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Monday, January 25, 2010

Healthy Stepparenting #4: Lower Your Expectations

When my husband, Randy, and I married, we knew our children had a lot of change to absorb. My two girls moved into another home, sharing their space and Mom's attention with two new step-siblings. Randy's children began sharing their current home with their new step-sisters, as well as getting less of Dad's time and attention. It was not a smooth transition but Randy and I convinced ourselves we could "love them through it" and everything would be fine.

We were wrong. We needed more than love to make it through the early years of our marriage. We needed patience and perseverance to keep trying when relationships were slow to develop.

We needed to lower our expectations of how quickly our family would find harmony with one another.

Research of stepfamilies reports an average of four to seven years is necessary for relationships to blend. However, it could be quicker or slower, depending on many variables. Randy says our family should be categorized as "remedial blenders." We were slow to learn how to get along and enjoy peaceful relationships with one another.

Maybe it was because there were so many of us, and it seemed kids were constantly coming and going. Maybe it was because both our ex-spouse's worked to undermine everything we did as stepparents and find ways to create disharmony in our relationships. Maybe it was because we were considered a "complicated step-family," meaning Randy and I both brought children to our marriage from previous relationships. Or perhaps we were just an exception to the rule.

I don't know why, but I know it took longer than Randy and I wanted to experience unity in our home.

During the relationship-building years, I found contentment with small bits of progress. I recognized the reality of one step forward and two steps backward. On difficult days, I learned to expect little of my stepchildren, hoping to simply communicate without arguing. And I leaned on my husband when someone hurt my feelings.

It wasn't easy, but I learned when I could accept the fact that our relationships were slow to blend (and it wasn't necessarily my fault), I could find the energy to keep trying. But when I beat myself up emotionally for tension in our home, it resulted in discouragement and paralysis toward strong relationships. If I focused on the long-term goal of growth and maturity, while working on short-term goals of healthy interacting, I saw gradual improvement.

Lowering our expectations doesn't mean we quit trying for harmony in our home. It means we accept the current state of our relationships, thankful for the progress we've made, and hopeful for the evolution yet to come.



At January 25, 2010 at 1:16 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the last paragragh! We don't quit trying, we don't give up and we don't blame others. We simply accept our current state and choose to be thankful for visible progress. I have found that losing hope undermines progress in any area of my life. Thanks for the reminder!

At January 25, 2010 at 8:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Expectations are a two-edged sword. If you have no expectations, then you will accomplish little. If you have high expectations, then you will become discouraged when they are not met. What I am getting from your article is that one must have reasonable, appropriate expectations, and that one may not fully understand what is "reasonable" until one lives in the situation for some time.

At January 26, 2010 at 4:38 AM , Anonymous Blending Families said...

Blending families is a lifelong process. I am greatly encouraged by your post!

At January 26, 2010 at 11:58 AM , Blogger Step Parenting with Grace said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. It is only through managing my expectations that I have found the courage to keep trying when times were tough. We can always find nuggets of success in our relationships if we choose to focus on the positive and expect the best of others.


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