The Stepmom Who Shared

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Our son is four and he’s at the age when he’s learning to share.  He loves sharing his toys with his sister and teaching her about taking turns.

Tonight I came home and saw that my husband and son were snuggling in our giant bean bag chair.  They were having a great time watching a movie, eating popcorn and ice cream too!  When I tried to horn in on their boy time, my husband jokingly objected.

My husband:  “No, you can’t join us.  I’m snuggling with him, this is OUR time!”

My son:  “Daddy, share!”

Me:  “Daddy did share, honey.  He shared this movie with you, the ice cream and the popcorn.  You guys had a great time sharing all of this.”

My son:  “no Mommy, I mean Daddy should share ME with you.”

And of course we assured him that we would. He’s our “ours baby” and we definitely share him.  But part of me couldn’t help but wonder what this scenario is like for stepkids.  How often must they wish for their parents to share them more nicely?  How often do they feel they have to choose one parent over the other?  And how well can they really experience the joy of having their parents share in their lives when their parents are not in the same house or if they can’t get along for five minutes?

And so I stepped out of my Me-ness and remembered what their experience might be like, or should I say imagined what at least a sliver of what their experience might be like.

Today I’m thankful for the lessons I learn through being a stepmom, those of empathy and remaining tenderhearted in a fallen world.

Romans 12:15b (NIV)  “…mourn with those who mourn.”

Ephesians 4:32 (NKJV) “ And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

What are you thankful for today?

 

 

 

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The Beautiful Stepmom

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Today I am inspired by words that our Lord speaks to us in Isaiah 61:3 (NIV)

“and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes, the oil of joy
    instead of mourning, and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

Beauty for ashes.  Isn’t that so blended-family-like?

Think of the “ashes” we have in our families.  From the adult perspective, maybe it’s the loss of a past marriage; the loss of our hopes and dreams about our first family and the way life was supposed to work out; the loss of a love; maybe a betrayal in our previous marriage; costly court cases; or loss of time and relationship with our children.  From the child perspective, maybe it’s the loss of family as he knew it and maybe even resulting depression and anger.

And yet, when we focus on the way God wants us to selflessly love our current spouses, children and stepchildren…there can be beauty from these ashes.  Sure it takes time (the average stepfamily takes 4-7 years to blend).  But nevertheless, there is beauty from ashes.    Who could take such an ugly, heart-breaking situation and make something beautiful from it?  Only God can perform that miracle.  And maybe, if we focus on the ashes so much, we miss the emerging beauty.  So today I’m thankful for the beauty in our imperfect family, and appreciative that over time it gets more & more beautiful (if I pay attention).

Today I am thankful that only He can bring beauty out of the ashes.

What are you thankful for?

 

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 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 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?

Happy Mother’s Day, Stepmom!

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Today is Mother’s Day, so I’m thinking about the women I love and admire.  Thinking of my friends who have lost their mothers; friends who have biological children; friends who are not able to have children; those who have lost children; friends who are pregnant; friends who have fostered and those who have adopted.  My heart aches for some because they are experiencing such deep grief.  I celebrate others as they are having great days with their children or happily expecting a baby.

And I think of stepmoms.  I so admire stepmoms.  It takes a special person to love someone else’s child.  Especially if the love is not returned.

So if you’re a stepmom who parents someone else’s child 50% of the time, 100% of the time, two weekends a month, or just in the summers, here’s to you.  Maybe you’re a stepmom with so much parental alienation going on or so much conflict, that you rarely see your stepchild(ren).  Whether you show love on a daily basis (cooking, cleaning, packing lunches, doing laundry, being the taxi cab, saying encouraging words, speaking the truth in love) or if you don’t have the opportunity for tangible things but instead, you have a special place for your stepchild in your heart where you keep hopes, dreams, and prayers for him…either way, you are an amazing example of God’s love.

1 Corinthians 16:14 (NIV)  Do everything in love.

Happy Mother’s Day, Stepmom.