I am a thirty-something wife and stepmom of two, for over ten years now.If you love Biblical principles sprinkled with practical application, personal stories, and a little bit of humor, you will feel right at home here! You can expect topics like prayer, identity, spiritual warfare, marriage, parenting, and friendship.
The final few weeks leading up to my stepson’s high school graduation should have been full of joy and excitement. I have raised him from young boy to young man alongside my husband, and I relished in all of the little moments as he prepared to end this season: senior pictures, his eighteenth birthday, senior trip, and prom. Like many blended families, things got more complicated as the big day drew near…and it was my fault. You see, somewhere along the way, I had forgotten that my stepson’s mom had her own story, and it didn’t have to be mine.
As stepmoms, I feel like we place the relationship with our stepkids’ mom on a pedestal – idealizing the thought of being “friends” with the other woman in our stepkids’ lives. Please don’t get me wrong: if this is your story (and you are), bless you! I believe that kids benefit greatly from both sets of parents sharing genuine affection. Unfortunately, for many (dare I say, most) stepmoms, this will never be reality…and not for a lack of trying! It’s the effort I want to address in this post; effort that can actually make life harder for our stepkids instead of helping them.
My stepkids have two different moms, and the three of us could not be more different. Our interaction over the years has ranged from heated exchanges to polite small talk, and at best, camaraderie over a specific set of circumstances we were facing with one child or the other. As a new stepmom, I dreamed about being one of those blended families, the kind that wears matching “mom” and “stepmom” shirts to the big game and celebrates the kids’ birthdays together. I can say with clarity now that it was simply not meant to be.
For my stepson’s graduation, though, I envisioned a lovely dinner with all of the extended family: his, hers, and ours. We have always instilled in both kids that family is family, and that they simply cannot be loved by too many people. I wanted my stepson to be able to celebrate for one night without having to choose between mom’s side or dad’s side, without having to sacrifice what he wanted for what the parents wanted, without having to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings. And for all of my good intentions, what I wanted isn’t what my stepson needed…and that’s all that mattered.
Can we stop trying to beat our stepkid’s mom with an olive branch? A funny image, I know, but seriously: let’s stop trying to make peace on our own terms. Let her do her, and you do you. Planning a graduation dinner, and expecting my stepson’s mom to fit into my picture of one big happy family, wasn’t fair – and only made it harder on him. You and I are acutely aware of the loyalty binds our stepkids feel, and we have the opportunity to make it safe for them to forge a relationship with their mom without our interference. If you are expending significant energy on your relationship with their mom, ask yourself at what cost? Making it awkward for your stepkids, and uncomfortable for your husband? How about time, and money – have you bought gifts for the other home, only to have them returned? Reassess your relationship with your stepkids’ mom, as it really is, not how you want it to be – and invest some of that extra energy in your own marriage and family.
Your collective story is still being written, so don’t ever stop being kind, or believing the best. We can’t expect respect if we can’t also show it. You might be surprised to find that you get along better with your stepkids’ mom when you’re not trying so hard…or that your relationship is less high-conflict when there’s nothing to conflict about! God will use each of us moms in very different ways, and the sooner we get with that picture of motherhood, the sooner our kiddos will see the fruit of it.
This is my tenth Christmas as a stepmom; thirteenth if you count the years before we made it official (and I do – we worked hard for them). Over a decade later, I will be the first to tell you that my marriage and stepfamily are far from perfect; in fact, I could (still) be the poster child of what not to do as a stepmom.
Would you be surprised to learn that I have seriously considered calling it quits more than once over the years? Please don’t misunderstand: divorce is not to be taken lightly, and (without launching into a theological lesson) simply not part of God’s perfect plan. I share this because there are stepmoms out there wondering if they made a mistake when they married a man with kids. You are not alone. Hard seasons cause us to take a hard look at our circumstances, but we need to be intentional about discerning which voices we are listening to…including our own.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
The passage beginning in 1 Corinthians 13:4 is one that is familiar to most of us, but did you notice that the very first way love is described is patient? As someone who believes that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, this is no accident: marriage is in itself a lesson in patience. You see, we often race towards the altar, eager to start our lives together – only to discover that the real work begins after we say “I do.” If you and I don’t keep marriage in proper perspective (God’s perspective), we risk growing dissatisfied or disappointed when the hard seasons hit.
I can’t tell you if your marriage was outside of God’s plan for your life…that’s between you and God. What I can tell you is that at those times I wanted to run, not walk, away – it was because marriage was demanding more of me than I was willing to give. More time. More effort. More transparency. More vulnerability. As stepmoms, we have to resist the urge to shift blame for the problems in our marriage to outside influences, whether its a disrespectful stepchild or an ex-spouse without boundaries. Those factors only reveal the cracks in our stepfamily relationships…they’re not the cause.
A new year brings with it the opportunity for fresh perspective: even if your wedding wasn’t a part of God’s plan for your life, your marriage now is. You made a covenant before God when you married that man, and you two are in this together. There is no one who knows exactly what you are going through – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and that is a gift. God did not leave you alone in this blended family life, stepmomma, and He never will.
Social media etiquette is a hot topic of conversation these days, and can be especially poignant for split households. With current and future court proceedings (and your family’s privacy!) at stake, what and where you post can be critical. A stepmom friend’s recent experience illustrates this perfectly: her young stepson saw her working on the computer one evening and told her how cool it was that her name popped up in the search engine. My friend wasn’t following, so he explained that he was playing on his mom’s laptop during the last visitation weekend, and when he started to type the name of an online game with the same first letter, her name populated in the search field. My friend hadn’t given much thought to her online presence and privacy settings, but you better believe she started doing her research!
Closed groups aren’t quite as closed as you might think. This type of support group is trending on a variety of platforms, including Facebook. Group admins are able to ask questions and check out profiles before approving new members, leaving participants with a false sense of security. What many stepmoms don’t realize is that individuals can circumvent the approval process by creating a fake profile or getting a friend to join that meets the criteria…and then taking screenshots of posts. Remember: once your words are out there, you can’t take them back…the internet has a long memory, and so does your stepkid’s mom.
Your words matter. The best compliment I personally receive as a blogger is when someone tells me that I write exactly how I speak. Words matter, and in the age of email, texting, and online community, it’s far too easy to misunderstand or misconstrue the message when you can’t hear the heart behind the words. The biggest offender in blended families is when a stepparent shares a picture or post with the caption “my” or “our” kids. I will be the first say that although I’m very conscious about not doing this in the presence of either of my stepkid’s moms, I didn’t think about the impact this could have online. Strangely enough, it wasn’t either of the moms who “corrected” me, but extended family and friends who found my familiarity disrespectful. Let me be clear: I’m certainly not telling you to stop using these phrases, but just to be conscious that although my heart (and probably yours!) is to embrace those kiddos regardless of biology, the world isn’t quite on our level yet.
Think twice before accepting that friend request. Several of my stepmom friends have been torn after receiving a friend request from their stepkids’ mom. The reasons ranged from “We’re really trying to co-parent with her…” to “I don’t want her to think I don’t like her!” Can I gently tell you that she may not be under the same moral dilemma? I’m all about believing the best when it comes to other people’s intentions…but with boundaries. I make a point of keeping my home life and my work life separate, and that starts with not being friends with my coworkers on social media. The same goes with my stepkids’ moms: I value my privacy, and I want to honor theirs. If you genuinely want to share pictures or info with your stepkid’s other home, try a private sharing platform like Shutterfly Share Sites or simply text and email. You never know how your social media presence can affect your relationship with your stepkids…until it does.
Block, for your sake if no one else’s. Even if your relationship isn’t high conflict, I’m all for blocking the other home on social media. Hear me out: have you ever questioned how your stepkids’ mom spends her time? Her money? Social media amplifies that by like a million percent (ahem, think vacation pics from Mexico and a Pinterest kitchen). It goes both ways: even if you’re not “friends” on social media, your privacy settings or mutual connections could give the other parent a proverbial window into your life. When the relationship with her stepkid’s mom went inexplicably downhill, one of my friends confronted her and found out that her activity had been popping up on the other women’s newsfeed. While her stepkid’s mom was battling homework and softball games, my friend was sharing photos from date nights, mini vacays, and girls’ weekends. Comparison breeds jealousy and contempt, both of which can damage a coparenting relationship. If you’re asking me, stepmomma, keep that door firmly closed.
You must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you. – Matthew 12:36-37
You are responsible for what you post. You have a voice, stepmomma, and you don’t need a platform to make an impact. But in the wise words of The Joyful Stepmom, pray before you post. As a blogger, I have the unique opportunity to minister to stepmoms and stepfamilies – but my words have consequences. There is a fine line between being authentic and being ugly when sharing about the challenges of stepfamily life…and I have failed miserably at times. These days, I stop check my heart at the door before posting: am I encouraging stepmoms by relating to their experiences, or are my words self-serving?
I will close by saying that I absolutely love the fact that we can share, connect, and support each other through social media. As a stepmom who knows loneliness firsthand, who felt like no one could possibly understand what I was going through, this is a new season for stepmoms. You are never alone! You are loved, and prayed for, and thought of, and fought for. Let’s not waste this opportunity to encourage and empower women on the go by tearing others down when we should be building them up.
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.
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.
You hear this phrase a lot when it comes to divorce proceedings, but what about after the divorce is final? Do those “irreconcilable differences” go away? Unfortunately, in my experience, the differences in parenting styles can become even more polarizing. Think about it this way: when you’re married, there’s (hopefully) a certain amount of compromise when it comes to raising your children. When you’re no longer together, the motivation to meet in the middle can often disappear. So how do you handle those differences of opinion, especially when there’s no middle ground to find?
Haircut and Color
It may seem trivial, but for some of us stepmommas, getting your stepkid’s hair cut or colored can become a war between households. When I first joined the family, my stepdaughter wanted to get highlights to look like one of her favorite actresses…which did not go over well when we exchanged after weekend visitation. Even though my husband and I prioritized what my stepdaughter wanted, he didn’t talk with her mom first. Lesson learned: communication is key! I personally don’t believe that the custodial parent has the sole right to decide on cut or color, but there’s often little room for compromise when it comes to certain styles. As a wise stepmom once told me, just because you win the battle doesn’t mean you’ll win the war.
Even if you don’t have a stepdaughter, you’ve probably seen posts about girls wearing lacy bras, thongs, or revealing clothing to dad’s house for the weekend. The rant usually begins or ends with the following phrase: “If she was my daughter…!” Stepmomma, this is one of the few times you will hear me say (gently), she’s not. I believe modesty is a very personal decision, and your boundaries with clothing may be very different than her mom’s. I was raised to be modest, but confess I wore a few things in my “mid-Jesus” years that left nothing to the imagination. You better believe I didn’t wear those clothes around my folks, though! We have the opportunity to lead and guide our stepkids, and that includes age-appropriate clothing choices – especially when there are younger or impressionable siblings at home. As you can imagine (or have already experienced!), telling a tween or teenage girl what she can or can’t wear might not go over well. Make it a conversation, not a lecture, and include your husband for support. One creative approach could be the promise of a girls shopping trip, or surprising her with new clothes in her closet – and then reminding her that there’s no need to bring outfits from her mom’s.
This is often covered in newer Custody Orders (COs), giving one or both parents the “right to direct the moral and religious training of the child.” Even within Christianity, there are many different denominations with religious traditions that can vary widely. I have a stepmom friend that was torn after being invited to her stepson’s baptism at his mom’s church…after he’d already been baptized the year before at his dad’s. Do you know what advice I gave her? Be excited for your stepkid! If the other home is teaching him or her to love Jesus more, you are blessed.
I have been asked, even very recently, what to do when the other home is exposing the child to another religion or teaching them not to believe in God at all. The answer is simple: pray. There is likely nothing you can say or do to change the mind of the other parent, or control what they do in their home. We have to learn to trust Jesus with our stepkids, when we are unable to protect their precious hearts. Take advantage of the time you do have them to share how much God loves them, and be ready to have open conversations about faith as they grow older.
As your stepkids hit middle school and high school, dating (and boundaries with the opposite sex) will become a hot topic. One of the hallmarks of children from broken families is using one parent against the other to get what they want in the moment, and unfortunately, dating is no exception. Instead of setting the same expectations at both homes, parents will either be blinded by the desire to be the “cool” mom or dad, or refuse to believe that they’re getting played by their kid (just like they did with that Lego play set or Barbie doll back in the day). I have a mom friend who recently called me, completely heartsick: her ex-husband is allowing girls to spend the night with their son on his weekends. When her ex wouldn’t listen, she confronted her son and (as you would expect) turned into the bad guy for setting boundaries. After much prayer, my friend finally realized that she couldn’t control what her son did at his dad’s – but she, her new husband, and her son’s siblings weren’t accepting the consequences for his actions.
Many stepmoms (myself included) have been accused of being insensitive or worse, selfish, when participating in a stepson or stepdaughter’s “firsts” instead of their mom. Whether it’s taking a stepdaughter to get her first pedicure, or being the first to take the stepkids to Disney, there’s a really good chance you might unknowingly step on the ex’s toes at some point. First of all, use common sense. If the relationship with the other house is already high conflict, don’t go looking for any extra! Put yourself in their mom’s shoes and gain a little perspective: would you be upset if, say, your stepson’s stepdad took him to buy his first car, instead of your husband? Second, you can’t know what you’re not told. Check your heart at the door, but if you genuinely didn’t know that their mom planned on taking them to a particular activity, you aren’t responsible for the fallout. Cooperation requires communication!
Electronics use is a hot topic among parents in both traditional and blended families, with growing concerns over what our kids are exposed to on the internet and social media. The issue is particularly relevant for kids with two homes because the rules and supervision may be vastly different in each. We provided my stepdaughter with a cell phone after she started middle school, and her mom was much stricter about using the phone than we were – but we recognized that she was also the primary parent on school nights. Over the years, my stepdaughter’s phone was taken away as punishment for poor grades or poor choices, and in the spirit of coparenting, my husband took the phone away on weekend visitations, too. Unfortunately, that meant that we lost access to text and talk with my stepdaughter between weekends, an issue that many blended families face. Although newer Custody Orders specify phone access for non-custodial parents, it is often difficult to enforce. I personally know dads whose numbers have been blocked on their kids’ phones – and they made the decision to stop providing or paying for it.
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. – Philippians 2:3-4
I know that this doesn’t cover all of the hot topics (and I don’t have all of the answers!), so here’s a quick guide to handling the issues that have no gray area.
Is it covered by the Custody Order in any way?
Does it fall under “your house, your rules”?
What legal ramifications are there, i.e. could it affect future court proceedings?
How does your stepchild feel about it?
The best advice I can give is to act out of love for your stepkids, not hostility for their mom. Our judgment can easily be clouded when we focus on ourselves and not our kids. You’ve heard me say not to keep score with your spouse – don’t keep score with his ex, either. Being willing to communicate, and open to compromise when appropriate, can be the first step in the right direction towards building a better coparenting relationship.
We have a good relationship with my stepson’s girlfriend; she is a priority to him, which makes her a priority to us. Truth be told, though, I struggle with female friendships – and being a stepmomma bear probably doesn’t help. A few days ago, she was in the kitchen when I came home with groceries, and I handed over a few special requests she had put in: Dr Pepper and mac ‘n’ cheese. Without skipping a beat, she said, “Thanks, mom!” – catching me completely off guard. You see, both of my stepkids have always called me Brandi. My husband and I don’t plan on having any kids of our own at this point, so besides being the mama to our gaggle of critters, I had no anticipation of anyone ever calling me “mom.” I was delighted, and humbled at the same time: to this young woman, I was simply a mom, no step or bonus needed.
Like most aspects of stepfamily life, developing a relationship with the significant others of our stepkids has the potential to get complicated. I don’t know about you, but the dating years are as much of a test run for the parents as the kids! If you’re already muddling your way through this season, I’m muddling with you…and furiously scribbling notes along the way.
Give them space to develop a relationship with the other home. It’s not a competition, and certainly not a bash session: keep your dirty laundry in the hamper! Your difficulties with your husband’s ex don’t have to be theirs…extend the same respect to your stepkid’s significant other as you do to your stepkid. Our prayer should be that they are able to develop a good relationship with both sets of parents.
Ask for your own space. What happens in your home should stay in your home. It’s not unreasonable to expect that just like your stepkid, the significant other shouldn’t be sharing your personal business or “spying” for the other parent. Communicate that what happens at the other home should stay there, too…don’t be afraid to say that you don’t need a readout of every family dinner or holiday. Your stepkid’s mom would thank you.
Don’t take it personally if they don’t like you. The ugly truth is that stepmoms have a bad reputation from the time that kids start watching Disney movies. The significant other’s previous experience with a stepparent (or complete lack of experience!) may not work in your favor. Here’s my advice: you do you. Be gracious and as one my stepmom friends always says, kill ’em with kindness! Your stepkid will appreciate the effort.
You should be good at sharing by now. The older your stepkids get, the more their time will be fractured between family, friends, school, work – and dating. With the right perspective, I think parents in blended families have it easier the it comes to sharing the kids with other people that care about them! Instead of seeing it as “losing” parenting time, find ways to include the significant other in family time. My husband and I really enjoyed having both of our kids’ significant others join us for Mother’s and Father’s Day dinners this year.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths. – Proverbs 3:5-6
When the relationship with your stepkids has gotten off to a rocky start, it’s natural to get nervous about adding someone new to your personal blender. Focus on how you can make the significant other feel welcome and find his or her place in your blended family. As stepmoms, we know how easy it is to feel left out or like a third wheel! Embrace the opportunity to be a positive influence in this young man or woman’s life. It’s never too late to start praying for your stepson or stepdaughter’s future spouse – or the boyfriends and girlfriends along the way.
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.
Although you may be thinking of a different word, this one has an equal chance of leaving a bad taste in your mouth… I’m talking about submission, of the Biblical variety. Before we go any further, I need to call out the fact that there will be women reading this post for whom that word is a trigger. Women who have been, or are being abused in the name of submission – and I want to make it very clear that this is not God’s vision for marriage or relationships, and it’s certainly not Biblical. God didn’t create His daughters to be doormats, but unfortunately, somewhere along the way in Christian history, 1 Peter 3 got twisted for the purposes of men rather than the blessings of God.
Although I could (happily) dive into some serious theology at this point, I believe that hearing about my experience as a stepmom would have more impact. My mama raised me as a strong, independent Southern woman, just like her. Looking back now, I can see how she leaned on my dad as her protector and provider, but at the time I got married, submission wasn’t a concept I subscribed to outside of church walls. My husband had been a single dad for almost a decade by the time I joined the family, and you can imagine he had some pretty strong opinions about raising his kids. One of my biggest struggles early in our marriage was figuring out how to co-parent with him. My mentor at the time finally looked at me and said not-so-gently, “Brandi, they’re his kids. Help him parent them.”
My mentor was right: I needed to submit to my husband’s authority over his children in our home. Although it may seem backwards, it actually made me feel more empowered to discipline and expect respect from my stepkids! I frequently write about the importance of having a united front with our husbands. When I came up with rules that he didn’t agree with, or he didn’t discipline the kids according to my rules, that united front became broken. Case in point: when my stepson was around ten years old, he loved to climb trees. I was afraid that he was going to fall one day and seriously hurt himself, so I convinced my husband that he shouldn’t be allowed to anymore. One afternoon, I came home early from work and found my stepson in one of our trees – and learned that it was “Brandi’s rules” when I was home, and “Dad’s rules” when I wasn’t. Refusing to submit to my husband’s authority left me feeling betrayed and my stepson thinking I was an ogre.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” – Ephesians 5:21-22
I realized that I also had a trust issue: not only was I not trusting my husband with his kids, I wasn’t trusting God with my husband. You see, in Ephesians, God is asking wives to submit to our husbands like we submit to Christ. If you take that logic to the bank, that means when we submit to our husbands’ authority, we are also submitting to God’s authority over our husbands. I have to trust that my husband answers to God. You may ask, but what if my husband isn’t submitted to God in an area of his life? As John Piper so eloquently puts it, “Submission does not mean leaving your brain at the altar.” When it comes to parenting (or any other area for that matter), if it’s illegal or immoral, speak up! When it came to my stepson climbing trees, however, it was neither of those things. I learned to quite literally give it up to God when it came to parenting, and you know what? It did wonders for my relationship with both my husband and stepkiddos.
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the Word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. – 1 Peter 3:1-2
For Halloween that year, my stepson dressed up as a comic book character complete with a long black cape, and went next door to play with a friend while I handed out candy. About an hour later, my neighbor showed up at the front door carrying my stepson, who had a deep rug burn around his neck! You guessed it: my stepson had decided to climb the tree between our houses, and when he slipped and started to fall, his cape caught on a branch and literally hung him from the tree. I bet that’s not how you expected this story to end, is it? That I submitted to my husband’s rule, and my stepson got hurt? In the moment, it would have been easy to say, “I told you so,” to shift blame and use it as an excuse not to submit. Thankfully, God spoke straight to my heart and reminded me that my husband and I are on the same team: we’re not always going to get it right individually, but we can make it right together.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave up his life for her. – Ephesians 5:25
I don’t want to gloss over the fact that submitting to our spouses is a very personal decision, and one that you have to make for your own marriage. Remember, submission is given, not taken – and it’s mutual. In the same passage where wives are called to honor and respect their husbands, husbands are called to love their wives to the point of death. If you and your husband are struggling to coparent, a little honor goes a long way towards finding common ground: “They’re your kids, and you have been doing this parenting thing for years – how do you think we should handle this?” Coparenting can be an equally huge adjustment for dads who have been used to making family decisions solo, but getting to a safe place and having hard conversations requires both of you to get vulnerable. No matter where you stand on submission, I encourage you to focus on coparenting within your home as much as you do outside of it.
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.