Posts tagged Ron Deal

11 ways a smart stepdad can engage



KilimanjaroHiker“How tall is it?” I ignorantly asked a Kenyan missionary.

“Mount Kilimanjaro is over 19,000 feet tall,” he smiled. “It’s big!”

No kidding, I thought. I could see the outline of the tallest mountain in Africa from my third-floor Nairobi apartment 130 miles away. “It might take a while to climb, huh?”

On average it takes an expedition four to seven days to climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro. And why do people climb it? Because it’s there, right? Just conquering the challenge is one reason people take on this massive testimony to God’s creativity. And then there’s the view from the top. On a clear day you can see for hundreds of miles in a 360-degree panoramic view. Oh, yes, there’s plenty of reward for those who conquer the mountain. But it often doesn’t feel worth it until you reach the top.

When reflecting on his role as a stepfather, David said, “I simply didn’t have any idea how hard blending a family would be. I lacked any knowledge of how to deal with my stepkids.” Conquering Stepdad Mountain might not be as rugged as climbing one of the world’s tallest peaks, but it will probably take longer than you expect.

And you’re not just climbing because it’s there. You’re climbing because it matters. Yes, there is reward for you at the top, but there’s also reward for your family and stepchildren. How you live, love, and lead your stepchildren (and biological children) will create a legacy and heritage that long outlive you. It’s important that you climb well.

So how do you climb? Here are some best practices of smart stepdads, young and old, new and veteran. Consider how you might implement them into your climb.

1. Trust God to lead. Probably the one universal negative experience of stepdads is the feeling of uncertainty. If you find yourself wondering what to do and how to go about it, you’re in good company. From a spiritual standpoint, uncertainty is an invitation to faith. God always uses our “I don’t know what to do’s” to invite us to trust Him more—and we should.

Don’t anguish because you don’t know what to do. Ask God to show you. Don’t panic in your uncertainty and give up on your family. Seek a word from the Spirit. Don’t assume you are alone. Find comfort and direction in His Word. Then you can climb Stepdad Mountain one step at a time.

2. Know your place. A smart stepdad understands that there is an inherent dilemma to his task: How can you be Dad when you’re not Dad? Obviously, you can’t. Even if the biological dad is deceased, you will never replace him, so don’t try. Playing “who’s your daddy” only causes stress in your home. And stress in a stepfamily thickens blood, pitting you against your stepchildren and often your wife.

3. Understand the limits of your role. It’s not your responsibility to undo the past. The negative consequences of divorce, or the pain children experience when a father dies is not yours to resolve. Come alongside children in these situations and try to offer a positive influence over time, but don’t try to be the white knight in shining armor. Just love them.

4. Move in with tact. Don’t be a bull in a china shop. Respect children’s loyalties.

“I became a stepfather when my stepdaughter was eight,” said Anthony. “Her father was very involved in her life and a good dad. There just wasn’t room for me in her heart; therefore, we had a very strained relationship. We were never able to build anything. Now that she is a grown woman, I sense she is becoming a little less competitive … but I think the best way to describe our relationship even now is ‘uneasy toleration.’” Anthony’s climb was, and is, steep. Thank goodness he respected this reality or things might have become worse.

5. Partner with your wife. She needs to believe that you are committed to and care about her, her children, and their past experiences, before you will receive her trust. Therefore, do a lot of listening before injecting your opinion; demonstrate an authentic appreciation for all she has done to provide for her children before trying to make suggestions.

When you do make suggestions, especially early in your climb, be sure to reveal your heart’s intentions first. Consider the contrast between harshly saying, “Your son is a lazy boy. When are you going to make him get up in the morning and get to school on time?” and saying, “I have come to really care about David. I’m hoping to offer some guidance to him and better prepare him for life. I’ve noticed he’s struggling to manage his time and responsibilities with school. Can we talk about how we might encourage more responsibility in him?”

6. Until you have earned their respect, let your wife handle punishment with her children. Leadership that shapes character is a function of emotional attachment with a child. Ruling with an iron hand without a foundational relationship sabotages your level of respect and subverts what you are trying to teach.

Many stepdads mistakenly assume that not taking the lead is a sign of weakness. Actually, it is an indication of strategic wisdom and strength. So while taking the time to build a solid relationship and gradually moving into discipline, trust your wife to continue being the primary parent to her kids.

7. Be patient with your wife, especially when her past creates emotional baggage that you can’t change. Danny shared that his wife’s first marriage left a lot of emotional scars that he thought he could change. “I didn’t have a clue how hard it would be for her to overcome them,” he said. “We have been together for nine years and I’m still dealing with her insecurities. It’s part of who she is, so I just deal with it and go on.”

At first, Danny thought he could “love it out of her,” but in time he came to see that ultimately this was her mountain to climb. He could choose to love her as best he could, but in the end, she would have to deal with the emotional residue from her first marriage.

8. Be equitable in parenting. Wayde observed, “I’ve always felt that my wife has supported my authority with her kids as long as it was fair and equal to what I’d use to punish my kids.” If you ever want to turn your wife into an angry mother bear protecting her cubs, just show favoritism to your kids and treat hers unfairly. Believe me, you’ll awaken the bear.

9. Unless proven otherwise, assume your stepchildren would pick their dad over you. Recognize that a huge step toward gaining your stepchildren’s respect comes from respecting their relationship with their father (even if he’s deceased) and not positioning yourself in competition with him. Doing so just pushes them further away from you and closer to their dad.

Tim, a dad of two and stepdad to two, understands this well. “I have always tried to keep in mind what I want my child to hear from my ex or her new husband about me. I then apply the Golden Rule to my stepkids’ dad. If, on the other hand, I put the kids in the position of having to choose between me and their dad, I always assume they would choose him. (This is especially difficult at times when I want to selfishly ‘one up’ him to make myself look better.) This also means that when my wife and stepkids are badmouthing him, I have to keep from being drawn into the discussion. They will turn on me in a heartbeat.”

10. Remain engaged. Through the years I’ve worked with many disengaged stepdads and their families. The reasons for their drift varied: one man had a “these aren’t my kids” attitude; another had an extremely introverted personality and he simply didn’t know how to engage people in general, let alone his stepchildren. Still others found themselves paralyzed by the guilt of not being around their biological children.

“How can I really enjoy my stepkids when I feel like I’m shorting my kids of my time?” one man said. “In some bizarre way I think I’m making it up to my kids when I deny myself time with my stepchildren.” Still other stepdads find that once they’ve disengaged, which may have initially been part of surviving the confusion of their role, they can’t find their way back.

If you have been disengaged, you can’t stay that way; you hold an important role in your stepkids’ lives. When you married their mother, God positioned you as a role model, friend, teacher, and mentor.

The specifics of how intimate your role will become cannot be predicted, but you have a responsibility to make the most of the opportunities you are given. You can be a blessing to your stepchildren, but not if you don’t engage. To the best of your ability, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). And remember, if you want to have influence with someone, you must be moving toward them emotionally and them toward you. If one of those isn’t happening, forget about having influence or authority.

11. Don’t go it alone. A smart stepdad will also surround himself with a band of brothers. Joe, a stepfather of two, encourages young stepdads to be involved in a fellowship with other men where they are open and honest about their lives. “You cannot do this alone,” he says. “You desperately need other men to walk with you on this journey. Without my band of brothers I never would have come this far. If there are men in your life that have ‘meddling’ rights, then you can stay on the right path with the right attitude.”

Adapted excerpt from The Smart Stepdad © 2011 by Ron L. Deal. Published by Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by Permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “11 ways a smart stepdad can engage” by Ron Deal on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistListen to the FamilyLife Today three-part audio broadcast with Ron Deal on how to be an effective stepfather.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistRead Ron Deal’s book, The Smart Stepdad, for more help and hope for building a strong stepfamily.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistShare the link for this blog post, the radio broadcast, or Ron Deal’s book with a stepdad you know.

God gives again



In the previous post, Taken, Ron Deal shared honestly about his struggles after losing his 12-year-old son, Connor, and how he measures his life by “before” and “after.” But he admitted that he and Nan weren’t hearing from God about the future, until Nan received a phone call that showed them how Connor would live on in the lives of others.

A mutual friend had connected Randy and Pam Cope to us about one year ago. They, too, had experienced the unspeakable loss of a child when their son Jantsen, age 15, died in 1999 of an undetected heart defect.

To survive their tragedy, the Cope’s started the Touch a Life Foundation with the goal of caring for and rehabilitating exploited children. Their work began first in Vietnam, then Cambodia, and finally in Ghana, West Africa. In 2006, Oprah sent journalist Lisa Ling to Ghana, West Africa, to rescue a boy named Mark who had been featured in a New York Times article on child slavery. What Lisa discovered just a few months after the article was published was that the Cope’s had already partnered with Ghanaian volunteers to find and rescue Mark. Additionally, they were able to rescue six other children (including Mark’s brother and sister) and begin providing for all of their needs. Pam was later featured in an Oprah program on the plight of trafficked children in Ghana.

One hidden blessing in the Cope’s efforts to rescue children was discovering that what ministered to them in their grief would also minister to other grieving parents. So, through the years, they have actively sought out those who have lost children (or loved ones) to be volunteers for their ministry. This is what led them to befriend us, and, as God would arrange it, for Pam to call Nan at a time of great despair. In the course of their conversation, she invited Nan to go to Ghana and minister to the children. Helping children in honor of Connor seemed a worthy effort and something he would have loved to do, so Nan agreed.

In November of 2010, she, my sister, and a small team of women went with Pam Cope to Ghana for two weeks. But the trip turned out to be so much more than taking gifts to kids.

GodsWayGideon

God’s Way and Gideon immediately after their rescue from child slavery

Day after day I received texts and pictures from Nan reporting on their mission. But one morning I received a text with a picture of two small boys. I didn’t know who they were or why Nan had sent the picture. Suddenly the phone rang and Nan was crying on the phone. “Did you get the picture? They’re sitting right in front of me,” she kept repeating. “They’re sitting right in front of me.”

Who? Who is sitting in front of you?

She then proceeded to tell me about the rescue of these two boys. Sold into slavery by their parents, these two brothers, ages 6 and 8, had been forced to work as fishermen for their master on the waters of Lake Volta. A typical day included fishing for 10-14 hours per day, diving into the dark water to untie nets (many boys drown unless they are excellent swimmers), and living on one meal per day. Nan and the team had just visited the village where these boys lived and had rescued them from their master. They were still in the boat making their get-away as she recounted the rescue.

I fell to my knees.

“You’ve got to be kidding me? You just rescued two kids!” (I knew she would be ministering to rescued children, but no one anticipated that they would be part of a new rescue.)

“What are their names?” I asked.

Her answer made complete sense because I knew two things:

  1. that these boys had actually been rescued before and resold into slavery; and
  2. that rescued children often rename themselves with terms that reflect their new future.

“Gideon and God’s Way,” she said. “Their names are Gideon and God’s Way.”

In awe and wonder, I replied the only thing I knew to say, “You found God’s Way?” On more than one level, she did. She did indeed.

And that’s when I heard God’s booming voice: “I am with you; I am taking care of your wife; this is Connor’s voice.” And that’s also when I heard Connor applauding.

As my wife sat in a boat with two rescued children and I sat on the floor of my house crying, trying to process what was happening. “Now let me see if I have this straight,” I thought to myself. Twenty-one months ago, my son Connor was being taken even as Nan and I saw a movie about a child taken for child trafficking. And now, my wife is half-way around the planet taking back two children who were taken into child trafficking. Is this real? Who is this God that I serve? How great is His power to redeem, to bring beauty from ashes! And that’s when I echoed back to God the words of Job.

“God, for a year and a half now I have been calling into question things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. I have now seen who you are and what you are capable of; my ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (see Job 42:1-6)

As a result of this trip, we have begun an effort to support the work of the Touch A Life Foundation (based in Dallas, Texas). Connor’s Song, as we have entitled it, seeks to rescue children from child trafficking in Ghana and contribute to their care and rehabilitation. We are raising money to rescue more children and build/manage Connor’s Creative Art Center, a facility that will offer education and art therapy to the children. In addition, we support underprivileged children wherever there is a need and inspire them toward creativity — all things Connor loved. Connor is still singing, and now you can sing with us by making a donation.

Someone asked me recently if all the good that is being done in Ghana changes how I view Connor’s death. No way. I know beauty is coming from our ashes, but the ashes haven’t gone away. We’re still on the unstoppable train riding on two rails: anguish and hope. Year five is just halfway through. If I could, I’d take Con back in a heartbeat. The price of his life is too much — even with all the good that is happening now. I hate to say it, I told that person, but selfishly I’d take Connor back even if it meant those two boys couldn’t be rescued.

Sort of gives you reason to pause, doesn’t it. The Heavenly Father chose to let his Son die in our place — and He didn’t have to. He could have taken Jesus back, but he let him go so we could be rescued from the slavery of sin.

GodsWayTShirt

God’s Way bearing Connor’s image

One day after rescuing Gideon and God’s Way, Nan sent me another picture. It was of God’s Way wearing his first new shirt — a Connor’s Song shirt. As I reflected on this newly saved child bearing the name of my son, I couldn’t help but think how precious it must be to the Father when we bear the name of his Son. We are, after all, “Christ-ians.” I love it when someone brings glory to God in memory of my son; it fills my heart with joy like you can’t imagine. What joy it must bring to the Father when we offer a cup of cold water to someone in need and give Christ the glory, or end our prayers “in Jesus’ name,” or publicly declare Jesus Lord over our life, or boast not in ourselves, but in His grace! I know I never tire of the good being done in my son’s name. I’m sure the Heavenly Father never does either.

Without question, much was taken 5 1/2 years ago and much will be missed every day thereafter. And yet, my Con-man still sings.

He gives and takes away … and then He gives again. Since my heart aches and my earthly understanding limited, I will choose to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Dad (Ron Deal)

Copyright © 2014 by Ron L. Deal.  All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read a post by Ron Deal, “God gives again” on the Stepping Up blog for men by FamilyLife

STEPThink - 10-point checklistGod comforts us in our pain so we can better minister to those in difficulty. Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistGet involved with Connor’s Song to help children who have been taken. Like their Facebook page.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistHow can you help couples who have lost a child? Read 10 Ways to Help Parents with Grieving Hearts.

Taken



takenYesterday was exactly 5 1/2 years since Connor was taken from this earth. It’s still hard to believe. Some days I wake up thinking it was just a nightmare. Words cannot express how much we miss him and only faith in the Ruler over death gives us hope that we will see him again

I must confess that for the first year and a half after Con’s death, I did not hear from the Lord in a mighty way. Yes, He provided through friends and loved ones that poured themselves out for us and sustained us in a million little ways, a wise counselor who has guided our grief journey — and yes, we felt confident that the Heavenly Father had taken over the care of Connor in ways that this father only dreamed of. But we didn’t hear God’s booming voice, until …

Taken

On February 10 that year, Nan and I went to see a movie. It was a Saturday night and we just needed to get out for a while. Taken is about a father whose daughter is abducted—that is, taken—for the purpose of child trafficking, sex slavery to be specific. As any good father would do, Liam Neeson hunts down the men responsible and saves the day. We returned home that night to find Connor complaining of a headache. Little did we know that at that very hour Connor was being taken. We gave him an Ibuprofen and sent him to bed confident he would feel better in the morning.

He didn’t.

Over the next 10 days we journeyed up and down steep mountains of hope and fear and spiraled through narrow passages while he clung to life until finally descending into the valley of the shadow of death. Gone from this life. Taken.

My whole life now falls into the categories of before and after.

Before: I never once prayed for “daily bread.” I prayed for early retirement.
After: I’m learning what it is to pray for daily survival, to be still and know that He is God.

Before: I prayed “if the Lord wills …” just like the book of James says to do.
After: I realized that I didn’t mean it. I didn’t really think that my plans for life wouldn’t come about. I was smitten with the illusion of control. If I just worked hard enough, prayed hard enough, lived right enough, things would pretty much work out. Now when I say “tomorrow I will do this or that” I don’t have any illusion that it will really happen … unless the Lord wills.

Before: Nan and I thought we knew what it was to be and have friends.
After: We have discovered the faithfulness of a few amazing friends who are willing to walk through darkness, day after day, year after year, with us, even when we can’t be for them what we were.

Before: I thought a bad day was the flu, a flat tire, or a flight delay.
After: My definition of a bad day has been redefined. Watching my wife dig her fingernails into our son’s grave while screaming, “I want my son back” now qualifies.

Before: Sunday was a time of family connection, worship, and celebrating our Lord.
After: Sunday morning worship is the worst hour of the week. Songs without Connor’s voice, the memory of his casket at the front of the auditorium, etc., etc., etc. make it a time of confusion and agony.

Before: Stress in our marriage might have been brought on by simple differences in preference, for example, about the temperature of the car.
After: Stress results from trying to overcome the vast chasm of sorrow, depression, and anger toward a God that you think has abandoned you, and the challenge of connecting when your soul aches so much you don’t know how to speak about it.

Before: I recycled.
After: Life is too short to give a rip about paper or plastic!

Before: I thought trust and faith were the antidote to pain.
After: I’ve realized that the train I now travel on sits on two rails: the left is sadness (deep, deep sadness) and the right, wonderful memories. The left is anguish, the right hope. The left anger, the right trust. The left sorrow, the right peace in the arms of Jesus. Neither rail invalidates the other. Neither excludes the other.  Faith doesn’t end grief, but faith does include asking “why?” (no matter what the preacher says). I travel them both, side by side, on an unstoppable train … till Jesus comes.

Before: I weighed 15 lbs heavier and didn’t have any gray hair.
After: Well, just look at me.

Before: I thought Job was patient and his wife was faithless.
After: I think, just like me, Job had an inadequate theology, he griped a lot, and was anything but patient with God – and his wife got a bad rap.

Before: I had read Job’s reflections in Job 42:1-6 but I really didn’t understand them. If God’s plans can’t be thwarted, why let Satan wreak havoc on our lives? How is Job’s loss something “too wonderful” for him to know? Job had “heard of God” but after his loss he now “sees God” — what does that mean?
After: I have come to accept that God’s ways are far beyond my wisdom to know; further, it’s not for me to know this side of heaven. And as for what Job saw about God that he had never seen before, I’m still not sure I know exactly what it is.  But I think it has something to do with trusting God to manage what, in this life, I will never have the privilege of understanding.

But despite all these spiritual insights — re-calibrations I have begun to call them — Nan and I still didn’t hear directly from God. And then, at Nan’s darkest hour, she got a phone call.

Read the rest of the story on the Stepping Up blog post, “God gives again.”

Copyright © 2014 by Ron L. Deal.  All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read a post by Ron Deal, “Taken,” on the Stepping Up blog for men by FamilyLife. The second part will publish on Aug. 21.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistHow would a situation like what Ron and Nan went through change you? What would you do more of? Less of?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistTraumatic events happen to everyone. Where can you turn for help? Read Anxiety: How Can I Cope?

STEPPass - 10-point checklistHow can you help couples who have lost a child? Read 10 Ways to Help Parents with Grieving Hearts.

 

 

8 tools for stepdads



Anyone who has been a father and then a stepfather knows that they aren’t the same.  While many aspects of these two roles are similar, it is the unique ones that lead to disillusionment.  As one stepfather said, “I’ve studied fathering with my men’s group many times.  But nothing has prepared me for being a stepfather.  With my own kids I have a natural leadership authority that allows me to teach them and be directive.  With my stepchildren I constantly feel like I’m one step behind, like I have to establish myself each time I engage them.”

Stepfathering can be challenging.  Perhaps that’s why many stepfathers disconnect from their stepchildren emotionally and withdraw from daily responsibilities. The unmapped territory seems to have many land minds and it’s easier to just retreat than to engage the “enemy.”  But stepfathers can have profound and important leadership roles with stepchildren.  Like Joseph, who wasn’t Jesus’ biological parent, stepfathers can offer guidance, love, and encouragement to the children under their care.

All stepparents need to understand the emotional condition of their stepchildren.  For example, being aware of the child’s emotional wounds and hurts from past losses is vital to coping with the sometimes angry or oppositional attitudes of children in stepfamilies.  To learn more about this dynamic, read this series of articles on Smart Stepparenting.

It is also very important for stepfathers to recognize that gaining respect and leadership from stepchildren is a process; you earn the right to lead by developing trust and connection with stepchildren. You must be willing, for example, to enter the child’s life as an “outsider” who slowly finds acceptance, at the child’s pace.

For many men it is very disturbing to realize that their stepchildren get to determine the pace at which they find acceptance within the family.  And it’s true — you don’t get to control your parental status — the children do.  They will open their hearts to you when they are ready.  Until then, you must cope with feeling out-of-control and find ways to work within the system as it is.  Here are some tools that might help.

1. Initially, provide indirect leadership

There are two kinds of influence (or power) in relationships: 1) positional power and 2) relational power.  Initially, as a stepfather, you have positional power because you are an adult in the house who is married to the children’s mother.  Much like a teacher at school, you have positional power.  As your relationship with the children grows, often over a period of years, you gain relational power because they now care about you personally.  Your opinions matter more, your validation is sought after, and your warm embrace feels safe.

In the beginning, when limited to positional power, effective stepfathers provide indirect leadership in their homes by leading through their wives who hold a great deal of relational power with the children. Work with her behind the scenes to establish boundaries, expectations, and the values that will govern your home.  While she might be the one to communicate the values and hand down discipline, you can still be very responsible to set a godly tone for the family.

2. Express your commitment to your stepchildren’s mother

Keep in mind that early on this may not be considered positive by your stepchildren.  In fact, they may be threatened by it. Children who hold a strong fantasy that their parents will reconcile can find your commitment a barrier to life as they would have it.

Additionally, mom’s remarriage (whether following a death or divorce) is often perceived as another loss to children, not a gain (as you see it).  Be patient with their adjustment to your marriage, but communicate your commitment to the permanency of the marriage nevertheless.

3. Communicate your role

It’s important to verbalize your understanding of your role.  Children need to hear that you know that you’re not their dad and won’t try to take his place.  Communicating that same understanding to their father is also very helpful to him; hopefully this will help him to not fear your involvement with his kids. As his fear decreases, his cooperative spirit about your presence may increase.

Finally, tell your stepkids that you are looking forward to your growing relationship and that you know how awkward that can be for the child.  Let them know that if they feel stuck between you and their dad, they can make you aware of it and it won’t hurt your feelings.

4. Be a spiritual leader

Many stepfathers discover that sharing faith-matters is, in addition to spiritual training for the child, a good way to connect emotionally.  Processing the moral content of a TV program or “thinking out loud” about your decision not to spend money on a bigger fishing boat helps children see your character and learn important spiritual values at the same time.  Show them you are a person worthy of respect and they’ll eventually give you respect.

5. Be approachable

As a therapist, I always know I’m going to have a tough time helping a family when the stepfather is defensive and easily hurt by the typical reactions of stepchildren.  Part of being approachable and accessible to stepchildren is knowing that not everything is about you.  In fact, most of a kid’s negative reactions to stepparents are really about the child’s losses (stepparents just happen to be the easy target for child’s heartache).

Until you have worked through the struggles of building a relationship, most of what a kid throws at you is a test of your character.  Show yourself not easily offended and able to deal with their emotional ups and downs.  This will make it more likely that they see you as someone they can trust.

6. Show appreciation

If you want to win someone’s heart, give them a thousand compliments (even when they aren’t asking for it).  Showing appreciation is the quickest way to build someone up and help them to feel comfortable in your presence.  By contrast, be cautious with criticism.  Words of affirmation go a long way to engendering safety and closeness.

7. Spend time together

Find time to be with your stepchildren, but do so with wisdom.  If a child does not welcome your presence, join his life at a distance.  This means taking them to their soccer game and cheering from the sidelines, but not being too much of a coach.  It also means knowing what’s important to him and gently inquiring with interest: “You studied for three hours last night for that science exam.  How did it go?”  “I know you’ve got a big date this Friday.  I noticed a concert in the paper today that you might consider attending.  I think she’d like this, but it’s your call whether you go.”

Also, if you say you’re going to be somewhere, be there.  Don’t disappoint a child who is deciding whether to let you into their heart.

As your relationship grows, you can spend one-on-one time with the child, go on special retreats together, and serve side-by-side in your church’s summer work camp.  Focused time will deepen the trust and emotional bond in your relationship.

8. Manage your stress and anger

Children are quick to forgive biological parents when they make mistakes (and we all do).  But they aren’t as forgiving of stepparents.  When stress and conflict arise (and they will!) make sure you manage yourself well.

The child’s assessment of your character won’t include how they contributed to the conflict, even if they intentionally “pushed you.”  All they will see is an angry person.  Keep in mind that one task for children is to determine whether loving their stepfather is worth the risk.  Give them every reason to believe it is.

This, of course, does not mean that you can’t ever get angry or stressed.  But it does mean that you manage your emotions and not overreact toward the child or her mother.  Communicate through your actions that it is safe for the child to be vulnerable around you and you’ll notice her softening with time.

Advice for stepdads … from stepdads



“Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”
(Prov. 8:10-11 ESV)

God’s Word offers profound and timeless life wisdom — and it should be sought after throughout our lives. There is another wisdom to be desired (albeit not nearly as perfect): the life wisdom shared by godly people who have walked before us and learned important lessons, sometimes from their mistakes.

When I was writing my book The Smart StepdadI assembled a focus group of stepfathers and asked them to share their best advice for stepdads. From stepdads, young and old, new and veteran, here are a few of their gems.

  1. Know your place. A smart stepdad understands that there is an inherent bind to his task: how can you be dad when you’re not dad? Obviously, you can’t. Instead, strive to be a calming, godly presence in the home, an added parent-figure for the children.
  2. It’s not your responsibility to undo the past. For example, years of poor parenting from your wife or her ex-husband, the negative consequences of divorce, or the pain children experience when a father dies is not yours to resolve. Come alongside these situations and try to offer a positive influence over time, but don’t try to be the knight in shining armor. Just love them.
  3. Move in with tact. Don’t be a bull in a china closet; respect children’s loyalties. “I became a stepfather when my stepdaughter was eight,” said Anthony. “Her father was very involved in her life and a good Dad. There just wasn’t room for me in her heart; therefore, we had a very strained relationship.” Anthony’s stepdad journey was challenging; had he forced his way in to the family, it would have been worse.
  4. Round off your rough edges. If your personality is naturally angry, critical, aggressive, controlling, or stubborn, don’t expect your stepchildren to warm up to you — and don’t expect your wife to entrust her children to you. You must manage these negative traits or you’ll find it nearly impossible to become a leader in your family.
  5. Partner with your wife. A mom needs to believe that you are committed to and care about her, her children, and her past experiences before you will receive her trust. Therefore, do a lot of listening before injecting your opinion; demonstrate an authentic appreciation for all she has done to provide for her children before trying to make suggestions. When you do suggestions, especially early on, be sure to reveal your heart’s intentions first. Consider the contrast between harshly saying, “Your son is a lazy boy. When are you going to make him get up in the morning and get to school on time?” and saying, “I have come to really care about your son David. I’m hoping to offer some guidance to him and better prepare him for life. I’ve noticed he’s struggling to manage his time and responsibilities with school. Can we talk about how we might encourage more responsibility in him?”
  6. Be equitable in parenting. Wade observed, “I’ve always felt that my wife has supported my authority with her kids as long as it was fair and equal to what I’d use to punish my kids.” If you ever want to turn your wife into an angry mother bear protecting her cubs, just show favoritism to your kids and treat hers unfairly. Believe me, you’ll awaken the bear.”
  7. Unless proven otherwise, assume your stepchildren would pick their dad over you. A huge step toward gaining your stepchildren’s respect comes by respecting their relationship with their father (even if deceased) and not positioning yourself in competition to him. Tim, a dad of two and stepdad to two understands this well. “I have always tried to keep in mind what I want my child to hear from my ex or her new husband about me. I then apply the Golden Rule to my stepkid’s dad.”
  8. Trust God to lead. Probably the one universal negative experience of stepdads is the feeling of uncertainty. If you find yourself wondering what to do and how to go about it, you’re in good company. From a spiritual standpoint, uncertainty is an invitation to faith. God always uses our “I don’t know what to do’s” to invite us to trust Him more — and we should. Don’t anguish because you don’t know what to do. Ask God to show you. Don’t panic in your uncertainty and give up on your family. Seek a word from the Spirit. Don’t assume you are alone. Find comfort and direction in His Word and press on.

If you’re a stepfather, we invite you to share your advice for stepdads below.

If you’d like more encouragement and equipping as a stepfather, visit FamilyLife Blended.

6 tips for building relationships with your stepchildren



God has a plan for marriage.  It’s a good plan.  Wait, it’s the BEST plan.  There’s only one problem with it.  It was given to fallible, sin-laden humans to execute.  So, many of us find ourselves at a place in life we never expected.  We never thought we would be divorced, or that our spouse would die so young.  Yet, it happened.  The good news of the Gospel is that there is hope for those who grieve and forgiveness for those who seek it in a spirit of true confession and repentance based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Then we move on with our lives in the grip of God’s grace.  And, for many of us, that means being re-married and having to figure out how to integrate ourselves into a family that’s already been formed and has a past.  How can we build strong relationships with our stepchildren?  Ron Deal, a recent addition to the FamilyLife team as the director of Blended Family Ministries, has written some great material on how to navigate in a step or blended family. We know many of you are facing these issues.  It is our prayer that you find help and hope in Ron’s advice and guidance.  Here’s an article that Ron shared on our FamilyLife.com website —

familylife ron deal step families blended families

6 Tips for Building Relationships with Your Stepchildren

Improving your relationships with stepchildren is one of the greatest challenges of forming a stepfamily.  Use the following suggestions to help you to be intentional about slowly building your relationships:

1. Do not expect that you or your stepchildren will magically cherish all your time together.  Stepchildren often feel confused about new family relationships — both welcoming and resenting the changes new people bring to their lives. So give them space and time to work through their emotions.

2. Give yourself permission to not be completely accepted by them.  Their acceptance of you is often more about wanting to remain in contact with their biological parents than it is an acceptance or rejection of you.  This realization will help you to de-personalize their apparent rejections.

3. Give your stepchildren time away from you, preferably with their biological parent.  The exclusive time stepchildren had with their biological parent before they married you came to a screeching halt after the wedding.  Honor your stepchildren by occasionally giving back this exclusive time in one or two hour increments.

4. Early on, monitor your stepchildren’s activities.  Know what they are doing at school, church, and in extracurricular activities, and make it your aim to be a part.  Take them to soccer practice, ask about the math test they studied for, and help them to learn their lines in the school play.  Monitoring seeks to balance interest in the child without coming on too strong.  (From Stepfamilies: Love, marriage, and parenting in the first decade, J Bray, New York: Broadway Books, 1998)

5. Until they feel comfortable with you, buffer your relationship by including other people.  Be involved with stepchildren when another family member can be present.  This “group” family activity reduces the anxiety children feel with one-on-one time with a stepparent.

Adults frequently assume that the way to get to know their stepchildren is to spend personal, exclusive time with them.  This may be true with some stepchildren; however, most stepchildren prefer to not be thrown into that kind of situation until they have had time to grow comfortable with the stepparent.  Honor that feeling until the child makes it obvious that he or she is okay with one-on-one time.

6. Share your talents, skills, and interests with the child and become curious about theirs.  If you know how to play the guitar and a stepchild is interested, take time to show them how.  If the child is interested in a particular series of books or a video game, become interested and ask them to tell you about it.

These shared interests become points of connection that strengthen trust between stepparent and stepchild.  Sharing the Lord through dialogue, music, or church activity is another tremendous source of connection.  For example, service projects are wonderful activities for parents and stepparents to experience together.  Few things bring people together like serving others in the name of the Lord.  Discussing values through the eyes of Christ and having family devotional time can also strengthen your relationship.

 

 

© 2008 by Ron L. Deal. All rights reserved.

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