Building a solid marriage/partnership creates security in the lives of the children. This applies to stepfamilies as well. Though you may not be the original, intact family unit, you still have the opportunity to solidify the foundations of the spousal relationship and be a role model to the children in your care. When the children are secure, they are able to function more autonomously. They enjoy their own stages of development without reaching into their back pocket for constant care from their parents. It also increases their desire to share a marital bond and to form families of their own.
So that begs the question.... what are you doing to ensure a solid marriage/partnership?
Here are a few tips:
1) Date night
Commit to making your relationship a priority by reminding yourself and your partner of the reasons that you came together. By putting a date certain on your calendar, arranging for a baby sitter and sticking to that plan, you have already defeated the odds! However, we all know that there is a certain point in our real lives, when a date "night" is just not going to happen. No matter. Steal away for lunch. Take a walk to get the mail. Find a way to make a date...however you define it at this point.
What hopes do you have for your relationship? Do you talk about what you will do when you are no longer raising children? Just a few prompts for talking about something other than children!
The point is to keep communicating. Communication is the avenue by which we measure if our needs are being met. After all, we may be soul mates but none of us are mind readers.
3) Let them know you would choose them again.
The daily grind gets in the way of our opportunity to be our best selves. But for a few moments a day,
put it away. Stop focusing on what's next on the agenda. Stop contemplating next week's school picture day or what's for dinner tonight. Yes, those are all important things. Yet, so is your relationship. Studies find that it isn't necessarily the big gestures that add the most to our marriage survival rates. It is the small things done with good intentions. Offering up coffee in bed, picking up the toys if that is your spouse's "job", gassing up the car for the weekend trip out of town. By making small changes, you are making large investments.
See all of those beautiful people in the picture? They actually enjoyed a family trip to Disney World (and other related parks) and lived to tell about it!
The family above is mine. And yes, we all stayed in the same house. Me, my husband, our son, two daughters and their husbands, a baby, my mom, my stepdad, my sister, my niece...and not quite evident (a baby on the way). Yes, it's a lot of people. Yes, it was chaotic and exhausting. And yes, we wore matching shirts. (Thanks to Sarah (stepdaughter) and Cheryl (my mom)).
In case you haven't guessed, I'm quite proud of the family that we've established. I came from a stepfamily and upon marrying my husband, created one of my own. No we are not perfect. But we enjoy one another. We celebrate together. We mourn together. We laugh, we love, we cry. Someday when I am gone, this little village will continue on...my niece will have memories of hanging out with her cousins at Disney. She will be able to remind my granddaughter of her first "It's a Small World" ride. Perhaps when they take their kids to Disney World one day, they will dig out those shirts and say, "Remember when..."
Are you struggling in your relationship with your stepchildren? Do you wish you could forge stronger ties in your stepfamily? It is possible! Often, we as stepmoms focus on the negative behaviors in the home and how they are disrupting our family stability and building process. But what if we changed our tune and encouraged positive behaviors instead?
1. Encourage dad to spend time with his kids independent of you
As children experience the divorce and remarriage of a parent, their most oft repeated concern regards how it will affect them. Perhaps their custody situation will change, maybe a new school is on the agenda, or even a long-term change of address is in the future. Despite these changes, it’s important that the child’s relationship with their biological parent stay intact and does not suffer through the inevitable changes associated with the changing family dynamic.
One of the most definitive ways to ensure continuing strong bonds between the child and the parent is to establish time for them to bond alone. While you as stepmom are part of the newly created family, it is not necessary for you to take part in every child-related activity just to show your interest. Giving your partner time alone with his child acknowledges that you see the importance of that relationship and support it fully.
Encourage your partner to plan activities that he and the kids enjoy together. It may involve a sporting activity or simply a trip out for ice cream. Make it clear to the kids that you are in on the planning and look forward to hearing about it when they return.
2. Don’t overstep your boundaries
It’s important to work with your partner on establishing boundaries in your home. Early on you must determine what your role will be even if that role changes over time. However, keep in mind that whether you are a custodial or non-custodial stepmom will decidedly point you in the direction of the essentiality of your involvement. The demands placed upon custodial moms are far different than those placed upon a non-custodial mom. Children that live with you full-time will naturally gravitate towards you for more of their daily needs.
Do you help create the rules? Do you dole out punishments? Do you attend parent/teacher meetings? Knowing where your input is needed and in fact, necessary, is a first step in accessing your involvement in the lives of your stepchildren. Have this discussion with your spouse, early and often, no matter whether the kids live with you full time or not.
3. Support their activities
I think one of the most powerful bonding experiences in the stepfamily that I created was my attendance at my stepchildren’s activities. I sat on the bleacher’s for umpteen volleyball matches, including those when daughter number two was part of a traveling team. I trekked the roads with both boys’ and girls’ basketball teams. I experienced the agony of sunburn from sitting outside at four hour golf matches. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Those activities created great memories for our family.
What’s more is that the kids are proud of the beginnings of our stepfamily. When our younger daughter met her now husband a few years back, she recounted how kid activities were how her dad and I spent our early dates. However, I didn’t realize then how important those early dates were not just to my relationship building with their dad but with all three of my stepchildren.
Just do it.
4. Be willing to be their friend
“I have no intention of being my kids’ friend. I’m their parent.” Well-said. However…
Kids know what remarriage brings….another parent. Not necessarily what they may see as a real need in their lives, especially if there are already two involved parents in the picture. But no one can ever have too many friends.
And that is where a stepmom can step up up to the plate.
Merriam-Webster.com defines friend as “one attached to another by affection or esteem.” Seems simple enough. I think you build the aforementioned attachment by listening to one another, doing things together and learning about one another’s way of life. This is the perfect role for a stepmom who wants to support and protect her stepchildren, while creating a new family structure. It’s also an enduring connection that can grow and take other forms as you work to create deeper understandings of each other.
It’s a refrain often heard from the newly anointed stepmoms in the ranks…”I don’t have a life. All I do is take care of the kids.” Yeah.
Being a new stepmom, especially one who does not have children of her own can, can be daunting. All of a sudden you have a ready made family. And that family needs you. Whether it be as a cook, chauffeur, listening ear, mediator or any number of the roles associated with a caregiver. But it’s not only the child free stepmom who reminisces about her formerly, dare I say it, carefree lifestyle. Even moms with years under their belt parenting their own children can feel overwhelmed by the tasks associated with being involved in parenting their stepchildren.
Parenting in any form is all-encompassing. Life is never the same after you take on the role of caregiver whether of your own biological children or that of your stepchildren. The immense responsibility of ensuring a happy, healthy, well-adjusted child in today’s world is a 24 hour a day charge. However, anyone with an ounce of experience in the realm of adulting knows that we cannot take care of the world without taking care of ourselves. Running on fumes while being overtired and overwrought leads to a multitude of physical and emotional ailments. Physically, you initially may feel moody, fatigued or lethargic. Those symptoms can be the beginning of more serious ailments. Emotionally you begin to experience feelings of regret and resentment. Those can be dangerous emotions in a marriage and home, especially if they are preventable.
What’s the answer? Creating a life of your own by saying yes to you.
1. Commit to Self-care
People will often say “indulge” in self-care. Yet, it is not an indulgence. Self-care is part of a process to ensure your physical and mental health. It is crucial to a healthy self-awareness and should not be guilt-inducing. Instead, it is intended to be purposeful in that it ensures a path to recharge and regroup for the tasks ahead. It is a crucial part of the restorative process, not a mere reward.
It also conveys a message to those around you that you are important too.
How do you define self-care? Whether it be lunching with friends, getting a massage or sleeping in on a Saturday morning, choose what works for you. It doesn’t have to be expensive or exclusive but it should be worthwhile. Be kind to yourself.
2. Pursue a Hobby
Do you have a hobby? Or perhaps, did you have a hobby before kids? Don't let that slip away. I have written about how I gave up many of my own hobbies when I first became a stepmom. It wasn’t because I no longer wanted to participate in gym classes with my friends or to read books that had accumulated on my nightstand. It was because my time constraints were such that I was overwhelmed by everyone else’s commitments and my desire to meet everyone else’s needs. It didn’t take me long to learn that I needed my own time to enjoy life.
If you are in the throes of parenting little ones, time for yourself may be built around their nap and bedtime schedules. If you have older kids, their school and activities may keep you on the run such that early mornings are the only time available to be invested in you. Whatever the case, it is important to find that time to focus solely on a talent that you want to develop or an activity that has you intrigued. It may be only 15 minutes to start. But the commitment to yourself and your interests will pay dividends both in the short and long term.
3. Engage your Work Ethic
Believe it or not, work can be a respite for many of the ills of the world. Being involved in work that is engaging, satisfying and worthwhile can be confidence-building. Work, when it is well-suited to you and your needs, is stimulating and invigorating. Of course, not all work is pleasurable. After all, that’s why it’s called work. Still, if you have a job that fulfills you, be intentional about it. Allow it to be your balm. Share that sentiment with those in your home so that they will understand that your desire to spend time working is both necessary for your professional and personal well-being.
Stepmoms, press pause. Evaluate what is working and what isn’t. Then take those vital first steps in learning to celebrate you again.
Randy and I have been married 23 years (in October). When we married, we each brought 2 children to the marriage. My girls were 3 and 5 and his kids (son and daughter) were 5 and 10. We both had custody of our kids and quickly learned that trying to blend 4 kids from different homes, learn to parent together, and have harmony with one another was not an easy feat! When we settled into stepfamily life, six years later, we had a child together, our son Nathan. Our five children are now 17-33, with only our son Nathan still at home.
In the introduction, you mention your “unique needs” as a young stepmom when discussing why you chose to write this book. Can you elaborate?
Since I was a biological mom when we married, I assumed I would play a similar role to my stepchildren. I was wrong. They had a Mom in their lives and made it clear they didn’t want or need another one. My stepmom role felt confusing and it brought anxiety for me. I didn’t know other stepmoms who I could confide in or ask for help. I was lonely and discouraged much of the time during our early years. I was raised in a traditional family, so I didn’t understand stepfamily life, and found limited resources to help.
In the book, you reference your husband Randy’s insight into why he believes that remarriages with children often don’t work. Will you share with us what Randy shared with you?
After we had been married several years and had weathered some difficult storms, we were talking one day about the high divorce rate in stepfamilies. When I asked Randy’s opinion on why, his answer was simple: “They quit too soon.” It’s not unusual for stepfamily life to be very difficult during the early years. But if we commit to persevere during rocky seasons, find tools through good Christian resources to help, seek a united front as a stepcouple, and trust God to give us answers to our challenges and comfort us during our time of need, we can move through our hard days to happier times.
Too often, we focus on stepparenting challenges. Are there blessings to being a stepmom? Where do you look for them?
There ARE blessings to being a stepmom. In the early years, the blessings could seem small and insignificant. In fact, we might completely miss the blessings if we aren’t looking for them. Laughter at the dinner table, a stepchild asking for advice, an unsolicited hug, or a text in the middle of the day are all blessings of stepfamily life. As the years go by, blessings often become larger. I received a hand-written note of thanks with a nice gift mailed to me on Mother’s Day one year from my young adult stepson. My husband was asked by his stepdaughter to walk her down the aisle on her wedding day. It might take several years for stepchildren to recognize and acknowledge our value to them, but as they grow older and more developmentally mature, they often reach out in various ways and let us know how much they appreciate us.
How much of stepfamily struggles are due to unrealistic expectations?
A lot! It’s not unusual to set out on our happily ever after again with white-picket-fence illusions of our new family. We aren’t prepared for the bumpy roads and overwhelming emotions that show up at times. We oftentimes have very good relationships with our stepchildren while we’re dating, but things change when we marry and we’re all living together. As we learn to navigate a new normal with realistic expectations, relationships have a chance to blend.
What has been your greatest joy as a stepmom?
My greatest joy is knowing I contributed positively to the lives of my adult stepchildren, now ages 28 and 33, during their upbringing. I didn’t do it perfectly, but my stepchildren have accepted me anyway, and I’m thankful for our loving, thriving relationships.
How do you see this book being used in the stepfamily community?
As a young stepmom, I longed for a devotional book; more than 20 years later, there are still few Christian resources for stepfamilies. I understand the needs and pray this book helps stepcouples find contentment in thorny circumstances, peace in disharmony, and clarity in confusion, while they move toward a daily pursuit of grace for themselves, as well as those in their stepfamily.
Y'all, I don't usually write this "off the cuff." But I have been feeling the anger lately. Maybe more rage actually. Stuff is happening. Outside my home. Inside my home. And it makes me feel unsettled. Unfettered. Just getting by.
I sometimes see these feelings manifested in my language. And my attitude. Sometimes it just feels better to load myself up with yucky foods (and I mean that in the delicious and yet most unhealthy way) on some days. (Today, doughnuts.) But there are the days when it's just a low murmur....the way I feel when I've had too much caffeine. That jittery need-to-calm myself but don't know how kind of way.
I think and I think. Head straight to the problem-solving. I want to lash out on Facebook and Twitter and any other social media platforms that will have me. Yet, that feeling remains.
Do you wallow in it? I'm not much of a "wallower." I'm more of a doer. What can I do to fix it? Not sure that is always the best answer however. I think there's something to be said for experiencing that angst, the pain that we are feeling in the moment. I think our feelings can be powerful indicators. Like the canary in the coal mine. It's an alert. Tells us that we are doing something that is getting us off balance. But when we are tired of feeling, it's time to move to the doing. Not just for me. For all of us.
What do I do about it? How do I fight those feelings?
1) I need to go to God.
Confession: I have been derelict in doing my devotions lately. Our schedule has been rearranged this summer so it has been difficult to get myself established in any kind of routine. The dependability of knowing that I have a quiet time to read and pray ensure a peace in me that doesn't occur if I'm not committed to spending that time alone with God. Communal worship is part of my life but for me nothing can substitute for the time that I spend engaging with God and letting Him speak to me through His word and through my heart. I need to rectify this. Immediately.
2) I need to do things that I enjoy AND are good for me.
I am a news junkie. I wake up, grab my phone and read every news story possible before I actually have to pull myself out of the bed to start my day. I peruse the news outlets throughout the day. I read everything I can get my hands on related to said news of the day. What does that make me? A well-informed mess.
This morning, there was no time for that. My son-in-law was dropping off my granddaughter early. The plan was to play and then head to the library for a Baby and Me class. People, let me tell you, that baby can save me from a world of ills. She's a 16 month old busy bee. Walking and jabbering constantly. What a gift! That is something that I enjoy that is good for me. The craziness of chasing after that tiny human puts things in perspective. Does that make sense? I'm not overthinking and overanalyzing. I'm not concerned about what I cannot control because it's apparent I cannot even control what is right in front of me....much less all of the injustices of the world.
Okay, what's my point? When you feel overwhelmed by life, recognize it. Then, do something about it. Yes, allow yourself to be the pig in the mud for a hot minute. But not long. Allow yourself an outlet, but not just something you enjoy. Something that is good for you. Take the time to find something restorative. I'm not going to stop reading the news on an hourly basis. However, I need to be cognizant of when it is causing me grief. I need to realize when I am philosophizing, researching or probing to my detriment. That's the time to stop and take care of myself.
How do you handle the stressors in your life? What makes you feel better?
Veteran stepmom, Gayla Grace, a well-respected writer and coach in the stepmom community, is the author of the newly released “Stepparenting with Grace: A Devotional for Blended Families.” Those of you active in the online stepmom community know that Gayla has a heart for stepfamilies. However, those of you who have not had the privilege of reading her writing and seeing her faith in action have a treat in store. She has done the hard work and is here to help those in the stepfamily trenches. Though my own stepchildren are now adults, I find that the concepts and values in these devotions can still be applied in my daily life as I continue to influence in my role as a stepmom, not just with our own children, but with the greater stepparenting community.
Realizing that blended family dynamics are complicated and the demands are many, Gayla set out to write a devotional that could provide both a soothing salve and a holy nudge of daily encouragement for the thousands of other stepparents navigating the rocky terrain of creating a blended family. Beautifully written and easy to understand, each devotion focuses on a separate stepfamily issue throughout each of the 90 devotions. Whether you are questioning your calling as a stepparent, dealing with the angst of co-parenting, or discussing an “our” baby in your family, Gayla speaks to the importance of placing God first in your decision-making process and assures readers that keeping an eye on the long view is the vision for Christians. With a range of sources including famed authors and poets, coaching clients and her own life experiences, Gayla provides heartfelt, meaningful commentary on what grace looks like in a stepfamily.
Through scriptural support and the wisdom gleaned from her own experiences as a stepmother, Gayla offers much-needed companionship, encouragement, and understanding, along with biblical inspiration stepparents desperately need. She understands that the dynamics of a traditional family don't come close to the complications of stepfamily life. Whether used as a tool singularly, as a couple, or as part of a larger communal group, this devotional will comfort you in your role as a stepparent. It provides insightful Scripture verses, a thought for the day based upon the subject matter and a prayer to bring to God. This book will strengthen your faith and encourage you in your pursuit of stepfamily success.
*Worthy Inspired provided the advance copy of this book, however no compensation was received. The opinions contained in this book review are those of the blogger, Gara Hoke Lacy.
As I checked the local news, one story in particular caught my eye. The headline read, “Jackson County sets up two safe exchange spots.” Proposed by an employee in the county prosecutor’s office who believed a safe exchange place would have been beneficial in her personal experience, the county commissioners bought into this idea, installing signage and providing 24-hour surveillance at two police department locations. Jackson County’s purpose was to ensure some modicum of safety in dealing with child custody disputes. However, the idea is not the first of its kind. In fact, this potential co-parenting tool began as a mechanism for commerce.
With the high incidence of online transactions on Ebay, Craigslist, Facebook Yard Sale and others necessitating in person meetings, states across the country including Michigan, Virginia, Louisiana, and California to name a few, began creating “Safe Exchange Zones” or similarly named locations. The idea is to discourage fraud and violence during transactions by assuming that those engaged in or planning to engage in such activities would not choose to do so at a police department. In addition, the added protection of surveillance could up the ante on potential criminal activity arrests.
But it was soon realized that these safe locations also could be used in child custody disputes to surveil any potential domestic violence or custody issues. Police departments nationwide began to realize that safe zones may be the ideal solution to emotionally charged situations and began advertising them as such. Soon, these safe zones were deemed dual purpose and have been on the rise over the past five years. Online research indicates that more safe zones are popping up at police departments and the call from the public is for additional zones in more cities and municipalities across the country.
Are safe zones the answer to dealing with high conflict personalities in custody disputes? Often in divorce cases where children need to be shuttled between parents, a judge or mediator will appoint an intermediary to act as the go-between in custody exchanges. I have known people in the past who have acted as intermediaries in volatile custody situations. The intermediary would meet up with one parent and walk the child to meet up with the other parent thus deterring any untoward behavior between the individuals involved. Did it work? Yes, in one case it it worked soundly for about 13 years. But could safe zones be the new answer to the age old issue of emotionally charged situations without the use of an actual human intermediary?
Opponents say that safe zones are ripe for additional violence, that no safe place will deter a party from causing harm if they have a mind to do so. They argue that this trend is dangerous because only human interaction can institute the safety protocols necessary to reduce or prevent the risk of violence. According to some, these exchange zones may work for merchandise but they never should be used as a safe place to exchange children because children are a much more valuable commodity.
Still, proponents attest that any additional safety precautions in emotionally charged environments is never a bad thing. Custody exchanges in well-lit, surveilled, police department parking lots provide more security than is usually available for the everyday exchange. These elements also come with the component of police protection that is available should anything go awry.
While the interest in safety zones increases, the discussion will continue as to whether this idea will combat family conflicts and potentially decrease anxiety and even violence in custody exchanges.
If you are interested in locating a safe exchange zone in your community, you can search “Safe Deal Zone” online. Or if you are interested in creating a zone in your community, contact your local police department for information.
A couple of weeks ago I shared this photo for a previous blog post. It's a family photo from my stepson's recent medical school graduation. But I failed to tell the story behind this photo.
Along with my stepson, husband, two stepdaughters and their husbands, grandbaby, and me, there are two important people in this picture that I want to point out. Standing behind me is my stepchildren's maternal grandfather. Standing beside my husband is their grandfather's wife.
Yes, their mother's family is in our family photo.
From the beginning of my marriage, Steve and Ginger have been nothing but kind and welcoming to me. They live in Texas and travel to West Virginia for all of the big occasions. When they are in town, we get together for church or a meal. They came to visit our new home when we first moved in 11 years ago. And since Steve and I share a birthday, we have even celebrated that event together.
What's important here is that they get it. You see, they are part of a blended/stepfamily themselves. Steve has three daughters from his first marriage. His wife Ginger has a daughter of her own. They did the work. They know what it means to deal with the challenges of a non-traditional family. Their acceptance of our family was a welcome event in my stepchildren's lives. It ensured that, at least in this instance, the kids didn't have to compartmentalize their lives to stake claim to loyalty to one parent or the other.
I'm grateful for the support that Steve and Ginger have provided through the years. They have been interested in not only the kids' lives, but our lives as a family. They acknowledge the acrimony that occurred in the divorce between their daughter and former son-in-law yet remained open to sharing his life and for the past 13 years, mine too.
I share this story as some encouragement for those of you struggling in your stepfamily. A kindness shared can create a little more harmony in a situation which isn't always. You may not be fortunate enough to experience the situation I've described above. But maybe you have the opportunity to extend that kindness to someone in your family/stepfamily. Whatever the scenario, know that creating an amicable environment for the kids is most assuredly the goal. And sometimes amicable can become even more.
Ladies, we are now post Mother's Day and Stepmother's Day! If you're active on social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter, you know that we've been talking about these two holidays. How do you feel about these holidays? Do you feel pressure? Does the fact that there is a Stepmother's Day take away some of the pressure and anxiety?
Our stepfamily always celebrates on Mother's Day. Given that my stepchildren's mother lives in the same town, the kids are able to have breakfast with her and then join us for an afternoon cookout where they get to meet up with my parents as well. It's a nice set-up and I'm most grateful that it works out as well as it does. But I'm aware that this is not the case in some, if not most, families and splitting the day is not an option. Also, I am aware that some families have no intention of celebrating stepmothers on Mother's Day. No two families are the same and no two relationships are the same. Therefore, whatever the situation, I think you must do what works FOR EVERYONE. Whether it be a celebration with the kids, or maybe just spending some time with your spouse, remember that it is just a day. Don't allow a date on the calendar to dictate the goals for your stepfamily. Don't get hung up on the idea of your stepchildren setting a precedent of cards, flowers, massages and bon bons.
The date on the calendar is now gone and will not come again for nearly a year. Don't let what transpired on one day consume you. Keep your eye on the prize!
(Photo above is from my stepson's recent medical school graduation.)