"I'm not sure I want to stay in this marriage," one stepmom told me. "It's too hard. I look at where I've come from and wonder if I should go back."
Her words were familiar to me. Early on, I remember thinking life was easier as a single parent than it was in a stepfamily with four kids, two ex-spouses and a multitude of problems.
Twenty years later, I'm glad I didn't quit. Yes, it's been hard. I've had days, weeks and seasons when I wasn't sure I had the strength to keep going. But I can now say that the rewards have been worth every effort. Here are a few:
Ability to Persevere
"Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did," (quote by Newt Gingrich) says it perfectly. To make it as a stepfamily, you have to keep doing the hard work of relationship building—even when you're tired of it.
Stepfamily relationships don't come together without effort. Even then, they might not be the relationships you envision, but if you keep moving in a forward direction, you will bask in the satisfaction that you persevered when it would have been easier to quit.
Skills to Fight Fair
Stepfamilies experience a lot of conflict and my family was no different. Unfortunately, I didn't know how to fight fair. Within our first year of marriage, ongoing disharmony between my husband and me propelled us to the counselor's office, where we learned healthy communication skills and how to find resolve through our disagreements.
Instead of hurling the last word at my husband, I began listening and considering his feelings and opinions. I learned how to express my needs and deal with conflict as it occurred, or step away and wait for a calm moment when necessary. Other relationships benefitted from the healthy conflict-resolution skills I learned in the early years of remarriage.
Thick Skin and Big Girl Pants
In my early days as a stepmom, I learned the value of thick skin. My life went better when I stopped taking everything personally. A snarly look from my stepdaughter probably had nothing to do with me. Loyalty toward her mom prevented kindness toward me. It's not fair, but it's reality.
I also learned the value of grown-up behavior when someone hurt my feelings or treated me as an outsider. Whining and griping didn't change anything. Sometimes I had to put on my “big girl pants” and cope with petty behavior. I've carried these traits into every aspect of my life, enabling myself to experience a contented heart in the midst of unfavorable situations.
Joy in the Moment
Stepfamily relationships can move from hot to cold in a matter of seconds. Unpredictable situations taught me to embrace moments of love and laughter. I look for joy in the moment and savor it.
The Power to Make a Difference
Stepparents make a daunting decision to love someone else's child with few guarantees of what they’ll receive in return. The teenage years, especially, can drive parents to their knees. When you least expect it, however, you'll recognize your influence in their lives.
Perhaps it's manners at a special occasion, kind-spirited acts toward a sibling or a wise decision made as a young adult. Your stepchild may never acknowledge your efforts, but if you work to be a positive influence, you can delight in knowing you've made a difference.
A Strong Marriage that Lasts
I love to gaze at the oak trees in our yard during storms. While other trees sway and break from strong winds, the oaks hardly move. Their deep roots and strong wood protect them from damage. The same is true of a stepfamily marriage. The storms of stepfamily trials help your relationship grow deep roots and strong branches. As you work through difficulties, you gain confidence to tackle whatever comes next. Eventually, your marriage is strong enough to master any storm.
I hear negative comments every day about the challenges of the stepparenting journey. Many stepparents quit too soon, never experiencing the rewards. Perspective matters. Will you choose to consider the positive benefits of your stepparent role?
Gayla Grace writes, speaks and coaches on family and stepfamily issues and is the co-author of Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. She and her husband, Randy, have five children in their blended family.
Published January 2016