Let’s let the air out of an over-inflated balloon – YOU’RE NOT CRAZY! It’s not all in your head. It is much harder than you ever could have imagined. Why? Because, no matter how vivid, our imaginations don’t have the benefit of actually living through a situation, or experiencing the accompanying emotions like hurt, panic, fear, mistrust, exhaustion etc.
So, for the benefit of your mental stability, here are 5 “Normal” Stepfamily Antics That Have Been Driving You Insane:
- “Who’s on first?” is a question that gets asked with great regularity in stepfamilies. Or any family with children. But, especially stepfamilies because stepfamilies are typically formed after the people involved have suffered great loss and no one, especially children, wants to lose any more. So what are reasonable yet suffering folk supposed to do in this situation? Why, jockey for position of course! You, your spouse, your children and stepchildren alike want to know the same things, “Am I loved? Is it safe? Do I still matter?” The answer to all of course is, “Yes!” But, it takes time and consistent behavior for everyone to believe it and live like it. In the meantime, batten down the hatches, there are rough seas ahead and everyone needs to remain close to the Anchor.
- “Us vs Them” sticks around way longer than you want. Surprise! Everyone is an outsider at some point in stepfamily living. You and your bio kids have a shared history that does not include your spouse or his children. When you talk about that shared history, as normal bonded people do from time to time, your hubby and/or his children are reminded of their “them” status. Like you are reminded of yours when the opposite occurs. NORMAL! One day, your family’s mutually shared history will have more memories than your “before step” history. However, there will still be conversations about experiences that did not include everyone. ***Breaking News*** – This same dynamic happens in conventional families too. Ask the college-student who comes home on break to discover family life did not stop when he decided to vacate his bedroom for months at a time.
- Your stepchildren like you – they just don’t always want to. Listen, you’re fun. You’re the parent who is more like the cool aunt – that is if you’ve patiently bonded with your stepchildren instead of coming on like a bulldozer. You’re the one whom they are not trying to please so they can be with you without a lot of pressure to perform or make you happy. They like you. They are growing to love you. Until they remember, “I have a mom who might not like me liking her.” No matter how old your stepchildren or how wonderful or horrible their mom is/was, she is still their mom and they feel the same depth of loyalty to her you feel to yours. They struggle with how much to let you in, how to honor you as another beloved parent. Especially if their mom sees you as a threat. As they become more comfortable with you and begin to trust you, questions like, “Am I hurting Mom by loving Cheryl?” will arise. Even, “I don’t want to hurt Cheryl but I don’t want to hurt Mom either. How can I love them both?” They feel guilty for liking you. They feel guilty for not. They’re in a tug-of-war. And you feel jerked around like a human yo-yo. Yep, normal too.
- Love is not enough. I know we wish it were. I know we wish we could just be nice, and huggy, and kissy, and shower everyone with ooey-gooey goodness and they will just hand over their hearts to be nourished and cherished by us. Wake up! Not going to happen! Along with love, we need to have a good dose of humor, be patient, kind, ego-less, thoughtful, respectful, trusting, hopeful, be…Wait a minute! According to 1st Corinthians, chapter 13 THAT IS LOVE! So I guess love really is enough – we just have to make sure we’re “doing” love even when we aren’t feeling love. Doing love is more than enough … and since our emotions follow behavior, eventually everyone will do and feel love.
- We need to come clean. Sometimes you’re not going to like your stepchildren. Gasp! Did I just admit that? But, really, what’s the big deal? Heck, sometimes you don’t like your natural children!!! Tell me you smile in adoration at your teenage daughter as she rolls her eyes for the 50th time, snippily accusing you of snooping in her room (in YOUR HOUSE) and informing you she can’t wait to be away from you. Mind you, this is after you caught her in a bold-faced lie when you searched her room for your 100% cashmere sweater, the one you told her not to take out of your closet (in YOUR HOUSE), the one she swore she never touched, only to find it rolled up in a ball at the bottom of her dirty clothes hamper. Tell me you don’t just want to choke her in that moment. Try to convince me of that – it might be fun. There’s nothing “step-ish” about getting on each other’s nerves. That’s called family bonding! Or, bondage. Take your pick.
There are many tools and solutions offered in the Bible and discussed in our community and other places to help you overcome these challenges. But, we wanted you to be aware so you’re not shaken to the core when these normal dynamics, and others, rear their ugly heads. Don’t let any of the above rattle your resolve. You are not without help or hope. Instead, be stirred up to fight for the health of your family! You are purposed for your family – to pray, to love, to stand, to win! Go, Stepmom! Go!