It is 2:45 in the afternoon and I have been working for two days trying to prepare for out of town guests who will be arriving in about three hours. There is a lot I would still like to do, and at this very moment I am trying to cook a really great meal when I realize that it is time to pick up the stepchildren from school. At this point my own children are driving or not living at home any longer.
Arriving at the school, the younger one says that he has practice and forgot to tell me, and the older one is nowhere to be found.
Don’t…Have… Time… For This!
Running from building to building I see one of her friends, who informs me that my stepdaughter, decided to get a ride home with her boyfriend. (This is not allowed.)
At this very point I want to throw out the stepparent rules that say, “ you cannot kill what you did not birth.”
I am ready to ring this child’s neck!
You can tell your birth child that they are on restriction until Satan can have a snowball fight in his own backyard, but it doesn’t work that way with a stepchild. Especially in our stepfamily. In our stepfamily both parents have joint custody of the children. So to put someone on restriction takes a conference to make sure both homes know what is going on and will abide with the restriction.
To be honest, I really admire how Doc and his former wife handle joint custody. They do an amazing job with their children and, though there is always some difference of opinion in any given subject, they look at what is best for the child and can usually come up with a compromise.
This can be hell on me, the stepmother who has the most physical custody of the children between after school and time for the parents to come home.
Today I make a unilateral decision that she would wipe off the baseboards for me while I finish making the rice and browning the beef for Dirty Rice.
As the beef browns in the skillet I hear a little voice coming from the den, and she is singing, “Cinderella, Cinderella, Night and Day its Cinderella from the moment that I wake up – its really quite a shake up…”
I walk into the den where my stepdaughter is sitting on the floor with rag and Murphy’s Oil soap in hand, singing her soulful song.
Part of me wants to laugh at her analogy of herself but I hold it in, and ask her
“how’s it going?”
She says nothing.
To her silence, I reply, “Cinderella – Really?”
She hasn’t finished all of the baseboards, but I let her quit and come to the kitchen for her afterschool snack.
“You have the best sense of humor.”
This time I get a half smile from the girl that is too quickly becoming a young lady. She brushes away the one long strand of hair that slides across her forehead.
“Remember,” I added, “after you clear a change in a routine with your parents, you need to let me know. Please don’t assume that they have told me.”
Her eyes never leave the chips and salsa, as she gently nods, then drinks down the rest of her soda.
I would not have accepted the lack of eye contact, nor the non-verbal responses from my birth children, but step parenting is different.
Doc and I decided before we married that we would not spank, or strongly discipline the other’s children. We would inform each other, advise, make suggestions, and then we would step out of the way and allow the birth parent to handle the situation.
We have had times of disagreeing about how situations were handled; but, I cannot take over and tell him exactly how to handle his children, nor do I want him to take over with my children.
I am the parent, and though I insist that my children show Doc respect to him, I am the one they answer to. Doc is the final boundary. There has been a time or two that I have asked him to step in and have a talk with one of the children.
Back-talk is not unexpected with our birth children or our stepchildren. Do not let it rattle you. Try to find reasons to laugh often.
As we would draw lines in the sand, our children at one time or another, to our great chagrin, would run straight to the line, jump over it, and do a victory dance on the other side!
They would dance, wild and free, in valley of “don’t go there”, as we held on to each other, prayed, and at times hunted them down like a hound on the trail of a fox.
There is no perfect plan for discipline in stepfamilies. Each one must make a plan for their family, and be willing to be flexible, be willing to listen more than your talk or “lecture”, but above all else, the birth parent and stepparent must have an unwavering, united front when they make decision about how to discipline in a Stepfamily.
One of the most difficult things to do is live in a stepfamily. Scars on our soul and voices of the past can torment our sleeping and waking hours. All who come into a stepfamily bring with them wounds, and images from the past. Some images are of a family that ceases to exist, and some with injuries from words that have sliced like a samurai’s sword.
How many times has Doc seen me respond in the present with words from the past? I argue with the voice of my past marriage, looking straight at Doc. Like he is the one doing it again, and the past encroaches with laughter into my marriage. How many times has the past been allowed to obscure our view of the beauty of the present and the joyful hope for the future?
If the past interferes with us only once, then that is once too many.
Holding on to the wounds of the past can be a sign of unforgiveness. We ruminate over the words and experiences that have harmed us, and the past becomes an addiction. Then we begin to identify with the words and feelings, and soon they are an intrinsic part of our soul.
Sometimes I stand in the shower and say “shut up, shut up, shut up – let it go, let it go, let it go”, to all of ghosts of the past that try to poison and cloud my head. Words that I have given to Christ. Words that should be in the grave, but they try to resurrect themselves and live again, as long as I give them a place to inhabit.
Our world is being molded each day, by the thoughts we believe about those around us, and ourselves. Holding on to unforgiveness tethers us to the past and keeps us stepping into the blade of hurtful words over and over.
Choosing to forgive may not change the person who hurt us – though it certainly could, but it changes us. Forgiveness is living a life with everything laid wide open and bleeding, and surrendered to Christ. When we surrender our right to get even, and allow God to handle the outcome, then it is like all that we have placed on the altar as a sacrifice of our will to the will of the Father. With the fire of His love, He comes in and consumes our wounds and unforgivness, turning it into ash and smoke.
Then all the ugly, all the blood from wounds of a broken heart and dreams not realized, and all that has died in us, is burned up by the fire of His Holy Spirit.
And then, like by osmosis, a change occurs. Our unforgiveness is transformed into the fragrance of Christ – that draws others to that same altar.
Forgiveness takes that which weighs us down, and plagues us in the night, and gives it flight.
“If you love me you will obey my commands.” (John 14:15 NIV)
By this flight, our addiction to the past, to lugging around the hurt and unforgiveness around like a dead carcass, is turned to ash, and we are all redeemed.
For me, forgiveness comes in two parts. .
- Forgiveness is a choice. The first step in forgiving is choosing to forgive. It has nothing to do with a feeling. It has nothing to do with any action on the part of the one who has wounded you. It is simply a choice based on the Word of God and obedience. We forgive because we have been forgiven.
- Forgiveness is a lifestyle not a momentary act. I asked God to forgive those who have hurt me but sometimes I go to the alter of grace and mercy daily and lay down unforgiveness. Some people need a daily gift of grace and mercy from us because we cannot escape their presence, and they simply don’t get it. This by far is a greater challenge. Sometimes we can “feel” forgiving, but sometimes our obedience to forgiveness is simply that – obedience to God, allowing Him to determine the outcome.
Forgive – even if it does not change the offender, it will free you. And isn’t that the whole point? For us to change and by change I mean we become more like Christ? Christ who invited Judas into His close circle of friends, knowing that Judas would betray him, sell him out, and hand him over to death. Still Christ allowed him in. Judas saw love, friendship and forgiveness. Christ gave Judas everything and left the outcome to God. Judas had choices.
Forgiveness for your past sins, and the sins of others in your life must happen, or you will be living with your past, allowing it to cut into your present removing the joy that could be possible. Don’t allow your past marriage to cut, with its poisonous razor tip, into you current marriage. Didn’t our past destroy enough of our lives?
We activate forgiveness by praying to forgive those who have wounded us, then leaving the results – our feelings and their behavior – to the Lord.
She is an angry teenager – Half woman, half child and her maturity is not ready to face such difficult times. She is trying to work through a life she never wanted. I am in love with Doc and married him, and though our lives are better, she feels like she is in hell.
In her sixteen years, she has been the baby of the family, then the only child, now she is the big stepsister of children she is not fond of being around. She is not fond of being around anyone, and rebellion is her weapon of protest.
And her protest is more like a child’s cry for help when they are afraid of the dark.
But her rebellion to my authority as her mother embarrasses me, and I respond with anger as well. We are now in a spiral downward with anger and tears. I am not being the leader, the mature mother, which I always dreamed that I would be.
“ The anger of man cannot accomplish the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20 NASB)
I cannot expect her to respect my authority if I cannot control my own anger and behave like an adult. But to be honest, sometimes I do not know what maturity should look like in these situations. My emotions run ahead of my mind. I want the situation to end immediately, but all I do is increase the problems by not allowing God to sanctify my words and course of action before I release it onto my child.
Have you ever blown it with a child or stepchild?
I felt my authority crumbling and I responded in the flesh.
In Watchman Nee’s book, Spiritual Authority he teaches from Matthew 7:22. It tells about the many people who stand before the Lord on the last day, setting their good work before the Lord. They tell of casting out demons, and of the miracles that happened in their work. The Lord then tells them to leave, that He never knew them.
Watchman Nee says that they were not recognized because they began their work with “self” as their starting point – An activity of the flesh.
When exercising the authority over our family it needs to be from a starting point of prayer, and love. When it begins with self as the focal point, instead of the lessons that God is teaching both parent and child, then authority is plundered and rebellion rules.
See, that is where I went wrong. I did not consult the Father, I did not humble myself, I was exalting my authority, and from that position no one will ever allow himself or herself to be lead.
Control is an illusion created by man, and requires others to choose to submit for it to work. Authority as a leader, however, comes as a gift from God.
In Numbers 16, Moses was given authority as leader over the children of Israel. At one point the children chose to rebel against Moses. Though he loses control over the crowd, he never looses his authority, because man cannot remove what God has set in place.
Moses was never overwhelmed with fear at their rebellion. He never screamed at the people, or threatened them, or talked down to them, making them feel dumb for rebellious decisions. Moses went to God and pleaded his case, and asked God how to handle the people that were in his care. Here is what I learn from this story:
- Do not justify or argue your position. God has established your position. Moses did not argue or justify; he went to God, stated he case and waited on God to respond. When rebellion against your authority as a parent occurs, stay calm and quiet spoken, realizing that you are dealing with children who believe their wisdom is greater than yours and whose maturity level is much less needed to make the decisions.
- Separate yourself from the situation for a time. Once Moses had instructed the children, then God instructed Moses to stand away and allow Him to work. God can create “Acts of God” to get their attention. In doing so God defends Moses’ and our position as leader and humbles the children.
- It will probably get worse before it gets better. With our children and stepchildren as well as the children of Israel, it can get worse before it will get better. When consequences are coming down on them, their first reaction is to fight back. Don’t let this discourage you. It is the flesh still trying to have its way and be in charge. Hold your ground with love and few words. “I know you are hurting – I am sad that you are going through this – How can I help you?” Don’t be surprised if you are met with an angry response. You need to be the thermostat, not the thermometer. Do not register the temperature of the room; you set the temperature of the room.
- Stand in the gap. When the consequences came from God, He still had a plan for restoration. Aaron, taking instructions from Moses, went into the center of the plague sent by God, and interceded for the children. Aaron was an image of Christ. He stood in the gap physically and spiritually. As parents, we may need to allow our children to experience some of the consequences of their choices, but we are ever in the gap praying for them; and at times we must go into the situation to physically deliver them from the consequences.
Never be afraid of loosing your relationship with your child. There will be times, when taking authority in love will cause the child to pull away and the relationship to be severely torn. But staying in prayer, God will, in His time, repair what needs to be repaired. God sent Christ to restore us to God. Relationships are important to God. Your relationship with your child is important to God. Allow Him to do the work that needs to be done as you obey in being the authority He has gifted you to be.
Linking with Imperfect Prose
Each morning Doc and I make breakfast for the children – bacon, eggs, biscuits, orange juice, milk – at first they all came to the table excited as Christmas morning for such a
spread of food. But the teens were the first to become sour at having to spend time with family that did not feel like their own. Then the younger ones began to carp that the
cooking was not up to the standard of their mother’s. Once they were in their teen years most of the breakfast was now scraped into the garbage or fed to the dog. Well, at least the
dog loved me!
It is so easy to confuse appreciation with love. Love is confusing in a stepfamily and can frequently be watered down by expectations not met.
I wanted my children to know that this blended stepfamily was a safe place, where they were loved and where their needs were met. Doc wanted his children to have the peace of
knowing that someone was always at our home with good food, kind words and affection for them.
Isn’t it funny how the most important goals that we try to achieve are the last ones to be realized?
The most important information that we want the children to know is that they are loved, valued and wanted! However that does not mean that they will love you back, want you,
or care how you feel about them or anything else! At times it seems to be guaranteed that if you like it or want it, then they are going to not like it and insist that it is not a part of
This is where I begin to pull my hair out at the roots and double up on the chocolate!
How do you love people who are seemly opposed to being shown love?
Love, true love, takes time. Love is not always a feeling, but a commitment. Be committed to showing love no matter how much they resist. It is the blending of people
like blending of ingredients, hoping, praying that all will come together into a hardy stew.
What does that look like?
Remember that you are an adult and behave as one, do not time warp back to junior high school and feel the need to set things straight, with a smart-alec comeback. Love is kind,
and gentle with its answers, and sometimes – silent.
When they are acting unkind, hateful and disrespectful, love them enough to pray that they get caught in their actions by the parent and appropriate action will be taken! Pray for
their heart to have eyes that see and understand, and eventually respond with love.
You show love by not keeping score about when you are wronged by your children as well as your spouse’s children. Put on you big-girl panties and take the action that only your
life experience can provide. Love them, as you want to be loved, and, do it without expectation of love in return. This is difficult, even with Christ going before you. But Christ does
not yoke you to the responsibility of perfect results. Christ invites you be a part of the answer to a problem, by loving as He has loved you, flaws and all.
Love might tell the offender: “When you talk this way it hurts our relationship and makes your dad and mother look like bad parents, and we both know that they are good
parents.” Love always makes positive comments concerning the ex-spouse/other parent. Also, try to always find reasons to say something positive about the child to their face,
and about them in front of others. Make sure it is true and not exaggerated; otherwise you come across as insincere.
Love is a Crockpot as opposed to a skillet. Love takes time; it needs to simmer for all of the ingredients to blend together. Then again, no matter how long you cook the ingredients
some spices are just going to stay pungent! You know what I mean?
Granted I cannot give you an exhaustive lesson on loving as a parent of stepchildren in one blog. But remember, you are dealing with wounded people who do not have the maturity
and life experience to handle the mess and decisions made by their parents. They are grieving for their original family – even if they are crazy about you, they grieve, and for many
years respond from their place of wounding.
Love through the wound.
You are not responsible for their happiness or their choices. Let me rephrase, you cannot make people fully happy or make them choose wisely, it is not your job. But loving as
Christ has loved you and me in all of our faults, failures, and fear is your job. Remember, you may be the only example of Christ in their lives. Whether they have twenty, or just
one example of Christ’s love, they will watch you closely to see if your love is real, unshakable and trustworthy. Persevere in Love.
But now abide faith, hope, love, these three: but the greatest of these is love. (1Corthinthians 13:13 NASB)
And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. (Galatians 6:9 NASB)
They are all grown and out of the house now. Empty nesters are Doc and I, but it has not been long ago that I was a full-time mother and stepmother. Keeping the roads hot running to gymnastics, boy scouts, ball practice, emergency room visits. Oh, so many emergency room visits between all four of them – Bikes that made jumps without their riders, a suicide attempt, a crochet needle impelled into a leg, because someone did not put things up where they belong, and several broken fingers and toes; and most of the time I was the first responder.
Then I would have to explain to an upset or angry mother, father, ex-husband what was going on, and where was I when all of this happened. There were times I wanted to get angry and say, “At home with the children. Where were you?”
But we keep our words soft, in case we need to eat them later. Do you know what I mean?
That is what the servant of the Lord does. Say what needs to be said, do what needs to be done and try to show the humility of Christ through it all. Yes, I had some good zingers I could have come back with, but in the end the children would have been the ones wounded the most.
“For the anger of man cannot accomplish the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)
And the boundaries of righteousness can blur into a bloody mess when the tongue is a razor’s edge.
When dealing with Ex’s, stepchildren, birth children and spouses, try to imagine Christ standing beside you. How would you respond? To please Christ is not to say nothing at all, and become a doormat for all, but rather to respond as you might to a child who is wounded.
Because we are all wounded and in need of a kind word, even when we don’t deserve it.
When we respond with unkind words, or mutter behind the back, little ears hear, and it teaches them, not to love and forgive but, to take on the posture of the world with quarrels and come backs.
The true reason for our quarrels is lack of faith. We don’t believe that Christ will do good works for us. We believe that we must force issues and fight like feral cats for control of territory.
Christ came and owned the territory, yet humbled himself as a servant and washed the feet of those who could never be good enough or kind enough to earn His love.
But Christ loved anyway. Even Judas, the one who would be the betrayer, was invited in to Jesus’ inner circle and called friend. He dine at the table with Him, and was given the gift of Jesus washing his feet.
Stepfamilies are difficult, and can wear one’s patience thread-bear thin. But if we allow this to be a part of our transformation into the image of Christ, is it not then joy?
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 1:3-4)