Dear Stepparent: Let Go of the Guilt

I often wonder why we so easily assume feelings of guilt surrounding our stepparenting journey. Why can’t we accept we’re imperfect? Why do we insist we must do everything right or our stepchildren will never love or accept us?

Perhaps society dictates that to us, particularly as stepmoms. But it isn’t true. And guilt is a powerful emotion. As long as you choose to feel guilty for the things you’ve done wrong, God cannot use the things you’ve done right for His glory.

So today and every day forward, I want you to focus on letting go of the guilt for:

  • Choosing to take a break from stepparenting when you know you need one.
  • Supporting your husband in disciplining his children.
  • Embracing a career that satisfies you.
  • Spending time with a girlfriend to nourish your soul.
  • Loving your stepchild in spite of his/her flaws.
  • Choosing to stay out of the relationship between your spouse and his ex.
  • Encouraging your spouse to spend time his biological child…alone.
  • Not loving your stepchild the same way you love your own child.
  • Making a less-than-perfect choice…again.
  • Putting your needs ahead of your stepchildren’s needs at times.
  • Doing fun things with your children, even if your stepchildren aren’t with you.
  • Planning a date night.
  • Spending time with your biological child…alone.
  • Choosing to embrace your new family, despite what others think.

Where do you struggle with guilt and how have you overcome it? Will you share it with us?

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

Do you find yourself comparing the growth of your stepfamily to your neighbor’s next door? Do you talk to your stepmom friend at work and wonder why her stepfamily seems to be having such smooth sailing while your family is stuck in the muck?

The Danger of Comparing Your Stepfamily to Another

My husband always calls our family “remedial blenders.” Our relationships didn’t come together within the first five to seven years of marriage as stepfamily research suggests. In fact, some of our toughest years as a family were seven to ten years after our marriage.

Does that mean we were doing everything wrong, slowing the progress of our family blending? Certainly my husband and I made our share of mistakes as stepparents, but we also had some challenging variables to contend with that influenced the relationships in our family.

One of the biggest factors that determines how well a family unites is whether the ex-spouse allows his/her children the freedom to embrace a relationship with the stepparent. His/her attitude toward the stepparent can greatly influence the child’s ability to accept and love a new stepparent.

Unfortunately, as a stepparent, you have no control over what happens in the other home that influences the relationships in your home. I clearly remember the half-hearted hugs and stand-offish behavior I received every time my stepchildren returned from their mother’s home. I always wondered what kind of conversation went on about me while they were gone. I’m sure it was best I didn’t know.

Because my stepdaughter was ten when we married, her age also influenced our ability to bond. I didn’t understand when she began pulling away from the family as she progressed through adolescence but it was part of her growing-up process, a time of buiding her own identity separate from the family, that naturally takes place during the teen-age years.

Stepfamily research also suggests that the hardest relationship to develop is the stepmom/stepdaughter one. Instead of blaming myself for our prickly interactions, I would have done better to accept the fact that some of our challenges were simply intertwined in our tendency as two females in the same household to butt heads. When my oldest biological daughter traversed through the teen years, we encountered some of the same tensions.

It was also normal for my stepdaughter to desire a stronger relationship with her biological mother, leaving me in a dispensable role. Because of her natural bond with her mother, she couldn’t naturally bond with me.

After my husband and I were married eight years, we learned my stepchildren’s mother had colon cancer. My stepchildren stood by helplessly the next year, watching their mother slowly digress, then pass away. The pain of her loss left raw emotions they didn’t know what to do with, negatively impacting our stepfamily relationships.

So I no longer carry the responsibility for the remedial blending that occurred in our family. We could have never predicted nor controlled the circumstances that occurred. But we could control our reaction to them and our commitment to press forward, despite the odds.

What about your family? Were you hoping for smooth sailing as your relationships came together? Do you wonder why your family doesn’t look like the stepfamily next door that seems to be having an easier time? Don’t compare. It’s dangerous.

Those who have the easiest time as a stepfamily never appreciate the value of their relationships because they didn’t have to work for them.

If your family takes longer than you desire to unite, don’t despair. Celebrate the victories along the way. Affirm the value of what you’re creating. And be thankful for the challenges. Because you’ll always know it would have been easier to quit.

But you didn’t.

Can you recognize the uniqueness in your  circumstances that influence your relationships? Will you share how you cope with it?

Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

Coping with Loss in a Stepfamily

Stepfamily Trap: Denying our Feelings

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Stepfamily Trap: The Danger of Denying Your Feelings

“I thought I would naturally love my stepchildren as my own but the feelings are not there,” my friend, stepmother of two said. “I tried to deny my feelings for a long time, but I’m finally accepting them for what they are.”

Denying our feelings puts off what should be faced. It’s okay if you don’t feel love toward your stepchildren all the time. You might develop more loving feelings as your relationship develops, but you might not.

If we’re really honest, we must admit that some stepchildren are easier to love than others. In her book, Stepmonster, Dr. Wednesday Martin paints a painful, but realistic, picture of how some stepchildren behave. “Our stepchildren do, in fact, frequently try to exclude us. They do things — consciously or unconsciously — that make us feel overlooked, left out, unappreciated. They send subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle signals that they wish we simply didn’t exist, that they’d like to erase us from the picture, or from the message on the answering machine.”

Dr. Martin goes on to tell a story “of a woman who was not invited to her stepdaughter’s wedding, after nearly two decades of marriage to the young woman’s father, ‘because it will be too difficult for Mom.’ Her husband told his daughter that they would attend together or not at all, but the stepmother never really recovered from her hurt and, not surprisingly, ceased making efforts with her stepdaughter for a long time.”

Hopefully, your stepchildren have not been that cruel to you. But, if you’ve been a stepparent long, I would guess you’ve been hurt more than once by your stepchild. That doesn’t make it okay to stoop to his/her level and react with similar behavior, but it is okay to acknowledge how those actions affect your feelings.

I learned early in our marriage that I would need God’s help to love my stepchildren unconditionally. It’s not easy and I don’t get it right all the time, but as I pray for God to soften my heart toward my stepchildren, I’m able to offer them my love and forgiveness. In our early years of marriage there were days I felt my stepchildren didn’t deserve another chance, but then I was reminded that I don’t deserve the love and grace God offers me either.

Feelings are not facts. They will change as your relationships develop. It’s okay to admit to feelings of hurt, anger, and disappointment in your stepparenting role. Just don’t get stuck there. Work through your feelings with a friend, a minister, or your spouse. Or seek professional counseling if you need help identifying your feelings and coping with them.

We can’t allow our feelings to control us. But we can seek to uncover their roots and deal with them appropriately.

What feelings are you burying, in hopes they will simply go away?

Let Go of the Guilt – Part Two

As a stepparent, do you carry around unnecessary guilt? Do you beat yourself up when you make a mistake or don’t have a perfect day with your stepchild?

Guilt is a harmful emotion. It keeps us from enjoying present-day peace and sets us up for self-defeating behavior. Unless the guilt is justified from wrong behavior, it’s time to let go of it.

I think that as stepparents we expect too much of ourselves and can never measure up. Then, we feel guilty because our expectation doesn’t match reality.

My husband, Randy, and I are both stepparents in our family. I always compared my role as a stepparent to his two kids to his role as a stepparent to my two kids. But, everytime I contrasted the stepfamily relationships, I came up short. Randy’s relationships with my children were stronger than my relationships with his. Following my comparison each time came guilt.

What I finally realized was there are completely different dynamics in the relationships. My two girls call my husband Dad and consider him their primary father figure. Their natural father has proved unstable and unpredictable during their years of growing up. Therefore, they’ve embraced Randy as their stepdad and have a healthy, loving relationship with him.

On the other hand, my stepchildren had an active mother in their lives until she passed away. I sensed that she competed with me in every way, discouraging any kind of relationship with her children.

My stepdaughter went to live with her mother as a young adolescent, creating less of an opportunity for me to bond with her. My stepson also lived with his mother for several years during the period of her terminal illness and death. Since her passing, it’s easy to recognize the loyalty conflict he struggles with that prevents him from forming an intimate relationship with me.

So, I finally decided that if I was doing my best to demonstrate unconditional love and acceptance with my stepchildren and continuing to strive toward a healthy, growing relationship, I would not feel guilty over less-than-perfect bonds with them. I realized that my stepchildren and the dynamics in their “other home” also play a role in what kind of relationship I’m allowed to develop with them.

Stepfamily dynamics are different in every home. Some stepfamily relationships form very close bonds and some never get past an acquaintance stage. But if you’re doing your part to develop healthy, loving relationships, regardless of what your relationships currently look like, let go of the guilt. It serves no constructive purpose.

What are you feeling guilty about that you need to let go of?

Related Posts:

Let Go of the Guilt – Part One

Take Care of Yourself Spiritually, Physically, and Emotionally

Setting Boundaries as a Stepparent

Let Go of the Guilt

Five inches of snow fell in Central Arkansas yesterday. We rarely get to experience the fluffy white stuff so our town always enjoys a break from the routine when snow appears. You could find kids on every corner making snowmen, sledding down the biggest hill in town, and sipping hot chocolate around a fire.

I spent the day with the kids in the snow but kept feeling a nagging sensation I needed to be inside working toward my writing deadlines, tackling my to-do list, or checking off completed chores. I finally gave myself permission to enjoy the day, free of guilt, but it required an extra effort of self-talk.

Why do we do that to ourselves? Why do we insist we must be perfect in all our efforts as a mom, stepmom, wife, employee, or volunteer? How do we change those negative messages of guilt that barrage us?

I think we create guilt by comparing ourselves to others. We see a family that appears to have it together all the time and wonder why our family continues to struggle. But what we often forget is that we compare how we feel on the inside what what we see on the outside. Read that statement again. Appearances don’t usually match reality.

Another easy way we create guilt is by assuming we must do everything the way the experts tell us.  I read an article recently on how to teach your children about money and as I finished it, I felt guilty. There were many things mentioned that we hadn’t done so I assumed we had done a poor job in teaching our older children about money, even though they’re managing their money well (most of the time, anyway).  

An important thing to remember is that every family is different. Particularly in stepfamilies, we can’t compare how we do things with how another family does it. Our children have influences from outside our home that we can’t control. We have to accept their input and the reality of their influence.

My stepson was never taken to church when he stayed at his Mom’s house. He lived there for three years during his adolescent years and had very little exposure to a Christian life. As a young adult, he rarely steps foot into a church and seems to have little regard for living for Christ. Although it saddens me, I refuse to feel guilty over it. My husband and I did our best to expose him to Christian principles and teach him how to walk with the Lord daily when he was in our home.

Some guilt can be good and convicts us of how to live. But too often, mothers and stepmothers, carry around unnecessary guilt. We beat ourselves up regularly for less than perfect parenting.

In my next post, I will offer a few more ideas on the subject.

What do you feel guilty about? What will you do to let go of self-defeating guilt?

Related Posts:

Living in Peace While Blending a Family

How Do You Find Balance?

Let Go and Let God