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.