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?

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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 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 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 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?

The Big Stepmom

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When blended family stresses arise, and I am tempted to give nastiness back, or give drama back, to whoever gave it to me.  In these times, my husband provides support with his wise words.  “You are bigger than that.”  And my world stops, I take a breath, I regroup, and realize he is right.  This stepmom is bigger than the ugliness that can be sent my way.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NKJV):  “Two are better than one… For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.  But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up.”

We did a lot of work, I mean a LOT of work, forming our house rules and boundaries when we first got married.  We had many “closed door meetings,” just me and my husband.  This went on for most of our first year of marriage.  It took dedication and a lot of discussion.  We discussed the vision we had for our family and how we would deal with stress.

Today I am thankful for this foundation and the support of my husband!

What are you thankful for today?