To all my “SMOM” (i.e., stepmom) friends out there, you’re not alone! With more than 50% of marriages ending in divorce in our country, its being more and more common to become a “blended” family upon taking our marriage vows. My husband has 2 boys from his first marriage, ages 20 and 18. First, I will give you a piece of advice for those who might find themselves dating someone with children. WAIT to meet the children until you are certain the relationship is headed towards marriage. I believe the Holy Spirit gave me this wisdom early on, and though at first my husband didn’t fully understand why and was very hesitant to wait because the boys are such a big part of his life, ultimately he thanked me for guarding and caring for their hearts enough to not be in-and-out of their lives, but be committed for the long-haul. Once we knew we were headed towards marriage, I asked my husband what he wanted my role to be for the boys. He very simply told me, “I just want them to see you love me.” He wanted them to see an example of a healthy, loving relationship, since all they had seen was divorce. I know that was the Holy Spirit speaking to him. That simple request helped me keep things in perspective and not become overwhelmed by the daunting task of stepping into a mother role in their lives.
Now let me tell you how becoming a stepmom became reality for me in a moment’s notice. The night before my husband and I got married, our oldest son’s long-distance girlfriend (the fact that he had a girlfriend was news to us in itself) informed us that she would be staying with him (then 16 years old) wherever he was staying that night, which happened to be the groomsmen’s apartment, i.e., no girls allowed. It was not long aftermidnight, since we had just rung in the new year, and now I was faced with a decision: HOW DO I BECOME A MOM IN THIS MOMENT? (Side note: I bet young teenage Mary had that very thought when the angel appeared to her and told her she would birth the Savior of the World!). HA! And I thought I had enough stress that night with all the wedding plans unfolding that weekend and hosting friends and family for this momentous occasion (I waited until 30 to marry, so the anticipation was intense!). And yet its amazing how God has put something inside each of us as women that will allow us to rise up “in the moment,” even when we least expect it—something that triggers and flips the switch called “mom mode!” I immediately informed his girlfriend that she would NOT be staying with him, but would instead be sleeping on our sofa if she had to, despite the fact that our small townhome was already crawling with bodies as the bridal party and relatives crammed in to find sleep space. I next called her mom to try and figure out why her own mother wasn’t taking responsibility for this 16 year old’s sleeping arrangements on our wedding weekend, but it was apparently “too late” for her to come pick her up. So as this young girl slept on my sofa, I lay up in my bed that night staring up at the ceiling and letting the weight of becoming a mother seep in – recognizing for the FIRST time that the moment I was to take my wedding vows, I was also becoming a parent!
That night, God started the process of solidifying a conviction deep inside me that not only had he called me to be a wife, but he also placed in me the tenacity, resolve, capability, intuition, and permission to become another parent to the boys. This has been a delicate undertaking, as the boys had a difficult stepmom experience with my husband’s second wife, who was controlling and demeaning and attempted to take the boys away from their biological mom. So my goal has been two-fold: (1) let the boys see my husband and me in a healthy, loving, God-centered marriage; and (2) respect the boys’ biological mother by supporting her role and serving more as a mentor to the boys. This second role has been more challenging than I expected, because anyone who knows me knows that I am not a “take a back seat” type of person when it comes to relationships, or really anything in life. So it has been quite humbling to learn how to parent “from behind” as I call it.
I realize that every blended family is unique and we have not had to face the challenges of parenting 2 sets of children under the same roof; plus, I stepped into the boys lives when they were adolescents, so these tips might now work in every situation. But here are a few things I have learned:
(1) Be patient for the relationship to develop. It takes years for trust to be built and it takes lots of hours of being around them before they will feel comfortable talking to you about the more vulnerable parts of their lives. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t yet feel like you have a platform to speak to them. You will. Besides, praying for them may be the most important thing you do for them, and that’s not dependent on anything but you taking the time to do it.
(2) Be committed to the lifetime of parenting. Each season will require a different type of parenting. Be ready to adapt and flex and change with each season. If you keep perspective on this being a marathon, it will help with the daily challenges.
(3) Be a cheerleader for your spouse who is the biological parent. He/she knows their children in a way that you might not. When we support and encourage, rather than direct and command, we help draw out of a biological parent the skills and love they need to parent in a way that only they know how.
(4) Respect the “other” biological parent and understand God chose them to be a parent to their own DNA. Help them by offering encouragement, but not insisting on your methods. As Romans 12 puts it, “practice playing second fiddle.” (Message version) I find that when I watch home videos of the boys as babies or look at old photos, it helps me keep a perspective on how much my husband and the boys’ mom have walked through together with the boys. It reminds me that I don’t have all the answers, and I certainly don’t have the patience that they have developed over many years of parenting together.
(5) Be confident in what you bring to the table. I bring a special perspective, unique set of experiences, and different background to the boys lives that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Perhaps I can counsel, mentor, and be involved in their lives in ways their biological parents can’t. Recognize that God has brought you into their lives to ADD more to their lives--what a blessing and opportunity! I see this as what the enemy intended for evil, God has turned around for their good!
(6) Lead by example. Your influence is much more dependent on how you live your life than any words you say. And living a life of love is the best example. Often times people are the least lovable when they need love the most.
(7) Remember that God has a heart of adoption! Love your “step” children like they are your own flesh and blood. In Roman times, a biological heir could be disowned, but an adopted heir could never be disowned. Love with that kind of adoption spirit. God has adopted us into his family by making us heirs with his Son, Jesus! Embrace them the way God has embraced you.
One last thought. Often when we hear the term “STEP” mom, it can have a connotation as a step removed. But I actually think it means taking the EXTRA step. It means that even though I won’t ever have the same kind of biological love for the boys, the EXTRA step is that I can allow GOD’s love for them to flow through me. That’s a love that never fails--it is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, keeps no record of wrongs. It’s the kind of love that bears up under anything, believes the best, hopes when things seem hopeless, and perseveres when things get tough. It’s a love that goes beyond my natural ability to love and reminds me that when we tap into God’s love inside of us, He is able to use us as vessels of His grace, instruments of His heart…a Father’s heart, a Shepherd’s heart, a Servant’s heart. Children are a gift and very near and dear to the heart of God. In whichever way you find yourself as a mother-figure, give it everything you’ve got, knowing God has called you “for such a time as this!”