"....... for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" Psalm 103:14

Unhelpful comparisons

Photo by Kyle Broad on Unsplash
Earlier in my stepmother journey (and sometimes even now), some days I would feel as though I had a kind of stepfamily template in my head, as I found myself comparing our stepfamily to some fictional idea of "the model stepfamily" (what even is that???) and wondering if somehow we were therefore not a REAL stepfamily because we didn't look like that. And I started to feel like a fraud for thinking that we were in any way "doing stepfamily life" or that I might have anything at all to share about the subject that could be encouraging to someone else.

No less a stepfamily
In our stepfamily we didn't really have to "blend" children, our two sets have never shared a home. There was no shuffling around of rooms to squeeze more in. We didn't have to sell both homes and find a new one where everyone could have a bedroom. We didn't have to battle assorted co-parenting arrangements in order to find time for us as a couple in the midst of the chaos of two lots of children contending with multiple parent combinations, and going every which way, every day of every week. In fact, every second week we became essentially like "empty nesters" with no children in our home at all.

Now I knew in my head that this didn't mean we were any less a stepfamily, but in my heart it did make me doubt myself in my struggles. And it also caused me to make unhelpful comparisons from time to time. Fertile soil for the enemy's lies to take root, I know.

Silent despair
One thing I discovered about myself early in this journey is that I would quickly tend towards despair whenever I met (or read the blogs of) women who talked about how much they LOVED being stepmothers, who reported how effortlessly they slipped into the role, how they EMBRACED it and made it work seamlessly (or so they said). I desperately wanted to ask:

"Are you really being completely sincere? Was it ALWAYS easy? Didn't you have ANY struggles at all? Am I the ONLY ONE who is not cut out for this job??"

At times I would come away from these conversations feeling like an abject failure. What was wrong with me that I didn't LOVE being a stepmother???

Please no, not another perfect stepmother.......!!
A few years ago I chatted with a fairly new acquaintance, a lovely woman a few years younger than me, who had been a stepmother for about 20 years. When she met her husband she was 23, and he had a 12 year old daughter. This woman had already thought that she probably wouldn't bother having children of her own, and so the opportunity to go straight to the "tween" years and take on the role of stepmother to his daughter seemed perfect for her. She thought babies weren't really her thing, but she knew she'd enjoy a teenager (after all, I'd thought a little unkindly as I listened, she was barely out of nappies herself at the time.........).

Listening to her story, hearing how much she'd enjoyed becoming part of this girl's life and what great friends they were now that the stepdaughter was herself an adult, I'd plastered an encouraging smile on my face, but inside I'd simply felt inadequate. Yet again. Straight away I'd found myself jumping to comparisons. "Why do I find it so difficult to be an instant stepmother to a "tween" girl when others do it so easily??"

It could be worse
On the other hand, when I read or heard about situations in which stepmothers were right smack bang in the middle of a war zone, and living on the edge every single day as they dealt with the most appalling stepfamily situations, I would compare this to my own relatively trouble-free stepfamily. And of course then I felt guilty for ever struggling with the things that I still found difficult, because in the overall scheme of things our issues were (and are) small-fry.

I was incredibly thankful at these times that my stepchildren do actually like me - not every day, I'm sure, but 99% of the time we're pretty good. I knew it could be so much worse, and I'm grateful for God's grace in this. I know it's not by my own hand that we find ourselves in such a fortunate situation. These were lovely kids long before I came on the scene. But somehow, that almost made it worse, because I felt, therefore, that I had no legitimate reason to struggle. Of course, then I would read or hear of others who have loved their stepchildren "just like their own" from day one, and once again I'd feel like a failure.

And so, round and round, up and down, I went.

My struggles don't disqualify me
At the time I knew in my head that no earthly good could ever come from this sort of unhelpful comparison. I knew that I was really just inviting the enemy to take up residence in my mind, and condemn me yet again. I would remind myself that there's always going to be aspects of everyone's situations that are "better" or "worse" than mine - sometimes a little better or a little worse, sometimes even exceedingly better, or exceedingly worse, and every configuration in between.

I'm kinder to myself these days, I've accepted that I'm not a "natural" stepmother. But I AM still a stepmother. I remind myself that the only One to whom I need to be comparing myself is Jesus, and that I need to walk with Him every day, trusting in His strength, His courage, His grace, His faithfulness.

I don't always get that right. But I know, even when I do succumb to unhelpful comparisons, that my struggles with being a stepmother don't disqualify me from being able to offer something to someone else.

Our stepfamily IS a real stepfamily, I AM a real stepmother, and the struggles I have had (and continue to have) along the way are also real, and they are part of the refiner's fire that is growing me and changing me to be more like Jesus.

Blogging honestly
I'm willing to write about my struggles, as well as the joys of this journey, because I want others to know they are not alone. As I walk through these struggles with the Lord, the ups and downs of our particular stepfamily life, I want to acknowledge His endless grace, because He is faithful to continue shaping me into the stepmother that He intends me to be, for THIS stepfamily, for THESE stepchildren, for MY ultimate good and for HIS glory.

16 comments

  1. I always go back to the quote "Comparison is the thief of joy" Sue - as soon as we start listening to others we start second guessing ourselves (it happens with every aspect of life and I fall into it all the time!) I see my friends on FB with the perfect family dynamics - adult children who love spending time with their parents (mine are busy getting on with creating their own families - and I think that's healthier - but I still compare!) Also the new houses, the trips overseas, the "perfect" everything that is on display and I feel second best. I'm getting better at avoiding comparing notes - my life is pretty darn good and I'm focusing on keeping it that way - and if that means unfollowing the bright shiny friends, or avoiding discussions about certain topics, then that's what I'll do.
    It sounds to me like you have a pretty good balance - step families are notoriously difficult and if you have peace and harmony 99% of the time then you're definitely winning!

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    1. Thanks for your encouraging words as always, Leanne. Probably unbeknownst to all my friends, and my "friends", I don't follow many on Facebook for that very reason. We don't see the struggles and the sinfulness on display on social media, only the glitz and glam and the "wonderful" lives. It's human nature to want to put our "best foot forward" in public. "Don't air your dirty laundry" or so the saying goes. Unfortunately that's why it can be so hard to go through struggles and difficult times - we often really do feel that we're alone, even when we're really not. But it's true, comparison is definitely the thief of joy. Great quote!

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  2. Why are we all so quick to compare ourselves to others? It rarely helps, but I think we all do it (at least I know I do). I've been a stepmother for 20 years, and now we have grandchildren from both sides. Those children have always only known each of us as Grandma and Grandpa, so that is nice. Even still, I find myself keeping score of my interactions. Did I treat "mine" better than "his" in any way? Maybe that never completely goes away. I know that I love them all uniquely, and I remind myself that's all that really matters. Thank you for sharing your journey so openly and being willing to be vulnerable.

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    1. Thanks for your kind thoughts Christie. I love the way you described how you "love them all uniquely" - that's the truth of it for me too. I don't love them all the same, how could that possibly be? But I do love them all uniquely, and as you say, it's all that really matters xx

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  3. Everyone likes to put forth their perfect lives on social media but the reality is no family is perfect - step or otherwise. Thanks for your honesty and keep looking to the One who is perfect! Thanks for sharing your story with us at The Blogger's Pit Stop! Roseann from This Autoimmune Life

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    1. Hi Roseann, thank you for your encouragement! You're absolutely right, there is no perfect family, of any persuasion. And looking to Jesus, the only One who is perfect (right again) is the only way to move forward in whatever the struggle may be!! Bless you xx

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  4. Sue, comparing ourselves to anyone, whether it's marriage, family situation, finances, appearance, whatever, is a trap. But that message is everywhere. I saw a Pin just the other day saying, "Make your friends jealous with ___." I thought, "Why would anyone want to make their friends jealous?!" When I catch myself comparing myself to another in any way, I stop. Nothing good can ever come of that! :D #BloggersPitStop

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    1. Wise words, Jean, and thank you for your comment. The world sees things differently, of course, but you're right, nothing good can ever come of comparing myself to others. I need to fix my eyes on Jesus, and Him alone, the author and perfecter of my faith. Bless you xx

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  5. These things are so hard to talk about, and I think that so many times stepmothers may not want to admit how they really feel. They feel bad that they did not just automatically love their stepchildren. I think that for the most part, blending a family is really about the love of Jesus. It is hard to find your place as a stepmother, or it has been for me. My stepson is 17 and I do really love him with all my heart, but that love grew over many years, it was not instant, and it has never been perfect.

    Thank you so much for sharing your heart!!

    Thanks for linking up @LiveLifeWell

    Blessings,

    Amy

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    1. Thank you Amy, it's so lovely to connect with a fellow stepmother. Stepfamily life sure is a hard journey, but, like in your family, love is growing and we are building connections that will last a lifetime. I appreciate your thoughts and your wisdom xx

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  6. Raw honesty is rare but oh so beautiful. We need more people to share their struggles so we know that we're not alone, but also lifting us up in encouragement. Comparison never leaves anyone feeling good. Let's be brave and live our best life. Thank you so much for sharing part of your journey with us at #LiveLifeWell

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    1. Hi Jessica, thank you for your comment. I totally agree that unless we are willing to share our struggles, others will continue to think that they walk their tough journeys alone. It's always a risk to bare your soul to a potentially critical public, but I believe it's part of my journey to be honest about the difficulties and challenges of stepfamily life, and the ways that God is shaping me, sanctifying me, rebuking me, restoring me, guiding me and growing me to be the woman He always intended me to be. Bless you for your kindness and encouragement xx

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  7. Thanks for your honesty, Sue. This morning I was looking back at life with quite a few regrets that I did not do it better. As you say, it is fertile soil for the enemy. Truth is, I have been given TODAY. Today I will reflect His love, I won't be perfect, but careful to take today's opportunities and do them mindfully.
    We want to feature your post on the next Blogger's Pit Stop to encourage others with the balance and sensitivity you are finding in your situation.
    Kathleen

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    1. I appreciate your comment Kathleen. The truth is, as you say, we will never be perfect this side of heaven, but each day is a new opportunity to walk hand in hand with the Lord and do better than yesterday. We won't even always get that right, but there is grace for every moment and every circumstance. It's God's kindness that leads us to repentance, so I think regret can be helpful if we walk through it with God and let him use it to help us turn from our past behaviour and look to Him in the days ahead (and not just to beat ourselves up, as I'm quite inclined to do, lol).
      Thanks for your encouragement and support of this blogging community xx

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  8. I so appreciate your honesty in blogging about stepfamily life "warts and all", Sue. As you say, I think it would be an encouragement to anyone else struggling to adjust to the "steps" to realise that they are not the only ones who haven't loved every minute of it and that there is help for every person who puts their trust in God.
    I also relate to your struggle with comparison - among other things, I have done it to assess how I am going as a mother and have often felt alternately despondent or self-righteous depending on who I compare myself too! Neither particularly helpful or godly responses. But I think it is good for us to recognise (as you have done) that comparison is not what the Lord would have us do - only then can we repent of it and ask him to help us to keep our eyes on him alone. Xox

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    1. Thanks for your encouraging comment, as always. While it can feel risky publicly to write the unvarnished truth of my weaknesses as a stepmother (among other things!!), if it can be helpful to someone else then it's worth it!!

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