Close Encounters with a Stepfamily
“I’m happy with the way we have set up our will,” my husband, Steve, said as he got ready to leave for work.
“I’m sure you are,” I quipped back. Immediately, both of us stopped what we were doing and looked deeply at each other. My surprisingly quick and abrasive response revealed a deeper issue.
We had a problem.
It all began when we decided to update our last will and testament. Our new attorney did a magnificent job of helping us navigate the major decisions. Steve has two grown sons, two daughters-in-law and two grandchildren. I have three nieces and one nephew, my brother’s family, who I view as my own children.
Steve and I had already discussed and decided that when one of us dies, the other will receive the entire estate.
The problem began when the lawyer needed to know what we wanted to do if we died simultaneously, and Steve’s entire family was also no longer living. For example, if we were all on a plane or a cruise and a tragedy occurred killing everyone.
My immediate thought was that outside of the portion designated to our church, my children should inherit everything. Steve had other thoughts where the money should go.
That’s when the “stepfamily monster” displayed its razor-sharp fangs—once again. After 26 years of stepfamily living, this menacing device of division still shows up periodically when I least expect it. He is always hungry for a kill.
My wounded heart racing, I sat there silently. I whispered to myself, “Steve, You really don’t love my family—do you? You pretend to care, but when the truth comes out it’s all an act.”
An emotional wall came up, and mentally began to retreat. Fortunately, this wise lawyer observed my body language and what was happening. He said, “I think you better discuss this.”
My natural instinct was to lash out and say all the hurtful things I was thinking and feeling. But I have discovered that response creates more chaos—not solutions. I remained calm, and clearly explained why I was deeply offended at his response. My husband is a kind man who loves me very much. And I could tell he felt badly about what had just occurred.
In my early stepmom years I would have brewed about this situation for days, licking my wound. And it would have caused me to withdraw my love from Steve emotionally and physically. But that serves only to steal, kill and destroy our marriage. And I have finally gotten to the place where I want a healthy, enjoyable relationship more than I want to be right.
In my heart I know that Steve loves my kids. Does he love them as much as he loves his own? No. When I lowered my expectations and realized that unconditional parental love, the natural bond, is radically different than any other kind.
Steve chooses to love my kids because they are an extension of me, not because he has a natural bond with them like I do. And it’s the same for me with his sons.
Chosen love, is still love. It can be even more precious because it’s often harder. Sometimes it takes a lot of work!!
After a lengthy, candid discussion Steve and I resolved our inheritance issue with a compromise. And it reminded us that being in a stepfamily means we will periodically face challenges that first time marriages do not encounter. The issues do not go away because when the kids turn 18, or get married, or go off to college. Frequently new trials arise with each season of life.
The key to overcoming these issues is to be aware that for the stepfamily it’s normal, listen to your partner’s perspective with an open heart and mind, and realize that sometimes concession is necessary.
At the end of this situation I sat on my back porch, took a deep peaceful breath and sipped a cup of coffee. I smiled at God and said, “When I die I’m going to be too busy dancing with the angels to think about money and who got it all. That will be the furthest thing from my mind.”
Written by Laura Petherbridge
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