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Dear Stepparent: Chase After Progress, Not Perfection

Dear Stepparent: Chase After Progress, Not Perfection

I talk to stepparents all the time who blame themselves for a poor relationship with their stepchild. “If only I had more patience with my stepchild, if only I had more time to spend with him, if only, if only, if only.”

The truth is, it probably wouldn’t matter if you were the perfect stepparent. You might still have a disjointed relationship with your stepchild.

Why?

Because there are so many other variables that help determine what kind of relationship you and your stepchild will have.

That doesn’t take you off the hook. It’s important that you continue to work toward a loving, meaningful relationship with your stepchild. But it also helps to recognize that you don’t control the whole picture.

Dear Stepparent: Chase After Progress, Not Perfection

Outside Influences

Your stepchild has other people and circumstances that influence his or her relationship with you. Here are the most common ones:

  • If the biological parent in the other home is discouraging a relationship with you as the stepparent.
  • If your spouse isn’t supporting you in your stepparenting role.
  • If your spouse is a passive parent and as a result, you step into the parental role too soon.
  • If your stepchild has lost their biological parent to death, there are likely ghosts in the closet that affect your relationship.
  • If the biological parent in the other home is dysfunctional, your stepchild feels pulled toward that parent.
  • If you married while your stepchildren were in their teen years, they’re more interested in seeking independence than bonding with new family members.
  • If you had a short dating period with your partner, it’s likely your stepchildren didn’t have enough time to process their feelings of loss, which will impact your relationship with them.

Down the Road

After we had been married several years, my two girls had bonded well with my husband and began calling him Dad. I was jealous of their relationship. It looked different than the one I had with my stepchildren. Convinced I was doing something wrong, I didn’t realize how the variables affecting my stepchildren—like a mom who discouraged a relationship with me—kept them at a distance.

We try to do everything right as a stepparent, thinking that will create the relationship we’re seeking.

The reality is, we aren’t responsible for and cannot change many of the variables that influence the relationship with our stepchild.

Time is on your side. I’m thankful today for healthy, thriving relationships with my adult stepchildren.

Chase after progress, not perfection and you’ll experience rewards down the road.

Have you seen rewards on your step journey? Share them with us!

Blended Families – 4 Tips for Dealing with The Ex

Blending families can create a unique set of problems. Sometimes it may seem solutions are hard to find. Today, my friend, Holly Robinson, shares some tips for creating a cordial relationship with the ex-wife. Please welcome Holly, read her story, and share your thoughts in the comments.

I never meant to marry a man with children. When I fell in love with Dan, I shied away from a commitment because we each had two young children. Forget sex and romance! The minute we tied the knot, I worried that life would be all about daycare, fretting over mortgages, and orthodontist bills.

We got married anyway, despite my fears and doubts. On the wedding day itself, it started to rain early in the morning, a light drizzle from a pewter sky. Luckily, we had ordered tents for the backyard. The rain added to the beauty of it, as the tents caught a kaleidoscope of falling leaves, like handmade Japanese paper in red and gold.

Because the ceremony included our four children—by then, they were 5, 6, 7 and 8 years old—our guest list of 96 people included 42 children and ranged in age from three months to 91 years old. No wedding could have been more beautiful. Yes, I cried.

However, I was right about the whole stepmother gig being hell on wheels. One particularly bad night with my stepson Drew drove this point home. My kids were with my ex that weekend; Dan and I had just gone to bed when suddenly there was a retching sound from the doorway. And there was Drew vomiting on the floor.

Dan jumped up to tend to him. I threw on an old nightshirt and helped him clean up Drew, then Drew’s bed, and finally the floor. We gave Drew medicine to bring down his fever and mopped him with cool washcloths. For a while, Drew called out pitifully for his mother, his favorite stuffed animal, and his treasured bedtime story – none of which I could provide. We did what we could to comfort him, but I’d never felt so helpless.

“We have to call his mom,” I said finally, near tears.

Dan didn’t want to do it—it was late, and he hated the idea of having to ask his ex for parenting advice. But I insisted: if this was my kid, I’d want to help him feel better. Maybe his ex could help me tell Drew the story he wanted to hear, at the very least, even if we didn’t have the book on hand.

I made the call. And, to my surprise, his ex—who had been understandably cool since the wedding—was worried about her son and glad I’d called. She recounted the story to me over the phone and I “read” it to my stepson. He fell asleep, finally, and woke up feeling fine the next day.

With that call, I realized I’d broken through some sort of barrier. I was determined to start thinking of my husband’s ex as an ally. After all, she was the mother of the stepkids I was beginning to love. By being polite, and even friendly and helpful, to her, I hoped to make both of our households more peaceful. Dan still had trouble communicating with his ex, but from that point on, I made sure to keep the lines of communication open and reached out to her often. She began doing the same, calling me for advice or information when her children had a behavior issue or needed a scheduling change. It was never ideal, but it was definitely civil.

Last month, I went to my stepson Drew’s birthday party. He’s out of college, but he wanted everyone—his dad and me, his sister and stepsiblings and half-brother—to celebrate his birthday. I came away from the party thinking, wow, we did it. We didn’t just play a game of happy families. We really are one.

Being civil to your husband’s ex isn’t always easy. But, if you take the high road and treat her as a potential parenting ally instead of an enemy, I promise things will start going more smoothly. With time, you may find yourself joining her on the trip to settle your stepson or stepdaughter into a college dorm room, celebrating a wedding together, or taking pictures of a grandchild’s first birthday. These are the milestones ahead of you—provided you can let go of the past.

Step Parenting Tips on Handling the Ex-Wife

A few tips to help you get started:

  • Ask your husband’s ex for advice about the kids, especially when it comes to household rules and behavior. Don’t worry. It won’t lessen your power or position with your husband—he just wants you two to get along, and she’ll appreciate the fact that you respect her opinions.
  • If your husband fumes about his ex, don’t fan the flames. Yes, of course, he loves to say his ex is bossy, money-grubbing, a cold fish, or whatever—obviously, they got divorced for reasons. But there are always two sides to every story—and sometimes more. Listen with compassion, but remember that your goal is to keep the peace at home, so your stepkids will grow up happy and secure.
  • Stop competing. Your stepchildren will never love you better than they love their mom. Think of yourself as the alternate on the team: you will have your shining moments, like when you realize you and your stepdaughter both love musical theater or when your stepson says you’re a pretty good artist. But she’s their mother, and no matter how she behaves—or misbehaves—nothing will change that. You’re still playing an important role in the lives of these children, so take your job as a role model seriously and give it all you’ve got: love, compassion, humility, and humor.
  • Be flexible. There will be times when your husband’s ex may seem like she’s gunning for him—and for you in the bargain. She might suddenly ask for a different weekend, or skip having the children visit. She even wants you to take the kids all summer when she was supposed to have them half-time. Think about things from her point of view and, most importantly, from the perspective of your stepchildren: what’s better for them? How can you make their lives easier, not more difficult? They’ve already gone through a lot of loss with the divorce. It’s your job—sorry, you’re the adult—to make them believe that people love them and care about their needs, even if it means sacrificing that romantic weekend with their dad or having to scramble for daycare so you can get to work.

Eventually, the kids will grow up. When they do, you want the door to be wide open, so they can come home to a family that loves them for years to come.

Bio: Holly Robinson is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Open Salon, and Parents. Her novel, BEACH PLUM ISLAND, is Holly Robinson at her best, a story about family, love and buried secrets. 

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.
Stepparenting the Grieving Child

Stepparenting the Grieving Child

The stepmom role is hard.

Add in grieving stepchildren and it gets even harder.

 

Stepparenting the Grieving Child

 Author Diane Fromme recently published a book, Stepparenting the Grieving Child: Cultivating Past and Present Connections with Children Who Have Lost a Parent. In her book, she shares the assumptions and presumptions, steps and missteps that occurred within her own stepfamily.

In a recent interview with Stepmom Magazine, Fromme shares three things that surprised her most about being a stepmom to children who had lost their mom to cancer.

First, I realized that their liking me might feel to them like a betrayal to her. I expected their devotion to their mom but not the intensity of their loyalty. Next, I didn’t realize the amount of stepparenting and grief education I needed to serve the children, while also taking care of myself. I didn’t know, at first, that I needed help! And, maybe most important, I learned that I needed to be part of the team that honors the deceased parent as (a member) of the ongoing family.”

Fromme offers great tips and encouragement throughout her book that comes from personal examples, insights from other stepfamilies, and knowledge gained through experience and research.

Here are a few nuggets of helpful advice:

    •  Honoring our stepchildren’s need to keep a lost parent close ultimately builds the best stepfamily relationships. Know that your efforts and actions lay the groundwork for future milestones: rites of passage, celebrations, and the weathering of other losses.
    • In the highest functioning stepfamilies, members talk about what is seen but not heard. What is not being spoken that needs to be? By making a time and a place for straight talk, [everyone] can benefit
    • I urge you to keep on communicating with your spouse when you feel strongly that the kids should be parented in a different way. Stand up for your beliefs when they matter most. Choose these battles wisely. Be willing to let the rest go so as not to create constant control clashes in the household.

Fromme’s straightforward writing will help you gain understanding and confidence in your stepparenting role with a grieving child. Purchase your copy today and find hope, strength, and inspiration for your journey!

Click this link or the image below to go directly to Amazon. (affiliate link)

 

Emotionally Empty? Run Down, and Out of Gas? by Gayla Grace

Emotionally Empty? Run Down and Out of Gas?

Some days your body wears out, you get run down, and then you’re sick. Maybe it’s a stomach virus, the flu, an upper respiratory illness…it doesn’t matter WHAT the illness is, just THAT it is. In order to recover, we make changes to our schedule. We grab an extra hour of sleep if possible. We don’t attend the committee meeting. Maybe we nap in the afternoon. OK, that one could be a stretch, but I hope you get the point…when our bodies are physically ill, we make changes in our routine to help our bodies recover.

But what about the times we’re emotionally ill? Should we ignore it and pretend things are fine?

Emotionally Empty? Run Down, and Out of Gas? by Gayla Grace

 

If you’ve been a stepparent for long, then you have probably experienced the emotional illness known as “TOS”.  Those days when you are exhausted and

Tired Of Stepparenting.

You’d like to take a pass, leave the house, have someone else deal with the stepkids while you do something. While you do anything other than the normal. You know what I’m referring to. The routine, the mundane parenting tasks, and the responsibilities you assume when you’re not the parent. And often, with few rights.

The continuous energy required to do the right thing (after all, you are the adult!) with little or no appreciation can be draining, to say the least.

If you’re suffering from “TOS”, maybe it’s time to MAKE time for self-care.

Simple things like go for a walk. Or put all your gadgets on airplane mode for 15 minutes and take a short break and sit still. Have lunch with a friend. Make time for a massage. If affordable, plan a getaway with your spouse.

The goal is to take a break from your regular routine and do something nice for yourself.

Assuming the role of a stepparent is no easy task. It can be a demanding role and you aren’t even the star of the show. As stepparents, we need to decide when it’s time to take a break from the routine. We have to learn to recognize when our emotional tank is running low and schedule a time, a place, and a method for refilling it. We can then continue the stepparenting journey in a healthy manner. For us AND our stepchildren.

Do you need a break? Do you need a weekend away from the routine?

Take it! As a stepparent, you deserve it.

Do you have any ideas for filling your emotional tank? Please share them in the comments,