Jim Daly: Kathi, what has been the most challenging and maybe the most rewarding—let’s get both sides of it—aspect of being a stepmom?
Kathi Lipp: Whoo! It’s only a half-hour broadcast right?
Jim: Yeah (Laughing)
Kathi: I would say the most challenging has been not exactly knowing my role, trying to figure that out as we went along, that was very, very frustrating and kind of demoralizing sometimes. You know, I think that the world sometimes thinks of a stepmom as half a mom, like you only get the kids half the time and it doesn’t really count and you don’t really know your place in your stepkids’ lives. And so, that’s really frustrating.
And I think the most rewarding, I’ll be honest with you, we’re in a very sweet spot right now. My oldest child, my stepdaughter, Amanda, is getting married. And when she casually asked me, “Now who do you want to walk you down the aisle?” That question was so loaded, because what it meant to me is, I’m part of who you are now. And it’s been 10 long years, but to just be naturally asked, how am I gonna take a part in this most important day of her life, meant so much more than just that day, ’cause it meant that I’m a part of everything that’s important to her.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Well, the challenges and the rewards of being a stepmother aren’t easy to capture. If you were here with us on “Focus on the Family” in the studio, you’d see some tears in Kathi’s eyes as she shares from that part of her heart. We’ve got more from Kathi Lipp and our other guest, Carol Boley on today’s “Focus” program, hosted by Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, I think we all know remarriage can be a very delicate subject, particularly within the Christian community. And we want to say up front, you know, God’s heart for us is that we would work through our issues in our first marriages and that we would be committed in that way. But for a variety of reasons, divorce does occur, sometimes biblical, sometimes not. And we know that; we get that. But today we do want to concentrate on those families who have gone through that trauma and are now kind of regathering and reconnecting in a way and they want to do it well from this point forward. And we want to emphasize that today and we want to talk specifically with our guests, to the mom’s heart, because there is a lot of trauma that can occur in a blended family.
John: Yeah, there’s such complications that have to be dealt with. There’s a lot of guidance and support that moms, stepmoms are looking for. And we’ve got some help for you. As I mentioned, our guests are Kathi Lipp and Carol Boley. Kathi is a popular speaker and author and she and her husband, Roger have four children. And Carol and her husband, Jim have three grown daughters. She’s a stepmom, as well and is the co-author with Kathi of the book by Focus on the Family called But I’m Not a Wicked Stepmother, which is a pretty descriptive title.
Jim: It’s got humor and probably a dose of reality, but let me officially welcome you both to the program.
Kathi: Thanks so much.
Carol Boley: Thank you, happy to be here.
Jim: Let me ask you Kathi, one, I just love your energy and people love your energy and it’s great to have you back here. And let me ask you, did you ever dream of becoming that stepmom? I’m sure that wasn’t in (Laughter) the deck of cards.
Kathi: Yeah, no—
Jim: You didn’t anticipate it.
Kathi: –little girl ever said, “Do you know what I want to be when I grow up?” This was definitely not part of the plan for me. Carol and I have very different stories on our route to being a stepmom, but for me, when I got married, it was for life. You know, there was no thought that this was ever going to be a situation. But both Roger and I had marriages that did not go according to plan. And sadly, our spouses made poor choices and we were left as single parents.
And I thought I will never get married again. I just thought that, that was never going to happen. And you know, then I did the crazy thing of falling in love with this really amazing godly man, who had two kids. And we had to figure it out.
Jim: How old were the kids when you married Roger?
Kathi: If you needed proof of how crazy I was, let me tell you, 13, 14, 15 and 17.
Jim: (Laughing) Oh, my goodness.
Kathi: Yeah, oh, well, yeah. It was … (Sigh)
Kathi: You know, it was chaos. It was absolute chaos. And I’m glad we did it, but at the time, it was the hardest thing we’ve ever done.
Jim: Well, in fact, you know, let’s get real. People connect with that and because people are living different aspects of your story, too in their own way. You almost called your wedding off the night before, because of that chaos.
Kathi: I …
Jim: Tell us what was going on.
Kathi: This is the question we start with. Awesome. So (Laughter), I did; I called my future husband, my fiancé at 2 o’clock in the morning the night before the wedding and I said, “I can’t marry you.” And it was because of his kids. What it was, what I had asked him, because we were both very involved parents; we both loved our kids, but I said, “The week before the wedding, we have all these people coming in from out of town, We’re doing all this stuff. Could we for one week not have to be the parent-in-charge? You know, if the kids need to get to the mall, could somebody else take them? Could we just do that?”
And Roger agreed to it and said that would be great. And so, we were at our wedding rehearsal dinner and Roger told me, “Oh, my brothers want to go see Jeremy play hockey, so we’re gonna go tomorrow morning.”
John: This is the morning of your wedding.
Kathi: The morning of my wedding, yes.
Jim: But you’re not married quite yet.
Kathi: Yeah, exactly. (Laughing)
Jim: It’s the afternoon, I’m sure. (Laughter) He could still squeeze in a hockey game. (Laughter)
Kathi: And in Roger’s brain, this totally made sense, because he didn’t have to do anything that morning. He wasn’t gonna see me that morning.
Kathi: So, of course, why not do this? And I thought, to me this was a red glaring alarm that said, he is always going to put his kids in front of you. That’s what it said to my heart. And so, at 2 o’clock in the morning, he comes over to the hotel I’m staying at. We sit in the front room and we hash [it] out. I said, this is my biggest fear, is that I am always going to come in second.
And so, we talked about it, because our kids are important to us, but I knew in order to have a great marriage, it was gonna have to be God first and then our marriage and everything was gonna have to come after that. And I don’t know if I knew that so much then as I do now. It just the feeling of not wanting to come in second for the rest of my life.
Jim: And in so many ways, you know, whether you’re in a blended family or your first marriage, that is great advice, to—
Jim: –have that kind of open dialogue when you’re feeling that fear—
Jim: –have the discussion about it. Sit down in the front room, like you—
Kathi: –sooner (Laugher) than, you know, 12 hours before you’re getting married, but yes.
Jim: Yeah, I would say ongoing.
Kathi: It had to happen.
Jim: Yeah, it’s just an ongoing process. That’s a very (Laughing) interesting story. I’m glad you made it through that night.
Kathi: Yes, me, too.
Jim: Carol, let me hear from you. What is your story? How is it different from Kathi’s?
Carol: Well, my story is very different from Kathi’s and that’s why we thought we’d be such a good team—
Carol: –on this, because together we cover the waterfront. I was a single career woman; I was a newspaper reporter. I worked in a hospital community relations and was enjoying that. I wanted to be married and have kids, but for one reason or another, different relationships didn’t, you know, work out.
And so, when I was 31, I married a widower with a 5-year-old daughter. Now Jim, how I married, I had known for about seven years ahead of time, he and his wife. I had actually been very good friends with them. We had met at church. We taught Sunday school together. We sang in the choir together. I was actually at the hospital the night that Abby was born. We double dated sometimes.
So, it wasn’t too much longer his wife died suddenly, unexpectedly. She was a dear friend of mine, as well, so it was a sad time.
But then not too long after that, our friendship developed into more and we were married. So, the first time that I became a mom, it was my wedding day became a wife and an instant mom to a little girl, who was almost 6.
Jim: Almost 6.
Carol: Almost 6.
Jim: And that has its difficulties and let me ask you Kathi, with the title, But I’m Not a Wicked Stepmother, what is the heart of that? I mean, it’s funny. We laugh. I think we get it. What did you mean by it?
Kathi: Well, when Carol proposed that title to me, I thought, it instantly spoke to my heart, because I feel like as stepmoms, we’re constantly trying to prove we’re nice. We love you. This is going to be okay, because you hear so many stories of stepparenting gone bad.
And what I’ve come to realize is, that every stepmom I have ever met, goes into this relationship with the best of intentions. They love their future husband. They love their future kids. They want to do everything they can. But this is hard stuff.
And you’re gonna go through a time where you’re not gonna be liked. Nobody told me it’s natural for them not to like you for a while, especially in our circumstance, where mom is still in the picture. Yeah, so there’s going to be difficulties. You need to expect that instead of being surprised by it. But there is an opportunity to have the kind of relationship you want with your stepchildren.
Jim: Let me ask you this question for either one of you, the idea that you start from that spot as a wicked stepmom. I would think it’s being expressed from the view of the children.
Jim: –depending upon their age, I would think at 6-years-old, it’s very different from 16-years-old.
Carol: Oh, yes, yes.
Jim: And the whole issue of competition and you’re not my mother. And these are the things that are—
Jim: –typically said in the heat of battle.
Jim: I don’t have to listen to you. You’re not my mom.
Jim: What are some of those drama moments that you have to really be prepared for ahead of time and to think through?
Kathi: Well, I honestly was surprised that my stepson didn’t want to stand up at our wedding. He refused to be a groomsman for my husband.
Jim: How did you process that?
Kathi: Not well, not well. I mean, I think that every stepfamily I know, especially if the biological mom is still on the picture—it’s a little different for Carol’s situation—but there’s some kind of crazy you’ve had to come and accept. And with ours, my stepson refused to come to our wedding unless his mom could come.
Jim: How’d you deal with that? What did you do?
Kathi: Well, first of all, I said, you know, it’s more important for my stepson to be at his dad’s wedding than it is for me to have exactly who I want at the wedding.
Jim: Wow, that’s gracious.
Kathi: I would love to say I did it with a totally gracious spirit. I think it was more resigned at that point. But we have worked really hard to have a great relationship with my stepkids’ mom. And so, we’ve done little things along the way. But I know that that’s been hard for her and I’ve had to put myself in her shoes a lot to say, gosh, this has gotta be hard to see somebody else having a[n] input in how her kids are being raised. And so, having a heart of mercy for her has really helped our relationship a great deal.
Jim: I want to get back to that—
Jim: –in terms of that relationship, ’cause that can be tenuous and instruct perhaps how to approach that. But one thing that I caught in your book and I don’t know that it’s a direct quote, but here’s the impression. The role of stepmother demands strength of character, endurance, resilience, wisdom, flexibility, a willingness to serve and sacrifice, an ability to love unconditionally and a constant reliance on God. It also requires a commitment to put the needs of others, even people you may not like and who may not like you, ahead of your own, with no expectation of appreciation from anyone. And basically, that describes Jesus. (Laughter) And so, when you get down to it, I mean, with that kind of expectation, how does a woman even attempt to find the bar?
Carol: Well, I think there’s only one way and that is through Jesus. It is realizing I am loved unconditionally by Jesus, therefore, I can love unconditionally others.
Jim: Do think there’s a direct correlation in that regard to a woman, a mom’s spiritual depth, that she can actually apply it in a very hostile environment often?
Carol: Oh, yes, it absolutely is, because it’s every issue of marriage and parenthood, only more.
Jim: The intensity of it.
Carol: The intensity of it and extra issues on top of that–
Kathi: And extra people involved—
Carol: –and extra people—
Kathi: –in your life that you may not choose.
Carol: Oh, yeah.
Kathi: Yeah, yeah.
Carol: Oh, yes and you’re stepping in to these children’s lives and you’ve had no input into them beforehand. And yet, you’re coming in as somewhat of an authority figure. And I like how Kathi said, you can think of yourself perhaps as an aunt or a Girl Scout leader or a camp counselor.
Jim: I terms of coping–
Carol: Yes, yes.
Jim: –a way to cope.
Kathi and Carol: Yes.
Kathi: Instead of trying to live out the mom role, which you have to walk a fine line, because there are still responsibilities. There is still input that is definitely a mom role, but I finally had to approach it as first of all, I am your dad’s partner in life. We are making this happen. So, my first job is to support your dad.
But my next job is to love and support you. And they don’t always want to hear the love part. That may come later, but I’m also responsible for getting you to soccer practice and making sure that your math homework is done. So, there’s some mom roles, but if I can take myself out of it a little bit and say, I want to be more of an aunt figure or like you said, a Girl Scout leader or somebody like that. So, I’m not putting the mom pressure on myself and I’m not putting it on that stepchild to have that kind of relationship. It takes the pressure off of everybody just a little bit and it’s a better coping mechanism that I was trying when I first got married.
Jim: And so, it put you in a frame of mind—
Kathi: Yeah, exactly.
Jim: –in how to work emotionally through the issues.
Kathi and Carol: Yes.
Jim: But as you said at the top of the program, there should come a point where you’re more fully embraced, if everything’s going in a good direction.
Kathi: Right, well, Carol started off being the only mom on earth that, that child had. So, they started from a different place. We started with teenagers. So, we probably started in the worst place you can start.
Jim: Yeah, right. (Laughing)
Kathi: And one of the things that Carol and I like to talk about is, you know, when you get into this relationship, you’re thinking, “I want them to love me. I want them to love me. I want them to love me.” And we’ve come to understand, you know what? In this relationship, respect comes before love. So, we need to establish the respect relationship and the love comes later on. And I can truly say at this point, I know it’s for you and your daughter, Carol, you guys love each other. I mean, and I can say for my stepdaughter and my stepson, we loved each other. But it took a long time to get past the anger to a place of respect, then to a place of love.
Carol: Even starting, but I couldn’t agree more, but I think even starting from my perspective, which I think are the easiest circumstances of any stepmom I’ve ever heard of, you still have to work through acceptance. Because even though I am the only living, you know, mom she has, she still loved her mother–
Carol: –of course. And I had to prove myself, you know, to be okay to her to accept me in a mom role. And that takes a matter of time. And that’s different than starting off as the mother.
John: Well, some great insights from Kathi Lipp and Carol Boley on today’s “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly. Obviously, this is a complicated matter. Jim, you said it at the beginning, very sensitive for a lot of couples and families. And we’re tryin’ to offer some hope to you and trust that you’re finding that in the conversation. The book that we’re talking about is But I’m Not a Wicked Stepmother: Secret to Successful Blended Families. And we’ve got details about that and other helps for you at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: And you know, to reiterate it in case someone’s just joining, you know, at Focus on the Family, we want you to fight for your marriage. We want you to do everything you can, because Scripture says God hates divorce and we all acknowledge that. At the same time, things do happen and in many cases, a spouse will be left kind of holding the bag because of an affair or whatever it might be.
And we’re talking specifically to those folks about how to pick up those pieces and especially where there’s children involved, how to move forward. And I’m so grateful for the vulnerability, for the authenticity of our guests to talk about this today.
You said, Carol, right at the midpoint there, you mentioned how it is different having the birth of a child, versus in essence, embracing a child. Let me ask a really tough question to both of you, especially in the beginning. When people adopt, often the couples will say, a husband might say, “I hope I can learn to love that child the way that I love my biological children.” And the pillow talk between the couple, that can often be the situation.
And the wife who is more, I would say, predisposed in that regard. It doesn’t always work this way; I get that. But usually, mom comes out and she thinks, I will be able to love that child and nurture that child. And oftentimes, it’s the dad thinking, “Ah, I’m not feeling it yet. I don’t know if I can get there.” I would think there might be some similar concerns in a blended family situation, where that pillow talk occurs. And that fear exists.
Kathi: For sure, oh, absolutely. I think it’s almost an unrealistic expectation to think, I’m gonna love these stepkids the same way, if you have biological children, to say, I’m gonna love them exactly the same way. Because I have two kids of my own and then I have my two stepkids, They are my kids.
Jim: All four.
Kathi: All four of them are my kids. I forget to put “step” in front of Amanda and Jeremy often when I’m introducing them. But I can never forget, they have a mom who loves them. We were just buying a wedding dress for my stepdaughter. And I was so thrilled to be included in this process. And so, I was there with her mom and her future mother-in-law and me. And so, they just called us “the moms,” you know. They put that all together.
And it turned out for this certain transaction, I was paying for the dress. And so, the owners of the store said, “Well, we want to get a picture of you and Amanda,” because I have the credit card. I’m sure this was a marketing ploy. And I said, “You know what? I would love for you to take a picture with her and her mom.” I think that I need to keep those things in mind every time that we have those kind of interactions, because I know how I would want to be treated when my daughter is gonna be walking down the aisle. So, it’s a different thing.
So, I love my stepkids, but we also do things where Roger, my husband, just does things with his kids and I just do things with my kids.
Jim: And you’re okay with it.
Kathi: We’re okay with it. At first, it was tough on me, ’cause I had a lot of insecurity. And now I see, you know what? They have a history. They have things that they love to do. They are Disneyland freaks. When they go to Disneyland, I’m like, “I’ve got four days of the house to myself. (Laughter) Woo-hoo!”
My kids and I love foreign movies. That’s something that bores them to tears. So, we each had to establish these relationships that are a little bit different. But when we all come together, it’s good.
Jim: Okay, now you’re not makin’ some comparison here. You like foreign movies (Laughter) and they like Disneyland. (Laughter)
Kathi: I’m just sayin’, I’m just sayin’. So, I think that there is and again, Carol’s situation, very, very different, but for us, I love all four of them, just love ’em in different ways.
Jim: Now here’s the tough question and a real practical one. How do you get there? I mean, all of us, as Christians, professing Christians, you’re on a journey. You’re developing that relationship with Christ. Hopefully, you’re becoming more like Him each and every day.
Jim: This environment of a stepfamily, tends to force probably your good traits, as well as your not-so-good traits. It exposes them in a way that maybe in a natural family, it’s more masked, if I could say it that way. Unconditional love for your biological child, it’s kinda there.
Jim: To learn to love someone who isn’t your biological child, you gotta work at it. You gotta think about it. You gotta think about the response you might get.
Jim: You could’ve easily been in the human side of you, Kathi, you could’ve easily been frustrated. You could’ve felt at that wedding dress shop, felt isolated. You know, one word for many women will set them in a spiral.
Jim: How do you continually absorb that and move into the next phase?
Kathi: And all the things you just mentioned, you could feel, I have felt. I have felt isolated. I have felt rejected. I have felt every single one of those things. And stepparenting, like no other situation in my life has brought out the ugly in me.
And so, the things that have helped us, one is, we have stayed committed and involved in our church. And we have found other stepfamilies who love God and want the best for their families and we’ve gone to counseling.
Kathi: And all three of those things have been critical, because we’ve had to work through these issues of feeling, you know, second best and not the real parent and all of those things that can really do damage to your self-esteem.
And if I didn’t find my value in Christ, I would’ve been out of this marriage 9 ½ years ago. I mean, really, because it’s again …
John: It was that hard.
Kathi: It was that hard, but Roger and I loved each other desperately, but at six months, we looked at each other to say, “Did we make the biggest mistake of our lives?”
Jim: Well, I mean, many couples probably ask that question over and over again. Think of the couples that don’t have Christ at the center–
Jim: –and how much of a struggle that is. Let me ask this, you talked about building that trust. What … give us one ingredient, a mom who is in a blended family, a stepmom today, maybe it’s not been working so well. She has felt a failure and Kathi, your transparency is wonderful. She’s had the feelings.
Jim: She may not have even vocalized that to her husband, but it’s there. It’s in her heart and she feels guilty about that.
Jim: What’s one thing she can do to begin to turn the tide, first in her own heart and then, hopefully, that’ll lead to a different relationship with that teen stepchild, just to put some skin on it?
Kathi: I think for Roger and I, the most important hour we spent every week wasn’t our date night, wasn’t, you know, pillow talk or anything like that. It was an hour going out to a restaurant, sitting down and talking. Sitting down, talking about logistics. You know, who’s picking who up? I know that sounds so—
Kathi: –counterintuitive, but we needed to know that we were on the same team. I needed to know that my husband thought I was doing a great job. And I needed his acknowledgement that this was really hard. And I needed that encouragement, just for once a week, to sit down, go over our schedules, look at what’s going on and just say, okay, we’re on the same team. We’re doin’ this together. We are going to make this work.
Jim: So, contradictory perhaps to many experts who say, use that date night to do anything but talk about logistics. You’re saying in that situation, it gives both stepparents a sense of connection.
Kathi: Exactly. I mean, I think that it’s great to have a date night and we did have a date night. We were very intentional about that, but the thing that brought me peace and encouragement was that time where we got together. That was huge in getting us over the hard times.
Jim: Well, and again, a good open discussion, authors of the book, But I’m Not a Wicked Stepmother. That’s Kathi Lipp and Carol Boley. We have started the discussion. You reference in the book an analogy with Joshua and that’s where I want to pick up tomorrow and let’s talk about a biblical application to what is happening within a blended or stepfamily. Can you stick with us?
Carol: Oh, yes.
Jim: Let’s do it.
John: Well, and we’ve had some really great insight and encouragement from the hearts of a couple of stepmoms on the program and I’ll just say, thanks for sharing so openly to you both. Our guests have been Kathi Lipp and Carol Boley and they’ve written a book that is full of the kind of stories that you’ve heard today, some very personal recollections, some humorous and some heartbreaking, but the book will encourage every stepmom with practical tools to use in your blended family situation.
And today, when you contribute generously to the not-for-profit work of Focus on the Family, we’ll say thanks by sending you a copy of But I’m Not a Wicked Stepmother! Donate and find helpful resources, including a CD or a download of this program at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Or give us a call at 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening in. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow. We’ll hear more from Kathi and Carol about discipline, forgiveness and the three big truths every stepmother needs to know and live by, as we once again, share trusted advice to help your family thrive.