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What Happens to Your Marriage When the Kids are Gone by Gayla Grace

Your Marriage Counts: What Happens When the Kids are Gone?

My husband and I celebrated 22 years of marriage this past weekend. Of our five children, we have only one still at home who is an “ours” child, 16-year-old Nathan.  Although life still has challenges, our marriage, most of the time, is free of tension and conflict. I don’t say that to brag, but to offer hope.

It hasn’t always been that way.

If you’ve read much of my blog, then you’ve heard my stories of disharmony and stepfamily struggles. I’ve opened my heart about our challenges in hopes you could avoid some of the mistakes we’ve made.

As I think about what advice I’d give as we celebrate another anniversary, I want to offer a reminder: your marriage counts.

What Happens to Your Marriage When the Kids are Gone? Words of encouragement by Gayla Grace

One day the kids will be gone.

The food fights at the dinner table, the step-sibling squabbles over who sits in the front seat, the arguments over chores that didn’t get done, the lingering smell of dirty laundry that emanates from their bedroom, the curfews that are broken…those things won’t matter anymore.

If we’re fulfilling our role correctly as parents and stepparents, we will work our way out of a job.

Our kids will fly away and lead thriving adult lives.

It will be the two of us.

Will we have a marriage left? Will you have a marriage left?

 

Parenting and stepparenting is a season. And like all seasons, the season will end.

Please don’t neglect to nurture your marriage.

In the midst of watching your stepson at the soccer field, hold your partner’s hand.

While making dinner for the family, smile at your spouse across the room.

On a busy afternoon at work, stop and send a text that says, I love you.

Sure, anniWill you still have a marriage when the kids leave home?versary trips are nice and date nights are important, but even simple gestures of love can keep relationships connected when schedules don’t allow for extended time together.

If you’re stuck in unresolved conflict or tension that won’t subside, seek professional help. Stepfamily life is complicated. Sometimes you need help from a neutral party who can identify the root of an issue and what to do about it. Be sure to find a pastor, counselor, or coach who understands stepfamily dynamics.

I also encourage you to check out helpful resources for stepfamilies. My husband and I are currently leading a stepfamily class at our church with the book, The Smart Stepfamily Marriage: Keys to Success in the Blended Family. It’s a great book to go through together as a couple that shows how to build on your relationship strengths and helps you improve your weaknesses.

Your marriage counts.

Do you have suggestions on how to nurture your remarriage? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

 

 

 

Gayla Grace on the price of forgiveness

The Price of Forgiveness

Gayla Grace on the price of forgiveness

After my first marriage ended, I held onto unforgiveness. I had been mistreated and I justified my actions from a wounded soul. I didn’t want to consider how my unforgiveness contributed to my lack of peace and affected my daily walk with others and with the Lord.

Communication with my ex-husband was strained. Co-parenting seemed impossible. One day I realized how I contributed to the difficulty with my unforgiveness.

Wounded from hurtful words from our stepchild or misunderstood by our spouse, we hang onto unforgiveness, hindering our relationships. We feel justified because we’ve been wronged. As a result, tension in our home co-exists with every interaction.

The price of unforgiveness is a burden of resentment, a poison of bitterness, and strained relationships. The price of forgiveness is love, freedom, and peace.

Why do we choose poison over freedom?

Because when we’ve been wronged, forgiveness is hard. It doesn’t happen naturally. We have to seek the Lord’s help and make an intentional choice to go against our human nature and forgive.

Christ paid a huge price so we could experience forgiveness. His death on the cross is a powerful reminder of the sacrifice He offered us. But even Christ struggled with doing what the Father asked of him. Matthew 26:39 says, “He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Some days we’d rather say, “Not your will but mine.” My will includes justifying my hurt and wallowing in my wound. My will seeks to take care of myself instead of considering others’ needs. Unfortunately, my will also leads to a life of heartache and disappointment.

Our pastor’s words recently spoke to my heart, “Unforgiveness is demanding that other people be perfect, and that’s a standard You can’t meet!” If I fail to forgive my stepson for an imperfect action, I’m expecting he’ll never have to forgive me for a wrong. I make imperfect choices every day. Why, then, do I hold onto unforgiveness?

Forgiveness provides the key to unlock the tension in stepfamily relationships. We’re called to forgive, even when it’s not our fault.

It’s not easy, but

.

Have you held onto unforgiveness or experienced the peace that comes from forgiving? Let’s talk in the comments.

Great New Resource for Stepmoms: “Recipe for Joy–A Stepmom’s Story”

I love introducing new resources for stepmoms because as you know, if you’ve been a stepmom long, the journey isn’t easy. I’m participating in a blog tour this week and can’t wait to tell you about a new book, Recipe  for Joy: A Stepmom’s Story of Finding Faith, Following Love, and Feeding a Family by Robin Davis.

Recipe for Joy: A Stepmom's Story

Davis has been a food writer for almost 20 years and promised herself there were three things she would never do: move back to Ohio, get married, and join an organized religion. The book cites a compelling story of how her life took a turn she would have never predicted.

In a transparent, authentic voice, Davis relates a journey that begins as one seeking fulfillment through an interesting food and writing career–while running from God, but ends as one finding meaning in life through a relationship with God and two roles she would have never anticipated: a wife and stepmother who moves back to Ohio!

It’s a beautifully written story, in an easy-to-read fashion, that offers hope and inspiration for blending families. I especially related to her quest to seek perfection as a stepmother and frustration in her ability to do so. Here are a few quotes from the book I couldn’t resist sharing:

“I knew, just knew, that if I tried harder, worked harder, and loved harder, I would be a perfect straight-A mom. What that search for perfection actually gave me was an A+ bout of anxiety that turned into something more serious.”

Advice from her husband, Ken: “They don’t expect you to be perfect. They love you just the way you are.”

“Prayers. Daily prayers. …became a ray of light. I don’t mean that my prayers were answered. … But my prayers changed, and my attitude changed.”

“You need to live in the moment, not rehearse the future,” Julie [her counselor] told me. “When you try to live in the future, you’re destined for disappointment. Life will never be exactly the way you imagine it.”

Words of wisdom for anyone doing life in a blended family:

We don’t have to strive for perfection in our stepparenting role to find success.

We can learn to live in the present, enjoying the blessings of today instead of striving for something better in the future.

We can find peace and light for our journey through our daily prayers.

A Must-read book for blended families with words of encouragement and hope offered in a refreshing format. In addition, each chapter closes with a family-tested recipe to try.

Learn more out this great resource here:  Recipe for Joy–A Stepmom’s Story or visit Robin’s website at http://robincdavis.com/.

 

Celebrating Valentine’s Day as a Stepcouple

Have you made plans for Valentine’s Day yet? If not, please do. As a stepcouple, you deserve a night out to celebrate your marriage and enjoy time as a couple.heartStepfamily life includes too much time trying to cope with the everyday strain of kid issues, or co-parenting with a difficult ex-spouse, or juggling the emotions that crop up constantly that surround stepfamily challenges.

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate the love that brought you and your spouse together. Leave the kids at home and spend the night out. Make plans to do something special. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or even involve the entire evening. But it needs to send the message to each of you that your marriage is important.

Make a few rules surrounding the evening. There will be no discussion of children, ex-spouses, financial challenges, or job stress. The evening is to be dedicated to celebrating your love and what brought the two of you together. Make plans for the future. Dream about years to come when the kids will be gone (it really does happen, I promise). Or plan a summer vacation for just the two of you.

But don’t let Valentine’s Day slip by without celebrating your marriage. It only comes once a year. What’s your plan?

How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? I would love to hear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Danger of Favoritism in Your Stepfamily

“I don’t feel the same way toward my stepchildren as I do my biological children,” a stepmother recently admitted. “I feel guilty when I say that, but it’s the truth.” “That’s okay, ” I replied. “The challenge comes in treating them the same, regardless of how you feel.”

The Danger of Favoritism in Your StepfamilyI understand how this stepmom feels. It’s easier to love a child who you carried in your womb, nursed for a period of time, watched his first smiles, and heard his first words. There is a natural love that develops with your own child.

It’s different with stepchildren. They come to us at varying stages of life. Sometimes they enter our lives at a young age, other times they’re young adults or older. Oftentimes they come with their own feelings toward gaining a stepparent, and those feelings aren’t always good.

So why do we beat ourselves up as stepparents when we don’t have an automatic love for our stepchidren? Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to have a perfect relationship with them from the beginning?

Perhaps society creates this image. Especially with moms, it’s assumed we can easily play out our maternal role, regardless of who’s on the other end. But that simply isn’t the case.

Relationships grow over time. And there are two parties involved in your stepparenting relationship – you and your stepchild. You can influence your side of the relationship, but you have no control over many of the influences your stepchild is receiving.

So, you may feel a different love toward your stepchildren than your biological children, but you must strive to treat them equally. Stepchildren feel like outsiders when they’re treated as “less than” and will not integrate into a stepfamily when they sense unfairness.

A predictable outcome of parental favoritism is competition between siblings and sibling rivalry, which stepfamilies are set up for already. And when siblings are close in age, parents must be even more diligent about how they treat each child.

That doesn’t mean you can never have one-on-one time with your child or you must spend the exact amount of money on each one. Even in biological families, circumstances dictate how parents spend money and time with their children.

For a non-custodial parent, there’s nothing wrong with spending time alone with your children when they come to visit. But be sure to allow time with the rest of the family too. It’s also not unusual to spend more money on one child than another at certain times. During our kids’ high school years, my daughter required tutoring for several years. We spent hundreds of dollars getting her through  high school math that we didn’t spend on the other kids.

The real issue with favoritism in stepfamilies, according to stepfamily authority Ron Deal, is “a heart issue, not a time or money issue.” As stepparents, our heart feels differently toward our stepchildren than our biological children. But one of the hidden gifts of stepfamilies is learning to love our stepchildren as God loves us. We can choose love, even if we don’t feel it. 

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

We didn’t deserve God’s love and grace. But He offered it anyway.

It might be easier to offer preferential treatment to your children, based on how you feel. But your stepchildren deserve equality. Will you commit to the high road of fairness?

How do you overcome the challenge of favoritism in your stepfamily?

 

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

She was looking forward to some time alone as her husband left for a business trip to India. With three stepchildren in the throes of the teen years, life wasn’t easy. Married for less than two years, she had no idea the challenges that would erupt when she wed.   

But she had signed up for the journey. When she said, “I do,” she committed to be a part of her stepchildren’s lives and wasn’t going to give up now. As a corporate executive, she had been through tough times before.

So how would she counter the hard days in her stepfamily? How would she keep going when her stepfamily relationships were struggling?

She educated herself to deal with the challenges. She read stepparenting books. She attended Ron Deal’s stepfamily conference. She sought counseling. She united with her husband to stay afloat. She read God’s word. She prayed.

And she stayed active in her stepchildren’s lives, even when it might appear they didn’t want her there. Soccer games, dentist appointments, band rehearsals, and a host of other kid activities made their way to her calendar. She sought to show love and support to her stepchildren in whatever way possible.

She altered her work schedule to allow more time at home when her stepchildren were there. She stepped off the corporate ladder and chose to work from home as much as possible.

And she committed to a new life that included love and rejection, smiles and glares, happiness and exasperation, and contentment and doubt.

Would she trade it for a different life? Some days, yes.

But will she quit? No

Although she yearned for time alone with her husband out of town, she opted to spend time with her stepchildren. When her 16-year-old stepson called and offered to mow the lawn, she welcomed him. After he finished, she offered to take him to dinner and  asked if he would go to church with her that evening and he agreed. At dinner, they carried on meaningful conversation about  his goals and future opportunities. She encouraged him to steadily work toward his aspirations.

When she dropped him at his mom’s that evening, her stepdaughter came out to say hello. After a brief hug and a few remarks about her first week of school, her stepdaughter retreated inside and she returned home for the evening, thankful for a good day as a stepmom.

A caregiver book I’m reading, Strength for the Moment, tells the story of a man who volunteered to care for an aging man–one who was a hermit and hoarder. The caregiver bonded with the man, Howie, and adjusted to a daily routine of caring for him. After dementia and Parkinson’s disease took control of Howie, he was forced to be moved to a nursing home. But the caregiver continued to visit him, unable to neglect the love he felt for the man. After leaving the nursing home one day, distraught that Howie was still alive when he was such a burden on others, he asked God why He didn’t take Howie home.  Suddenly he realized, “Howie was there for me! God was teaching me how to love someone even when he offerered nothing in return.”

As stepparents, we all face days when our stepchildren offer nothing in return. We want to turn our backs and start down a different road. But as one caregiver discovered,  God can teach us how to love others, even on days they offer nothing in return.

And God can teach us to be thankful on days our stepchildren offer love and laughter too – because those are the days that keep us going.

I applaud my sister, Jan, for continuing a stepmother road that has not been easy. The good and the bad – it’s all part of the stepparenting journey. But blessings abound for those who persevere. Love ya sis!

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)

Do you agree? What blessings have you experienced as a stepparent? I would love to hear about them.

Related Posts:

As a Stepparent, You’re An Olympic Champion!

Learning How to Love My Stepchildren

Are You Willing To Go the Distance as a Stepparent?