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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Managing Your Stepfamily's Finances in a Tight Economy

With three kids in college, our family is learning how to live on a budget again. It's not easy, but it isn't the first time finances have been tight at our house.

Most stepfamilies will encounter periods of financial distress. The complexity of: overcoming loss of income from divorce, dispersing child support payments, learning to manage money together with several children, and coping with increasing expenses as the family grows all contribute to a financial burden for a stepfamily.  

So, how do you cope with the stress of too many expenses and not enough money to go around?

For my husband and I, the first thing we do is ask the Lord for wisdom. Are we being good stewards of our money, are we abiding by a budget that allows us to see where our money is being spent, do we have a reasonable plan in place to pay off our debt?

And as we look at our finances together, it's important that my husband and I are on the same page. It may be necessary to take intentional steps toward reducing our expenses and we must be able to come to an agreement on how to do so.

If one spouse is a shopper and the other is a hoarder, there will be some difficult conversation regarding how money will be spent. But it's necessary to confront the issue and resolve it before it creates a major problem in the marriage.

It's also important to hold our children accountable for their part of the financial equation. When money is tight, children can be taught to lower their expectations of a designer-clad wardrobe or the ongoing purchase of  the latest technology gadget. And as they get older, they can be expected to maintain a job and contribute toward the expenses of owning a car, securing auto insurance, and other extra-curricular expenses incurred during the teenage years.

It's also helpful to have a pool of money for reserve when your family hits a difficult financial period.When my husband lost his job earlier this year, we weren't prepared for a financial emergency. But the likelihood of job loss is very real in today's economy and cannot be ignored.

We are living in difficult economic times. But despite sobering statistics, we can trust God's promises to carry us through the peaks and the valleys. Our family has experienced His provision firsthand this year.

Psalm 23:

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

Do you have other suggestions for successfully managing your stepfamily's finances?

Related posts:

Stepfamily Finances: Making it Work

Trusting God with our Finances

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Back to School Routines and Your Stepfamily- Peaceful or Chaotic?

As another school year gets underway, many stepfamilies are adjusting to new routines. Stepchildren may be adjusting to different expectations at Mom and Dad's house with homework and after-school activities. Stepparents may be forced to alter everyday patterns to accomodate bus schedules or after-school pickup.

The changing routines can wreak havoc on a stepfamily already struggling with fragile egos and tense emotions.

For stepparents, navigating a successful path through the back to school maze takes a calm spirit and flexible attitude. 

I recall stressful mornings of years' past as I struggled to get out the door to my full-time job while making sure our four children had breakfast, a packed lunch, school papers signed, an after-school pickup plan, and were headed to the bus by 7:30. I recall telling a counselor during our early years of marriage, "School mornings are too stressful and I'm not sure how to change it."     

Oftentimes, the only thing we can change to make stepfamily living less stressful is ourselves. I couldn't change the crazy schedule we lived for several years with kids navigating between households, stressful jobs, and defiant attitudes. But I could change how I reacted to the stress of the situation.

When I made an intentional effort to stay calm during the heat of a battle with one of my stepchildren, I made strides toward a positive outcome while resolving the conflict. When I chose to stay flexible through an ever-changing back and forth routine with my stepchildren, I was better able to meet the demands required of me with those routines.

I'm not saying it was easy. I like routine and I want the routine to stay the same every day. But that's simply not possible in stepfamilies.

I like an orderly home with school papers put in place, and homework assignments completed on time. But  I learned to adjust to the erratic ways of teen-agers who seem to work best with papers scattered all around while completing a project, or head-banging music that  helps them think while they finish their paper at midnight (which was always restricted to their bedroom!)

Back to school routines create yet another stressful period as stepfamilies make adjustments to accommodate one another. But with a flexible attitude and a calm spirit, we can help our stepchildren adjust to their new routines and thrive in their new school surroundings, creating an environment in our home that benefits each one of us.  

How is your back to school routine going? Does it need a dose of flexibility or an extra effort toward a calm spirit?

Related Posts:

Back to School Tips: Expect the Best

Back to School Tips:  Evaluating our Schedule

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When Stepparenting Feels Too Hard - Four Ways to Overcome Discouragement

Do you have days when you want to call it quits on your stepparenting efforts? Days when it seems that no matter how hard you try, the results are not what you want?

I had one of those days recently. The challenges were not all related to stepparenting, but some were, and by the end of the day, I was not in a good place emotionally or spiritually. So, I began to consider what to do to change my negative thinking pattern. Here are some ideas that surfaced:

1. Remember that "this too will pass." Circumstances change, relationships change, and living arrangements change. If you're having a bad day with a stepchild, remember, he/she will eventually grow up and leave home. We had four children living at home 15 months ago and we now have one. Change is one thing we can count on, but it often brings positive results.

2.Work through difficult feelings with a friend. Allow yourself to be vulnerable with another person and consider your part in the situation. Find support through a prayer group or Bible study. But, if you cannot get past feelings of anger, rejection,or self-pity, you may need to consider stepfamily coaching  or other professional help.

3. Make an intentional effort to stay positive.  In his book, The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale says, "Take charge of your thoughts. You can do what you will with them." We can choose to think positively about our stepchild who is pushing our buttons and constructively work through conflict, or we can ruminate negatively about his/her shortcomings and create a tension-filled home. Our behavior is the result of our thoughts.

4. Find hope in the Lord. Look to the one true Source for help. Hope in the Lord brings strength, perseverance, and encouragement. Psalms 62:5-8 says, "Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge."

Have you had a difficult day recently on your stepparenting journey? Can you offer other suggestions?

Related Posts:

When Stepparenting Isn't What You Expected

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Coping with Stepfamily Storms

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What is our Role as a Stepparent?

When we moved to Louisiana toward the end of June, my two biological daughters stayed behind in Conway, AR. They both had summer jobs and wanted to stay close to their friends the rest of the summer. At 18 and 21 years old, I knew they could manage on their own but needed a temporary living place before they moved  into college housing in the Fall.

My next-door neighbor, Sara, offered to let the girls stay at her house. She and her husband have four grown children and extra bedrooms. It was a perfect arrangement to get us through a transitional period.

We spent last week-end in Conway helping my daughter, Jamie, move into her college apartment and I observed the relationship between her and my neighbor. It reminded me of a stepparenting relationship in the early years.  

Sara knew her role as an additional parent to the girls. She didn't try to overstep or undermine my relationship in any way. But she did offer a listening ear and everyday support when the girls needed it.

Late in the summer the girls' dad came for an out-of-state visit. Because their dad is an alcoholic, his behavior is unpredictable and their relationship with him is tenuous. Sara spent several hours talking to the girls about their feelings and struggles with their dad. She offered an unbiased opinion to the situation  as a third-party observer. The girls needed a maternal figure to talk to and since I wasn't there, they confided in Sara.

I believe that is how our stepparenting role should play out. We are to provide everyday support and a listening ear for our stepchildren when they need it. We are to be a cheerleader for their every effort in sports, music, school, drama, or whatever. We are to love and care for them as if they are our own. But we are not to undermine or compete with their biological parent. We are not to try to replace their biological parent. We are an additional parent.  

Our stepparenting role may change as years pass. When my stepchildren lost their mother to cancer six years ago, I became their primary maternal figure. My husband has stepped into the primary parenting role with my girls because of their dad's instability. But for many years, my husband and I both worked at functioning as an additional parent to our stepchildren.    

As we drove away from our neighbor's house to return to our home in Louisiana, Sara was on the front porch with her arm around my youngest daughter, Jodi, who is staying there another week before moving into the dorm. It gave me a warm feeling to know that, although I can't be there every day right now because of our move, my daughter is loved and cared for by an additional parent.

What role do you play as a stepparent? Is it a healthy role that benefits your stepchildren?

Related Posts:

Is It a Privilege to Be a Stepparent?

Unexpected Stepparenting Moments


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Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Will You Trust Me?" said the Lord.

As I sat in the unfamiliar church service with strangers on every side, I felt the tears begin to roll down my cheeks. "I miss my church back in Conway," I told the Lord. "I miss my friends. I miss my kids. Why did we have to move out of state? Starting over in a new community feels overwhelming to me. I'm not sure I can do this."

"Will you trust me?" the Lord said to me. "Will you trust my ways, even if you don't like them?"

I've considered that conversation with the Lord almost every day the past few weeks. I wish I could say that my heart and attitude about our move has been transformed since hearing the Lord speak to me. I wish I could say that I've quit questioning why and simply accept our circumstances. But as hard as I've tried, I'm still struggling with contentment surrounding our move many days. 

I recognize my anxious feelings and questioning ways from previous stepfamily challenges. I recall questioning the Lord on more than one occasion as I sought to understand what was happening in our family.

"Will you trust me?" the Lord said, when my stepdaughter went to live with her mom over 300 miles away. "Will you trust my ways?" the Lord said, when my stepson was allowed to stay with his stepdad after his mom died instead of immediately moving to our house. "Will you trust me to provide?" the Lord said, when I lost my job shortly after my husband and I married.

And in every challenge we've faced, I've seen the Lord's faithfulness. I've felt His presence most on days I was forced to lean on Him for answers and comfort. 

So I've learned to trust Him. I trust His ways. I trust His plan. I trust His direction in my life. Even when I don't like the direction He sends me. Even when I don't understand the outcome. And especially, when I don't see the big picture. I trust Him. Do you?

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."
(Isaiah 55:8,9) 

Related Posts:

Seeing God's Mercy on Difficult Days

There's Beauty After the Pain

God's Timing is Different Than Ours

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