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Am I too Nice? Enabling in a Stepfamily

“Laura, I just don’t know how to say no”, Janelle, a stepmom of four years, shared.

“I try and I try, but somehow, I get drawn back into the stepfamily drama, and the chaos. I feel guilty if I don’t do everything my stepkids, or my in-laws ask of me. I know my husband’s kids resent me and our marriage, so I try to fix the fights. I work very hard to bring peace into each situation even if it stresses me. I’m a Christian, doesn’t that mean I’m supposed to create peace? My therapist and my pastor have said I need to stop what I’m doing because I’m letting everyone treat me badly. However, I can’t seem to find the courage, or the strength, or whatever it is that I need to say no more. I guess I’m just too nice.”

Janelle is caught in a common stepfamily trap. She’s trying to control people, and things, over which she has no power. Guilt, fear, and shame have deceived her into believing she will be holy, godly, and good if she makes everyone happy.

It’s a lie.

Janelle is caught in a dangerous and cruel scam fueled by a compulsion to be loved and accepted. This deeply rooted hunger to be treasured and embraced necessitates a peace at all costs mentality. It has embedded a warped sense of responsibility, even with those in her stepfamily who reject her. No matter how badly her husband’s kids shun her, she allows them to manipulate and control her.

Janelle is not a peacemaker, like Jesus. Janelle is a peaceaholic. She craves peace at any cost, even if it’s sinful. That is nothing like the character of Jesus.

She also isn’t, “too nice.” That’s an attempt to excuse or warp the offence into a virtue.

Being in a stepfamily can create circumstances a person hasn’t encountered previously. It requires learning how to set healthy boundaries early on. Navigating the relationships is vastly different than dealing with your own family, or kids. Which is why overcoming the plague of people pleasing, aka enabling, like Janelle has, is crucial.

A stepparent can learn to overcome the tendency to enable by letting the Holy Spirit reveal the truth about why a person becomes a people pleaser. Janelle had to discover why she felt responsible for another person’s poor choices. Her guilt regarding her stepchildren’s pain was dictating her decisions.

Why does she believe the lie that God wants her to ignore, dismiss, and allow others to treat her badly?

Here are a warning signs and common reasons for enabling:

  • A desire to avoid problems at all costs. Believing that no conflict will help the problem.

  • A distorted view of virtues such as: mercy, kindness, and compassion.

  • A belief that rescuing another person from poor choices is Christlike

  • Allowing guilt or shame to minimize the behavior of others. Phrases such as “It's not that bad” are a red flag.

  • The need to control by taking responsibility for another person's behavior

  • Perverting Bible verses about love and mercy, as an excuse to tolerate the behavior

  • Believing that walking on eggshells, or constant drama, is a normal way to live

Jenna isn’t helping her family or stepfamily--she is harming them. She isn’t earning respect or love; she is creating distain. And she is sabotaging the responsibilities of her husband. He should be the one addressing the behavior of his family members and kids.

It is his job to make certain his children aren’t treating his wife with disrespect and distain. Her need to please is getting in the way of correcting the issues.

Once we understand that we are harming our loved ones by overlooking, ignoring, and tolerating their bad behavior and choices we see into the mind of Christ.

Jesus is the only rescuer with the right motives. Our motives appear to merciful, however that’s frequently a deception.

Typically, people rescue other people because it meets a need in us. It makes me feel better to rescue someone. It’s done to relieve a selfish motive, even if it appears godly.

Jenna doesn’t want her stepkids or her in laws to dislike her. So she is attempting to win them with the only method she knows. She gives them whatever they demand of her.

Once we understand that we are harming our loved one by overlooking, ignoring and tolerating their bad deeds, we obtain the mind of Christ.

God explains it this way. “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I obey your word.” Psalm 119:67 (NIV)

The psalmist reveals how his pain is a consequence from a decision to sin. And the pain is what finally taught him to stop. The cost of his behavior was agony. When he chose to change his actions, it turned him around, and healed the pain. Without a consequence, the sin continues.

God has no problem allowing us to suffer a consequence for our sin because He knows it’s often the only way we will stop. When Jenna learns to set a boundary with her stepkids or in-laws, it shouldn’t be done with vengeance, spite, or cruelty. It is not something she is doing to her family. It is setting a guard around her heart, mind, spirit and body so that the results might improve.

Learning to let go of enabling behavior is not an easy task. It typically requires help from others who have learned to overcome, especially in stepfamily setting because the dynamics are radically different.

Our hope rests in knowing God fights for us. Jesus paid too much for Jenna for her to allow anyone to bully, intimidate or manipulate her. He wants us to have victory over enabling behavior.

And his artillery never fails.

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”. 2 Corinthians 10: 4-5

Are you a people pleaser? Do you:

  • Feel guilty saying no?

  • Have a sense of dread, fear, or anger if you are not in control of a situation?

  • Desire to solve other people's problems?

  • Make excuses for the destructive behavior of those you love?

  • Fear retaliation or the removal of love if you are non-compliant?

  • Allow people to speak to you in a disrespectful or critical manner?

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