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Friday, April 30, 2010

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent - Part Two

I was raised in a conservative Christian home that didn't teach the importance of boundaries; thus the concept was hard for me to grasp. Taught to always look out for the best interests of others, I rarely considered my own needs.

When I entered my first marriage with someone who chose to go down the road of alcoholism, I naturally continued my pattern of taking care of his needs first with no regard for my own. Desperately trying to cope in that marriage, I finally learned to set boundaries that allowed me to take care of myself and my children, regardless of the choices my husband made.

Boundaries define who we are and where our property as a person begins and ends. A great resource, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to take Control of your Life, states that a boundary, "shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom."

So, how do we apply boundaries as a stepparent? Here are a few examples from my own life:

1) I do not take ownership of the choices my 20-year-old stepson makes. My responsibility is to continue to guide and nurture him the best way possible as his stepmother.

2) When my stepchildren's mother was still alive, I chose to stay out of their relationship with her. I was affected by the loyalty conflict the relationship caused them, but I couldn't change that. My part was to offer unconditional love and acceptance as often as I could.

3) During a hurtful period of adolescence with my stepson when angry words and bitter outbursts were constantly directed at me, I purposefully chose to divert my attention to my biological children, protecting my heart while dealing with my pain and resentment. When the difficult period passed and our relationship began to heal, I allowed my boundary to open up again, embracing a healthy relationship that can exist today because I gave myself the freedom to take care of my needs.

Boundary setting is not black and while, but requires wisdom and discernment on our part. There are many good books on boundaries by Drs. Cloud and Townsend, as the one mentioned above. Some of their other books include Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries with Kids, and Boundaries with Teens.

I believe boundary setting is critical to healthy relationships. If you're looking for help understanding boundaries and how to integrate them in your stepfamily relationships, I encourage you pick up one of the books mentioned. It will make a positive difference in your relationships.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent - Part One

Baseball season is in full swing and it isn't uncommon to find me at the ball field several nights a week. I enjoy watching my youngest son play ball (pictured) and wouldn't want it any other way. But it hasn't always been that way.

My stepson played baseball for years and my husband was usually coaching his team. So that meant I was sitting in the stands by myself or with my husband's ex-wife. Ugh. It was awkward and uncomfortable for me but I had convinced myself I had to be at every game my stepson played in. When my youngest son was born, I dragged him along too, struggling to keep him content while trying to focus on the game.

I think I would do it differently today. I would still be at most games but on the days I was physically or emotionally exhausted from other responsibilities, I would stay home. I would take time for myself, relaxing with a book or a hot bath. My stepson didn't expect me to be at every game - especially with a baby or toddler in tow. I put those demands on myself, thinking my husband expected that of me.

I didn't learn to set boundaries until well into my adult years. I wasted a lot of time doing what others expected of me, running around to every function I thought I needed to be at. I spent most days unhappy with my circumstances but afraid to do things differently.

When I leaned to set boundaries, I learned to do what was best for me. Setting boundaries doesn't mean we become selfish or unconcerned with other's needs. It means we take care of ourselves first, giving us the capability to then take care of others.

Boundaries are flexible, changeable and removable so we can adjust them according to our present situation. They aren't meant to keep others out but give us the right to determine how open or closed we will be at any given time.

As a stepparent, boundaries offer freedom to do what is right for us. If you're bitter or resentful with your schedule or responsibilities, it may be time to set some boundaries.

In Part Two, I will continue to discuss boundaries as a stepparent and a resource for boundary setting that helped me tremendously.


Monday, April 26, 2010

When Love is not Enough

I watched a movie last night about the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon (for families of alcoholics.) It spoke to my heart because of the 11 year journey I walked in my first marriage with an alcoholic. Al-Anon saved my sanity at one point as the disease progressed and I became as crazy as the alcoholic.

The movie drove home the point that love is not enough to change an alcoholic or save an alcoholic marriage. The addict and the family must get help to overcome the ugly disease.

In a similar way, I believe love is not enough to save a struggling stepfamily. The challenges of stepfamily life are different from alcoholism but many times the effects are the same. Isolation, rejection, hurt, anger, bitterness and resentment can have lasting consequences in an unhappy stepfamily. These feelings must be addressed and worked through for solutions to emerge and healing to occur.

I was reminded of the Serenity Prayer and the power of applying it to stepparenting:

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

There are some things on our stepparenting journey we cannot change. But there are many things we can. Relationships in stepfamilies have unique dynamics that require different relational skills than those in nuclear families. But stepfamilies can provide nurturing homes that offer healing for loss of death or divorce with healthy stepparenting.

Life's too short to live in conflict. If you need help with stepparenting or stepfamily relationships, check out my coaching opportunities. I'm passionate about helping other stepparents due to the challenges we have walked through. If your stepfamily is struggling, I encourage you to seek help.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

What do Your Reactions Say About You?

Have you heard of the 90/10 principle? It's a Steven Covey principle that says:

"10% of life is what happens to you. 90% of life is decided by how you react."

What exactly does that mean? Here are a few examples in stepfamily life:

You can't control whether your stepchild will like you or not. But you can control your response. You can choose to maintain a positive attitude and refuse to be offended by a cold stare or apathetic demeanor.

You can't control whether your stepchild skips school, but you can control how you react to it. You can choose to get angry and yell and demean your child or you can calmly discuss the consequences.

You can't control the effects of loyalty conflict in your relationships. But you can choose your reaction to your stepchild's natural feelings toward their biological parent, which in turn will influence your stepchild's relationship with you.

Our reactions are within our control. We can make intentional choices to react positively and constructively, regardless of the situation.

How we react to our circumstances affects our stress level everyday.

We've had an ongoing refrigerator problem at our house for over six weeks. A technician has been out three times, replacing various parts, but it never stays fixed for long. Since we carry a home warranty, we can't make the choice to replace the refrigerator. One day I was so angry over the slow response to fixing the problem, I unleashed on the technician. (Not a good response...) It didn't solve the problem and only made me feel bad for my poor behavior.

I decided to quit stressing over it and we purchased a spare refrigerator to use until the problem was solved. We were finally informed today that our refrigerator is non-repairable and will be replaced. Yay! When I let go of the problem and allowed the company to reach a conclusion on their own time, relieving me of the stress of being involved, a satisfactory solution resulted.

My poor reaction to the problem didn't solve it any sooner - it simply raised my blood pressure.

We face challenges everday. Our relationships are affected by how we act and what we say. Do we proactively act or do we react? It's our choice.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Need Some Rest?

I finally went to the doctor yesterday to have my knee looked at since it refuses to get well. He gave me a steroid injection to help get the inflammation out so it can begin to heal.

He also told me to REST. The doctor is a personal friend of mine and knows that I use exercise for therapy (living with three teen-agers requires regular therapy!) He told me, "No running, no cycling, no weight training until the swelling is out." Ugh. Resting is hard for me.

We all need rest at times. Even Jesus took time to rest. Exodus 31:17 says, " six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested." Before the feeding of the five thousand, there was so much hustle and bustle among the people that Jesus asked the disciples to, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." (Mark 6:31)

Resting is good for us. We may also need to seek solitude as we rest. When we get away by ourselves, it's easier to sort through the craziness that stepfamily life can bring and align our priorities to better cope. We can meditate on Scripture for strength and courage to persevere. And we can seek solutions to our challenges with a clear mind.

Where can you find rest today? Will you honor yourself by taking time for the rest you need?


Monday, April 19, 2010

Stepparenting Choices

We make choices everyday. Some choices don't matter that much in the big picture of life but others have huge impact on us and those around us.

My daughter was challenged recently with a choice regarding a relationship in a discipleship group she leads. She learned one of the girls was saying critical things about her to others in the group. As a college student, my daughter works hard at leading other students in her group and was hurt and discouraged to learn of the criticism. She knew she had to address the situation and had a choice to make. Could she put aside her hurt feelings and choose to forgive the student for unkind words or would she stay angry and bitter? It took several days for her to work through her feelings and offer her friend forgiveness, but thankfully, she did.

We also have choices to make with our stepchildren everyday. Maybe you had a rough week-end that included harsh words and difficult attitudes. Or perhaps your stepchild is using the silent treatment on you. You have a choice to make as to whether you will take the high road toward forgiveness or take the destructive road toward self-pity and resentment. It is not an easy road to take and sometimes we make the wrong choice. But wallowing in self-pity and anger only makes us miserable. It doesn't solve the problem or allow us to move forward in our relationships.

What choice will you make today? If you've recently been offended and you're experiencing hurt or anger with your stepchild, I encourage you to offer forgiveness. It's not an easy step. But it's the right step toward peace and harmony in your relationship. You won't regret it.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Stepfamily Relationships Can Take One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward

I'm recovering from a knee injury I suffered while hiking Mount Magazine with my family during Spring Break. When it happened I didn't think it was a big deal, but by the time we returned home, my entire knee was swollen and very sore. I hobbled around on it for several weeks, avoiding exercise that would aggravate it.

After two weeks, I decided it felt good enough to return to my regular routine and began my cycling and weight training classes again at the gym. I quickly found out that was a mistake! My knee swelled up again and felt as sore as the day I injured it. Instead of moving forward with recovery, I took a giant step backward.

Have you experienced that in your step-relationships? I certainly have. About the time I begin thinking I can coast on auto-pilot in my relationship an explosion occurs, followed by an icy demeanor shot my way. It can be triggered by several things including conflict, misunderstanding, unstable emotions, unresolved loss or loyalty conflict with the biological parent. It may not even be my fault, but all of a sudden, the relationship begins moving backward instead of forward.

How do you react when this happens? It's easy to get frustrated, angry or impatient, considering our feelings only, while criticizing the other person's response. The truth is, the other person may be hurting over loss in their family due to death or divorce and simply cannot reach out to us.

When my stepson lost his mother after a year-long battle with cancer, he withdrew from a relationship with me. It took over a year before he was willing to trust and be vulnerable with those around him again. He endured a huge loss that impacted every relationship in his young life.

It's not uncommon to take one step forward and two steps backward in stepfamily relationships. If we want to move forward again, we must be patient and understanding with each other. We cannot force a trusting relationship to happen on our time frame. But we can be assured that we will begin to move forward again if we don't give up.

I haven't given up that my knee will heal, but unfortunately it's taking longer than I want. I will do my part to begin moving foward again toward recovery.

We can do the same thing with our stepfamily relationships.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." Galatians 6:9


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Stepparenting Heartache: Part Three

Today I offer my last two considerations on how to cope with stepparenting heartache. You may find that some ideas are more adaptable for you than others, but it's important to find healthy ways to deal with the heartache that can accompany stepparenting.

When my teen-age stepchildren lost their mother to cancer, it was heart-wrenching to watch the array of emotions they experienced. Outbursts of anger, impulsive decisions, and extended periods of withdrawal were a few of the many ways their feelings emerged. It was difficult to watch, knowing there was little we could do to help. I began to wonder if their pain would ever subside. But as time slowly crept by, with counseling and other support, they began to work through their feelings and accept the reality of her loss.

I began to see how time eased their pain. Without trying to rush the process of healing, it began to naturally occur as life marched on. The heartache they were experiencing became more manageable to live with as six months passed, then one year, and now five years. Understandably, they will always miss their mom and have moments of sadness, but the passage of time has eased the intensity of emotions that were evident in the beginning.

Another suggestions to consider when working through heartache is to seek out the God of Comfort. Meditate on and claim the promises of Scripture. Journal your thoughts, feelings, and prayers to help sort through complicated emotions. Draw from previous experience of when your faith sustained you, embracing the certainty it can happen again.

My faith has helped me through many difficult periods on my stepmother journey. I carry a small notebook of Scripture that is meaningful to me in my car. When I get discouraged or overwhelmed, I pull it out and focus on the power offered through God's Word.

Heartache often occurs unexpectedly on the stepparenting path. It happens from rejection, loyalty conflict or harsh words from our stepchildren. It happens when our spouse doesn't understand our feelings or expects more from our stepparenting role than we can offer. But we can make healthy choices to relieve heartache, knowing better days are ahead. By taking steps toward physical and spiritual health, we can speed recovery of our emotional difficulty.

Take care of your heartache today by taking care of yourself.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Stepparenting Heartache: Part Two

In continuing our focus on how to cope with the heartache that can accompany stepparenting, I offer two more suggestions to consider. (The first two suggestions can be seen here.)

When heartache strikes, stay in your normal routine as much as possible, knowing it will not feel normal. In Real Life, Dr. Phil McGraw shares thoughts on dealing with grief and heartache: "You have to continue carrying on with your life, because going MIA from your routine and support from friends and family will only magnify the grief you feel. You need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. You can't just go into the fetal position and expect to emerge a year later all better."

When you can't get up in the morning because of your heartache, treat yourself to something special by arranging lunch with a friend or scheduling a massage as you start the day.

Another way to cope with heartache is to accept the reality you may never understand the "why" of your heartache, but you must try to get on with life anyway. When my stepson chose to continue living with his stepdad instead of immediately moving back with us after his mom died, I was angry and hurt. I didn't understand his decision and analyzed his choice repeatedly, magnifying my pain in the process.

Searching for why events happen intensifies our feelings about the situation and leads to negative behavior. In Forgiving God, Carla McClafferty describes her resolve to quit questioning after losing her fourteen-month-old son, Corey. "I realized in this life, I would not know or understand why God allowed Corey to die. Somehow, when I accepted the fact that I would never know, I was able to stop searching for the answer."

Inner peace comes as we accept the pain of our heartache, giving up the need to undertand why. It isn't an easy choice, but one we can intentionally make if we choose to.

Stay tuned for two more suggesions on coping with heartache in my next post.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Stepparenting Heartache

In talking with a new stepmom this week-end, I was reminded of the heartache that can go along with stepparenting.

I reflected on some of my own pain that I experienced when my stepson chose to go live with his mother as an adolescent. During that time his mother became ill with colon cancer and died within the year. The most painful part , however, was a custody battle that ensued afterward when my stepson fought to continue to live with his stepdad and other siblings. There were a lot of hurtful things said in court that ring in my ears even today.

So, how do we cope with heartache that can accompany the stepparenting role? Over the next few days I want to offer a few suggestions.

First, recognize the pain of your heartache. Allow yourself to experience the difficult feelings which might include sadness, anger, denial, frustration, or fear. Try not to stuff your feelings or fall into addictive patterns to soothe the pain. Feelings eventually pass when we give ourselves permission to feel them.

Second, be gentle with yourself and expectations of what you can do on bad days. Lean on friends and family for strength and support. Accept their concern and care, even when they don't know how to help or unintentionally say the wrong thing.

When I went through a difficult divorce, my sister came from out of town to go through the divorce proceedings with me and provide emotional support. Her hopeful attitude and encouraging words gave me the strength to make healthy decisions in the midst of heart-wrenching emotions.

Consider these suggestions today on coping with stepparenting heartache. I will offer two more tomorrow.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Self Control is Vital to Healthy Relationships

We complete our series today on Galatians 5:22,23 - The fruit of the Spirit if love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and SELF-CONTROL.

The last fruit in the passage may be the most important in our stepfamily relationships. Without self-control, our lives become a breeding ground for uncontrolled attitudes and actions.

Proverbs 25:28 tells us, "Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control." In other words, if we don't discipline our ways, we are like an undefended city, vulnerable to every kind of attack and temptation.

Self-control can cover a wide range of behavior but if we want to control our actions, it must start with our thoughts. If we strive for positive attitudes and pure thoughts toward our stepchildren, we are more likely to maintain self-control.

Self-control allows us control over our actions but doesn't seek control of others.
This is particularly important during times of conflict or confusion. Allowing our stepchildren to express their frustrations without getting defensive or confrontational makes room for resolution.

Self-control means we choose our battles carefully with our stepchildren. If an issue is not that important, don't bring it up. If a stepchild's behavior is annoying, but not disrespectful, let it go. Self-control means we bridle our tongue when our words are critical or harsh.

Ephesians 4:32 says it best, "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."

Self-control gives us the freedom to react with love and kindness instead of impatience and anger. It requires an intentional effort on our part but offers a satisfied feeling of knowing we did the right thing.

Where can you show self-control today?


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Reflecting Gentleness

As we near the end of the list of the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22, 23, we approach the fruit of Gentleness. How do we put on a spirit of gentleness in our stepfamily?

Meet our rabbit, Midnight. Midnight is a big, fluffy rabbit who loves to be held like a baby and petted like a cat. But he only responds to a gentle environment. If you react harshly or create surroundings that don't feel safe to him, he quickly withdraws from you.

The same could be true with our stepchildren. They need to feel safe in our home or they will withdraw from us. They deserve gentle words from us, not harsh or angry attitudes.They need to know they are loved and cared about.

I think gentleness starts with consideration of others and a courteous attitude. We have to put aside selfish behaviors that look out for our best interests to allow an opportunity for gentleness to emerge. We must be willing to be helpful and interactive with others and their needs.

Gentleness cannot compete with pride. If we have a prideful spirit, we react with thoughtlessness and self-seeking behavior. Pride produces anger instead of compassion. It promotes harshness. For gentleness to be evident, pride must be eliminated.

Gentleness is a disposition any of us can attain. It takes conscious effort and intentional actions. But I believe the rewards are worth the effort.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Faithfulness is a Choice

As we continue focusing on the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22,23 our next fruit to consider is FAITHFULNESS. When I think about what faithfulness means, I think about one who is steady, constant or devoted. Perhaps loyal and unwavering is another description.

Today, I struggled with feelings of faithfulness toward my stepson because of a choice he made that was disappointing to me. One day last week, he mentioned a job opportunity he had been offered for Easter Sunday that would consume most of the day. Because he's unhappy in his current job, he's considering other part-time work while he finishes college.

I quickly gave him my opinion of working on Easter and asked that he consider the significance of what we celebrate on Easter and the time spent together as a family. I could tell he didn't agree with my position because of his urgency to find another job. My husband spoke with him a few days later, taking the same position. However, we both told him that as a young adult who will turn 20 years old in a few months, the choice would be left to him.

Unfortunately, my stepson chose to try out the new job by working today. He spent the night at a friend's last night so they could drive over together this morning so we have not seen him all day. He knew we disagreed with his priorities, but chose to disregard our position.

Tears filled my eyes as I sat with my other children in church, reflecting on my stepson's decision. Feelings of hurt, anger, and disappointment swept over me. As the service of celebration proceeded, I knew I had a choice to make. I could continue to wallow in my feelings of hurt and anger, creating a silent barrier toward my stepson, or I could choose to let it go, offering him grace and forgiveness.

My stepson's a good kid whose trying to find his way in life. He's had some difficult experiences, including the death of his mom, that affect his ability to trust others and trust God, at times. Church attendance and family time may not be on the top of his priority list, but that doesn't mean he deserves guilt and condemnation from me.

If I want to sustain a faithful relationship with my stepchildren, I have to remain loyal and devoted to them, even during periods of disappointment. As they continue down the path of young adulthood, I know they will not always make choices I like or agree with. But I can choose to offer love and forgiveness, anyway, in pursuit of faithfulness.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday - A Time to Reflect on Christ's Goodness

As we continue to focus on the Fruit of the Spirit, today we think about Goodness. It seems only appropriate to me to reflect on the goodness of Jesus Christ and what He did for us on this memorable day.

Jesus was arrested around 1:30 a.m. on Friday and in less than 14 hours, he was dead. He was tried in three different courts, flogged, and sentenced by Pilate. He was abandoned by all except a few loyal followers. He was stripped of his clothes and walked the 650 yards to Golgotha - the place of the skull - to be crucified on a cross. But Christ shows His uncommon goodness as Luke 23:34 records His words from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

Satan was defeated by Christ's work on the cross. We can experience victory over our sin and eternal life with God the Father as we accept His gift of life. Christ died so we can live. Romans 6:23 tells us, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thankfully, the story of the cross doesn't end there. Christ was resurrected from the dead three days later, fulfilling the prophecy from the beginning. His empty tomb was found by his followers, whom he spent 40 days with on earth before his return to heaven.

Christ's goodness, as reflected on the Cross, is more than any of us can offer. But what a great reminder it is for us to continually work toward showing greater goodness toward those around us.

Happy Easter!