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Thursday, December 29, 2011

2012 - Making it Your Best Year Yet

"We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day." -Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Do you make New Year's Resolutions? I usually make several but I can't say I'm all that good at keeping them.

So this year, I'm making only two and I'm writing them down so I can refer to them and see how I'm doing. 

My first resolution applies to my walk with the Lord. I want to seek obedience to God's call in every area of my life as I strive for a more commited walk. However, I must consider that success of my actions is determined by whether I'm obedient to God's request of me, not the end result of my efforts.

For example, if I believe God is calling me to strive for a stronger relationship with my stepchild, I will take small steps every day to show unconditional love and acceptance toward him/her. I will pray for my stepchild to soften his/her heart toward me and accept me as an additional parent in his/her life.

But, I won't weigh the success of my efforts on the reaction of my stepchild. My personal experience reminds me that sometimes my efforts don't matter because my stepchild is in too much pain or confusion to accept my gestures. But that doesn't mean my efforts are futile.

Although my stepson couldn't accept my attempts toward a loving relationship with him during his adolescent years, he now appreciates the efforts I made, and accepts me as an additional parent who loves and cares about him as a 21-year-old young adult.

My second resolution for 2012 is to banish negativity from my thoughts and behavior. 2011 was a difficult year for our family and I fell into a trap of negative thinking in more areas than I want to admit. I allowed my negative thinking to influence my behavior, manifested in selfish actions as a result of our out-of-state move.

I focused on my loneliness and feelings of displacement, instead of God's provision and guidance after my husband lost his job. I became entangled in a web of self-pity as I questioned God repeatedly on why He moved us four hours away from our three children back in college, instead of simply accepting God's plan and allowing Him to guide me through the difficult days. 

Negative thinking becomes a powerful motivator when we allow it to control us. I've seen it destroy stepfamily relationships when a stepparent focuses on the negative behavior of his/her stepchild instead of the positive potential that can be created through a loving relationship. I've seen step-couples allow negative thinking to tear down marital bonds when they give up on peaceful communication, instead of creating positive ideas toward harmony.

But it doesn't have to be that way. We can strive to banish negativity from our everyday thoughts and behavior. The choice is ours.

Simple resolutions with a powerful punch. That's what I'm striving for in the upcoming year. I think I'll start today.

What about you? Will you share your resolutions with us? I'd love to hear them!

Related Posts:

Making Resolutions that Count

New Beginnings

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Are You Celebrating the Beauty of Family this Holiday- Even if Yours is Imperfect?

I was on the phone this week with stepfamily author, Ron Deal. We were chatting about his upcoming move to assume a new position with FamilyLife as the Director of Blended Families Ministries. (Read press release here). I could hear his excitement of continuing his ministy with stepfamilies in a larger fashion through such a great organization.

But I could also hear his grief when he mentioned the upcoming anniversary of the loss of their son, Connor. Connor was 12  years old when he came down with a rare illness that took his life within two weeks of its onset. He was the middle child of three boys and his family will never be the same. It's a parents worst nightmare that leaves unfathomable pain in its wake.

Although the loss of a child may be the greatest loss anyone could experience, each member of a stepfamily has experienced loss too. Through death or divorce, relationships end and pain remains. But through healthy stepfamily relationships, family members can begin to heal and find joy in life again.

Although it may take longer than we desire, beautiful relationships can form if we don't give up. And our family becomes something to celebrate, even if it's imperfect.

So as you celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas this week-end, I encourage you to celebrate the beauty of family also. Although your stepfamily relationships may not be where you wish they were, celebrate the progress you've made. Commit to stronger relationships through intentional effort as you look toward a new year.

Life is short. We don't know what's around the corner that could alter our family dynamics forever. But we do know what our relationships look like today and can choose to celebrate the beauty of our family.

How will you celebrate the unique beauty of your stepfamily as you celebrate the holidays?

Related Posts:

Your Holiday Doesn't Have to be Perfect to be Meaningful

Stinkin' Thinkin' Creates Bitter Quitters in Stepfamilies

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Mantra for Stepparents: Don't Take it Personally

As we head into the last week of the Christmas holiday, life gets dicey. Emotions are heightened as we try to find the perfect gift for our stepchild or negotiate that last-minute schedule change with our ex.

And if we, as stepparents, are carrying emotions too closely to our heart, we can easily take flippant comments and haphazard looks personally.

But that's a recipe for disaster.

When my stepdaughter was younger, I was overly sensitive to everything she said to me. One day we were talking about how she liked her mom to French-braid her hair and she said, “Why can’t you French-braid my hair? I think it’s weird that you don’t know how.”

Well, that was enough to hurt my feelings. I couldn’t recognize the fact that she wanted me to be more involved in her life and this was something we could do together. Instead, I took it as a personal attack.

The stepmom role is a complicated one but sometimes we make it harder because of our insecurities. We think we’ll never measure up to their biological mom and we compete with her and compare ourselves constantly, always coming up short.

If we learn to spend more time improving upon who we are already, we’ll be a better stepparent. And if our stepchild can’t accept us that way, that’s okay. God created each of us as a unique person.

We might be criticized for being someone different than our stepchild understands. Perhaps she can’t accept our short hair because her mom wears her hair long. Or maybe our stepchild doesn’t understand why we work from home when her mom leaves the house every day at 6:00 a.m. for a corporate job.

But, if we’re secure in who we are, it won’t bother us when our stepchild questions our choices. Our natural reaction becomes: I won’t take that comment personally or get defensive. I will accept her thoughts as her own, even if they’re different from mine.

Stepfamily authority Ron L. Deal says it best in his book, The Smart Stepfamily: “Stepparents cannot afford to be insecure. Stepfamilies were not made for the emotionally fragile.”

It’s easy to be overly sensitive to our stepchildren’s comments, particularly through the holidays. But as we become more confident and at peace with ourselves, we’re better equipped to foster a healthy stepparenting relationship, allowing critical or judgmental comments to slide right past us.

Will you adopt the holiday mantra: don't take it personally? How might that influence your step-relationships?

Related Posts:

Seven Tips for Finding Balance in the Midst of Holiday Chaos

What is our Role as a Stepparent?

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Offering the Gift of Prayer

Our three college children have been taking semester finals last week and this week. I've been praying for them diligently as I remember how overwhelming final exams can be.

As I was finishing my Christmas shopping this week, I ran across a merchant inside the mall who was selling hand-made gifts from Bethlehem. It was intriguing to look at the beautiful hand-carved pieces. When I spotted one of praying hands, I knew immediately I would purchase it. And not only did I purchase one, I purchased six of them.

My idea is to place one of the praying hands inside each of our children's stockings and my husband's stocking. I want each of them to keep it as a reminder that I will be praying for them daily in the upcoming year and if they have a specific need, they can always ask me to pray about it.

Four of our children are young adults, ages 18 - 26, and are making life-changing decisions at this juncture. I'm vividly aware of the mistake I made at 23 years old when I married a man that was a complete mistake, ending in divorce after years of heartache and pain. My hope is that none of our children make a dreadful decision like mine.

So I'm offering the gift of prayer to my family this year. It may not seem like a big gift and I know some of our children will appreciate the gift more than others, but it's a gift I feel is important.

What do you think? Will you consider offering the gift of prayer for your family?

Related Posts:

Prayer Changes Relationships

Parenting From Your Knees

Commit to the Lord

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Coping with Difficult Emotions Through the Holidays

If you've stopped by from Tricia Goyer's blog today: Welcome!

Today's post is an excerpt from our e-book, Thriving at the Holidays: A Stepparent's Guide to Success - Unwrapping the Gift of Peace 

"My stepson and stepdaughter lost their mother after a short battle with cancer several years after my husband and I married. Because of their loss, the holidays have never been the same for them. She died in August and naturally the first Christmas season was very difficult. But I didn't anticipate how difficult every holiday after that would be also.

I'll never forget the second season after thier mother's death. My adolescent children were having a wonderful time decorating the tree, singing Christmas carols, and reminiscing of Christmas' past. Without warning, my stepson abruptly uttered some angry words and retreated to his room. His sour mood dampened the atmosphere for the girls - momentarily for all of us!

Difficult emotions present themselves with every holiday season. And in blended families, complicated circumstances compound them. But we can make a choice to refuse to let them consume us.

It's vital that we allow ourselves to "feel" our feelings. That means we don't stuff them, we don't deny them, we don't avoid them through busyness, and we don't compensate for them by overeating, drinking, or using any sort of sedative. Feelings eventually pass if we give ourselves permission to "feel" them.

Seek out support during stressful periods. Talk with a friend, a pastor, or another stepparent as you process your feelings. Relay your concerns to your spouse and ask for his/her support on hard days. You don't have to walk the stepparenting journey alone - a comforting friend or a godly prayer partner may offer the support you need to get through a difficult day."

Read more on coping with difficult emotions when you purchase our e-book here.

Are you struggling with difficult emotions right now? How do you cope with them? Will you share with us in the comments?

Related Posts:

Overcoming Difficult Feelings as a Stepparent

Your Holiday Doesn't Have to be Perfect to be Meaningful

Coping with Stepfamily Drama

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Immanuel - God is With Us

One of my favorite Christmas carols is "Immanuel." As we sang it in church this past week-end, I thought about the words to the chorus:

                                Immanuel our God is with us
                And if God is with us who can stand against us
                                     Our God is with us

In the madness of the holiday season, it's easy to forget God is with us. As we frantically seek to meet every obligation, we begin to think only of ourselves and how to survive the craziness. But Immanuel still wants to be part of our lives as we search for the perfect gift for our stepchild, attend our child's Christmas program, or negotiate the visitation schedule with our ex-spouse.

If we remember to include God in our interactions with others, He will "stand against us" as the song says. He will fight for what we want and work on our behalf to meet our needs in the midst of challenging circumstances.

But if we try to do everything in our own strength, we will make self-centered decisions, we will have brash interactions with others, and we will run out of energy before our tasks are accomplished. 

So the choice is ours. Will we make it a priority to include God in our holiday schedule or will we choose to walk our own path and miss the blessing God offers when we choose to walk with Him?

I encourage you to listen to the entire song of Immanuel here. It's words will speak meaning to an empty heart or a burdened soul.

"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel - which means, "God with us." (Matthew 1:23)

What choice will you make? Will you share how you make it a priority to include God in your everyday schedule despite the distractions of the season?

Related Posts:

Holiday Tip: Live by Faith, Not Fear

Prayer Changes Relationships

Keep Christ in Christmas
*"Immanuel" is written and sung by Michael Card



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Friday, December 2, 2011

If It's Not Working, Do Something Different

Have you ever become so stuck in your way of doing things that you can't realize there's a better way? Do you insist on doing things the way they've always been done?

Could it be time for a change at your house?

From our Thriving at the Holidays:A Stepparent's Guide to Success e-book:

"From my early years, I had wonderful childhood memories of my parents and three sisters picking out a tree together and decorating it while engaged in lively conversation, enjoying Christmas music in the background. I was determined to carry out that blissful tradition with our blended family. But I soon discovered ... that wasn't possible.

Every year, my husband and I would gather our four children together and hit the streets for the best looking tree we could find within our budget. But every year we ended the evening with grumpy kids who were fighting over what tree looked the best. And we noticed the kids were competing with each other over what sized tree they had at their other parent's home, creating further tension and division among themselves.

So, after several years, my husband and I finally decided to forego the stress-filled tree-shopping excursion and buy an artificial tree.

It was sad for me at first to admit that our family couldn't enjoy the same blissful tree-shopping experience my family of origin had. I wanted our family traditions to be a way of uniting our family, though, and I knew this tradition wasn't working for us. I soon discovered that the new tradition of retrieving the artificial tree from the attic, putting its branches in place, carefully arranging each string of lights and actually enjoying our time together was worth the change."

What about your traditions? Are they working for you or do you need to consider a change?

Related Posts:

Holiday Tip: Live by Faith, Not Fear

Coping with Change

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