Coping with Difficult Emotions as a Stepparent

The memoir’s scene grabbed my attention.

Taya Kyle, widow of the American sniper, Chris Kyle, describes a fragile setting where her emotions run deep.  At her husband’s funeral, Taya prepares to say a few words about her beloved, fully aware it will be one of the hardest things she’s ever done.

To gain the courage and strength she needs, she reminds herself of her husband’s life-changing words, which get her through.

“When you think you can’t do something, think again. The body will do whatever the mind tells it to.”American Wife

Kyle’s memoir, American Wife, tells a tragic, but brave, story of love and loss amidst war and faith. A decade-long marriage survives long stretches of Chris’s absence while he repeatedly puts his life on the line in major battles of the Iraq war. Finally returning to civilian life, Chris and Taya work hard to rebuild their family.

But one day, the unthinkable occurs. While attempting to help a troubled vet, Chris is murdered. After surviving countless attempts on his life in war, his final breath is taken close to home in a way no one understands. Within moments, Taya becomes a widow and single mom of two.

Raw emotions spill out as she struggles to cope. Her authentic story-telling reveals depression coupled with fatigue and insomnia.

Amidst a heart-breaking backdrop, however, a beautiful story unfolds. Taya refuses to give up and begins to rebuild a life for her and her kids with faith, resilience, and determination to fight against her overwhelming grief.

I’ve heard it said that one never really gets over loss—you simply learn to cope with it. Taya’s story describes how she copes by finding meaning and connection to Chris through a shared mission of honoring those who serve others, especially military and first-responder families.

Stepfamily Grief

The poignant memoir reminds me of the anguish of stepfamily grief. Although not the same as Taya’s grief, it’s real. It’s often overwhelming. And it’s experienced differently in every home.

Maybe you’re grieving the white-picket fence life you yearned for that didn’t come true with remarriage.

Or perhaps your grief stems from a stepchild who chooses not to embrace you as a stepparent.

Maybe your loss comes from a deep place of hurt that your spouse refuses to recognize.

Stepfamilies experience grief. How are you coping with yours?

Will you choose to find joy and rebuild a new life with faith, resilience, and determination? Will you stand on God’s promises that He will walk with you through days that include loneliness, isolation, and grief?

Will you keep trying on days you want to give up?

If you need a lift today, check out Kyle’s memoir for encouraging words on how she coped with incredible grief.

Pick up a copy of our devotional book, Quiet Moments for The Stepmom Soul: Encouragement for the Journey.

Enlist a counselor or stepfamily coach.

Or come to our upcoming stepmom retreat at the beautiful Winshape Retreat Center.

But don’t get stuck in your grief. Reach out. Embrace your faith. Find hope for your journey. There are better days ahead if you don’t quit.

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

How do you cope with stepfamily grief? Will you share your hope with others?









My Biggest Tip after 20 Years in a Stepfamily

My husband and I celebrated 20 years of marriage last week. There were many years I didn’t know if we’d make it to our next anniversary.  Today, I’m thankful for where we are as a stepfamily.

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I’ve grown emotionally, spiritually, and mentally in so many ways since I began this journey. I’m thankful for what stepfamily life has taught me; I’m a different person than when I started. Last year I wrote a post on What I’ve Learned in 19 Years as a Stepmom. 

I must admit, however, that I’m most thankful our hardest years are behind us. You can read about some of our struggles here: Trusting God’s Plan for Your Stepfamily and The Myth of the Perfect Stepparent. 

There are a lot of suggestions I could give for how we’ve made it 20 years. But today I want to focus on one—or maybe it’s three :). If you asked for my biggest tip for long-term success, peace, and harmony in your stepfamily, here it is:

Make your marriage a priority, trust God through the rough patches, and don’t give up just because it’s hard.

I know—you’ve heard that before, right? Maybe it seems too simple. Maybe you don’t like it. But it’s worked for us.

When our marriage was in trouble (which happened within our first year), we began counseling. My husband and I both uncovered leftover baggage from our previous marriages and family of origin issues that affected us. It was painful to look at my part in how I wanted to be right and insisted on having the last word when we argued or how I considered my way of parenting superior to Randy’s.

I didn’t like having to consider how my 11-year marriage to an alcoholic skewed my thinking about relationships. Trust no longer came easily for me and I put one foot out the door before I gave our marriage a fair chance. I had worked hard in my previous marriage but it failed anyway. I had to dig deep and make myself vulnerable again in a marriage when I didn’t know the outcome.

I questioned our efforts constantly—what were we doing wrong?Although you hear it takes 4-7 years for a stepfamily to blend, it took longer than that for us.  There were things we could have done differently, no doubt, but the truth is, the complexities of our stepfamily life with four children and two ex-spouses made life hard. And just as we were making progress in healthy relationship-building, my stepchildren learned their mother was battling colon cancer. Her death a year later was devastating for everyone.

Your circumstances are different than mine but I suspect you have your own challenges. Days you want to quit. Relationships you want to give up on. Questions that don’t have answers.

I know. It’s hard. I’ve been there.

Will you dig deep? Will you trust a loving God who wants to hold your hand as you walk through difficult circumstances?

Will you do the hard work of looking at your own issues instead of always considering someone else needs to change? Will you persevere when the road stretches out endlessly?

The easy way out is to quit. But you’ll never experience the blessings of the long haul if you do.

I’m thankful I’ve stayed—through the good and the bad.

Make your marriage a priority, trust God through the rough patches, and don’t give up just because it’s hard.

Do you have other suggestions? I’d love to hear them.

If you’d like more nuggets of help, check out our devotional book on Amazon:

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Why Reality Triumphs in Your Stepfamily

My son has an upper respiration infection.  As he whined about his symptoms while picking at his breakfast, I didn’t want to believe him. My to-do list for the day didn’t include a trip to the doctor, a two-hour wait with screaming children sliming their germs beside me, and another trip to the pharmacist.

But it didn’t matter what I was imagining in my head. My son was sick. If I had denied his symptoms, the virus lingering in his body would have continued to attack his healthy cells, creating more and more symptoms of illness. We leave for a seven-day cruise tomorrow and that’s a disaster in the making!

It’s the same in our stepfamilies. Maybe your stepdaughter doesn’t want to acknowledge the marriage of her dad to you — her stepmom. Maybe she’s fantasizing that her parents will get back together. Maybe she’s believing the lies her mom is putting in her head about you. But the truth is… reality wins!

Eventually, your stepchild will accept the reality of your presence in his or her life. Even if the biological parent in the other home is bashing you on all fronts, reality will win. Eventually, your stepchild will recognize that you’re not going away and she needs to squelch her fantasies and begin to develop a relationship with you. At some point, your stepchildren develop a mind of their own, separate from the garbage the other biological parent is feeding them, and form their own opinion of you!

It’s not easy. There may be some squirming and squealing in the process. There might be one step forward and two steps backward. But from my own experience, I can assure you — even if it seems hopeless…it’s not!  Even if there’s a lot of conflict in your stepfamily right now, it eventually subsides. I promise. (If you don’t give up).

I love Dick Dunn’s words in his book, “New Faces in the Frame.” He says, “At first you may see little or no progress. Remember that as children mature, their capacity to understand matures also. True maturity is a life-long process. In time, fantasies give way to reality, and children move on with their lives. Fantasies attach us to the past–letting go frees us for the future.”

Be gentle with your stepchildren as they learn to put aside their fantasies and live with reality. It’s not an easy process, but it will change your relationships over time. Reality triumphs every time.

Do you agree? Is your stepfamily living in reality or still struggling with fantasy?

Pic by Victor Habbick

Have you heard of our Stepmom Retreat? Come join us in Dallas September 25-27, 2015 and find hope, camaraderie with other stepmoms, and fun! Details here:



Dear Stepdad: Happy Father’s Day!

Although we talk about the stepmom role a lot, stepdads don’t get the same kind of attention. As we celebrate fathers this week-end, I want to offer some support to help those in the stepdad role. I ran across an excellent article by Susan Swanson, PhD, LCSW with The Stepfamily Center.  I think you’ll find it encouraging and helpful:


6 Don’ts of Being a Stepdad

Men who marry women with children take on a role that not many could possibly be prepared for. While you most likely come into this with all good intentions to be the man of the household, you might wonder why you feel left out and why your stepchildren and wife are often upset with you or siding against you. This is very hurtful and perplexing for many stepdads.

When I talk with stepdads, I generally find men who want to have some role in the lives of their stepchildren. They want a male role in the household, but, like all of us, those roles are based on either what we imagine the father role in a family should be or what we had growing up. When we take those ideas with us into a marriage where children already exist, stepdads are often left confused and hurt.

If you are a stepfather, here are some things that may help you to know and understand:

Read more

Dear Stepparent: It’s Okay to Nurture Your Needs

I used to believe that my needs should come last. I’d stay up late to finish laundry or rise early to put a meal in the crockpot before heading to work. If you peered into our home, you’d see resentment from an unrealistic routine that boiled over into behavior that was less than Christ-like.

One day I decided my needs were important too.

I’m not saying I never do those things anymore, but it’s rare. We teach our kids to do their own laundry as teenagers and meals at our house are simpler than they used to be. If I find myself overwhelmed due to chores or a schedule I can’t manage, I ask for help.  I bet my husband would tell you I’m easier to live with now.

ID-100169128The demands of stepparenting increase with summer upon us. Long days of a surly teenage attitude or a week-long vacation with a stepchild who disses you can send even the calmest stepparent into a fit of madness.

How do you cope?

Read more

Great New Resource: The Smart Stepfamily Marriage

Ron Deal understands stepfamilies! He teamed up with marriage and family expert David Olson to offer keys to success for blended families. I encourage you to grab their new resource!

make THIS marriage last a lifetime

How can you have a happy, meaningful marriage?

Ron Deal and David Olson researched over 100,000 people to discover the qualities that best predict highly satisfying relationships and the roadblocks couples must overcome in order to beat the odds of divorce. Some of their findings will validate what you already know about successful relationships; others will surprise you.

Surprising Findings about Marriage:

  1. The number one relationship problem for stepcouples is dealing with complex stepfamily issues. Making the differences between first marriages and remarriages undeniable, our research reveals that an astonishing 7 of the top 12 stumbling blocks for remarriage couples are related to a past relationship breakup (e.g., divorce) or to the complications of being a stepfamily.
  2. The remarriage divorce rate is between 10-25% higher than first marriages. Why does that occur? Fear and jealousy account for a lot of it and predict with 93% accuracy whether couples have a close, intimate remarriage or a struggling, unhappy one.
  3. People marry because they fall in love with a person, but they often divorce because of the complications of the stepfamily. Eighty-eight percent of individuals expected difficulty related to having a stepfamily and 86% thought having children from previous relationships would add stress to their marriage–and they are right. It does.

Ron Deal, FamilyLife Blended director and stepfamily author, has teamed up with marriage and family expert David Olson, PhD, to offer help, hope, and healing to couples in stepfamilies. Their new book, The Smart Stepfamily Marriage The Smart Stepfamily Marriage (formally titled The Remarriage Checkup) and is backed by research from the largest remarried study ever conducted.

Boasting over 50,000 participating remarrying couples, the National Survey of Couples Creating Stepfamilies was commissioned by Olson, the founder of Life Innovations and the PREPARE/ENRICH program.

Get the book here