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The Smart Stepmom: Who is She?

By Laura Petherbridge
Guest Columnist"Being a stepmom is much more difficult than I imagined," the woman shared with me. "Since my husband and I are excited about our marriage, we assumed the kids would be happy too. But they are really struggling and I'm not sure what to do."

As a stepmom of more than 24 years, I understand this woman's concerns. A few months into my second marriage, I was discouraged by the complexities associated with being a stepmother of two boys aged 11 and 13. Learning how to function in a blended family has been a process for all of us. But I did discover a few tips on the road to becoming a smart stepmom.

Stepfamilies are Formed Out of Loss

An estimated one-third of children will live in a stepparent home before the age of 18 (1), and 50 percent will have a stepparent at some point in their lifetime (2). Whether death or divorce has disrupted the biological family, children often struggle to adjust. The family unit provides a child with the safety and security he or she needs. But when a parent dies or divorce occurs it's likely to induce insecurity and fear in a child's life. Many Christians falsely assume that a stepfamily formed due to the death of a parent is easier on the children than a remarriage after divorce. However, all loss is painful. Kids who are grieving often display frustration, depression, or belligerence. It's crucial for the stepmom to understand how loss can shatter dreams and instill long-term anxiety. A tremendous way she can learn is by attending a support group designed for kids who are suffering from the emotions associated with grief.

A Healthy Stepfamily Takes Time

About 75 percent of those who divorce will eventually remarry (3). However, one of the most common misconceptions about stepfamilies is that everyone will bond quickly and smoothly. Stepfamily expert Ron Deal shares, "The average stepfamily takes seven years to integrate. Parents want to believe their kids will be OK, thus the power of hope blinds couples to the realities of stepfamily integration" (4). Many couples enter a remarriage without researching or believing that it's not uncommon for the kids to struggle or battle the relationship. When parents attempt to rush or force the relationship between stepchildren and stepparent, it creates tension and sets the marriage up for failure.

Children Need Dad

A smart stepmom encourages her husband to spend time alone with his kids. When dad remarries, a child may view the new relationship as a threat. Dads often don't know how to respond when the kids are jealous and don't want to share him with the new wife. Therefore, it's important for the stepmom to initiate and support activities between dad and his kids. Gradually integrate activities together as a stepfamily.

The Marriage Must Come First

Thirty percent of people remarry within a year after a divorce, and many do not take into account the tug-of-war that may result between their new spouse and their kids (5). If a marriage is going to thrive, it's necessary for the relationship to be the first priority. However, guilt may prevent one or both parents from placing the marriage before the children. The dad and stepmom must create a unified team. Working through the issues that cause stress can build a firm foundation.

God Can Teach You How to Love

Many stepmoms deal with stepkids who are difficult and unloving. Remember, hurt people hurt people. It's not uncommon to love your stepkids differently than you do your own biological children. However, the goal must be to learn to love your husband's children even if they never love you in return. This sacrificial love is often necessary for a stepfamily to survive. Jesus is capable of teaching a stepmom his attitudes of compassion, and grace. He longs to fill us with love for others as He loves us.

Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. (Philippians 2:2-5, NLT)

My journey as a stepmom has been filled with mistakes and victories. One of my greatest pleasures is to use my sometimes painful experiences to help other stepmoms. My stepsons are now 34 and 36 with children of their own. We continue to build our relationships, seeking the Lord's guidance every step of the way.

(1) Parke, M, Couples and Married Research and Policy Brief: Center for Law and Social Policy (May 2007)

(2) Susan Stewart, Brave New Stepfamilies: Diverse Paths Toward Stepfamily Living. (Sage Publications, 2007) p. 148.

(3) U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2006

(4)  Ron Deal, The Smart Stepfamily, (Bloomington, MN, Bethany House, 2002), p 64

(5) Ganong & Colman, Stepfamily Relationships: Development, Dynamics, and Interventions. (New York, Kluwer Academic, 2004) p.68

Laura Petherbridge

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, and The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with Ron Deal. She is a featured expert on the DivorceCare DVD series. Her Web site is

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