The Ambiguous Stepmom

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Someone once told me that being remarried means you have a new family that should be each spouse’s focus, not his or her “old family.”  Oh if it were only so easy. If only it were a clean and complete end of one life and a clear beginning of another. But I find it’s muddy. Blended family dynamics change with the addition of “ours kids”, when stepkids grow up or go off to college, and can be dependent on how much parental alienation is going on.  Sometimes stepkids live in our houses, part of the time they don’t. Sometimes they go through phases when they want to live with one parent not the other, then sometimes they change their mind and ask to move in to the other parent’s house.  (It’s not just as simple as following the parenting plan/court order because sometimes not all parties (adult or child) want to follow it and we in blended families know that sometimes it’s easier to choose your battles than give the lawyer another $10,000 for a trip to court).  At any rate, our “new families” aren’t so clear cut and they ebb and flow, dependent on many dynamics. 

A professor named Dr. Pauline Boss developed the theory of Ambiguous Loss. Her theory asserts that unclear (or ambiguous) loss is particularly challenging and burdening.  In fact, she says it’s the most stressful kind of loss. When there is no final clear marker, it’s hard to tell who is in a family or who is out. And with the lack of clarity it’s very difficult to cope. Consider the family member with Alzheimer’s disease who is physically present but psychologically absent. Or the prisoner of war who is physically absent but psychologically present to his or her loved ones. 

It’s not my intent to compare one person’s loss to another. However, it seems to me that in blended families we have a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity. No wonder it hard to cope. 

Stepfamilies can lack finality and clarity:

*if a husband isn’t married to his ex wife any longer, why might they still be so connected?

*one day your house might have lots of people in it, and the next day very few as the kids go back and forth. The membership keeps changing depending on the parenting plan and whose day it is. 

*holidays and vacations …it it hers, his, or ours? Where will the kids be? How will that affect our family and our celebration?

*are we real family? One day a step child can be warm, other days cold. On any given day a step parent might wonder “are we ok?”, “are we feeling like real family now or just polite strangers?”, “are we skating on thin ice today?”  

*In cases with severe parental alienation weeks, months, or years can go by without contact with the kids. Are we still family? Who’s in and who’s out?  When will we ever see each other again? And when we do, will the child(ren) still believe the lies perpetuated by the other parent? It’s very difficult to be family (or move on) with such uncertainty. 

*ex-wives can be physically absent but psychologically still present.

*stepchildren can be physically present when in your home but still psychologically absent (or at least distracted); and when they’re not in your house they are physically absent but can be very psychologically present for stepmom and bio dad. 

Isaiah 41:10 (NIV) says “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you;  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Today I’m thankful for God’s peace and strength in earthly unclear circumstances. 

What are you thankful for?

For more on this topic: “Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live With Unresolved Grief” by Pauline Boss (2000). 

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3 thoughts on “The Ambiguous Stepmom

  1. Today I’m thankful for this blog full of very real painful truths blended families try to deal with. Thank you Heather for your time & dedication. Recently when Shar ing a painful prayer request with a friend I was enlightened that God saw my journey beforehand & if it’s all encouraged me to draw closer to Him, that’s the whole point. Not sure if that helps anyone, but I was encouraged. Now if someone reading this has contacts, please get Heather on the Today Show to share this blog that’s such a blessing rich w/God-inspired truths to help others!

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