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Graceful stepparenting

January 15, 2013

Being a step mom is one of the far most challenging roles I have had in my life. Sometimes it feels like all the challenges are stealing my beauty away. The level of frustration and anger can sometimes rise to such hights that I do not recognize my own inner landscape. I think there are several reasons why step parenting can bring out such strong emotions and angry thoughts.

As a stepmom you have less control in your own home than a biological mom has. You are living with children who are mainly raised by someone else. If you enter their lives after toddlerhood, they have allready been shaped a great deal. Their parents continue having the main influence in the upbringing even after you enter the picture. This means that many step moms do many of the same chores as a biological mom does, such as laundry, cooking, paying, entertaining, comforting and thousands of smaller and bigger practical and emotional things connected to being a family. However, some traditions are allready established before the step mom enters the picture and these traditions are not necessarily coherent with the stepmom`s values.

I never dreamed of becoming a stepmom myself. But I have been thinking a lot about becoming a mom and all the values I would like to teach my children, what kind of atmosphere I would like in my home. One thing I have always been clear about wanting to teach my own children is saying “thank you” to the person who has prepared the meal. This is just one of many, many little details where a stepmom is less influental than a biological parent regarding teaching a child good behavior. When expectations, values and realites are in conflict with eachother frustration might arise.

Another reason why there might be so many emotions connected to stepparenthood, is perhaps the fact that the reason you are there is because something has gone “wrong”: a marriage/relationship has failed, or a child has been conceived without the parents being together. This means that in a stepfamily you most likely need to deal with hurting people; the ex wife, the kids or your husband. Maybe all of them are hurting. All of these people are living with division in their lives. A couple has split up, and maybe one of them wanted that less than the other. The parent and the child is as a consequence apart from eachother much more than what is desirable. This can cause hurt. Hurting people often hurt others. So as a stepmom you need to deal with hurting people. The less mature the hurting person is, and the more blind the hurting person is to it`s own wound, the bigger are the chances that they will do or say things that will hurt you. In this way a stepmom joins in the hurting.

Being a graceful step mom is one of the most important qualities in this intricate system of people having to relate to eachother.
Being graceful is not the same as  having no boundaries. (I will write a post about boundaries later)

Showing grace is about meeting others shortcommings with gentleness, with care and with respect. It is not about giving people what they deserve, but giving them freely what they need. It is giving beauty to your family. The wonderful thing about being graceful is that it will prevent people from being able to control your feelings. Your response is regardless of another person. Your response is about your heart, and not about the other person`s attitude. Choosing to be graceful means that another person has less power over your inner landscape.

As a stepmom there are several relationships where you can choose to be graceful.
The most important is towards your husband. My husband is wonderful, but he is not a man with super powers. When I get dissapointed or hurt I have several options about how to respond. I can dissapoint and hurt him back. I can punish him (silent treatment, yell, try to control him and force him with my mood to do what I want him to do). I can humiliate him and make him feel like a failure. I can withdraw emotionally. I think during a long life together most people experiencet that they from time to time respond to their spouse in one of these ways. Being graceful, on the other hand, is being understanding of him, and not expecting him to fulfill all your needs, but giving him a sense of safety also in his failure.

Being graceful towards step kids is another challenge. Some step parents experience raw rejection from their stepkids. A child can be fully capable of hurting an adult. Others have step kids who are more ambivalent, and can sometimes be loving and other times withdraw. Others are living with children with desease or behavioural problems or personality traits that are not charming. This will demand more from a step mom than what she gets in return. Being graceful is choosing to respond with love and kindness, regardless of the child`s response to you.

The most difficult person for many step moms to show grace is the stepchild`s mother. Choosing to be the bigger person and yet be criticized for being the opposite, can take it`s toll on anyones self-esteem. And yet, being graceful to your stepchildren`s mom might be one of the most beautiful gifts any step mom can give their step child.

There is one last person I would like to mention is important to be graceful towards, and that is the stepmom. I know at least that I have high demands to myself regarding my role as a stepmom. I want to be a “bonus person” in my stepchildrens lives. However, living with other people means that sometimes my ugly sides are on display. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes it is about an incidence. But other times it is about an attitude. And at times where I do fail, I need to give myself grace and hope that I will evolve.

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