey?

I helped with a church service at a poverty-stricken trailer park yesterday. As I spoke with those who lived there, I saw brokenness in every family. Persons affected by addiction, family members struggling with broken relationships, elderly with debilitating health issue, and others wondering where their next meal would come from.

But if you looked in their eyes, you saw glimpses of hope. That’s why they had come.They wanted to experience the Hope we find through  Jesus Christ. They worshiped with authentic hearts as they connected with the One who offered them hope.

 

 

Are you looking for hope on your stepfamily journey? Are you trying to find comfort through your spouse, your friends, or your stepchildren? You might find glimmers of hope through relationships, but you will also find hurt and disappointment.

I have no doubt if you’ve lived in a stepfamily long, you’ve experienced  rejection,  sadness, anger and all kinds of pain.

True hope can only be found when we surrender to a relationship with Christ and choose to walk with Him daily.  It’s not glamorous. But it’s satisfying. It offers an inward peace that nothing else can.

The stepfamily journey creates struggles of many kinds, particularly in the beginning. The challenges feel hopeless some days. But with God’s help we can trudge through our difficulties, trusting Him to direct our steps.

In  her book, Forgiving God, Carla McClafferty describes her struggle to find hope again after suddenly losing her fourteen-month-old son.  “God taught me I had to depend on him daily. … God didn’t give me today the strength to face tomorrow. I had to depend on him one day at a time. ”

Carla faced the reality of not understanding why God allowed the death of her son. “I would not know or understand why God allowed Corey to die. Somehow, when I accepted the fact that I would never know, I was able to stop searching for the answer.”

Carla acknowledged God’s sovereignty in her circumstances. “In His divine authority, God doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we want Him to. Sometimes, God doesn’t change our circumstances, God changes us in our circumstances.”

If you’re looking for hope on your stepfamily journey, I pray you look toward Jesus. You may not find all the answers to your questions, but you can find unending hope and strength for your journey as you walk with Him daily.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Where do you find hope on your stepfamily journey?