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Let’s Talk Stepfamily Realities, Not Myths

There are almost as many legendary stories about stepmoms, stepdads, and stepfamilies as there are stars in the sky. Yet, many of these stories are myths. Simply not true. Like the myth that stepmoms are wicked (think Cinderella!) or that the stepfamily is the same as the first marriage family. Who makes this stuff up anyway?

I think many of us believe these myths, then bring them into our new marriage and family. How long does it take us to realize they are myths? That they are not true and they do not dictate how our stepfamily will grow and develop. Believing these myths creates discontentment and unhappiness in your stepfamily.  Today I’m sharing some thoughts from one of my favorite stepfamily resources The Smart Stepfamily by Ron Deal.

1. Love will happen instantly between all family members.

Really? Have you found this to be true? I did not. My reality was watching our kids have a difficult time during our dating. My husband would say, “We’ll just love ’em through it.” But that will not always (if ever) work. Deal says, “Love in the sense of ‘love your neighbor’ is attainable; love in the sense of deep family bonds may or may not be achieved.” Deep family bonds will take time and may always look different that biological bonds.

2. We’ll do it better this time around.

It is easy to think, “I’ve been married before, I know what to do this time.” Marriage, while never easy, is made more difficult with kids. And in a stepfamily, we all have a history. Don’t compare your current marriage to a previous one. Accept the good and the bad of marriage. Live in the reality of your current marriage, recognizing it too will have challenges.

3. Everything will fall quickly in place.

Seriously? Has this been your experience? My guess is no it hasn’t. Let’s remember that “quickly” is a relative term and I am fairly certain quickly does not happen in stepfamilies. Deal says, “The stepping-stone of patience is critical to stepfamily development. Becoming disillusioned with how your family is progressing is an almost universal experience because progress never happens on your timetable. Remember, the average stepfamily takes seven years to integrate.” Seven years? Let’s bookmark that in our brains!

4. Our children will feel as happy about the remarriage as we do.

Often stepchildren are not happy about their parent’s remarriage. You need only attend a few re-marriage weddings,  to find children who are not happy about their “new family”. Stepfamily experts say kids are often a year behind the adults in accepting and progressing with a new family. Children deal with things differently than adults. We shouldn’t rush our children to catch up with us emotionally. Deal says, “What a blow it is for parents to realize that remarriage is a gain for them, but another loss to their children.” Remember, time is your friend.

5. Blending is the goal of this stepfamily.

We call ourselves blended families because we are combining people from two families into one. Think about what happens in a blender when we make a smoothie, this is NOT what we want to happen in our stepfamilies. Deal says, “More realistic is a process by which the various parts integrate, or come into contact with one another, much like a casserole of distinct parts. For example, biological parents and children will always have a stronger bond than stepparents and stepchildren, even if all goes well. This is not to say that different members of a stepfamily cannot be close. Many will develop deep emotional bonds, but there will always be a qualitative difference.”

Have you read Deal’s book? Are there myths you believed or still believe? I’d love to about chat about this in the comments.

Related Posts:

A Glimpse Into One Stepmom’s Story: The Good and the Bad

Learning How to Love My Stepchildren

 

Success Where it Matters Most by Gayla Grace

Success Where it Matters Most

Success Where It Matter Most by Gayla Grace

Our greatest fear as individuals and as a church should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” Francis Chan

In 2007, as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Dungy was the first African-American coach to win the Super Bowl. That win made him one of only three individuals who’ve won the Super Bowl as both a player and head coach. I admire the man, but not because of his Super Bowl victories. I admire him because of his passionate desire to walk his life path in a manner that reflects his Christian values. Tony Dungy knows how to distinguish the important from the unimportant and make time for the things that truly matter.

In his book, Uncommon, Finding Your Path to Significance, Coach Dungy says, “We have all missed too many memories and moments in our lives because of poorly ordered priorities. But even so, it’s never too late to set things straight … Start here: ‘Seek first his kingdom.’ (Matthew 6:33). Take a few moments to be quiet and spend time with God. He will lessen your worries about tomorrow and release you from the breathless pace of the world’s urgent priorities.”

Time spent on what matters most will look different to each of us.

We must be intentional with our time, lest we find ourselves on the treadmill of busyness.

We may find ourselves focusing on the urgency of the present, instead of the lasting permanence of significant moments.

Stepparenting is an endeavor that must be taken seriously. We have to learn how to prioritize our tasks and our time and find the right balance.

Here are 5 things I have learned to incorporate into my decision making. They all help me find that balance.

1. Learn to say NO. If it is important to the family, then discuss it and make a decision. But to simplify our schedules, we must learn to say no.

2. Eat right and include regular exercise in your routine. Most of us know we NEED to do this, we just don’t. When we take care of ourselves physically, we better equip ourselves to make good choices. Thus allowing us to focus on the things that matter the most.

3. Get adequate rest.  When we get busy, sleep is often the first thing we give up. Don’t do it! Lack of sleep will create problems in other areas of life. Studies have shown that lack of sleep can negatively affect many areas of our life, including hormones and weight gain.

4. Maintain a spiritual journey to bring wholeness and harmony to your being. Find an active Bible study group, attend church regularly, join a prayer group, or use personal study time to grow spiritually. Walking a spiritual road can have a significant effect on our well-being at every level.

5. Make time for a fun activity. Coffee with a girlfriend, date night with our spouse, or simply a walk around the block can create the perfect environment to recharge our batteries when we began to head toward overload.

We have to be intentional with our time and responsibilities if we want to maintain balance.

We all have the same number of hours in a day but how we choose to spend them is our choice.

Do you feel out of balance? What healthy choices will you make to put your schedule in balance?

Stepparenting: Nine Tips to Help You Rise Above the Daily Grind

9 Tips for Rising Above the Stepparenting Daily Grind by Gayla Grace

A knot formed in my stomach as I watched my son, a high school soccer player, clutch his chest and bend over, gasping for air. Mouth wide open, he stood almost lifeless. I knew what was happening.

Asthma had struck again.

Play on the field continued; no one noticed Nathan was barely breathing. My lips quivered as tears welled in my eyes. “Take a knee, son. Flag for help,” I hollered. My heart began to race. I knew the danger of the scene.

His hand went up. Finally, the referee saw him. Nathan started walking off the field and straight to his bag. I watched every movement as he pulled out his rescue inhaler and put it to his mouth. Breathing the medicine into his lungs, I exhaled a sigh of relief. The immediate crisis was over.

Walking to the car after the game, Nathan said, “I hate asthma.” Although he works hard to take every step his doctor instructs, the daily grind of asthma won out that day. The cold winter air, the back-to-back tournament games, the overexertion on the soccer field—it was more than his body could take.

The same happens with stepparenting. We try to do everything right as we manage the challenges that come our way. But sometimes it’s not enough. Stepparenting continues to be a struggle, even after 4, 8, or 15 years together. Some things do get easier, but some things don’t.

How do you keep moving forward when you’re tired of the daily grind of stepparenting?

 

Here are a few suggestions.

  1.  Don’t assume responsibility for your stepchildren’s behavior.

Freedom comes when we recognize we can do our part to encourage good decision-making, healthy friendships, and mature behavior, but there are other influences—that we can’t control—that also play a role. Don’t take responsibility for your stepchildren’s poor choices.

  1. Steer clear of negative people – including other stepparents who choose negative thinking.

Find solutions to your challenges instead of complaining about them. Look for out-of-the-box answers. Don’t give up when the outlook seems distressing. There are always new tomorrows but we must commit to start again, try new solutions, and avoid dismal thinking.

  1. Cherish the good days and on hard days, remember “this too will pass.”

Life is hard, whether you reside in a stepfamily or not. Even after 21 years as a stepparent, I have days when I’m frustrated with my stepchildren’s choices or angry with my husband’s decisions regarding them. But we have a lot of good days together as a family. Those are the days I choose to focus on, and let go of the hard ones.

  1. Spend time away from your stepchildren.

Create your own space to retreat to for healthy self-preservation. Go to a movie by yourself. Spend the afternoon with a good book and your favorite latte. Plan a few days away with a girlfriend. Make time for You!

  1. Find a friend, minister, or counselor who will listen, without judgment or condemnation, when you feel you’re going over the edge.

You will have irrational days, no matter how long you’ve been a stepparent. Some days we just don’t cope well, or life takes a turn we don’t like. Find support to help work through your feelings.

  1. Reach out to other stepparents – find ways to support those struggling on the stepparenting journey.

We naturally take our eyes off our challenges and ourselves when we focus on others. Help another stepparent find answers to their struggles—it will likely help you with your own.

  1. Nurture your marriage.

You’ve heard me say it many times but it’s worth repeating – your stepchildren will someday leave home. Mine have both flown away and I’m thankful we didn’t neglect our marriage during the child-rearing years.

  1. Rise above your circumstances.

Create a heart of gratitude. Don’t get out of bed in the morning until you’ve listed five things you’re thankful for in your head. Do it again when you go to bed. Joy can be found in the midst of challenge, but we have to choose it.

  1. Find solace through faith.

Recognize that God knows what you’re going through and will walk though it with you if you seek Him. Meditate on Scripture. Pray. Join a Bible study. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8

If you’ve been a stepparent long, you understand the daily grind. But you don’t have to get stuck there. It’s a choice.

What other suggestions would you give to help cope with the daily grind of stepparenting?

 

 

 

My Biggest Tip after 20 Years in a Stepfamily

My husband and I celebrated 20 years of marriage last week. There were many years I didn’t know if we’d make it to our next anniversary.  Today, I’m thankful for where we are as a stepfamily.

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I’ve grown emotionally, spiritually, and mentally in so many ways since I began this journey. I’m thankful for what stepfamily life has taught me; I’m a different person than when I started. Last year I wrote a post on What I’ve Learned in 19 Years as a Stepmom. 

I must admit, however, that I’m most thankful our hardest years are behind us. You can read about some of our struggles here: Trusting God’s Plan for Your Stepfamily and The Myth of the Perfect Stepparent. 

There are a lot of suggestions I could give for how we’ve made it 20 years. But today I want to focus on one—or maybe it’s three :). If you asked for my biggest tip for long-term success, peace, and harmony in your stepfamily, here it is:

Make your marriage a priority, trust God through the rough patches, and don’t give up just because it’s hard.

I know—you’ve heard that before, right? Maybe it seems too simple. Maybe you don’t like it. But it’s worked for us.

When our marriage was in trouble (which happened within our first year), we began counseling. My husband and I both uncovered leftover baggage from our previous marriages and family of origin issues that affected us. It was painful to look at my part in how I wanted to be right and insisted on having the last word when we argued or how I considered my way of parenting superior to Randy’s.

I didn’t like having to consider how my 11-year marriage to an alcoholic skewed my thinking about relationships. Trust no longer came easily for me and I put one foot out the door before I gave our marriage a fair chance. I had worked hard in my previous marriage but it failed anyway. I had to dig deep and make myself vulnerable again in a marriage when I didn’t know the outcome.

I questioned our efforts constantly—what were we doing wrong?Although you hear it takes 4-7 years for a stepfamily to blend, it took longer than that for us.  There were things we could have done differently, no doubt, but the truth is, the complexities of our stepfamily life with four children and two ex-spouses made life hard. And just as we were making progress in healthy relationship-building, my stepchildren learned their mother was battling colon cancer. Her death a year later was devastating for everyone.

Your circumstances are different than mine but I suspect you have your own challenges. Days you want to quit. Relationships you want to give up on. Questions that don’t have answers.

I know. It’s hard. I’ve been there.

Will you dig deep? Will you trust a loving God who wants to hold your hand as you walk through difficult circumstances?

Will you do the hard work of looking at your own issues instead of always considering someone else needs to change? Will you persevere when the road stretches out endlessly?

The easy way out is to quit. But you’ll never experience the blessings of the long haul if you do.

I’m thankful I’ve stayed—through the good and the bad.

Make your marriage a priority, trust God through the rough patches, and don’t give up just because it’s hard.

Do you have other suggestions? I’d love to hear them.

If you’d like more nuggets of help, check out our devotional book on Amazon:

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God Uses Imperfect Stepparents

The early morning text surprised me. I don’t hear from my young adult stepson a lot but sensed he needed to talk based on what I read. I picked up the phone and engaged in a lengthy conversation with him regarding his year-long relationship with his girlfriend.

God Uses Imperfect Stepparents

It was a great time to impart words of encouragement and support for his recent decision to take a step back from the relationship. I heard his feelings of discontent and sound judgment about whether they could make it long term. I heard words of wisdom that I knew were partly due to his upbringing in our home.

I will forever be an imperfect stepparent. I could spend days relaying countless ways that I messed up with my stepchildren. My stepson, Payton, and I had a strained relationship much of the time during his adolescent years. I didn’t know how to raise a son and didn’t spend enough time “studying” Payton so I could parent him better. But God used my imperfect efforts and continues to redeem a less-than-perfect relationship.

If you’re struggling with a stepchild relationship that feels it’s on a downward spiral, don’t give up. God redeems relationships every day. We don’t have to have all the answers. But we do need to do our part in apologizing when we’re wrong and seeking to improve our stepparenting ways to foster a healthy relationship.

The stepparenting journey often includes one step forward and two steps backward, particularly in the early years. But don’t underestimate your value with your stepchildren. Stepparents who choose to stay the course, through the good times and bad, will make a difference in the lives of their stepchildren.

Do you agree? How is God using you as an imperfect stepparent?

Pic by graur codrin

Related Posts:

Learning How to Love My Stepchildren

Seeing God’s Mercy on Difficult Days

Finding Success Through the Bumps on Your Stepparenting Journey

How to Cope with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

I’m addressing a question today I received from a reader. How do you cope as a stepmom when you’re dealing with a biological mom who is belittling to you and doesn’t want you in her children’s lives?

The stepmom role becomes harder when the bio mom makes every effort to exclude you from her children’s lives. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon. At the root of this issue lies the fear that the bio mom feels the children are going to bond with the you – the stepmom, and form a deeper relationship with you than they have with her.

It’s an unfounded fear because children almost always have a stronger relationship with their biological parents than they have with a stepparent. However, she’s reacting out of her own fear and communicating to her children that she wants their loyalty. Women are territorial when it comes to their children. If you have children of your own, you understand these feelings, but it doesn’t give the bio mom the right to act belittling or antagonistic  toward the stepmom.

To help alleviate the threat the bio mom is sensing, the stepmom needs to send a message that she has no intention of interfering with the relationship between the bio mom and her children and isn’t trying to replace her in any way. In their book, The Smart Stepmom, Laura Petherbridge and Ron Deal give an example of how to communicate this message which they call “The No-Threat Message.” They suggest doing it in person or via e-mail if the relationship is already strained.

“Dear Meghan, since we are both involved with your kids, I wanted to take a minute to communicate with you. I want to share that I totally understand and respect that you are the only mother of these children. I’m not their mom, and I will never try to take your place. They are your children. I am honored to be an added parent figure in their lives. I view my role as one of support to their father, and my desire is to be a blessing to them. I promise to speak well of you and work together for their benefit. I desire to make their lives easier, not more difficult. Please know that I pray for the entire family. If there’s anything I can do to help the situation or if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.”

Sending the no-threat message doesn’t guarantee the bio mom will accept your position in her children’s lives but it offers her some perspective on how you feel about your role. She is more likely to allow a relationship between you and her children if she doesn’t feel threatened by your behavior and sees you live out the No-threat message.

Unfortunately, some bio moms are mean-spirited and vindictive. In this case, there’s not a lot the stepmom can do to have an amicable relationship. For further insight, I suggest reading the chapter from The Smart Stepmom, “Meet Your Ex-Wife-in-Law: Friend or Foe.” It gives additional scenarios of how to cope with a difficult ex-spouse.

What suggestions would you give this reader? I’d love to hear them.

Picture by Grant Cochrane

Related Posts:

Co-Parenting with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

Creating Healthy Boundaries with Your Ex-Spouse

Recognizing the Need for Boundaries