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5 Things Stepparents Have in Common with Olympic Champions

Have you been watching the Winter Olympics? What’s your favorite sport? Mine is women’s figure skating. The athletes make it look so easy to throw themselves across the floor in beautiful techniques and hoist their bodies in ways that seem impossible.

As I listen to stories of the Olympic champions’, I find myself comparing them to the challenges of stepparenting and the champion role we play every day.

 

Here are a few parallels I’ve noticed:

1. It’s emotional. Often.

I’ve seen a lot of tears since the Olympics started. Some are tears of joy—many are tears of defeat. One coach said, “Without the passion and the emotion, you wouldn’t have an Olympian.”

The same is true of stepparenting. If we didn’t care deeply about our stepchildren, we wouldn’t feel the intense anger, sadness, and anxiety surrounding their choices and their reactions toward us. Our emotions speak loudly of the significant role we play in their lives. We’re champions because we take on the role of parenting someone else’s child and endure the emotions that follow.

2. Champions don’t quit when they fail.

Many Olympic athletes train year after year before achieving the success they’re after. Most experience significant bumps along the way with temptations to quit.

USA snowboarder Shaun White walked away from the 2014 Winter Olympics without a medal, although he was heavily favored. The next four years included questions and hardships. He fell during a training session at New Zealand three months ago and required 62 stitches across his forehead, lips, and tongue. Afterward, he questioned whether he wanted to go back out and face the dangers of his sport. But he wouldn’t give up the chance for another Olympic gold. And with a gutsy performance amidst stiff competition on the halfpipe, he secured another gold medal.

When you fall down as a stepparent, you also must get back up. My article, “Perfectly Flawed—Advice for Stepparenting,” describes my husband’s imperfect journey as a stepdad and his rewards from persevering. We become champions in our stepparenting role when we keep trying, even though we want to quit. I know it’s hard. I’ve been there.

3. Investing time and energy doesn’t always lead to the success we desire.

Figure skater Nathan Chen, favored to win several events, had a disappointing debut with his first event. He finished fourth in the men’s short program after a fall and a couple other bobbles. He admitted to his disappointment, but put it behind him and excelled in later events.

Our view of success as a stepparent doesn’t always follow the time and energy we invest in it. Variables beyond our control often keep our stepchildren from developing a relationship with us. Loyalty conflict toward a biological parent can play a role in keeping a stepchild in a guarded position. But God sees our heart and measures our success as a champion by the effort we make, regardless of the final result. “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)

4. It requires special techniques to cope with the stress and strain.

Olympic athletes in Rio used “cupping,” an unusual treatment, to recover from the strain that accompanied the rigor of performing competitively. Described by WedMD as “an ancient form of alternative medicine in which a therapist puts special cups on your skin for a few minutes to create suction,” athletes turned to the unique method to help with pain, inflammation, blood flow, and soreness. The most decorated Olympian of all times—Michael Phelps—used the special technique to cope with the strain of competitive swimming.

Stepparenting also involves emotional stress and strain that seems unbearable at times. The relentless demands on our time, society’s pressure of what role we are to play, the emotional tug-of-war with the biological parent, and the unending mind games stepchildren often play with us, leads to discouragement. But when we use prayer, Scripture reading, meditation, and fellowship with other healthy stepparents, we find the energy to cope and succeed as champions.

5. Good coaching is mandatory. 

Many Olympic athletes speak of changing coaches when they begin training for an Olympic event. They know that mediocre methods or inexperienced coaching will not lead them to an Olympic medal.

Stepparenting challenges also require coaching/counseling during difficult seasons. Coaching needs to come from an experienced professional who understands stepfamily dynamics. Traditional family methods with stepfamilies don’t lead to success. If you’re stuck in your stepfamily difficulty, check out my coaching page to find hope. Champions turn to good coaching when they need help.

 

I applaud your efforts as a stepparenting champion. I wish I could visit with you over a cup of coffee about your biggest struggle. But remember: God sees every effort, even if the results aren’t what you’re hoping for.

I love the Olympic Creed and think it can be applied to stepparenting as well:

The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, the important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.  The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

Do you agree? I would love to hear your comments.

Overcoming Self Doubt as a Stepparent

Today I share a guest blog post by a fellow stepmom: Julie Langley of Shreveport, LA. Her story as a stepmom offers comfort and hope!

Overcoming Self-doubt as a Stepparent

 

I have both married and single friends. Those with kids and those without. Some knew they wanted to be parents from the moment they began to think of their future. Others don’t have children either by their own choice or because of health concerns.

I never had that desire to have a baby. As my 20s turned into 30s, I knew it was likely that someday I might marry someone with children. That was fine. I could handle it. Then I met Kevin, widowed with two girls. We fell in love and married a year later. Everything was perfect… or so I thought.

The day after we returned home from our honeymoon, he went to work, and I was left alone with an 8 and 13-year-old. Both had different needs and were in different places in life. They longed for a connection with a mother figure, but teetered on the familiarity of handling things in their own way. They pushed me to see what they could get away with and challenged me to think outside the neat little box I had envisioned for my life moving forward.

Self-doubt set in quickly when I realized this was more than babysitting. It was my life. I questioned then, and still do five years later, if the decisions I make daily concerning the kids are right. What do we do today? What do I cook? Should I be a rule setter or just try to be their friend?

I quickly learned that boundaries had to be established, and I couldn’t always be the fun or cool stepparent.

There was a time for homework, cleaning rooms and doing chores, and a time to relax, have fun and play. When my husband came home from work, there needed to be time for us to sit down alone and talk about our day. There also needed to be time for the girls to tell about their day. So, as part of our crazy busy day, we have dinner at the table every night to sit down as a family and reflect.

I continue to learn that God, as our Heavenly Father, is always doing things on our behalf for the greater good. We may not understand how, why or even when, but His timing is perfect. As His children, we may get frustrated, angry or confused, but He is ultimately in control.

The first week of being a stepmom I was on my knees a lot praying for wisdom and sanity. I also found myself calling my own precious mother for advice, wisdom, or just to say “thank you” for the things she taught me. Perhaps someday I can be the “mom” on the other end of the line offering wisdom to one of my stepdaughters.

It’s not about being stern or being cool. It’s about being present, setting boundaries and meeting needs in the moment. Every day we are faced with new situations, obstacles, and challenges.

I remind myself often of the verse in Jeremiah 29:11 that says, “For I know the plans I have for you. This is the Lord’s declaration – Plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

The key to success as a stepparent is knowing Who is in control and letting God be the author of your story.

Julie’s Bio: I’ve been married to Kevin for four years. I had almost given up on dating when I met him through eHarmony. I said I would never do online dating, but then I may have never met Kevin. I grew up in Canton, Texas, where I served in various roles over a 15-year period at the local newspapers (six to be exact), including editor. When we married, I moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, where Kevin and his two girls Hannah, 18, and Emily, 14, lived. I brought one very spoiled puppy to the family, and later we added two extremely goofy cats to the mix. During my journalism career, I have written for a number of publications, and aspire to publish one of my many fiction books.


Need more encouragement for your stepparenting road? Look for Gayla’s new devotional book, Stepparenting With Grace, to be published by Worthy Publishing, August 2018.

Or check out her current one here.

 

7 Resolutions that Count by Gayla Grace

7 Resolutions that Count

When I married my husband, I set out to be the perfect stepparent.

I read all the books.

I went to the conferences.

I worked overtime to do everything right for my stepchildren.

But I wasn’t a perfect stepmom. I made a lot of mistakes. After more than 20 years, experience has taught me that I don’t have to be a perfect stepmom for my stepchildren to grow to love and accept me.

This year, instead of making resolutions about being a better stepmom, I decided to consider a few resolutions on how to move past my imperfections and keep going on days I want to quit as a not-so-perfect stepparent.

7 Resolutions that Count by Gayla Grace

So, this year I commit to …

1. Remind myself daily that “I can do all things through Christ” (Phil 4:13). Stepparenting is hard. When I try to do it alone, I fail. Thankfully, God wants to walk this journey with me. He will give me the strength and wisdom I need each day if I ask for His help.

 2. Let go of the Stepmom guilt. We all experience it from time to time. We let our mind run away with what we’ve done wrong as a stepparent. Or we compare our stepfamily to our neighbor’s perfectly-blended family and let the criticism begin. Stepmom guilt steps in when we expect everything in our home to be perfect. But that’s never going to happen. Why not let go of unrealistic expectations that keep you bound to guilt when you don’t measure up?

3. Forgive myself when I fail. A defeated stepparent doesn’t parent effectively. When I get caught up in negative self-talk over a poor parenting choice, I continue down a negative path. Forgiving myself for less-than-stellar stepparenting moments allows me to begin again with a renewed mind and a fresh perspective on my parenting challenges.

4. Seek out support from other stepmoms on hard days. My neighbor is a single parent with two school-aged children. She recognizes her need for help in juggling her responsibilities and asks other moms to help with carpool or after school care when work demands become overwhelming. We need fellow stepmoms to walk alongside us with encouraging words and support on hard days. If you haven’t found local stepmoms, check out Sisterhood of Stepmom group on Facebook.

5. Listen to my heart on how to parent my stepchild, instead of others’ opinions. It’s easy to run to the phone and ask our best friend what to do when we’re facing a difficult parenting moment, but if we step back and listen to our heart, we make better decisions. Considering our stepchild’s personality as part of the parenting equation also helps tailor our parenting in a healthier light.

6. Nurture my marriage. Stepchildren eventually exit the nest–both of my stepchildren have. Unfortunately, many step couple marriages don’t make it long enough to see that occur. Strong marriages don’t just happen — they require regular nurturing. I want to reach beyond an ordinary marriage by supporting my husband as his biggest fan and most loyal friend.

7. Take time to run, or quilt, or whatever activity works for me to re-group when the stepparenting strain takes over.  It’s important to re-group and make time for self-care when we’re about to go off the parenting cliff. When I balance the demands of stepparenting with activities I look forward to, I more effectively handle the strains of stepparenting.

As you start a new year, do you have resolutions to consider as a not-so-perfect stepparent? Do you need a mindset do-over that includes room for imperfection and second chances as a stepparent?

Perhaps that’s the ticket to success this year on your not-so-perfect stepparenting journey!

Happy New Year!

Do you have other resolutions to add? Leave me a comment and let me know.

*A revised version of this article was originally published in Stepmom Magazine, January 2014.

Co-Parenting: One Thing to Remember

Co-Parenting: One Thing to Remember by Gayla Grace

I watched my son’s friend negotiate an upcoming visitation schedule with his dad at a recent soccer game. I could sense the stress the teen felt as he was thrust in the middle between his parents. I wanted to step in and tell the dad, “Call your ex-wife and work this out. This isn’t your son’s responsibility.”

It might seem easier to ask our kids to handle the communication to avoid the ex. I get it. My husband and I had numerous co-parenting collisions with ex-spouses when our kids were still at home. Some of them could’ve been prevented. Some could not.

But one thing we learned early on (and the one thing to remember!): keep the kids out of the middle.

To co-parent successfully requires intentional effort on our part, including sacrifices and tongue-taming, to make it work. But it’s our responsibility, not our children’s, to negotiate the details.

The biggest challenge may be learning how to be amicable in a relationship with someone you couldn’t get along with when married to them.  And while it is hard, I believe it is the link to success when parenting children after divorce.

Co-parenting often creates tension and stress.

We have to remember that when disagreements arise, it’s important to keep them out of range of children’s ears. Adult issues need to be confined to adults.

It’s OK to ask the children how they feel about a particular issue (visitation, event, etc.) but the negotiating and scheduling should be done by the adults.

Stepchildren are unnaturally pulled between two homes with parents they love in both homes. Asking them to make a choice or take sides with one home over another creates hurt.

This is not a game of Tug of War with the children as the rope!

Co-Parenting: One Thing to Remember by Gayla Grace

The Solution

Strained co-parenting gives us an opportunity to practice the gifts of the Spirit as defined in Galatians 5:22-23: “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

I know it’s not easy but as our children watch us (and they are watching!) model kindness and goodness or patience and self-control in the midst of rude or unkind behavior, they learn the value of asserting these qualities in their own lives.

And we gain the satisfaction of knowing we did the right thing, even when it wasn’t easy.

Have you been caught in the middle? What steps did you take (or wish you’d taken) to remedy the situation?

Gayla Grace on praying for your stepfamily

Resolutions for Your Stepfamily: The Power of Prayer

 Gayla Grace on the importance of praying for your family

I was in a neighborhood prayer group for almost seven years before moving to Louisiana. We met weekly (at 6:00 am!)  to pray for the needs of each family represented. I joined the group when my husband and I were fighting a custody battle. It was a very difficult time—my stepson had lost his mom to cancer and his stepfather applied for custody. These ladies became my support group.  I cried when I left them, sensing I could never replace their friendships. It seemed only natural to start a new prayer group after we moved.

Year after year of praying diligently for my stepfamily has resulted in some amazing healing. My stepson has changed from an angry adolescent who wanted to isolate himself from our family to a maturing young adult who loves and cares for each family member.

This year my birthday card from my stepson had this personal inscription: ““Happy birthday. Happy to call you a part of my life and supportive figure, with all your wisdom. I love you and thank you for everything you do. May your day be blessed.”  (As the kids get older, I am getting smarter! *wink*)

 I don’t write this to brag about my relationship with my stepson. I write to encourage you and give you hope. Strained stepparenting relationships are not unique. You should know you are not alone. I’ve been there. I’ve had many days that I wanted to quit my job as stepmother! But as my stepchildren reach their adult years, they show me their appreciation more and more.
I am convinced that the hours I’ve spent praying for my stepfamily and our relationships have made a difference. Our family was broken when my husband and I married 21 years ago. Only God could have put the pieces back together.
I believe we need to spend more time talking to God about our children than talking to our children about God. I firmly believe we should talk to our children about God, but we can’t underestimate the power of praying for our children and stepchildren.

 Prayer is a powerful discipline that we often neglect.

I love Stormie Omartian’s words in The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children,

I have found that only God can give you the wisdom you need. And He will give it to you when you ask for it. But prayer is not telling God what to do. Prayer is partnering with God to see that His will is done.

Prayer changes relationships.

 What resolutions are you making for the New Year? I hope you’ll include prayer. 

If you are on Twitter, connect with me @GaylaGrace. I’d be happy to pray with you about your stepfamily needs.

Here’s a picture of our kids from my daughter’s wedding this September. I’m thankful to see our kids lock arms with big smiles. (My stepson is on the far left).
wedding-5kids-1

Finding True JOY is a Choice

Finding True Joy is a Choice by Gayla GraceA few years ago, seeking to put some joy in our life and spend quality family time together, we decided to go camping during our kids’ spring break. Going to the highest peak in Arkansas to hike, fish, and spend family time around a campfire sounded great when we were making plans.

But we didn’t plan on rain.

Or a flooded tent.

Or wet food.

Or grumpy kids.

Where do you find joy in these things?

Where do you find joy in RAIN?

We know that JOY is a Fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. But how do we FIND joy in stepfamily life when our plans get rained on? And let’s face it, our plans WILL get rained on!

I think it starts with our focus and changing what we focus ON. We can choose to stay focused on our negative surroundings or find nuggets of positive change.

We can make the best of difficult circumstances or stay fixated on our problems.

As a child, I learned an acronym for JOY that can be applied as an adult:

J-Jesus
O-Others
Y-Yourself

If we look to Jesus for help and guidance, we gain wisdom in our decisions and can find joy in our circumstances. If we consider our stepchildren’s needs over our own, we build long-term relationships.

Joy describes an inner peace

It’s a sense of satisfaction that can be attained, regardless of our circumstances. Joy is a choice. We may not be happy with rebellious stepchildren or difficult ex-spouses, but we can choose joy in our heart as we look to the Lord for answers and contentment.

James 1:2-3 tells us to, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Trials are hard and long at times. Our family has experienced custody battles, disharmony in relationships, and the unexpected death of my stepchildren’s mother—events that threw our relationship-bonding backward and spiraled our family downhill for months, even a season at times.

I can’t say I always found Joy in the midst of it. I don’t like my faith to be tested. But I’ve learned that changing my focus matters.

Our camping trip didn’t turn out as we’d hoped.  Drenched sleeping bags and a leaking tarp put an end to our outdoor adventure.  We chose to start home a day early, opting for a movie and nice dinner out.

Since we couldn’t change our surroundings, we chose a different path—looking to find joy in the midst of disappointment.

I’m certain we will experience rain again on our stepfamily journey. It may be a drizzle or a downpour. But we can experience JOY in the midst of it if we maintain the proper focus.

Are you experiencing rain today? Where is your focus?

How can you find JOY in the midst of your rain?