My husband and I celebrate 19 years of marriage today. All four of the kids in our wedding picture are grown – we have only an “ours” child still at home – 13-year-old son Nathan.
I love the way my friend Heather Hetchler counts years in stepfamilies – # of kids X years married, so in stepfamily years, we’ve been married 95 years! Wow! That’s a long time!
I want to reflect on a few things I’ve learned during that time. I don’t pretend to have all the answers and I’ve learned many things because I did it wrong the first time. But my prayer is that you’ll find the lessons I learned along the way helpful for your stepfamily journey.
Step Parenting | 7 Things I’ve Learned With My Blended Family
1. There’s more than one right way to parent and sometimes I need to consider my husband’s way.
In the beginning, I was convinced my way was the right way on most everything. It wasn’t until a counselor told me I wasn’t always right that I began to eat humble pie and consider my husband’s suggestions. During my girls’ teen years, I especially grew to value my husband’s parenting opinions. Because he wasn’t as emotionally vested as I was, he could recognize issues that needed to be addressed when I wanted to live in denial. Seeing my girls through his eyes helped me take the shutters off my own eyes. I’ve also learned to trust his heart in regards to parenting. I know he wants what’s best for all our kids and parents accordingly.
2. The unexpected will happen and will probably rock your boat.
I could have never predicted that my stepchildren’s mother would pass away after a short battle with cancer 9 years into our marriage. My stepchildren were 14 and 19 and we went through our toughest years as a stepfamily during that time.
Your circumstances will look different than mine but I’ve counseled with stepparent after stepparent who recount unexpected happenings ranging from addiction, suicide attempts, changing residences, jail time with stepchildren to mental illness, serial relationships, and personal alienation syndrome with the other parent.
During our difficult years, I learned the value of a united marriage. It’s easy to allow circumstances to drive you a part as a couple, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Your marriage is worth fighting for!
3. The first decade is the hardest.
A decade may seem like a long time, but after you get the first decade under your belt, life gets easier, even if you encounter difficult circumstances. Our second decade started out very tough after the loss my stepchildren encountered, but my husband and I could weather the storm better with a stronger, more committed relationship from a decade of togetherness. Commit to the long haul. It really does get easier with time.
4. Develop thick skin as a stepparent – you’ll need it.
I learned early on I wasn’t going to survive if I didn’t learn how to quit taking every snarly look or flippant comment from my stepchildren personally. I love Ron Deal’s words in The Smart Stepfamily, “Stepparents cannot afford to be insecure. Stepfamilies were not made for the emotionally fragile.” I couldn’t agree more!
5. Grace is the answer to a lot of stepfamily issues.
When you don’t know what to do, offer grace – to yourself and those around you. I know, I know — that doesn’t solve the issue with your teen’s disrespectful mouth or your husband’s bad attitude, but it changes how you react if you start with grace. I don’t deserve the grace Jesus offered me on the cross but I get to experience the forgiveness anyway. Our stepchildren might not deserve our grace, but it goes a long way toward harmony in stepfamily relationships.
6. Your stepchildren are affected by loyalty conflict.
Whether young children or young adults, stepchildren feel the emotional tug between loving a stepparent and how that affects the biological parent in the other home. If they feel they must choose between one or the other, they will choose the biological parent and as stepparents, we become indispensable. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s reality. The good news is most kids eventually figure out how to love their parent and a stepparent, but it might take several years. Be patient and go back to #4.
7. Make your marriage your highest priority.
When kids pre-date a marriage, it’s easy to choose your kids over a spouse. But if we do our job right as parents, kids leave home. There are usually a lot of years left with your spouse after the kids are gone.
We haven’t always done it perfectly in protecting our marriage, but we’ve tried hard to include time for date nights, marriage retreats, and friendship with other married couples that complement our marriage. When we sensed our marriage was in trouble, we quickly started counseling. It takes intentional behavior to protect a marriage, but the rewards are worth every effort.
I’m thankful today for 19 years as a stepmom. I value my stepfamily and although our early years were very tough, I’m thankful I never quit. The rewards at the end of the journey are worth the heartaches.
What lessons have you learned as a stepparent? Will you share them?