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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Setting Goals and Your Stepfamily

I love a new year. It's a great time to consider changes we want to make, successes we've had and challenges we've dealt with.

Goal setting plays an important role in making changes or setting new priorities for our family relationships. If we want positive action to take place, we need to be intentional in setting goals toward changes we desire.

Goal setting can start small and develop further when change begins to occur. It's helpful to start with areas that need the most attention in your family and form goals surrounding the most urgent needs. Some goals may need everyday attention while other goals require sporadic but concentrated involvement.

Goals change as stepfamilies grow and mature. When our children were younger our goals focused more on forming strong relationships with each other and creating unity in our family. We also focused on keeping the lines of communication open between all parties involved in the parenting process. As our children have grown older, our goals now center more individually, focusing on specific needs of each child. There is less communication with others in the parenting process and we are comfortable with and thankful for the unity achieved in our family.

The two girls pictured above are my stepdaughter, Adrianne(24), and daughter, Jamie (19). Ten years ago the two girls could hardly stay in the same room together for over an hour without an argument. Today they easily enjoy each other's company while shopping together, playing games together, and exchanging constant conversation about boyfriends, school, work, or life in general. Years ago it would have been easy to quit trying for a friendly relationship to ever form between the two of them. But we never gave up on our goal of unity within our family relationships.

Goal setting allows us to identify our strengths and weaknesses in our family and work toward desired changes. It also allows us to affirm ourselves for setting goals and reaching them.

It's a brand new year with 365 days, 8760 hours, 525,600 minutes.
Our goals this year will be reached only if we take time to set them first.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holiday Tips for Stepfamilies - Part Ten

Holiday Tip # 10 - Do the Right Thing

I worked for a dynamic leader in the corporate world years ago whose motto in business was "Do the Right Thing." He grew his business by treating others with respect, making decisions with customers and vendors based on doing what was right.

That same motto can make a difference in stepfamilies. Doing the right thing may require sacrifices on our part and doesn't always come naturally, but can positively affect those around us.

My girls' dad is in town right now for a few days. It has been over five years since they've seen him and there was alot of anxiety and mixed feelings about his coming. Because of his struggle with addiction, their relationship with him has been unstable and full of turmoil much of the time. But as he approaches his mid-50's and tries to get his life in order, he wants to reconcile his relationships. Although I know it's the right thing to allow the girls a relationship with him, we have done fine without him for years. So I've had to work hard at being positive toward him and his desire to interact with us.

Doing the right thing today means I get out of the way and let go of control in their relationships. My girls are young adults, mature enough to make wise choices. Because I'm well acquainted with his unpredictable behavior I want to rescue them from the heartache that may come their way. But instead I will pray for healthy interaction and give them the freedom to determine what kind of relationship they want to have with him.

It's not always easy to do the right thing. It may require difficult choices. But it can make a positive difference in our stepfamily relationships.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas Eve!

Holiday Tips for Stepfamilies #9 - Tame Your Tongue

With Christmas Day upon us, it may be inevitable that we see people we don't like or want to spend time with over the next few days. If we are exchanging our children with the other household, we may see ex-in-laws or grandparents we don't see often. Healthy exchange gives us the opportunity to show our children how mature adults interact and get along, even in stressful situations.

Stepchildren often have fragile egos and sensitive spirits from losses they have endured. When we talk to other members of their family with kind words, it gives our children the freedom to love their other family without guilt. Healing can occur as they watch their parents in healthy conversation with each other.

Taming our tongue requires us to exercise self-control with our speech. It means we think about what we're going to say first and then decide if it's helpful and necessary to be said. We choose our words carefully so we don't offend those we're talking to. It requires a conscious effort on our part as we communicate with those around us.

When my children were younger and could never seem to get along, I made them memorize a Scripture verse that can be applied to each of us as we seek to tame our tongue:
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Ephesians 4:29


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holiday Tips for Stepfamilies - Part Seven

Holiday Tip #7 - Change what you can, accept what you cannot
The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the

I can list dozens of circumstances within our stepfamily I wish I could change. Instead I strive to accept difficult situations, looking for positive nuggets among the challenges.

I wish I could change that my ex-husband is an alcoholic, resulting in homelessness some years, negligence in his relationship with our girls, and disregard for child support payments. Instead I choose to accept his instability, including lack of financial help, despite escalating expenses with one daughter in college and the other one close behind. I choose to accept that the girls need extra love and guidance from me to sort through their feelings and disappointments.

I wish I could change that my stepchildren lost their mother to cancer five years ago, resulting in painful emotions, particularly during the holiday season. I wish I could rescue them from their loss. Instead I choose to stand beside them on good days and bad, listening to heart-wrenching feelings that children should not have to experience. I choose to allow them the freedom to make good choices and not-so-good choices, praying for healing and maturity through the process.

I wish I could change that our eight-year-old son sees evidence of divorce in his immediate family everyday. I wish I could change the circumstances when he asks why his older brother and sisters have more than one mom or dad. Instead I choose to answer his questions honestly, hoping to give him the tools he needs to engage in healthy relationships as he matures.

We make choices everyday that allow for peace and serenity or anger and anxiety. During this holiday season, I choose to seek serenity as I change what I can and accept what I cannot.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Holiday Tips for Stepfamilies - Part Four

Holiday Tip #4 - Be proactive in planning your schedule

Stepfamilies typically have a lot of people to consider when planning the holiday schedule. If the stepfamily marriage included children from both sides (like ours), there are two other parents and families to consider. So, the sooner you can start negotiating the schedule, the better the chance of finding a schedule that is acceptable to everyone.

This Christmas, my ex-husband decided he was going to make a concentrated effort to see the girls. They have not seen each other in five years and he is usually very unpredictable because he battles addiction. He lives in a neighboring state and planned on coming to visit the week between Christmas and New Year's. It was the same week we had planned to visit my parents so I tried to work out an alternate plan with my parents, which happened without too much trouble.

We also like to work out a time to have our oldest daughter visit when our other four kids are together. She lives over 300 miles away and has limited time because of her work schedule. So we start planning our schedule with her several weeks before Thanksgiving. It seems very complicated sometimes but it is always worth the effort to have everyone together.

Another part of the holiday schedule that is important to plan includes dates of special programs, church services, etc. that you want to attend and invite other family members to attend. It takes additional scheduling to coordinate piano recitals, choir concerts, etc. but it's meaningful for the kids to have family members at their special events.

Other activities to consider might include: decorating together, holiday cooking, shopping together, and gift exchange. Planning for each activity in advance allows family members to participate without additional stress to their schedule.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Holiday Tips for Stepfamilies - Part Two

Holiday Tip #2: Put Your Children First

There's our gang. I love our kids. But sometimes I forget to put their needs before mine. I have to remember that when my husband and I married, we created a stepfamily. Our children didn't have a choice about it and haven't always been happy with it.

So, when it comes to the holiday routine, their needs have to be considered also. The kids shouldn't be pulled between two biological parents for visitation. They don't need to be put on a guilt trip when they go to their other home. If it's an emotional departure when the kids leave, they can't enjoy the time with their other parent and that's not fair to them.

We also have to put our feelings aside and allow our children to invite their other parent to special concerts, plays, or performances they take part in. There is naturally more communication with the other parent during the holiday period and it is easier for everyone if the communication is friendly and free of conflict, particularly in front of the children. We can take the mature role, even when the other party chooses not to.

For our kids, the schedule has become simpler as the kids have gotten older. My girls' dad lives in another state and they don't see him often. My stepchildren lost their mother five years ago after a difficult battle with cancer. However, in the early years of our marriage we struggled with heated discussions and competing schedules every year. We tried to consider the kids' preferences when negotiating for time and places for special activities.

Work towards creating good holiday memories by considering your kids needs first during the holiday season. They may even thank you for it later!