During a recent life coaching session, a stepmom shared, “I’m at a loss over what to do with my eight-year-old stepdaughter. She’s made it clear she wants nothing to do with me. She believes I’m the reason her mom and dad aren’t together, but that’s not true.
“I’ve tried praying, helping with homework, buying clothes, and making favorite meals, but nothing works,” she continued. “I cry constantly and feel as though 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 she can take, but they may be very different from the tactics she’s already tried. Here is what I suggest:
The first step for her and her husband is 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:
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 Divorve Care For Kids.
Don’t Take it Personally
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.
“A stepmom could be the Mother Teresa of stepmoms and the child may still reject her.”
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 that give excellent insight are: Between Two Worlds — The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, by Elizabeth Marquardt; and The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce — a 25-year Study, by Wallerstein, Lewis, and Blakslee.
Find Support. For a stepmom in this situation, support is the key. She will continually feel isolated and like a failure until she gets around 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 TheSmartStepmom.com .
Dad holds the keys to solving this issue. In this case, Daddy-daughter date nights are crucial. Private time with his daughter, acknowledging that he understands that the divorce and so many other 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 a 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.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, NIV).
Copyright © 2015 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.