Stepfamily Suggestions for Weddings, Graduations and Proms, Oh My!
There’s nothing like a wedding, graduation, prom, or special occasion to get the tension taut in a stepfamily. That’s because dreams, family traditions, and high expectations are tied to these events.
For the stepmom, these special occasions have the potential to trigger every insecurity.
The good news is, there are things a stepmom can do to make the occasions easier.
- Listen to the Kids- After thirty-two years as a stepmom I learned to let my stepsons decide how much of a role they want me to play, or not play at their events. When my stepsons got married I asked them, “Do you want /need me to be a part of this? I’m Ok either way. This is your wedding, I know we are a blended family, I don’t want to make it any more stressful for you.”
One asked me to sing at his wedding, the other wanted me to read a scripture.
But even if they had said, “No, thanks. We are good.” I would have respected their decision. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have been hurt, but I grew up in a stepfamily. I understand the stress a child can feel when torn between two parents.
- A Child is Loyal to a Parent- Even if you don’t like your husband’s ex-wife, or you think she is a bad parent, or you have done more work to raise the child, the reality is this woman is the mother to your stepchild. And typically, a child wants the parents to be front and center on special occasions. It’s the biological family they want close by.
Here is how a hands-on, what-would-Jesus-do, stepfamily moment plays out. “Michael, I know that your graduation is coming up soon, as your stepmom I’m so proud to see you walk that stage. But I also want to be respectful of the fact that you get a limited number of tickets for family to sit up front. This obviously puts you in a difficult position of deciding who should get them. I want to make this easier for you. I’m willing to give up my seat if it means your mom and dad, plus your siblings get to sit up front.”
Stepmom, hear me clearly. Your stepchild will appreciate you more for taking a step like this than you will ever imagine. This act of “letting go” and not demanding a seat up front communicates you understand his/her pain. It reveals to the child “She gets it. She recognizes the horrible position I’m facing. Thank God somebody cares more about me, than they do themselves.”
In Philippians we learn what it means to regard others as more important than ourselves.
Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus. (NASV)
Many will read this and view it as the stepmom giving in, becoming a door mat, losing out or backing down. I say, and have experienced, it’s just the opposite.
This is victory. Why?
This step requires understanding the difference between winning a battle or winning the war. The relationship between you and your stepchild may grow leaps and bounds by stepping aside at one special occasion, rather than stepping in and insisting you be recognized. I guarantee as they get older it’s what they will remember. “My stepmom loved me enough to put her own desires, and her wants aside. She did what made it easier on me, and harder on her.”
Isn’t that what the love, sacrifice, and compassion of Jesus is all about?
- Prepare for the Photos-Before my stepsons got married I shared with my husband, “I want you to offer to be in a picture with your son and his mother on his wedding day.” Steve gave me a look of dread. I nodded and continued, “One of the greatest gifts you can give your child today is a photo with his parents. Kids, young and old, long to know that they were conceived in love. It makes them feel more secure when they know, ‘My parents loved each other once. I was born in love, not the hate I have watched growing up all my life.’ Do this for your son.” And he did. He wasn’t excited, but he did it.
We also took photos with all of us, where I was included. Because that’s because it was what the bride and groom wanted. Not at my insistence.
I recently met a couple who got married twenty-two years ago. They shared with me that they haven’t seen or spoken to his father since their engagement. When I asked why, the husband replied, “My dad insisted that his new wife be front and center during the wedding, including the pictures. I tried to reason with him and tell him that I couldn’t do that to my mother. I added that we would gladly have her in some pictures but not all. He refused to listen and said if she wasn’t in all of them, and didn’t have a prominent place, then he wasn’t coming to the wedding. And he didn’t. We haven’t spoken since.”
- Plan “A Soft Place to Fall”- even with the best intentions, planning and prayers it’s not uncommon for a stepmom to be ambushed by something that triggers a meltdown before, during or after the event. The key is to prepare.
Before the event have a girlfriend on 9-1-1 alert. This is a friend who understands the situation and won’t give “Christianese” advice. If necessary, step away from the event for a few minutes, call her for reinforcement, encouragement and time to refocus. This should be someone that you know is compassionate and able to help you to “keep the main thing–the main thing.”
Commiserating for a few minutes is OK, but that won’t help to get you back into the reception. You need laughter, a boost of energy, and a reminder that YOU are a Child of God.
- Meet New People-Sometimes the new in-law family can provide comfort for the stepmom. Because they usually aren’t emotionally involved in the divorce and remarriages of the parents, they come with an objective mindset.
“I felt so awkward at my stepdaughter’s rehearsal dinner,” stepmom Rachel shared. “But then I got to know the groom’s sister, and we hit it off right away. She didn’t view me as the ex-wife, the wicked stepmother, or any other label. She welcomed me as Rachel, just another female. It was such a relief and she was fun.”
- Sometimes-It’s Best Not to Go– On occasion the drama is so chaotic that it’s better for everyone if the stepmom doesn’t attend the special occasion. If possible Dad, stepmom and child need to sit down and discuss all options. If a stepparents presence has the potential to ruin the special occasion for the child, and everyone is going to focus on when the “explosion” is going to occur, it might be best for dad to go alone.
This is obviously not the ideal situation. But we must remember to keep “our eyes on the prize.”
Should you choose this route I advise Dad discussing it with the child this way, “Josh, you and I both know your mom hates Wendy. I wish she would accept that I’ve remarried, and we could work together at co-parenting, but she hasn’t. The scene she caused at your graduation was horrible and I’m so sorry. I know it embarrassed you. She is threatening to do it again. I don’t want to put you through that humiliation. We want you to enjoy this special day, but we don’t want you to think Wendy doesn’t care, or that she doesn’t want to be there. Wendy is willing to not attend if it will make it easier on you.”
None of this is easy. It takes a lot of prayer and spending alone time with God so He can strengthen us with His supernatural competence, ability, grace and self-control. On my own strength most of my stepfamily special occasions would have gotten ugly—fast. We must remember that these events are merely one day. They will soon be over.
Now, thirty-two years into this stepfamily union, before a family event I ask myself this question, “When I’m gone, and my stepfamily is reminiscing about that special day, how do I want them to remember me?”
And it helps me to remember that, “This too, shall pass.”
Copyright © 2018 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved