Ah, Mother’s Day. The time of year that many of us can’t decide whether to laugh, cry, or frankly, hide. There have been years, no matter the kindness of my husband and stepkids, I just felt raw. You know those times that you really shouldn’t be around people? Other years have been lonely, and still others full of joy. I actually didn’t even write a Mother’s Day post last year, not because it was a “good” or “bad” year, but because I genuinely struggled to find the right words to share my heart. This post has been stewing around in my brain for a while, and I realized that I had been trying so hard to be uplifting this time of year, that I completely missed why stepmoms need to be lifted up in the first place. So, if you were looking for a perky, upbeat piece…I’m sorry in advance.
Let’s be honest: no one signed up for this stepmom gig knowing how hard it would be. Each stepfamily situation is unique, but I think it’s fair to say that we (myself included) all struggle with challenges that feel like they might kill us before they make us stronger. Now, I wouldn’t trade my life with my husband and stepkids for the world…but I sure would turn over the junk that we deal with! And that’s where I’m going with this – what do you do with all of the fears, the failures and the pain you experience?
Bitter Roots & Blow-Ups
See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble. – Hebrews 12:15
It’s pretty easy to shove all that junk down, isn’t it? I don’t like to relive the ugly parts of our stepfamily journey any more than the next stepmom. Other times I simply don’t have the bandwidth to deal with the trauma properly. Maybe you don’t have a safe place to talk about your struggles.
When we don’t take the time to address how we’re thinking and feeling, we also don’t allow ourselves to move on. Is there a conversation with your husband’s ex that you keep replaying in your mind? How about a fight with your stepkids that you wish you handled differently? Do you have unmet expectations on holidays like Mother’s Day?
Bitterness can take root in our hearts when we don’t have the opportunity (or permission) to address how someone has treated us, or if we feel like we don’t have a “voice” in the choices that directly affect us. The problem with bitterness is that it seeps into our perception and influences our reactions, such as using harsh words or focusing on the negative. Bitterness can turn into a blow-up when we simply can’t stuff down any more junk and our hurt and anger spills over. Let’s be honest: have you ever had a complete meltdown in front of your family? I definitely have!
Laying It Down
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me.” – Matthew 16:24
When we think about picking up our cross, we tend to forget that we have to lay down our selfishness first. I’m going to be honest, I was a pretty selfish individual before I met my now-husband and his kids. Looking back, I can see how Jesus used my circumstances to shed light on some places that I really needed to address in my life. The opposite of being selfish is being selfless, which means we also have to give up dreams and goals that aren’t God-given.
Peter had to quite literally lay down his fishing nets when he picked up his cross. Do you imagine that there was never a time that he wondered if he made the right choice, or longed to be back on his boat where things appeared easier? As stepmoms, I believe we have to consciously get up every day and pick up our calling. In order to do that with no reservations and give the very best of ourselves, I also believe we have to mourn what we’ve laid down. You may have not thought about it this way, but when you married a man with kids:
- You laid down the opportunity for certain “firsts,” at least for him: first marriage, first house, first child, etc.
- Whether you’re custodial or non-custodial, your schedule is no longer your own, now dictated by the family court system and (to some degree) your stepchild’s other home.
- Even if your personal earnings aren’t going to child or spousal support, your income is supplementing the effect of those obligations on your household.
- You set aside your independence, not for codependence but coparenting.
- Even if you set boundaries, even after the kids are adults, your husband will always have a connection with his ex.
- You may never have any biological children of your own, and if you do, they will be brought up in the complications of blended family life.
The heartbreakingly beautiful thing about loss is that it empties spaces that God can refill. One of the dreams that I had to lay down was having a child of my own. It was a painful experience: I volleyed between being obsessed over baby stuff and being emotionally unable to hold friends’ newborns. I finally got on my knees before God and asked him to take away my desire, if it was not from him – and He was faithful. What He replaced that dream with was an ability to love my stepkids with my whole heart…I didn’t realize that I had been withholding a part that I thought was only reserved for biological mothers and children. I saw breakthrough in my relationships with both stepkids, and brokenness in all of our hearts being mended.
Grieving the Loss
For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven… A time to cry and a time to laugh, a time to grieve and a time to dance. – Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4
God has given us permission to grieve, but have you allowed yourself? As we approach Mother’s Day, I encourage you to examine the hard places and bitter roots, to count your losses and grieve them. I know that working through the pain of our past can hurt, and that sometimes it’s just easier to avoid the memories or dreams altogether. If you don’t know where to start, I believe there is great value in finding a counselor or mentor that can walk you through the stages of grief and processing thoughts and emotions in a healthy way. Other stepmommas may be more comfortable with praying, journaling, and getting plugged into a women’s group at their church for support. God has so much more for you, stepmomma! I will be praying for healing and the freedom that comes from turning over your grief to the One who understands.