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?

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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 Seasonal Stepmom

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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?







The Humbled Stepmom

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I was reading “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers today. He wrote, “The Holy Spirit reveals that God loved me not because I was lovable, but because it was His nature to do so. ‘Now,’ He says to me, ‘show the same love to others’—“Love as I have loved you.” ‘I will bring any number of people about you whom you cannot respect, and you must exhibit My love to them as I have exhibited it to you.”

What a great reminder. God loves me even when I’m unlovable. Despite all of the ugly things I have done or thought, God loves me. That’s humbling! That’s undeserved. And then He commands us to love how He has loved. Not how we might prefer to love, but how He has loved. 

He doesn’t say to love those who are loveable and easy.  He doesn’t say we should love people, except the ones who wronged us. He doesn’t tell us to love the people we like. He says we should love as He loves. He loves those who are messy and imperfect; the sinners and prostitutes. He keeps open arms for the prodigal sons. 

So who is a stepmom to love? Is it an ex-wife who has been less than friendly or even interfering  or undermining? Is it a stepchild who is disrespectful or rude?  (By the way, I don’t think loving someone is synonymous with being best friends or being a doormat. But love certainly has no room for hatefulness, unkindness, gossip, disrespectfulness, or dismissiveness.). 

John 15:12(NIV) “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

Today I’m thankful that God helps me understand how to love others. 

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 Bestie Stepmom

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I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely young lady recently. She was probably in her late 20’s or early 30’s. She told me about her four parents. Her mom and stepdad; her dad and stepmom. She went on to tell me about her biological siblings, her half siblings and her step-siblings. She’s got a lot of people in her blended family. And she loves them all.

Not all of us are so lucky. Not all families work that way. Some families are high conflict and less blended. Some have more parental alienation, less cooperation, more narcissism…you name it. She and her family are very fortunate.

But wait…there’s more. I hope you’re sitting down. While she loves all four parents, she is closest with her stepmom in many ways. Yes, you read that right: her stepmom! Her stepmom is her go-to person. Her number one confidante. Her number one advice giver.

As a stepmom, this story delighted me. You mean a stepmom can go from The Evil Stepmom to Bestie? (Are pigs flying?)

I don’t mean to imply that I hope my step kids love me more than they love their mom. I don’t mean that I hope someday they will choose me over her in certain matters. But this is a beautiful story of hope, love, and healing. And this stepmom loved hearing all about it.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV): Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Today I’m thankful for the encouraging story a stranger shared with me. Such a blessing.

What are you thankful for?