Updated: Sep 5
Recently, I read a comment from a stepmom seeking insight on a situation regarding her stepson’s mother. Based on what she shared, in my humble opinion, both women were making poor decisions. They each needed to take a different approach for success to occur.
I didn’t share my thoughts because comments on social media often provokes a lot of nasty responses. It’s too fragile of an issue to debate on a keyboard.
But it did cause me to ponder what action steps were necessary for each of the two women, the mom and the stepmom, to feel they had been heard, understood and/or respected.
Because isn’t that what most women want and need today? Don’t we crave to feel supported and appreciated for our roles?
So I’m writing this as a stepmom of 37 years, and as a woman who grew up in a stepfamily home after dad remarried. My goal is to provide a few thoughts for moms and stepmoms on how to ease the tension, stress and drama of stepfamily living.
If you have a desire for a more peaceful home, and you are willing to hear steps that might work toward an cordial relationship with the other woman, plus you are willing to do things differently than you have in the past, I believe this insight can be tremendously beneficial.
Whew! That’s a lot to ask, isn’t it? I believe you can do it!! Jesus believes you can too.
I have often said that being a stepmom for 37 years has taught me more about how to love like Jesus than any other situation in my life. Why? Because it flies directly in the opposite direction of everything society teaches. Stepfamily success can only happen when I take my eyes off myself.
To be honest, I like it when life is all about me, how I like things, and my comfort zone. Hence, the rub.
And the becoming like Jesus’ stuff…it’s hard. I mean grueling.
Effective stepfamily living is ALL about sacrifice and going the extra mile(s), sometimes literally, for others. It’s almost NEVER about me. I hate that part. But it’s reality.
This doesn’t mean I should be treated badly or tolerate abuse. Rather it’s about learning how to have a compassionate heart for those who resist, mock, or reject me (the ex, the new wife, the kids). Jesus had, and still has, a lot of people who hate Him. Merely because He existed.
As a stepmom I have learned that I cannot control the actions of others. But I am obligated to God, and the vow I made to my husband, to control how I respond when nastiness is targeted towards my heart. Even if the other party is unwilling to repent, or has evil in her heart, God expects me to lay down my own agenda and listen to Him. I’m to contemplate the other person’s perspective and respond as He would.
Here’s the bottom line: as a Christ follower God expects me to consider the woman causing me angst as His precious creation, even if I can’t stand the sight of her. Here’s the blessing: When I follow His guidance, it’s the first step towards finding a middle ground, sanity, and peace.
Is it easy? NO! Does it come naturally? Absolutely NOT! Does God expect me to do it on my own strength? I’m happy to say…NO!
For those courageous enough, and/or willing to admit what you are currently doing in your stepfamily isn’t working for you, your husband, or the kids, here are steps to help you overcome the war between mom and stepmom.
Stop and rest a minute. Turn off all the noise around you. Take a deep breath. Often, we can’t hear from God because our space is too noisy. Ask God to clear your mind of negative, antagonistic, anxious and/or vengeful thoughts. Now imagine the mom or stepmom at the foot of the cross. See her for the first time as a fellow female, God’s creation. What does God see when He looks at her? Are you willing to view her through His eyes? Was she wounded or abandoned as a child? Has she ever asked Him to heal that pain? Does she even know He is capable and longs to do so? When is the last time you prayed for her? When is the last time you forgave her?
I know this is massive going deep with Jesus stuff. Trust me, I understand how hard it is. Trust Him, He has your BEST in mind.
Envision yourself in the other woman’s situation. If you are the mom, think of what it’s like to be a stepmom. Consider how hard it is to marry a man who already has kids. Ponder what it’s like to be in the middle between the man you love, and his children. If you are the stepmom, think of what it’s like to hand your babies, who came from your own body (normally), over to the care of another woman. How frightened she might be that they will enjoy you more or embrace you as a mom.
As soon as your mind starts to wander (and it will—trust me) towards, “My ex doesn’t treat me or these kids the way he should” or “I hate that my husband has a child with this woman, I wish she’d move away” stop and take those thoughts captive. Take them hostage and refuse to let them run rampant. Dwelling on what the other woman is or isn’t doing correctly won’t make your life easier. When we allow anger and frustration to build, it makes you more stressful, not the other person. Give that situation to God. Lay it down. Only He can change her heart if she is doing something wrong.
Focus on what will make the situation better, and what will make the situation worse. Think on what is wise rather than “What are my rights.” Consider, “Will I be the godly one in this relationship, even if she refuses?” Again, I’m not saying you should tolerate abuse, violence, or being insulted. I’m asking, what is your goal? And how will you achieve that goal?
Be HONEST and ask yourself, or have a good friend help you to consider:
· Are my responses to the mom/stepmom making life easier for the dad/kids or harder?
· Do dad/his kids view me as a person who throws gasoline on the fire or as a peacemaker, (note I didn’t say peaceaholic) and someone who attempts to ease stress?
· Do I respond in a way that communicates, “I’m trying my best to respect you,” even if the other woman doesn’t admit it, or behave that way?
· Have I discovered the difference between setting healthy boundaries and laying down the law because it’s my kids/house/rules?
· Do I always assume the mom/stepmom is behind everything that goes wrong with the kids? (And if you said, “Yes, because she is,” that might be true, but it’s also a clear indicator that you aren’t allowing God to help you see it through her eyes).
· Am I willing to admit that my responses aren’t beneficial to my marriage/family/kids/life?
· Am I willing to pray, “Jesus, I need to stop looking for everyone else to change. Lord, change me!”
Are you actively involved in a healthy woman’s group that helps you to grow as a female, wife, or mom/stepmom? (Not social media groups where you just comment, but a true growth group) If not, what is the reason it’s not a priority? Who taught you that a productive life could be done independently, without others? Did you know that this thinking is in contradiction to God’s perspective?
One of the reasons I’ve become, and am still becoming, emotionally healthy is because God taught me that I NEED to be learning from women who are more mature and wiser than I am. I weep for younger women who don’t know this. And it’s a large part of why we are so depressed, anxious and fearful.
Let me encourage you to take a step TODAY to find a good women’s group. Many churches offer them, they often start in the fall and January. If your church doesn’t provide this, seek other churches in your area that might.
Stepfamily living isn’t easy, but it can be productive. You can only control the role you have chosen or been assigned. Some days I’m still learning where I fit into the stepfamily puzzle. But Jesus is the one who knows where I fit. And He’s the one who will guide my steps toward harmony if I ask and listen.
Copyright © 2023 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.
Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on stepfamilies, relationships, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery.
She is the author of When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with Ron Deal, 101 Tips for the Smart Stepmom and Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. Her website is www.TheSmartStepmom.com