“Thanks for the extra help today, Caroline! I really appreciate you.”
Those words were spoken by a stepmom in my office to the biological mom on the phone. I about fell out of my chair.
“Christy, was that your husband’s ex?” I asked.
“Sure was! We haven’t always been this good, but we’ve come a long way. I actually don’t know what I’d do without her.”
Christy explained to me their fragile beginning. It involved a divorce, new love, hurt feelings, and children. Christy was the new bride and Caroline was the ex-wife. There was tension and hardship for a couple years. One day Christy called Caroline to discuss some boundaries and maybe some common ground for civility.
“We need to at least try for the kids,” Christy said.
Those words really broke through the wall Caroline had built up. Do it for the kids.
From that point on, Christy and Caroline worked bit by bit on their relationship. Time and kindness brought healing and understanding. They actually became friends. Caroline would babysit Christy’s little girl when needed, and Christy would pick up the kids if Caroline had to work late. They also helped each other in other ways like picking up something extra while shopping or helping to feed pets when needed.
I was FASCINATED by this. Every time I heard their kind chatter and occasional laughter, I’m sure my mouth would fall open in awe.
My relationship with my stepson’s biological mom is, well, non-existent. I would welcome any olive branch, any kind of civility. I have tried with her through the years, but any action from me is met with hostility, downright hatred, or a passive-aggressive remark about my “motives”. We are 16 years in, and sometimes I feel like she just gets worse. For my sanity (and maybe safety) reasons, I finally had to stop trying and just let it be.
The struggle in the absence of co-parenting with her has taught me many valuable lessons. I could list dozens, but for our time today I will stick with five and share more in a later post. I believe these are pretty crucial though.
- Be very careful and mindful of EVERYTHING you post on social media. The days of carefree posting are gone. Be bigger and better than the haters and KEEP YOUR DRAMA OFF YOUR FACEBOOK WALL! Do it for the children as well. They are embarrassed when we act like first graders. Vent to your spouse, friend, or a diary. But please, NEVER badmouth another parent online or in ANY public setting. I could go on and on about this one, but for our time today I ask that you think of the little eyes that might see your daily updates.
- Be very mindful of texts and phone calls as well! My husband has a great saying for the workplace. He tells his employees, “Don’t put anything in an email that you don’t want to end up on company letterhead.” I think that applies well to the blended family. Even if baited, antagonized, cussed at, or falsely accused, don’t say ANYTHING in text or in a possible recorded phone call that is hateful or tacky. Answer questions directly but stick to the facts. Keep adult problems and emotions out of your questions or responses. A high-conflict individual would love nothing more than to break you and show your inappropriate responses to the kids. They will try in the cleverest of ways to pull you into the mud. Stay squeaky clean, my friends!
- Don‘t be passive-aggressive about the biological parent to the children. The older, wiser, and more mature our stepchildren get, the more they recognize the truth. I promise you! That day does come. They will either see that YOU were the problem or the bio parent was. Don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution! Hopefully time will heal our blended families where strife remains. In the meantime, rise above the situation! Don’t use a belittling tone about what must go on in the other household or make condescending remarks under the guise of trying to be “funny” or inquisitive. You only cause more hurt and confusion for your stepchildren when you are cheeky and snide.
- Remove the word “mistake” from your vocabulary concerning the biological parent. Do you truly love your stepchildren? Their little lives have purpose and so much meaning. Yes, your spouse’s first relationship failed. But calling it a “mistake” is basically saying the children are mistakes. Imagine how that makes them feel? The TRUTH of the matter is, both biological parents were needed to create your unique and beautiful stepchild. We all have common sense to know that, but sometimes we don’t WANT to know that. The sooner you can be at peace with that, the more loving and accepting you can be of your stepchildren. BUT, please know that YOU can be JUST AS IMPORTANT AND NECESSARY in their lives as a biological parent! YOU ARE HERE FOR A REASON AND YOU ARE A STEPPARENT FOR A REASON. I believe you are also reading this for a reason just as I am writing this for a reason. My faith as a Christian teaches me so.
- You can’t control the actions of a hateful person, but you CAN control your reactions! Take GREAT care of yourself. Be patient with yourself. Be as loving and understanding of yourself as you are “stepping up” to be with others in your family. When you feel overwhelmed get out into the sunshine and take a walk, run a hot bath, make your best coffee, call your Mom or best friend, or just sit still and enjoy some silence. My stepparent Sister or Brother, this road is not easy. I understand and my heart goes out to those struggling. I want you to be the BEST VERSION of yourself though and not let tough situations chip away at the beautiful creation you are. Take good care of your body and mind. You are loved and needed.
I could talk about this topic for days! I will end here for now. Need a prayer partner concerning a high-conflict blended family situation? Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me! Respond to me here or in a private message at firstname.lastname@example.org
I can point out many good things about social media, and I’m sure you can as well. Think for a moment about the good aspects. Did you come up with at a few reasons why social media has been beneficial to your life or the lives of others? I believe I came up with a few reasons, too. My best friend from high school and I drifted apart when life became hectic in our mid-twenties. Addresses and phone numbers changed, babies came, jobs were demanding, and time slipped away from us. I turned around one day and realized almost a decade had passed since we last spoke. I was elated when I found her on Facebook. I sent her a message which started a beautiful reconnection. This story repeats itself with dozens of dear friends from school, prior jobs, and even family.
What social media platforms do you use? If you blog, you might be a big fan of this site or Tumblr. Twitter is great for instantaneous news and the short side of rambling thoughts. Perhaps you like the spontaneity of Snapchat or the hip simplicity of Instagram Or, maybe you are like me, mid-40’s and still using Facebook (or as my brother-in-law calls it, “Faceless” Book).
I have a love-hate with Facebook. I’ve actually heard many of you say this exact same thing. Facebook transitioned many of us away from MySpace. (I personally liked MySpace and stubbornly refused Facebook until 2008.) I love it for the pictures of newborn babies and rescue puppies. I love it for the vacation pictures of palm trees and sandy beaches. I am inspired by the posts about improvement to health and the hype of a new Netflix series I might be interested in.
But I hate what Facebook has done to the blended family. I realize so many can tell woeful tales of social media negatively affecting their marriage and the horrible ramifications of online bullying and bashing directed at mere children and teens. All of that is HORRIBLE and could fill a season’s worth of blogging time. But for a moment I specifically want to focus on the “us”, you and me and stepchild makes three (or in other cases four, five, or six).
Are you friends with your spouse’s ex on social media? Social media has been a thorny offshoot of our touchy relationship with my husband’s ex as well. Of course our lives intermingle at various points and we have mutual friends. For many years (and some recent history), we have been informed that we are the hateful target of bitterness, jealousy, and caustic words. All of this has happened in an online setting where our son could see it. My loving husband was called a “bad father” and other untrue names in a public Facebook post on Father’s Day a few years ago when our son was WITH us. Our family photos have been picked apart and scrutinized with the harshest of critique. We have been wished tragedy, hell, and all kinds of suffering. It was pointed out in the past that specific names were not mentioned, but when an “ex” is referred to, names aren’t needed. Children are smart, and they know exactly who you are talking about. If adults pick up on the gist, kids certainly do after a while.
Imagine how painful that must be for a child. He or she is enjoying a quiet moment riding in the car or relaxing at Dad’s (or Mom’s or Stepparent’s) house and they read a vitriolic post about a parent or stepparent they LOVE in their newsfeed. That must really attack the heart and mind. (If you have read about the various forms of parental alienation, you see how damaging this behavior is.)
It should be common sense, but for your child’s sake, please DO NOT post negativity where the child can see it. We all have a bad day and we all have lackluster experiences, but be mindful of speaking ill about anyone in the blended family unit. It’s just not cool. Beyond that, it’s just not RIGHT. Go out with your friends and vent. Call up a wise and trusted family member to get you through the moment. Go for a walk and sweat it out. JUST DON’T BASH the other parent or stepparent because I PROMISE you it hurts the child(ren).
Three things to ask yourself before posting – Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?
I will give my humble opinion on the validation aspect of social media soon, but in the meantime here’s what the Bible tells us about hostile words:
Gossip – “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3
Slander – “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.” Psalm 101:5
“But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Colossians 3:8
“Brothers, do not slander one another.” James 4:11
Mocking – “Mockers are proud and haughty; they act with boundless arrogance.” Proverbs 21:24
“Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended.” Proverbs 22:10
Questioning the character of others – “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” James 3:5
Innuendos – “For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.” Proverbs 26:20
Not doing the right thing – “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” James 4:17
Moment of prayer:
“Father, I feel like you had the blended family in mind when you gave us these words! How easy it is to criticize, to compare, or to tear down. Please take those urges away from me RIGHT NOW, Lord. There’s no room for negativity in our home. There’s also no room for hateful words or bitterness towards others directly or indirectly related to our blended family. Lashing out, gossip, and vengeance solves nothing. Our children are watching us, too. Lord, help me to continually be a good example for their lives.”