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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 created 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 uncharted 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? 

Let’s Talk Stepfamily Realities, Not Myths

There are almost as many legendary stories about stepmoms, stepdads, and stepfamilies as there are stars in the sky. Yet, many of these stories are myths. Simply not true. Like the myth that stepmoms are wicked (think Cinderella!) or that the stepfamily is the same as the first marriage family. Who makes this stuff up anyway?

I think many of us believe these myths, then bring them into our new marriage and family. How long does it take us to realize they are myths? That they are not true and they do not dictate how our stepfamily will grow and develop. Believing these myths creates discontentment and unhappiness in your stepfamily.  Today I’m sharing some thoughts from one of my favorite stepfamily resources The Smart Stepfamily by Ron Deal.

1. Love will happen instantly between all family members.

Really? Have you found this to be true? I did not. My reality was watching our kids have a difficult time during our dating. My husband would say, “We’ll just love ’em through it.” But that will not always (if ever) work. Deal says, “Love in the sense of ‘love your neighbor’ is attainable; love in the sense of deep family bonds may or may not be achieved.” Deep family bonds will take time and may always look different that biological bonds.

2. We’ll do it better this time around.

It is easy to think, “I’ve been married before, I know what to do this time.” Marriage, while never easy, is made more difficult with kids. And in a stepfamily, we all have a history. Don’t compare your current marriage to a previous one. Accept the good and the bad of marriage. Live in the reality of your current marriage, recognizing it too will have challenges.

3. Everything will fall quickly in place.

Seriously? Has this been your experience? My guess is no it hasn’t. Let’s remember that “quickly” is a relative term and I am fairly certain quickly does not happen in stepfamilies. Deal says, “The stepping-stone of patience is critical to stepfamily development. Becoming disillusioned with how your family is progressing is an almost universal experience because progress never happens on your timetable. Remember, the average stepfamily takes seven years to integrate.” Seven years? Let’s bookmark that in our brains!

4. Our children will feel as happy about the remarriage as we do.

Often stepchildren are not happy about their parent’s remarriage. You need only attend a few re-marriage weddings,  to find children who are not happy about their “new family”. Stepfamily experts say kids are often a year behind the adults in accepting and progressing with a new family. Children deal with things differently than adults. We shouldn’t rush our children to catch up with us emotionally. Deal says, “What a blow it is for parents to realize that remarriage is a gain for them, but another loss to their children.” Remember, time is your friend.

5. Blending is the goal of this stepfamily.

We call ourselves blended families because we are combining people from two families into one. Think about what happens in a blender when we make a smoothie, this is NOT what we want to happen in our stepfamilies. Deal says, “More realistic is a process by which the various parts integrate, or come into contact with one another, much like a casserole of distinct parts. For example, biological parents and children will always have a stronger bond than stepparents and stepchildren, even if all goes well. This is not to say that different members of a stepfamily cannot be close. Many will develop deep emotional bonds, but there will always be a qualitative difference.”

Have you read Deal’s book? Are there myths you believed or still believe? I’d love to about chat about this in the comments.

Related Posts:

A Glimpse Into One Stepmom’s Story: The Good and the Bad

Learning How to Love My Stepchildren

 

5 ways to promote harmony in stepfamily relationships by Gayla Grace

5 Ways to Promote Harmony in Stepfamily Relationships

5 ways to promote harmony in stepfamily relationships by Gayla GraceI didn’t walk to the altar with my first husband with intentions of divorce. Unfortunately, the demands and strain of his profession as a physician pushed him to unhealthy means to cope. Alcoholism reared its ugly head.  Near the end of our 11-year marriage, I began to attend Al-Anon, a support group for families of alcoholics.

I memorized the AA slogans and used them to help me face everyday challenges.

After I divorced, I realized that AA slogans didn’t have to be confined to problems in alcoholic relationships.

I recognized the value of them in other ways when I married into a stepfamily.

Here are 5 of my favorite AA slogans. Powerful sayings, they can help promote harmony in your stepfamily relationships.

1) Let go and let God

To most of us in stepfamilies, problems are part of life. My stepfamily is not exempt. I recognized  I could not fix the problems myself. Oh, I tried! I wasted precious time trying to control the situation or find a solution. Peace came when I let go and let God handle the situations. The key—when I LET GO. Answers to our challenges don’t always come quickly, but waiting on God’s solutions is always better than forcing mine to work.

2) Let it begin with me and Be part of the solution, not the problem

It’s easy to point out how everyone else is contributing to a problem. Instead, I need to step up and be the example for forgiveness, kindness, patience, and goodness toward our stepchildren. Our actions speak louder than our words.

It’s also our responsibility to work toward a solution, not become part of the problem. I’m the first to admit I sometimes talk about a problem instead of look for an answer. We become what we focus on. Will you choose to focus on the problem or a solution?

3) How important is it?

Too often, we make things bigger than they really are. I clearly remember a conflict ten years ago that I created. I insisted that all our children attend my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. My stepdaughter, who had a strained relationship with me at the time, was living with her mom and didn’t want to go. I was angry when my husband didn’t force her to be there. I made a big deal out of it, creating further conflict with my husband.

Fast forward ten years to my parent’s 60th-anniversary celebration. My stepdaughter and I had mended our ways and she wanted to participate in the celebration! I’ve finally learned that many of the battles we choose to fight will resolve themselves over time.

4) One day at a time

Building trust takes time, change takes time, healing old wounds takes time; there are no immediate ready-made solutions. This day is all I have to work with, and it is all I need. If I am tempted to worry about tomorrow’s concerns, I will gently bring my mind back to today.” (Courage to Change: One Day at a Time in Al-Anon)

Living one day at a time allows us to focus on the problems at hand, let go of the problems of yesterday and trust God with the problems of tomorrow. We can’t change the past OR the future. We can only make a change in today.

5) Keep an open mind

Stepfamily relationships evolve over time.  Sometimes they get worse before they get better. If the solution you are trying doesn’t work, keep an open mind. Remain flexible. Try to embrace the change with an eye toward long-term success in your relationships, not ready-made answers. Be open to their thoughts and ideas of your spouse. Try to stay united with your spouse.

Other slogans of AA that can be applied to the stepfamily journey include: Easy does it, first things first, just for today, keep it simple, listen and learn, live and let live, and think. 

If you’re interested in learning more about their slogans, go here.   Al-Anon resources (for families of alcoholics) are helpful also.

I love AA slogans and can find ways to apply them every day.

How will you use an AA slogan to create stronger relationships in your stepfamily or have you applied one already? Will you share it with us?

I have a printable to share with you. Click here to download and print Steps for Dealing with Difficult Situations.

 

Stepparenting: Nine Tips to Help You Rise Above the Daily Grind

9 Tips for Rising Above the Stepparenting Daily Grind by Gayla Grace

A knot formed in my stomach as I watched my son, a high school soccer player, clutch his chest and bend over, gasping for air. Mouth wide open, he stood almost lifeless. I knew what was happening.

Asthma had struck again.

Play on the field continued; no one noticed Nathan was barely breathing. My lips quivered as tears welled in my eyes. “Take a knee, son. Flag for help,” I hollered. My heart began to race. I knew the danger of the scene.

His hand went up. Finally, the referee saw him. Nathan started walking off the field and straight to his bag. I watched every movement as he pulled out his rescue inhaler and put it to his mouth. Breathing the medicine into his lungs, I exhaled a sigh of relief. The immediate crisis was over.

Walking to the car after the game, Nathan said, “I hate asthma.” Although he works hard to take every step his doctor instructs, the daily grind of asthma won out that day. The cold winter air, the back-to-back tournament games, the overexertion on the soccer field—it was more than his body could take.

The same happens with stepparenting. We try to do everything right as we manage the challenges that come our way. But sometimes it’s not enough. Stepparenting continues to be a struggle, even after 4, 8, or 15 years together. Some things do get easier, but some things don’t.

How do you keep moving forward when you’re tired of the daily grind of stepparenting?

 

Here are a few suggestions.

  1.  Don’t assume responsibility for your stepchildren’s behavior.

Freedom comes when we recognize we can do our part to encourage good decision-making, healthy friendships, and mature behavior, but there are other influences—that we can’t control—that also play a role. Don’t take responsibility for your stepchildren’s poor choices.

  1. Steer clear of negative people – including other stepparents who choose negative thinking.

Find solutions to your challenges instead of complaining about them. Look for out-of-the-box answers. Don’t give up when the outlook seems distressing. There are always new tomorrows but we must commit to start again, try new solutions, and avoid dismal thinking.

  1. Cherish the good days and on hard days, remember “this too will pass.”

Life is hard, whether you reside in a stepfamily or not. Even after 21 years as a stepparent, I have days when I’m frustrated with my stepchildren’s choices or angry with my husband’s decisions regarding them. But we have a lot of good days together as a family. Those are the days I choose to focus on, and let go of the hard ones.

  1. Spend time away from your stepchildren.

Create your own space to retreat to for healthy self-preservation. Go to a movie by yourself. Spend the afternoon with a good book and your favorite latte. Plan a few days away with a girlfriend. Make time for You!

  1. Find a friend, minister, or counselor who will listen, without judgment or condemnation, when you feel you’re going over the edge.

You will have irrational days, no matter how long you’ve been a stepparent. Some days we just don’t cope well, or life takes a turn we don’t like. Find support to help work through your feelings.

  1. Reach out to other stepparents – find ways to support those struggling on the stepparenting journey.

We naturally take our eyes off our challenges and ourselves when we focus on others. Help another stepparent find answers to their struggles—it will likely help you with your own.

  1. Nurture your marriage.

You’ve heard me say it many times but it’s worth repeating – your stepchildren will someday leave home. Mine have both flown away and I’m thankful we didn’t neglect our marriage during the child-rearing years.

  1. Rise above your circumstances.

Create a heart of gratitude. Don’t get out of bed in the morning until you’ve listed five things you’re thankful for in your head. Do it again when you go to bed. Joy can be found in the midst of challenge, but we have to choose it.

  1. Find solace through faith.

Recognize that God knows what you’re going through and will walk though it with you if you seek Him. Meditate on Scripture. Pray. Join a Bible study. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8

If you’ve been a stepparent long, you understand the daily grind. But you don’t have to get stuck there. It’s a choice.

What other suggestions would you give to help cope with the daily grind of stepparenting?

 

 

 

Tough Times Never Last, but Tough People Do

It’s been a tough week in Bossier City, Louisiana, where I live. Life-threatening storms swept through our community with 20 inches of rain over a two-day period and flooding that left many families homeless.

flooding

School dismissed for three days while displaced families from mandatory evacuations of heavily-populated neighborhoods sent families in 3500 homes away from the comfort of their usual surroundings.

As I thought about friends coping with the devastation this morning, I reflected on Robert Schuller’s book, Tough Times Never Last, but Tough People Do, that I read many years ago. It is a tough time for a lot of people right now.

But there is always hope for better days. Within a few hours of hearing about yet another young family who lost everything in the flood, I learned that Samaritan’s Purse was headed to LA for rescue relief. What a blessing to read their plans to help:

“Our teams bring in equipment and as soon as the water recedes, they roll up their sleeves to help flooded families get the mud out of their homes, sort through water-damaged personal belongings, and pull out damaged sheetrock, flooring, and insulation. Our Billy Graham Rapid Response Team Chaplains will be alongside to pray with and encourage flood victims.”

Samaratan's Purse

Sometimes in the midst of our challenges, it feels like there is no hope. But tough-minded people are created in the midst of tough circumstances if we don’t give up.

Maybe you’re in a tough season right now as a stepparent.

Perhaps you feel invisible in your role as a stepmom and no one notices the constant sacrifices you make.

Maybe you face another day of rejection from your stepson.

Maybe your spouse refuses to support your stepparenting efforts.

Perhaps the biological parent in the other home undermines the relationships you seek you build.

Read more

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?