5 Ways to Become a Smart Stepmom
As a child of divorced parents and then having two stepmoms myself, and now being a stepmom for more than twenty-eight years, I understand the complexities associated with stepfamily living.
A few months into my second marriage I was discouraged by the difficulties associated with being a stepmother of two boys ages eleven and thirteen. I often wondered, “How can I run away from home?” I loved my sweet husband, and his kids weren’t horrible brats. It was merely that stepfamily living was so much more frustrating, time-consuming, and hurtful than I thought it would be. I was ambushed by feelings of isolation, rejection, and loneliness. Plus none of the resources for mothers, or on parenting, addressed my unique issues.
I wondered if Disney had patterned the wicked stepmother after me. Learning how to function in a blended family has been a slow process for all of us.
But I did discover a few insightful tips that taught me how to become a victorious smart stepmom.
1. Stepfamilies are Formed Out of Loss
An estimated one-third of children will live in a stepparent home before the age of eighteen (1), and 50% will have a stepparent at some point in their lifetime (2). Whether death or divorce has disrupted the biological family, children often struggle to adjust. The family unit provides a child with the safety and security he or she needs. But when a parent dies or divorce occurs it’s likely to induce insecurity and fear in a child’s life.
Many Christians falsely assume that a stepfamily formed due to the death of a parent is easier on the children than a remarriage after divorce. However, all loss is painful. Kids who are grieving often display frustration, depression, or belligerence. It’s crucial for the stepmom to understand how loss can shatter dreams and instill long-term anxiety. A tremendous way she can learn is by attending a support group designed for kids who are suffering from the emotions associated with grief. DivorceCare for Kids is a great choice.
2. A Healthy Stepfamily Takes Time
About 75% of those who divorce will eventually remarry. (3) However, one of the most common misconceptions about stepfamilies is that everyone will bond quickly and smoothly. Stepfamily expert Ron Deal shares, “The average stepfamily takes seven years to integrate. Parents want to believe their kids will be okay, thus the power of hope blinds couples to the realities of stepfamily integration.” (4) Many couples enter a remarriage without researching or believing that it’s not uncommon for the kids to struggle or battle the relationship. When parents attempt to rush or force the relationship between stepchildren and stepparent, it creates tension and sets the marriage up for failure.
3. Kids Need Dad
I had to lean that a smart stepmom encourages her husband to spend time alone with his kids. When dad remarries, a child may view the new relationship as a threat. My husband didn’t know how to respond when his kids were jealous and didn’t want to share him with me. Therefore, it’s important for the stepmom to initiate and support activities between dad and his kids. Gradually integrate activities together as a stepfamily.
4. The Marriage Must Come First
Thirty percent of people remarry within a year after a divorce, and many do not take into account the tug-of-war that may result between their new spouse and their kids. (5) If a marriage is going to thrive, it’s necessary for the relationship to be the first priority. However, guilt may prevent one or both parents from placing the marriage before the children. The dad and stepmom must create a unified team. Working through the issues that cause stress can build a firm foundation.
5. God Can Teach You How to Love
Many stepmoms deal with stepkids who are difficult and unloving. I had to be taught that hurt people—hurt people. It’s not uncommon to love your stepkids differently than you do your own biological children. However, the goal must be to learn to love your husband’s children even if they never love you in return. This sacrificial love is often necessary for a stepfamily to survive.
Jesus taught me his method of showing compassion and grace. The more mature I become in him, the stronger my ability to love others grew. He longs to fill us with love for others as he loves us. (Philippians 2:2-5)
My journey as a stepmom has been filled with mistakes and victories. One of my greatest pleasures is to use my sometimes painful experiences to help other stepmoms. I have written resources to provide insight, and then I formed a team of fellow stepmoms and we provide retreats where stepmoms can find help, healing and hope.
My stepsons are now 36 and 40, with children of their own. We continue to build our relationships, seeking the Lord’s guidance every step of the way.
Copyright © 2009 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved
(1) Parke, M, Couples and Married Research and Policy Brief: Center for Law and Social Policy (May 2007) www.clasp.org
(2) Susan Stewart, Brave New Stepfamilies: Diverse Paths Toward Stepfamily Living. (Sage Publications, 2007) p. 148.
(3) U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2006
(4) Ron Deal, The Smart Stepfamily, (Bloomington, MN, Bethany House, 2002), p 64
(5) Ganong & Colman, Stepfamily Relationships: Development, Dynamics, and Interventions. (New York, Kluwer Academic, 2004) p.68
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, and The Smart Stepmom, and 101 Tips for The Smart Stepmom (may 2014). She is a featured expert on the DivorceCare DVD series. Her website is www.TheSmartStepmom.com.
The stepmother’s role often is ambiguous and underappreciated, and frequently it carries unrealistic expectations. The book answers women’s concerns and questions, including: How can I be a caretaker and a key emotional connector in the family if the children don’t accept my influence? How shoud I cope with children who are confused about their family and torn between loyalty to their biological mother and me? When should I step back in conflicts and when should I insist that my husband stand up for me? In addition it addresses the spiritual and emotional climate of the home, providing perspective and guidelines to help stepmothers and their families thrive.
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