Archive for the 'conflict' Category

Tips for a Peaceful Stepfamily Vacation

March marks the beginning of Spring which includes a Spring Break vacation for many families. Throwing family members together for an extended period of time can wreak havoc on even the most stable family. For a fragile stepfamily, it can be a recipe for disaster.vacation

So if you’re headed out for an adventure with your stepfamily, take along a few tools to keep peace. Here are some tips to consider:

1.  Ask your stepchildren for help in the planning stage.

Gather ideas and brainstorm options at a family meeting to gain participation from everyone.  Kids feel included and assume a better attitude about a vacation when they get to offer their ideas. While relationships are bonding in the early years of your stepfamily, make plans for shorter trips to prevent tension-filled days as a result of too much togetherness.

2. Make the trip fun and spontaneous by breaking a few house rules.

Bring along your sense of humor and allow the kids special privileges they don’t get at home. On our first cruise, our youngest son spotted the self-serve ice cream machine the first day. In the beginning, we limited the number of times our kids could have ice cream and it was only allowed after noon. But by the last day of the cruise, the ice cream rule evolved to ice cream at breakfast and other times throughout the day. The kids knew it was a special treat that would change when we returned home, but they fondly recall running to the ice cream machine together as one of the highlights of the cruise.

3. Be mindful of the kids.

A stepfamily vacation isn’t the time to insist on quality moments with your partner–that can happen on a separate trip with just the two of you. For a successful stepfamily vacation, assume a mindset of creating lasting bonds and memories. Seek to make it a special time for the kids. Even if they don’t acknowledge your efforts now, they will remember the time and energy you spent on family vacations when they get older.

4. Build in down time to rest and recuperate and maintain a flexible spirit.

 Stepfamily vacations don’t always feel relaxing, especially in the early years. Make an extra effort to find activities that promote rest and leisure without a jam-filled schedule. Sit outside and enjoy the sunset or catch the fireflies on a lazy evening. Be willing to change your schedule if plans don’t go as anticipated. Memories are created as family members spend time together doing activities they enjoy, whether simple or elaborate.

5. Keep a positive attitude and expect a few bumps along the way.

Unlikely happenings occur on vacation.  On a cross-country trip several years ago, I watched in horror as a large concrete truck backed into our Suburban, smashing the driver’s window and denting in the driver’s door before coming to a halt. I remember the screaming and sheer panic I felt as I watched the truck ram our vehicle. It screeched to a halt before injuring anyone, but our vacation spirits were dampened as we recovered from the frenzy and repaired our car enough to proceed. We drove the entire week with plastic rattling from the window in an attempt to silence the wind. We laugh with our kids about the disaster of that trip now, but my husband and I had to work hard to keep the tragic beginning from ruining our trip.

Be reasonable with your expectations, particularly in the early years of your stepfamily. Stepparents lose their patience, cars break down, step-siblings argue, kids get sick. Unrealistic assumptions create a sense of failure when plans go awry.

Stepfamily vacations play an important role in creating family identity and a sense of belonging with stepchildren. As relationships bond, it’s easier to spend extended time together. Don’t give up on a peaceful vacation, even if you experience tension-filled days.  Try again next year and the year after that. The memories you’re creating with your stepfamily are meaningful, even if they’re not perfect!

What tips would you add for a peaceful stepfamily vacation?

Related Posts:

As a Stepfamily, You Can Expect Challenges

Stinkin’ Thinkin’ Creates Bitter Quitters in Stepfamilies

The Effects of Patience in Blended Families

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How to Cope with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

I’m addressing a question today I received from a reader. How do you cope as a stepmom when you’re dealing with a biological mom who is belittling to you and doesn’t want you in her children’s lives?

angry catThe stepmom role becomes harder when the bio mom makes every effort to exclude you from her children’s lives and unfortunately, it’s not uncommon, particularly in the beginning. It helps to understand that at the root of this issue lies the fear that the bio mom feels the children are going to bond with the you – the stepmom, and form a deeper relationship with you than they have with her.

It’s an unfounded fear because children almost always have a stronger relationship with their biological parents than they have with a stepparent, but she is reacting out of her own fear and communicating to her children that she wants their loyalty. Women are territorial when it comes to their children. If you have children of your own, you understand these feelings, but it doesn’t give the bio mom the right to act belittling or antagonistic  toward the stepmom.

To help alleviate the threat the bio mom is sensing, the stepmom needs to send a message that she has no intention of interfering with the relationship between the bio mom and her children and isn’t trying to replace her in any way. In their book, The Smart Stepmom, Laura Petherbridge and Ron Deal give an example of how to communicate this message which they call “The No-Threat Message.” They suggest doing it in person or via e-mail if the relationship is already strained.

“Dear Meghan, since we are both involved with your kids, I wanted to take a minute to communicate with you. I want to share that I totally understand and respect that you are the only mother of these children. I’m not their mom, and I will never try to take your place. They are your children. I am honored to be an added parent figure in their lives. I view my role as one of support to their father, and my desire is to be a blessing to them. I promise to speak well of you and work together for their benefit. I desire to make their lives easier, not more difficult. Please know that I pray for the entire family. If there’s anything I can do to help the situation or if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.”

Sending the no-threat message doesn’t guarantee the bio mom will accept your position in her children’s lives but it offers her some perspective on how you feel about your role. She is more likely to allow a relationship between you and her children if she doesn’t feel threatened by your behavior and sees you live out the No-threat message.

Unfortunately, some bio moms are mean-spirited and vindictive. In this case, there’s not a lot the stepmom can do to have an amicable relationship. For further insight, I suggest reading the chapter from The Smart Stepmom, “Meet Your Ex-Wife-in-Law: Friend or Foe.” It gives additional scenarios of how to cope with a difficult ex-spouse.

What suggestions would you give this reader? I’d love to hear them.

Related Posts:

Co-Parenting with a Difficult Ex-Spouse

Creating Healthy Boundaries with Your Ex-Spouse

Recognizing the Need for Boundaries

Ten Ways to Strengthen Your Stepfamily Relationships

It’s easy to think we must be perfect in our stepfamily interactions and make huge steps every day to strengthen our relationships. But that isn’t true.

Small steps on a regular basis can result in huge dividends with your stepfamily.

steps

Here are ten easy ways to show every day love and harbor positive relationships in your stepfamily:

1) Offer grace freely and often.

2) Think positive thoughts about your stepchildren; if a negative thought pops up – replace it.

3) Say at least one nice thing to each person in your stepfamily daily or as often as you see them.

4) Live “one day at a time” and enjoy the present moment – don’t project into the future.

5) Take care of yourself: emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually.

6) Strive to keep a thankful spirit.

7) Nurture your marriage with sweet gestures, alone time, and date nights.

8) Send thoughtful text messages when your stepchildren are away.

9) Deal with conflict when it occurs in a healthy context – don’t stuff it, don’t ignore it, don’t exaggerate it.

10) Pray for each member of your family daily.

Other ideas? What suggestions can you give to help strengthen stepfamily relationships?

Related Posts:

Is Your Stepfamily in a Season of Challenge?

Five Ways to Create Stronger Stepfamily Relationships

Lessons Learned About Stepparenting from Tim Tebow

Five Practical Tips for Successful Stepparenting

What Stage of Remarriage Are You In?

I was recently talking to a stepmom who’s struggling in her role with her stepdaughter. In hearing some history of the relationship, I could see the normal progression that often happens in stepfamilies with various stages of integration. How a stepfamily navigates the stages of remarriage determines the success or failure of long-term relationships.

monkey fami

As noted in Dick Dunn’s booklet, New Faces in the Frame, most stepfamilies work through a progression of stages.  We start out in the infatuation/honeymoon phase and everything is grand. Many couples at this stage are blind to the difficulties they will encounter as a stepfamily. They negate their children’s feelings about their relationship and refuse to listen to others’ opinions.

But it’s not long before things begin to change and we move into the questioning phase and begin to wonder, “What have I done?” “Why did I think this would work?” During the questioning stage of my remarriage, I reflected on how it seemed easier to be a single parent than cope with the daily challenges in our new family. I had committed to my new marriage, however, “for better or for worse,” and endeavored to continue the journey. For many remarriages, the questioning stage will make or break a family.

The most critical stage: the crisis stage comes next. Levels of crisis vary from minor bumps to major explosions, but this stage represents a turning point in which family members seek change. Challenges build until someone reaches for help. It’s a productive stage if families confront the problems and begin to find solutions. Unfortunately, many couples give up and call it quits at this stage.

The last three stages usually occur somewhere between the second and fifth year of remarriage. Complicated stepfamilies that include children from both partners will likely take longer. It’s also not unusual for stages to be re-visited. But as families reach the latter stages, hope begins to surface and tensions begin to ease.

The possibility stage offers positive thinking toward improved relationships. Following the crisis stage, the stepcouple emerges with renewed energy to seek family harmony. After struggling for years, the family begins to unite. Broken relationships begin to heal and day-to-day life appears easier.

The growth stage follows on the heels of possibility. Although there has been some growth from the beginning, families in this stage recognize a steady pace of growth, with more steps forward than backward. Family members feel accepted by one another and problems are resolved quickly when they arise. Stepparents feel comfortable in their roles and tension with ex-spouses has eased.

The last stage: the reward stage is reached only after years of intentional effort. For many stepfamilies, it is never reached because they give up. But for those who persevere, the reward of harmonious relationships and sense of accomplishment from a united family outweighs the burden of what it cost to get there.

Stepfamilies offer children a chance to heal from broken relationships while learning how healthy relationships relate to one another. Researcher James Bray published results from a ten-year study with stepfamilies that indicated a healthy, stable stepfamily can help overcome some of the negative psychological effects of divorce. And while remarriage with children may be challenging, intentional effort and commitment can lead to satisfaction and reward in the long run.

To see my complete article on the stages of remarriage,  published in Calgary’s Child Magazine this month, go here.

What stage of remarriage is your family in? Have you successfully navigated some of these stages? I would love to hear about it!

Related Posts:

Making Your Remarriage Work: Separate Marital and Parenting Issues

Debunking Stepfamily Myths: Do You Get Caught in Their Web?

Don’t Settle for Mediocrity in Your Remarriage

How to Cope with Difficult People in Your Stepfamily

We all have difficult people in our stepfamilies we must deal with and sometimes it feels overwhelming. If you’re having one of those days, consider some options on how to cope with challenging people.

anger

1) Don’t give them power over your emotions.

In other words, don’t allow their hurtful words to affect you. When someone says mean things to or about us we have a choice: will we let those words penetrate our heart or will we let them roll off, recognizing mean words often come from an unhealed hurt. I learned of a physical altercation that happened last week between a biological mom and a new stepmom. The bio mom can’t cope with the stepmom in her young daughter’s life and during the week-end exchange, erupted toward the stepmom. The stepmom did nothing to elicit the response; the bio mom has unhealed hurt related to her ex-husband’s re-marriage and the stepmom’s role in her daughter’s life. If the stepmom recognizes where the hurtful words came from, she can let the  altercation roll off without allowing the bio mom’s response to have power over her emotions.

2)  Seek out healthy people to hang with.

If we’re surrounded by healthy people, we are less likely to let an unreasonable person affect us. And if our ego gets bruised from hurtful words, we can turn to others to help re-build our esteem instead of lashing back. It also helps to minimize the amount of time we spend with those who tend to be unreasonable. If you have an unreasonable stepchild coming for the week, plan time away with friends or your spouse to maintain a healthy image of yourself and your surroundings.

3) Accept the relationship in its current state.

If we spend our time trying to change another person or fretting over a tense relationship, we gain nothing. A peaceful heart comes with accepting a difficult relationship as it is and seeking to do our part to improve it, while recognizing that unreasonable people sometimes thrive on drama. I like to consider the words of the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

4) Be a positive role model

Commit to take the high road as often as possible. Someone needs to be the mature person in an unreasonable person’s life – how about you? We can influence others through positive attitudes and behavior. If our ex-spouse learns we’re not going to fight back when he/she becomes unreasonable, the game ends. If our stepchild doesn’t get a rise from unreasonable behavior, it’s more likely to end. Positive attitudes and behavior with unreasonable people, however, take intentional effort. Are you up for it? Remember: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:19)

5) Maintain healthy boundaries.

Respect yourself enough to erect boundaries that work for you. If you’ve had a difficult day and are not in a good place emotionally, don’t walk into a tense conversation with your stepchild over chores that didn’t get done. Ask  your spouse to do it. If you know the unreasonable person in your stepfamily who chooses to pick battles with you is going to attend the Thanksgiving meal, make sure you don’t sit by him/her. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself – no one else can do it for you. And you’ll maintain a healthier demeanor for whatever situation occurs when you know you have the right to maintain boundaries that work for you.

Unreasonable people abound and tend to show up more frequently in stepfamily relationships. Stepfamilies often have unhealed hurts that foster tense relationships. But we don’t have to get sucked into the dysfunction and allow others to have power over our emotions or influence our reactions. If we accept that some interactions will be difficult and some persons in our stepfamily will be unreasonable, we have a healthier mindset to cope with the behavior when it occurs. We will also appreciate the relationships with reasonable people in our lives even more!

Can you offer other tips for dealing with unreasonable people in your stepfamily?

Related Posts:

Coping with Difficult People

Debunking Stepfamily Myths – Do You Get Caught in Their Web?

When Stepparenting  Isn’t What You Expected

How to Co-Parent Successfully

Taken from our e-book, “Unwrapping the Gift of Stepfamily Peace,” I want to share some thoughts on  how to make co-parenting work.

Our son, Nathan, hangs with a friend whose parents are divorced. Nathan came back from a birthday party, talking about meeting his friend’s dad for the first time. As the conversation ensued, I learned both parents were at their son’s party and casually spoke with one another throughout the evening. I remember thinking to myself, what a blessing they’ve given their son.

Not all co-parenting situations can be as amicable, but the goal of co-parenting is to put aside the differences that dissolved your marriage and do your part to have a cooperative relationship.

Stepfamily living brings stress and tension, which easily carries over into the co-parenting relationship. Intentional effort is required to get along, including sacrifices and tongue-taming. If disagreements arise, it’s important to keep them from children’s ears. Adult issues need to be confined to the adults.

Co-parenting doesn’t mean we try to control what is happening in the other parent’s home. When we divorced our spouse, we relinquished control of how our children will be parented in their home. But the biggest challenge of co-parenting, learning how to be amicable in a relationship with someone you couldn’t get along with in marriage, is the link to success when parenting children after divorce.

Successful co-parenting strategies include setting boundaries about how you will be treated. If you’re dealing with a hostile ex-spouse, it often works best to communicate via text or e-mail. Don’t put yourself in a vulnerable situation that could lead to emotional abuse.

Strained co-parenting gives you an opportunity to practice displaying the gifts of the Spirit as defined in Galatians 5:22, 23: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” I know it’s not easy but as our children watch us model kindness and goodness or patience and self-control in the midst of rude or unkind behavior, they learn the value of asserting those qualities in their own lives. And we gain the satisfaction of knowing we took the high road, even when it wasn’t easy.

Drama and stepfamily living too often co-mingle, but you don’t have to let the onslaught of drama ruin your journey. Take every opportunity to conquer it with a positive perspective, peaceful interactions and determined effort to work through the challenges.

What tips can you add to help co-parent successfully?

Related Posts:

Co-Parenting With a Difficult Ex-Spouse

Co-Parenting Collisions

How To Co-Parent Successfully with Your Ex-Spouse

When Stepparenting is Messy

I sent my son to bed last night with consequences for his lack of obedience on a homework issue. He wasn’t happy with me and barely said good night as I left his room. But as his mom, seeking to raise a responsible young man, I knew I needed to address the issue, even if he didn’t like it.

He bounded out of bed this morning with a smile on his face and a big good morning. The night before had become a thing of the past that he wasn’t going to hold a grudge about because as my biological child, he doesn’t stay mad at me long, even when I dole out consequences. He’s quick to forgive and let go of ill feelings toward me.

It isn’t always the same with stepchildren. I expressed my opinion several weeks ago with my young adult stepson on an issue I didn’t agree with and he let me know he didn’t like it. He hung up the phone mad and called his dad to fill him on the details, hoping his dad would side with his opinion. For two weeks, my stepson and I had little communication. I knew the conflict would strain our relationship for a short period of time.

I try hard not to compare my stepchildren and my biological children but it’s easy to notice differences in how they respond during and after conflict. The blood bond that exists with biological children gives them a connection that doesn’t easily break. But the fragile thread that exists with stepchildren, particularly in the beginning stages of relationship-building, can easily be severed.

Stepparenting is messy – there are not black and white answers. It’s easy to say we need to defer issues of conflict and let the biological parent handle them but that can’t always happen. My stepson had called me on a different issue that naturally led to the issue that caused conflict. Did I overstep my bounds in how I expressed my feelings with my stepson? Maybe. Would I have expressed it the same way to my biological child? Yes.

How do you cope when it seems you’ve been misjudged in your stepparenting role? For me, I remember that I’m more than just a stepmom seeking affirmation from my stepchildren. I’m a wife, a daughter, a sister, a writer, a loyal friend, and a child of Christ. God’s love for me is unending. I cling to His promise in Ephesians 3:18 that says, ““And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may  have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Isn’t that beautiful? We can’t escape the love of Christ.

If we allow our worth to be dependent upon how our stepchildren treat us or feel about us, we set ourselves up for hurt. But if we remind ourselves that God’s love for us is everlasting, even if we fail or others mistreat us, we make room for peace.

How do you cope when stepfamily relationships seem messy? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Related Posts:

Setting Boundaries with Your Stepchildren

Overcoming the Pain of Rejection as a Stepparent

Coping with Stepfamily Drama


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