Dear Stepdad: Don’t Quit

With Father’s day just a few days away, I’m posting an essay I wrote a few years’ back to encourage and honor stepdads.

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Dear Stepdad: Don’t Quit

My husband, Randy, will be the first to tell you he has done a lot of things wrong as a stepfather. He has been a stepparent to my two daughters for 20 years. His stepdaughters love him dearly.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

My youngest daughter, Jodi, was almost three when we married, and Jamie was five. Randy had a difficult time with Jamie from the beginning. She didn’t want another dad in her life, and she made that clear to him.

He overheard a conversation between the two girls one night during our first year of marriage. “I hate him too; I can’t believe Mom married him,” Jamie told Jodi. There was little love, or even like, between Randy and the girls in the beginning.

During our second year of marriage, Randy left the house one evening and called from a nearby hotel. “I’m not coming home tonight. I’m not sure I’m coming home again. I can’t cope with the ongoing conflict between you and me and the kids.”

It was a tough season. Randy brought two children to the marriage also and attempting to blend our four kids, ages 3-10, while learning how to stepparent and parent together proved harder than we anticipated. But neither of us wanted to endure another divorce. Randy and I began counseling that year to work through the bumps.

During her teenage years, Jamie challenged us on every turn. If Randy punished her in the slightest, she threatened to call Child Protective Services. She ran away more times than I can remember (but thankfully never went far). After one particularly difficult day with defiant behavior, Randy took Jamie’s cell phone and threw it to the ground. As it busted into several pieces, Jamie began yelling at us both. The night didn’t end well. And I wasn’t sure the sun would come up the next day.

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Why Stepmom Sisterhood is Invaluable

My oldest daughter left for Mozambique, South Africa in May of this year, just a few days after completing her teaching degree.  At 23 years old, she wanted to explore a long-term missions opportunity before she committed to a teaching job back home. She will be there through the holidays this year.

I knew that’s where her heart was and would not consider keeping her from going, but I miss her greatly. Before she left we lived across state lines, so I was used to not seeing her every week but I talked to her regularly. Without a phone in Africa, our only means of communicating is through Skype or Facebook.

When I talk to other moms about how it feels to have your young adult child in another country, they don’t “get” it. Even those who have children across several states don’t understand how it feels to not be able to pick up the phone and reach them or know you can hop a plane and see them the same day. I find myself jealous when I see pictures of moms and their young adult children spending time together. I feel isolated in my world as a Mom with a child in another country. Some days, I would love to talk to another mom who understands it.

I think that’s what happens to us as stepmoms. We live a life that others can’t understand unless they’ve walked the journey. Moms have no idea what it feels like to have the parental responsibility of a stepmom with very little authority. They try to relate and equate their feelings as a mom but they just don’t “get” it. Others don’t understand the loneliness and isolation that accompanies the stepmom journey.

The value of stepmom sisterhood should not be underestimated. If you don’t have stepmom friends, I encourage you to find some. That was part of the purpose of our stepmom retreat and I love seeing how ladies continue to connect with each other via social media since returning home. If you can’t find local stepmoms, reach out to a stepmom group online. There’s a great group of Twitter stepmoms who share their struggles and encourage one another.  If you’re looking for online groups, however, be careful to only associate with those who are trying to support each other and solve their stepparenting challenges, not create drama and bash the exes.

Ron Deal, blended family director of FamilyLife, is compiling a list of stepfamily groups who are meeting locally in churches throughout the US. I’ll have access to that list when he posts and will share it. My husband and I joined a stepfamily group early in our marriage that helped us understand stepfamily dynamics and find answers to our stepfamily challenges. I’m forever grateful to that group for rescuing a wounded marriage.

How about you? Where are you finding support for your stepmom journey? Don’t do it alone. Start your own group if you need to. But don’t neglect  stepmom sisterhood. It might be the one thing that keeps you sane!

Where do you find stepmom support? I’d love to hear about it!

Do You Feel Like an Outsider as a Stepparent?

Tears rolled down my face as I left Bible study. In an unfamiliar church, surrounded by strangers, I missed my life from our prior community we had been forced to leave.  I began to question if I would ever belong again. I felt like an outsider everywhere I went.

Fast forward eight months and I’m slowly beginning to feel a sense of belonging in our new town. I still see unfamiliar faces everywhere I go but sometimes I see someone I know who says hello. Occasionally I have a friend ask me to lunch. And most of the time I know how to find my way around in our new town.

I recall those feelings as an outsider during the first decade of our marriage. Every time my husband’s kids began talking about prior experiences I wasn’t part of, I felt like an outsider. When they cracked inside jokes among themselves, I felt like an outsider. And when I wasn’t readily accepted into their circle, I felt like an outsider.

It’s not uncommon for stepparents to feel like outsiders. Sometimes it gets better with time but sometimes it doesn’t. You can only control one piece of the puzzle that determines whether you will become an insider. Your stepchildren control the rest.

You can do your part to become a part of your stepchildren’s lives, but they ultimately decide whether they will let you in or not. It may seem unfair, but unfortunately, it’s reality.

In my Bible study group, the ladies welcomed me as an outsider with open arms. They wanted me to feel part of their group. They weren’t threatened by my being there. It didn’t affect their relationships with other members of the group if they also developed a relationship with me. There was plenty of love to go around. As a result, I now feel like an insider.

Becoming an insider as a stepparent is vastly different. Our stepchildren don’t usually welcome us with open arms. Particularly if they have two active biological parents, they aren’t looking for another parent. A loving relationship with us often threatens the relationship they have in their other home. As stepparents, we are expendable.

How do you cope with that?

On days you’re feeling like an outsider in your home, you embrace the relationships where you know you’re an insider. I am an insider as part of the couple relationship with my husband. I will always be an insider with my biological children. As a Christian, I’m an insider as part of God’s family. I’m an insider in my profession as a writer. And I’m an insider with my dear friends who know me intimately, and still love me.

You can also pray that your stepchildren will grow to love you and accept you as an insider. But if they don’t, it’s okay. I know you have insider circles that will help navigate your path through the outsider relationships at home.

How about you? Are you feeling like an outsider? Has your insider status improved since the beginning of your marriage? I would love to hear about it.

Other Posts You Might Like:

What is our Role as a Stepparent?

Will You Embrace the Opportunity for Grace with Your Stepchild?