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Monday, August 30, 2010

Conquering Conflict in Your Blended Family - Part Three: Letting It Go

 Our pastor spoke on handling conflict yesterday and had some wonderful points. I especially liked his illustration of what happens to us when we hold on to conflict - "It's like hugging a cactus. You can do it but it will be painful."

Too many times we hang on to the aftermath of conflict. Hurt feelings, bitterness, self-pity, angry words. We rehash the ugly details of the conflict. Instead we need to confront it, deal with it, and move on. If we refuse to let go, we suffer from painful effects.

We must also recognize our part of conflict. In his book, Peacemaking for Families, Ken Sande reminds us, "It takes two to tangle. The fact is, we frequently contribute in some way to relational problems. Whether it be through our words, our thoughts, our motives, our attitudes, or our deeds, we are more often than not guilty of either starting or at least aggravating any conflict we are involved in."

That statement resonates with me. I would like to believe that the recent conflict with my stepson was completely his fault. But if I'm truthful with myself, I must admit  that I aggravated the situation with my insensitive words.

Our pastor also reminded us, "We can respond to conflict in hatred or love. Make the decision to act in the best interests of the other person."

Loving others in the midst of conflict is hard. But the aftereffects are much more comfortable than hugging a cactus!  "Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs." (Proverbs 10:17)

Are you hugging a cactus today?


Friday, August 27, 2010

Conquering Conflict in Your Blended Family - Part Two: Using Flexibility

In their book, The Remarriage Checkup, Ron Deal and David Olson discuss the differences in how couples handle conflict. "Research has suggested that happy and unhappy couples alike share the same number of conflicts. Unhappy couples just can't get through the differences - they get stuck in them. Healthy couples, by comparison, are much more likely to find creative solutions to their differences and work them out (80 percent versus only 28 percent of unsatisfied couples). They are able to think outside the box and are open to explore different ideas."

One way we get stuck in conflict is when we use the same style of handling conflict for every situation. I addressed the peacekeeper style in my earlier post on managing conflict. Another style many people use is the dominator.When I think about the dominator style, I think of a fast-moving train plowing down a track. If you get in its way, you will be plastered.

Dominators believe they must get their way, regardless of what it takes. They use arguing, yelling, threatening, or manipulating to get others to surrender to them. Dominators may even use force or bodily harm  when other tactics don't work. But managing conflict  through dominating others is rarely the solution.

An alternative to insisting upon your way through dominating others is allowing flexibility with what others in your family need and want. The Remarriage Checkup states, "Our research discovered that a healthy dose of flexibility in the couple's relationship and individual attitudes toward the management of their family was one of the top five predictors of a satisfying relationship, and accounted for nearly 20 percent of what predicted a healthy, strong remarriage relationship."

You don't see the quality of flexibility mentioned often in conflict resolution. And it doesn't always come easy. But if we can embrace flexibility, we can turn conflict into a win-win situation for all involved.

Do you have a dominator in your family? Can you help him/her see the benefits of flexibility in conflict resolution?


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Conquering Conflict in Your Blended Family - Part One: What is Your Style?

"I don't handle conflict well and lately it seems to be following me around."  Stepmother

Blended families have more conflict on average than traditional families. There are a lot of variables that can lead to conflict. But that doesn't mean our families have  to be consumed with it. Conflict is part of life and if we learn to manage it constructively, we can resolve it as it occurs and move forward.

I will do several posts over the next week or so on managing conflict. Some of my thoughts come from within our own family and observing other stepfamilies during conflict periods. Other ideas come from Resolving Conflict in the Blended Family by Tom and Adrienne Frydenger.  

Many of us developed certain ways to deal with conflict during our childhood. Those styles may have worked for us in our family of origin or in simple conflict situations but may not work for us in complex stepfamily struggles. We will talk about different conflict styles and you will likely find a style you use most often.

When my first marriage ended, I went through a lot of counseling to better understand myself and how I ended up in such a dysfunctional marriage. I learned I was a peacemaker and people pleaser and leaned toward a peacemaker style when dealing with conflict. I wanted everyone to get along and went to great lengths to have everyone in agreement, even if I sacrificed my desires and convictions in the process.

Peacekeepers often give up part of themselves to work through conflict. They end up with stomach ulcers and migraine headaches because they're not effectively dealing with the issue at hand. They're going along with what others want, regardless of whether it has a healthy outcome that works for everyone involved (including themselves).

There are times when peacemaking is okay for conflict. We see from Biblical examples that Jesus believed in this style: "If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop  him from taking your tunic." (Luke 6:29). However, if we follow Jesus' examples, we will notice other styles he used also.

Peacemaking does not work with defiant teen-age stepchildren or rude, hateful ex-spouses. As stepparents, we are not doormats to be trampled or fence posts to be kicked. Many blended family issues are too complex to use a simple peacemaking style without getting trampled on.

Do you identify with a peacemaking style in manging conflict? Can you recognize times when it doesn't work effectively?


Monday, August 23, 2010

Hurtful Words Cannot be Taken Back

I answered the phone and could hardly understand my stepdaughter because she was crying so hard. "I guess my brother hates me. He told me I've lost the privilege of being his big sister." "What do you mean?" I asked. "Where did that comment come from?"

Because both of my stepchildren are now living on their own, I don't usually get in the middle of their relationship. But lately I'd noticed they were drifting apart and not making much effort to stay in touch. I'd told both of them that relationships are two-sided and both parties are responsible for their part. I love the adult relationships I have with my siblings and want the same for my children.

My stepdaughter went on to tell me about the conversation. Her brother had exchanged hurtful words that she took personally. It was an ugly conversation that escalated to things that should have never been said.

I had a flash back to the conversation my stepson and I had a few days prior. He asked me if I knew what today was. "No," I said, "what is it?" "It's the day my mom died." "Oh, I'm sorry," I answered. "It's been six years now, hasn't it?" "Yeah, I guess that's right."

Compound that hurt with other stresses of life, and it's easy to see how angry words can fly. But it's still not right. Those words can never be taken back.

I wanted to hug my stepdaughter and tell her how much we love her. But, unfortunately, she lives over 300 miles away. She is trying hard to live a mature, Christian life and make it on her own. She had called her brother because she knew he was coming to visit and she wanted to see him. But all she got from him was defensiveness and anger.

As our stepchildren get older, we carry less influence with them. I'm thankful my stepdaughter called today and confided in me. But addressing it with my stepson will be difficult. Young adults want to believe they have all the answers and no longer need help from their parents.

I know God can heal their hurts, if they will let him.  I will continue to HOPE (Having Optimistic Prayer Expectations).

"Only God can turn a MESS into a message, a TEST into a testimony, a TRIAL into a TRIumph, a VICTim into a VICTORY. God is Good...all the time."

Are you careful with your words? We can never take back what we say to our loved ones.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Back to School Tips, Part Five - Get to Know Their Friends

I've always been a big believer in getting to know my children/stepchildren's friends. Particularly as kids get older, their friends are huge influencers, and can impact their school success.

I recently heard a children's minister say to a room full of children, "The two most important decisions you will make at this age are: your decision to follow Christ and your decisions regarding your friends."

I don't always like my children's friends. But we still invite them to our house. I want my kids to know their friends are welcome at any time (and there is always food - it works every time with teen-agers).

My stepson had a friend in high school who I thought was leading him astray. I couldn't control how the friendship developed but I could express my concerns. The friendship lasted over a year, at which time I prayed diligently that my stepson would make wise choices and not be influenced down the wrong road.

After the two boys parted ways, my stepson admitted he should have ended the friendship sooner. I knew there were things they did that we, as parents, wouldn't approve of but thankfully, he recognized it before it led to a lot of trouble.

My daughter had a boyfriend in high school that I didn't approve of either. He was controlling and distrustful with her. I had several conversations with her to express my feelings of how he was mistreating her. She often reacted defensively and angry toward my concerns. But she eventually got the message and figured out that the relationship was not healthy.

If we don't know our children's friends, we can't help them in their relationships.Childhood friendships are a breeding ground for teaching  what healthy relationships look like. And they can directly influence what kind of school year our stepchildren/children have.

Do you know your children's friends? Are they welcome in your home?


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back to Schol Tips, Part Four - Expect the Best

My son, Nathan, and I went to "Meet the Teacher" night at his elementary school last night. Nathan is beginning 4th grade and is excited about going back to school (unlike our older kids!)  On the way home, we talked about our expectations for him this year.

I want Nathan to know that I  believe he is capable of having another successful school year and I  expect him to do his part in being the best student he can.

My husband and I also took our two college kids (my daughter and my stepson) to dinner one day last week. We told them both we were proud of them for completing half of their college education and then talked about our expectations of them for the second half.

We want them both to know that we believe they can meet the standards to hold on to their scholarships while completing their last two years of college. Both kids are living on their own now and we also talked about how to set boundaries with their friends and manage their time wisely to accomplish the demands of school, work, and other extracurricular activities.

I believe it's important that we stay actively involved in our children's education, even as they get older. If they know we sincerely care about their grades, their teacher relationships, and the challenges they encounter at school, they are more likely to talk to us when struggles occur.

In her book, Real Issues, Real Teens, Suzie Eller says, "Teens are looking for people to believe in them, and you, as a parent, are the best person for the job. They are also looking for someone to talk to, and they hope it might be you."

If we have low expectations of our children/stepchildren, they will meet them. If we have high expectations and our children know we believe in their success, they are more likely to work toward the goals set before them.

Do your children/stepchildren know you believe in their success at school?

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Back to School Tips, Part Three - Resolve Conflict as it Occurs

I was shocked to learn of a family today whose son has left for college and his mom hasn't spoken to him in several weeks. There was a conflict within the family while they were on vacation and the conflict was never resolved. So, now several members of the family are not speaking to each other.

That is tragic to me! How do you allow your son to leave for college and expect him to have a successful year when there is unresolved conflict and hard feelings with his family?

But, could it be that we do that in our own families and don't realize it? Is there unresolved conflict with an ex-spouse that impacts your stepchildren/children every day? Are the children in your home expected to go to school and function at 100% when they left a battlefield back home? 

Our children are hugely impacted by what happens in our homes. If there is unresolved conflict, it will carry over into their lives and affect every aspect of their day. We owe it to our children/stepchildren to work through angry words and hurt feelings with direct communication.

As a new school year begins, it's a great time to evaluate how well we're doing with the parent in the other home. Are we doing our part to cooperate with them regarding a new school schedule, the kid's needs, and any issue that came up during the summer months? Do we need to offer an apology or show mercy toward them for unresolved conflict?

In his book, The Smart Stepfamily, Ron Deal offers advice on what happens  when we refuse to work with an ex-spouse. "An old African proverb says, 'When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.' Biological parents who fight and refuse to cooperate are trampling on their most prized possession - their children. Elephants at war are totally unaware of what is happening to the grass, for they are far too consumed with the battle at hand. Little do they know how much damage is being done."

Our children need to be able to go to school and concentrate on their school work without worrying about conflict among relationships in their homes. We must do our part to resolve conflict as it occurs.

Are you using healthy communication to work through conflict?

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Back to School Tips, Part Two - Evaluating our Schedule

With the beginning of a new school year always comes a busy schedule. I was thinking about how to change my dreaded outlook of the new school year by wondering what I could eliminate from our schedule. Since our youngest daughter is beginning her senior year of high school there are many things on the calendar already that I can't change.

I am a strong believer in evaluating our commitments regularly and considering if we need to change/add/delete any of them. For example, my husband was asked recently to consider another commitment at church  The program is a valuable ministry within our church. But when he asked my opinion of it, we began listing  his other commitments for the Fall. Adding one more thing to his agenda didn't seem like a good idea.

As we look at ways to help our stepchildren have a successful school year, we need to consider our schedules. Our family must be our primary ministry. There are a lot of wonderful activities to be involved in, but when we have children at home, they must be our first priority.

I am reminded of some wise words from Christian psychologist, Dr. James Dobson. "I wish parents wouldn't commit all of their energy to the business of living, holding nothing in reserve for the challenge of raising their kids. The routine stresses of raising an adolescent can be overwhelming. Someone within the family must reserve the time and energy to cope with parenting challenges."

Our role as stepparents is even more demanding, mentally and emotionally, than that of a biological parent,  If we give all of our energy to outside commitments and demanding careers, what do we draw from to deal with the inevitable crises and unexpected irritants that will surely come our way?

As a new school year begins, it's a perfect time to evaluate our schedule. If we're intentional with our  commitments, we'll have more time and energy for our stepparenting roles, allowing us the chance to help our stepchildren achieve greater success at school.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back to School Tips, Part One

The start of school is upon us and it seems a good time to think about how to have a successful school year with our children/stepchildren.

So, I want to include a few tips over the next several posts.

The most important part we can play as stepparents is to commit to pray for our stepchildren regularly during the upcoming school year. If we dedicate a specific time and place to pray daily, it is more likely that it will happen.

In her book, The Power of a Praying Parent, Stormie Omartian says, "The battle for our children's lives is waged on our knees. When we don't pray, it's like sitting on the sidelines watching our children in a war zone getting shot at from every angle. When we do pray, we're in the battle alongside them, appropriating God's power on their behalf."

When our son, Nathan, was in a near-fatal car accident at 15 months old, I began to recognize the importance of praying daily for our children. Nathan had injuries that could have resulted in life-altering disabilities. Instead, as a result of constant prayer from friends and family members, Nathan recovered fully and has few visible signs from his tragic accident.

Following that accident, I began following a ritual of praying for Nathan's safety every night at bedtime. I have continued that pattern faithfully and believe my prayers allow a rambunctious young boy to live life to the fullest with protection from a powerful God.

As our children begin a new school year, there are many things we can't do for them to help the year go smoother. But there is one big thing we can do for them regularly: pray.

"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." Mark 11:24

Will you commit to pray regularly for your stepchildren this year?


Sunday, August 8, 2010

When Our Stepchildren are Hurting

During my stepson's adolescent years, he often lashed out at me with hateful looks and angry words. I was caught up with feelings of injustice and couldn't see his emotional pain.

When a friend said to me, "Hurting people hurt people," it began to make sense. My stepson had situations in his life that he didn't like and couldn't control and therefore, took his feelings out on the nearest target: me.

I couldn't always offer forgiveness readily but I would find a way to get to that point. I knew our relationship would never develop if I couldn't act as the adult and do the right thing, regardless of his actions.

Our pastor offered some insightful thoughts on forgiveness today that I think are worth sharing. It doesn't make forgiveness any easier but it does remind us of our role.

1. Forgiveness is always the responsibility of the person who is injured. When my stepchild offends me, I can't wait until he offers an apology to forgive him. It is my responsibility to offer forgiveness, regardless of his actions.

2. Forgiveness is usually based on grace. I love this one! We don't forgive others only when we think they deserve it. They may never deserve our forgiveness. But I didn't deserve the forgiveness Christ offered me on the cross either.

3. Forgiveness might bring mutual peace. But then again, it might not. Offering our forgiveness doesn't guarantee it will be accepted. The relationship may not be reconciled through our amends. But we can find peace through our forgiving actions.

We often become so focused on our own problems that we don't recognize the loss and pain our stepchildren are suffering.

It isn't easy being a stepparent. But it isn't easy being a stepchild either.

"If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Romans 12:18

Do you need to offer forgiveness to someone today?

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Friday, August 6, 2010

Stepparenting Rewards

My stepson called me this week and asked for some "motherly advice." He and his roommate were having trouble getting along and he wanted my view of the situation.

I was flattered that he asked for my opinion. But I was even more thankful to hear him ask for "motherly advice." That's as close as my stepson comes to referring to me as his mother.

Stepparents don't get to experience rewards often, especially in the early years. So when we do receive a hard-earned reward for the job we're doing, we can pat ourselves on the back, realizing our efforts are not in vain.

I have seen more rewards as a stepmother since my stepchildren reached young adulthood. The years I spent working on a healthy relationship and showing how much I cared for them are now rewarded with love and respect for me.

There were many times I wanted to give up and thought it was too hard to keep pursuing a relationship with them, especially when it was obvious they didn't care about having another mom in their lives. But I now see the rewards I would have missed if I'd quit.

Perseverance is worth every effort we make. When we're struggling in our stepparenting role, quitting is never the answer.

"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

Are you experiencing stepparenting rewards?

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Struggling With Emotions

My first born child moved out today.

Jamie is a 20-year-old college student who has been attending college in the same town we live so it was convenient (and less expensive) for her to live at home. But today she moved into an apartment with a college girlfriend.

I think it is a healthy move but I was overcome with emotions as her bed was carried out of our house. I wasn't prepared for the tears that wouldn't stop rolling down my face as I watched my daughter pack her belongings from her room into her car. I suddenly began reflecting on 20 years of parenting my baby girl.

And then I began wondering why I wasn't as emotional when my stepson moved out a few months ago. He is also a 20-year-old college student who lived at home his first two years of college and moved out the first part of the summer. But his move didn't evoke the tears and emotions I felt today.

I have a good relationship with my stepson but it is not the same kind of relationship I have with my daughter. He has never called me Mom and has made it clear to me that he has another Mom who is very important to him. I have walked lightly in my relationship with him and have never felt the love from him I feel from my daughter.

So, why have I put so much pressure on myself for the last 15 years as his stepmom to believe I had to have the same feelings for him I have for my birth children? Why have I berated myself for not being the perfect stepmom?

I carried my birth children in my womb for 9 months, nursed them for a year, and performed the role of Mom for them that no one else has. My children only have one mother.

But my stepchildren have another mother whom they love dearly (and think of fondly since her unexpected passing). I don't want to compete with their feelings for her; but, I must admit that their relationship with her affects the kind of relationship they have with me.

I know I can make a difference and have meaningful relationships with my stepchildren when I offer them my love and affection. However, it may not replicate the love I carry for my birth children.

Stepparenting is a hard role. We make it even harder when we create expectations of ourselves we can never meet.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Different Kind of Drug Problem

My husband forwarded an e-mail to me with the following newspaper excerpt from an anonymous writer. The content is worth pondering as a parent/stepparent.

"The other day, someone at a store in our town read that a Methamphetamine lab had been found in an old farmhouse in the adjoining county and he asked me a rhetorical question, 'Why didn't we have a drug problem when you and I were growing up?'

I replied, 'I had a drug problem when I was young: I was drug to church on Sunday morning. I was drug to church for weddings and funerals. I was drug to family reunions and community socials no matter the weather.

I was drug by my ears when I was disrespectful to adults. I was also drug to the woodshed when I disobeyed my parents, told a lie, brought home a bad report card, did not speak with respect, spoke ill of the teacher or the preacher, or if I didn't put forth my best effort in everything that was asked of me.

I was drug to the kitchen sink to have my mouth washed out with soap if I uttered a profanity. I was drug out to pull weeds in mom's garden and flower beds and cockleburs out of dad's fields. I was drug to the homes of family, friends and neighbors to help out some poor soul who had no one to mow the yard, repair the clothesline, or chop some firewood, and, if my mother had ever known that I took a single dime as a tip for this kindness, she would have drug me back to the woodshed.

Those drugs are still in my veins and they affect my behavior in everything I do, say, or think. They are stronger than cocaine, crack, or heroin, and, if today's children had this kind of drug problem, America would be a better place.'

God bless the parents who drugged us."

Are you drugging your children/stepchildren?


Monday, August 2, 2010

How to Stay Sane in this Heat!

I woke up early thinking about the many things to do since getting back from vacation. And then I remembered how hot the forecast was for the week: 103 degrees for the next several days with the heat index at 120.

Ugh! I'm not much of a hot weather person so the heat presents a challenge for me. And then you add to that a bunch of kids at home, bored from being inside but too hot to go outside. What's one to do?

I went through an exercise in my head of how to stay sane until school starts. Here are my thoughts:

1. Get up early to exercise so my mental state is good enough to deal with agitated kids.

2. Meditate on Scripture to find a calm place for the day.

3. Pray for peace and sweet attitudes for the kids and myself.

4. Invite friends to the house to keep the kids occupied.

5. Get out every board game we have.

6. Keep plenty of snacks around (comfort food - right?)

7. Threaten the kids with chores if they start fighting with each other (am I the only Mom who does this?)

8. Retreat to my room and close the door when all else fails....

Okay, I'm sure there's bound to be some other options.

Any suggestions on how to stay sane in this heat?