Posts Tagged 'feelings'

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

What stepfamily myths did you believe before you married? Maybe you’re still believing them and wondering why you’re not happy in your re-marriage.

Our stepfamily group is reading through Ron Deal’s book, “The Smart Stepfamily.” This week we’re looking at some important stepfamily myths from Deal’s book that disillusion us if we believe them. Here’s a few to consider:

1. Love will happen instantly between all family members.

Do you think so? Has it happened? When we were having a difficult time with our kids during our dating period, my husband would say, “We’ll just love ’em through it.” Uh-oh. That doesn’t always work, does it? Deal says, ‘”Love in the sense of ‘love your neighbor’ is attainable; love in the sense of deep family bonds may or may not be achieved.”‘

2. We’ll do it better this time around.

If you’ve been married before, it’s easy to think you have it figured out and this time it will be easier. But if kids are involved, it  won’t be easy. Don’t compare this marriage to another one. Accept the good and the bad and live in the reality of your current marriage, recognizing it too will have challenges.

3. Everything will fall quickly in place.

Really? Has that happened? My guess is No. Deal says, “The stepping-stone of patience is critical to stepfamily development. Becoming disillusioned with how your family is progressing is an almost universal experience, because progress never happens on your timetable. Remember, the average stepfamily takes seven years to integrate.”

4. Our children will feel as happy about the remarriage as we do.

If you have attended many re-marriage weddings, it’s easy to find children who are not happy about their parent’s new marriage. Stepfamily experts say kids are often a year behind the adults in accepting and progressing with a new family. It’s easy to find parents rushing their kids to catch up with where they are emotionally. Deal says, “What a blow it is for parents to realize that remarriage is a gain for them, but another loss to their children.” Remember, time is your friend.

5. Blending is the goal of this stepfamily.

We call ourselves blended families because we are combining people from two families into one. But if you think about what happens when you put ingredients into a blender, that isn’t what you want to take place in your family. Deal says, “More realistic is a process by which the various parts integrate, or come into contact with one another, much like a casserole of distinct parts. For example, biological parents and children will always have a stronger bond than stepparents and stepchildren, even if all goes well. This is not to say that different members of a stepfamily cannot be close. Many will develop deep emotional bonds, but there will always be a qualitative difference.”

Have you been disappointed by stepfamily myths? Are there others you have believed that didn’t come true? I would love to hear about them.

Related Posts:

A Glimpse Into One Stepmom’s Story: The Good and the Bad

Learning How to Love My Stepchildren

Is It a Privilege to be a Stepparent?

The Danger of Favoritism in Your Stepfamily

“I don’t feel the same way toward my stepchildren as I do my biological children,” a stepmother recently admitted. “I feel guilty when I say that, but it’s the truth.” “That’s okay, ” I replied. “The challenge comes in treating them the same, regardless of how you feel.”

I understand how this stepmom feels. It’s easier to love a child who you carried in your womb, nursed for a period of time, watched his first smiles, and heard his first words. There is a natural love that develops with your own child.

It’s different with stepchildren. They come to us at varying stages of life. Sometimes they enter our lives at a young age, other times they’re young adults or older. Oftentimes they come with their own feelings toward gaining a stepparent, and those feelings aren’t always good.

So why do we beat ourselves up as stepparents when we don’t have an automatic love for our stepchidren? Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to have a perfect relationship with them from the beginning?

Perhaps society creates this image. Especially with moms, it’s assumed we can easily play out our maternal role, regardless of who’s on the other end. But that simply isn’t the case.

Relationships grow over time. And there are two parties involved in your stepparenting relationship – you and your stepchild. You can influence your side of the relationship, but you have no control over many of the influences your stepchild is receiving.

So, you may feel a different love toward your stepchildren than your biological children, but you must strive to treat them equally. Stepchildren feel like outsiders when they’re treated as “less than” and will not integrate into a stepfamily when they sense unfairness.

A predictable outcome of parental favoritism is competition between siblings and sibling rivalry, which stepfamilies are set up for already. And when siblings are close in age, parents must be even more diligent about how they treat each child.

That doesn’t mean you can never have one-on-one time with your child or you must spend the exact amount of money on each one. Even in biological families, circumstances dictate how parents spend money and time with their children.

For a non-custodial parent, there’s nothing wrong with spending time alone with your children when they come to visit. But be sure to allow time with the rest of the family too. It’s also not unusual to spend more money on one child than another at certain times. During our kids’ high school years, my daughter required tutoring for several years. We spent hundreds of dollars getting her through  high school math that we didn’t spend on the other kids.

The real issue with favoritism in stepfamilies, according to stepfamily authority Ron Deal, is “a heart issue, not a time or money issue.” As stepparents, our heart feels differently toward our stepchildren than our biological children. But one of the hidden gifts of stepfamilies is learning to love our stepchildren as God loves us. We can choose love, even if we don’t feel it. 

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

We didn’t deserve God’s love and grace. But He offered it anyway.

It might be easier to offer preferential treatment to your children, based on how you feel. But your stepchildren deserve equality. Will you commit to the high road of fairness?

How do you overcome the challenge of favoritism in your stepfamily?

Related Posts:

Marriage is Not Always Blissful: Especially in Blended Families

As a Stepfamily, You Can Expect Challenges

Learning to Accept the Things You Cannot Change

When Anger Boils in Your Stepfamily

As I felt my heart begin to race, I knew I had to settle  down before I said something I shouldn’t. I said a quick prayer to calm my soul and ask for guidance. My anger was boiling. And I wasn’t sure how to proceed with the conversation.

I was in a heated discussion with my stepson on a decision he was making that I didn’t agree with. At 22 years old, I don’t meddle in his decisions and we rarely disagree, but this was a financial decision that affected me and my husband also. So I calmly stated my opinion on the subject and he balked.

I could tell we weren’t going to come to an agreement, and I knew I needed to involve my husband. So I ended the conversation with, “I can’t and won’t tell you what to do, but I’ve given you my opinion.” I ended the call and sat in silence,  stunned at how quickly I had allowed anger to overtake me.

In her book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, Lysa Terkeurst re-enacts a difficult day at home with her kids when everything goes wrong – including the way she handled it. She went to bed that night an emotional wreck with nothing to show for her day but regret. But she allowed a different perspective to change the way she would react in the future as she deemed:

“I can face things that are out of my control and not act out of control.”

An applicable quote for stepfamily life! How often do we face things that are out of our control? Do we act out of control as a result?

I knew if I stayed on the phone with my stepson, I would eventually act out of control. He and I didn’t agree on the subject and it wasn’t going to change. I needed to involve my husband for resolution.

When my husband came in from work, he had already heard the story. My stepson immediately called his dad to vent after leaving our conversation. I wanted my husband’s opinion on the issue and was prepared to humble myself if he didn’t agree with  the position I had taken. Thankfully, my husband supported my opinion and helped his son understand why.

Difficult interactions occur in stepfamilies frequently, especially in the early years when relationships are forming. But we have a choice as to how we will react when our anger boils or our feelings are hurt.

Terkeurst goes on to say, “Remember, feelings are indicators, not dictators. They can indicate there is a situation I need to deal with, but they shouldn’t dictate how I react. I have a choice.”

During my stepson’s teen years, I didn’t always see my feelings as indicators. Sometimes they were dictators that threw me into an angry tailspin. Instead of involving my husband for resolution, I tried to do it myself with angry words or extreme consequences. But I learned that conflict with my stepchildren was resolved more peacefully (and my anger boiled less often)when I united with my husband and we confronted the situation together.

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

How about you? How do you handle it when your anger boils in your stepfamily?

Related Posts:

Six Steps for Coping with Stepfamily Storms

Coping with Stepfamily Drama

Coping with Stepfamily Drama, Part Two

When the Unexpected Happens in Your Stepfamily

This month marks the eight year anniversary of the loss of my stepchildren’s mother after a fierce battle with colon cancer. It’s always a hard month for them as they reflect on life without her.

When I married my husband, I had no way of knowing such a tragedy would occur. We could have never prepared ourselves for the difficult season that followed her death.

But unfortunately, it happened. And it’s not the only difficult issue we’ve dealt with in our stepfamily. I’m sure there have been challenging circumstances in your family too, that you could have never foreseen when you married. So, how do you cope when the unexpected happens?

For me, I strive to live by faith instead of allowing fear to control me. You see, fear and faith don’t go together. If I’m allowing faith to guide me, I won’t be controlled by fear.

In her book, Calm My Anxious Heart, Linda Dillow says, “Faith enables us to be content even when life doesn’t make sense. Faith is the bulwark that keeps us strong even when we’re assailed by agonizing thoughts about what might happen or by what has happened. …Faith is believing God is true to His word when my feelings are screaming out something different. Faith is completing my small part of the picture/puzzle without being able to see the finished product.”

Faith allows me to take the next step that seems right for me, even when I don’t have all the answers, trusting God will guide me. Fear paralyzes me from making any kind of move, convincing me every move will be the wrong one.

If I focus on the challenge that seems insermountable instead of focusing on the reality of God’s provision to meet my needs, I invite stress into my home. I love the quote I read recently by Joyce Meyers, “The person who really understands the grace of God will not worry. Worrying is trying to figure out what to do to save yourself rather than trusting in God for deliverance.”

When my husband lost his job last year, once again we faced the unexpected. Re-locating out of state, leaving three children behind in college, has not been easy. But I take intentional steps every day to allow faith to guide me instead of letting fear paralyze me.

I’ve heard it said there are 365 “fear not” verses in the Bible. Isn’t that interesting? God knows the stronghold of fear and gives us a verse every day to rely on for strength and comfort.

So where are you at on your stepfamily journey? Have you faced the unexpected?

Do you allow fear or faith to guide you? Will you share it with us?

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Related Posts:

God is Enough for the Stepfamily Struggle You Face

Expect the Unexpected

Stepfamily Detours – Where Are You Headed?

When Stepparenting Feels Too Hard: Four Ways to Overcome Discouragement

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

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

Do you find yourself comparing the growth of your stepfamily to your neighbor’s next door? Do you talk to your stepmom friend at work and wonder why her stepfamily seems to be having such smooth sailing while your family is stuck in the muck?

My husband always calls our family “remedial blenders.” Our relationships didn’t come together within the first five to seven years of marriage as stepfamily research suggests. In fact, some of our toughest years as a family were seven to ten years after our marriage.

Does that mean we were doing everything wrong, slowing the progress of our family blending? Certainly my husband and I made our share of mistakes as stepparents, but we also had some challenging variables to contend with that influenced the relationships in our family.

One of the biggest factors that determines how well a family unites is whether the ex-spouse allows his/her children the freedom to embrace a relationship with the stepparent. His/her attitude toward the stepparent can greatly influence the child’s ability to accept and love a new stepparent.

Unfortunately, as a stepparent, you have no control over what happens in the other home that influences the relationships in your home. I remember quite clearly the half-hearted hugs and stand-offish behavior I received every time my stepchildren returned from their mother’s home. I always wondered what kind of conversation went on about me while they were gone. I’m sure it was best I didn’t know.

Because my stepdaughter was ten when we married, her age also influenced our ability to bond. I didn’t understand when she began pulling away from the family as she progressed through adolescence but it was part of her growing-up process, a time of buiding her own identity separate from the family, that naturally takes place during the teen-age years.

Stepfamily research also suggests that the hardest relationship to develop is the stepmom/stepdaughter one. Instead of blaming myself for our prickly interactions, I would have done better to accept the fact that some of our challenges were simply intertwined in our tendency as two females in the same household to butt heads. When my oldest biological daughter traversed through the teen years, we encountered some of the same tensions.

It was also normal for my stepdaughter to desire a stronger relationship with her biological mother, leaving me in an indispensable role. Because of her natural bond with her mother, she couldn’t naturally bond with me.

After my husband and I were married eight years, we learned my stepchildren’s mother had colon cancer. My stepchildren stood by helplessly the next year, watching their mother slowly digress, then pass away. The pain of her loss left raw emotions they didn’t know what to do with, negatively impacting our stepfamily relationships.

So I no longer carry the responsibility for the remedial blending that occurred in our family. We could have never predicted nor controlled the circumstances that occurred. But we could control our reaction to them and our commitment to press forward, despite the odds.

What about your family? Were you hoping for smooth sailing as your relationships came together? Do you wonder why your family doesn’t look like the stepfamily next door that seems to be having an easier time? Don’t compare. It’s dangerous.

Those who have the easiest time as a stepfamily never appreciate the value of their relationships because they didn’t have to work for them.

If your family takes longer than you desire to unite, don’t despair. Celebrate the victories along the way. Affirm the value of what you’re creating. And be thankful for the challenges. Because you’ll always know it would have been easier to quit.

But you didn’t.

Can you recognize the uniqueness in your  circumstances that influence your relationships? Will you share how you cope with it?

Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Coping with Loss in a Stepfamily

Stepfamily Trap: Denying our Feelings

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff


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