Recently, during a life coaching session a stepmom shared, “I’m at a loss over what to do with my eight-year-old stepdaughter. She has made it clear that she wants nothing to do with me. She believes that I’m the reason her mom and dad aren’t together,” she continued. “That’s not true.”
“I’ve tried praying, helping with homework, buying clothes, and making favorite meals. Nothing works. I cry constantly and I feel like I’m failing her, my husband and God. What am I going to do?”
My heart aches for this sensitive stepmom. She’s desperate. The problem is, she didn’t cause the wound to this little girl’s heart, and she can’t fix it. She doesn’t hold the key to unlock this child’s trauma.
Is her situation helpless and hopeless? No. There are smart steps to take, but they may be very different than the tactics she has tried. Unfortunately, the church rarely offers programs for the unique issues associated with stepfamilies. Here is what I suggest:
The first step is for her and her husband to become educated about children and divorce. It may be hard to hear. Kids and divorce is a painful subject. A favorite resource is a film created by interviewing children. It is so powerful I use it at my stepmom retreats. http://splitfilm.org/
Volunteer at a Support Group Designed for Kids
A group that helps kids of divorce will allow the stepmom to receive hands on insight. She can observe and learn from children that are not emotionally attached to her situation. I suggest www.DC4K.org
It’s Not About You
One of the hardest parts of being a stepmom is learning when you are part of the problem, and when it has nothing to do with you at all. This stepmom could be the Mother Teresa of stepmoms and the child may still reject her. It has nothing to do with her personally; it’s about the child’s pain.
Debunk the Lie
For years society has tried to tell us that kids don’t suffer when a parent divorces. The truth is many children, me included, suffer the effects of a parent’s divorce well into adulthood. Two resources which give excellent insight are:
- Elizabeth Marquardt, Between Two Worlds—The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce
- Judith Wallerstein, Lewis and Blakslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce-a 25 year Study
For a stepmom in this situation, support is the key. She will continuously feel isolated and like a failure until she gets around some other stepmoms who understand. She may need to be the one to launch the group. I have a downloadable booklet with instructions on my website www.TheSmartStepmom.com .
Dad holds the keys to solving this issue. Daddy-daughter date nights are crucial. This private time with his daughter, acknowledging that he understands the divorce and so many changes have been hard on her, can have a huge impact.
He must clearly and confidently explain, with facts if possible, that the stepmom had nothing to do with the divorce. And that cruelty towards the stepmom, his wife, will not be tolerated.
I advise dad to say these words, “You are my child. I love you, and I will always be here for you. That hasn’t changed because I got remarried. I stood before God and promised to cherish my wife. I must keep that commitment. You don’t have to like her, you don’t have to love her, but in my home you must respect her.”
A stepmom may not reap the rewards of her tenacity and tenderness for a long, long time. Learning how to pray for a stepchild and becoming educated about the child’s pain is the goal. Each step will empower a stepmom to take her eyes off the circumstances, and shift them toward Christ and practical solutions. This does not mean ignoring a child’s rudeness, but rather learning how to work alongside her husband to change the situation.
A smart stepmom learns what she can control, and sets boundaries and/or lets go of what she cannot.
What is one act of kindness I can do to show my stepchild that I understand his/her pain?
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Gal 6:9 NIV
Copyright © 2015 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.
The Source BHS contributor Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on stepfamilies, relationships, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is the author of When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with Ron
Deal, 101 Tips for the Smart Stepmom and Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. Her website is www.TheSmartStepmom.com