The Wise Stepmom

Get insights into your relationships as you adjust to your new role as a stepmother.

When I got married a year ago, I had the dream of being a terrific wife to my husband and a godly influence to his 6- and 8-year-old,” the young stepmom said.

But I find myself struggling in this new role. My husband’s former wife says negative things about me to the kids,” she continued.

“And most of our free time is spent driving the children back and forth between homes or shuttling them to extracurricular activities. All of this is putting stress on our marriage, and I’m miserable. Resentment toward my husband and his kids is starting to build, and I don’t know what to do.”

This stepmom isn’t selfish, unloving or “wicked.” Her motives are pure; she merely needs insight into the dynamics of a step family and her unique role in it. If she wants to become a wise stepmom, she will need to recognize four unavoidable realities.

Reality No. 1

A wise stepmom understands that the former wife plays a significant role in the relationship the stepmom has with her stepchildren. If the mom is bitter, negative or controlling, the children will have a more difficult time accepting their stepmom.

By nature, kids are fiercely loyal to their mom, even when she acts poorly. So if children realize that showing kindness, appreciation or love to a stepmom causes their mom to feel ostracized or angry, they will likely shun the stepmom. Even when it’s tough, the stepmom’s response needs to be consistent—staying polite and considerate, she should do her best to understand that their behavior may not have anything to do with her.

Reality No. 2

A wise stepmom realizes that it takes several years for most stepfamilies to gel. Most kids don’t immediately view a stepmom as a parent figure or someone they desire to love. The relationship between them must build slowly if it’s going to survive. Any attempt by Dad or the stepmom to force the relationship usually results in resentment, fear or anger.

Reality No. 3

A wise stepmom gently reaches out to her stepkids in small ways that communicate, “I care about you, and I understand this isn’t easy.” A few suggestions: Make food or treats that they especially like; help them with homework; and attend special events, such as a dance recital or soccer game (if it doesn’t cause tension with the biological mom).

Reality No. 4

A wise stepmom allows Dad to have time alone with his children. She encourages them to participate in activities they enjoyed before she entered the picture. This conveys that she respects the needs of her stepchildren. When a father remarries, the kids often view it as another loss. When a stepmom encourages her husband and his children to spend time together, it helps to communicate that Dad hasn’t abandoned or stopped loving them because he decided to remarry.

I was 12 when my dad remarried a woman with two children. After his wedding, the only time I was able to have a private conversation with him was the 25-minute drive from my house to his. That was 40 years ago, and it’s still a painful memory. I “lost” my dad to his new wife and her kids. And it hurt.

When a stepmom offers her spouse the time he needs with his kids, it reveals her desire to support rather than compete with the children. This typically prompts the husband to be more receptive to the need for “alone time” with his wife, also. In other words, allowing him to love and care for his children will strengthen the marriage.

I’m not a perfect stepmom, but I have learned to ask God to give me the mind of Christ when confronted with complex stepfamily issues. It’s comforting to know that Jesus understands what it’s like to be rejected, and He is more than willing to teach me how to respond in a manner that honors Him.

Laura Petherbridge is the author of 101 Tips for the Smart Stepmom.

© 2010 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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