Recently, my husband and I attended his son’s 40th birthday party. It’s hard to believe he was 11 when Steve and I married. Now he is grown up, with a wife and daughter of his own.
His celebration prompted me to reminisce about the last 29 years that he and I have spent intertwined in stepfamily living. I had two stepmoms myself. Understanding the child’s perspective often helps when evaluating my stepmom role, but not always.
The 58-year-old Laura doesn’t beat herself up as much as her younger self did. Maybe that’s due to an illness which has stimulated thoughts on the brevity of life. I decided to make note of the things I did right as a stepmom, rather than linger over the things I’ve done wrong.
Here are a few:
• I let my stepsons love their mom. I know my stepsons love their mom. She brought them into the world, and they have a unique bond. I don’t try to usurp her position even when I don’t agree with her choices. To summarize: I give them the freedom to love their mother without fear of hurting me.
• I learned how to set healthy boundaries. As a full-fledged, card-carrying, codependent, it was very hard for me as a stepmom to discern how and when it was necessary to say, “NO!” This included learning the difference between a healthy, humble, loving, “No, I won’t let you speak to me that way” as opposed to a, “You want to get ugly with me—I ’ll show you ugly” in retaliation or vengeance.
• I accept the things I can never control. My entire world changed once I finally accepted and embraced the revelation that I’ll never be able to control the actions of another person. This doesn’t mean ignoring or tolerating abuse, it merely means letting go of the distorted perspective that I can manipulate, command, beg, or force another person to behave in an intelligent, considerate, or appropriate manner.
• I admitted my issues. Did you ever drive behind a pickup truck that is so loaded to the brim with junk that the debris falls off the flatbed and flies all over the road? That’s how I came into my marriage. My heart was filled with lots, and lots, and lots of putrid, decaying, emotional garbage. Before I could become an enjoyable mate or an effective stepmom I needed surgery on my weary soul to remove the toxins and stench. This required professional help and time alone with God.
• I got help for my distorted view of marriage. Children of divorce often have perverted perceptions about marriage. This is especially true when the divorce was tumultuous. I was no exception. Having a single parent mom whose motto was “I am woman, hear me roar” during the 60s and 70s didn’t help. That bra burning looked good in the newspaper, but it produced confusion and frustration when I attempted to become a wife.
I had to learn how to communicate, confront, and unify with my husband in a way that benefitted both of us. We attended community groups, marriage retreats, and absorbed good resources which strengthened our union.
• I learned that preaching doesn’t work. In my early years I was very aggressive about sharing my faith in Christ with Steve’s sons. After a while I discovered I was doing more to push them away than draw them in. Instead of talking about Christ, I started to merely focus on living as Christ would live. I believe more is “caught than taught.”
I asked my husband what he thinks I’ve done right. He amazed me with words such as, “You’re a great Nana,” “You show my kids what a good marriage looks like,” and “You sacrifice and do things I know you don’t want to do, to make it easier on the family.”
And that’s when I know I’m becoming a Smart Stepmom.