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Monday, January 31, 2011

Stepfamily Traps - Are You Caught in One of Them?

Sensitive issues in stepfamilies can rise up unexpectedly and bring inner turmoil like a gust of wind. Some issues can be easily resolved with few lingering afteraffects, but other challenges create traps that stepfamilies get hung in and linger on for months if not worked through properly.

So, I want to address common stepfamily traps in the next few posts and solutions for coping with them. I would love to hear from you as to what traps you've overcome or suggestions for the traps we discuss.

Trap #1: Trying to Replace the Biological Parent

When we spend a lot of time with our stepchildren, we may begin to feel we can replace their biological parent. Particularly if our spouse has custody of his children, we bond with our stepchildren through day to day interaction. We may feel that we do a better job parenting their child than their non-custodial parent and try to take over their role.

It usually doesn't take long for a stepchild to let you know if you're overstepping your bounds. Even if the relationship with his/her natural parent is a rocky one, your stepchild is emotionally vested with his parent.

In her book, The Courage to be a Stepmom, Sue Patton Thoele says it best, "The fact is that no matter how wonderful we are, no matter how much we add to our stepchildren's lives, and no matter how much they love us, in most cases, blood is thicker than remarriage."

When we try to replace our stepchildren's parent, we lose. We can't take the place of their biological parent, even if that parent is a loser! The best approach for a stepparent is to be an additional parent.

Our stepchildren can never have too many adults in their lives who are willing to love and accept them unconditionally. As the relationship with our stepchild strengthens, we can move into a parental role but we should never assume we're trying to replace the biological parent.

My girls have a very strong relationship with my husband as their stepdad but he has never tried to replace their dad. During our early years he would say, "I know my role. I'm the stepparent." What he meant was, "I will love and care for them as a parent, but I recognize they have a biological dad."

After fifteen years of marriage, my husband plays an important stepparenting role. He enjoys a stable and loving relationship with my girls -- a result of day by day love and interaction, investing in their lives as a stepparent, mindful of the role their biological dad plays.

"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 stuck in a stepparenting trap? What do you need to do differently to get out? Will you share it with us?

Related Posts:

What Do Your Reactions Say About You? 

Stepparenting Feels Like I'm Running a Marathon

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Respect Goes a Long Way in Stepfamilies

"You're the only person I know who understands this stuff. Thank you for talking to me."  A good friend called this week to bend my ear about a difficult stepfamily stituation. She really wasn't looking for answers; she just needed someone to talk to who understood her frustration with the lack of respect she was receiving. 

Parenting children in a stepfamily home is completely different than parenting in a traditional home. If we try to parent and mold our stepfamily as a nuclear family, it won't work.

One of the biggest challenges is the stepparent relationship. Particularly if the stepchildren are older, they may not be interested in having a stepparent and show disrespect and disobedience to one.

In his book, The Smart Stepfamily, stepfamily authority Ron Deal gives a good illustration of how to teach our stepchildren to honor their stepparent. "A father might suggest to his children, "Honor your stepmother as you would a teacher or an older woman at church. She is not your mom, but she is due the same honor as your principal at school."

"In addition," Ron says, "you might teach your children that God expects children to show respect for all adults. 'Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord' (Leviticus 19:32). God expects people to have a basic respect for older adults. I believe you can teach your children to honor their stepparents just as they would any older adult."

Even if a stepchild doesn't like his stepparent, he can respect him/her. But a stepparent must also be willing to show respect to a stepchild. The stepparent is responsible for setting the standard for the relationship and behaving in a manner worthy of respect.

Stepfamily relationships are often slow to develop. But if we are respectful toward our stepchildren and teach them respect for their stepparent, the relationship has a better chance of a happy ending.

Are you modeling behavior worthy of respect as a stepparent?

Related Posts:

Creating a Stable Stepfamily: Offer Love and Grace Freely

Positive Thinking Brings About Successful Stepparenting

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Parenting From Your Knees

I told my husband this past week that getting our children successfully to adulthood is requiring more effort and time than I envisioned. Several of our children are in the young adult age but show evidence of immaturity and poor choices more often than I want to admit.  

For instance, I received an e-mail this week stating my stepson was in jeopardy of being expelled from his college because of attendance problems at chapel. He attends a private Christian university that requires he attend an hour long chapel service each week. Sometime last semester, he decided he didn't want to go anymore and quit attending.

As my husband spoke with him about it over dinner, my stepson admitted to his nonchalant attitude toward the chapel policy and his negligence in attending. With only a year left to graduate, he doesn't want to be expelled. Thankfully, he committed to doing what the school requires for chapel make-ups and regular attendance in the future.

However, we can't control whether he actually follows the school requirements or not. As a college student living in his own apartment, he makes his own decisions, good and bad. But we can pray daily that he makes wise choices and seeks the Lord diligently.

In her book, Prayer Changes Teens, Janet McHenry says, "No matter how much we love our kids and want to protect them, we cannot control them or their circumstances. But God is in control, and He can take care of our kids far better than we ever could. ... Give control back to God and get back to what you enjoy most - loving your teen." 

As a stepmom who struggles with control issues, that's a good reminder for me. I like to think I can control my children's behavior, but that's grandiose thinking. The sooner I give up control and allow God to be in charge, the greater likelihood of a positive end result.

I'll give you an update on chapel attendance at the end of the semester. But for now, I need to go talk to God.

What are you trying to control? Do you need to parent from your knees more often?

Related Posts:

Let Go and Let God

Making Resolutions that Count

Where to Find Hope on Your Stepfamily Journey

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Making Time for What Matters

     Our greatest fear as individuals and as a church should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” Francis Chan

     I’ve always admired Tony Dungy. As head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, he was the first African American coach to achieve a Super Bowl victory. The 2007 win put him in an elite echelon of only three individuals who have won the Super Bowl as a player and head coach.

     But those accomplishments aren’t what make Coach Dungy stand out from his peers. It’s his passionate desire to walk a path of significance characterized by uncommon attitudes, ambitions, and allegiances. He knows how to distinguish the important from the unimportant and fashion his time after what matters.

     In his book, Uncommon, Finding Your Path to Significance, Coach Dungy says, “We have all missed too many memories and moments in our lives because of poorly ordered priorities. But even so, it’s never too late to set things straight … Start here: ‘Seek first his kingdom.’ (Matthew 6:33). Take a few moments to be quiet and spend time with God. He will lessen your worries about tomorrow and release you from the breathless pace of the world’s urgent priorities.”

     Time spent on what matters most will look different to each of us. But if we aren’t intentional with our time, we find ourselves on the treadmill of busyness, focused on the urgency of the present, instead of the lasting permanence of significant moments.

     Stepparenting is a time-consuming endeavor if we take it seriously. But, I believe it's an important role and one worth making time for. Do you agree?

    How do you spend your time? Are you making time for what matters?

Related Posts:

Making Your Re-Marriage Work: Embrace Flexibility

Setting Boundaries as a Stepparent

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Let Go of the Guilt - Part Two

As a stepparent, do you carry around unnecessary guilt? Do you beat yourself up when you make a mistake or don't have a perfect day with your stepchild?

Guilt is a harmful emotion. It keeps us from enjoying present-day peace and sets us up for self-defeating behavior. Unless the guilt is justified from wrong behavior, it's time to let go of it.

I think that as stepparents we expect too much of ourselves and can never measure up. Then, we feel guilty because our expectation doesn't match reality.

My husband, Randy, and I are both stepparents in our family. I always compared my role as a stepparent to his two kids to his role as a stepparent to my two kids. But, everytime I contrasted the stepfamily relationships, I came up short. Randy's relationships with my children were stronger than my relationships with his. Following my comparison each time came guilt.

What I finally realized was there are completely different dynamics in the relationships. My two girls call my husband Dad and consider him their primary father figure. Their natural father has proved unstable and unpredictable during their years of growing up. Therefore, they've embraced Randy as their stepdad and have a healthy, loving relationship with him.

On the other hand, my stepchildren had an active mother in their lives until she passed away. I sensed that she competed with me in every way, discouraging any kind of relationship with her children.

My stepdaughter went to live with her mother as a young adolescent, creating less of an opportunity for me to bond with her. My stepson also lived with his mother for several years during the period of her terminal illness and death. Since her passing, it's easy to recognize the loyalty conflict he struggles with that prevents him from forming an intimate relationship with me.

So, I finally decided that if I was doing my best to demonstrate unconditional love and acceptance with my stepchildren and continuing to strive toward a healthy, growing relationship, I would not feel guilty over less-than-perfect bonds with them. I realized that my stepchildren and the dynamics in their "other home" also play a role in what kind of relationship I'm allowed to develop with them.

Stepfamily dynamics are different in every home. Some stepfamily relationships form very close bonds and some never get past an acquaintance stage. But if you're doing your part to develop healthy, loving relationships, regardless of what your relationships currently look like, let go of the guilt. It serves no constructive purpose.

What are you feeling guilty about that you need to let go of?

Related Posts:

Let Go of the Guilt - Part One

Take Care of Yourself Spiritually, Physically, and Emotionally

Setting Boundaries as a Stepparent

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Let Go of the Guilt

Five inches of snow fell in Central Arkansas yesterday. We rarely get to experience the fluffy white stuff so our town always enjoys a break from the routine when snow appears. You could find kids on every corner making snowmen, sledding down the biggest hill in town, and sipping hot chocolate around a fire.

I spent the day with the kids in the snow but kept feeling a nagging sensation I needed to be inside working toward my writing deadlines, tackling my to-do list, or checking off completed chores. I finally gave myself permission to enjoy the day, free of guilt, but it required an extra effort of self-talk.

Why do we do that to ourselves? Why do we insist we must be perfect in all our efforts as a mom, stepmom, wife, employee, or volunteer? How do we change those negative messages of guilt that barrage us?

I think we create guilt by comparing ourselves to others. We see a family that appears to have it together all the time and wonder why our family continues to struggle. But what we often forget is that we compare how we feel on the inside what what we see on the outside. Read that statement again. Appearances don't usually match reality.

Another easy way we create guilt is by assuming we must do everything the way the experts tell us.  I read an article recently on how to teach your children about money and as I finished it, I felt guilty. There were many things mentioned that we hadn't done so I assumed we had done a poor job in teaching our older children about money, even though they're managing their money well (most of the time, anyway).  

An important thing to remember is that every family is different. Particularly in stepfamilies, we can't compare how we do things with how another family does it. Our children have influences from outside our home that we can't control. We have to accept their input and the reality of their influence.

My stepson was never taken to church when he stayed at his Mom's house. He lived there for three years during his adolescent years and had very little exposure to a Christian life. As a young adult, he rarely steps foot into a church and seems to have little regard for living for Christ. Although it saddens me, I refuse to feel guilty over it. My husband and I did our best to expose him to Christian principles and teach him how to walk with the Lord daily when he was in our home.

Some guilt can be good and convicts us of how to live. But too often, mothers and stepmothers, carry around unnecessary guilt. We beat ourselves up regularly for less than perfect parenting.

In my next post, I will offer a few more ideas on the subject.

What do you feel guilty about? What will you do to let go of self-defeating guilt?

Related Posts:

Living in Peace While Blending a Family

How Do You Find Balance?

Let Go and Let God


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Thursday, January 6, 2011

God's Timing is Different Than Ours

My stepson and stepdaugther lost their mother more than five years ago after a difficult battle with colon cancer. My stepson was 15 years old at the time and had gone to live with his mom (out of state from us)while she was sick. My stepdaughter was 20 years old and had lived with her for several years.

Following her death, we anticipated moving my stepson, Payton, back to live with us. But he had different ideas. He liked the freedom and lack of accountability he had at his stepdad's house. He didn't want to change schools and resisted every suggestion we made of moving him.

Finally, we gave in and allowed Payton to stay for a few months to grieve with his sister, half-brother and stepdad. What we didn't anticipate, however, was his anger and resentment toward us when we continued to mention the move. We had no idea that his stepdad was plotting to seek legal custody to change his living arrangements permanently.

When the sheriff arrived at our door with custody papers, we were devastated. Why would God allow this process to happen? Why does his stepdad want custody when Payton's biological father is willing and capable of taking care of  him? Isn't is obvious that our home is more stable and secure than the environment Payton is living in?

We firmly believed Payton should have come to live with us immediately following his mother's funeral. But after fervent prayer, we chose not to fight the custody battle and allowed Payton to stay at his stepdad's. It was one of the hardest choices we've made concerning our children. We believed God was in control, but didn't understand the happenings.

Nine months after his mother's death, Payton called his dad to say there was trouble. His stepdad was heavily involved in drugs and he and his sister were currently staying at another relative's home. It was obvious that Payton was scared and unsure of what to do next. My husband gave him no choice at that point other than to come live with us. Payton willingly surrendered and moved in the following week.

The timing of Payton's move was different than what we wanted. But by trusting God's plan, the transition was smooth and uneventful. Payton was thankful to be at our home after several tumultuous months at his stepdad's.  

God's plan is often hard to understand and His timing difficult to manage. But when we choose to plow ahead with our own plans, in our time frame, disaster ensues. There is no better plan than to wait on God's.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
 (Isaiah 55:8,9)   

Are you trusting God's timing in your stepfamily circumstances, even when it doesn't make sense?

Related Posts:

When God Says Wait

Finding the Beauty of God's Grace in Your Stepfamily

Let Go and Let God

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Making Resolutions that Count

Happy New Year! As we begin a new year, it's a great time to reflect on how things are going in our stepfamily life and what areas need attention. I don't make a lot of resolutions because I would rather set short-term attainable goals, but I have made a resolution this year that I know can make a difference in our family: pray daily for my husband and each of our five children.

 It's a simple resolution but an important one. Since three of our five children live outside the home, I don't always know specific struggles going on with them. But I can easily pray for them anyway and lift up concerns that I do know about and other general issues of importance.

I saw a quote on twitter last week (not sure who said it) that I pondered for a while before I decided I agreed with it: "Talk with God about your children more than you talk with your children about God." I'm a firm believer in talking to our children about God, but particularly since our children are older, I have less opportunity and see the value of vigilant prayer about them.

That doesn't mean I neglect the opportunities to talk with them about God; it means I understand the importance of constant prayer. As I pray for them, it could open up more doors to communicate with them.  (BTW, if you're on twitter, connect with me @GaylaGrace).

Prayer is a powerful discipline that we often neglect. We're too busy finding answers to our problems instead of taking our problems to the Answer.

What resolutions have you made this year? Will you share them with us?

Related Post:

Let Go and Let God

Holiday Tip: Live by Faith, not  Fear

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