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Blended Families – 4 Tips for Dealing with The Ex

Blending families can create a unique set of problems. Sometimes it may seem solutions are hard to find. Today, my friend, Holly Robinson, shares some tips for creating a cordial relationship with the ex-wife. Please welcome Holly, read her story, and share your thoughts in the comments.

I never meant to marry a man with children. When I fell in love with Dan, I shied away from a commitment because we each had two young children. Forget sex and romance! The minute we tied the knot, I worried that life would be all about daycare, fretting over mortgages, and orthodontist bills.

We got married anyway, despite my fears and doubts. On the wedding day itself, it started to rain early in the morning, a light drizzle from a pewter sky. Luckily, we had ordered tents for the backyard. The rain added to the beauty of it, as the tents caught a kaleidoscope of falling leaves, like handmade Japanese paper in red and gold.

Because the ceremony included our four children—by then, they were 5, 6, 7 and 8 years old—our guest list of 96 people included 42 children and ranged in age from three months to 91 years old. No wedding could have been more beautiful. Yes, I cried.

However, I was right about the whole stepmother gig being hell on wheels. One particularly bad night with my stepson Drew drove this point home. My kids were with my ex that weekend; Dan and I had just gone to bed when suddenly there was a retching sound from the doorway. And there was Drew vomiting on the floor.

Dan jumped up to tend to him. I threw on an old nightshirt and helped him clean up Drew, then Drew’s bed, and finally the floor. We gave Drew medicine to bring down his fever and mopped him with cool washcloths. For a while, Drew called out pitifully for his mother, his favorite stuffed animal, and his treasured bedtime story – none of which I could provide. We did what we could to comfort him, but I’d never felt so helpless.

“We have to call his mom,” I said finally, near tears.

Dan didn’t want to do it—it was late, and he hated the idea of having to ask his ex for parenting advice. But I insisted: if this was my kid, I’d want to help him feel better. Maybe his ex could help me tell Drew the story he wanted to hear, at the very least, even if we didn’t have the book on hand.

I made the call. And, to my surprise, his ex—who had been understandably cool since the wedding—was worried about her son and glad I’d called. She recounted the story to me over the phone and I “read” it to my stepson. He fell asleep, finally, and woke up feeling fine the next day.

With that call, I realized I’d broken through some sort of barrier. I was determined to start thinking of my husband’s ex as an ally. After all, she was the mother of the stepkids I was beginning to love. By being polite, and even friendly and helpful, to her, I hoped to make both of our households more peaceful. Dan still had trouble communicating with his ex, but from that point on, I made sure to keep the lines of communication open and reached out to her often. She began doing the same, calling me for advice or information when her children had a behavior issue or needed a scheduling change. It was never ideal, but it was definitely civil.

Last month, I went to my stepson Drew’s birthday party. He’s out of college, but he wanted everyone—his dad and me, his sister and stepsiblings and half-brother—to celebrate his birthday. I came away from the party thinking, wow, we did it. We didn’t just play a game of happy families. We really are one.

Being civil to your husband’s ex isn’t always easy. But, if you take the high road and treat her as a potential parenting ally instead of an enemy, I promise things will start going more smoothly. With time, you may find yourself joining her on the trip to settle your stepson or stepdaughter into a college dorm room, celebrating a wedding together, or taking pictures of a grandchild’s first birthday. These are the milestones ahead of you—provided you can let go of the past.

Step Parenting Tips on Handling the Ex-Wife

A few tips to help you get started:

  • Ask your husband’s ex for advice about the kids, especially when it comes to household rules and behavior. Don’t worry. It won’t lessen your power or position with your husband—he just wants you two to get along, and she’ll appreciate the fact that you respect her opinions.
  • If your husband fumes about his ex, don’t fan the flames. Yes, of course, he loves to say his ex is bossy, money-grubbing, a cold fish, or whatever—obviously, they got divorced for reasons. But there are always two sides to every story—and sometimes more. Listen with compassion, but remember that your goal is to keep the peace at home, so your stepkids will grow up happy and secure.
  • Stop competing. Your stepchildren will never love you better than they love their mom. Think of yourself as the alternate on the team: you will have your shining moments, like when you realize you and your stepdaughter both love musical theater or when your stepson says you’re a pretty good artist. But she’s their mother, and no matter how she behaves—or misbehaves—nothing will change that. You’re still playing an important role in the lives of these children, so take your job as a role model seriously and give it all you’ve got: love, compassion, humility, and humor.
  • Be flexible. There will be times when your husband’s ex may seem like she’s gunning for him—and for you in the bargain. She might suddenly ask for a different weekend, or skip having the children visit. She even wants you to take the kids all summer when she was supposed to have them half-time. Think about things from her point of view and, most importantly, from the perspective of your stepchildren: what’s better for them? How can you make their lives easier, not more difficult? They’ve already gone through a lot of loss with the divorce. It’s your job—sorry, you’re the adult—to make them believe that people love them and care about their needs, even if it means sacrificing that romantic weekend with their dad or having to scramble for daycare so you can get to work.

Eventually, the kids will grow up. When they do, you want the door to be wide open, so they can come home to a family that loves them for years to come.

Bio: Holly Robinson is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Open Salon, and Parents. Her novel, BEACH PLUM ISLAND, is Holly Robinson at her best, a story about family, love and buried secrets. 

Learn how the 90/10 principle can change your stepparenting

Learn How the 90/10 Principle Can Change Your Stepparenting

We experience all kinds of challenges on our stepparenting journey. Whether it’s a rebellious stepchild, a combative ex-spouse, or a loneliness that pervades your home, here’s a strategy that can help.

How the 90/10 principle can

Have you heard of the 90/10 principle? It’s a Steven Covey principle that says:

“10% of life is made up of what happens to you. 90% of life is decided by how you react.”

How do we translate that to stepfamily life?

Here are a few examples:

You can’t control influences from the other home that affect your stepchildren’s attitude toward you. But you can control your response to their behavior. You can refuse to be offended by a cold stare or apathetic demeanor and commit to maintaining a positive perspective.

You can’t control the behavior of an ex-spouse. But you can decide to stay out of the conflict and give your spouse freedom to manage it without your interference.

You can’t control whether your stepchild makes a bad choice, but you can control how you react. You can get angry and demean your stepchild, or you can calmly discuss the incident with consequences.

You can’t control the effects of loyalty conflict that bleed into your home and affect your relationships. But you can choose to be kind toward your stepchild when he talks about his mom,  which in turn influences his relationship with you.

Our circumstances may not be within our control. But our reactions are!

A personal example

A few years ago, we had an ongoing refrigerator problem at our house for more than six weeks! A technician came out three separate times, replacing various parts and fixing it momentarily. But it never stayed fixed for long! Our home warranty wouldn’t allow us to replace the refrigerator without their approval.

One day I was so angry over the slow response and a non-functioning refrigerator, that I unleashed on the technician (Not a good response). It didn’t solve the problem and only made me feel bad later for my behavior.

Finally, my husband and I decided to purchase a spare refrigerator. We had been considering the need for a second appliance anyway, and it solved our problem. A few weeks later, the home warranty company decided our refrigerator was non-repairable and replaced it. We were thankful for the decision but had quit stressing over their lack of efficiency and solved the problem ourselves.

We face stressful circumstances every day in our stepfamilies. Our relationships are affected by how we act and what we say.

We have a choice: will we act proactively or will we react?

 

The Path to Super StepMom Status by Gayla Grace

The Path to Super StepMom Status

The Path to Super StepMom Status by Gayla GraceIn my 20 plus years of being a stepmom, I have had more conversations than I can count with other stepmoms who are frustrated and desperately trying to achieve SUPER STEPMOM STATUS. It’s as if it’s an award to be given out at the end of the year. But they aren’t achieving the status and instead end up feeling like a failure. Year after year they vow it will be different but the next year rolls around and things are the same. No award. No loving stepchild who thinks they are great.

No. It’s just the same ole thing.  And often we feel we’ve failed.

You are not alone.

You are not the first nor will you be the last stepmom to:

  • think you have failed.
  • believe with all your heart that you CAN be the best stepmom ever!
  • believe your stepchild will LOVE you!
  • and they will want to be your friend!

The reality is that they don’t think you’re the best. They may not ever love you nor want to be your friend.

I speak from experience. During my stepson’s adolescent years, he found all kinds of reasons to dislike me. Some of them might have been legitimate, but most were unfounded. Regardless of how hard I tried to be a good stepmom to him, he rejected my efforts.

I tried. He rejected. I tried again. He rejected again.

The cycle went on.

I wish I could tell you there was a “magic formula” to ensure stepmom success. But I can’t tell you that. What I can tell you is there’s no such thing as “SUPER STEPMOM!”

So…

Sometimes we’re dealing with a difficult teenager. Or a younger child that whines and cries.

Are we going to want to quit and throw in the towel? Most definitely! But we have to remember we’re the adult in the equation. We need to keep our cool as best we can. We can pray and ask for strength from the One who is greater than we are. And then remember …  this is normal stepfamily dynamics.

I’ve been married to my stepson’s dad for 20+ years. Finally, after many difficult years, my stepson and I now have a good relationship.

Is it because I became a different person toward him?

No. It’s because he has matured into a young man who, at 27  years old, recognizes and appreciates the role I’ve played in his life.

 Did I want to quit being his stepmom during those adolescent years?

Absolutely!

Did I deserve the treatment I received?

No!

Am I thankful I didn’t walk away?

Yes!

Quitting is NOT the answer!

Trying to achieve SUPER STEPMOM status does not guarantee a good relationship with your stepchild.

It almost always results in unmet expectations. Consistent love over time, through the ups and downs of life, could be the difference.

Remember this: regardless of your stepchild’s behavior, the only way you fail in this role, is if you quit.

Are you trying to be SUPER STEPMOM?  How is that working out for you?

Finding Faith and Hope When Circumstances Look Bleak

Finding Faith and Hope When the Circumstances are Bleak by Gayla GraceWhen it comes to the stepparenting journey, the path is often full of potholes. Some so deep they’ll swallow us whole if we let them. In my own journey, there have been times when I wanted to give up.

To quit.

To move on.

But I didn’t.

I chose to continue. I chose to find a way to navigate the path and press on through the valley.

Today I share a resource on how to live by faith with courage, passion, and purpose, even when life is hard.

When I Lay My Isaac Down, by Carol Kent, is a story of overcoming. Of moving on. Of doing more than just enduring the difficulty and existing.

Stepparenting has challenges and we want to do more than just endure and exist. We want to overcome.

To thrive.

Learn how to live and grow in our faith.

In her book, Kent shares her story of growing in her faith after her son, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a man with an impeccable military record was convicted of murder. Kent chose to accept the unwelcome event that abruptly changed her future, and walk by faith.

To find purpose in her suffering.

She shares how this life-altering event brought her to a new understanding of faith.

She writes “I have found that the greatest power of faith lies not in how we think we might use it to conquer challenges we’re sure a loving God would not put in our path,

but in how we live–with courage, passion, and purpose–in the midst of unresolved, and sometimes immovable, obstacles.”

Sadly, her story doesn’t have a happy ending. Her son is serving a life sentence for murder. But Kent chooses to live with passion and purpose anyway.

As stepparents, we often live in the midst of unresolved, and sometimes immovable obstacles. At times, we experience unhappy endings.

Change knocks on our door as an unwelcome visitor through custody battles, unending schedule modifications, parental alienation, or many other difficult circumstances. But we can choose to live with “courage, passion, and purpose” as we face unwelcome change with a steadfast faith.

Finding Faith and Hope When the Circumstances are Bleak by Gayla Grace

Kent has a new book, Unquenchable: Grow a Wildlife Faith that Will Endure Anything. One reviewer of the book said, “You will find joy and peace even in the midst of the most horrific storms. The book is full of stories of people who’ve traveled through the darkest of days, and found peace, forgiveness, and hope.”

If you’re burdened with the circumstances in your stepfamily, I encourage you to pick up one of Kent’s books and find Hope!

How do you cope with unwelcome change or challenge in your stepfamily?

Join our community on the Sisterhood of Stepmoms Facebook page for additional support.

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 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 unchartered 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