“I wish I had learned this stepfamily stuff before I got remarried,” the stepmom shared. “I assumed it wouldn’t be much different than a first marriage. I assumed I would just love on my husband’s kids the same way I do my own family. I had no idea the issues we would face.”
As a stepmom of more than 30 years I understand this woman’s concerns. A few months into my second marriage I was discouraged by the complexities associated with being a stepmother of two boys aged 11 and 13. Learning how to function in a blended family has been a process for all of us. But I did discover a few tips on the road to becoming a smart stepmom.
Stepfamilies are Birthed Out of Loss
Many people hate it when I make this statement. Somehow they translate it into, “She’s saying our marriage wasn’t founded on love.” That’s completely incorrect. This is accurate. The family unit provides a child (young or old) with safety and security. When a marriage or parent dies it often induces grief, anger, insecurity and fear. It’s upon that experience that the remarriage occurs. There would be no stepfamily if the first family hadn’t expired.
Why does it matter? It’s crucial for the stepmom to understand that the shattered dreams, frustrations, uncertainty, and pain her stepkids may be experiencing were there long before she entered the picture.
A Healthy Stepfamily Takes Time
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.” (1) Many couples enter a remarriage without researching or believing that it’s not uncommon for the kids to struggle. When parents attempt to rush or force the relationship between stepchildren and stepparent, it creates tension.
Kids (young or old) Need Dad
A smart stepmom encourages her husband to spend time alone with his children. Kids often view Dad’s new relationship as a threat. The best way she can combat those fears is to help her husband set up specific times where it’s just him and his kids. Then for those 2 hours (or whatever) they have dad all to themselves. The number one thing stepkids share after dad gets remarried, “It feels like I lost my father.”
Jealousy is Normal
As immature as it sounds, it’s very common for a stepmom to feel jealous of the closeness between kids and dad. “I feel ridiculous,” stepmom Jenna whispered, “But when my stepkids snuggle up to their dad on the couch it makes me jealous. I feel an outsider, like I don’t belong. I become sad and resentful. Aren’t I terrible?” No. A smart stepmom learns this is perfectly normal, and she finds ways to overcome those tormenting emotions. Such as:
The Marriage Must Come First
Thirty percent of people remarry within a year after a divorce, and many to not take into account the tug-of-war between the spouse and their kids which may result. (2) If a marriage is going to flourish, it’s necessary for the relationship to become the first priority. However, guilt may prevent one or both parents from placing the marriage before the children. If the marriage is going to survive the dad and stepmom must create a unified team. Working through the issues which cause stress can build a firm foundation.
God Can Teach You How to Love
Many stepmoms deal with stepkids who are difficult and unloving. Remember 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 how to love your husband’s children even if they never love you in return. This doesn’t mean becoming a “doormat,” and ignoring rude, disrespectful behavior. It does mean learning to love sacrificially is going to take time, patience, and training. (Philippians 2:2-5)
My journey as a stepmom has been filled with mistakes and victories. One of my greatest pleasures is to use the experience as a way to help other stepmoms. My stepsons are now adults with children of their own. We continue to build our relationship.
Copyright © 2016 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
(1) Ron Deal, The Smart Stepfamily, (Bloomington, MN, Bethany House, 2002), p 64
(2) Ganong & Colman, Stepfamily Relationships: Development, Dynamics, and Interventions. (New York, Kluwer Academic, 2004) p.68