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Death in a Stepfamily

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

Q: Recently, my mother-in-law died. My husband was obviously very upset. His 19-year-old daughter from a former marriage hates me. On previous occasions when I'm in the room she creates a scene with temper tantrums and screaming. Due to her history my husband asked me not to attend his mom's funeral. He's afraid she will disturb the entire event with a dramatic meltdown if I attend. I'm deeply hurt and angry. Am I being immature or unkind? I'm tired of this teenage brat dictating my presence at such occasions?

A: This is a hard one. I'm going to encourage you to ask yourself a different question.

The question I'd like you to consider instead of the one you asked is this:

How can I help, support, and comfort my husband during the death of his mother?

I completely understand that this is very painful for you. It’s making you feel ostracized. Especially if you were close to your husband's mother. But that is not the greater issue. The biggest question is how can I help my husband?

He has suffered a major loss in his life. The death of a parent, even if the relationship wasn't fabulous, stirs tremendous grief and loss in various ways. Even if he had a poor relationship with his mother, or she wasn’t a good mom, it may trigger the death of the dream of her one day confessing that she wasn’t a good mom.

Death stirs different emotions based on the relationship with the deceased. Your first step as the spouse is to seek the best way to help your husband during this loss? Whether or not you attend the funeral is not the pressing question or need.

I recognize that not attending makes you feel left out, abandoned, and uninvited to his family function. However, your husband is clearly requesting this of you. You don’t need to what he needs. He is telling you.

Is it going to be easy? No.

Is it the godly thing to do?

Is it the most unselfish thing to do?

Is it what will make his grief and final moments with the woman who brought him into this world easier? Yes.

That is why he is requesting it. He knows.

He knows what his daughter will do at the funeral parlor if you show up.

He knows the chaos that will occur. He knows the focus will shift from his mom to his daughter’s behavior.

It’s going to cause you to feel like your husband doesn’t have your back. You will think ,“He is defending and enabling his daughter and abandoning me—His wife!”

He could ask his daughter to be the one to stay away from her grandmother's funeral, but he didn't. He did not say to her “If you can't behave and act respectfully, please don't come”.

My guess is this situation isn’t new. It’s very common after a divorce. He gives in to her behavior and she gets away with doing it again.

This is how he has chosen to parent. It’s typically rooted in fear.

It’s also not the time to give him a lecture on parenting. That conversation can and should be had later if he’s willing to discuss it.

And because this is his choice, and he didn’t choose to tell her no, it’s now up to you to decide what you will do.

It is not uncommon for a person, in particular a man, to desire the path of least resistance. In this moment he is revealing to you that he has confidence in you. You are his safe place. He believes in you, more than he trusts his daughter to do the right thing.

That is why he is asking you to be the one to bow out.

He trusts you.

He knows that you care more about his pain than you do about “it’s my right”. That doesn’t mean you should not discuss the situation later and set some boundaries. But now isn’t the time to attempt to undo years of enabling.

Is it a sacrifice? Yes.

Will it require you to forgive the daughter and your spouse? Yes.

For just a moment pray this prayer

Lord help me to see this situation through my husband's eyes and not my own. Help me to understand this has nothing to do with me being excluded, and everything to do with my husband and the relationship he has with his child.

Help me to be a support system for him. I know he feels badly for asking me not to attend the funeral. He is not doing this to hurt me. He is merely choosing a path that will not create drama and a disturbance at his mother's funeral. Don’t let this create a bitterness in my heart towards him.”

If your husband has family members that will question why you are not there, it is his responsibility to tell them the truth. It’s not your job. Plus, you will be tempted to say negative things about his daughter.

You are hurt. I would be too. This is when you need a stepmom sister to call or have coffee with and cry with her. She will be the only one who truly understands. God created us for community, and this is one of the reasons why.

There's nothing wrong with crying, or feeling excluded, or wondering if your stepfamily is ever going to feel like a nuclear family.

But again, that is not the question right now. The question is what is the wisest, kindest, most sacrificial, most Christ like thing you can do for your husband in this moment?

Can you do it, sister?

Probably not on your own strength. But I can guarantee you that Jesus Christ will give you the strength, and the compassion, and the grace you need to forgive his daughter for using this form of manipulation. And it will bless your husband.

When he looks back on this moment, he won't be remembering my wife wasn't by my side. He will remember the sacrifice you made because you love him that much.

You may have heard me say in the past that being a stepmom has taught me more about how to love like Christ more than any other circumstance in my life. This is a clear example. It is putting your husband's needs and wants and desires, ahead of your own.

That is the definition of self-sacrifice. That is what Jesus did for us in the garden of Gethsemane. And precious sister, that always wins. Always.

If you would like to learn more about the issues that arise in a stepfamily when death occurs join me in Sept for this virtual event.

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