My parents divorced when I was a young child, and shortly after, I began to experience the reality of stepfamily dynamics. I’ve heard stories that I would torment my father's new wife by telling her that SHE was an evil queen, and MY mother was the beautiful princess JUST like Cinderella! Hmmm, and I wonder why she wasn't my biggest fan? Ha!As fate would have it, I am now a stepmother, by definition. I certainly feel convicted from time to time, on how I can be a better mommy. New families are complicated. Heck, even many traditional families would consider their situations dysfunctional at times. Two different lives coming together, bringing unique sets of expectations, traditions, and backgrounds to the marriage table. Now, imagine voluntarily signing up for a more complicated life, where all children are not created equal "so to speak” and this is known as the beautiful, modern day step-family. Many people now refer to us as the "blended family."
Before I met my husband by divine design, I was a single mother with just one child and much more freedom. I married a widower with three small kids, and we were in such a rush to complete our families and start our happily ever after life, that we never paused to think about the changes and the realities. We had four little ones between us, and all seemed so desperate to have constant love and stability from both parents. His first wife advised him to “complete the family” when he knew, so we both trusted that between her and God, our marriage was meant to be. Our wedding was completely magical, and just like a fairy tale. Our children really do love each other and get along quite well. So what happened to our “happily ever AFTER?” Well….AFTER: WE discovered that while we have common values, we couldn't be more opposite. We've had some major challenges. Meanwhile, we live. We love. And we continuously learn. Adjust. Connect. Reach out. Reach up. We pray...A lot! Life is not always as “happily ever” as captured and posted on social media. Not always. We have our reality moments more often than not.AFTER: We’ve endured countess tantrums and arguments. We've been tested and manipulated. Simply stated, the expectations we each brought into the marriage, as well our different parenting styles have caused us the most stress. We tend to struggle with balancing their constant fights for our attention. It can be so draining. We've mostly battled about fairness, jealous, and extended family issues. I recall warning my husband during our engagement period that we would need counseling. I'm certain he thought I was joking. Nope. Too much pain and too many complexities and dynamics.
AFTER: I’ve been haunted by visions of Disney's evil step mothers when self-reflecting. I will look into the mirror of my heart, and wonder, “But, Nikki my dear, would you have handled that situation just as equally as if it involved your biological child?” Thinking and over analyzing my reactions, my tones, my facial expressions, and my disciplines and punishments. Was I truly fair, just, and equal?
My most recent step-mommy fail occurred when I took my two oldest out for lunch and a day of shopping. While strolling down the aisles of Publix, my biological daughter came to me very sad that her brother told her she is just his "step sister?” Where did THAT come from? “The only steps in our family head up to your bedrooms,” I barked. His head hung in shame. After I had time to process his comment, I apologized for my reaction. I was responding from a place of insecurity. Technically, he was correct. I’m simply not a big fan of the word "step" because it shows separation of a family. However, it IS what it IS. I am their “step-mother” and they will always have their biological mother in heaven.
So, how do we manage through the messy moments? Honestly, I wish we had a magical mop to wipe away the emotional damages we cause when we stain our children’s hearts with our ugly "spills" of confusion. These responses come from our ego which manifests within us while we speak out of fear or insecurity. Since magic only exists in the wonderful world of make believe, my husband and I strive to live a God first life. Our relationship with Jesus allows us to love each other through the hurts, and forgive when forgiving feels impossible. We have found immense support through fellowship in a group called "Blended & Blessed" which is a Stepfamily support resource through Celebration church. We are learning so much while building new relationships with other families who have "been there” or who are currently walking in similar shoes.Typically we find the more common stepmother is dealing with other moms or dads while co-parenting, which can certainly cause more family issues and stress. While we have lost a great woman who wanted to be here, alive, and involved, we struggle with many other issues. Regardless of the challenges, thus far, I have found truth and comfort by learning...1.) Step family happiness is not an overnight miracle. Blending Families is not as fast and smooth as it sounds. Be prepared to cook your family right: Low and slow. Combining all the different ingredients as they are, in their own unique forms. If our old cooking methods cause the pot to boil over, it might be time to simmer down. The secret ingredient for all situations here is love. Love always tastes good too. Never bitter. Always sweet.
2.) Family dynamics are like building a puzzle. We are all shaped differently, and “fitting in” to each others lives naturally can take time. We must focus on seeing the big picture as we work together, adjusting our expectations as we strive toward our own functioning family masterpiece.
3.) A healthy family, equates to healthy children. The first year is always the hardest. No successful marriage or family unit thrives on auto pilot. The key is working at it. When we married our spouses, we married the entire package. Progress comes with time. Younger minds need to adjust to the complexities of their new realities and schedules. It's an adjustment period for everyone.I have experienced first hand, that family peace is possible. Step by step. Day by day. It starts with believing God and HIS word. It means accepting and loving each other, and our children: Right where we are. Right where they are. Just as God has offered his love to us. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that WE should be called children of God!” -1John 3:1 Figuratively speaking, isn't God just one giant step parent to all of us? Literally one "step" away...