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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Overcoming Difficult Feelings as a Stepparent

If you struggle with feelings of doubt, resentment or insecurity in your stepparenting role, this video will be a blessing to you. It's a powerful reminder of why we make unending sacrifices for our stepchildren every day.

I first saw this video on Meg Miller's blog a few weeks ago. It spoke to me powerfully. I don't usually watch videos that people recommend, but I believe this one is worth your time. 

Please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Related Posts:

Character that Counts

When Our Thinking Becomes Distorted

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Looking for Hope on Your Stepfamily Journey?

I helped with a church service at a poverty-stricken trailer park yesterday. As I spoke with those who lived there, I saw brokenness in every family. Persons affected by addiction, family members struggling with broken relationships, elderly with debilitating health issues, and others wondering where their next meal would come from.

But if you looked in their eyes, you saw glimpses of hope. That's why they had come.They wanted to experience the Hope we find through  Jesus Christ. They worshiped with authentic hearts as they connected with the One who offered them hope.

Are you looking for hope on your stepfamily journey? Are you trying to find comfort through your spouse, your friends, or your stepchildren? You might find glimmers of hope through relationships, but you will also find hurt and disappointment. I have no doubt if you've lived in a stepfamily long, you've experienced  rejection,  sadness, anger and all kinds of pain.

True hope can only be found when we surrender to a relationship with Christ and choose to walk with Him daily.  It's not glamorous. But it's satisfying. It offers an inward peace that nothing else can.

The stepfamily journey creates struggles of many kinds, particularly in the beginning. The challenges feel hopeless somedays. But with God's help, we can work through our difficulties, even when there are no answers.

In  her book, Forgiving God, Carla McClafferty describes her struggle to find hope again after suddenly losing her fourteen-month-old son.  "God taught me I had to depend on him daily. ... God didn't give me today the strength to face tomorrow. I had to depend on him one day at a time. "

Carla faced the reality of not understanding why God allowed the death of her son. "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."

And Carla acknowledged God's sovereignty in her circumstances. "In His divine authority, God doesn't always answer our prayers the way we want Him to. Sometimes, God doesn't change our circumstances, God changes us in our circumstances."

If you're looking for hope on your stepfamily journey, I pray you look toward our Lord, Jesus Christ. You may not find all the answers to your questions, or understanding for your struggles, but you can find unending hope and strength for your journey as you depend on Him daily.

Where do you find hope on your stepfamily journey?

Related Posts:

Finding Hope in the Midst of Uncertainty 

Good News for Stepfamilies

Creating a Stable Stepfamily Through Faith
Healthy Stepparenting #11: Walk with God Daily

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Your Ex-Spouse and Boundaries: Part Two

I was raised in a conservative Christian home. I'm thankful for parents who taught me strong Biblical principles on how to live. I stand by those beliefs and raise my children on Biblical standards. However, we must consider whether "turning the other cheek" is the best action when we're confronted with dysfunctional situations, particularly if young children are at stake. Determining how to set and maintain healthy boundaries for me and my children has been an ongoing process.

During the separation period with my husband and shortly following my divorce, I attended Al-Anon meetings (support for families of alcoholics) regularly. I learned how to take care of myself and my two girls without sacrificing their relationship with their father. I set guidelines that I shared with my ex regarding my expectations when the girls were with him and consequences if his irresponsible behavior (drinking, unhealthy choices, etc.) showed up during visitation periods. I had no guarantee that he would follow my requests, but since they were in writing, I knew I could use them in a court of law if I needed to.

When my oldest daughter reported instances of her and her sister being left alone while in his care (at 3 and 5 years old), or told to walk to the store without him, I knew I couldn't trust his parental judgment. I pursued supervised visitation with him to protect my girls until they got older. Boundary setting with my ex-husband became a way of life for me.

When we learn to set healthy boundaries with our ex-spouse, we are less likely to have ongoing anger issues with him/her. If we don't allow him/her to violate our "property lines" (see earlier post on boundaries), we have the freedom to develop an amicable relationship with him/her.

Boundary setting should not be malicious or revengeful. It's not meant to alienate our ex-spouse, but rather  co-parent with him/her in a way that provides respect and stability for each party involved.

Every situation is different. If your ex-spouse is mentally and emotionally healthy, there may be little need for boundary setting. But if you're dealing with a dysfunctional relationship, learning how to set healthy boundaries and stick to them becomes mandatory.

"Today I have the courage and faith to be true to myself, whether or not others like or agree with me. Knowing my boundaries does not mean forcing others to change; it means that I know my own limits and take care of myself by respecting them."  Courage to Change, One Day at a Time in  Al-Anon

Do you need to consider healthy boundary-setting with your ex-spouse?

I'm working on an e-book for stepfamily holiday survival tips, including co-parenting suggestions. It will be available in November on my website. Sign up for my newsletter to stay informed.

Related Posts:

Setting Boundaries with An Ex-Spouse: Part One

Co-Parenting with Clear Vision

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Setting Boundaries with an Ex-Spouse

Stepparenting issues can be overwhelming and unbearable. Then, you throw in problems with an ex-spouse, and the situation becomes toxic.

So, how do you maintain sanity when dealing with a difficult ex-spouse? The best way is to learn how to set appropriate boundaries and stick with them. 

I will be discussing boundaries and ex-spouses in the next few posts. But, the most important point I want to make today is to establish whose responsibility it is to set boundaries. That position lies with the person who was married to the difficult ex-spouse in the first place.

In their book, Boundaries, When to Say Yes, When to Say No To Take Control of Your Life, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend describe boundaries: "They define what is me and what is not me. ... Boundaries help us to distinguish our property so that we can take care of it. We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside."

If an ex-spouse is being difficult, we need to learn how  to keep him/her out of our property line. That doesn't mean we exclude him/her completely, but we learn to set limits on how often and to what degree he/she is allowed to interfere in our lives.

For instance, if an ex-spouse is repeatedly late when picking up the children for visitation, we establish a boundary and put a consequence on the behavior. We might say to our ex-spouse, "If you are more than 15 minutes late in picking up the children, you'll need to make different arrangements regarding visitation that day." Always have another plan to fall back on so you can follow through with your consequences.

It's not easy to set boundaries in the beginning and your ex-spouse won't like it, but it's necessary for the wellness of your current spouse and your stepfamily.

More on  boundaries and ex-spouses next time.

How do you manage boundaries with your ex?

Related Posts:
How to Co-Parent Successfully with your Ex

Co-Parenting Collisions 

Co-Parenting with a Difficult Ex-Spouse 

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Some Days Are Harder Than Others as a Stepparent

I knew my stepson had been having gastrointestinal problems for several weeks and we encouraged him to make a doctor's appointment. Since his mother died of colon cancer,  he knows his risk factors for that disease.

But  it hurt my feelings to learn he had  gone to the doctor and never even  mentioned it to me. As a mom, I'm usually the first one to instruct the kids on insurance cards, co-payment amounts, etc. when they go to the doctor. But instead, my stepson confided only in his dad regarding details of the appointment.

In the early years of our marriage, I would have berated myself for doing something wrong that was keeping my stepson at a distance. But after several years of stepparenting, I no longer blame myself when my stepchildren choose to leave me out of what's happening in their lives. I know I have done my part to be an involved and loving stepmom along the way but cannot force positive reactions from them.

After 15 years as his stepmom, my stepson recently said to  me, "I love you Gayla, but you're not my mom. My real mom would have given me her approval." I had voiced my opinion on a choice he was making that I disagreed with, and he let me know that my opinion didn't carry much weight. The disappointing words still ring in my ears.

Loyalty issues run deep with stepchildren and can keep them from loving a stepparent because it feels disloyal to their biological parent. Sometimes as kids grow older, they work through those feelings, allowing a close relationship with a stepparent. But sometimes they don't.

If you're having a hard day as a stepparent, don't lose hope. Persevere in your relationships even when your stepchildren don't. Draw near to the Lord for guidance and comfort. Be assured that He sees your efforts and will bless them.

"Come near to God and He will come near to you." (James 4:8)

Are you experiencing challenging days as a stepparent? Where do you look for hope?

Related Posts:

Finding Hope in the Midst of Uncertainty

Hope for the Future in Your Stepfamily: Part One

Hope for the Future in Your Stepfamily: Part Two

 Coping with Stepfamily Storms

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Stepfamily Finances: Making it Work

If you live in a stepfamily, it's likely that money's tight. Supporting several kids while recovering from life as a single parent takes a toll. If you're recently divorced, you feel the financial strain of separating your assets and starting over.

When you remarry, it's not unusual to have conflicting ideas on how to handle your money. You must decide as a couple how to manage the income and expenses together. Do you keep it in two separate pots, divide up the bills, and pay accordingly; or do you trust your new partner in his money handling abilities and put the money in a shared pot?

There's not a single correct answer to that question. It can work both ways or a combination of both. But here are a few ideas  to help make the choice that's right for you.

1.  Listen to each other's opinion on his/her choice of handling the money and why he/she  feels that way. If there were secrets surrounding finances in a previous relationship, it's natural that your spouse will want some separation at first. If money was mishandled previously, it will also affect one's choice.

2. Consider the financial history of each spouse and the present condition of your financial position. If  there's only one income coming in, it's natural to pool the money into one pot. However, with two incomes and separate payments needed for child support, insurance premiums, or other expenses related to a biological child, you might choose to keep some money separate.

3. Define goals for your family together and how you want to accomplish those goals. If there is considerable debt with one spouse upon marriage, you  may choose to pool your income and work together to pay off the debt. You also want to consider the message you're sending to your children on how you manage your money and what you want to teach them concerning finances.

4. Recognize the importance of flexibility in managing your money. Don't get hung up on insisting you must manage your money a certain way because you've always done it that way. If you start with separate accounts but decide you want to pool your resources together after a few years, give it a whirl. If it doesn't work, try a different way.

5. Be fair with one another. Each spouse should have access to some disposable income for discretionary needs without incurring a barrage of questions. It's also important that the wife and husband both have credit established in their own name.

My husband and I have primarily shared our pool of income and expenses since we married. We have been successful at managing our money together (although with five children, there's never enough!) We communicate frequently about how our money is spent and each has an equal voice in prioritizing our income and spending needs.

When my stepchildren lost their mother and we were receiving social security benefits for them, we kept that money separate to pay for private school expenses and other costs related directly to them. It was understood that the money allocated from her loss would be spent only for them.

Stepfamily finances can create additional conflict in a marriage. Learning how to make it work takes time and is different for every marriage. But with good communication and flexibility with one another, it can be managed successfully.

How do you manage your finances? Is it working?

Related posts:

Nurture Your Marriage 

Setting Goals and Your Stepfamily

Intentionally Nurturing Your Marriage

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Love is Sacrificial

We started off our week with a car problem. Ugh! My husband's car had to be towed to the dealership first thing this morning. After coming in from church last night, he couldn't get the motor to shut down when he turned the car off. He finally disconnected the part that runs to the fuel pump to stop the engine.

The technician from the dealership said he would give it a good check up and let us know the problem and what needed to be fixed.

While waiting on the diagnosis, I began thinking about areas in my life that needed a good check up. It's easy to recognize that there's more than one place that could use some "fixing" from God's healing hand.

My most glaring need today centers around how I allow my personal agenda and selfishness to keep me from loving others and treating them as I should. I don't always feel loving toward those around me and I allow my feelings to dictate my actions.

 It's easy to be loving and kind toward my stepchildren when they're being respectful and obedient. But it's a lot harder to continue to love them when they're rude and offensive. 

However, I'm frequently reminded of the commitment I made when I married my husband. I married him "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health." I committed to loving him and his children, even on days I didn't feel like it.

So today I will ask for the Lord's help to show sacrificial love to my stepchildren. It doesn't mean I will like their behavior or agree with their choices, but I will seek to honor the Golden Rule with them: "Do for others what you would like them to do for you" (Matthew 7:12).

I will expect nothing in return but know that God sees my heart and my desire to honor Him.

Does your heart need a check up today? Are there areas that need God's healing hand?  

 Related Posts:

When Love is Not Enough

Creating a Stable Stepfamily: Offer Love and Grace Freely

Healthy Stepparenting: Don't Keep Score

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Everything Happens For A Reason

My post today will be different than usual. I want to share an article my 17-year-old daughter wrote for her English class (with her permission). I'm sharing it to offer encouragement for difficult days.

As the article suggests, we don't always understand why things are happening at the time. What God allows may not make sense. But if we trust His plan and His purpose, we will find peace.

                                              Understanding Why

I believe everything happens for a reason.

Ten years ago Arkansas was not my home. At seven years old, moving away from your best friend felt like the end of the world. I was not concerned about the fact that my step-father’s work was slowly but surely going out of business and he would soon be without a job. No, that meant nothing to me. All I could think about was starting a new school, in a new town, with new people. Over the years I tried to keep in touch with friends from Texas but of course lives change and we all drifted. I always wondered what my life would be like if I had grown up there, if I would be different from the person I am today.

It wasn’t until recently that it all clicked. I understood why God moved us here. Not only was I 300 miles away from my best friend, but I was also 300 miles away from my alcoholic dad. This meant no more staring out that apartment window, hiding the fear of daddy not returning. This meant no more funny smells, no more fighting, no more car wrecks. But this also meant secrets. Secrets about what was going on in Texas as my sister and I grew up in Arkansas sheltered from it all.

Daddy always called from weird numbers at random times. He never told us he was in jail, or in rehab, or in the hospital for fighting. He didn’t admit until after he was off the streets that he had been homeless for two years. We somehow pried it out of mom though. We wanted to know what was going on, why he never kept his promises to visit.

At 17 years old it was scary to see this man for the first time in five years. He wasn’t my daddy anymore, he was a stranger. I felt seven again, telling my sister everything would be okay, as we attempted to snap daddy out of the seizures. I felt helpless again, babysitting the ones that should’ve been babysitting me.

But I believe this all happened for a reason. I believe God was protecting my heart from the pain, disappointment, and fear that I would have lived in everyday. I believe he used my screwed up dad to make me rely on Him as a heavenly father. I believe that man daddy hit, was killed to teach me the consequences of drinking and driving. I believe I have learned to love the people that hurt me the most and forgive, when they mess up once again.

Tragic things will happen in life, without a doubt. So instead of dwelling on them I look for the reason why, for I believe there is always a reason. Lousy circumstances no longer control my outlook on life. They simply flourish the good parts of it.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Conquering Conflict: Make Team Building a Priority

The beauty of intentionally using team building to solve conflict in blended families is that it builds trust. As family members work out conflict as a united team, the members bond with each other. It doesn't happen instantly, but the effects can be seen over time.

Resolving Conflict in the Blended Family, by Tom and Adrienne Frydenger gives the best description I've seen of how a team builder approaches conflict:

"A team builder values other people. He/she believes others have a right to their own opinions.

The team builder accepts people's difference of opinion. He recognizes that those differences are not necessarily right or wrong, but are based on each individual's perception of the conflict.

The team builder wants to involve all conflicting parties in the resolution process.  

Once everyone has expressed his or her initial position, the team builder is willing to cooperate in the process of resolving the conflict.

A team builder recognizes that being trustworthy and being able to trust are necessary for cooperation.

A team builder does not use coercion, manipulation or force to get what he wants, but tries to persuade by discussing all of the information presented rationally.

The team builder will commit to the consensus of the group. "

Team building is a process and it requires effort. But it is the best approach for most circumstances, when conquering conflict in blended families.

Do you use a team approach in conflict situations?

Related posts:

Conquering Conflict in Your Blended Family: Decide to Keep Anger in Check and Use A Team Approach

Conquering Conflict in Your Blended Family: What Style Do You Use Most Frequently?

Conquering Conflict in Your Blended Family:  Using Flexibility


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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Conquering Conflict - Part Six: Decide to Keep Anger in Check and Use a Team Approach for Resolution

"Mom, I have some really bad news about your laptop." It was the first thing my teen-age daughter said to me as I came into her room on Labor Day. "We were using your laptop to make a video last night and my friend left it sitting on the arm of the rocking chair and when the chair rocked, it fell to the floor. When you turn it on, the screen is all messed up."

I took a deep breath as I sought to remain calm.  Why would you leave a laptop sitting on the arm of a rocking chair? My thoughts were reeling as I considered what to say. Her friend was there also and began telling me that she had spoken with her parents already, and they would pay for the damage. "I'm really sorry it happened," she said.

I was thankful for her willingness to take care of the expense but now I faced a writing deadline with an unfinished manuscript I couldn't access. I wanted to lash out at someone for the stupid decision to put an expensive piece of technology on a rocking chair arm, but knew that wouldn't solve my problem. I made a conscious decision to keep my anger in check and left the room.

Conflict happens when we least expect it. Thankfully, I was in good spirits when I learned of my damaged laptop, which prevented me from saying something I would regret later. I was also reminded of a decision I made years ago to will myself from losing control during conflict. I can't say that I've always kept that commitment, but I work hard at it. 

Later, I spoke with my daughter and her friend further. I expressed my disappointment over their poor choice in handling my laptop. I thanked her friend for her willingness to cover the expense and asked for their help in setting up an external monitor to determine how badly the laptop was damaged. I wanted them to be part of the resolution to the problem.

In my next post, I will consider the use of the team approach further and the value of keeping our anger in check when conflict occurs.

Do you need to commit to keeping your anger in check during conflict?

Related posts:

Conquering Conflict in Your Blended Family - Part One: What is Your Style?
Conquering Conflict in Your Blended Family - Part Two: Using Flexibility 
Conquering Conflict in Your Blended Family - Part Three: Letting It Go 
Conquering Conflict in Your Blended Family - Part Four: Get a Grip on Your Pride
Conquering Conflict in Your Blended Family - Part Five: What Style do you Use Most Frequently?

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Conquering Conflict - Part Five: What Style Do You Use Most Frequently?

When the phone rang, I didn't have the emotional energy to deal with another confrontation. My ex-husband was calling and I knew he had been in the hospital from another drug overdose. My daughter had talked to him earlier in the week and filled me in on the details. But, of course, he told her not to tell me. Lying is part of the sickness of addiction.

Avoiding conflict is another style we use in conflict. I had intentionally avoided the conflict that day, knowing I would not handle the situation well at the moment. But I did later call and confront him. My girls don't deserve the emotional pain they go through because of his choices, and once again, I asked him to please get help.

If we avoid conflict at every turn, we don't solve our problems. The timing of  the encounter may be altered if emotions are high, but we must talk about our conflict and how to work through it.

Another style used in conflict is playing the victim role. This happens when one of the parties in conflict gets on his pity pot and sulks about what happened. Instead of trying to get to the bottom of the situation, he points the finger at others involved and never looks at his own part of the conflict. He chooses to feel sorry for himself and gains satisfaction by getting everyone around to feel sorry for him also.

This style magnifies the situation because the sulking person drags others into the conflict with his self-pity and ruminating actions. The conflict is never resolved.

We've looked at several styles used in conquering conflict this past week: peacemaking, dominating, avoiding, and victimizing. Each of these styles uses less than ideal ways to work through conflict (although can be approprate at certain times). In our next post, we will talk about the best way to conquer conflict in blended families.

Have you noticed what style you use? Is it working for you?


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Conquering Conflict - Part Four: Get a Grip On Your Pride

Yesterday, I learned of a fist fight that occurred at school with one of my son's friends. The 10-year-old boy was provoked by another child with teasing remarks, "You can't make me do what you want." Letting his pride get the best of him, my son's friend threw the first punch.

Pride. It can sneak into our demeanor and send us down the road of conflict.  Righteous words. Indignant reactions. Puffed up egos. It's the ugly side of pride.

Pride creates obstacles in stepfamilies, especially with parenting. When one party insists his parenting style is right or he has all the answers to problems that arise, conflict begins.

My husband has told me many times that I like to be right when we have conflict. I like to have the last word. Ugh - I see the pridefulness of that position.

So, I've learned to think about the contrast of being right or being happy. Am I going to insist that my position is right and be miserable because of my prideful stance, or will I let go of my need to be right and enjoy the freedom of considering another person's opinion. I don't do it beautifully every time (as my husband will tell you), but I am aware of my prideful tendencies. Awareness is the first step toward a different behavior.

Where do you find yourself on the pendelum of indignant pride? Are you swinging in the direction of self-righteousness, invoking conflict with every action, or are you choosing to swing toward humility, seeking peace and balance with your words and  behavior? It's a choice.

Do you need to examine the element of pride within yourself? 

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