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Friday, February 25, 2011

Expect the Unexpected on Your Stepparenting Journey

I have a good friend who is raising her step-granddaughter because her stepdaughter has proven too unstable for the responsibility. I have another friend who could be assuming full custody with her husband of her three stepchildren because their biological mom continues to struggle on the road of addiction.

Difficult happenings on the stepparenting journey that cannot be predicted. They're all around us. As a stepparent, will you muster the effort and energy to go the extra mile when your family road takes a turn of events?

I believe we are called to do whatever it takes to keep our family intact if we sign up for the role by saying, "I do." We unite with our spouse as a team and commit to minister to our stepchildren through the ups and downs of stepparenting. It doesn't mean the road will be easy, but God will give us the strength and power to sustain us on the road He allows us to walk.

In their book, The Smart Stepmom, Laura Petherbridge and Ron Deal acknowledge some of the complex issues that can show up unexpectedly on the stepparenting journey and how a smart stepmom deals with them. Here are a few thoughts to ponder:

"A Smart Stepmom:

- discovers the things she can control and releases the things she can't.

- is prepared. She isn't naive or ambused by complex stepfamily issues and is flexible to cope with matters that she didn't see coming.

- is constantly growing and learning about wise stepparenting and parenting techniques.

- has a strong support system with other women who share her values.

- recognizes that there are limits to her contributions to decision-making regarding her stepchildren's lives

- accepts that sometimes being a stepmother is going to be unfair and lonely.

- acknowledges that she may not see the fruit of her sacrifices until the children become adults.

- believes that her value is determined by the price Jesus paid for her and that she is precious in God's eyes. This awareness offers her enduring peace even in challenging circumstances."

Has your stepparening journey taken an unexpected turn? How are you coping?

Related Posts:

Coping with Fear

Discovering God's Grace in my Stepfamily

Dear Stepparent: Never Underestimate Your Value with Your Stepchildren

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

There's Beauty after the Pain

Crocuses are in full bloom in the state of AR and it is a beautiful sight. Although the temperature is still cool outside, it's a great reminder that Spring is around the corner and the harsh days of winter will be behind us.

As I gazed at our crocuses with a heavy heart this week-end, I was reminded that there's beauty following the pain of my husband's job loss. I know there are better days ahead and that hope sustains me during our period of uncertainty.

I've also seen the beauty that follows the pain of stepfamily trials. As my youngest son turned ten years old this month, I was reminded of the challenges we faced with my stepson at this age. As he headed toward his adolescent years, my stepson became rebellious and aggressive toward me. I could do nothing right in his eyes and I was constantly criticized and berated.

My husband and I sought counseling with my stepson to determine the root of his anger but simply uncovered selfish and defiant behavior. He refused to acknowledge his part of the relationship and how he was contributing to the volatile situation. After two years of unresolved conflict, he looked for greener grass by moving to live with his mom in another state.

Unfortunately, his mom was diagnosed with colon cancer the year he moved there and she valiantly fought the disease a little more than a year before passing on. The loss contributed to my stepson's anger but through counseling with hospice services after his mom's death, he began to sort through some of his hurt and anger.

My stepson returned to live with us and complete his last three years of  high school. Our relationship was mended as he grew and matured, allowing me a place in his heart. He still struggles with loyalty feelings toward his mom that prevent him from completing embracing a relationship with me, but the rebellious, aggressive behavior is no longer part of our interaction.

It's easy to focus on the struggles in the midst of a trial and think they will never end, but just as we see the beauty of the crocus after a long, hard winter, we will also see the beauty of refreshment after hardship.  

Are you experiencing stepfamily heartache? Will you look toward the beauty that will follow the pain?

                                                                                                Photo by Jaqui Brooks

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Stepfamily Detours - Where Are You Headed?

I recently went to lunch at a friend's house who lives outside the city. I had never been to her house and since I'm directionally challenged, I got lost (it happens frequently, unfortunately). Since I recognize my lack of common sense with directions, I carry a Garmin with me. Once I plugged the address into my handy GPS, I was able to find her house without a problem, despite my detour.

Stepfamilies often take detours down roads they've never seen before. Wouldn't it be nice to have a GPS that gives us clear directions every time on which path to take? Unfortunately, it's not that easy. But we can decide we don't want to stay stuck on the detoured road and take the necessary steps to find our way to the right path.

For instance, our family took a detour down the custody battle road many years ago after my stepchildren lost their mother. It was a difficult road that we had never been on before and had no idea which direction to go. So, we sought professional help through legal counsel.

We considered the choices we were presented and weighed our options. We prayed about the right direction for our family. And then we made a decision that began to take us off the detoured road and back to the right path. We went down several roads with twists and turns before arriving at our destination, but we finally reached a successful end to the journey.

Some detours, such as our custody battle, take years to resolve. They don't have neatly wrapped, black and white answers. But we don't have to allow the enormity of the situation to overwhelm us and stagnate us on the detour.

If we keep moving forward with the next step we believe we are to make, we will find our way to a route with better scenery. We don't have to stay stuck in the detour. But if will require intentional effort on our part.

Where are you on your stepfamily journey? Are you stuck in a detour? What steps to you need to take toward your destination?   

Related Posts:

Creating a Stable Stepfamily: Commit to the Long Run

Let Go and Let God

Coping with Stepfamily Storms


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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Valley of the Unknown

My husband's job ends next week. We moved to Conway, AR eleven years ago for my husband to assume the position of Director of Operations with a manufacturing company. His job has provided a comfortable living for us here as we've raised our children. But, unfortunately, the downfall of the housing industry has taken a huge toll on the company and Corporate has chosen to close its doors.

We are facing the valley of the unknown. It's a scary place. We have complete faith he will land another job but that job hasn't shown up yet. So, in the meantime, we wait.

The valley of the unknown appears more often than we like on this journey of life. It has reared its head in various ways on our stepparenting path. And each time, although it was difficult to deal with, we came out successfully on the other side.

Here a few of my thoughts on coping with the valley of the unknown:

Surrender to God's plan. Give up control of the situation and ask for God's guidance. Don't try to find the answers alone. God is seeking a relationship with us and will guide our steps if we ask Him.

Unite with your spouse. Be on the same page with your spouse through the difficulty. Communicate frequently and brainstorm together for solutions. Lean on one another on the hard days and seek to find laughter through the trial.

Wait. Many times, God calls us to simply wait. I strongly dislike this one, but have endured it frequently. A beautiful illustration of how God works through the wait can be found here: Wait Poem, by Russell Kelfer. 

Take the next step. As you sense answers to your dilemma, take a step of faith. Start with small steps as you overcome your fear of a new direction. Continue to seek God's plan and follow His lead.

Rejoice in new beginnings. Adopt an attitude of thankfulness as you move from the valley of the unknown to a heighth of unchartered territory. Embrace the change that accompanies a fresh start. Leave the past behind with any regrets of what could have been.

Press on. As Selah's powerful song says, "In Jesus' Name, we press on." View Selah's song.
"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:13).

Are you in a valley of the unknown? Do you have other suggestions to offer?

Related Posts:

God's Timing is Different Than Ours

Let Go and Let God

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Value of a Supportive Spouse

With Valentine's Day upon us, it's a great time to show your spouse what you appreciate about him/her. And if your spouse is a stepparent, make an extra effort to validate his efforts and the important role he plays in the life of your child.

It's so easy to get distracted with our kids and forget to let our spouse know how important he/she is to us. My husband is a much better encourager than I am and I often take for granted his words of love and support. But without his support, I would have given up on my stepparenting role.

During my stepkid's adolescent years, it seemed I was emotionally attacked regularly. If someone was unhappy, I became the target for their anger. But thankfully, my husband stood up for me and required that I be treated with respect.

One of the best gifts we can give our spouse if he/she is a stepparent is the gift of support. Stepparenting is a difficult role and if we don't feel that our spouse is supporting our efforts, it's easy to give up. There are a lot of ways to show support but here are a few to consider:

Thank him for being a parent to your child.
Compliment his stepparenting efforts.
Require that your children are respectful toward him.
Affirm his worth as your spouse.
Offer him grace when he messes up.
Cook his favorite meal.
Enjoy an evening together without the kids.
Put his needs before yours.
Make your relationship a priority.

If you're a stepparent also, and you're not getting the support you need from your spouse, ask for it! Your spouse cannot read your mind and may not realize the struggle you're experiencing.

Marriage is a union between two people that requires constant nurturing. But the rewards of our efforts far outweigh the work.

How do you show support to your spouse? I would love to hear from you.

Related Posts:

Making Your Remarriage Work: Be An Encourager

Nurture Your Marriage

The Value of Prioritizing Your Marriage

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Stepfamily Trap: The Danger of Denying Our Feelings

"I thought I would naturally love my stepchildren as my own but the feelings are not there," my friend, stepmother of two said. "I tried to deny my feelings for a long time, but I'm finally accepting them for what they are."

You can't control your feelings and if you allow yourself to feel guilty for feeling a certain way, it creates more bad feelings. It's okay if you don't feel love toward your stepchildren all the time. You might develop more loving feelings as your relationship develops, but you might not.

If we're really honest, we must admit that some stepchildren are easier to love than others. In her book, Stepmonster, Dr. Wednesday Martin paints a painful, but realistic, picture of how stepchildren behave. "Our stepchildren do, in fact, frequently try to exclude us. They do things -- consciously or unconsciously -- that make us feel overlooked, left out, unappreciated. They send subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle signals that they wish we simply didn't exist, that they'd like to erase us from the picture, or from the message on the answering machine."

Dr. Martin goes on to tell a story "of a woman who was not invited to her stepdaughter's wedding, after nearly two decades of marriage to the young woman's father, 'because it will be too difficult for Mom.' Her husband told his daughter that they would attend together or not at all, but the stepmother never really recovered from her hurt and, not surprisingly, ceased making efforts with her stepdaughter for a long time."

Hopefully, your stepchildren have not been that cruel to you. But, if you've been a stepparent long, I would venture to guess you've been hurt more than once by your stepchild. That doesn't make it okay to stoop to his/her level and react with tit for tat behavior, but it is okay to acknowledge how those actions affect your feelings.

I learned early in our marriage that I would need God's help to love my stepchildren unconditionally. It's not easy and I don't get it right all the time, but as I pray for God to soften my heart toward my stepchildren, I'm able to offer them my love and forgiveness. In our early years of marriage there were days that I felt my  stepchildren didn't deserve another chance, but then I was reminded that I don't deserve the love and grace God offers me either.

Feelings are not facts. They will change as your relationships develop. It's okay to admit to feelings of hurt, anger, and disappointment in your stepparenting role. Just don't get stuck there. Work through your feelings with a friend, a minister, or your spouse. Or seek professional counseling if you need help identifying your feelings and coping with them.

We can't allow our feelings to control us. But we can seek to uncover their roots and deal with them appropriately.

What feelings are you burying, in hopes they will simply go away?

Related Posts:

Let Go of the Guilt

Do You Love Your Stepkids?

Overcoming Difficult Feelings as a Stepparent

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stepfamily Trap: "It's My Way or the Highway"

"The divorce was final today," my husband's co-worker said to him. "We tried to work things out but we could never agree on the parenting of our kids."

My husband related the conversation to me of a stepfather he worked with who had been married less than five years. Both husband and wife brought children to the marriage and argued constantly about how to parent each other's child. There was never any unity or give and take between  the couple; it was always "my way or the highway." Unfortunately, the highway won out.

In his book, The Smart Stepfamily, stepfamily authority Ron Deal says one of the key barriers to marital oneness in stepfamilies that contributes to the higher divorce rate is parent-child allegiance. When a husband or wife chooses to regularly side with his/her child over his/her spouse, it sets the marriage up to fail.

Deal says, "When push comes to shove, the allegiance (or loyalty) between parents and children often wins out over the marriage unless the couple can form a unified position of leadership. If they cannot govern the family as a team, the household is headed for anger, jealousy, and unacceptance. Unity within the couple's relationship bridges the emotional gap between the stepparent and stepchildren and positions both adults to lead the family." 

"If a biological parent is not willing to build such a bridge with the stepparent, the stepchildren will receive an unhealthy amount of power in the home," Deal says. "All they have to do is cry "unfair" and their parent protects them from the "mean, nasty" stepparent. This almost always results in marital tension, conflict, resentment, and isolation."

Unity within the couple relationship must be a priority for a step-couple. It doesn't happen naturally or overnight, but it can happen with intentional effort and constant awareness. Successful stepparenting happens when a couple takes a unified approach to parenting.

Are you and your spouse on the same team in your parenting efforts?

Related Posts:

Does Your Mirror Reflect the Fruit of the Spirit?

Making Stepparenting Choices that Count

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