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Back to School – Five Tips for Success with Stepchildren

Our youngest son started middle school last week as a 6th grader and has had some intimidating moments at his new school. He started off in the wrong classroom for homeroom but didn’t discover it until the teacher called roll. He left to go to the correct classroom and finally entered the right room–tardy.

The next day he innocently walked through a circle of 8th graders on his way to class and was belittled by the older kids who insisted he “Go around next time!” And later that day he discovered the bus he rides home includes a few high school students who aren’t always nice to the young ones!

bus School is tough for our kids. Their days are stressful and intimidating, especially for those starting new schools. But we can help make their school year a success. Here are a few tips I suggest:

1. Pray regularly for your children and stepchildren. In her book, The Power of a Praying Parent, Stormie Omartian says, “The battle for our children’s lives is waged on our knees. When we don’t pray, it’s like sitting on the sidelines watching our children in a war zone getting shot at from every angle. When we do pray, we’re in the battle alongside them, appropriating God’s power on their behalf.”

2. Evaluate your schedule – have you left room to help with homework? It’s easy to inundate ourselves with too many commitments. I evaluate my schedule regularly to see if I need to change/add/delete anything. Raising children requires time and energy.  Our role as stepparents is even more demanding, mentally and emotionally.  If we give all  our energy to outside commitments and demanding careers, what do we draw from to deal with the inevitable crises and unexpected irritants that will surely come our way?

3. Resolve conflict as it occurs. Our children are impacted every day by what happens in our home. If we refuse to be cooperative with an ex-spouse regarding a new school schedule or negotiating activities, our children suffer. Here’s what Ron Deal says on this issue in The Smart Stepfamily: “An old African proverb says, ‘When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ Biological parents who fight and refuse to cooperate are trampling on their most prized possession – their children. Elephants at war are totally unaware of what is happening to the grass, for they are far too consumed with the battle at hand. Little do they know how much damage is being done.” Someone has to be the bigger person and work to resolve conflict – will it be you?

4. Expect the best of your children. And let them know you love them. Our kids will live up to the expectations we set – they’re looking for someone to believe in them. As I drove my son to school this morning, I told him, “I’m proud of you for keeping a good attitude, even though I know your first days of middle school have not been easy.” Our stepchildren need our support. On days they’re not easy to love, ask for God’s help. “I am with you; …I will strengthen you and help you.” (Isaiah 41:10)

5. Get to know their friends. Make your house the hangout.  If we don’t know our children’s friends, we can’t help them in their relationships. Friends can directly influence what kind of school year our stepchildren/children have. If you’re raising teens, keep food around – it always works. And gently talk to your kids about friends you don’t approve of and why. Childhood friendships are a breeding ground for teaching  what healthy relationships look like.

Are you looking forward to a new school year or dreading it? Will you commit to do your part in helping your children/stepchildren have a successful year?

What other tips do you offer? I would love to hear from you.

Pic by scottchan

Related Posts:

Back to School Routines and Your Stepfamily: Peaceful or Chaotic?

The Myth of the Perfect Stepparent

Change: A Friend or a Foe in Your Stepfamily?

Learning to Accept the Things You Cannot Change

Setting Boundaries with Your Stepchildren

My stepson moved from Conway, AR to Austin, TX this past week. After graduating from college, he opted to explore the big-city scene of Austin as a single person. He spent a few days at our house during the transition.

austin capitalThe weeks prior to the move, we were in contact with him almost daily regarding details like renting a U-haul, finding the best apartment, budgeting his finances for the move, etc. A dilemma surfaced regarding how to pull a trailer when his Jeep didn’t have a trailer hitch. Since I drive a car with a trailer hitch, my husband suggested we let him borrow my car and pull the trailer behind it.

I bristled at the suggestion. My stepson has totalled one vehicle and allowed a friend to drive his next vehicle, which the friend totalled. Knowing my stepson has little experience in pulling a trailer made me even more uncomfortable. I pleaded my case for another option and thankfully, my husband agreed.

During the short period my stepson stayed at our house, he asked if I would help with his laundry. It was a small favor I knew would help without a huge sacrifice on my part. Our kids are taught to do their own laundry as teenagers, but saying yes to laundry that day was okay with me.

Boundary setting requires wisdom and sensitivity on our part as stepparents. The boundaries you set in your home will look different than what I set in my home. And boundaries change as our children mature.

Saying no to driving my car was a boundary I felt strongly about it. But doing my stepson’s laundry to help with his move was a gesture of love for me. If we can say yes we need to say yes – that’s part of building a loving relationship with our stepchildren. But when we need to say no, say no.

Our actions or inactions in setting boundaries teach others how to treat us. We can require respect from our stepchildren, even if they don’t like us. Team up with your spouse and set some ground rules (i.e. yelling is not allowed–even when you’re angry), and follow through with consequences if they’re not followed.

I like the way veteran stepmom Sue Thoele discusses boundaries in The Courage to be a Stepmom, “With practice and commitment, taking care of ourselves and setting self-nurturing limits can become second nature. Cultivating the ability to say “no” to unreasonable responsibilities and expectations makes it easier for us to say “yes” to love and laughter.”

As stepparents, we make endless sacrifices for our stepchildren with few rewards, especially in the beginning. It’s our responsibility to determine what boundaries we need to put in place to foster thriving relationships. When we allow disrespect, or behavior that goes against what we can tolerate, we invite resentment into our heart and home.

If you’re struggling with boundaries, I recommend reading Boundaries, When to Say Yes and When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Drs. Cloud and Townsend. Healthy boundaries impact all areas of our life and enable us to recognize our limits and seek balance as stepparents.

Are you successful in setting boundaries with your stepchildren? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Related Posts:

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent – Part One

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent – Part Two

Creating Healthy Boundaries with your Ex-Spouse

Is Your Stepparenting Role Tougher in the Summer?

In browsing search terms that determine how people find my blog, I notice periods of time–such as long, summer months–when stepparents reach out for help more than others.

Below are some of the recent search terms listed by stepparents. Do any of these feelings resonate with you?

– stepparent feels like an outsider

– want stepkids to go away

– why is it so difficult to accept my stepson

– how do you love unloveable stepchildren

– sour feelings toward stepchild

– how do you cope being a childless stepmom

– not easy being a stepmother

– wish stepchildren didn’t exist

Tough statements. Do you relate to any of them? It’s okay to admit your feelings–stepparenting isn’t easy! And for many stepparents, the summer months are especially difficult.

Stepfamily vacations, extended visits with stepchildren in our home, unavoidable dialogue with an ex-spouse or extended family members, or simply experiencing the “unexpected” can contribute to additional stress during the summer.

My husband and I spent four hours in the Emergency Room last night, anxiously awaiting a diagnosis we finally received at 1:30 am: two broken ribs. He collided with a man twice his size in an innocent game of Ultimate Frisbee and his rib cage took the banging. Staring at blank walls with no regard for wasted  time wasn’t how I intended to spend my evening. But the unexpected happens.

When summer days drag on, I know I have a choice. I can focus on living one day at a time, handling the difficult moments as they come and cherishing the pleasant ones that surprise me, or I can agonize over what is yet to come, projecting long and hard days until summer ends.

In her devotional book, Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes words of encouragement as if penned from the Lord Jesus speaking to us. I especially enjoyed these empowering words from a recent devotion:

“You gain confidence through knowing that I am with you–that you face nothing alone. Anxiety stems from asking the wrong question: ‘If such and such happens, can I handle it?’ The true question is not whether you can cope with whatever happens, but whether you and I together can handle anything that occurs. It is this you-and-I-together factor that gives you confidence to face the day cheerfully.”

There are not easy, tidy answers to long summer days, unexpected happenings, or difficult stepchildren encounters. But we can face each day with positive anticipation when we allow the Lord to walk beside us. Our days may still be long and our challenges appear overwhelming, but we can walk confidently through our days, knowing we are not alone.

How is your summer going? What tips can you offer other stepparents through tough summer months?

Related Posts:

When Stepparenting Feels Too Hard: Four Ways to Overcome Discouragement

There’s Beauty After the Pain

Looking for Hope on Your Stepfamily Journey?

Five Steps for Healing Stepparenting Wounds

Five Steps for Healing Stepparenting WoundsI’ve been nursing a bee sting on the bottom of my foot for weeks. I ignored it at first, thinking it would heal on its own. But it hasn’t.  Now,  I’m annoyed at the nagging pain I feel when I’m on my feet too long.

My sister suggested I puncture the wound and look for a stinger that needs to be removed. I’m not a good patient but I carefully inserted a sterile needle close to the wound and removed a small skin-like material I found. Optimistic that would help, I thought — let the healing begin.  But the nagging pain continues. I’m now soaking it daily with espson salt and keeping it covered  with antibiotic ointment and a bandaid. If that doesn’t help,  I’ll have to consider my last resort – a trip to the doctor.

I would prefer wounds heal on their own. But that doesn’t always happen. Whether it’s a physical wound or an emotional wound, the steps we take determine how quickly our wounds heal.

Stepparenting wounds come in all shapes and sizes. They occur when someone hurts our feelings or our expectations aren’t met. In the beginning stages of blending a family, wounds occur frequently.

 Some wounds resolve on their own, but most require special attention. Nagging wounds occur   repeatedly, leaving us vulnerable to anger and resentment.

So how do we resolve our stepparenting wounds? How do we prevent our wounds from negatively impacting our relationships?  Here are a few steps I suggest:

 

1. Forgive your stepchild.

You may be justified in your anger, but it’s hard to find peace when you refuse to forgive an offense. The relationship with your stepchild suffers when you hang onto your hurt. Take the high road. “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)

2. Don’t allow your feelings to fester.

I allowed my bee sting to fester for weeks before I did anything about it. As a result, the wound will take longer to heal.

Emotional wounds fester when we let our feelings take over our mind. Instead of addressing the issue, we compound it by complaining to others, acting out in anger, or  stuffing our feelings deep inside.

Festering wounds erupt. Deal with the offense so healing can begin.

3.  Commit to pray daily for your stepchild and strive to think only positive thoughts about him/her.

I know that’s not easy. When my stepson made piercing remarks about me in a custody hearing years ago, I didn’t want to consider praying for him or try to think positively about him. But when I made a conscious choice to dwell on his positive aspects and pray for his well-being, my wounds began to heal.

4. Give yourself grace for your part of the offense.

Each of us plays a role in conflict. Nonverbal communication speaks loudly. Stepchildren sense disapproving thoughts and critical looks. Words fly out of our mouth we can’t stop, contributing to conflict.

But if we choose to stay defeated in our guilt, we won’t find victory with our wounds.  Recognize your part and ask for forgiveness. Then give yourself grace and move on – imperfect people make mistakes.

5. Seek help when necessary.

It’s not unusual to get stuck nursing a stepparenting wound without healing. Some wounds go deep and wide, requiring professional help. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help, it’s a sign of courage.

If you’re considering stepparenting coaching, I hope you’ll check out what I offer. I would love to help you heal your stepparenting wounds and restore your relationships.

What other tips can you offer to help with stepparenting wounds? I would love to hear from you.

Related Posts:

Coping with Loss in a Stepfamily

Offering Forgiveness

When Stepparenting Feels Too Hard: Four Ways to Overcome Discouragement

What is Your Role as a Stepparent: Friend or Parent?

 In working with stepparents recently, I’ve noticed a common thread that spells disaster in the  early years of stepfamily development: the tendency for the stepparent to play a strong disciplinary role instead of allowing the biological parent to be the primary parent to his/her children.

I recognize the pattern because it happened in our home in the early years of our marriage.  Struggling with leftover guilt from my divorce, remarriage, new step-siblings for my children, and constant change, I became a permissive parent. I didn’t want to address misbehavior or dole out consequences. So my husband began doing it instead.

My husband’s intentions were good but the fall out of his actions was not good. His relationship with my girls wasn’t strong enough to withstand the negative side of parenting that occurs with discipline.   And it set him up to fail as he became an unlikeable stepparent.

Stepfamily authority Ron Deal says, “Kids will love an unlikeable parent, but rarely even like an unlikeable stepparent.” 

Tough words. It doesn’t seem fair. But it’s reality.

Stepparents cannot afford to overstep their boundaries. If we want to establish a long-term, loving relationship with our stepchildren, we have to start as a friend, rather than a parent.  The biological parent needs to take the primary disciplinary role as much as possible.

With younger stepchildren, the disciplinary role may move quicker into the hands of the stepparent if a loving, trusting relationship develops. But with older stepchildren, ages eight and up, it’s likely to take longer.

Other factors influence stepfamily relationships. My daughters’ father resisted any type of relationship between them and their stepdad and made confusing, negative remarks about my husband. It slowed down the relationship-building process because of the loyalty conflict they endured.

When my stepson lost his mother after a battle with colon cancer, our relationship took several strides backward. Grief, anger, and confusion surrounded my stepson. Although I had moved into a disciplinary role after several years of marriage, I reverted to a friend role. I allowed my husband to take over the primary disciplinary position again because my stepson began fighting against my maternal role.

If the biological parent takes a passive disciplinary role, problems ensue. Children need to be held to behavioral standards, and if the biological parent neglects his/her role, it’s natural for the stepparent to step in. But that’s not the answer. In The Smart Stepmom, co-authors Laura Petherbridge and Ron Deal commit an entire chapter to the importance of engaged fathers: “Dad Smart: She Can’t Do It Without You.” Recommended reading if you’re suffering in this area.

Stepchildren come in all sorts and sizes. Some will embrace a stepparent in their lives, quickly developing a loving relationship, which allows you to begin a disciplinary role almost immediately. However, most will not. Allow the child to set the pace and determine your role as your relationship develops for a better chance at a meaningful, long-term relationship.

Do you agree? What has been your experience as a friend or parent to your stepchildren? I would love to hear your comments.

Related Posts:

Learning to Accept the Things You Cannot Change

What is our Role as a Stepparent?

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

Six Steps for Coping With Stepfamily Storms

 Over the week-end, we braved severe storms with damaging tornadoes in Central Arkansas. My family and I retreated to our “fraidy hole” more than once to seek protection from our frightful surroundings.

As I listened to the blare of tornado sirens and attempted to comfort my tearful 9-year-old son, I reflected on what options we have during storms. I compared weather storms to emotional storms that occur in stepfamilies. I thought about ways we can cope during stepfamily storms that allow a healthy outcome without a lot of damage. Here are a few steps to consider:

1. Stay calm – don’t overreact. It’s easy to raise your voice and exaggerate what kind of storm you’re dealing with during times of conflict. Solutions don’t emerge naturally when emotions are heightened . If you find yourself out of sorts, it’s best to take a time out and leave the conflict. Be sure to come back later and address the difficulty.

2. Pray for wisdom and guidance for the situation. Find a time and place to be still and listen for God’s direction. Meditate on Scripture and be patient as you search for answers.  James 1:5 tells us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

3. Brainstorm and talk through your options with another person. Seek out an objective party who can help you sort through your emotions and solutions for the conflict. Find a pastor, counselor, or friend who has your best interest at heart and can offer a healthy opinion. My husband and I used a professional counselor in the early years of our marriage to help us get unstuck during periods of heavy conflict.

4. Wait it out. Many times, storms dissipate with time. Don’t jump to conclusions or insist on taking steps that might make matters worse. When my stepson chose to continue living with his stepdad after his mom died, we were devastated. My husband could have demanded that he come live with us right after the funeral, but he believed it would alienate his adolescent son and cause further pain. We waited out his decision, tormented by some of his choices over the next year. Finally my stepson came to live with us with a willing heart after he took the time he needed to grieve with his stepdad and older sister.

5. Take one step at a time when the conditions are right. As solutions emerge, move slowly toward resolution. Take the next healthy step toward reconciling with those involved. Don’t expect harmony overnight but do your part to mend relationships.

6. Maintain a positive attitude and trust God for the results. We may not see an end to our storm, but we can trust God with the results. I love this quote by E.L. Doctorow as applied to stepfamily challenges: “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” We may not understand what’s happening around us or see an end in sight but we can choose to keep going anyway while we Let Go and Let God. (AA slogan)

Storms are frightening. We won’t always react as we should or take the right steps, but if we refuse to give up on our stepfamily relationships, we will find solutions in our storms.

Other Posts You Might Like:

It’s Always Too Early to Quit

Confront Conflict Head-On

Conquering Conflict: Get a Grip on Your Pride