As a teenager, dating someone with a child, my thoughts oscillated between where to go out to eat Friday night and talking through parenting styles with the dreamy guy across the table.
Seven years later, I stood face to face with that dreamy guy, saying “I do” and in that sacred moment becoming a wife and a stepmom all at once.
My wedding was perfect and adjusting to the first year of marriage was not nearly as challenging as everyone had cautioned. I was all in, hoping to achieve the best wife and stepmom ever status, but the stepmom role adjustment blindsided me. No one in my family or friend circle could really relate, nor see how hard it was. If anything, other mom friends didn’t want to hear it, even seeing it through the lens that I got a break from being a mom, and I should be thankful since I primarily experienced stepmom life as an every-other-weekend gig.
In the beginning, I felt some excitement, as if living a double life: young newlywed couple one weekend, a new momma adjusting to waking at 7 AM on Saturday for soccer the next. My husband worked out of state for the first six months of our marriage, and he would travel home every other weekend, to be dad. But that was hard too. I totally respected and loved his dedication to making time for his daughter, but as the new wife, where did I fit in that equation? Was I worth a trip home?
At that time, our daughter, Gracie, ate approximately 5 things. I threw my energy into meal planning and trying to expand her palette beyond hot dogs, spaghetti, chicken nuggets, chocolate, and sweet tea. I pureed every vegetable I could find and often mixed it into marinara to help her develop a taste for it. I thought if I could make everything at our house “perfect”, it could make up for the lack of nutrition she’d get the days she was gone.
I played that song on repeat for years. Eventually, I burnt us out as a family, trying so hard to not only do everything “right” but beyond to “make up” for all the things that seemed to be lacking in her time away from our home. Years passed before I embraced that I could only influence what happened in our home. I couldn’t control the things outside of it. Releasing that stressful burden gave us a new freedom to enjoy our family time together and bonus, skip the home-cooked meal for an occasional pizza night!
It is a lie that the every-other-weekend gig is easier. Sure, you get a break. But it’s almost impossible to establish any structure because the kids are constantly bouncing back and forth, living in different paradigms. Plus, if your house has more structure or rules than the other house, every time together is a painful trek of one step forward and three steps back.
Other moms would comment, “Isn’t parenting so challenging but so rewarding?”
Are you joking? No. I thought, ‘where were the rewards?’ I could only see challenges for the decades ahead. At some point along the journey, I started to realize that the voices in my life weren’t encouraging me. Their lack of understanding left me feeling no one in my life “got it”. No one “got me”. I sought out parenting books, attempting to make sense of this hard-to-navigate life that felt lonely.
For years, I thought stepmotherhood was only difficult, and without rewards. Six or seven years into it, I read a book by Ron Deal, where he suggests, “The way to cook a stepfamily is with a crock-pot. Once thrown into the pot, it will take time and low heat to bring ingredients together, requiring that adults step into a new marriage with determination and patience. The average stepfamily takes 5-7 years to combine; some take longer. There are no quick recipes, only dedicated journeymen.”
Five to seven years! Whoa! I’d been stirring our crockpot for years and my arm had fallen off at least twice now. Rather than discouraging, this was remarkably helpful and freeing to hear. I thumbed through my journals. What I read revealed a few glimmers of hope sparkling in years six and seven of our marriage and the light was accumulating. I’d finally heard an “I love you” in return to mine. I received a hug that wasn’t returned with limp arms. These glimmers of light birthed a renewed hope that things could get better.
When other stepmoms started to cross my path, they’d request tips, hacks, advice, anything. I’d recommend a book here or dispense a helpful tip, but mostly I’d exclaim, “Oh wow, you have the hardest job in the world! I have mad respect for you!”
Slowly, God grew a desire in me to encourage other stepmoms on a larger scale. I knew that God had chosen me to be Gracie’s mom, chosen me for that role and that on our beautiful wedding day, I had chosen to be her bonus mom. To nurture her, pray for her, guide her and parent her in the best way I knew how.
Chosen Motherhood grew from the idea that God is weaving together a beautiful tapestry, a story of redemption. Within this story, He chose several of us to be stepmoms. We responded with love, by nurturing children that we chose to pour into, not because we birthed them, but because God gave them to us in another way. Still the same precious gift, wrapped in different aged packaging.
Not every stepmom approaches their role from this posture. There are some heart-wrenchingly sad stories out there. But many stepmoms are continually pouring out, showing love in hard ways. I wanted these dedicated moms to know that they are seen, the hard work they do matters, and that the answer to the questions: Is this uniquely challenging, exhausting, and bumpy road going to be worth it? Does it turn out okay in the end? Yes!
Despite being an irrepressible optimist who always sees the glass half full, I would have struggled to believe you if you tried to convince me of that on my fifth wedding anniversary. I saw a need to spread the hopeful message to downtrodden hearts of tired stepmoms everywhere: after several years in the trenches, I did find some glimmers of light, and perhaps, your glimmers are just around the corner.
God sparked a desire in me to write this encouragement. I wanted to be the friend I never had, to come alongside women for the journey, and share glimmers of hope along the way. I want to pray for them and hopefully connect women with other stepmoms who share the same burdens. My hope and vision are for Chosen Motherhood to grow into a community, a safe place where stepmoms feel seen for the demanding and loving steps taken every day, share stories of hope, and ask for help or prayer for the uniquely tough scenarios. That full platform is a future dream. Currently, my offering is a blog of letters of encouragement to stepmoms. But the story doesn’t end here.
I kept feeling the solution was to connect people with similar experiences in community, showing a stepmom, she isn’t alone and that even if not in your local community, somewhere, someone “gets me”. It’s true, God designed us to live in community. There is abundant encouragement radiating from the knowledge you are not the only one struggling or feeling the way you do.
The knowledge of shared experience is a soothing salve to tired hearts. That level of healing can look like thriving for quite a while. But this past year, I found deeper healing, when I realized that Jesus shared my same experience of rejection. He dealt with rejection and all the sorrow, pain, and isolation it brings. Jesus has empathy for us as we live in this broken world composed of communities and families populated by fractured relationships, alternating weekend schedules, and broken plans.
God longs for us to take our pain to Him. The salve His Love heals deeper crevices than any other companion sharing our journey on the bumpy road of life. Although our friends help us carry the burden, lightening our load, imparting a fresh ability to breathe anew, it is only His love that offers the future hope of redemption. A place where tears no longer fall and all creation is fully restored to perfection. Beyond mere glimmers of hope, He offers the full shining Son.
PRAYER FOR MOMS:
Thank you for bringing this stepmom here. Please fill her heart with Your peace and presence. I pray You fill her with your strength for walking in obedience and loving the kids that You’ve chosen for her. Equip her with Your love, patience, and never-ending resources of strength. Renew her tired heart with Your fresh breath of life. Lord, I ask You to bring little wins and glimmers of hope to mind.
For the stepmom who doesn’t know what to do, who is doubting her marriage or just wanting an escape:
Dear Lord, You say our sorrows are not hidden from You. Please wrap this stepmom in Your arms of love and soothe her pain and heartaches with Your comfort. You promise us that if we ask, you will give wisdom to us generously (James 1:5-6).
Give her Your wisdom as she navigates marriage and parenting.
Open her eyes to see an eternal perspective.
Make her next step crystal clear. Freely pour out Your patience on to her as her family slowly blends together.
Give her faith to trust Your timing. And give her trust for the waiting if it is not yet Your time to reveal all of the answers.
In Jesus name, Amen.
WORDS OF WISDOM FOR STEPMOMS:
- God chose you for this role. He has plans for you.
- You are irreplaceable. Even when you feel like an outsider in your own home.
- If you’re in it for the recognition, it may never come.
- You do a lot of the work of being a mom, without any rewards or thanks. Keep doing it.
- The fight isn’t moms vs. stepmoms.
- Your hardest moment is no comparison to someone else’s; there’s no point in comparing trials, pain and trauma.
- We all need to extend grace to each other and hold space for each other’s pain.
Connect with Stephanie Judy at http://www.chosenmotherhood.com.