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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Stepfamilies Find Different Ways to Connect

Our family has been travelling for a week on vacation. We started our trip off by attending a family reunion and saw several extended family members we hadn't seen in years. It was a wonderful time of reuniting and seeing how families have changed and grown.

We left there and continued to visit other family members we don't see often in between some fun activities such as Seaworld, Rangers game, and a day at the beach. We've encountered a variety of stepfamilies along the way and I've noticed many differences in how families relate to each other.

I've seen some families use humor and sarcasm as they interact with one another. It's not the style I prefer but some families seem to thrive on it and naturally relate to each other that way.

Other families use syrupy sweet communication as they dote on each other. The interaction may seem fake to me but it seems to convey love and acceptance toward those in that family.

I noticed some families who have worked through significant struggles in their stepfamily relationships and seem to have bonds closer than ever. In visiting with them, you hear the commitment and dedication they have with one another.

And then I learned of a family who is choosing to alienate each other through their relationships with others outside the family unit. When things get rough, the parents choose to seek out comfort through unhealthy relationships with others that will ultimately result in the demise of their family.

It was interesting to me to recognize the choices family members make that determine how the family unit functions. It is easy to see that there are many different ways to connect in our families. However, a common element I saw with the greatest success was those families who chose to follow the Golden Rule regularly : "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

In other words, if I don't like others to communicate to me through sarcasm, I will not communicate that way. If I want to be treated with respect and kindness, I will treat my family members that way. And if I want love to be verbally communicated to me, I will offer my love verbally to others.

It seems a simple rule to follow but can make a huge difference in our families. I can't say that I have followed it every step of the way on our vacation but I have a few more days to work at it!

How can you follow the Golden Rule today?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Encouraging Words

Our family is on vacation and spent some time yesterday with our oldest daughter who lives out of state. (my stepdaughter). We were reminiscing about years' past and laughing about some difficult interactions we've worked through. I told her I felt bad about some of our "less than perfect parenting moments" and she said, "It's okay. I don't think anyone was permanently scarred by them."

Those were encouraging words to me. We are not perfect parents but we are doing our best to show our kids what a Christ-centered home looks like.

I know I will blow it again as a parent/stepparent. But I will be quick to ask for forgiveness and get back on the right track with those involved. And I will choose not to allow guilt to prevent me from positive parenting moments today.

Do you need to affirm your value today as a stepparent?


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nurture Your Marriage

I was sad to learn this week of another step couple whose marriage is in serious trouble. And this time, it's not because of the kids. It's because the step couple is making poor choices in how they treat one another and the priorities they are choosing within their family.

A stable marriage is a key ingredient to peace and happiness in a stepfamily. The bonding of stepchildren and stepparents is heavily influenced by the marital relationship.

Children in stepfamilies, who have experienced significant loss in their young lives already, desperately need to know that their new family will provide the love and security they seek without the threat of breakup.

Stepmothers Elizabeth Einstein and Linda Albert emphasize the value of nurturing our marriages in Strengthening Your Stepfamily:

It is critical that you understand the importance of making your couple relationship a priority. If you do not nourish your marriage, you may not stay together. A major reason for divorce among remarried couples is that the wife and husband fail to spend enough time working to build their relationship. With the focus immediately and constantly on the children and their needs, the marriage never has a chance to take root and grow."

They continue to say, "Even if your marriage does not end, your stepfamily cannot stabilize until your couple relationship does. Until children feel that your marriage relationship is solid, they may remain withdrawn from stepparents, afraid to trust."

Stepchildren deserve to be raised in a stable home. It is our responsibility as a step couple to make the marriage a priority, focusing the time and attention necessary to strengthen our marital relationship.

How strong is your couple relationship? Does it need some attention?


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

When a Stepchild Changes Residence

"I think I want to come live with you, Dad." The stepmom overheard the conversation between her husband and his son. "I want to spend more time with you and Mom said it's okay." Oh boy, thought the stepmom.

It's not uncommon for adolescents who have two biological parents actively involved in their lives, to consider moving in with their nonresidential parent, usually during their teenage years. It is estimated that approximately 20 percent of adolescents change homes during this critical period, either temporarily or long-term.

The move may be perceived as exciting for the nonresidential parent who has longed to have his child live with him. However, the stepparent may be rightfully nervous about the transition. Living with a stepchild is different than having one visit every other week-end.

It's important to address the fears surrounding the anticipated move. Consider the changes that will take place and how you will deal with them. Talk with your stepchild about the expectations and restrictions governing your home.

Find peace through the transition by relying on the Lord to relieve your fears and calm your anxious spirit. The Apostle Paul reminds us of His peace in Philippians 4:6-7: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

We will only find peace when we turn our worries over to God and allow Him to be in control. His Word promises us He will walk through every challenge with us and strengthen us along the way.

Does your stepchild want to live with you? Are you relying on God's promises as you deal with the change?

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Monday, July 19, 2010

7 Link Challenge

I'm following a challenge today by blogger Darren Rowse that will include a post different than what I usually write. But I hope you find it interesting and discover blog posts you have not read before.

Darren's suggestion is to highlight 7 posts from different categories that he suggests of my blog and others. It's a great exercise to reflect on what blog posts are most useful for my readers. I will give some explanation of each post as I go.

1. Your first post: Striving to be a Positive Stepparent. This post has some basic, but important, thoughts on stepparenting.

2. A post you enjoyed writing the most: Hope for the Future: Part Two. As I wrote this post,I reflected on the privilege of having a child in my second marriage.

3. A post which had a great discussion: Stepmothers - How to Honor Mother's Day? I recognize the difficulty surrounding Mother's Day for stepmothers and this post was no surprise to the traffic and comments it received.

4. A post on someone else's blog that you wish you'd written: The Healing Power of Art. I enjoy following the blog of Michael Hyatt, CEO of Nelson Publishing and this is a beautiful post.

5. Your most helpful post: Coping with Stepfamily Storms. We will all endure storms in our stepfamilies and I believe this post is helpful on addressing some healthy ways to cope with them.

6. A post with a title that you are proud of: Coparenting Collisions. I thought this title did a good job of describing what the post was about - a subject many of us can relate to!

7. A post that you wish more people had read: Stepparenting Inspiration. This is an incredible story of someone who overcame significant odds to make a difference in life. It is inspirational for all of us as we persevere on difficult paths.

Did you find posts you had not read before that were interesting or helpful?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Offering Forgiveness

I recently spoke with a stepmom whose family is under a great deal of stress due to the rebellion of her teenage stepson. Hurtful words and damaging comments have strained relationships within the family.

She knows she must offer forgiveness for words hurled at her but is struggling with her emotions from the situation.

In their book, The Smart Stepmom, Ron Deal and Laura Petherbridge offer thoughts on forgiveness: "If you are waiting until the feeling to forgive comes upon you, it's unlikely to occur. Forgiveness is an act of obedience to God because we trust him and believe He has our best interest at heart. When we cling to revenge, anger, and rage it often destroys us spiritually, emotionally, and physically."

They go on to say,"Christ paid too much for his beloved ones to become slaves to anything, much less hatred. He wants his children free. And a person is never free when he or she is weighed down with the ball and chain of bitterness. When the cold shackles of revenge are tightly clasped around our wrists, it's impossible to lift our hands in praise to Him."

It's easy to become entangled in the throes of bitterness when we've been hurt. But when we allow ourselves to do that, we become slaves to emotions that don't go away. We won't find freedom in that condition.

Forgiveness is never easy. But it is essential to healthy relationships.

Who do you need to offer forgiveness to today?

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Finding Hope in the Midst of Uncertainty

Relationships are hard. And sometimes when families run into trouble that seems too big to manage, people make bad choices.

I learned of a tragic situation today with a stepfamily that seemed to have too many relationship issues to solve and the husband escaped by committing suicide. Now, his young son is left without a father.

So, how do we find hope when the circumstances seem desperate?

I think we begin with a willingness toward risk. We must risk change to make our circumstances better. We must risk vulnerability in our relationships. And we must risk confronting our fears to find answers for our uncertainties.

I don't believe we are meant to live desperate lives. I claim my favorite Scripture daily that says, "For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." (NLT)

But we must claim that hope. We must choose to accept that hope.

And we must be willing to take the necessary risks toward finding our hope in the midst of uncertainty.

What risks do you need to take today to find hope?

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Trusting God with our Finances

The insurance bill that came in the mail was much higher than expected. With three teen drivers, insuring five cars is costly. And add one driver with a lead foot and too many accidents, and the cost gets exorbitant!

Money can be a stressful subject for stepfamilies. With several kids to provide for and constant expenses flowing out of the account, money quickly runs out. So, how do you deal with the constant stress of financial concern?

We have learned to find peace in trusting God with our expenses. We currently have two kids in college and a third one coming up next year but we know God will provide.

We have seen God's faithfulness time and again when finances were tight at our house. When I lost my corporate job and our household income was cut in half, God provided for us. When I chose to return to graduate school with four children at home, God provided.

When my husband's job was being phased out, God provided for a new job with better benefits and higher income. And when my husband and I were expecting our first child together and I desired to be home, God provided in a way to make it possible.

So when I begin to fret about how we will pay for three kids in college, I reflect on God's unending faithfulness. I may not be able to see how the puzzle pieces will fit together, but I can trust God is in control.

"Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" Matthew 6:25-26

Are you trusting God with your finances?

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Coping with Change

My stepson moved into an apartment with a college friend the first part of the summer. It is quieter than usual without his rambunctious personality at our house.

My youngest daughter starts her senior year of high school next month. Since she is our fourth child, we are well aware of the inevitable changes that will take place over the next year.

Stepfamilies experience more change, on average, than traditional families. Kids move back and forth, relationships with ex-spouses and other extended family members create change, and new relationships within stepfamilies bring about change. But change allows us to grow in our faith as we seek God's strength and direction during times of transition.

God asked Abraham to make a significant change at 75 years of age, leaving behind his comfortable surroundings and embarking on unfamiliar territory. Hebrews 11:8 says, "By faith, Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." Wow! What an awesome expression of faith by Abraham.
Although we may not be asked to make such a drastic change, we do often land in unfamiliar territory as stepparents and need to seek God's direction to guide us through unknown surroundings.

It's comforting to remember that, when our life is constantly changing, God is unchangeable. Hebrews 13:8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." His faithful presence is our sustaining hope as we navigate the inevitable changes that come our way on our stepfamily journey.

Do you seek God's direction during times of change?

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Looking for Answers?

My friend was in tears as she described the situation going on with her teenage stepchild. She and her husband were not in agreement as to how to handle the problem and it appeared things were going to get worse before they got better.

Unfortunately, there are not black and white answers to many of our stepparenting dilemmas. Even through prayer, it is difficult at times to find answers to our questions. But God does promise He will walk beside us through the valleys.

Psalm 23:1-4 tells us, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet water, he restores my soul. ... 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."

Sometimes we have to wait before we find answers to our questions. Sometimes we get answers we don't want and try to run from them. Sometimes the answer is No. But the comforting part is that God is right beside us as we untangle our path and seek to find His will in every situation.

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." Matthew 7:7

Are you remembering to include God in your equation as you look for answers?


Monday, July 5, 2010

How do you Find Balance?

"This holiday week-end has had too many commitments for me, " I told my husband as we were walking into a church service Sunday evening that required another piano commitment on my part. I usually enjoy the extra music that goes along with 4th of July festivities but since I have taken on the additional role of a piano accompanist at a second church, the demands get overwhelming at times.

And then throw in a 5K event in our hometown my husband was in charge of, out of town company, two separate firework events we attended, and a slew of teen-agers at our house every time I turned around looking for food and a place to sleep, and you find me completely exhausted at the end of it.

I have found my life out of balance on several occasions. When you live life as a blended family (and have a bunch of kids like we do), you can easily end up with too many obligations on your plate. So, here are a few suggestions to help create a balanced schedule:

1. Say NO unless it is important to you or your family and provides meaning for you. There are a lot of great activities we can be involved in but if we want to simplify our schedule, we must learn to say no. We will have plenty of time to enjoy other activities when our kids are grown.

2. Eat right and include regular exercise in your routine. Most of us know how to eat and are well aware of the need to exercise, but just don't do it. However, when we take care of ourselves physically, we are more likely to make good choices with our priorities and have more energy to take care of our commitments.

3. Get adequate rest. Don't skimp on your sleep. That is usually the first thing to go when life gets hectic, but it will create problems in other areas of life. Recent studies have shown that lack of sleep can negatively affect the hormones that regulate our appetite, leading to weight gain. Adequate sleep results in clearer thinking and sharper judgment.

4. Maintain a spiritual journey to bring wholeness and harmony to your being. Find an active Bible study group, attend church regularly, join a prayer group, or use personal study time to grow spiritually. Walking a spiritual road can have a significant effect on our well-being at every level.

5. Include leisure time in your schedule. Coffee with a girlfriend, date night with our husband, or simply a walk around the block can create the perfect environment to recharge our batteries when we began to head toward overload.

We have to be intentional with our time and responsibilities if we want to maintain balance. Life is too short to fall victim to busyness. We all have the same number of hours in a day but how we choose to spend them is our choice.

Do you feel out of balance? What healthy choices will you make to put your schedule in balance?

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Creating a Stable Stepfamily: Offer Love and Grace Freely

My youngest son just came back from his first overnight church camp. He told me story after story of the fun he had with his friends and the memories he made on the campground.

But then, with tears in his eyes, he told me of the many talks they had of what Jesus has done for us and the love and grace He offers us, undeserved.

As we come to the end of our posts on creating a stable stepfamily, I am reminded of the most important element of creating a stable stepfamily: offer love and grace freely to your stepchildren. Even when they don't deserve it.

Stable relationships are formed as we show our stepchildren we love them on good days and bad, offering forgiveness to them, undeserved. It's not easy to do and can only be accomplished through God's strength, but will make a long-term difference in our relationships.

How can you show love and grace to your family this week-end?

Have a happy 4th of July and spend some quality time with your stepchildren!

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