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 Stepmom with Confused Stepkids

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One of the saddest outcomes post-divorce can be that kids have a hard time discerning truth from untruth.  These kids can get different messages from mom and dad.  It’s hard for them to know what’s true.  They can grow up uncertain of what’s real, what they can really believe, and who they can really believe.  They can become young adults uncertain about many things and with trust issues.

As a stepmom I pray often for truth to be revealed.  Truth about the character of all involved, truth about what really occurred in various situations, ability for my stepkids to discern truth from intentional (or unintentional) falsehood, truth about healthy marriage, truth about healthy parenting. And of course for my stepkids to love and respect all involved parents (warts and all).

I believe stepmoms are called to do godly work in many ways.  First to model healthy marriages by respecting her husband (what a gift to demonstrate this for kids!).  Secondly to love the unloveable, not just the easy.  Thirdly to be selfless (if stepmotherhood isn’t a lesson in acting on everyone else’s best interest and not solely her own, I’m not sure what is!).  Additionally, stepmoms can help kids by being beacons of truth.

I Cor 13:6 says “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (NIV)

I John 3:18 says “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (NIV)

By walking in truth, sharing God’s truth, modeling truth about your character and your husband’s character, modeling truth about what your family stands for…and consistently doing so will help your stepkids see and recognize truth.  It may take awhile but God promises when we walk in His will, all things (not just some things) work together for good (Romand 8:28).  And stepmom – you are here to do some good!

Today I’m thankful that God tells us to love on others by actions and TRUTH.

What are you thankful for?

 

Happy Mother’s Day 2016, Stepmom!

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Here we are again:  it’s Mother’s Day.  That day we honor moms but aren’t quite sure how to honor other women (or even if we should, should we?).  (Answer:  yes we should!)

We played a game in church today.  Mothers were picked at random and asked to announce in front of the whole congregation how many kids they had.  Mind you, not only was this in front of the huge congregation, it was also broadcast live online with thousands in attendance.  My anxiety crept in.  We had chosen to sit in the middle of a long row, so hopefully that made it too hard for the TV camera and host to get to me.  They would pick women who sat on the end of a row, right?  But, if they pick me what will I say?  Maybe I would accidentally blurt out “why did you pick me?  this day is awkward enough, now thousands can see how awkward I feel?  Thanks!”   Or would I simply answer the  question about how many kids I have?  But wait, maybe that’s not so simple.  Would I say “I have two biological children.”  or  “I have two bio kids and three stepkids.”  Would my first answer offend my stepchild sitting in the pew with us?  Or would my second answer hurt her?  I pray in church…and today my prayer was “Lord, please don’t let them pick me!”  Thankfully they didn’t.  Dodged that bullet!  And another huge thanks:  we mothers didn’t have to stand up and be applauded.  Thankfully churches seem to understand how uncomfortable that is and have stopped.  (I mean, in that split second when they ask all mothers to stand you have to weigh:  am I a mother?  a mother-to-be? a stepmom (does that count?), who am I and am I good enough to stand?!?!  Or feel embarrassed, ashamed and hurt that one has not been able to have a child, has lost a child, is enduring difficult stepmom situations, or has lost a mom.  I certainly remember many Mother’s Days sitting in church with tears in my eyes because I was childless and not married yet, then when I was married but didn’t have children, then when I was re-married with stepkids not bio kids.

The truth is, Mother’s Day can get complicated.  Maybe that’s because mothers come in many shapes and sizes.  Moms don’t just come from the traditional bio-mom mold.

As Ruth demonstrated beautifully and faithfully, sometimes our family isn’t exactly who we anticipated it would be.  “Your people will be my people.”  (See Ruth 1:16).

Whatever kind of mom you are…you should be celebrated for the impact you have on a child’s life.  Whether you’re a mom who has a loud publicly acknowledged impact or a quiet supportive later-to-be-appreciated impact.  Whether you’re blood related or not. And don’t give up if you’re not quite there yet.  It’s a journey for all moms.  God tell us in Galatians 6:9 (NIV)  “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

I should run now.  I have to go cook with the beautiful pot holder my 3 year old colored for me, in the kitchen with the sorta-sorry-looking green and red flowers my kiddo picked out for me (yes green and red, but bless her little heart she insisted those were the perfect ones for mommy so I absolutely love them).  And you know why else I love those flowers?    Because my step kiddo took my bio kid to the store to get them.  And after 6 years in this blended family no one knew my favorite candy bar until yesterday and today my stepdaughter went out to buy me two.  Gotta go relish those.

Today I’m thankful for all the kinds of moms out there and for the blessings that come with that role. (and that I didn’t get called on in church!)

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?

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.