Archive for the 'forgiveness' Category

Five Ways to Create Stronger Stepfamily Relationships

I was married to a physician turned alcoholic in my first marriage, and toward the end of that 11-year-union, I learned to apply the slogans of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to cope with my everyday challenges.

But AA slogans shouldn’t be confined to only problems in alcoholic relationships. When I entered a stepfamily upon marrying the second time, I quickly recognized the value of the AA slogans in stepfamily relationships.

 Here are a few examples of AA slogans and how to use them to create stronger stepfamily relationships:

1) Let go and let God

In the beginning of our marriage,we encountered countless problems in our stepfamily that were beyond my power to fix. I spent wasted time trying to control the situation or find a solution. When I learned to let go and let God be in control, I found the peace I’d been searching for. Solutions to our challenges didn’t surface quickly, but I knew God’s solutions would always be better than mine.

2) Let it begin with me and Be part of the solution, not the problem

As the adult, we need to step up and be the example for forgiveness, kindness, patience, and goodness toward our stepchildren. When they see us model this behavior, they are more likely to extend the same type of behavior toward us.

It’s also our responsibility to work toward a solution. I often see stepparents ruminating over their problems with others instead of seeking solutions. We become what we focus on – will you choose to focus on the problem or a solution?

3) How important is it?

It’s easy to escalate small issues into big boulders. I clearly remember a conflict ten years ago that I created. I insisted that all our children should attend my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. My stepdaughter, who was living with her mom at the time and had a strained relationship with me, didn’t want to go. I was angry when my husband couldn’t force her to be there and I made a big deal out of it, creating further conflict with my husband.

Fast forward ten years. My parents are celebrating their 60th annivesary next month. My stepdaughter and I have mended our ways and she wants to participate in the celebration! Many of the battles we deem important enough to fight will work themselves out over time.

4) One day at a time

Building trust takes time, change takes time, healing old wounds takes time; there are no immediate ready-made solutions. This day is all I have to work with, and it is all I need. If I am tempted to worry about tomorrow’s concerns, I will gently bring my mind back to today.” (Courage to Change: One Day at a Time in Al-Anon)

Living one day at a time allows us to focus on the problems at hand, letting go of the problems of yesterday, and trusting God with the problems of tomorrow.

5) Keep an open mind

Stepfamily relationships evolve over time.  Sometimes they get worse before they get better. But if we keep an open mind to different solutions when current ones aren’t working and remain flexible as we encounter change, we will have a better chance at long-term success in our relationships.  It’s also important to stay united with our spouse, keeping open to their thoughts and ideas on what is happening in our home.

Other slogans of AA that can be applied to the stepfamily journey also include: Easy does it, first things first, just for today, keep it simple, listen and learn, live and let live, and think. If you’re interested in learning more about their slogans you can go here.  I find Al-Anon resources (for families of alcoholics) helpful also.

I love AA slogans and can find ways to apply them every day. Do you agree?

How will you use an AA slogan to create stronger relationships in your stepfamily or have you applied one already? Will you share it with us?

Related Posts:

As a Stepfamily, You Can Expect Challenges

Steps for Successful Stepparenting

 

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The Perfect Opportunity for Grace

“I’m failing my International Business class,” my stepson Payton relayed to me through tears. “It doesn’t matter how much I study, I don’t do well on Ms. Cantrell’s tests and I’m afraid it’s too late in the semester to pull my grade up to passing.”

As a 3rd year college student, Payton understands the consequences of failing a class at this stage of the game. Although he had a history of neglecting assignments in high school, he doesn’t want to fail and we’ve talked on several occasions about the importance of applying himself in his upper-level college courses.

“If you’ve done the best you can, there’s no point in berating yourself over it,” I said. “Sometimes we can’t foresee the difficulty of a class for us until it’s too late.”

A business major myself as a young college student, I went on to tell Payton my struggle in Accounting at the undergraduate level. I hated the subject and couldn’t grasp the concepts. But it was required to advance in my major and after making a “D” the first semester, I was forced to take the class again.

Payton was broken over his inability to pass the class. I immediately sensed his need for grace as he talked to me. There was no need for consequences as I knew the natural consequences of his actions would be enough.

In my early years of stepparenting, I didn’t offer grace freely enough to my stepchildren. When they did wrong, it was easier to harbor anger and build up resentment toward them. Forgiveness and grace didn’t flow easily.

But I’ve learned that the person who suffers the most from that unforgiving spirit is me. My stepchildren don’t see the bitter feelings I’m carrying around or sense its strangling hold on my spirit. They only see the fallout of my feelings through angry words or inappropriate behavior.

I love the acronym that illustrates God’s grace for us: God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. As we celebrated Easter this past Sunday, I was reminded of God’s sacrifice for us. His grace is more than we can ever comprehend. And although we’ll never be asked to illustrate that kind of grace, we are given the opportunity to offer grace every day to those living around us – our imperfect stepchildren who need it more than we realize.

How can you illustrate grace today?

Related Posts:

Healthy Stepparenting: Don’t Keep Score

Finding the Beauty of God’s Grace in Your Stepfamily

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

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?

Related Posts:

Let Go of the Guilt

Stepfamily Trap: The Danger of Denying our Feelings

Sick of Stepparenting?

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

Back to School Tips, Part Three – Resolve Conflict as it Occurs

I was shocked to learn of a family today whose son has left for college and his mom hasn’t spoken to him in several weeks. There was a conflict within the family while they were on vacation and the conflict was never resolved. So, now several members of the family are not speaking to each other.

That is tragic to me! How do you allow your son to leave for college and expect him to have a successful year when there is unresolved conflict and hard feelings with his family?

But, could it be that we do that in our own families and don’t realize it? Is there unresolved conflict with an ex-spouse that impacts your stepchildren/children every day? Are the children in your home expected to go to school and function at 100% when they left a battlefield back home? 

Our children are hugely impacted by what happens in our homes. If there is unresolved conflict, it will carry over into their lives and affect every aspect of their day. We owe it to our children/stepchildren to work through angry words and hurt feelings with direct communication.

As a new school year begins, it’s a great time to evaluate how well we’re doing with the parent in the other home. Are we doing our part to cooperate with them regarding a new school schedule, the kid’s needs, and any issue that came up during the summer months? Do we need to offer an apology or show mercy toward them for unresolved conflict?

In his book, The Smart Stepfamily, Ron Deal offers advice on what happens  when we refuse to work with an ex-spouse. “An old African proverb says, ‘When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.’ Biological parents who fight and refuse to cooperate are trampling on their most prized possession – their children. Elephants at war are totally unaware of what is happening to the grass, for they are far too consumed with the battle at hand. Little do they know how much damage is being done.”

Our children need to be able to go to school and concentrate on their school work without worrying about conflict among relationships in their homes. We must do our part to resolve conflict as it occurs.

Are you using healthy communication to work through conflict?

When Our Stepchildren are Hurting

During my stepson’s adolescent years, he often lashed out at me with hateful looks and angry words. I was caught up with feelings of injustice and couldn’t see his emotional pain.

When a friend said to me, “Hurting people hurt people,” it began to make sense. My stepson had situations in his life that he didn’t like and couldn’t control and therefore, took his feelings out on the nearest target: me.

I couldn’t always offer forgiveness readily but I would find a way to get to that point. I knew our relationship would never develop if I couldn’t act as the adult and do the right thing, regardless of his actions.

Our pastor offered some insightful thoughts on forgiveness today that I think are worth sharing. It doesn’t make forgiveness any easier but it does remind us of our role.

1. Forgiveness is always the responsibility of the person who is injured. When my stepchild offends me, I can’t wait until he offers an apology to forgive him. It is my responsibility to offer forgiveness, regardless of his actions.

2. Forgiveness is usually based on grace. I love this one! We don’t forgive others only when we think they deserve it. They may never deserve our forgiveness. But I didn’t deserve the forgiveness Christ offered me on the cross either.

3. Forgiveness might bring mutual peace. But then again, it might not. Offering our forgiveness doesn’t guarantee it will be accepted. The relationship may not be reconciled through our amends. But we can find peace through our forgiving actions.

We often become so focused on our own problems that we don’t recognize the loss and pain our stepchildren are suffering.

It isn’t easy being a stepparent. But it isn’t easy being a stepchild either.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

Do you need to offer forgiveness to someone today?

Encouraging Words

Our family is on vacation and spent some time yesterday with our oldest daughter who lives out of state. (my stepdaughter). We were reminiscing about years’ past and laughing about some difficult interactions we’ve worked through. I told her I felt bad about some of our “less than perfect parenting moments” and she said, “It’s okay. I don’t think anyone was permanently scarred by them.”

Those were encouraging words to me. We are not perfect parents but we are doing our best to show our kids what a Christ-centered home looks like.

I know I will blow it again as a parent/stepparent. But I will be quick to ask for forgiveness and get back on the right track with those involved. And I will choose not to allow guilt to prevent me from positive parenting moments today.

Do you need to affirm your value today as a stepparent?


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