I don’t think my mother-in-law liked me.
Now I understand why.
It’s hard for the in-laws when a son or daughter remarries or forms a stepfamily. They must stand by and watch a new person enter their family.
This person now has power over the loved ones they have watched endure the death or divorce of the first family.
Will this new man or woman be good to my grandchildren?
Will he/she hurt my nieces and nephews?
Will they love, protect and care for them, like I do?
Will they put their own biological children before they do my family?
When I married my husband, Steve, he had two sons aged 11 and 13. He had been divorced for seven years and the only things his kids ate were pizza, mac and cheese, hot dogs, spaghetti, and Pepsi.
I grew up in a home where that was never allowed. So, I took it upon myself as the new stepmom, to help them eat healthier foods.
Good idea, right?
Both parents had allowed this to be their menu. I didn’t think kids should be allowed to dictate what foods were served at mealtime. And the battle began.
I was a fool. I knew nothing about being a stepparent, although I grew up in a stepfamily. I attempted to parent more than the parents. Big mistake.
If mom and dad were comfortable with the kid’s menu, it wasn’t my place to take over and attempt to dictate new rules. My poor mother-in-law sat on the sidelines watching. She observed the tension and felt badly for her son, and her two grandsons. Through her eyes I was causing problems, tension, and stress.
She felt I should stay in my lane and let it go. Her perspective was her grandkids had experienced a tremendously painful divorce between the parents. They now live in two homes. And this new wife wants to create more turmoil over what they eat. Seriously? Is that a hill to die on?
When my brother, who was raising two little girls after their mom walked out, started dating I approached those women like a grizzly bear with fangs out. I love those two nieces of mine, and I grieved so deeply for their loss. Anyone who came into their lives I watched like a hawk protecting her babies. If someone wasn’t treating them right, I pounced. In my mind I had to protect them.
Sometimes it got ugly. Often, I was too overbearing, and involved. Fear of someone hurting them triggered my need to get involved when I should have stepped back.
I recognize the compelling need to shelter and protect our own family. This is especially true if they have already experienced pain or loss. Learning to let go was a hard lesson. And it helped me to understand why my mother-in-law thought I was too harsh and dictatorial with her grandsons.
She was right.
Here are a few tips I learned along the way:
Tips for the stepparent:
- Understand it’s not your role to parent or dictate the behavior of your spouse’s kids. Especially in the beginning. The kids have parents that have already decided how they desire to raise their kids. If you don’t like how they parent, don’t marry the person.
- Learn how to communicate with your spouse, in a manner that is gentle and loving, on how to make small changes that might benefit the family.
- The way you raise your own biological kids may be vastly different than your spouse and the other parent. Don’t expect the stepkids to abide by rules that the parents have not established.
- Pray to see the situation through the eyes of your in-laws. Ask Jesus to give you the “Mind of Christ”. They have observed their family endure deep pain. It’s natural for them to feel overprotective. Become an ally, not an enemy.
Tips for the in-law:
- Obtain good resources on blended families. Learn the normal complexities and adjustment that occur when two homes attempt to inhabit under one roof. The changes are vast. The adjustment is substantial.
- You may have helped raise your grandchildren while your son/daughter was divorcing. Thank you for caring and sacrificing for them. Your son/daughter has now remarried. You no longer have the same role. Letting go of that role is exceedingly difficult and it might cause depression or grief. However, if your child’s marriage is to succeed you can’t be as overly involved anymore.
- Become a “soft place to fall” for your child’s new spouse. You may not love, or even like, your new in law. But God commands that we be compassionate toward everyone.
- Ask the new person “I know this is a major change for everyone. Is there something I can do, or not do, that will make this easier for you?”
- Pray for him/her. Help them become a good stepparent. Give them time to adjust. Don’t expect a stepparent to automatically love your grandkids the same way they love their own. It’s unrealistic.
My mother-in-law was a wonderful woman who has been in heaven for some time. After she died the boys, then adults, laughingly told me that when we had dinner all together, and after my husband and I would leave to go back to our home, she would pull a pizza out of the freezer and make it for them.
It was all for naught.
I fully understand how hard it must have been for her to watch me step in and attempt to take over the lives of her grandkids. If I had it to do over, I would do things differently. I didn’t know—what I didn’t know. Fortunately, God is very patient and forgiving. And I learned my role as a smart stepmom.
God’s forgiveness extends to the worst offenders and to anyone who wishes to receive it – not because of who we are, but because of who He is.
– Charles Swindoll
Since God knows our future, our personalities, and our capacity to listen, He isn’t ever going to say more to us than we can deal with at the moment.
Laura Petherbridge is an international speaker and author of, When ‘I Do’ Becomes ‘I Don’t’, The Smart Stepmom, 101 Tips for The Smart Stepmom, Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. She has appeared at/on the Billy Graham Center, Family Talk (Dobson), Focus on the Family, Today’s Christian Woman, FamilyLife, Lifeway, and Moody Broadcasting. Laura has been a featured expert on the DivorceCare DVD series implemented in over 60,000 churches worldwide. In addition to the US, she has spoken in South Africa, Australia, and Canada. Laura and Steve live in Atlanta, Ga, and have been married for 35 years. She has two stepsons, daughters-in-law, and grandkids. She may be reached at www.TheSmartStepmom.com