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.

The Hateful Stepmom

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It’s no secret that stepfamily life can be stressful.  There can be  battles over whose day it is, whose holiday it is, who gets to pick vacation dates first, exactly what time pick up is, who has to pay for what.  Of course the fall out of these things is that you might not get to see your whole family on a holiday or vacation, or you might have chaos as you juggle your schedule trying to exchange the kids.  Your date night could get cancelled while you try to figure out logistics.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, right?

During stressful times, I have been tempted to go to a hateful place.  I hate to admit it (pun intended), but I have struggled with questions like:

* Do I hate my husband’s ex-wife?

* Do I hate my husband for getting me into this?

As a Christian this was concerning to me because the Bible is clear that “ Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20 NIV).

We live in a society where we “love” lots of things and we “hate” lots of things. These words are tossed around a lot.  I love cookies!  I love ombre hair!  I love that new TV show.  Or I hate my hair.  I hate skinny jeans.  I hate working out.  You get the point.

In this blending process I have learned that there are things and situations I dislike, but not people I hate.  I am more careful now to dissect situations and realize that people may choose to engage in behaviors that I might not like or make choices that would not be my first choice, but that doesn’t mean that I hate the person.

I have asked God to give me a soft heart.  A heart that has compassion for my husband as he navigates tough situations.  And a heart that recognizes his ex-wife is a precious child of God, with many lovely qualities.  And God keeps his promises.

In Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV) it says:  “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

Today I am thankful for the work He has done in my heart, that only He could do.

What are you thankful for?

The Stepmom Who Wrote a Love Note

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I think I have been blogging for one year now!  How time flies.

In my journey as a stepmom, I have found it helpful to focus on what I can be thankful for, rather than the stressors in blended family life.  And maybe by blogging about it, it’s sending some positivity into the universe.  God knows stepmoms need any little crumbs of positivity they can get!

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  Each year at Valentine’s Day I take the opportunity to write a love note to each of my stepkids.  I suppose this originated because it was not well-received for me to express love to them, especially early on.  I was not the mom, not the dad…so what place did I have to express such things to them?  It was probably awkward for all of us.  Valentine’s Day seemed like the perfect excuse to squeeze this in.  After all, the whole world expresses love and gives treats on Valentine’s Day.

So each year I spend some time thinking about each kiddo as Valentine’s Day approaches.  I am thoughtful about what I admire about each one, what is special about each kid, and how wonderfully God has created each one.  I put this in a letter for each kiddo.  I hope that this sticks in a little corner of each kid’s heart & mind.  I hope it helps each one grow up healthy.  I hope it cements the idea that one more person in their life thinks they are amazing human beings and loves them (regardless of the stress and dynamics of blending families).  That independent of that whole messiness…they are wonderful, and that is the bottom line.

Philippians 4:8 (NIV):  “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Today I am thankful that I can see that truth even in the messiness.

What are you thankful for?

The Busy Stepmom

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They say that stepmoms spend way too much time thinking about their husband’s ex wife.  I find I spend way too much time  thinking about all things stepfamily related, such as:

* should I be doing something else to help my stepkids adjust?

* should I be extending more olive branches to my husband’s ex wife so the children can see we don’t hate each other?

* should I be supporting my husband more?

* should I be planning more family events to help solidify our blending process?

* should I be creating new rituals for our family so we blend more?

*what should I do???

I can be pretty good at convincing myself that if I just do more, if I’m a better stepmom, then my family will be more healthily adjusted.  My husband will have less conflict in his life.  My stepkids will have less loyalty conflict.  We will all be one big happy blended family when I wave my magic Stepmom wand!  I convince myself that I have control over this whole thing…if I could just do more.  And then my sinful little well-intentioned heart realizes, that God is in control, not me.  Sometimes I stop and realize that all of my “doing” is getting in the way of God’s doing.  And maybe all of my “doing” and my busyness is because I’m not trusting Him enough.

Today I’m stopping and resting in His promises.  I’m really believing that He is in control, that He has good plans, and that He is taking care of us all.

Matthew 11:28 (NIV):  Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Psalm 46:10 (NIV): Be still, and know that I am God.

Psalm 91:4a (NIV):  He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.

I’m thankful that He is in control, not me.  Today I will rest in this.

What are you thankful for today?

The Sober(ing) Stepmom

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Today is the final day of 2014.  It was a year filled with joy, blessings, and difficulties for our family.  In our blending process, it seems we take a couple of steps forward, then a couple steps backwards.  We seem to be going along great, then someone throws us a curve ball.  I suppose like any life process, this is normal.  They say that it’s never a linear process to go through things like the stages of grief or the blending of a family.  But still those steps backwards are painful, unanticipated, and tough, especially when forces outside your home impact things that occur in your house.  And is it my imagination, or do the holidays seem to bring out some drama…perhaps because it’s an emotion-filled time.

It’s sobering to pause and be thankful for our blessings (rather than focus on the temporal crises where we sometimes get stuck).  We have so much to be thankful for. We have our family, wonderful friends, health, shelter over our heads, and we have food on the table.  We have amazing promises from our Savior, like these:

Isaiah 54: 10a (NIV):  Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken

Isaiah 54: 17a (NIV):  no weapon forged against you will prevail

Today I am so thankful for the Lord’s eternal promises.

What are you thankful for?

The Frazzled Stepmom

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Today I’m reflecting on the stress we stepmoms face and how we come through it.  Seriously, how do we bear the stress and not fall to pieces (more than occasionally)?  It’s a miracle really.  And I find that once again I am thankful for my husband. My hand picked by God, just for me, husband.

I’m thankful for the many “closed door talks” we have had, especially in our early years of marriage.  (Ok, let’s get real, we would not only close the door, but then we’d lock it, and then go sit in the back of our walk-in closet…or little ears heard everything.  And even then, we would whisper.).  And to be really honest, we still do this.

I’m thankful that we were firm about the importance of our “closed door talks.”  This has been foundational for our marriage and our family.  Behind closed doors, we have had many discussions about the possible ramifications of our actions as well as our nonactions.  And then after discussing these things together, we chose a path to take.

Things like:

If we choose to do or say X, what will the children learn about a daddy’s role?

What will this demonstrate to them about how a father should act?

What will this demonstrate to them about how a husband should treat his wife (even though she might not be his first wife) and his children?

If we choose to do X, what will this teach them about the importance of marriage?

If we choose to take no action, what will this teach them about a Christian spirit?

If we choose to do or say X, the children won’t be happy and we won’t be the favorite parents, but what’s more important?  Making the healthy parenting decision or being popular?

If we choose to do X (or not do X), how will this impact the kind of mate they choose some day?

If we choose action (or inaction), will it teach them that parents (even step parents) can take care of kids?  (or would they feel that kids have to take care of parents?)

The list goes on and on.

Bottom line, I’m grateful that God provided me with a mouth big enough to voice my opinions and a husband big enough and humble enough to listen to me, and brave enough to share his heart and thoughts with me.

Ecclesiastes 4: 9 (a)-10  “Two are better than one…If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.”

What are you thankful for?

The (Un) Balanced Stepmom

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I think it requires a lot of balance to be a stepmom.  Maybe it’s something we stepmoms learn along the way because we have to.  Maybe we never master it.  I’m not sure.

I have been reflecting on stepmoms a lot this holiday season.  Several stepmoms have shared with me their stressful Christmas and holiday stories.  The central theme seems to be difficulties with parenting plans (in other words, “mom’s days” and “dad’s days” as decided by the court or the parents, this is the “parenting plan.”).  Stepmoms have been telling me about the lovely Christmas plans they made for their families and then finding out last minute that the stepkids would not be there because the ex made other plans for the kids even though it wasn’t her day.

This is one of the ugly realities that stepmoms live with.  If you are not a stepmom and you’re reading this, brace yourself.  We stepmoms plan lovely meals, family days, birthday parties, Christmas dinners, vacations, and so on…and then our stepkids aren’t always allowed to attend.   When these things happen, even the most balanced stepmom can feel unbalanced. It’s deflating and deeply sad for stepmoms.  It’s like the rug gets pulled right out from under you. It’s a struggle to be upbeat or joyous during a family time, when only part of your family is allowed to be there.

Some of us deal with parental alienation where the other parent purposely plans something more fun on that same day to lure the kids away.  Others have exes who just don’t cooperate with the parenting plan.  And we all know that it’s easier to let it slide than to retain the lawyer for several thousand dollars again.

So today I’m thinking about the sweet stepmoms who have shared their stories of holiday disappointment with me.  I have been there, I know that pain too well.

Psalm 34:18 (NIV)  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

John 16:33 (NIV)  I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Today I am thankful for God’s comfort in this fallen world and for the girlfriends God has placed in my life.

What are you thankful for?