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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Setting Boundaries as a Stepparent

How do you cope when too many people ask too many things of you? It could mean it's time to set some boundaries for yourself.

Stepparents make endless sacrifices for their stepchildren and may see few rewards, especially in the beginning. If we give up too much of ourselves in order to meet the constant needs of others, we will wind up frustrated or resentful. It's our responsibility as stepparents to determine when we need a break and what that break needs to look like.

With three teen-agers and an eight-year-old at home right now, our house is constantly filled with activity which usually translates into noise. We have kids in and out, music playing, steady streams of talking and laughter (or arguing sometimes), TV shows, and computer games to name a few. Because I don't have a high tolerance for chaos, I am aware of my need to retreat to my room at times for peace and quiet. Other times, I may leave the house for a run to find some "alone time." I know I am better able to handle my responsibilities when I take care of myself.

I like the way 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."

It's also important to set boundaries regarding how we will allow ourselves to be treated. We can require respect from our stepchildren, even if they don't like us. Our actions or inactions teach others how to treat us. It helps to team up with our spouse and set some ground rules (i.e. yelling is not allowed, even when you're angry), and then follow through with consequences if they're not followed. It's good to remember that our stepchildren will be more likely to honor our boundaries and respect our needs if they sense an attitude of love from us.

If you're struggling with boundaries, a helpful book I recommend is by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend titled Boundaries, When to say Yes and When to say No to take Control of your Life. Healthy boundaries impact all areas of our life and are necessary as we recognize our limits and seek to maintain balance as a stepparent.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Begin New Traditions and Create Special Bonds during the Holidays

Family traditions are a great way for stepfamilies to connect with one another. Family members come together and work toward a common goal in a non-threatening environment. Traditions can be as simple as making paper chains to count down the days toward Christmas (one of my kids' favorites) or more involved such as helping serve a meal at the homeless shelter. The goal is to find activities that the family enjoys and will look forward to doing together.

Flexibility is the key to being successful with family traditions in stepfamilies. When our kids were younger we had a more difficult time managing our schedule with visitation to the other households. But we always persisted in finding time to come together as a family to enjoy activities such as decorating the house, going to a light show, and attending special services at church. As our kids have gotten older, circumstances have changed and it's easier. With family traditions in place, everyone knows what to expect and works at accommodating their schedule to allow time to participate.

Traditions create bonds with family members that are strengthened every year as activities are enjoyed together. They provide a means of expressing love and laughter together, helping protect a family from brokenness and conflict. Loyalty and commitment toward one another are gained while working for a common purpose.

Family traditions can also create special memories to be cherished after family members pass on. Reminiscing of times past with loved ones can help ease the loneliness that creeps in when celebrating the holiday without that special someone. Continuing traditions already put in place provides routine and predictability to unstable emotions.

It's never too late to start family traditions. They offer a sense of belonging that can help cement relationships. Bring your family together and enjoy some new traditions this year!


Monday, November 23, 2009

Striving to Be a Positive Stepparent

Thank you for joining me on my blogging adventure. I hope to encourage you toward a positive commitment in your stepparenting role while affirming your perseverance along the way. I look forward to our journey together.

I'm sure most stepparents would agree with me that stepparenting is hard. Especially in the beginning. We're given the same responsibility of a natural parent but have little authority and sometimes no respect from our stepchildren. Step relationships are unique and some quickly develop into loving fellowship while others take years to even begin healthy communication with one another. Variables such as the age of the child at marriage, the dating period of the parents, the relationship with the "other parent," and the child's temperament influence how quickly a step relationship develops. But our actions as stepparents can also influence the developing bond.

Our thinking is the primary influence of our actions, negative and positive. If we want positive step relationships, we can start with how we're thinking about our stepchildren. Relationships can spiral downward if we are stuck in negative thinking patterns. Likewise, they can improve if we choose to believe there is hope. Our part is to work at communicating with our stepchildren in positive ways, whenever we can. It's not always possible because they have a role in it also, but we are responsible for our efforts.

Positive stepparenting may also involve lowering our expectations. We want our stepchildren to like us and want to spend time with us but that may not happen for a while. When I married my husband, my stepchildren were five and ten years old and they had a mother they loved dearly. They weren't looking for a stepmother and it took longer than I wanted to be loved and accepted as their stepmother.

My husband took a business trip out of the country for over a week within the first month of our marriage. I was working full time and managing a household with four kids but convinced myself it would be a great time for me to bond with his kids. I was wrong. The kids weren't ready for my stepparenting role full time and I responded personally to every offense. With a more realistic outlook of our time together, and baby steps toward healthy involvement, we could have enjoyed a better week.

To be a positive stepparent, we need to take care of ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. A relaxing time with a friend can recharge our spirits after a difficult day. Physical exercise on a regular basis can motivate us to persevere through the rough patches. Finding hobbies we enjoy can balance negative emotions. Spending time in prayer and Bible study can redirect our thinking and keep us moving down the right path.

Positive stepparenting requires more effort than mindless parenting. We may not see the benefits right away, but if we are looking for healthy relationships, it's a step in the right direction. Make a positive difference today as you connect with those around you.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


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