Happy Mother’s Day Stepmama!

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Today I woke up and rolled over to find my deliciously cuddly four year old in my bed, sandy feet from yesterday’s shenanigans and all.  And I’m thankful.  Thankful for this crazy chaotic blended family life.  If not for the storms of blended family life, I would not have this great husband, these amazing “ours” kids, and the honor to love on someone else kids.

But let’s be real.  This is a mixed bag kind of day for women.  We’re rejoice in the great relationships with our children, stepchildren and our own mothers.  Simultaneously we mourn the children we have lost.  We mourn the relationships with bio kids, step kids, and parents that are not intact or not healthy.  Some of us mourn the loss of our own mother.

As I solemnly ponder this (with my back drop being one kid yelling “Mom!  Can you help me find my unicorn?” and another yelling “Mom, can I have cheeseballs for breakfast?”).   I think about the many reasons to NOT love your step kids (and then I talk myself and hopefully you out of that mindset should it ever understandably cross your mind.).

10 Reasons Not to Love Your Stepkids

  1. Your stepkid has wronged you.   Talk to any bio parent.  This is what kids do, they wrong their parents. They disappoint, they disobey.  This is not unique to step parenting.  Welcome to parenting 101.  You’re officially a real parent if your kids or step kids wrong you.  Love them anyway.
  2. Your husband’s ex has told lies about you and damaged your character.  Sadly this happens.  It’s like being hit by a ton of bricks.  It’s unfair yet it happens all too often. It’s upsetting.  I figure there are two choices here.  Become the bitter, ugly, unqualified parent the ex might say that you are, or hold your head up high, behave  gracefully in the face of adversity and let your true character shine.  People will eventually see your true character.  Love them anyway.
  3. Your’e not a real parent (and you’ve probably been told so).  News flash:  things like packing lunches, cleaning someone else’s kids soiled sheets after an accident, doing laundry, putting bandaids on, driving kids to and from school, cooking meals and listening to a teenager’s heartaches makes you a real parent.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not a real parent.  Love them anyway.
  4. Your stepkid is not nice to you.  Again,  I say, talk to any bio parent.  They will tell you that kids are not nice.  Ok sometimes they are, but a lot of the time they aren’t.   Like the times when they tantrum at Disneyland (not always the happiest place on Earth, is it?), or when they treat you disrespectfully in front of their teenage friends, or when they open a birthday present and exclaims it’s not what they wanted.  Parenting is not contingent on a child’s behavior.  Kids don’t have to earn appropriate parenting.  They should just get it because it’s the right thing for parents to do.  As my husband often reminds me “You’re the grown up here.”  (oh, yeah…thanks for the reminder, seriously I sometimes need that).  Parents don’t just parent “good kids”, they parent disobedient, unkind, not-so-fun-to-be-around kids too.  By providing solid parenting even in tough situations you are growing this kid up into a healthy person (who will be nicer some day).  Love them anyway.
  5. I have to protect myself,  I have to think of myself first.  Self-preservation, I hear you, a natural tendancy.  But yet the Bible says “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”  (Philippine 2:3-4 NIV).  Huh, put the interests of others above my own?  Value others (like your step kids) above yourself?   Yep, we’re told this straight from God.  Love them anyway.
  6. There’s nothing in this for me, it’s a thankless job.  Yep, parenting is pretty much a thankless job until your kids are 40, or so I hear.  Kids don’t say thanks for limits, curfews, and having to eat brussel sprouts.  But when they’re older they will thank you. (Like that kid of mine still begging me for cheese balls for breakfast).  No lie, parenting and stepparenting is hard work, it’s a constant selfless sacrifice.  Love them anyway. 
  7.  I’m exhausted from trying.  God provides peace and strength unlike anything in this world.  Seek Him.  God tell us in Isaiah 40:31 (NIV), “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  Be still and let Him help.  Love them anyway.
  8. What I do doesn’t matter.  Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to be involved in many big “important” business matters with very profitable dollar signs attached (feeding someone else’s pockets, not mine, mind you).   But I will never forget what happened one day at work, early in my career.  I was on a phone queue, picked up a call from a customer, handled business as usual.  Yay me, job well done, right?  However, before we hung up the call, the customer quietly and slowly said “Thank you for being nice to me today…no one has been nice to me today.”  In that moment I knew that we can spend our time running around doing “important” things, but there’s nothing so impactful as being nice to a human being.  What you do does matter.  Love them anyway.
  9. My step kids are my husband’s responsibility, not mine.  You could look at that way, sure.  But remember when you married your husband two became one.  The Bible does not say two become one, except in the hard things.  And you are powerful, and you can respect your husband in this journey.  Your words are powerful.  You can use those words to build your husband up.  You can use that same power of words well-chosen to build your step kids up, even when you’re hurting and even when you have been wronged.  God tell us in Proverbs 12: 18-20 (NIV), “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.  Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment. Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy.”  Use your power for good, not evil, Stepmom.  Love them anyway.
  10. My stepkid doesn’t like me, why should I like or even love him?  Simple:  because God commands us to.  And I don’t know about you, but God is the boss of me.  I’m imperfect, I fail often, but I try to remember the commands my boss has given me.  In Matthew 5:43-44 (NIV) we are told, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Love them anyway.  

Stepmom are brave, amazing, tough, and admirable.   I firmly believe God has planted stepmoms right where they can impact and bless others.  You got this, Stepmama.  Happy Mother’s Day!

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Five Ways to Unintentionally Hurt your Blended Family

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Being a stepmom is a crash course in a whole different world.   Most women are tremendously unprepared for the life of a stepmom.  We thought we were getting a fairy tale and it is often anything but.   It’s definitely not for the weak.   In the spirit of information sharing, here are some ways to unintentionally hurt your husband and stepkids.  (In other words, stuff you SHOULDN’T do.).

  1. Insist that your stepkids call you “mom.”  Be really clear in your heart & mind:  you are not mom.  Whether bio mom lives right down the road, is deceased, resides in jail or lives across the country:  you are not mom.  You might do mom-like tasks, you might love your stepkids, but you are not mom. Bio mom might have been abusive to her children…but you are still not mom.  You might be lucky to transition from babysitter status to friend to aunt to parental figure, but that takes time and relationship building.  Each child is different.  One child might eventually decide to call you  “mom” but to another child you may forever be “dad’s wife.”   Take joy in serving Him in all you do, not in what you are labeled.  No matter what you are called, you have a great opportunity to make an impact. So don’t force the kids to call you “mom” or treat you as such.
  2. Don’t back up your husband.    In a godly marriage, the husband is the head of the household.  This doesn’t mean unilateral decisions.  A wise husband consults his wife (yes, even when she is not his first wife) and carefully considers her input.  Ultimately he may make the final decision, especially when it comes to his bio kids.  Remember he is balancing the long term vision of what’s best for everyone (not just responding to the here & now), the perspective of his kids, relationship with his ex, impact on the blended family and more.  Respect his decision.  Demonstrate a united front to your stepkids. Even when you disagree with dad, you can model respect for his decisions.  One of the greatest gifts you can give the kids is modeling a healthy marriage. So, do support your husband.
  3. Monopolize your husband’s time.  Experts know that it’s important for parents to spend 1:1 time with kids. (note:  assuming there are no safety issues such as abuse or substance use).  One-to-one time helps kids feel important and loved (they get a parent’s full undivided attention for a specific time; don’t have to fight siblings for dad’s attention). This special time fosters communication, healing, self-esteem, and relationship.  Additionally, after dad remarries kids can worry that stepmom will take up all of dad’s time, in other words, it can increase their fear that they will lose dad.  Allowing and actively promoting 1:1 time between dad and kids is a great gift you can give them.   A confident stepmom knows it’s not a matter of excluding her from the family, but rather a way to help kids resolve grief, continue bonding or reuniting with dad, and building healthy relationships.  So don’t monopolize your husband’s time.
  4. Refuse to become one with your husband.  It’s biblical:  leave & cleave.  Leave your parents, cleave to your spouse, so much that you become “one.”   Think about it.  Who are you really married to?  Your spouse? Or are you more aligned with your ex or your bio kids?  Is your spouse more married to his bio kids than you?  God is clear:  leave  and then cleave to your spouse, not someone else.  The bible verse does not read: Leave & cleave unless it’s your second marriage.  Do become one with your husband.
  5. Create a child-centered home.  It can be easy to fall into this trap. Sheesh, haven’t we known our kids longer than our new spouse?  Doesn’t that count for something?  But I love my kids – shouldn’t I give them their way?  I mean, aren’t we all aware of the grief and loss we have caused our kids by divorce?  (Even if the divorce was not our choice, didn’t we “do this” to the kids?).  Wouldn’t it help the kids if we just gave them their way more often? If we bought them more treats, toys, and expensive clothes wouldn’t it help make up for the hurt they have endured?  What about more trips to Disneyland or Mexico – wouldn’t that help the kids heal?  What’s so wrong if we let the kids call the shots in our house?   Well, there’s a lot wrong in that.  It’s really unhealthy for kids to be in charge.   A healthy godly marriage has a certain hierarchy.  Put God first.  Then your spouse (remember you’re one now).   Then the kids.  Then everything else (work, hobbies etc).  Kids thrive on order and stability.  Knowing that there are rules and structure actually helps kids know that they are taken care of and reassures them.  Kids with too much freedom and too few rules can become unruly and anxious.  Plus kids who call the shots run the risk of becoming the kind of adults that no one wants to hang out with and probably won’t be great employees either.  A child-centered home is not the same thing as a home with lots of love for the children.  A child-centered home has the kids in charge instead of the parents.  Be brave, parent well, and do not create a child-centered home. Your kids and their future spouses will thank you!

Today I’m thankful for God’s direction.  In 2 Thessalonians 3:5 it says, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (NIV)

What are you thankful for?

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 (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?

The Empowered Stepmom

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We stepmoms have a lot to navigate.  We have a lot of uncertainty and questions.

Am I supposed to feel love for my stepkids?  How much love and when does this happen?  Is it a different love than I have for other people?  Is that ok?  And if they don’t even like me, am I still supposed to love them?

Am I supposed to be nice/forgiving/tolerant to my husband’s ex wife even though she has wronged us (and maybe continues to do so)?

Is it normal to feel jealous when my husband spends time with his kids?

Or maybe:  The fur is still flying, the battle lines are drawn, it’s cat-and-dog around here…and as a stepmom you’re not sure of your role.

In Philippians 2:13 (NLT), we learn:  “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”

This is huge!  This means I don’t have to do this on my own.  I have a big God who is bigger than any problem, who actually helps me and empowers me to be the kind of wife, mom, and stepmom I am meant to be. He is working in me.

Today I am thankful that God is growing me.

What are you thankful for?

My Pursuit of Thankfulness

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There’s so much stress in a blended family.  And stepmoms find themselves right in the middle of it!  Loyalty conflicts, parental alienation, being the “outsider” in your own home, balancing a new marriage with the blending of a family, the collision of a joy-filled new marriage with the grief your stepkids can feel over the loss of their family, court battles, expensive lawyer bills.  The list goes on and on.  At times the pressure has felt like it could destroy our marriage and family (just look at the divorce rates for second marriages!).   During this journey my husband and I made the purposeful decision that all of this stress would not break us.  It would be an opportunity to grow closer to each other and to the Lord.  I often think about the Bible verse I Thessalonians 5:18 “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.  There have been many times as a stepmom that I have really struggled to find something to be thankful for.  Most of us stepmoms eventually have an eye opening realization about the complexity of our situations and say to ourselves at some point “wow – this is not what I signed up for!”  But God tells us to be thankful in all situations.  So I have decided to be purposeful as a stepmom and challenge myself to continually seek out reasons to be thankful.

Today I am thankful that God commands me to be thankful in all situations and that He gives me the strength to persevere.

What are you thankful for today?