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I’m a learner by nature.  Whether it’s a new job responsibility, a new piece of furniture, or a new TV show: this girl is going to read anything and everything before I dive in.  As you can imagine, I poured over every stepmom and stepfamily book I could get my hands on when I met my husband and his kiddos.  I learned many valuable lessons from the stepmoms and experts who came before me, but looking back now, I wish someone had told me that what I did didn’t matter nearly as much as how I did it.  When it came to coparenting with either of my stepkids’ moms, my attitude mattered as much as my actions.

Believe the best.  It’s easy to fall into the trap that you know why your stepkid’s mom is behaving one way or another.  Maybe you’re basing it on something your stepkid has said, or making an assumption due to past conflicts.  I’ve got news for you, sister: you probably don’t understand the inner workings of her heart any more than she does yours.  Stepmoms should know better than anybody what it’s like to be misjudged! The next time you get a questionable text message or email, check those assumptions at the door.  Choose to believe that although it sounds snarky, maybe it wasn’t on purpose, or personal.  Believing the best gives parents permission to have a bad day without making it hard on the kids.

Show kindness.  Our interaction with my stepdaughter’s mom and stepdad was very limited during her childhood; we lived in different cities, and kept exchanges short and to the point.  There were a few times over the years, though, that her stepdad would arrange to bring her to me on his way through town.  Do you know what I remember most about those exchanges?  Her stepdad was kind. I can only imagine the things he heard about me around the dinner table (and I’m sure some of it was painfully accurate), but you never would have known.  We could chat about our jobs and families without an agenda, one parent to another, and it was refreshing.  Don’t ever underestimate the power of kindness – for the benefit of your stepkids, if no one else.

Be empathetic.  Coparenting with a high-conflict parent can be exhausting…and it’s easy to lose sight of the person on the other side of the fence or telephone.  When your stepkid’s mom reaches out to switch weekends, how do you and your husband react?  What if she asks you to keep them longer, or gives up her time altogether?  Maybe you’re like us, and you’ve been burned by being agreeable or having to change your plans last minute to accommodate.  Do you realize that you can respond with empathy, even if the answer is ultimately no?  Starting the conversation with something like, “I’m so sorry that you’re going through that…” or “I understand that this is really important to you…” communicates that you care enough about your stepkids to care about what’s going on at their other home and with the other parent(s).  My stepdaughter’s mom had a little boy within hours of my father-in-law passing away.  Looking back, I know how hard it must have been for us to scoop up her daughter and overshadow what should have been a happy day.  In the moment, let’s strive to remember that our family isn’t more or less important than our stepkid’s other family.

Mend fences.  You might think boundaries are contrary to all of my previous points, but they’re actually the foundation for why we can be vulnerable in the moment.  How many times have you heard a stepmom say, “I thought we were in a really good place with her!” or “Things were going great, but then she…”?  The struggle is real when it comes to building a healthy relationship with your stepkid’s mom.  I don’t think that there’s a single definition of “healthy” in this context, but rather that the relationship centers around interactions that are life-giving, not damaging, to our stepkids.  Sometimes your stepkid’s mom may not understand your boundaries, or even know that they are there.  Other times she may run right over them!  Either way, we can be left feeling angry, resentful, or bitter…all of which are potential roadblocks to effective coparenting in the future.  Left to themselves, our emotions rear their ugly heads at the worst moments!  Keeping all communication about the kids, or making certain times (or topics!) off limits, are just two examples of healthy boundaries that help keep us from letting hard feelings overpower our best intentions.

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart… What you say flows from what is in your heart. – Luke 6:45

We had frequent clinic visits and day surgeries scheduled while my stepson was in cancer treatment, and his mom would meet us at the hospital.  I remember waiting in a pre-op room one morning, when my stepson got rowdy and started messing around with some magazines.  When his mom reprimanded him, my stepson ignored her…and I encouraged the bad behavior.  I am sorry to say that I let my personal feelings about his mom get in the way of an opportunity to co-parent.  Can you imagine how positive it could have been if I had backed her up?  Instead, I showed my stepson that we weren’t a united front – and only widened the gap in my relationship with his mom.  I was able to apologize to her much later on, but the damage was done.

Today, I encourage you to examine your actions.  Where is your heart at when it comes to interactions with your stepkid’s mom or stepdad?  I don’t make excuses for bad behavior (mine included!) but remember, you don’t have to like someone to be respectful.  Instead of countering the actions of the other parent, try cooperating, and see for yourself that there can be a positive outcome in otherwise difficult circumstances.

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My stepson moved into his first apartment last weekend, and to be honest, we’ve all been counting down the days!  My husband and I downsized from a four-bedroom to a two-bedroom home in anticipation of becoming empty-nesters, and well, it turned out to be a little premature…we’ve been in very close quarters this summer.  My stepson made his final trip to the house on Friday night to pick up the last few items, and it finally set in that the sweet little six-year-old I fell in love with is all grown up.

God is always on time, and as I tried to process how exactly to share my thoughts about this transition season, He blessed me with some wisdom from one of my favorite stepmom coaches and authors, Gayla Grace.  She spoke at a conference this past weekend, and as part of her session, shared a “to don’t” list – and encouraged us to make our own.  I don’t know about you, but there’s times I want to go back five or ten years (or ten minutes!) and be like, “Hey, you don’t really want to do that…”  So, without further ado, here are my to-dont’s.

Don’t wish away the seasons.  I remember sitting on the back porch with my husband one night, and reminiscing about how we couldn’t wait for the previous year to be over.  The funny thing was, the next year turned out to be even worse!  When you can’t get along with your husband’s ex and you’re struggling to make ends meet with child support, it’s hard to imagine not counting down to your stepkid’s 18th birthday.  I would be lying if I told you that my stepmom journey got easier…it just got different, and more importantly, so did I.  It’s no fun being in the middle of a hard season, or one hard season of many – but if your only focus is getting to the other side, you will miss out on all that God is doing inside of you along the way.

Don’t miss out on the big moments.  I don’t believe there’s any right or wrong answer as to how involved a stepmom should be in the lives of her stepkids.  (I bet you could ask ten strangers right now, and you’d probably get close to ten different answers!)  For some stepmoms, taking a step back at school or extracurriculars is appropriate to keep the peace, while for others, those same activities require all hands on deck.  No matter where you’re at on that spectrum, I encourage you to be present for the major life events…for your stepkids, and for yourself.  You’ve earned it.

Don’t give up on your stepkids.  I wish I could shout this from the rooftops: keep showing up.  Be annoyingly consistent when it comes to your stepkids, even when your desire to be a part of their lives isn’t reciprocated.  My stepdaughter will tell you that even though she pushed her dad away at times, she remembers that he was always there.  If you and your husband are dealing with the effects of Parental Alienation Syndrome, you are not alone.  I want you to hear that it’s never too late to develop a positive, healthy relationship with those kiddos…but sometimes it can take time and distance from both homes for our stepkids to gain clarity.

Don’t blame everything (or everyone) else.  I often hear stepmoms make comments about how things would be better, or easier, if the husband, ex-wife or stepkids would change.  I say this in all love: the buck stops with you, stepmomma.  While you’re praying for God to change their hearts, how about praying for Him to change your own?  I challenge you to become a victor in the midst of your circumstances, not a victim.  Stepfamily life is for the birds some days, but you and I have the opportunity to step up and be the change that our blended families so desperately need.

Don’t set expectations.  This little nugget is courtesy of my husband.  He watched me struggle early in my stepmom journey when blended family life didn’t quite match the image of marriage and kids in my head.  I remember saying to him at one point, “I didn’t know it was going to be like this!”  Contrary to popular opinion, most stepmoms have no idea what they are getting themselves into when they marry a man with kids.  I have had  to learn to let go of my expectations, and embrace the beautiful mess in front of me.  Instead of focusing on what isn’t, I encourage you to cultivate what is.  Celebrate the season, make new traditions, and most of all, give yourself some grace.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. – Proverbs 13:12

If you haven’t already seen my Instagram, this stepmom’s journey took a slight detour over the past few weeks!  As my stepson prepared to move out, my stepdaughter asked to move back in while she prepares for her next season.  (I legit had a queen bed in the middle of our living room for a few weeks.)  I’ve read this verse before, but as I think about going from an (almost) empty-nester to having my stepdaughter back home, I believe that maybe instead of hope deferred, it was hope misplaced.  You never know where life is going to take you, stepmomma…so don’t forget to take Jesus with you.

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The Called Stepmom by Thecalledstepmom - 4M ago

The beginning of the school year brings a whole new set of challenges for blended families.  I don’t know about you, but I think I was more nervous than my stepkids every year!  Navigating meet-the-teacher nights, school events, and extracurriculars can seem daunting – especially if the relationship with the other home is high-conflict.  School should be a safe place for our stepkids, insulated from adult issues and focused on their success both in and out of the classroom.  As stepparents, we have the opportunity to be advocates for our stepkids; so how do we put our discomfort aside and tackle the school year head-on?

First things first, know your rights as the family of a child with two homes.
  • The campus and school district may have policies in place about how administrators and teachers interact with parents.  This can include access to records, being on-campus for lunch or field trips, and parent-teacher conferences.
  • If you are custodial, provide a copy of the Custody Order (CO) as part of the registration process.  If you are non-custodial, confirm that the most updated copy is on file.
  • Find out the school’s best practices for contacting parents in the event of emergency, and confirm that both the office and individual teacher(s) have contact information on file for both homes.
  • Ask what accommodations can be made to ensure that both homes have access to grades, get notifications about important dates, and have the opportunity to schedule separate meetings – to avoid putting your stepkid in the middle.
Be on the same team as your stepkid’s teacher(s).
  • Most school districts don’t have a specific policy related to stepparents, leaving teachers to decide how much influence a stepmom or stepdad can have in (and out) of the classroom.
  • Start the school year off right by being supportive, not assertive.  Instead of pointing out that you’re the one who helps the kids with their homework every night, let the teacher figure it out for his/herself when you sign their homework log or email to ask a question about an assignment.
  • Give teachers a break (and space) if they don’t immediately warm to the idea of an active stepparent.  Don’t take it personally: teachers have a delicate balancing act between parents and classroom learning without adding blended family dynamics!  Teachers can easily be children of divorce, or struggling with the aftermath of their own broken marriage…you don’t  the whole story.
  • If there’s conflict related to the classroom, leave the teacher out of it!  If its absolutely necessary to get teachers or administrators involved, reframe your request as help for your stepkid, not bashing the other parent.
Do what’s best for your stepkids, period.
  • Actively listen to your spouse and stepkids, including non-verbal cues.  Kids need time with each of their parents, and vice-versa – but they may be afraid of hurting your feelings.  Create a safe space to communicate everyone’s needs, including your own.
  • If your relationship with the other home is high-conflict, limit your exposure at school events.  Keep your distance from the other parent when possible, and don’t invite confrontation.  If you’re going to be in close quarters, have a game plan in case there’s a scene.
  • Pick your battles.  You may want to be at every event, performance, and meeting – but your absence (at times) may have as much impact as being there.
  • Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgement.  Stepparents can be a great buffer for stepkids whose parents aren’t getting along, preventing them from becoming collateral damage.  Put aside your personal feelings in the moment, and be a part of the solution, not the problem.

Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. – Proverbs 22:6

We live in a time where stepparents can be actively engaged in their stepkid’s lives – including their education.  The halls of our stepkids’ schools provide a captive audience: we can show teachers and administrators that involving stepparents makes kids more successful, measurable by better attendance, good study habits, and higher grades. You and I have the responsibility to leave this world a better place for the next generation of stepmoms and stepkids…let’s start by leading and guiding our stepkids towards all that God has for them.

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The Called Stepmom by Thecalledstepmom - 5M ago

As much as I could write about being a stepmom of adults, this is actually about us stepmoms behaving like adults.  Hear me out: a stepmom friend recently messaged me, “Why do I always have to be the bigger person?!”  She explained that her stepdaughter’s mom always makes snarky comments about her in front of the kids, and my friend has to hold her tongue.  “I wish I could just say what was on my mind for once!” she told me.  Here was my response, in so many words.

Being childish only hurts your stepchildren.  I know you think it will make you feel better to get it off your chest, and maybe it will…but the feeling is short-lived.  I made the poor life decision to unload on one of my husband’s exes back in the day.  I felt better for all of two minutes before I saw my stepson’s teary face and realized that the real person I’d hurt was him.  I’ve said it before: take stock of your feelings, and regularly.  Don’t let yourself be put in a situation where you feel cornered, you’ve had it up to here, and that one comment leads to verbal diarrhea that you can’t take back.

Bigger person ≠ no boundaries.  I know, I know, it probably feels like I have stock in the Boundaries books at this point…but seriously, y’all, boundaries can save us from ourselves.  If the other parent is high-conflict (or, ahem, you are), then remove yourself from situations that have the potential to get ugly.  Wait in the car during exchanges.  Sit on the other side of the stands at sporting events.  Delete emails or text messages that aren’t about the kids.  Sometimes the best response is no response at all.

Somebody has to be the adult.  Separation and divorce is a messy business, and parents can sometimes forget what’s most important in the battle for child support and visitation schedules.  As a stepparent, you have the opportunity to be an advocate for your stepkids – and that includes shielding them from adult issues.  I know it’s hard not to respond when you feel misunderstood, or worse, accused.  Being gracious (or silent!) in return doesn’t make the other parent right…it prevents your stepkids from having to witness another fight between the people who love them.

Don’t let being bigger make you bitter.  Showing kindness in the face of hostility isn’t easy.  My mentor once told me, “When we face challenges, we either grow bitter roots, or we grow character…the choice is ours.”  I believe a big factor affecting our choices are the stories we tell ourselves: are you dwelling on what someone else says about you, or who God says you are?  Bitterness takes root when we hold onto our hurt, replaying the offense over and over in our minds instead of giving it up to God.  Worse, the resentment we feel seeps into our other relationships.  Have you ever snapped at your husband about his ex?  How about your stepkids: have you held them accountable for their mom’s actions?

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:31-32

Do you know what God’s solution is?  Forgiveness.  You can save your objections, I’ve heard (and said) them all.  There’s no exception to God’s command to forgive; in fact, He reminds you and I to forgive like we’ve been forgiven.  Jesus died for all of us, and contrary to what you might think, I don’t believe He asks us to forgive other people for other people’s sake.  It’s for our own.  Forgiving an offense doesn’t erase what happened, or heal all of the wounds, but it will set you free.  Like my friend, I challenge you to let go of your bitterness, to stop hanging onto your offense like a crutch.  God is prepared to fight your battles, but not if you won’t lay them down.

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My stepdaughter spent 42 days with us every summer, usually broken into two chunks.  That’s a lot of time with the sweet girl we only saw four days a month during the school year!  I don’t know about you ladies, but I was a bit anxious the first few years, wanting the time with her to be full of memories but also to feel “normal.”  I got lots of advice from mom and stepmom friends alike – including the gems below.  Let’s look at each of them, and what I learned from the experts – my stepkids.

  1. They’re just “visiting.” I know it’s called visitation, but that doesn’t make the kids visitors.  My stepkids have two different moms.  We were custodial with my stepson, and non-custodial with my stepdaughter…which presented its own unique set of challenges.  We always made sure my stepdaughter knew she was an equally valued and equally loved member of the family.  I always spruced up my stepdaughter’s room with new paint or bedding, put out her favorite snacks, and tucked in a surprise like lip balm or a new book.  Even if circumstances or finances mean that kids don’t have their own room, there are ways to carve out a space and make it feel like home.
  2. It’s summer vacation…no chores required. Um, no. Extra mouths to feed means extra hands to help, as my mama would say!  Whether you assign chores like laundry or dishes, or ask for help in the moment, having kids pitch in around the house creates a sense of ownership.  My husband always told the kids that it was their house too – meaning that they were responsible for helping take care of it.
  3. The kids have to be entertained every waking minute. It’s really okay (and in my opinion, really necessary) for kids to have regular downtime. In fact, we stopped planning things the first night that my stepdaughter arrived (including weekend visitation) so she could settle in and decompress.  I’m a planner by nature, so this was a hard lesson: kids need space on a physical and emotional level, just like adults!  I am not suggesting that they should hole up in their rooms for hours on end, and screen time isn’t the same thing as down time.  But giving kids space to talk to the other parent, catch up with friends, or just relax to a favorite show or book can help balance the busyness of summer activities.
  4. Don’t be Disneyland parents. I have always disliked this phrase, primarily because it’s always associated with non-custodial parents taking their kids on vacation…like that’s a bad thing?!  We could spend all day arguing about child support, and if one parent pays enough or the other parent gets enough.  The point is, whether you’re headed to an all-inclusive resort or a road trip to the Midwest, take time to catch your breath, get refreshed and bond as a family.  Some of my stepson’s favorite memories with his mom are on her family’s annual trip…and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.
  5. The kids should be with you 100% of the time. I recently chatted with a new stepmom who mentioned how bummed out she was that she and her new husband wouldn’t get a date night for more than a month.  When I asked why not, she explained that his kids would be at the house for the first part of the summer.  Sweet friends, you have to make your marriage a priority.  I promise you, it’s okay to spend time as a couple during summer visitation.  (You can imagine this poor woman’s horror when I told her that my husband and I went out to dinner by ourselves at least one visitation weekend each month!)  The same goes with summer camps or weekends with the grandparents.  Here’s a good litmus test: if you had full or primary custody, would you schedule your time the same way?

“Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.” – Psalm 119:18

My stepdaughter is turning 22 this summer, and I often bounce blog post topics off of her to get fresh perspective.  She shared that as much as enjoyed spending the time with her dad, brother & I during the summers, it was terribly hard for her to be away from her mom for that long.  As a non-custodial parent or stepparent, it can be hard to understand…unless you stop thinking about loyalty and start focusing on love.  If you are struggling to connect, or anxious about the extended visitation period, I encourage you to take a step back and ask the Lord for fresh eyes and an open heart.

This post was also featured on the Better Than Blended blog.
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The Called Stepmom by Thecalledstepmom - 6M ago

I have listened thoughtfully to the argument that just because you become the wife of a man with kids, that doesn’t make you their stepmom.  I even talked this through with a friend who also just so happens to be a stepfamily coach, and she admitted this is often the perspective of adult children whose father remarries later in life, or in the case of infidelity or parental alienation.  She was quick to add, though, that popular opinion would still consider the woman their stepmom.  In other words, just because Cinderella thought her stepmom was “evil” didn’t make her any less Cinderella’s stepmom!  Bad example, I know, but you get my point.

One of my biggest priorities is making sure no stepmomma feels like she’s alone in her circumstances.  I have been there.  I know that many of my posts rest on the fact that you have a loving relationship with your stepkids, or are moving in that direction.  For some stepmoms, that will never be a reality… and I want you to know that you are seen, and loved, and prayed for.  This post is for you.

Make your marriage a priority.  I learned very early into my stepfamily journey that when I wasn’t getting along with one or both of my stepkids, my marriage suffered.  I naturally felt like my husband was taking their side (even when he wasn’t, and they were just right), and he was just trying to keep the peace.  We learned the value of being a united front, which meant that even though we had individual relationships with the kids (good, bad or ugly), our marriage came first – and the kids knew it.

Expect respect…and the buck stops with your husband.  One of his responsibilities (and privileges!) as a father is to teach his children how to treat a daughter of the Most High. One stepmom told me her teenagers were downright hateful when she joined the family – and her husband said he couldn’t change how they felt about her.  Her response was perfect: “You don’t have to feel respect to show respect.”  You may not be the parent, but you are an adult in the home.  In our home, respect includes speaking when spoken to, no name calling, and not intentionally trying to hurt another person’s feelings.

Set healthy boundaries.  I consistently hear from stepmoms that they are hurt because either their stepkids don’t reciprocate their feelings, or they are unappreciative of the nice things that they do…so why do we (myself included) keep putting ourselves out there?  Perhaps we think that our stepkids will change – and maybe they will, but probably not before our kindness turns into bitterness!  A friend of mine was tired of playing chauffeur to stepkids who pretended she didn’t exist, and passed the responsibility back to her husband.  Although he had made excuses for his kids’ behavior up to that point, he was quick to see her perspective once he had to drive them around!  For you, taking a step back could not only cause recognition of what you bring to the family, but also protect your heart.

Take care of yourself.  You are fighting daily for your marriage and family, and stepmom self-care is a must!  Your home is a battleground, and I encourage you to take time to refresh, regroup & refocus.  First, take time once or twice a year to get away and get quiet.  Just this week, my husband asked me when I was going to take my annual weekend hiatus.  Since finding my way back to the Lord, I take a long weekend at a hotel or retreat center to pray and dream about what’s next in my walk.  Second, you need to have a regular reality check about how you’re feeling.  Communication is key: tell your husband when your gas tank is low or you’re at a breaking point.  When I need a quick break from stress or conflict, I hop in my car, windows down and music loud, and go for a drive.  My husband will attest to the fact that I come home ready to face whatever we need to, together.

And because of His glory and excellence, He has given us great and precious promises.  These are the promises that enable you to share His divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. – 2 Peter 1:4

Don’t stop praying.  I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t see the future God has in front of me, or you.  I wish I could tell you that your relationship with your stepkids will change, and for the better, but I can’t.  God gives us no guarantees about the circumstances in our lives but He does give us promises to stand on!  If a good relationship with your stepkids is the desire of your heart, stepmomma, tell God over, and over, and over again.  I always think of my sweet mentor, who spent hours on her knees before God, asking why He gave her a particular cross to bear.  Years later, she will tell you with confidence that even though God didn’t “fix” all of her problems, the hours spent with him – and the lessons learned – were not wasted.

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