Five Ways to Unintentionally Hurt your Blended Family

Standard

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?

Advertisement

The Natural Stepmom

Standard

I have natural curly hair.  I mean huge hair.  Like, in the 80’s I had giant 80’s hair without even trying.  And then came the trend where it was popular to have stick straight hair.  So for many years now I have been straightening this giant mass of curls in to stick straight glossiness.  And that’s not easy, especially if there’s an ounce of humidity (or if you go to the gym, or if it rains, etc).  It’s an all out battle to keep these locks straight:  forcing them into line; using extreme high heat, blow outs, straightening irons, round brushes, special shampoo,  styling products galore.  Not only is it a battle, it’s time-consuming and exhausting.

And then one day I began admiring “natural hair”.  I took the leap and went to a salon that only does curly hair.  They teach women to appreciate the beauty of their curls (did you know there are many kinds of naturally curly hair?).  They teach them how to work with their curl, not to fight it or damage it.   And if you ask them to straighten it, they will say no.  They’re hard core.  Gosh, it’s like a hair intervention!

Now I rock my curls.  I have not straightened my hair in over a year.  I look totally different.  My own mother asked if I had gotten a perm!  But to be honest, managing curly hair isn’t easy even when going natural.  There are days I look more like Sammy Hagar or Carrot Top than the cute girl look I’m going for (although those guys do rock their curls!).  There are days I feel unkempt with my curls blowing around crazily.  And then there are also days when people stop me on the street to ask about my hair and tell me how beautiful it is.

And I wondered, is this kinda like being a stepmom?  As stepmoms do we try to force ourselves into roles that aren’t quite right for us?  Do we try to assume a mom role or get disappointed when we’re not acknowledged as a true mom?  Do we take on a friend role instead of a parental role?  If we are rejected by our stepkids, do we rush to reject them right back?  Are we just not sure how to manage?  Do we try too hard to control our family members, trying to force them all into place?   Like taming my hair but on a bigger scale, it’s exhausting and time-consuming being a stepmom.

What if we embraced the “natural”?  What if we truly embraced the beauty that’s inherent in just simply being a stepmom?  What if we let go of other expectations?  What if we stopped trying to force things and just breathe and just be.  Once we learn to do that, I bet people will notice the natural beauty of it.

He has made everything beautiful in its time.”  Ecclesiastes 3:11 NIV.

Today I’m thankful for the beauty only He gives to each of us, and that each of us is beautiful in our own way.

What are you thankful for?

 

 

The Stepmom Who Heard Voices

Standard

It’s been said that we all hear a little voice in our head talking to us from time to time.  That little voice that tells us things.  Some say it’s like a tape we hear over and over.  (Tape as in tape cassette.  Yeah, that dates me, doesn’t it?)

Some tapes say things like:

“This will never get better.”

“This is not what I expected.”

“I can’t seem to do anything right.”

“I’m a failure.”

The good news is that sometimes we can change that “tape” that plays in our minds. Change it into something positive, inspirational.  Being a stepmom can be challenging for sure.  So, maybe, just maybe, we can make another “mix tape” to play in our minds.  (Back in the day…making mix tapes in the 80’s was super cool, even better when someone made one for you!  Maybe a little Prince, The Cure, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Journey, The Bangles….oh man, those were the days.  Anyway, I digress!).

Here are some ideas for my (and maybe your) new “mix tape” to play over & over:

“I am more precious than rubies.”  (Proverbs 3:15)

“I am strong and courageous.”  (Joshua 1:9)

“I am beautiful and wonderfully made.”  (Psalm 139:14)

“No matter what I go through, God is with me and protecting me.”  (Isaiah 43:2)

“All things work together for good for those that love the Lord” (Romans 8:28)

Today I am thankful that I can choose to listen to the “mix tape” of His truths and promises, not that little voice in my head or the messages the world gives!

What are you thankful for?

 

 

 

 

 

The Stepmom Who Shared

Standard

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?

 

 

 

The Beautiful Stepmom

Standard

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

Standard

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 Who Waited in Line

Standard

The other day at the post office, while waiting in line, I  began watching a mom and her two young children.  I found it interesting that her kids were doing a lot of the same things that my bio kids do, and she was saying and doing a lot of the things that I say and do.  It was like looking in a mirror.  Or like watching a movie of me and my kids.

“Stop hitting your brother.”

“If you put that in your mouth again, I will take it away!”

“Do you need a time out?”

“Say sorry to your sister right now!”

“Stop rolling around on the dirty floor and get up!”

“Do not pick your nose.”

Ok, I’m not gonna lie, I secretly found delight in watching this (I know that’s so wrong!)  But for once my  kids were not here causing the scene in public, and I wasn’t the frazzled mom with some kids food all over the front of her pretty blouse.  It was someone else’s turn.  (Trust me, I knew that when I picked my kids up from daycare in 20 minutes, it would be my turn, but hey, right now I was getting a few minutes of respite!).  Finally I asked her, “how old are your kids?”  She replied, “Two and four.”  I told her that my kids were exactly the same ages, do the same things, and we have exactly the same conversations.  Another lady commented that her kids were all grown now, but we as parents were all there once, and she had been too.  Somehow I found relief in this, knowing that as moms we go through similar things.

And as stepmoms we do too.

I had heard that re-married couples get their honeymoon after the stepkids launch.  Well this is our first year with all of my stepkids in college and out of the house.  I can say that it’s been sort of sad.  I guess that’s the “empty-nest” part.  We truly miss their energy, smiles, and excitement they brought to our daily family life.   We are learning to watch from a distance as they go through life lessons at college and in young adulthood.  Certainly my 2 and 4 year old miss them tremendously.  But at the same time we have significantly less stress and drama.   And there’s no outside party pulling strings in our house. As a result we are a happier couple, we argue less, we enjoy each other more, we have simpler less complicated moments.  We waited for this time.  I think we have started our honeymoon.

I am thankful that during our turbulent “blending years” my husband and I chose purposely to use the stress to make our marriage stronger, realizing that if we did not, it might break us.  And now we start our honeymoon.

I hope the same is true for other stepmoms and dads out there too!

Galations 6:9 (NIV) says:  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Amen, sister.

What are you thankful for today?

 

 

The Stepmom and Her Prodigal Son

Standard

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

Standard

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 Seasonal Stepmom

Standard

Today is not a great blended family day in my house. Let’s not sugar coat it. Today I could do without drama and blended family angst. I know we are not alone.  I acknowledge that it can be the norm in some stepfamilies. At least at certain points in time. Some more than others. Maybe it’s around holidays or major events. Or maybe there’s just a full moon tonight (I should check!). At any rate, it gets old.  

In Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV) God says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

Today I’m acknowledging the season we are in. Our season is not the one with “dance”, “laughter”, or “embracing” as Ecclesiastes 3 talks about. Ours is the season to “weep” (vs 4), think about what we “hate” (vs 8), and a time to “refrain from embracing” (vs 5). That sounds ugly doesn’t it? But the Bible is clear. We go through seasons of different types. Some seasons are not fun. 

Luckily, we have assurance from our Heavenly Father that “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (vs 11). 

Until then, I’m holding on, and I’m having faith that a beautiful season is ahead. 

Today I’m thankful that God promises beautiful  things to come. 

What are you thankful for?