Archive for the 'loyalty conflict' Category

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

As a Stepparent, You’re an Olympic Champion!

Are you watching the Olympics this week? What’s your favorite sport? I love the gymnastics. The athletes make it look so easy to throw themselves across the floor in beautiful tumbling techniques and hoist their bodies in ways that seem impossible.

                                                                      Robert Deutsch – USA Today

As I listened to some of the gynmasts’ stories, I couldn’t help but compare them to the challenges of stepparenting and the champion role we play every day. Here are a few parallels I see:

1. It’s emotional. Often.

I’ve seen a lot of tears since the Olympics started. Some are tears of joy – many are tears of defeat. But as one coach said, “Without the passion and the emotion, you wouldn’t have an Olympian.”

The same is true of stepparenting. If we didn’t care deeply about our stepchildren, we wouldn’t feel the intense anger, sadness, and anxiety surrounding their choices and their reactions toward us. But our emotions speak loudly of the significant role we play in their lives. We’re champions because we take on the role of parenting someone else’s child, and endure the emotions that follow.

2. Investing time and energy doesn’t always lead to the success you desire.

Gymnast Jordyn Wieber invested years of practice and agonizing work toward an anticipated gold medal in the all-around at the 2012 Olympics. But that dream was shattered when she failed to qualify for the final event. Beat out by two of her teammates, she disintegrated into tears following the final scores.

Our view of success as a stepparent doesn’t always follow the time and energy we invest toward it. But that doesn’t mean we’ve failed. Variables beyond our control can keep our stepchildren from developing a relationship with us. Loyalty conflict toward a biological parent often plays a huge role in keeping a stepchild in a guarded position. But God sees our heart and measures our success as a champion by the effort we make, regardless of the final result. “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)

3. It requires special techniques to cope with the stress involved.

After qualifying for the all-around finals, gymnast Gabby Douglas told the commentator interviewing her that she meditates on Scripture to help calm her nerves and deal with the task at hand. The stress surrounding Olympic athletes is unbearable at times, but Gabby has found a successful way to cope.

Stepparenting also involves stress that seems unbearable at times. The relentless demands on our time, society’s pressure of what role we are to play, the emotional tug-of-war with the biological parent, and the unending mind games stepchildren often play with us, can lead to  discouragement without hope. But when we seek faith-filled solutions such as prayer, Scripture reading, meditation, and fellowship with other healthy stepparents, we find the energy to cope and succeed as champions.

4. Good coaching is mandatory. 

Many Olympic athletes speak of changing coaches when they begin training for an Olympic event. Success will not be attained with mediocre methods or inexperienced coaching.

Stepparenting challenges also require coaching/counseling during difficult seasons. Coaching needs to be attained from an experienced professional who understands stepfamily dynamics. Traditional family methods with stepfamilies doesn’t lead to success. If you’re stuck in your stepfamily difficulty, check out my coaching page to find hope. Champions turn to good coaching when they need help.

5. Champions don’t quit when they fail.

If you follow the stories of Olympic athletes, many of them compete month after month for years before attaining the success they’re striving for. It would be easy to quit, but quitters don’t succeed.

When you fall down as a stepparent, you must get back up. If you haven’t read my most recent blog post, it speaks to that:  The Myth of the Perfect Stepparent. We become champions in our stepparenting role when we keep trying, even though we want to quit. I know it’s hard. I’ve been there.

I applaud your efforts as a stepparenting champion. I wish I could visit with you over a cup of coffee about your biggest struggle. But remember: God sees every effort, even if the results aren’t what you’re hoping for.

I love the Olympic Creed and think it can be applied to stepparenting as well:

The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take  part, the important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.  The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

Do you agree? I would love to hear your comments.

Related Posts:

Stinkin’ Thinkin’ Creates Bitter Quitters in Blended Families

Learning to Accept the Things You Cannot Change

Is It a Privilege to be a Stepparent?

What is Your Role as a Stepparent: Friend or Parent?

 In working with stepparents recently, I’ve noticed a common thread that spells disaster in the  early years of stepfamily development: the tendency for the stepparent to play a strong disciplinary role instead of allowing the biological parent to be the primary parent to his/her children.

I recognize the pattern because it happened in our home in the early years of our marriage.  Struggling with leftover guilt from my divorce, remarriage, new step-siblings for my children, and constant change, I became a permissive parent. I didn’t want to address misbehavior or dole out consequences. So my husband began doing it instead.

My husband’s intentions were good but the fall out of his actions was not good. His relationship with my girls wasn’t strong enough to withstand the negative side of parenting that occurs with discipline.   And it set him up to fail as he became an unlikeable stepparent.

Stepfamily authority Ron Deal says, “Kids will love an unlikeable parent, but rarely even like an unlikeable stepparent.” 

Tough words. It doesn’t seem fair. But it’s reality.

Stepparents cannot afford to overstep their boundaries. If we want to establish a long-term, loving relationship with our stepchildren, we have to start as a friend, rather than a parent.  The biological parent needs to take the primary disciplinary role as much as possible.

With younger stepchildren, the disciplinary role may move quicker into the hands of the stepparent if a loving, trusting relationship develops. But with older stepchildren, ages eight and up, it’s likely to take longer.

Other factors influence stepfamily relationships. My daughters’ father resisted any type of relationship between them and their stepdad and made confusing, negative remarks about my husband. It slowed down the relationship-building process because of the loyalty conflict they endured.

When my stepson lost his mother after a battle with colon cancer, our relationship took several strides backward. Grief, anger, and confusion surrounded my stepson. Although I had moved into a disciplinary role after several years of marriage, I reverted to a friend role. I allowed my husband to take over the primary disciplinary position again because my stepson began fighting against my maternal role.

If the biological parent takes a passive disciplinary role, problems ensue. Children need to be held to behavioral standards, and if the biological parent neglects his/her role, it’s natural for the stepparent to step in. But that’s not the answer. In The Smart Stepmom, co-authors Laura Petherbridge and Ron Deal commit an entire chapter to the importance of engaged fathers: “Dad Smart: She Can’t Do It Without You.” Recommended reading if you’re suffering in this area.

Stepchildren come in all sorts and sizes. Some will embrace a stepparent in their lives, quickly developing a loving relationship, which allows you to begin a disciplinary role almost immediately. However, most will not. Allow the child to set the pace and determine your role as your relationship develops for a better chance at a meaningful, long-term relationship.

Do you agree? What has been your experience as a friend or parent to your stepchildren? I would love to hear your comments.

Related Posts:

Learning to Accept the Things You Cannot Change

What is our Role as a Stepparent?

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

Five Great Ways to Celebrate Mother’s Day as a Stepmom

One of the hardest hurdles to cope with as a stepparent is the reality that we make the same sacrifices as a biological parent but  reap very few rewards for our efforts. In his book, The Smart Stepfamily, Ron Deal gives three reasons why the stepmother role is even more difficult than the stepfather role.

“First, children tend to maintain more frequent contact with their noncustodial mothers. Second, children’s attachment to their biological mother is believed to be stronger than their attachment to their father, making the acceptance and bonding with a stepmother even more difficult. Third, because society expects women to achieve a higher relational standard than men, stepmothers feel greater pressure to build a strong attachment with stepchildren.”

We know it’s not easy being a stepmother, right? Thus, we have every reason to celebrate and affirm ourselves on Mother’s Day for what we do for our stepchildren. But we don’t have to wait and let our stepchildren’s response control our day.

It’s natural for stepchildren to honor their biological mom on Mother’s Day. Unfortunately, that could mean the stepmom gets left out.

So why not choose to create your own special day? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Spend Saturday night at a Bed and Breakfast and wake up Sunday morning to a scrumptious breakfast prepared for you. Re-connect with your spouse as you reminiscence and celebrate the good things happening in your stepfamily.

2. Find another stepmom who’s  having a difficult time and spend the afternoon with her. Encourage her efforts and talk through her challenges. Laugh together and affirm each other for the special role you’re playing as you’re making a difference in your stepchildren’s lives.

3. Abandon your house and spend the day at a nearby lake, beach, bike path or hiking trail. Absorb the beauty of nature and remind yourself of God’s love for you through His creation, His sovereignty over your life, and His willingness to walk with you through difficult times.

4. Attend your favorite church service with a beautiful corsage on, signifying the important role you play as a stepmom. Then spend the afternoon with your spouse creating a “God box” that outlines prayer concerns for your stepfamily on small pieces of paper. As you drop each concern in the box, pray for your family’s needs. Keep the box going for an entire year and re-visit the box next year to see how God has answered your prayers.

5. Give yourself the gift of relaxation with a good book, time at the movies or a day at the spa with a girlfriend. Eat at your favorite restaurant and tell your family you’ll be taking the day off from chores. Pamper yourself in whatever way feels special to you.

Mother’s Day doesn’t have to be a difficult day for stepmoms. Plan your own celebration! You deserve it!

How are you celebrating this week-end? I would love to hear about it!

Related Posts:

Celebrating Mother’s Day as a Stepmom

More Mother’s Day Thoughts

Overcoming the Pain of Rejection

Coping with Loss in a Stepfamily

“So how do you tell the world you have lost your baby and they have lost her too. Stella is gone from here and suffers no more. She left us around noon and we are thankful for her peace. We are exhausted with grief, which is the best description I can give of the way I feel.”
These words were penned this week by the mom of the young girl pictured. I’ve prayed fervently for this family as I’ve watched their child suffer through aggressive chemotherapy for brain cancer — to no avail. Stella Rose fought a hard fight but the cancer won. And this family will never be the same.

Coping with loss is never easy. I can’t imagine how this family will deal with the loss of their baby girl.

The death of a young child is not the same kind of loss experienced in a stepfamily. However, the losses our stepchildren encounter as a result of death or divorce are significant. And when we don’t acknowledge their loss or we choose to minimize their feelings, it hinders their ability to work through their feelings and adjust to stepfamily life.

So, how do we help our stepchildren cope with loss? First, we allow them to talk about their other parent when they’re in our home. We 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.

How have you helped your stepchildren cope with their loss?

Related Posts:

Learning to Accept the Things You Cannot Change

Stepfamily Trap: The Danger of Denying Our Feelings

Celebrating Mother’s Day as a Stepmom

With Mother’s Day only a few days away, you may be thinking about how your stepchildren will handle the celebration. It tends to be an awkward holiday for many stepmothers, including myself at times. We don’t know whether to expect anything from our stepchildren or let the biological mom get all the attention for the day.

Personally, I believe if we’ve played an active role as a stepmother, we deserve some recognition. But that doesn’t mean we will get it from our stepchildren. We may need to ask our spouse (the father of those children) to honor and acknowledge us on Mother’s Day for the difficult role we play.

Stepfamily authority Ron Deal includes a statement from a stepmom in his article, “I Dread Mother’s Day.” The stepmom says, “I get all the grief of parenting, but I don’t get to enjoy the pleasures associated with being a mom.” As a stepmom, I’ve had days I feel that way too. But thankfully, it’s not every day.

I’ve learned to enjoy Mother’s Day with no expectations from my stepchildren. If they offer me a gift or choose to honor me in some way, I’m thrilled. But if they don’t, I know my husband appreciates what I do and lets me know that regularly. I also believe God put these children in my life to care and nurture and I want to be obedient to His calling.

In my next post I’ll talk about a free e-book that will soon be available on my website in honor of stepmoms. I hope you’ll check back to find out how to get your copy.

How does your family celebrate Mother’s Day? Is is meaningful day or a difficult one?

Related Posts:

More Mother’s Day Thoughts

Overcoming the Pain of Rejection

Coping with Loss in a Stepfamily

“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?

Related Posts:

Offering a Gift of Kindness

Offer Love and Grace Freely


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