“Approach with humility!” That was the unbidden thought in my heart as I prepared to have yet another difficult conversation with one of my stepchildren. We were in the final throes of a tension.
I knew the words “approach with humility” were not my own. Personally, I had had enough of being ignored, talked around, given the silent-treatment, deliberately excluded and more, and now it was time for me to have my say.
When I was first married, I assumed I was prepared for the dynamics of stepfamily life, but the reality of it was something all-together different. None of the helpful tips I had read came to mind as I headed for our child’s bedroom. I imagine if I could have stepped out of my emotions with rational thinking, I would have come up with a number of sensible responses to help me navigate at the time. I was far from being “out of my emotions”.
God, however, has a way, of piercing through the gunk. He kept me from making a huge mistake. He interrupted my agitation, calmed my internal storm, and spoke directly to my heart, “Approach with humility!” Suddenly, what had all the ingredients of creating a serious deterrent to our goal of being a bonded family became the benchmark for how we engage one another.
As my family journeyed the road towards genuine love and cohesion, we experienced our fair share of run-ins with miscommunication, hurt feelings, exclusion, and more. Heck, after all these years we still do. God has faithfully steered us through murky waters. Along the way, He gave me an action plan for approaching my family. I call them, “Sacred Strategies”. Here are a few:
1. Approach with humility
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12
Humility is maintaining a low view of one’s own importance. It does not mean to ignore your own
needs, or discount your value. It means to elevate the needs and value of others in your thinking and actions to a greater importance than your own.
As I readied myself for what I thought was going to be a “talking to”, God reminded me that as His daughter, I was to, clothe myself in the “lower place”. Don’t go in demanding my rights as an adult. Instead go in with a mindset that the child in front of me was more important than my rights, my hurt feelings, my needs in that moment. Yet, approaching with humility goes beyond that. To approach with humility also means to see that child’s need and rise to meet it as much as able. Which leads me to...
2. Approach with a heart to serve
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. Galatians 5:13 This strategy encourages us to approach ready to do something to ease the life of our stepchild. Now, before you get sassy with me about serving a kid, remember we do this all this time. It’s called parenting.
For most women with biological children it comes as natural as breathing. In fact, you welcomed it. When the baby cried you took the time to feed, clean, hold, burp, sing, or rock it to sleep. That’s serving your child. You got so good it eventually you could tell what each particular cry meant.
As moms with children not biologically our own, employ the same approach with our stepchildren. The only difference now is that we must be intentional and, age appropriate, of course. What was instinctive with our biological children must be developed with our stepchildren. Our part in this is to approach both God and our stepchildren with a heart ready to get to it. Be attentive, mindful, and take advantage of the opportunities.
3. Approach to understand
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. Proverbs 18:13
At one time I believed the most important component of great communication was being understood. Therefore, I interrupted, over-talked, over-explained, dismissed, defended, and more. Certainly, if the person I was speaking with would only understand (meaning agree with) my perspective then everything would be fine. I was ready to learn how to hear after my self-focused attempts to communicate with the people around me failed miserably.
Most of us keep our ears closed. Even when we are “listening”, we’re not really hearing. We’re listening only to reply. Typically, with a justification for our point of view. The most effective communicators talk less, listen more, and listen to understand the person in front of them.
For this strategy to work, remove the filters we all use to process what we think is being said. Lose the assumptions. Do not look for hidden agendas/meanings. Take what is being said at face value. Be open to the possibility that yours is not necessarily the correct view. Listen without interrupting. Depersonalize what is being said so you lower the risk for defensiveness. Ask questions to gain clarity. Listen for the underlying emotion and paraphrase what is being said. Respond only after you’re sure your child feels completely heard and understood.
Admittedly I have not perfected this strategy. I easily fall back into old habits. However, I am aware of my incompetence when it comes to hearing my children and that causes me to be more deliberate. One of my stepdaughters said, “I like talking to you because you take the time to listen,” so I guess I’m making progress.
4. Approach looking for the win
So in everything, do to others what you would have them to do ... Matthew 7:12
Even if you perfect strategy #3, you will lose whatever ground you’ve gained if you misuse your new insight into your child by exerting power, control, or whatever, to ensure you win and they lose. Your child is not your adversary. Treat them as part of your family... they are. Approach your child looking for the win for both of you.
Matthew 7:12 is pretty straight forward with its instruction. I want to be treated with respect so respect others. I don’t want someone using my words against me so be safe person others can confide in. In conflict with loved ones my hope is the other person will look out for OUR best interest so that’s what I do.
Not every win can be reached easily, and some comprises are unreasonable. However, there is always a long-term mutual win for you, your child, and your family, even if it causes a little pain in the short term. Look for that.
5. Approach with honor
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10
To honor someone is simply to recognize their value and treat them with regard and respect because of their value.
This is hard to do when people are being difficult. However, our honor of their intrinsic value has nothing to do with their actions or attitude. Honoring someone becomes easier when we remember we will never look into the eyes of someone whom God does not love nor for whom Christ did not die. Never. Deep breath. The person who hurt you most is still loved by God.
Our spouses, children, step-children, family, friends, co-workers, folk who rub us the wrong way, and the like, are more than mere props in our stories. They are people with stories of their own who deserve honor because they are made in the image and likeness of God. And it matters how we treat them.
6. Approach with baby steps
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1
You have a pivotal role in the huge undertaking of becoming a bonded blended family. All of the dynamics to negotiate and potential emotional bombs waiting to blow can feel overwhelming. Sometimes I just want to rush through and gloss over the real work needed to become a family. That would be a mistake.
Like most things worthwhile, a bonded relationship with your stepchild happens over time...one step at a time. Don’t rush anything. Slow down. Trust your stepchild to show you when it’s time to step closer. Don’t lose hope when you need to step back. Two steps forward, one step back is a dance move most every stepmom will experience.
7. Approach with peace
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1 Sometimes bio-mom really is a jerk. She really is a scared, jealous, interfering shrew. And, if she infers through her actions and innuendos, or declares outright, her dislike of you in any way, your stepchildren will batten down to make their mom feel less vulnerable.
If you find yourself in a situation where bio-mom is marking territory with your stepchildren or your shared grandchildren, do something brave. Let her win. Don’t accept the invitation to fight. Don’t add to the stench.
Why add to unnecessary stress and tension. You don’t need to bully your way to be acknowledged. Meekness, defined as strength under control, is the greatest show of maturity, integrity, and character. Address issues factually and with respect but you don’t need to prove anything to anyone. Never try to validate yourself, or directly address a misconception or presumption. Let your consistent behavior demonstrate who you are. Your quiet, undisturbed confidence will speak loudly and do more convincing than angry responses ever could.
There you have it. Seven of the sacred strategies God gave me to approach my role as a stepmom.
I don’t know how the story of our family ends, but I know Who is at the beginning, end, and woven into every sentence written about our life. Because He is with us, I also know everything is going to be better than alright. The same can be true for you.
You can enjoy a more in depth look at these strategies and others in my soon to be released book, “Waiting to Be Wanted: A Stepmom’s Guide to Loving Before Being Loved”.
To Your Stepmothering Success