What do stepmoms what? What do we really, really want?
After more than 25 years of working with those in divorce recovery and stepfamily situations I believe we crave to feel understood, supported, respected and appreciated for our roles.
We just don’t know how to get there.
Recently, I read a comment on social media from a stepmom seeking insight on a situation regarding her stepson’s mother. Based on the details she shared, in my humble opinion, both women–mom and stepmom–were making poor decisions regarding the situation.
For peace to occur in that situation, and for the stepmom’s marriage to survive, and in the interest of the child, EACH woman needed to take a different approach.
I didn’t share my thoughts on that platform because comments on social media often provoke a lot of nasty responses. In other words, it can get ugly.
It’s too fragile of an issue to debate on a keyboard.
Without eye contact, body language, and a compassionate tone to my comments it would likely have been misunderstood.
But it did cause me to ponder what action steps were required for each of the two women, the mom and the stepmom, to feel they had been heard, understood and/or respected.
I’m sharing my perspective on how to ease the stress, tension and drama of stepfamily living as a stepmom of 34 years. I’m a life coach to stepfamilies, and an adult child of divorce who grew up in a stepfamily home after my dad remarried—twice.
Are you a mom and/or stepmom who desire to create a peaceful atmosphere for the family. If you aren’t willing to take a few steps, or make a few changes to ease the drama, and if your distain for the stepchild’s mom, or your child’s stepmom, is so intensely fierce that you can’t set it aside for a few moments, then this insight isn’t for you.
It will make you very angry.
BUT, if you agree that what is currently happening between homes isn’t working,
and you desire to learn how you can make some changes that might improve the situation, I believe this insight can be tremendously beneficial.
Most stepfamily success happens when I take my eyes off myself. It’s hard and unnatural.
Humans rarely admit this, but I like it when life is all about me, and I’m in control.
I want my home to be how I like it, and the focus to be my comfort zone.
Hence, the rub.
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. Don’t misunderstand: It doesn’t mean I should be treated badly or tolerate abuse. Rather it’s about learning how to peacefully coexist with consideration and/or compassion for those who resist, mock, or reject me (EX: the ex, the new wife, the kids).
I cannot control the actions of others. No one knows this better than someone in a stepfamily. But as a stepmom when I said “I will,” to my man who has a child that commitment included learning how to control my responses when nastiness is targeted towards my heart.
Even if the other person is unwilling to express regret, or has evil in her heart, I must choose the high road. If I want peace, it will require for me to consider the other mom’s perspective and respond in a manner that encourages resolution, rather than throwing gasoline on the fire (the temptation we all face).
Is it easy? NO! Does it come naturally? Absolutely NOT! Will it require work, determination and strength? Abundantly! Can you do it? YES!!
For those courageous enough, and/or willing to admit that past decision on how to respond are not working well for you, your hubby 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. We can’t find peace because our space has too much noise. Clear your mind of negative, antagonistic, anxious and/or vengeful thoughts. Now imagine you are the other woman. See her for the first time as a fellow female not your adversary.
Are you willing to view her through different eyes? Was she wounded or abandoned as a child? Has she ever healed that pain? When is the last time you prayed for her? When is the last time you forgave her?
I know this is massive, deep stuff. Trust me, I understand how hard it is.
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. Ponder her fear that they might enjoy you or your home more, or that they may 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.
Here’s the key.
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. You can not change her. But your actions and responses can deescalate the battle.
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 emotionally healthy and stable one in this relationship, even if she refuses?”
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?
• Does dad/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 willing to view her from another perspective).
• Am I willing to admit that my responses aren’t beneficial to my marriage/family/kids/life?
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)
One of the reasons I’m still becoming, emotionally healthy is because I discovered (my source of strength is my faith in God) that I NEED to be learning from women who are more mature and wiser than I am. This picture is from my last stepmom retreat. The women came not knowing anyone, and left with friends for a lifetime.
Let me encourage you to take a step TODAY to find a good women’s group. Many communities or churches offer them.
Stepfamily living isn’t easy. After 34 years, I’m still learning where I fit into the stepfamily puzzle. But my focus is now on growing, learning and helping other stepfamilies.
I’m no longer exhausted over trying to manage or control everything and everyone anymore.
What I want, what I really, really want, is to know I’ve been the best wife, and the smartest stepmom, I can be. That required refocusing my purpose, my plan, my actions, and my words.
Copyright © 2019 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