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Facing the Challenges of Adolescent Stepchildren

I recently began teaching a Sunday School class for 13-14 year-old girls at our church. Some days I wonder why I agreed to do it. Since our youngest son is the same age, I’m seeking to invest in his youth group and get to know his peer group.

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As I observed the girls at a youth event recently, I couldn’t help but notice the drama that surrounded many of them as they related to one another. My first inclination was to step away and escape the uncomfortable feelings that began to arise as I reminisced about difficult adolescent years with my stepdaughter.

My thoughts turned to, “Do I want to re-live the drama I’ve moved past that naturally accompanies girls this age?” I could choose to bail and escape the headaches that will accompany the role I’ve taken on.

I must tell you the answer to the question I asked myself was not a resounding “Yes.” However,  I can say this is where I believe God has placed me for this season.

So I have a choice. Will I change my thinking to how I can help these adolescent girls and invest in their emotional and spiritual maturity, or will I selfishly choose to run, leaving behind a part of God’s plan for me right now?

It reminds me of the choice I made when my stepchildren were adolescents. Many days I wanted to run and escape the heartache I was experiencing as a stepparent. Rejection. Loss. Disrespect. Unfair treatment.

I considered leaving. I pondered my option of becoming a single parent again. I wasn’t sure I had the strength to endure the challenges thrown at us as our stepfamily walked through the minefield of adolescence.

But I reconsidered the vow I’d taken when I married. I knew God had placed me in the lives of my stepchildren and had a role for me to play– to invest in their lives emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, to be a light in the midst of darkness, to show them a relationship with a loving God they might not experience otherwise.

Would I run away from God’s plan for me through a difficult season? Would I choose to completely detach so I didn’t have to experience the pain of rejection again? Or would I allow God to use me to help raise two of his children and heal the wounds they had experienced, growing and maturing me in the process?

I’m thankful today I didn’t quit. It was during their adolescent years that my stepchildren unexpectedly lost their mother after a short battle with cancer. The loss further complicated our stepfamily dynamics and created challenges I didn’t know how to face.

But with the Lord’s help, we muddled through. And today I can look back and know that I played an important role in the lives of my stepchildren during a difficult season.

I’m reminded of an appropriate phrase I’ve heard stepfamily expert Ron Deal say, “Stepfamilies were not made for the emotionally fragile.” And I’d like to add: the emotionally fragile stepparent won’t make it through adolescence.

If you’re in the midst of parenting adolescent stepchildren, don’t negate the importance of effective communication and conflict resolution. If you need help in these areas,  please find a counselor, pastor, or coach who can help–one trained in stepfamily dynamics.

Adolescence can bring out the worst in stepfamilies, leaving behind a trail of destruction. Be prepared to deal with it with good communication and conflict management skills.

If you’re looking for support as a stepmom, or maybe just a few days of respite with women walking a similar journey, I hope you’ll consider joining us at our next Stepmom Retreat. You’ll find laughter, hope, healing, and friendship with others who understand the road you’re on. Come enjoy the amazing Cooper hotel and spa in Dallas. Learn more here: http://bit.ly/2j1wko6

If you’re parenting adolescent stepchildren, step back and take a deep breath. It’s not easy. They’re in the midst of significant change and so are you. But don’t give up!

There are blessings on the other side.

Can you share tips on how you’ve overcome adolescent challenges with your stepchildren? I’d love to hear them.

Pic by Vlado

How to Cope with Difficult People in Your Stepfamily

We all have them – maybe it’s your stepdaughter. Or your husband’s ex. Or perhaps it’s your mother-in-law. If you’re honest, there’s probably at least one person in your stepfamily who’s difficult to be around and creates tension when you’re together.

When Disharmony is the Norm by Gayla Grace

How do you cope with them? Here are a few tips:

1.  Don’t give that person power over your emotions.

We don’t have to allow hurtful words to affect us. When someone says mean things to or about us we have a choice: will we let those words penetrate our heart or will we let them roll off, recognizing mean words often come from an unhealed hurt.

I recently learned of a physical altercation that happened between a biological mom and a new stepmom. During a weekend handoff, the bio mom lunged at the stepmom with an intention to harm. The stepmom had done nothing to bring about the response. Unfortunately, the bio mom has not accepted her husband’s remarriage and a new stepmom in her daughter’s life.  If the stepmom recognizes where the hurtful words come from—an unhealed hurt—she can let the event roll off without giving the mom power over her emotions.

2)  Seek out healthy people to hang with.

If we’re surrounded by healthy people, we are less likely to let an unreasonable person affect us. If our ego does get bruised from hurtful words, we can turn to others to help re-build our esteem instead of lashing back. It also helps to minimize the time we spend with negative people. If you have an unreasonable stepchild coming for the week, plan some time away with friends or your spouse to maintain a healthy image of yourself and your surroundings.

3) Accept the relationship in its current state.

If we spend our time trying to change another person or fretting over a tense relationship, we create frustration for ourselves. A peaceful heart comes when we accept a difficult relationship as it is and seek to do our part to improve it. Also, recognize that unreasonable people sometimes thrive on drama. I like to consider the words of the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

4) Be a positive role model

Commit to taking the high road as often as possible. Someone needs to be the mature person in an unreasonable person’s life – how about you? We can influence others through positive attitudes and behavior. If our ex-spouse learns we’re not going to fight back when he/she becomes unreasonable, the game ends. If our stepchild doesn’t get a rise from unreasonable behavior, it’s more likely to end. Positive attitudes and behavior with unreasonable people, however, take intentional effort. Are you up for it? Remember: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:19)

5) Maintain healthy boundaries.

Respect yourself enough to create boundaries that work for you. If you’ve had a difficult day and aren’t in a good place emotionally, don’t walk into a tense conversation with your stepchild over chores that didn’t get done. Ask  your spouse to do it. If you know the unreasonable person in your stepfamily who chooses to pick battles with you is going to attend your stepson’s band concert, make sure you don’t sit by him/her. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself – no one else can do it for you. And you’ll maintain a healthier demeanor for whatever situation occurs when you know you have the right to maintain boundaries that work for you. Check out this post if you need help with boundaries.

Unreasonable people tend to show up more frequently in stepfamily relationships. Stepfamilies often have unhealed hurts that foster tense relationships. But we don’t have to get sucked into the dysfunction and allow others to have power over our emotions or influence our reactions. If we accept that some interactions will be difficult and some persons in our stepfamily will be unreasonable, we have a healthier attitude to cope with the behavior when it occurs. We will also appreciate the relationships with reasonable people in our lives even more!

Can you offer other tips for dealing with unreasonable people in your stepfamily?

Could you use some stepmom encouragement? Join us at our next stepmom retreat where you’ll find hope, healing, help, and camaraderie with other stepmoms! Details here: www.SisterhoodofStepmoms.com.

 

Celebrate the Highs and Lows of Stepparenting

 

Africa homecoming

My oldest daughter just returned home after spending eight months in Mozambique, Africa on a long-term missions opportunity. We’re excited to have her back and I couldn’t help but celebrate our stepfamily journey as I saw her reunite with her sister and stepsister at the airport.

(Jamie is in the middle, stepsister on left, sister on right).

Jamie and her stepsister, Adrianne, had little love or even like for each other during Jamie’s teen years. It was difficult to even have them in the same room together for long.

Thankfully, today, that relationship is different. The girls have grown up and matured. They accept each other’s differences and love each other despite their imperfections. They may not get along perfectly, but they seek to have a good relationship with one another.

Without the struggles of yesteryears, I wouldn’t appreciate the relationship today. I’ll be forever thankful for the growth in their relationship.

Our stepfamily journey, however, is far from perfect. But today I choose to celebrate the highs of our journey instead of dwelling on the lows.

Expect a revolving door of lows and highs on your stepfamily journey. But don’t stop persevering through the challenges. Some day you will look back and celebrate the growth in your relationships.

Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote on perseverance as a stepparent, published in Lifeway’s Parenting Teens. For the complete article and other great reading, pick up a copy of the publication here.

“Perseverance is a foreign word in too many homes. [As a stepparent] without a firm commitment to trudge through the challenges that come your way, you won’t make it. It’s tough. Very few stepfamilies escape what stepfamily authority Ron Deal calls the ‘wilderness wanderings.’ The wanderings will look and feel differently for every stepfamily, but just as the Israelites wandered aimlessly through the wilderness for 40 years, you will endure days, and possibly years, of hardship and suffering in your stepfamily.

If you don’t determine ahead of time that you will persevere when it gets tough, you will turn back. You won’t find the blessings that accompany your journey in the end. Stepfamily statistics confirm that.”

Will you share some highs or lows of your stepparenting journey? How are you celebrating them?

 

Is Your StepCouple Marriage Worth Celebrating?

My husband and I celebrate 18 years of marriage this week! We consider it worth celebrating because in the early years, we weren’t sure we would make it to our next anniversary!

Blending four kids and managing difficult ex-spouses didn’t make for an easy start with our stepfamily. 

But today, we feel so blessed to celebrate how far we’ve come in our stepfamily relationships and the love we share as a step couple.

Are we perfect? No! My husband and I still squabble at times and might even disagree about how to handle a situation with one of the kids. But we no longer get defensive when we talk about each other’s children or question the motive behind one another’s actions.

The love we feel for our stepchildren has grown deeply through heart-wrenching experiences we’ve worked through together. I would never want to walk many of those roads again but overcoming challenges cemented our relationships as a stepfamily.

Our kids are now spread across three states, and two countries, but we stay in contact with each one of them almost weekly. It’s hard to get them all together but my husband and I still devote a lot of time to nurturing the relationships in our stepfamily.

family pic

Would I change the hard times? No. I’m stronger as a result of them. And that strength will carry me through what lies ahead.

Our challenges are different now. My husband and I travelled 1200 miles this past week-end to make some hard decisions regarding care for his dad. Our parents are aging and we’re facing painful emotions as we care for them in their last season of life.

Our young adult children don’t always make choices we’re proud of or want to support. But as a step couple who has weathered a lot of storms, we will face whatever comes down our path and work through the challenge together.

If you’re struggling on your stepfamily journey, don’t give up. There are better days ahead. Some day your stepchildren will leave home and be out on their own supporting themselves. And life gets easier!

But in the meantime, nurture your marriage so it can stand the tests that come your way. Don’t let your stepfamily challenges smother your love for one another. Your stepcouple marriage is worth celebrating!

If you need some extra hope today, check out this video and lyrics to a great song: The Words I Would Say by Sidewalk Prophets

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bItzgw7OAU

What will you do this week to nurture your marriage? I’d love to hear about it!

 

 

 

 

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

Do you find yourself comparing the growth of your stepfamily to your neighbor’s next door? Do you talk to your stepmom friend at work and wonder why her stepfamily seems to be having such smooth sailing while your family is stuck in the muck?

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

My husband always calls our family “remedial blenders.” Our relationships didn’t come together within the first five to seven years of marriage as stepfamily research suggests. In fact, some of our toughest years as a family were seven to ten years after our marriage.

Does that mean we were doing everything wrong, slowing the progress of our family blending? Certainly my husband and I made our share of mistakes as stepparents, but we also had some challenging variables to contend with that influenced the relationships in our family.

One of the biggest factors that determines how well a family unites is whether the ex-spouse allows his/her children the freedom to embrace a relationship with the stepparent. His/her attitude toward the stepparent can greatly influence the child’s ability to accept and love a new stepparent.

Unfortunately, as a stepparent, you have no control over what happens in the other home that influences the relationships in your home. I clearly remember the half-hearted hugs and stand-offish behavior I received every time my stepchildren returned from their mother’s home. I always wondered what kind of conversation went on about me while they were gone. I’m sure it was best I didn’t know.

Because my stepdaughter was ten when we married, her age also influenced our ability to bond. I didn’t understand when she began pulling away from the family as she progressed through adolescence but it was part of her growing-up process, a time of buiding her own identity separate from the family, that naturally takes place during the teen-age years.

Stepfamily research also suggests that the hardest relationship to develop is the stepmom/stepdaughter one. Instead of blaming myself for our prickly interactions, I would have done better to accept the fact that some of our challenges were simply intertwined in our tendency as two females in the same household to butt heads. When my oldest biological daughter traversed through the teen years, we encountered some of the same tensions.

It was also normal for my stepdaughter to desire a stronger relationship with her biological mother, leaving me in a dispensable role. Because of her natural bond with her mother, she couldn’t naturally bond with me.

After my husband and I were married eight years, we learned my stepchildren’s mother had colon cancer. My stepchildren stood by helplessly the next year, watching their mother slowly digress, then pass away. The pain of her loss left raw emotions they didn’t know what to do with, negatively impacting our stepfamily relationships.

So I no longer carry the responsibility for the remedial blending that occurred in our family. We could have never predicted nor controlled the circumstances that occurred. But we could control our reaction to them and our commitment to press forward, despite the odds.

What about your family? Were you hoping for smooth sailing as your relationships came together? Do you wonder why your family doesn’t look like the stepfamily next door that seems to be having an easier time? Don’t compare. It’s dangerous.

Those who have the easiest time as a stepfamily never appreciate the value of their relationships because they didn’t have to work for them.

If your family takes longer than you desire to unite, don’t despair. Celebrate the victories along the way. Affirm the value of what you’re creating. And be thankful for the challenges. Because you’ll always know it would have been easier to quit.

But you didn’t.

Can you recognize the uniqueness in your  circumstances that influence your relationships? Will you share how you cope with it?

Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Coping with Loss in a Stepfamily

Stepfamily Trap: Denying our Feelings

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff