A Note From Chris Adams: One of the needs among our moms is to recognize different stages and types of moms. Often step moms feel somewhat left out of our ministries when we fail to acknowledge their life situations. It’s not about pointing them out, but about making sure they are included. Today’s guest writer is Gayla Grace, who has been a stepmom for 20 years. Not only does she offer us a challenge to be intentional about ministry with step moms, but she also gives us some very practical tips.
By Gayla Grace
Church was a scary place for me as a new stepmom. I often felt as if I didn’t belong, even though I’d been brought up in the church. Leftover hurt from my divorce created feelings of insecurity and a sense that others were judging me. Talking about stepchildren seemed to carry a stigma with it. And conversations with moms in traditional families felt awkward. They couldn’t relate to the back and forth routine of children living in two homes, co-parenting with less-than-cordial ex-spouses, and stepchildren who didn’t want a stepmom in their lives. I felt alone and empty. I wanted to take part in women’s ministry events, but as I tried to connect with women who appeared to live perfect lives, I left every activity feeling even more broken.
As women, we often relate to one another through small talk about our husbands or our kids. We share if have boys or girls, their ages, and how many. If you ask a stepmom about her family, however, it won’t be a short, tidy sentence of, “I’ve been married 8 years and have two daughters, 6 and 4.” No, there isn’t anything tidy or simple about a stepmom’s story.
In order to understand her family, a stepmom must start explaining. It begins with how she stepped into her role, where her stepchildren reside, how often they’re are at her house, which then leads to who has custody of the children and what kind of relationship there is with the ex-spouse, and on and on. The conversation gets heavy in a hurry. And if she has children of her own, there’s even more to explain about a second ex-spouse in the picture and how often her children visit their father, and … where does it end?
Stepmoms can’t give a simple description about their family because stepfamilies are complicated. And as the sweet women’s ministry leader looks at the stepmom with a confused expression, all of a sudden, the stepmom feels as if she doesn’t belong.
Stepfamilies continue to grow exponentially as 40 percent of married couples with children in the U.S. are now step couples. As stepmoms, we have the same desire to belong as other women and want to experience fellowship and friendship through women’s ministry. However, we don’t want to feel uncomfortable around those who don’t understand the stepmom role or the challenges that accompany raising children in stepfamilies.
How to help stepmoms feel welcome:
1. Simply acknowledge them and the role they play. When you plan an event for moms, invite stepmoms also. Begin to include stepmom and stepfamily in your vocabulary when you speak to moms as a group.
2. If a woman shows up who appears uncomfortable, give her a smile, maybe a hug, and let her know you’re glad she came. Ask how she’s doing, but don’t automatically ask questions about her family. If she’s a stepmom, she needs time to warm up before she begins the dissertation about her family.
3. Please don’t ask a group of moms and stepmoms how many children they have or award moms with the most number of children on Mother’s Day. Trying to answer this question gets fuzzy and makes stepmoms uncomfortable. I, personally, have three biological children and two stepchildren. Does that mean I have five kids or three? For stepmoms who have no children of their own, do they claim their stepchildren as their own?
4. Educate yourself about stepfamilies so you can better minister to stepmoms. Invite a stepmom from your church and attend a Sisterhood of Stepmoms conference together or another stepfamily event. Read books such as The Smart Stepmom by Laura Petherbridge and Ron L. Deal or The Smart Stepfamily by Ron L. Deal to better understand the challenges stepmoms face.
5. Help educate your pastor about the prevalence of stepfamilies in the church and how to meet their needs. Be aware that if your church staff includes only those in first marriages, they’re less likely to reach out to nontraditional families and need an advocate for these voices.
6. Understand the challenge of capturing a stepmom’s heart in the church. Unhealed wounds from the past can influence her desire to connect with other women. Relationships that offer God’s forgiveness and grace, however, can break down her defenses and keep her coming back to find out what women’s ministry has to offer.
Gayla Grace has been a stepmom for 20 years and is passionate about ministering to stepfamilies. She writes the blended family column for Lifeway’s Parenting Teens and has more than 100 step-parenting articles in print in parenting publications. She holds a master’s degree in psychology and counseling, is a speaker at national conferences with Sisterhood of Stepmoms, as well as a stepfamily coach and founder of Stepparenting with Grace. Her most important job, however, is wife to Randy and mom and stepmom to their five children, ages 14-30.