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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.

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.

The Unexpected Blessings of Stepparenting

“Who will walk the girls down the aisle when they marry?” I cringed at the awkward conversation my ex-husband had started. Concerned about the relationship that had developed between my two daughters and their stepdad, Randy, my ex-husband raised the question. “We will do what the girls want to do,” Randy replied. A brilliant response, I thought. 

Fast forward ten years later. My daughter, Jodi, married this past weekend. A few months before the wedding, Jodi approached the subject with Randy. “Dad, I’d like you to walk me down the aisle. You’re the one who’s been there for me.”

Wow!

My steady-Eddie. That’s what I call my husband. Randy has walked through the good and the ugly with my two girls. Temper tantrums, sassy attitudes, adolescent meltdowns, controlling boyfriends, parking lot fender-benders, late night phone calls, teenage drama, failing grades, bad decisions, and so much more.

Randy never walked away. He wanted to. He talked about it a few times. But perseverance won out.

And now… after 20 years of stepparenting, an unexpected blessing.

Blessings of stepparenting

Well-deserved by a man who’s given unselfishly to his stepdaughters.

Not perfectly, however. Randy will be the first to tell you he’s done a lot of things wrong as a stepdad. But the girls see his heart. As young adults, they recognize his well-meaning intentions.

I know it doesn’t always happen this way. Stepfamily weddings can be awkward and less-than-joyous. If you’ve experienced that with your stepchildren, I’m sorry.

But there are blessings amidst the challenges of stepparenting.

Simple things. A smile from across the room. A request for your opinion on a sensitive issue. A light-hearted evening that includes laughter and hugs with your stepchild.

Your blessings will look different than mine. Or my husband’s. Sometimes they’re disguised and hard to find.

Expect them. Look for them.

Live in the now. Experience the joy of today. Don’t hold onto regret or I-wish-it-were-different.

Above all, let grace and mercy prevail in your home.

And you’ll find your own unexpected blessings of stepparenting.

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3, NIV).

What unexpected blessing have you experienced as a stepparent? Will you share it in the comments? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

We Need Each Other—Here’s Why!

Randy and Mom

Randy and his mom

A knot formed in my stomach as I watched my husband, Randy, take his suit out of the closet and pack it in the car. “I think you need to take funeral clothes too,” he said. “We don’t know what lies ahead.” I looked away as tears pooled in my eyes.

We had just learned that my mother-in-law was in the hospital. She had come through one surgery already, but the news wasn’t good. The doctors were taking her back for a second surgery to repair a hole in her intestines that was dumping bacteria into her system.

Driving out of state, Randy began talking about his mom’s husband, Tommy. “He’s so dependent on Mom. He has no friends or former work associates who stay in touch. I don’t know how he’ll cope if Mom doesn’t make it.”

“I know,” I said. “It makes me sad to think about.”

Arriving at the hospital the next morning, I braced myself for the worst. I knew my mother-in-law was in ICU, hooked to a ventilator. Her swollen hands and ash-colored skin revealed how sick she was. It became obvious that her time left with us was limited.

“Where’s Tommy?” I asked my sister-in-law, Lisa, as we walked out of the hospital room.

“He’s at home,” Lisa said. “He says he can’t come. It’s too hard on him.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.

Later that afternoon the nurses gathered the family together to give a report. “She’s too frail to fight this,” they told us. “We’ve given her everything we can, and she’s not responding.”

Randy and his sister knew it was time to make a tough decision. Their mom had always said she didn’t want her last days to be strung out in a hospital room, surviving only on machines. They wanted to honor her wishes. But shouldn’t Tommy be there for his wife’s last breath? Read more

Coping with Unexpected Challenges on Your Stepfamily Journey

I sat by my phone anxiously, watching every text that came across. My niece was having a baby, and I wanted to know the details. Was it a boy or a girl?  What was the name? How big? How was my niece doing?

ID-100396479So many questions. The answers were slow to come. And then a revelation no one expected.

The baby was delivered, and all seemed to be fine. A beautiful baby girl. Eleanor Joy. My niece was doing great.

But without warning, another text crossed my screen. Something wasn’t right. A diagnosis no one suspected had surfaced.

Beautiful Eleanor Joy had Down Syndrome. The doctor was certain of it.

I shuddered as I reread the text. No! It can’t be! I thought. The extensive ultrasounds. The routine prenatal visits. How was it never discovered? How will my niece and her husband cope with this unexpected turn?

Questions without answers. They dominate life. How do you handle them?

In our stepfamily journey, we had an unexpected turn eight years into our marriage. We had moved past the hard transitions, and our family was beginning to enjoy more peaceful relationships. Our four children could sit at the dinner table without fighting (on occasion!)  and hope was on the horizon.

But the call from my husband’s ex-wife with unexpected news shook our family to the core. She had colon cancer—late stage. Read more

Dear Stepdad: Don’t Quit

With Father’s day just a few days away, I’m posting an essay I wrote a few years’ back to encourage and honor stepdads.

ID-10035814

Dear Stepdad: Don’t Quit

My husband, Randy, will be the first to tell you he has done a lot of things wrong as a stepfather. He has been a stepparent to my two daughters for 20 years. His stepdaughters love him dearly.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

My youngest daughter, Jodi, was almost three when we married, and Jamie was five. Randy had a difficult time with Jamie from the beginning. She didn’t want another dad in her life, and she made that clear to him.

He overheard a conversation between the two girls one night during our first year of marriage. “I hate him too; I can’t believe Mom married him,” Jamie told Jodi. There was little love, or even like, between Randy and the girls in the beginning.

During our second year of marriage, Randy left the house one evening and called from a nearby hotel. “I’m not coming home tonight. I’m not sure I’m coming home again. I can’t cope with the ongoing conflict between you and me and the kids.”

It was a tough season. Randy brought two children to the marriage also and attempting to blend our four kids, ages 3-10, while learning how to stepparent and parent together proved harder than we anticipated. But neither of us wanted to endure another divorce. Randy and I began counseling that year to work through the bumps.

During her teenage years, Jamie challenged us on every turn. If Randy punished her in the slightest, she threatened to call Child Protective Services. She ran away more times than I can remember (but thankfully never went far). After one particularly difficult day with defiant behavior, Randy took Jamie’s cell phone and threw it to the ground. As it busted into several pieces, Jamie began yelling at us both. The night didn’t end well. And I wasn’t sure the sun would come up the next day.

Read more