It might surprise you that I jumped at the opportunity to review Step Parenting With Grace.
I mean, I'm not a step parent, and don't have any intention of being one. From time to time, I do have parents in my coaching practice who are in the process of step-parenting in some way, but honestly, I wasn't drawn to the book for that reason.
You see step-parenting is the perfect storm of living a life that you never planned. After you've had a marriage or relationship that has ended for some unfortunate reason, being in the position to raise or care for a child you never imagined having as a step parent can be just the second chance at love you never knew you wanted. The challenge of partnering with someone who you may have nothing in common with as you walk the parenting journey can be stressful to say the least, but finding the blessing in what we never expected is exactly what God's grace is all about.
While we may not all be step parents, I found that this book was equally full of practical parenting wisdom for those of us parenting biological children. And I think we can all use a few inspirational words for the moments when life doesn't goes as planned, especially when we're suddenly given an immensely important task for which we feel completely ill-prepared.
Although I'm not a step parent, this summer I have been in the position of 'co-parent' to my grandchildren who temporarily moved in with me while my daughter finished a difficult pregnancy. The words of encouragement in Gayla's book were certainly helpful several times over the past few months. So I thought I would share a few that hit home for me.
Grief hurts. Disharmony compounds it. When you've lost something or someone, grief is a natural response. You're disappointed with your reality and there are moments when every single thing around you feels like a reminder of what could have or should have been. That pain is real. Kids often don't have the words to truly articulate that pain, so what we see is ugly behaviors that can lead to disharmony or strife. But disharmony, meaning conflicts that arise from a lack of agreement, doesn't have to be a part of your daily life. Making peace with your new normal is a great prescription for the pain.
In my home, the introduction of four new people caused all sorts of conflict from who was eating all the cereal to why we would or wouldn't be watching certain things on TV. Often, the squabbles we experience can feel silly and we are quick to dismiss them, but that's not always the best response. Acknowledging the feelings behind the conflict keep our focus on solutions. Choosing grace, which can "soften rough edges" reminds us that we all have personal experiences and we should offer the grace we hope to receive.
There's plenty of work to do, have fun. I have to admit I'm a get it done kind of girl which is often helpful when the work is plentiful, but in periods of transition where relationships are being built or repaired, fun can't be seen as a waste of time, but it's not.
Our families function because of the work that we do, dishes, laundry, yard work and all. But we bond because of the joy we experience and memories made during the down times. Something as simple as cranking up the music and having a dance party can break the tension in a room and should be looked at as a positive and not just goofing off. I've quickly learned that with a large family the work is NEVER done so if I'm waiting for a completed to-do list, I'm liable to miss the best moments of all. For me it's helpful to keep things in perspective. While I won't care about the dishes in my sink 10 days or 10 years from now, playing with my kids is a memory they'll have long after I'm gone. For step parents, you've got the added challenge of creating memories with a child beginning later in their life than mom or dad so every moment you give them really is a foundation for a long term relationship you'll both enjoy.
Practice radical compassion. This might have been my favorite phrase of the entire book. Having been a parent who loved a prodigal child I know all too well how easy it is to get into the habit of blame and guilt with a child who is choosing to behave in a way that goes against your beliefs. For step parents, it can be even harder because often you don't have the benefit of knowing the child before the rebellion sets in so your relationship is more fragile.
Radical compassion says, I see your behavior, but more importantly, I see you. I see your pain, your grief and your desperation. I know I can't fix it all but I'll do my best to understand. These words are much easier to type than they are to say when your own disappointment is on the tip of your tongue, but if you practice self-control progress is possible.
The National Stepfamily Resource Center suggests you work to incorporate healthy family strategies to overcome challenges common to stepfamilies.
- Listen often
- Communicate openly and positively
- Share activities
- Use compromise to solve problems amicably
- Spend time one-on-one
So, are you or someone you know embarking on the journey of step-parenting? Share what's working for you below and Check out Step-Parenting With Grace for more simple tips to get you from day to day.