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

Green-eyed stepmonster

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Here's a journal entry I wrote in the middle of 2015, about two and a half years into my stepmum journey. I've made progress since then (thankfully), and so it's interesting and helpful to remind myself how much of a struggle it was in the earlier days.

My heart struggle
One. Two. Three. Aaarrgghhhhhh!!


Why, oh why, does this still trip me up? After knowing this lovely girl for over 3 years, and being married to her dad, this wonderful, loving, committed, affirming man for over 2, why do I still succumb to these jealous feelings at the most unexpected and inopportune times? Is this going to be my "thorn in the flesh" forever?

Lying awake, thinking about this issue, praying desperately, asking God to help me NOT to be this person who is so impacted by a teenage girl who just enjoys time with her dad. I try not to dwell on it, I want so much to be pleased for her. Logically I totally agree that she needs this, it's good for her and good for her dad to make special time for her, and to do things with her that she enjoys. I even encourage it! And really that's where I find the most helpful clue to my own inner struggle. When it's me making the suggestion, I'm able to be very magnanimous, encouraging, imaginative, and happy for them. I come up with all sorts of ideas for things they could enjoy doing together. I even enjoy the time that it gives me, to focus on my own interests for an hour or two. But when it's unexpected and out of my control, it takes me by surprise and I struggle to be glad. 

I'm such a brat, my heart is truly wretched. Lord help me!!!

It gets worse
Yes, it's MY journal and I'll cry if I want to!! But just so you can get the true extent of my wretchedness, let me expose myself further on this particular one. When I wrote this, I was at the end of a four day getaway to beautiful Bali with my closest girlfriend. My husband had been so encouraging when she'd invited me to join her for this short trip, and he'd never once said anything to me about going without him. He was simply delighted for me to have the opportunity for a fun, relaxing, tropical weekend.

It was his week to have his daughter anyway, and the first week that my middle stepson would not be coming to live with us, so I was glad that while I was away it would be nice for my stepdaughter to have her dad to herself for a few days. And honestly, I was truly fine. Right up until the last night of my trip.

I'd tried to contact my husband in the late afternoon before my girlfriend and I headed out for dinner, but he wasn't responding. Later that night when we finally did connect, he told me a little about his day.

And that's when it happened.

It was right after he told me how he'd got his lathe out and showed his daughter how to turn a piece of wood. That bit I was expecting, as we'd discussed his plan the day before. It was the next thing that threw me, to my surprise and chagrin. He said "Then I turned her a little piece."

And I felt a sudden, almost visceral, surge of jealousy.

Sometimes all it takes is a little trigger
It seems so petty, doesn't it? So childish. That he'd turned something for his daughter but had never turned me anything. I'd never even seen the lathe, let alone seen him work it. And two years ago he'd bought me a small block of beautiful wood at a market when we'd been on holiday, and had promised to turn it for me. "What would you like? Maybe a little bowl?" I didn't mind, I was happy with anything.

But I was still waiting.

And so when he spoke those words, I could barely control my response. It turned me petulant and sulky, even though I could feel what was happening and I knew it was bad. And he could hear it in my voice. Or rather my silence. Thank goodness I managed to keep my mouth shut, that in itself is progress! I did eventually squeak out "I just feel a little jealous, you probably don't understand". He said he did understand. "Please don't be like this, I miss you, I'm looking forward to hugging you tomorrow". I took a couple of deep breaths, changed the subject, and managed to regain my equilibrium. There was no point trying to get into it over the phone from thousands of kilometres away.

Time to reflect
Later that night, as I wrote in my journal, I wondered at the speed of my negative response:
"When, oh when, am I finally going to be able to manage this stepmother-stepdaughter thing with a little less selfishness and a whole lot more grace?"

In my kinder-to-self moments I know that I'm not the only stepmother to have felt this way, but I truly want to feel differently. I don't enjoy or nurture my negative responses, I'd really rather it wasn't this way, and I wish I could understand why I respond the way I do. Why couldn't I be pleased for my stepdaughter to have had a joyful time with her dad? Why wasn't my first response "warm fuzzies" instead of the "green-eyed monster"?

There's a difference between envy and jealousy, as I learned many years ago. When it's just "stuff" we feel envy (I want what you've got). But when love is involved it's jealousy (I want the love you're getting). That's how I know my struggle here is jealousy, because I have a history of unhelpful mental "love measures" that have caused me to compare and compete for love from others. And I've struggled with a strange sense that "loving someone else somehow means there's less for me". I have no idea why this has been my default setting, I just know it has been since I was young. And I know how it's impacted my view of God and His love for me too, over the years.

Surprising solidarity
Not long after, I shared this struggle about stepmother-stepdaughter jealousy with a dear friend. Her response was incredibly surprising (I would never have guessed), so very encouraging, and even now, when I start to feel bad about my struggle, I remember her words. Here is what she told me.

When her four children were younger and all at home (they're now all adults, some married and with children of their own), she spent 6 months overseas to complete some training. It was such a wrench to be away from her beloved husband and children for that time, and she missed them all so very much, and missed all the things that they enjoyed doing together. One of the things she and her husband loved to do was to get out on their motorbike, just the two of them, for a ride in the country.  One day while she was on the other side of the world from her family, and missing them so much, her husband sent her a photo of himself and their only daughter, who would have been in her early teens at the time, on a ride together, the daughter wearing her mum's riding gear. My dear sweet friend shared with me that she felt such a surge of jealousy to see her own much-loved and cherished daughter taking HER place on the bike with HER husband.

And so, you see, if a natural mother can experience feelings of jealousy and competition with her own daughter, then I don't feel quite so bad about my own struggle. I'll always be thankful to my friend for being brave enough to confess this to me.

Always a work in progress
I know I've come far since this time. I am very fond of my stepdaughter (and all my stepchildren). I encourage my husband to spend time with all of them, individually and (less often these days) all together. I support his regular "daddy-daughter dates" and I love that his daughter opens up with him in ways she tends not to when I'm present. It's normal and natural - she's his special girl. I didn't really have that with my own dad when I was a child, and I'm glad for her that she is having a different growing-up experience, and she's much healthier and happier for it.

I do still struggle at times. My first unhelpful responses can impact me and others. I still listen to the enemy's lies at times, but more and more I recognise them quickly and am able to refute them with God's truth.

The green-eyed step monster is shrinking, taking up less space in my head and heart. I know I'm not where I was three years ago, and I'm incredibly thankful for that.

4 comments

  1. Having never been a step-mom and never had a daughter, this piece takes me into new territory and gives me a sense of compassion for those who are navigating the hard ground of blending families. Thanks for writing so transparently!

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    1. Thanks for your kind words Michele. Being a step-mum is definitely one of the most stretching, growing things I've ever done, that's for sure!

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  2. Jealousy is a green eyed monster, if we are as honest as you are, we all feel it in different ways. And like you have found, it can well up and show its ugly head so quickly. You are a gem and your step daughter is lucky that you are in her life. God bless and joy to your family.
    Kathleen

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    1. Ah thank you Kathleen, you are always so encouraging and kind!! I'm very thankful for the way God has revealed, often extremely uncomfortable, things in me over the last few years, and of course His grace and mercy towards me as He sanctifies me!! Happy to be a work in progress in all these things!!
      Have a lovely day xx

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