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.