I’m a wife to one great guy, mom and stepmom to five children I love dearly, and owner of a beautiful— but obnoxious—cat, Trixie. My husband, Randy, and I have been married more than twenty years with kids ranging from 16-32 years old in a “his, hers, and ours” family. Here I will be Providing practical faith-based solutions for the stepparenting journey.
“At the end of the day, I’m exhausted and still worried I’m not doing it right or even good enough,” said my stepmom friend, Cindy. “I struggle with guilt constantly and don’t know how to change that.”
It’s easy to assume feelings of guilt surrounding our stepparenting journey. We struggle to accept we’re imperfect. We insist we must do everything right or our stepchildren will never love or accept us.
Perhaps society dictates perfection, particularly for stepmoms. We don’t have to accept that attitude. Striving for perfection sets us up to experience guilt—a powerful emotion.
As long as you choose to feel guilty for the things you’ve done wrong, God cannot use the things you’ve done right for His glory.
In his book, Boundaries with Teens, Dr. John Townsend offers some wise words on guilt-centered parenting: “Guilt is a feeling of self-condemnation over doing something that hurts your child. However, guilt is not a helpful emotion. Guilt is more about the parent because guilt centers on the parent’s failures and badness rather than on the teen’s difficulty and hurt. Guilt does nothing to help the teen’s situation.”
Townsend goes on to say that we should learn to experience remorse instead. “Remorse, the healthy alternative to guilt, centers on the other person,” he says. “It is solution oriented. When you feel remorse toward your teen, you free yourself to be sad about what you have done and to repair the effects.”
Sometimes, we don’t get it right.
We let our sinful nature take over. We don’t work hard enough to love our stepchildren and overlook their annoying tendencies. We highlight their mistakes instead of praising their successes. And then we feel bad for our behavior.
We can face our feelings of guilt and accept that we will sometimes let our stepchildren down. But we shouldn’t stop there. If we do something that hurts our stepchild, we can change our focus from guilt to remorse—an attitude of how our behavior affected them. Then we can take action to make it right. Perhaps we need to offer an apology. Maybe we need to claim God’s help to change our behavior next time. We likely need to accept God’s grace and His mercy to move past our guilt.
We won’t always get it right as a stepparent.
But we don’t need to get stuck wallowing in guilt.
God wants to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
We won’t always get it right as a stepparent. But we don’t need to get stuck Click To Tweet
But we must do our part also. Let go of your guilt, experience remorse, ask for forgiveness, and then accept God’s grace to start again.
Where do you struggle with guilt and how have you overcome it? Will you share it with us?
Toxic people can invade our lives and create havoc on relationships. But we can find positive ways to respond to them.
I experienced a toxic person last year who wrote an unkind comment on my blog after I posted about National Stepfamily Day. I had highlighted what being a stepparent is all about and affirmed stepparents for the important role they play. The comment came from a mom I didn’t know who was offended by my terminology. This mantra immediately came to mind:
I considered how to reply to her comment:
“Being a stepparent involves knowing your role and not over stepping your boundaries!!!! Being a stepparent does not involve calling the REAL PARENT BIO. I would be very disgusted if my child came back calling me BIO MOM. You need to stop that. You’re a stepparent. It’s not your place to give the Parents names other than MOM or DAD.”
I read the comment again, wondering why she had capitalized mom, dad, bio, and real parent. Perhaps she wanted to emphasize the importance of being a “real parent” over a stepparent. It’s not the first time I’d seen unkind comments on my blog toward a stepparent. I don’t like them. But I can choose whether I’m offended by it. And I can do my part to promote peace in the midst of it.
When confronted by toxic people, remember:
You don’t have to give another person power over your emotions.
Mahatma Gandhi reportedly said it this way: “Nobody can hurt me without my permission.”
Stepfamilies often foster tense relationships as a result of unhealed hurts. If we spend our time trying to change our stepchildren or fretting over an ex-spouse’s behavior, we end up frustrated. With intentional effort, however, we can promote positive attitudes and behavior with unreasonable people.
Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” If our spouse’s ex learns we’re not going to fight back when he/she invokes drama, the game ends. If we don’t react to our stepchild’s unreasonable behavior, it’s more likely to stop.
Our peace of mind is too valuable for us to allow a toxic person’s words to offend or anger us. Someone needs to be the reasonable one in an unreasonable person’s life. I’m not saying taking on that role will come naturally or that any of us would get it right every time. But with God’s help, we can take the high road.
Remember the apostle Paul’s words: “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” Philippians 4:13.
If you would like a free 8×10 printable of the “I am in control of my emotions” image, you may download it by clicking here.
I talk to stepparents all the time who blame themselves for a poor relationship with their stepchild. “If only I had more patience with my stepchild, if only I had more time to spend with him, if only, if only, if only.”
The truth is, it probably wouldn’t matter if you were the perfect stepparent. You might still have a disjointed relationship with your stepchild.
Because there are so many other variables that help determine what kind of relationship you and your stepchild will have.
That doesn’t take you off the hook. It’s important that you continue to work toward a loving, meaningful relationship with your stepchild. But it also helps to recognize that you don’t control the whole picture.
Your stepchild has other people and circumstances that influence his or her relationship with you. Here are the most common ones:
If the biological parent in the other home is discouraging a relationship with you as the stepparent.
If your spouse isn’t supporting you in your stepparenting role.
If your spouse is a passive parent and as a result, you step into the parental role too soon.
If your stepchild has lost their biological parent to death, there are likely ghosts in the closet that affect your relationship.
If the biological parent in the other home is dysfunctional, your stepchild feels pulled toward that parent.
If you married while your stepchildren were in their teen years, they’re more interested in seeking independence than bonding with new family members.
If you had a short dating period with your partner, it’s likely your stepchildren didn’t have enough time to process their feelings of loss, which will impact your relationship with them.
Down the Road
After we had been married several years, my two girls had bonded well with my husband and began calling him Dad. I was jealous of their relationship. It looked different than the one I had with my stepchildren. Convinced I was doing something wrong, I didn’t realize how the variables affecting my stepchildren—like a mom who discouraged a relationship with me—kept them at a distance.
We try to do everything right as a stepparent, thinking that will create the relationship we’re seeking.
The reality is, we aren’t responsible for and cannot change many of the variables that influence the relationship with our stepchild.
Time is on your side. I’m thankful today for healthy, thriving relationships with my adult stepchildren.
Chase after progress, not perfection and you’ll experience rewards down the road.
Don’t give up. Keep pressing on as a stepparent…you’ll experience rewards down the road. Click To Tweet
Have you seen rewards on your step journey? Share them with us!
I remember the scene of years’ past. I couldn’t stop the tears that spilled down my cheeks as I hugged my daughter goodbye. Saying goodbye for eight months as my 22-year-daughter left to carry out her calling in Mozambique had left a knot in the pit of my stomach.
As we drove away, I wondered how I would cope with my fears. Concern of the environment in Africa escalated in my mind: the prevalence of AIDS and malaria, the less-than-ideal medical care, the language barrier, and the comforts of home that were gone. She had barely left my arms and I already longed for her return, wishing I could shield her from the dangers of what lay ahead.
As my husband and I sat silently in the car, God began to speak to my heart. Although it wasn’t audible, I couldn’t deny His words.
“Will you trust me?”
It’s easy to trust God when we can control what’s happening around us. But trusting God with the unknowns isn’t easy. When the custody battle looms. When your stepchild’s defiance escalates. When your spouse talks about leaving.
Fear. Uncertainty. It can envelop us.
If you’re facing fear on your stepparenting journey, don’t let it defeat you.
Here are three steps to help:
1. Live one day at a time.
An AA slogan that alcoholics rely on during recovery, “live one day at a time” takes away the fear of tomorrow. “If I thought about never having another drink,” an alcoholic once told me, “I would never stay sober. But focusing on getting through one day without a drink is manageable.”
It’s the same for us. If we focus on how we’re going to survive with our stepkid challenges for the next ten years, we’ll never make it. But if we choose to look at what we can do today to make it manageable in our home, we can cope with the day. What step do you need to take today? Ask your spouse for his support of your stepmom role; set some boundaries with your stepchildren. Can you escape with a girlfriend for a relaxing evening?
2. Choose to stay positive in not-so-positive circumstances.
It’s especially important to be intentional about staying positive when you’re overwhelming or oppressive circumstances. We CAN control what we choose to think about. In Jan Silvious’ book, Big Girls Don’t Whine, Silvious writes, “Big Girls control what their minds dwell on. If you can’t control anything else in your life, you can control what you think about.”
In an interview with popular speaker Patsy Clairmont, she discussed her challenge with agoraphobia–a fear of open spaces and large groups of people. Clairmont emphasized that her release from the prison of agoraphobia began when she changed the way she was thinking. She focused specifically on Philippians 4:8 that says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Her thoughts began to improve by consciously “thinking on good things,” and “believing maybe I could be well.”
We can do the same—focus only the encouraging aspects of our situation, or perhaps thoughts that are worthy of praise, such as the positive characteristics of our stepchild. What we think about matters!
3. Give up control and submit to God’s plan. In other words, let go and let God.
Here’s a poem I read recently on this topic in Courage to Change:
As children bring their broken toys, with tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dreams to God, because He was my friend.
But then, instead of leaving Him in peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help, with ways that were my own.
At last I snatched them back and cried, ‘How can you be so slow?’
‘My child,’ He said, ‘What could I do? You never did let go.’”
We want to fix and control instead of giving to God. I often remind myself that “His ways are higher than my ways and His thoughts than my thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8).
Don’t let fear defeat you on your stepparenting journey. Click To Tweet
Blending families can create a unique set of problems. Sometimes it may seem solutions are hard to find. Today, my friend, Holly Robinson, shares some tips for creating a cordial relationship with the ex-wife. Please welcome Holly, read her story, and share your thoughts in the comments.
I never meant to marry a man with children. When I fell in love with Dan, I shied away from a commitment because we each had two young children. Forget sex and romance! The minute we tied the knot, I worried that life would be all about daycare, fretting over mortgages, and orthodontist bills.
We got married anyway, despite my fears and doubts. On the wedding day itself, it started to rain early in the morning, a light drizzle from a pewter sky. Luckily, we had ordered tents for the backyard. The rain added to the beauty of it, as the tents caught a kaleidoscope of falling leaves, like handmade Japanese paper in red and gold.
Because the ceremony included our four children—by then, they were 5, 6, 7 and 8 years old—our guest list of 96 people included 42 children and ranged in age from three months to 91 years old. No wedding could have been more beautiful. Yes, I cried.
However, I was right about the whole stepmother gig being hell on wheels. One particularly bad night with my stepson Drew drove this point home. My kids were with my ex that weekend; Dan and I had just gone to bed when suddenly there was a retching sound from the doorway. And there was Drew vomiting on the floor.
Dan jumped up to tend to him. I threw on an old nightshirt and helped him clean up Drew, then Drew’s bed, and finally the floor. We gave Drew medicine to bring down his fever and mopped him with cool washcloths. For a while, Drew called out pitifully for his mother, his favorite stuffed animal, and his treasured bedtime story – none of which I could provide. We did what we could to comfort him, but I’d never felt so helpless.
“We have to call his mom,” I said finally, near tears.
Dan didn’t want to do it—it was late, and he hated the idea of having to ask his ex for parenting advice. But I insisted: if this was my kid, I’d want to help him feel better. Maybe his ex could help me tell Drew the story he wanted to hear, at the very least, even if we didn’t have the book on hand.
I made the call. And, to my surprise, his ex—who had been understandably cool since the wedding—was worried about her son and glad I’d called. She recounted the story to me over the phone and I “read” it to my stepson. He fell asleep, finally, and woke up feeling fine the next day.
With that call, I realized I’d broken through some sort of barrier. I was determined to start thinking of my husband’s ex as an ally. After all, she was the mother of the stepkids I was beginning to love. By being polite, and even friendly and helpful, to her, I hoped to make both of our households more peaceful. Dan still had trouble communicating with his ex, but from that point on, I made sure to keep the lines of communication open and reached out to her often. She began doing the same, calling me for advice or information when her children had a behavior issue or needed a scheduling change. It was never ideal, but it was definitely civil.
Last month, I went to my stepson Drew’s birthday party. He’s out of college, but he wanted everyone—his dad and me, his sister and stepsiblings and half-brother—to celebrate his birthday. I came away from the party thinking, wow, we did it. We didn’t just play a game of happy families. We really are one.
We didn’t just play a game of happy families We really are one. via @hollyrob1 #stepfamilies Click To Tweet
Being civil to your husband’s ex isn’t always easy. But, if you take the high road and treat her as a potential parenting ally instead of an enemy, I promise things will start going more smoothly. With time, you may find yourself joining her on the trip to settle your stepson or stepdaughter into a college dorm room, celebrating a wedding together, or taking pictures of a grandchild’s first birthday. These are the milestones ahead of you—provided you can let go of the past.
Step Parenting Tips on Handling the Ex-Wife
A few tips to help you get started:
Ask your husband’s ex for advice about the kids, especially when it comes to household rules and behavior. Don’t worry. It won’t lessen your power or position with your husband—he just wants you two to get along, and she’ll appreciate the fact that you respect her opinions.
If your husband fumes about his ex, don’t fan the flames. Yes, of course, he loves to say his ex is bossy, money-grubbing, a cold fish, or whatever—obviously, they got divorced for reasons. But there are always two sides to every story—and sometimes more. Listen with compassion, but remember that your goal is to keep the peace at home, so your stepkids will grow up happy and secure.
Stop competing. Your stepchildren will never love you better than they love their mom. Think of yourself as the alternate on the team: you will have your shining moments, like when you realize you and your stepdaughter both love musical theater or when your stepson says you’re a pretty good artist. But she’s their mother, and no matter how she behaves—or misbehaves—nothing will change that. You’re still playing an important role in the lives of these children, so take your job as a role model seriously and give it all you’ve got: love, compassion, humility, and humor.
Be flexible. There will be times when your husband’s ex may seem like she’s gunning for him—and for you in the bargain. She might suddenly ask for a different weekend, or skip having the children visit. She even wants you to take the kids all summer when she was supposed to have them half-time. Think about things from her point of view and, most importantly, from the perspective of your stepchildren: what’s better for them? How can you make their lives easier, not more difficult? They’ve already gone through a lot of loss with the divorce. It’s your job—sorry, you’re the adult—to make them believe that people love them and care about their needs, even if it means sacrificing that romantic weekend with their dad or having to scramble for daycare so you can get to work.
Eventually, the kids will grow up. When they do, you want the door to be wide open, so they can come home to a family that loves them for years to come.
the kids will grow up. You want the door to be open so they can come home @hollyrob1 #stepfamilies Click To Tweet
Bio: Holly Robinson is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Open Salon, and Parents. Her novel, BEACH PLUM ISLAND, is Holly Robinson at her best, a story about family, love and buried secrets.