"When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done." Count Your Blessings by Johnson Oatman
I used to sing this hymn to my two babies after my divorce, when I was learning how to parent alone. Life was hard and I didn't know what was around the corner, but I refused to allow my circumstances to keep me from recognizing God's blessings in my life.
My girls are now 18 and 21 years old but they remember me singing this old hymn as I rocked them to sleep, and are familiar with its special meaning to me.
I still count my blessings every day. Today I'm thankful for the opportunity I had to counsel my 25-year-old stepdaughter about a difficult circumstance at work. I'm thankful my college-age student dropped by to say hello and share what's happening in her life this week. I'm thankful I was able to stay home with my 10-year-old son yesterday when he woke up with 101 fever and a horrible-sounding cough.
But I'm especially thankful this week for a new job God has provided for my husband. If you read my blog often, you will remember my recent post on The Valley of the Unknown. Thankfully, we didn't have to wander long in the valley of unemployment. My husband secured a new job last week and is excited to begin his new journey April 4th.
However, the job is in another state, forcing us to quickly begin the relocation process. My husband will go before us to begin employment while the kids and I stay behind to sell the house, finish the school year, etc. It creates a stressful situation, but one in which I will remember to count my blessings.
We're thankful for the new location because it lands us closer to our home state of Texas, where our oldest daughter resides in addition to a great deal of extended family. As we move from Arkansas to Louisiana, we leave three kids behind to finish college, but we're thankful we can see them within a four hour car ride. It will be a significant change for all of us, but we know God is in control and trust His guidance, while we count our blessings.
Life presents challenging circumstances almost every day. As a stepparent, it's easy to lose sight of the good things happening around us because we're consumed with the negative. But if we remember to count our blessings, we will see God's goodness in the midst of difficulty.
My daughter just returned from a cross country Spring Break trip with six other girls who go to college together. Toward the end of the week, the girls started having conflict and one girl began manipulating the others with rude comments to get her way. Unfortunately, the girls allowed her selfish behavior to dictate what they would do instead of confronting her.
As I talked with my daughter about confronting her friend, she said, "She'll just get mad and won't listen." That may be true, but if a friendship can continue with this young lady, the other girls must express their feelings about her behavior and how her interaction is harming their relationships.
While reading an article at http://www.beingastepparent.co.uk/, I came across a statement I completely agree with. "Some family problems remain unsettled for years because no one speaks up, but by doing this, family members deny themselves the chance to develop and maintain close, loving bonds with those nearest to them."
In other words, if we don't address the problems we're having with other members of our stepfamily, we will never be able to develop a loving relationship with them. Anger, bitterness, and resentment are the result of pushing our feelings under the carpet or using the silent treatment toward others, instead of addressing those who've hurt us.
The longer we wait to resolve the conflict, the harder it gets. But if we choose to lovingly approach the person with "I" statements of how the interaction made us feel (as opposed to "you" statements that singularly point the finger at the other person), we can begin to resolve the issue at hand. It's not easy and it requires concentrated effort toward healthy communication, but the end result allows the relationship to positively move ahead.
During my stepson's adolescent years, he used aggressive anger toward me to control my parenting responses. Until I confronted his hurtful behavior (with my husband at my side), his angry speech manipulated my reactions as I cowered at his remarks.
When we began enforcing consequences for his angry outbursts and disrespect, he started changing his behavior toward me. It didn't happen instantly and it required a great deal of prayer on my part to love him despite his anger toward me, but I knew that time and patience were on my side.
Ignoring conflict doesn't make it go away. In the heat of the moment, it may be necessary to take a break from volatile emotions and come back later to address it. Or you might need to find your spouse for support if the conflict involves a stepchild. But don't bury your head and hope the conflict will take care of itself, because it won't.
Do you have unresolved conflict in your stepfamily that needs to be addressed?
"Mom, listen to this text," my 18-year-old daughter, Jodi, said early yesterday morning. "My friend, Jacob Mulberry was killed in a tragic accident last night. His brother, Keith is seriously injured. There were two others in the truck - not sure of their conditions."
The text was from a friend of hers about two brothers they go to school with. Jodi read other details about the wreck in shock, not believing that a boy she just saw in class is now dead. She learned later that the brother, Keith, also died later that evening.
Coping with loss is never easy. I can't imagine how this family will deal with the loss of their two sons. Their lives will never be the same.
The loss experienced in a stepfamily is not the same as an unexpected vehicle fatality, but the losses our stepchildren encounter as a result of death or divorce is significant. And when we don't acknowledge their loss or minimize their feelings, it hinders their ability to work through their feelings and adjust to stepfamily life.
So, how do we help our stepchildren with their loss? First, we allow them to talk about their other parent when they're in our home. We might ask if they want to have pictures of their parent in their room, or other items that help them feel comfortable. We don't compete with the other parent or try to replace that parent for our stepchildren.
It also helps to remember that loyalty conflict is a result of the loss our stepchildren feel. My husband and I had been married more than 10 years when my stepchildren lost their mother to cancer. I had a good relationship with my stepchildren but after her loss, my stepson became very distant for awhile. He struggled with how to integrate his grief over his mother's death with his feelings toward me. As he worked through his grief with a counselor and allowed time to heal his hurt, he was able to come back to a relationship with me.
Loss can affect everyday temperament, causing mood swings and emotional outbursts. Some children naturally handle emotions better than others, but if your stepchild shows unstable emotions regularly, it might be time to consider professional help.
Stepfamilies are born of loss. Especially in the early years of marriage, it's likely that stepchildren will struggle with a confusing set of emotions because of loss. Be sensitive and compassionate toward them, encouraging them to talk through their feelings while helping them process their loss. Don't be reluctant to seek professional help if necessary.
Are you sensitive toward the loss your stepchildren feel?
My daughter shared this beautiful song with me recently - "Blessings" by Laura Story. I was having a hard day and was stressing over how we were going to survive the long days of unemployment that were upon us after my husband's job ended.
Tears began streaming down my face as I listened to the words of the chorus:
"What if Your blessings come through raindrops? What if Your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near? What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?"
Laura Story wrote this song after her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor and after multiple surgeries, didn't get the healing he had hoped for. They began to question whether they had an accurate picture of God's mercy.
As the song says, "We pray for blessings, we pray for peace, comfort for family, protection while we sleep. We pray for healing, for prosperity.We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering. All the while, You hear each spoken need, yet love us way too much to give us lesser things."
We want our life to be comfortable, prosperous and easy. But God is more interested in the journey than the ending. He develops and matures our character through hopeless circumstances. But we have to choose to draw close to Him as we travel our challenging path.
The stepfamily journey has difficult days and sleepless nights. Defiant teen-agers, belligerent ex-spouses, confusing emotions and shattered dreams contribute to hopeless days. We search for God and beg for His mercies. But as the song suggests, perhaps our blessing comes as we seek His face for comfort, compassion, and answers during our trials.
Will you consider that God could be showing His mercy through unexpected ways?
I have a dear friend who had a gut feeling that her stepchild was being mistreated by his mother's boyfriend. Her stepson had made several comments about happenings at his mom's house that were concerning. So, she and her husband hired a private investigator to find out about the mom's boyfriend.
The results were alarming. The PI uncovered several assault charges, a DUI charge, and other charges that had been filed within the previous six-month period on the boyfriend. It was enough evidence that my friend and her husband chose to seek custody of the 10-year-old boy. I think it was a wise choice.
The court hearing resulted in temporary custody for the dad and stepmom for four months while all parties participate in counseling and after that point, it will be determined where they boy should reside long-term. Although my friend has a new baby and custody of her stepson will disrupt her entire household, she has chosen the high road of doing what's right for her stepson.
I applaud stepparents who selflessly choose to care for their stepchildren, even when it inconveniences their lives. As a stepparent, we might enter marriage with part-time custody of our stepchildren and prefer the arrangement remain that way. But stepfamily life tends to take twisted turns when we least expect them.
Stepmothers, in particular, have a natural bent toward nurturing that allows us to recognize when things aren't quite right with our stepchildren. I believe it's our responsibility to act on those gut feelings and get to the bottom of what we're concerned about. Our stepchildren deserve to be raised in a stable, healthy home and if they are being mistreated or neglected in their custodial home, we must take action to change their environment.
When we marry our spouse and choose to take on the responsibilites of a stepparent, we say, "I do -- for better or for worse." There are many times on the stepparenting journey that the circumstances get worse before they get better.
Assuming custody of stepchildren who have previously lived in another home is never easy. But it's not right to allow our stepchildren to remain in a home that we know is not best for them. It may be that temporary custody is all that's needed to change the other home, but it won't happen until we step out with faith and courage.
Are your stepchildren at risk in their custodial home? Is it time to do something different about custody arrangements?
"Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed." (Proverbs 16:3)
My mom told me once that kids usually figure things out eventually and get on the right path, even if they stray for awhile during their teen-age and young adult years. I was fretting over some choices one of my stepchildren had made and her positive comments were encouraging.
I believe this is true, especially if we raise our children by God's word and surround them with prayer. If we commit our parenting endeavors to the Lord, His Word promises that we will succeed.
My youngest daughter turned 18 years old this week-end. She has been a joy to parent and I'm continually thankful for her compliant nature. When she leaves for college in the Fall, we will have only one child left at home of our five children. It's hard to accept that a big part of my parenting season is coming to a close.
But I will continue to commit our children to the Lord. I pray for them daily by name and specifically pray that our older children make wise choices. I pray that I will continue to have the opportunity to guide them through the confusion and anxiety that often accompanies young adulthood. And I ask for wisdom in my stepparenting role as I continue to grow and nurture the relationships with my stepchildren.
I don't think our parenting and stepparenting roles ever end. But there does come a time when we don't have the same influence with our children that we have during their younger years. If you're in an active parenting/stepparenting role, I encourage you to commit your endeavors to the Lord. You'll be glad you did as you see the fruits of your labor during their young adult years.
Angry. Humiliated. Disgruntled. I left our church choir rehearsal with a flood of emotions circulating through my mind. As a piano accompanist, I had been belittled in front of the choir. It wasn't the first time it had happened but I vowed it would be the last.
I knew it was time to confront the person in charge who touted his musical knowledge in a fashion that humiliated those who worked for him. A peacemaker by nature, I don't like conflict. But I've learned there are times we must confront those in our path who are mistreating us.
That doesn't mean we recreate the conflict or nitpick issues that should be overlooked. As a stepparent, we can recognize the losses our stepchildren carry, and allow grace for their troubled emotions. As my post, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff talks about, we want to pick our battles. But it's important to realize that even as Christians, we do not have to allow others to mistreat or take advantage of us.
In their book, Peacemaking Women, Tara Barthel and Judy Dabler talk about the need to confront. "As difficult as it is, sometimes we are called to go humbly to the people who have wronged us in order to help them to understand better how they have contributed to our conflicts. Of course, when appropriate, we should be quick to overlook (Prov 19:11), and we must always first confess our own sins (Matt 7:5). But if after we have confessed our own sins we cannot overlook the offense, we are called to help the person who has offended us by gently restoring her (Gal 6:1) and helping her remove the speck from her eye (Matt 7:5).
I like the way these ladies describe our responsbility in the conflict - try to overlook and confess our own sin first if that's part of the conflict. Then, if we cannot overlook the offense, humbly confront. The Scripture they give offers additional understanding of the Biblical view on conflict.
In my conflict mentioned above, the choir director and I reached an amicable agreement in how he would treat me at rehearsal. It took courage on my part to confront his actions, but the result was worth the effort.
I pray you're not dealing with difficult people today. But if you are, I encourage you to seek a Biblical solution to the conflict by overlooking the offense when you can, and confronting in love when you can't.
Are you allowing a difficult person to badger or bully you?
My husband, Randy, and I participated in the Little Rock Marathon events this week-end. Randy ran the full marathon, posting a faster time than his previous four marathon events. (I ran the half marathon). Pictured on the left is my husband with his HUGE medal and a friend he ran with part of the way.
On our way home from LR, we began to talk about how he improved his time this year. Many of his training methods relate to similar strategies we can use as stepparents.
1. If it isn't working, try something different. Randy had struggled with leg cramps toward the end of each previous marathon race. This time, he sought help from a specialty running store and used some magnesium tablets that seem to have prevented the cramps, allowing him to decrease his walk breaks at the end of the race.
If you're struggling in a particular area of our stepparenting role and don't know a solution, it may be time to seek help. Find a pastor, trusted friend or counselor who is familiar with stepfamily dynamics to confide in and seek advice.
2. Be willing to invest a lot of time. Preparing to run 26.2 miles in a marathon is a big deal. The training schedule involves 18-22 weeks of strenuous running, along with other cross training workouts. Attempting to run a marathon without the training leads to failure.
Successful stepparenting also involves a lot of time. Stepping into your stepchild's life and expecting an instant relationship only leads to disappointment. Be willing to spend time getting to know your stepchild, understanding his likes/dislikes, and finding common ground on which to build a relationship.
3. Expect setbacks along the way. Long distance training often leads to injury. The workouts are hard and your body begins to break down. An unexpected weakness shows up through a muscle strain, bone fracture, or ligament tear. With adequate rest and therapy, injuries heal and the training can begin again.
Stepparents can also expect setbacks. A difficult ex-spouse, rebellious teen-ager, or unexpected conflict can lead to setback. It may take months or years to work through a difficult phase, but progress can always begin again if you don't give up.
4. The biggest prize comes at the end but there are rewards along the journey. The medal earned for completing a marathon is placed around the runner's neck as he crosses the finish line. However, a sense of pride and satisfaction is enjoyed throughout the training period as a runner sets and reaches goals he never dreamed possible.
The greatest reward for successful stepparenting is experienced as stepchildren leave home, appreciative of strong relationships they share with one another. However, stepparenting also has rewards throughout the journey as bonding occurs and love for one another develops.
Successful stepparenting, like marathon training, has rewards worth seeking. But the journey to the finish line can also be cherished.
What steps have led to success on your stepparenting journey?
What's stressing you today? Have the little things of life become big things because you're having trouble letting go? Is your stepchild relationship experiencing a small leak that's about to lead to a blowout?
How we react to what happens around us determines a hostile or peaceful outcome. If my stepson shoots a glaring look my way, I can choose to ignore it or I can let it ruin my day. If my stepdaughter challenges my thinking on something I believe in, I can spout off a defensive remark or I can stand firm in my position while shrugging my shoulders.
There are a multitude of things that happen every day in our stepfamily relationships that are not worth getting stressed about. When we identify which battles we want to fight, and leave the rest alone, we find more serentiy for our journey.
My good friend and stepfamily authority, Ron L. Deal, says his whole perspective on life changed after he lost his son from a brief illness. He says he doesn't stress anymore about a spilled drink in the living room or whether every paper gets put in the recycling bin. Life is simply too short to spend our days bothered over trivial matters.
In his book, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff... and it's all small stuff, Dr. Richard Carlson says he plays a game with himself called the "time warp." He says, "I made it up in response to my consistent, erroneous belief that what I was all worked up about was really important. To play "time warp," all you have to do is imagine that whatever circumstance you are dealing with isn't happening right now but a year from now. Then simply ask yourself, 'Is this situation really as important as I'm making it out to be? Will this matter a year from now?' Once in a great while it may be -- but a vast majority of the time, it simply isn't."
So, next time your stepchild leaves his laundry in the washing machine and goes to school, leaving it for you to finish, remind yourself that it won't matter a year from now. That doesn't mean you don't address the issue when he comes in from school and seek to correct it from happening again, but it does mean you choose not to stew over it the rest of the day.
Are you sweating the small stuff in your stepfamily relationships?
I love the first day of a new month. I can look at what happened last month and celebrate the highs. I can also recount the lows and commit to a better month from the beginning.
For those of us living in the South, March marks the end of Winter and beginning of Spring. This morning my 10-year-old son rode his bike to school in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. The promise of nicer weather lifts my spirits while I tackle the challenges of life.
As I recount the previous month, I focus on what I did right in my stepparenting relationships and what I need to do differently. I'm thankful as I reflect on an incident with my stepson that I handled better than usual.
This past Sunday, my stepson spent the afternoon with us. He was complaining to his Dad and me about several relationship issues he's struggling with. I quickly identified what I felt the problem was and wanted to blurt out his faults and how he's contributing to the issues. Instead, I kept my mouth shut and began to pray for my husband as he counseled his son. I know that my husband has much more influence with him than I do. And although he might not make the same suggestions I would, he has a good understanding of his son and how to help him.
Stepparenting requires us to discern when to talk and when to keep our mouth shut. More often than not, we need to voice our opinion in a private discussion with our spouse, and let him/her address the issue with his/her child. The blood bond that the biological parent shares with his child allows him a greater chance of success in correcting behavior without alienating the child than the stepparent.
It's also important to pray for our spouse, and pray specifically for wisdom, on the parenting journey. I love the reminder in James that says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5).
I'm thankful today for a new month. I pray it offers you a new beginning in your challenges.
Do you need to focus on a n fresh start in your stepfamily relationships?