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Step Mothers: Part 1: Step Mothering Made Simple! (Or not...)

The word stepmother conjures up images that are rooted deep within us. Behind these images are women who frequently underestimate or misunderstand their role. If you are (or if you have) a stepmother this series of articles is for you. Read and be encouraged! Part one is lovingly and respectfully dedicated to step mothers everywhere.

This is part one of a series of articles about step mothering. Please feel free to email me with specific questions or topics on this subject that you would like to discuss with me. I typically need a couple of days to respond, but I will absolutely get back to you. I will be sharing from my experiences as a step parent, a step child and also from experiences I have had in our ministry with step families. This is an emotional topic. I am happy to listen to your story. Reach out with anything you would like to share with the step mother community.

First this proviso: I want to begin with a shout out to my step children. When I came into their lives they were strong, accomplished young adults well on their way to independence. They had many positive relationships that contributed to their success as well as a faithful support group that had been present throughout their lives.

My step children are honorable and admirable and that fact has absolutely nothing to do with me. This is not false modesty. It is the truth. I love them, admire them, respect them, care about them, and love the spouses and grandchildren they added to my life. I am richly blessed. Even so, it was quite challenging for them to get used to me. And me to them. Now, nearly twenty five years later, we are a family. I want to share what I learned throughout this process and what specific steps we took to get there.

I also want to shout out to my daughter. Courtney is a stepmother to three children and she is making it look easy even though it isn't. The bonus grandchildren I have because of her marriage are delightful, well loved, and surrounded by many positive and caring adults. These really cool kids have a safety net of family and community that is tightly woven and beautifully present in their lives.

Add to all this the fact that Courtney works hard and with intention to create a strong bond with her step children. The honor and affection they give her in their day to day lives is a testimony to how much respect and regard my daughter has for them. This family is a good example of what step families can look like when respect is mutual and genuine. Actually, it was Courtney that inspired this series. I want to share some of what she has learned and what she has taught me so far.

Now that you know where I'm coming from, I'll get started:

Stepmothers and stepchildren. There is no rule book, no standard operational policies, and very little support. If you married a man with children and you begin to struggle with the complex role of step mothering, you can here the phrase, "I told you so!' echoing from every mountainside. So you stand alone, frustrated, frightened, and usually without a clue how to make a Harbor Home under these circumstances. I know. I have been there.

The good news is that there are things you can do, steps you can take, and attitudes that you can reframe. These can help you to make a course correction today. Here is fair warning: step relationships take longer to gel than others. Sometimes years. It will take patience and compromises, trying and failing and trying again. Rest assured it is completely worth it.

  1. The Real One Way Love. I have heard the first twenty years of parenting described as a love that flows one way. But that is not necessarily so. Even very young children that you have given birth to or adopted as infants will come to you with stale cheerios or weeds picked in the yard as gifts of love and affection. Step children, on the other hand, as a completely understandable defense mechanism, may actively work at disliking you. Try to understand the painful position they are in. More than likely they have experienced real loss and trauma. You begin to break through that when you love them openly, gently, vocally, obviously, intentionally, joyfully. Be demonstrative in your love for them. No. Matter. How. They. Respond. Keep loving. Keep affirming. Keep smiling. Love shows itself and leaves traces behind. Leave traces of love on the hearts of your step children even if they reject it with genuine cruelty. Keep pouring on love. I can't overstate the importance of this first and most powerful step. By the way: there is no finish line for this. This is not a step that you "try". This is the step that you live from now on. The one way love that you give to your step children may not be returned for years. Do it anyway. This is the most important step that I took as I was nurturing my relationship with my step children. If you get frustrated, vent to a friend then get back to it. You can vent to me if you want to.

  2. Invest In Their Portfolio. Your stepchildren have interests and passions that may be radically different from anything you are even dimly aware of. Find out about what they love and then ask them for more information. Become good at asking questions that will encourage your step children to tell you about their interests. Encourage them to pursue it. Assist when and how you can. Are they into sports? Theater? Martial arts? Coding? Weaving pine needle baskets? Playing the zither? Whatever it is, express interest and curiosity. Ask for details. Go to that zither concert and applaud louder than anyone else. This practice of investing is one that my daughter is especially good at. She engages the children where they are. It has helped a lot.

  3. These are the first two steps that are the non negotiable acts of excellent step mothering. Read these several times. Make notes about the specifics ways you can live these out in your life. Really let these two practices soak in. Then let them become part of how you live.

Next week, I will be sharing about dealing with discipline and your step children. This is especially complicated if you have children of your own in addition to the step children. Subscribe and this will come straight to your inbox.

Remember this: The relationships you develop with your step children are ordained by God. The scriptures are filled with step children and foster children and other non traditional family dynamics. Don't let anyone tell you that your family, however it was formed, is not of God's design. You are where you are for this moment and this time. Give it everything you have to give. It is worth it for all eternity. Be encouraged, and don't forget to write. It can all work out.

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