3 Ways To Become More Than Just “The Stepmother”

You may not have known this, but there is a distinct difference between, “This is my dad’s wife,” “This is my Stepmother,” and “This is my Step Mom!”

What do I mean by this?

Sure by marriage you may be considered a stepparent, they may even call you their “Stepmother,” but do you have a meaningful relationship with your stepchildren?

Let me explain.

Growing up, when my mother remarried I had a stepdad, but I never thought to call him that. Strange right?  I remember one day talking with a friend and mentioning something about, “my mom’s husband.” When I did, my friend interrupted me and said,

“Wouldn’t that be your step dad?”

I was shocked, confused and upset all in one. My dad had set such a high standard of fatherhood (not perfect but a great father) that calling anyone a name close to that was almost blasphemous. Plus I was a daddy’s girl. I remember my heart racing super fast as I snarled back at my friend with an attitude that could end a friendship,

“No! He’s my mom’s husband.”

And I quickly changed the topic.

Later that day, I thought about the conversation and wondered why in the world had I never considered him to be a stepfather? I thought about our interactions up until that point. He never showed interest in my life especially when I wasn’t around; he never poured wisdom into me, I never felt a need to go to him for anything mentally, emotionally or socially. Our relationship was meaningless. So I decided that he would remain, “my mom’s husband,” because I didn’t see why the relationship warranted any other title.

Sure my loyalty to my father played a role in this, but I don’t believe that would have stopped me from seeing him as my stepfather if he had given himself value in my life. From my perspective, he wasn’t a genuine, consistent parental figure in my life and his presence only benefited my mom. So why would I call him my step-dad?

Here is where it gets real.

I am a bio mom and a stepmom. I was a step child. I know it can be easy to just exist in the lives of your stepchildren and only step up when needed. But as a Christ-following step-parent, your assignment is much bigger than just existing. You are called to be more than just “My dad’s wife,” or “My Stepmother,” you are called to a meaningful relationship that brings value to the lives of your stepchildren, even if they never recognize you for it.

Being a stepmom is a challenging and often very thankless job. It tends to be around mother’s day when the awkwardness of being a stepmother consumes our thought life. It’s when you don’t know if you should celebrate your motherhood or be silent in your motherhood.  It’s when you start comparing and contrasting all the things you do that make you a mother that should be thanked at least on that day. It’s when the active stepmoms and inactive stepmoms all want to be recognized for their efforts, and trust me, both exist and want praise.

But Mother’s Day shouldn’t be the day that we compare and contrast ourselves as mothers. We should do that all the time. Not in comparison to the child’s biological mother, (if you’re doing that, your eyes are on the wrong person) but rather how you measure up to YOU. How well are you doing in fulfilling the assignment God has given YOU in your step child’s life? You should be pursuing HIS “Well Done” for your assignment not for theirs.

Photo by Alena Ozerova

So, how well are you doing in the pursuit for your “Well Done?” If you’re struggling to have a more meaningful relationship with your step children, here are a few tips to help you get started.

  1. Call or text them throughout the week and see how they are doing– Not just when they are headed for a visit or during holidays and birthdays. Text with no strings attached and with the understanding that you may be ignored or rejected the first few times as they begin to learn how to embrace you in a more active way. Be genuine and consistent.
  2. Learn their love language and begin to speak it– Not in an overbearing way but in a way where they feel you have taken the time to understand them and have a genuine interest in getting to know them. Again be authentic and consistent.
  3. Never talk negatively about the biological mother– This is a biggy! No matter how horrible you feel she is, speak positive or say nothing at all. Remember, this child is a byproduct of both your spouse and the biological mother. They want to believe the best and not the worst about their mother no matter how she is treating them. So even during those times when dealing with the biological mother is a challenge, remember that everyone expresses brokenness differently, that doesn’t make them a horrible person, it just reveals their level of brokenness.

Our role as stepmother is not to replace their biological mother, but to be an additional source of love, wisdom, and protection. They may never call us mom, mommy or mama, EVER, but we need to be clear on the assignment we have been given in our step children’s lives. We need to remember that we are working for a,“Well Done my good and faithful servant,” anything else we get is a bonus!

So stepmom’s it’s time to Step up. No more excuses! Through the disappointments, and frustration, we must extend grace when grace may not be extended to us, and love when love may not be shown toward us because as Nehemiah 6:3 says, we’re doing a great work and,”We can’t come Down.”

The Best Advice You Will Ever Get About Misbehavior In A Blended Family!

Photo by Latino Life

If anyone ever implies to you that raising children in two separate homes, with two sets of rules, is an easy task, please disregard their statement. It is far from the truth!

This family dynamic is challenging for anyone and everyone involved because establishing rules and relationship are two of the greatest frustrations of any blended family home.

This reality became very clear to me one summer when my children had an especially difficult time adapting to being back home with me after their summer visit.

Every summer, when my children return home from their visit with their dad, there is an adjustment period. This period can be a few days or a few weeks, depending on what new habits they have formed or what rules they need to be reacquainted with. This particular summer, we were in Florida and had planned a trip to Disney World once they returned. This was a seemingly good idea during the planning process (since it cut out paying for them to fly home just for them to turn around and fly to Florida), but in hindsight, the trip could have waited until they had gone through their usual re-adjustment.

Establishing rules and relationship are two of the greatest frustrations of any blended family home.

Nevertheless, we had already had the pleasure of enjoying ten days of peace and calm on our trip before they joined us. Once we reunited, the first six days of their return consisted of me constantly being the referee of arguments, bickering, and yelling.

It felt like they entered, and Peace jumped ship.

Now I don’t at all blame this behavior on their visit because I know that fighting and bickering isn’t accepted in their other home either. I am fully aware that children need an adjustment time to get back into the routine of things (which at times can feel utterly frustrating none the less) and since we weren’t actually at home, they were still out of their normal atmosphere.

But as I paid attention to the issues that were arising, I noticed that some of the problems that were causing them to get in trouble weren’t rule-based, they were character based.

So I decided to take some time to lean into this issue a little more by having a conversation with both of my children.

“What in the world is going on with you two?” (Sorry, I wish I could say that my approach was a little nicer but I was trying to replace my annoyed mommy hat with my patient mommy hat and they caught me in mid-transition.)

 “What?” My son said.

“ Why do I keep having to talk to you all. Since you’ve been here, it just seems like you both keep doing things that you shouldn’t. What is the problem?”

“It’s hard!” My son said.

“What’s hard?” I asked.

“Having one set of rules there and another set here. We don’t know which ones to follow. So we do what we are allowed to do here and do what we’re allowed to do there. Then it’s hard to stop doing something at one house that you can do at the other house!”

I paused. There it was. That was the problem.

I honestly had never considered this. It made so much sense, but I was still transitioning hats (so to speak), so I kept listening as they both, my 8 and 11-year-old, continued to explain their frustrations.

 As I listened, what I learned was that although my children weren’t necessarily allowed to do things like fuss and fight at both houses, the consequences differed at each home based on the perspective of the parent.

For example, when my kids argue in our home, we respond to the argument by making them each explain what happened, then finding out how each person involved, handled the situation. Since in our home we have a no tolerance policy for hitting each other, if one person responded to the confrontation physically, they are in more trouble, even if they aren’t the person that initiated the confrontation. Now, if the response to hitting is different in their other house, and the person that started the confrontation gets in more trouble than the person that became physical, this causes an internal conflict for the children between right and wrong.

Children need a constant and when they don’t have one, they become rule breakers and benders.

This internal conflict makes adjusting to two homes challenging because the child doesn’t know which parent is responding correctly to the situation. They don’t know whose perspective to build a moral compass upon.

Here is the reality regarding children in blended families, misbehavior is often a camouflage for moral confusion.

So how can we develop a constant that helps our children navigate this blended family life?

We teach them the value of character.

This is what I learned as I talked to my children that day.

As much as I wanted to remain angry and annoyed because their arguing almost ruined my vacation, I realized in that moment of transparency, that they struggled with something that many children in blended families struggle with. Their need to develop personal character!

Since children in blended families have to adjust to changing rules and values from one home to another, it’s harder for them to adopt a set of values that define who they are. Often they tend to just go with the flow based on the rules that are governing them at the time in the household they are currently in. This differs from a child in a traditional family that develops a value system based on a single household and the parents that reside in it.

Children within a blended family deal with feelings of uncertainty and confusion as they try to adjust to the different rules.

As adults, we understand that rules always change. Rules change from one job to another, one state to another, and one country to another. So there is great value in our children learning to adapt to changing rules. Knowing this, our job as parents isn’t to massage the discomfort they feel concerning rule changes, but rather to equip them with the tools to help them learn to adapt to changing rules. This is done through character building.

As I empathized­ with my children’s struggle, I used that moment to teach them what a personal value system was and its correlation to having good character. I explained to them that if someone values respect and respect is a part of their character, then even if an opportunity comes along for them to be disrespectful, they will choose not to participate in it because it goes against their values. Now if they decide to respond to that person with disrespect, they don’t necessarily break any rules, but they do compromise their good character.

With this example, I helped my children to understand that what a person values determines what they do and who they are. If someone values respect, they show respect, which means they are respectful. Rules don’t frazzle a person with good character and a solid value system because good character is formed by values and values are reflective of the rules they honor, and that govern them every day.

At the conclusion of my conversation,  I wrote several statements and questions on a piece of paper for both of my children to answer separately. One of the statements said:

“I am…” (three blank lines followed those words)

I encouraged them to fill in the blank lines with three characteristics they desired to define them.

These items had to be specific character traits that would help them adjust to changing rules.

After they filled in the blanks, I explained to them that they would be saying these I AM statements often because speaking aloud affirms and brings life to what is being said.

They agreed, and we ended our vacation much better than it had began.

I believe that with them having values unique to who they desire to become, rules will not need to govern their experience within both homes in the same way it did in the past. Rules can now be a safety net to catch them if they need to be reminded of what they value, or what they desire to model through their character. They now have a constant no matter where they go.

Why I Stopped Trying to be Mr.Fix-it

Photo by Better Than Blended

As a bio dad of 4 kids, adopted dad of 1 and a step dad of 2 my plate can feel pretty full. My children range from age 2 to 21, and although fatherhood is rewarding, when you combine it with being a husband and a business owner, life can be very unpredictable and at times overwhelming. So like most men that want to see things get done, I tended to yell more than I should, to get my point across.

Why?

Because as the man of the home, I need to be the one that makes sure things run in order. I need to be strategic and stern because I know (or thought) that if a problem arises, I am the only one capable of fixing it, and in my mind a roar always puts things in order.

This WAS my thinking until one day while in the car with my kids on the way to school.

Let me explain.

As most school mornings in our household go, my kids woke up groggy and moving slowly. Thankfully, we managed to make it through that part of the morning without any major problems or confrontations. Things were running rather smoothly for a Thursday morning, but of course, when you are in a house with six kids, all it takes is that one child that purposely annoys another one or one child losing a sock, shoe, or something, and the craziness begins.

But even with a few hiccups here and there, things were going better than normal.

Everyone was fully dressed including socks, (which is an accomplishment even when they don’t match), backpack on, lunch box in hand and ready to head out the door. I gave my beautiful wife a kiss and shuffled everyone into the van to start our morning commute to school.

Before dropping off the youngest, I first headed to drop off the two oldest children. A “Have a good day and love you” from me of course was returned with a fist-bump from my 17 year old son and a hi-five from my 15 year old daughter because any other way would be uncool. Once they got out the car, I begin to pull out of the high school parking lot, and as I prepared to drive onto the street that leads to the elementary school, I heard the voice of my 4-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, yelling, “Daddy, Dominique won’t put my seat belt on!”

Let me pause for a moment before I go on and say; Yes, she WAS in her car seat which WAS clamped to the metal bars. And Yes, the seat belt WAS across her chest. However, the part in the middle that connects near the thigh wasn’t snapped together completely.  Simple problem to fix, so I thought.

Before I could interject by fussing, my other daughter, Dominique,  jumped into the conversation in full defensive mode, “Gabby! You never asked me to help you. You only said Dominique; you better put my seat belt on”.

It was then that I realized the problem wasn’t that Dominique wouldn’t help her, it was that Gabby never asked for help.  

So in my lingering frustration from the early morning escapade I yelled, “Gabby, you need to ask appropriately if you want someone to help you!

But Daddy she didn’t put my seat belt on,” she yelled.

By this time I could sense that her frustration had risen and she was not wanting to cooperate with the simple task of asking her sister to help her. She was being stubborn, to say the least. As my frustration began to rise as well, I decided to share with her my plans to stop at the gas station for chips to add to her lunch, hoping that would help defuse both of our frustration and calm her stubbornness, ultimately encouraging her just to ask for help.

Well Gabby, I was going to buy you some chips, but if your seat belt is not on by the time we get to the gas station you won’t be able to get any chips.

As you could imagine that statement took her from 10 to 100.

I am not getting chips,” she said as she began to cry hysterically, “but I do want chips!” So, I tried to gently encouraged her again to ask her sister for help as I said a quick prayer to calm myself.

We are getting closer to the gas station Gabby, all you have to do is ask,” I said.

That’s when I felt the sudden tug on my heart to stop yelling, and listen. So for the next few minutes I silenced my “outward” yelling and paid close attention.

The gas station was now clearly in view.  I heard the voice of Dominique say anxiously, “Gabby! Hurry! We’re almost there! Just ask me politely!

Suddenly my son, who at this time was almost in tears because he understood how simple the task was, turned around in his seat pleading with her, “Gabby, just ask her for help! Just ask her for help!”

Gabby responded with tears falling and a crackling voice,

We’re here already. It’s too late.

As if all hope was lost.

Heart broken, that’s when I stepped back in, “Gabby,” I said,  “We are close but were not there yet,  all you have to do is ask for help putting on your seat belt, and you will be able to get the chips.

Finally, as we sat two cars away from the gas station parking lot, I could hear Gabby’s soft, gentle, shaky voice say,

Dominique, can you help me put my seat belt on, please?

CLICK!  

Right before I made the turn into the gas station.

Silence filled the car; joy filled our hearts! I was so overwhelmed with emotions. I knew all along that my heart’s desire was for Gabby to receive the gift that I was going to give her, but as much as I wanted her to have it even in all my roaring, I couldn’t force her to ask for help.

I couldn’t help but to think at that moment, “This must be how God feels.” How often has Jesus stood there beside us, ever so patiently, waiting for us to Just Ask? He ultimately has what we desire and He sees that we are in need of His help leading, and caring for our families. But in our stubbornness or fear, or simply thinking we have to carry this fatherhood load alone.

Husbands and Fathers, I can tell you that I am use to being Mr. Fix-It and let me tell you something that will free you right now! We don’t have to fix everything on our own. We don’t have to allow the stress and frustration to push us over the edge. God is waiting for us to stop yelling, ask Him for help and just listen.  Just like we love our children and want them to ask us for help so we can give them their hearts desire, God loves us and wants us to do the same.

That moment in the car is something I will never forget and will always share with my sons as they get older, become fathers with a family of their own, about how I learned to yell less and listen more.

Tags: Lastleaf, Blended Families, Stepmom, Stepdad, Stepfamily, Blended Family Help, Better Than Blended, Families, Teens, Stepkids, Divorce, ReMarriage

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