“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 stepmum 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 step-mum 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 recognise four unavoidable realities.

Reality No. 1

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

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

Reality No. 2

A wise step-mum realises that it takes several years for most stepfamilies to gel. Most kids don’t immediately view a step-mum 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 step-mum to force the relationship usually results in resentment, fear or anger.

Reality No. 3

A wise step-mum gently reaches out to her step-kids 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 mum).

Reality No. 4

A wise step-mum 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 step-mum 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 step-mum 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 step-mum, 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 honours Him.

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

Laura Petherbridge

Laura Petherbridge is a teacher on divorce recovery at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. She is featured on the DivorceCare video series which is used by more than 12,000 churches worldwide. Laura is also a speaker and the author of two books, When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t” and The Smart Stepmom (co-written with Ron Deal). Laura has been a step-mum for nearly 25 years. She and her husband, Steve, reside in Lady Lake, Florida.

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