The Stepmom Who Was in Denial

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You may have heard of the Stages of Grief & Loss developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.  The stages are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

These stages are something we can encounter when we go through a variety of losses.  For example:  a loved one dies, we experience divorce, there is a diagnosis of a serious health issue, our company down-sizes and we lose a job, or we are in the messy process of a blended family.  Everyone progresses through these stages in their own time, in their own order.  We can’t hurry someone along, pushing them through the stages.  There is no standard linear progression here.  At one point you could be in Denial and then jump to Depression, then slide back to Anger.  You (stepmom) could be in Denial while your husband is in Depression, and your stepkids could be in Anger. Sometimes I hear of families where the spouses have come to a place of Acceptance but the stepkids remain in Anger, Denial or Depression.  Each person and each situation is different.  No wonder it takes stepfamilies so long to “blend” or adjust.

Here are some stepmom examples:

  1. Denial (“This can’t be happening…this is not the marriage I signed up for!” or “I’m going to pretend our past marriages never happened, this is a new life and the old life doesn’t impact us.”)
  2. Anger (“I cannot believe my husband isn’t supporting me more, doesn’t he know what I’m going through?” or  “I cannot believe how disrespectful my stepkids are to me, I don’t deserve this!” or “This isn’t fair!”)
  3. Bargaining (“If we can just make it through this court date, we will be ok.”  “If I’m just nicer to my stepkids, surely they will love me and life will get easier.” or “If my stepchild moves out of our house, surely everything will be ok then.”)
  4. Depression (“Our marriage will never survive this stress.  We are bound for another divorce, I just can’t take this stress any longer.” or “I can’t bear to be home when my stepkids are in my home, I have to walk on eggshells the whole time.”)
  5. Acceptance (“This may not be the marriage I envisioned, but it can be even better than what I hoped for because God has good plans for me.” or “My worth is not based on whether my stepkids or their mom like me.” or “My stepkids and their mom may choose to mistreat me, but I can still choose to love.” or  “It’s not so much that my husband isn’t supporting or understanding me, but rather, he is trying to balance a lot of people, emotions, and consequences of whatever decision he makes.”)

Being in a stepfamily means that each person is inherently dealing with a loss of some kind, on their own time table.  How can we give each other grace?  Maybe the first step is acknowledging what a huge loss this can be for each person.  For the kids:  the loss of their family as they knew it.  For Dad:  maybe it’s the loss of the first family he had dreamed of, and the loss of influence as a parent.  For stepmom:  maybe it’s the loss of the idealized relationships she had dreamed of having with her stepkids, or the loss of the peaceful  fairytale re-marriage she envisioned. For the bio mom:  maybe it’s the deep loss of not seeing her children on a daily basis, and the loss of some parenting time to not only dad but also another woman.

Today I’m thankful that our Lord has given us such underserved grace so that we can try to extend grace to each other in the way He has done for us, time and time again (grace upon grace).

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV) says, “ For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.”

What are you thankful for?

(for more info check out “On Death and Dying” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross 1997).

 

 

 

The Polygamist Stepmom

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Ok, I’m not a polygamist but sometimes it kinda feels like it.  At times I have wondered how many people are in this marriage.  Sometimes it feels like more than two.

God is clear that when we get married “and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Mark 10:8 NIV).

Notice it doesn’t say, “and the two will never become one in a remarriage because he had another wife first and has to spend half his time with his ex still.”

Nor does it say “and the two will not become one in a remarriage because he has children from his first marriage that he has known longer than his new wife and he will be one with the kids, and his new wife will be the third wheel.”

Nope, we second wives, lowly little stepmoms that we might be perceived to be, we still get to be one with our man.  God couldn’t be any more clear on how marriage is supposed to look.

Authors Cloud & Townsend talk about “intruders” in marriage in their book “Boundaries in Marriage” (Chapter 12 “Three’s a Crowd: Protecting Your Marriage from Intruders”).

So what might be intruding in your marriage?  Here are some common “intruders” that Cloud & Townsend mention:

  • work
  • kids
  • church
  • friends
  • in-laws

In blended family situations I might also add to the list:

  • ex-spouses
  • lots of types of kids (his, hers, “ours kids”, stepkids)

A strong marriage is a great antidote to a stressful blended family environment.  I’m thankful that I have an awesome husband who seeks to ensure that we have a solid marriage based on what God says.  He knows full well that there are to be only two of us in our marriage (despite the pressures he gets from “intruders”).  From day one, he has positioned us this way and protected our union.

What are you thankful for today?

 

 

The Stepmom Who Waited in Line

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The other day at the post office, while waiting in line, I  began watching a mom and her two young children.  I found it interesting that her kids were doing a lot of the same things that my bio kids do, and she was saying and doing a lot of the things that I say and do.  It was like looking in a mirror.  Or like watching a movie of me and my kids.

“Stop hitting your brother.”

“If you put that in your mouth again, I will take it away!”

“Do you need a time out?”

“Say sorry to your sister right now!”

“Stop rolling around on the dirty floor and get up!”

“Do not pick your nose.”

Ok, I’m not gonna lie, I secretly found delight in watching this (I know that’s so wrong!)  But for once my  kids were not here causing the scene in public, and I wasn’t the frazzled mom with some kids food all over the front of her pretty blouse.  It was someone else’s turn.  (Trust me, I knew that when I picked my kids up from daycare in 20 minutes, it would be my turn, but hey, right now I was getting a few minutes of respite!).  Finally I asked her, “how old are your kids?”  She replied, “Two and four.”  I told her that my kids were exactly the same ages, do the same things, and we have exactly the same conversations.  Another lady commented that her kids were all grown now, but we as parents were all there once, and she had been too.  Somehow I found relief in this, knowing that as moms we go through similar things.

And as stepmoms we do too.

I had heard that re-married couples get their honeymoon after the stepkids launch.  Well this is our first year with all of my stepkids in college and out of the house.  I can say that it’s been sort of sad.  I guess that’s the “empty-nest” part.  We truly miss their energy, smiles, and excitement they brought to our daily family life.   We are learning to watch from a distance as they go through life lessons at college and in young adulthood.  Certainly my 2 and 4 year old miss them tremendously.  But at the same time we have significantly less stress and drama.   And there’s no outside party pulling strings in our house. As a result we are a happier couple, we argue less, we enjoy each other more, we have simpler less complicated moments.  We waited for this time.  I think we have started our honeymoon.

I am thankful that during our turbulent “blending years” my husband and I chose purposely to use the stress to make our marriage stronger, realizing that if we did not, it might break us.  And now we start our honeymoon.

I hope the same is true for other stepmoms and dads out there too!

Galations 6:9 (NIV) says:  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Amen, sister.

What are you thankful for today?

 

 

The Stepmom Who Wanted to Grow Up

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I have been studying the story of Tamar.  When I grow up I want to be more like her.  Oh, don’t get me wrong…I hope I never have to endure the hardships she had to live with.  But in many ways, I want to be more like her.

Her story is influenced by some really tough blended family dynamics.  You think your blended family is tough?  Remember Joseph and his coat of many colors?  Well, Joseph’s half-brothers hated him and planned to kill him, but then his brother Judah suggested they sell him into slavery instead.  Judah lived with shame, regret and grief over what he had done.  The choices he made in his blended family had a profound effect on his own family later when he became married and had children.

But, back to Tamar.  Her lot in life was filled with abuse, disrespect, and mistreatment at the hands of family members who should have protected her and loved on her.  When she was still a child, her father arranged for her to marry a horribly unkind man (Judah’s son Er).  She was abused, mocked, and mistreated by Judah’s family.  Eventually, God struck her evil husband dead, and her next one too.  Then Judah sent her in shame back to her father’s house.  She had become a shamed  widow through no fault of her own.  And on top of it all, she had no children (and thus no status or worth in her society).  She was doomed.

And yet, she remained faithful to God, patient, obedient, and respectful to those around her…even to those who mistreated her.  (note:  I’m not suggesting anyone stay in an abusive relationship).

Then as if things couldn’t get worse, she became pregnant outside of wedlock.  When her father-in-law Judah found out, he issued an order that she should be killed.  Imagine, her own father-in-law wanted her killed.   But then, Judah found out that he was the father and Tamar was not put to death.

God rescued Tamar from death.  She gave birth to not only one baby, but to twins, and through her line eventually our Savior Jesus Christ was born.

For many years, her life was filled heartache. But God had great plans for her, in His timing, and He was faithful.  He brought healing for Judah as well when Judah was restored with his brother Joseph.  And healing for all of the brothers in the blended family when Joseph forgave them.

Isn’t it amazing the goodness and beauty that God can create from a seemingly hopeless situation, even a tough blended family situation?

I want to be that Tamar-like Stepmom who is patient, respectful, and kind even if others mistreat me; the one with that unwavering faith in God.

Check it out:  Genesis Chapters 37-38.  Author Francine Rivers sheds more light on Tamar’s story in her book “A Lineage of Grace:  Five Stories of Unlikely Women Who Changed Eternity” (2002).

Today I am thankful for this story of Tamar and the things I can learn from her as well as the reminder of God’s goodness and faithfulness.

What are you thankful for?

The Stepmom and Her Prodigal Son

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Parents in blended families can benefit greatly from being in community with those who are in similar situations.  No one understands your family like another stepmom.  Or imagine the empathy when two bio dads can talk about the alienation they experience.  The other day a stepmom told me that she and her husband view one of the stepkids as a Prodigal Son.

It’s heart-breaking for a blended family to have a Prodigal Son.  And at the same time, there is so much I appreciate about this comparison.  Whether you have a Prodigal Son or not, there’s so much good stuff in this parable that we can learn from. (Read the parable that Jesus told in Luke 15:11-21 (NIV).)

In stepfamilies we can struggle with setting boundaries and consequences for our kids.  Sometimes we let our stepkids get away with misbehavior because we are worried that if we set a consequence they will run to the other parent’s house and we may lose contact with them.  This is a reality-based fear for many bio parents & stepparents.  This fear can handicap us as parents.  As parents we want to do the right thing for our kids, but we don’t want to lose them.  It’s also hard to enforce consequences (e.g. you ground your kiddo but as soon as he gets to the other parent’s house he is un-grounded; guess who’s the favorite parent then?).   In this parable, the father did not say “oh here’s all of the money you are demanding, and by the way you can stay in my house and live a “wild life”, be disrespectful, and disobedient.”  No, the prodigal child took the money and left to pursue bad behaviors and a “wild life” elsewhere.   This story doesn’t give us detail about the consequences the father set, but we know that it does not say “The father gave the child all of the money and the go-ahead to behave however he wanted in his house.”

In this parable the parent didn’t shun the child.  No, to the contrary.  If the father started running to his returning child when he was “still a long way off”, then that father had hope that his child would return, he didn’t lose faith, and was watching and waiting with hopefulness.  He saw the child coming back from a long way away because he was watching for him.

My husband and I talk often about which battles we should choose, which behaviors we can let slide, what will happen if we set a consequence, and if we’re prepared for the intended and unintended consequences of the consequence.  We want to be the kind of parents who set consequences when needed for the child’s own good. And we also want to wait like this father did for the child to return to obedience.  We want to be filled with this hope while trusting in God.  And then we want to throw a huge celebration for the “lost” child who was “found.”

Today I am thankful for this parable and the lessons I can learn from it, and of course thankful to the stepmom who shared this perspective with me.

What are you thankful for today?

The Stepmom Who Tried to Set an Example

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The Bible tells us that there will be deceiving forces, demons teaching false things, and hypocrites telling lies (I Tim 4:1-2 NIV).

Think about that, stepmoms.  Do you hear lies in your life?  What lies do your hear?  Do you hear lies about you?  About your role as a stepmom?  About your value in your family?  About things you should and should not do?

Thankfully our wise Father knew we would encounter this and provided help!  God tells us in I Tim 4:11b (NIV) that despite evil forces and lies getting spread, we should continue to set a good example with our speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.

Sometimes I wonder how I should respond or how I should take action when I encounter “hypocrites telling lies.”  Today I am thankful for God’s guidance to just continue setting a good example with the way I talk, behave and continue to love.

What are you thankful for today?

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). 

The Crazy Stepmom

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Stepmoms deal with a lot of stressful situations.  No one prepares us.  Maybe there should be marriage vows that account for this (“For better or worse, even if the ex-wife threatens to ruin your marriage, takes you to court umpteen times, makes up lies about you, and if you get blamed by the ex and stepkids for stuff you had absolutely nothing to do with…do you still take this man to be your husband?”).

Have you heard about High Conflict Divorce?  Parental Alienation?  High Conflict Ex-Wives?  Ever wonder if you’re dealing with some of that?  Here are some examples:

  • Your husband’s ex-wife has a melt down because one of your real-life friends won’t accept her friend request on fake-life social media. (Reality check:  sometimes people take sides in divorce, and sometimes there’s good reason.  Forgiveness is still possible, but we might not all be BFFs).
  • The ex-wife “forbids” her children from being social media friends with their dad or you.  This might sound silly, but it’s a way of cutting off contact between a parent and child – and that’s not a small thing.  (By the way, I thought only royalty had the power to “forbid”?)
  • The ex-wife does a little investigation, finds out what you are buying your stepson for his birthday…then buys the same exact thing and scoops you by giving it to him the day before you do.  (One more ruined holiday, thanks.)
  • The ex-wife keeps the kids up late and takes them to so many fun events on her days, that after the exchange they are too tired to do anything of quality in your house other than nap and do homework (which never seems to get done at her house).
  • The ex-wife has threatened your husband (e.g. “if you don’t abide by my rules, I will make sure that no woman ever stays with  you”…and what’s funnier is that she left him years ago, so why does she care about any woman in his life?).
  • She has confronted you or your husband in public and caused a scene (your front yard, a place of business, in front of the kids’ school, etc).
  • She goes ballistic when not invited to your husband’s extended family events. (Maybe she forgot that she is no longer in his family and is no longer the wife?).
  • She conveniently forgets to tell you about school events, recitals, sports events all together or until last minute…and you miss out on important things. (And then your husband’s kids think “dad doesn’t care about us, he never shows up”.)
  • The ex-wife subtly but consistently convinces the kids to dislike/hate you and their dad.  Instead she tells them she is all they need, she is the only real parent, and the only one who really cares about them (oh, nevermind how well you care for them, provide for them, or how kind you and dad are…she twists the truth).
  • When you’re on a date with your husband, ex-wife texts 10+ times (and he finally has to shut his phone off).

This is some stressful stuff that can be crazy-making for any stepmom and her husband.  Stepmom, don’t let the cray-cray stuff drive you crazy.  Set some boundaries.  Boundaries can be a great thing.  Talk with your husband and set the boundaries that are healthy for your family.

Remember you are strong and can get through this.  And maybe someday you can be a support to others because you got through tough times. God has good plans for you.

Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV) says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Today I’m thankful for the strength that comes from above.

What are you thankful for?

The Seasonal Stepmom

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Today is not a great blended family day in my house. Let’s not sugar coat it. Today I could do without drama and blended family angst. I know we are not alone.  I acknowledge that it can be the norm in some stepfamilies. At least at certain points in time. Some more than others. Maybe it’s around holidays or major events. Or maybe there’s just a full moon tonight (I should check!). At any rate, it gets old.  

In Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV) God says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

Today I’m acknowledging the season we are in. Our season is not the one with “dance”, “laughter”, or “embracing” as Ecclesiastes 3 talks about. Ours is the season to “weep” (vs 4), think about what we “hate” (vs 8), and a time to “refrain from embracing” (vs 5). That sounds ugly doesn’t it? But the Bible is clear. We go through seasons of different types. Some seasons are not fun. 

Luckily, we have assurance from our Heavenly Father that “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (vs 11). 

Until then, I’m holding on, and I’m having faith that a beautiful season is ahead. 

Today I’m thankful that God promises beautiful  things to come. 

What are you thankful for?







The Humbled Stepmom

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I was reading “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers today. He wrote, “The Holy Spirit reveals that God loved me not because I was lovable, but because it was His nature to do so. ‘Now,’ He says to me, ‘show the same love to others’—“Love as I have loved you.” ‘I will bring any number of people about you whom you cannot respect, and you must exhibit My love to them as I have exhibited it to you.”

What a great reminder. God loves me even when I’m unlovable. Despite all of the ugly things I have done or thought, God loves me. That’s humbling! That’s undeserved. And then He commands us to love how He has loved. Not how we might prefer to love, but how He has loved. 

He doesn’t say to love those who are loveable and easy.  He doesn’t say we should love people, except the ones who wronged us. He doesn’t tell us to love the people we like. He says we should love as He loves. He loves those who are messy and imperfect; the sinners and prostitutes. He keeps open arms for the prodigal sons. 

So who is a stepmom to love? Is it an ex-wife who has been less than friendly or even interfering  or undermining? Is it a stepchild who is disrespectful or rude?  (By the way, I don’t think loving someone is synonymous with being best friends or being a doormat. But love certainly has no room for hatefulness, unkindness, gossip, disrespectfulness, or dismissiveness.). 

John 15:12(NIV) “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

Today I’m thankful that God helps me understand how to love others. 

What are you thankful for?