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Q: I recently married a relatively young widower with two children. Boom: instant stepparent. I'm doing my best to learn how to be "Mom" for my stepchildren, but it's a lot harder to connect than I expected. Help!

Jim: Becoming a stepparent can be rewarding. But it can also have its challenges. In your case, there's the added factor of grief over the loss of their birth mother.

Very few stepfamilies begin to jell immediately after marriage. It takes time for parents and kids alike to feel comfortable with their new living arrangement. So the best advice I can give you is don't hurry or try to force relationships to grow.

That's something author Ron Deal calls the "blender strategy." Blenders are what chefs use to force ingredients together. It works well with food, but not so much with relationships. If you push a child to connect with you, it'll backfire.

A more effective approach is what Deal calls the "Crock-Pot strategy." The idea is to allow family members to slowly find their place with one another. That means giving your stepchildren time and space to build a relationship with you. How? By being present in their life, but not pushing them to connect.

For example, your stepdaughter may be OK with you attending her soccer games, but she won't share her feelings with you. That's still an open door. It's a chance to engage her in a way she's comfortable with. So show up and cheer her on, but don't get impatient if she doesn't warm up to you right away. Let her ease into a relationship with you at her own pace. Over time, she'll likely soften.

We have plenty of resources for blended households -- including information about how to contact our staff counselors, if that would be of interest -- at FocusOnTheFamily.com.

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Q: My husband and I had significant marital issues and eventually divorced, but later reconciled and remarried. Where we lived before, everybody knew our story in all its detail. We recently moved to a different city. As we make new friends, how much of our story do you think we should tell?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Nobody likes a scar. That's why most people keep them hidden. But with the right mindset, a scar can be a symbol of healing and strength for others.

Here's an example. When Dave Roever shipped off to fight in Vietnam, he told his fiancee he'd return without a scratch. But a sniper's bullet changed all that. The shot struck a phosphorous grenade in Dave's hand, which exploded, burning most of his face and body. His scars were so extensive that he'd never be able to hide them. So, Dave chose to use his wounds to bring healing to others. A well-known speaker, he has encouraged thousands of people not to hide their scars. He says, "Scars are evidence of pain, but they're also evidence you survived."

That same truth holds for the scars your marriage has suffered as well. I obviously don't know what tore your home apart. Whatever the cause -- infidelity, alcoholism, drug abuse, etc. -- the result is usually the same. People hide their scars to avoid feelings of shame or humiliation.

But a scar can become a symbol of hope to others facing similar problems. Remember, a scar indicates healing has taken place. It means there was an open wound, but you fought through and mended what was broken in your relationship. I applaud you for that.

So, when it comes to your marriage, don't hide your scars. Let the world around you see them as a source of strength and hope.

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