Unsolicited Advice from an (Almost) Empty Nester

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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