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Christmas: The Birth of a Step-Family

© Sing Lok Che

Because Joseph, her husband, was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1: 19-20 (NIV)

The last couple of years, I’ve allowed myself time on Christmas Eve to sit quietly and reflect on the story of Mary. It is difficult to imagine the social scorn she and Joseph must have endured during the pregnancy of Jesus. When I really start to think about the depth of their faith…their conviction and belief in God…it truly takes my breath away.  

I am sure they were rejected and ridiculed by people they believed to be their allies and confidants. They must have had felt as deserted as Tom Hanks in Castaway – even though they were together.

While Mary was likely mocked and taunted by her peers, Joseph must have had several of his friends trying to talk some sense into him.

“Joseph – you need to get away from her…she’s going to drag you down. It’s not even your kid. Run, man – fast! You have no obligation to her – she’s broken the relationship. You’re crazy if you marry her.”

What deep love and loyalty Joseph must have had for Mary. Otherwise, how could he have had confidence in Mary’s story of an angel coming to tell her that she’ll be impregnated with God’s only Son?

Joseph did not listen to the naysayers. He stayed true to his heart, his faith and his love for Mary and the unborn child she was carrying. God confirmed Joseph’s heart and sent an angel to him to reassure him of the Immaculate Conception. And Joseph became a step-father to Jesus.

Joseph, Mary and Jesus were a step-family.

For those of us who are a step-family, it always gives me strength to realize their were probably times when there was tension at the dinner table or discord amongst Mary and Joseph about what consequences Jesus should have for separating from the group to hang out in the temple.

As a step-mom, I’d be lying if I said that when I look across the dinner table at my step-sons chewing with their mouths open and their elbows on the table that I saw young Jesuses. In those moments of trying to instill life-long skills for the 900th time in the last six years, I feel like Cruella de Vil rather than the patient and loving step-parent I envision Joseph to have been.

Surely, step-parenting for Joseph had to be easier than it is now. I mean they didn’t really have to co-parent with other people…well, unless you count the Almighty God. But shouldn’t that be whom we are all co-parenting with?

They didn’t have to split time with another set of parents…

Well, actually, they did. When Jesus was 12, he disappeared from the large group his family was traveling with on their return trip to Nazareth from the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem.

Mary and Joseph had been frantically searching for Jesus for three days. If I lost one of my step-sons for three days…oh my goodness, I cannot even imagine the panic, the guilt, and the shame…not to mention the anger from my husband and the boys’ mom – and rightfully so.

But, it was in that story when Jesus made it clear that there was a change in custody. That is when co-parenting, shared custody, moving between houses became the reality of this step-family.

When Mary and Joseph finally found Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem, Mary confronts Jesus.

I find it interesting that Mary is the one to confront Jesus. In a step-family, it is often a function of biological parents to discipline their children before a step-parent does. But in nuclear, biological families of origin, the father is typically the one to confront and implement the discipline for large infractions.

Perhaps this tells us that Joseph was functioning as many of us step-parents do – back-up coverage, the quiet position, or the support role.

Exasperated, and I’m sure a bit perturbed, Mary says something along the lines of, “What were you thinking? Why would you do this to us? We have been worried sick looking for you!” Apparently, all parents take the behaviors and choices of their children personally.

Jesus responded, apparently surprised they didn’t know where he was, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Jesus’ time in His Father’s house, doing the work His Father sent Him to do would mean less time with Joseph, who had raised Jesus as his own.

Biblical scholars have noted that following the incident of Jesus in the temple, Joseph is not mentioned any further in the Bible. It is not clear when Joseph died.

I wonder if he died with a broken heart. After raising Jesus with the love, passion and integrity, as he would have his own biological children, it must have been painful for him to accept the new co-parenting arrangement with God.

Sometimes, step-parents will suffer silently. We are reminded often, through media, legal red tape, and unfortunately by some biological parents that as a step-parent we are merely an accouterment, an accessory, in the lives of our step-children.

Maybe step-families should view the story of Joseph, Mary and Jesus with hope and optimism. Rather than accepting the status as a faux family, step-families may wish to view Christmas as a reminder that faith, love and hope can create miracles in any situation…even those that may have a social stigma attached.

Believe. Hope. Love.

© Rebecca G. Townsend, LLC 2015

This blog first appeared on Rebecca's site in December 2014.


The Legend of the Step-Mom

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent ~ Eleanor Roosevelt 

I adore my 6 year-old nephew, Ben, and his sister, my 4-year-old niece, Anna. They are as close to mine as I’ll ever have.

My sister and brother-in-law invited me into the birth room for both of them. That is a gift I will always cherish. I’ve known these two since they gasped for their first breath in this world.

As much as I delight in spending time with them, they would just as soon be with my youngest step-son, who is 11. Ben and Anna idolize Connor.

If Connor isn’t with me, they want to know why he isn't with me...and what he is doing... and when they will see him.. and what will they play with him when they do see him... and when can I make that happen….

Figuring it out without a filter

Ben and Anna have always known that I am Patrick and Connor’s step-mom. They didn’t understand it at first and bombarded us with questions.

“Why do Patrick and Connor have two houses?”

“Why is Uncle Andy their daddy, but you aren’t their mommy?”

“Why do they not get to be with you all the time?”

“How come they don’t live with both their mommy and daddy?”

Ben is pretty savvy and he soon caught onto the idea that Patrick and Connor may not be with us every time we see them. He may not have understood the WHY, but he accepted it the best his developing brain could. And, he leads the way for Anna to comprehend the blended family her Aunt, Uncle and cousins have.

Step-Mom circa 1950

A few weeks ago, I spent the day with Ben and Anna. It was just the three of us, giving my sister a few hours to take off the mommy hat.

We built Lego creations, looked at photo albums, and Anna and I put a big Disney Princess puzzle together.

As Anna and I were finishing up the puzzle with six different princesses, Ben came in to supervise. One of the last princesses we pieced together was Cinderella.

Ben said, “Aunt Becca, we watched a Cinderella movie and it was scary.”

“It was scary? Cinderella isn’t scary. What did you think was scary about it?” I retorted.

Anna jumped in quickly, “She had an evil step-mother who was so mean to her.”

Ben couldn’t let Anna finish before he inserted, “The evil step mother was so bad!   She made Cinderella do everything and then made her sleep in the basement!”

Anna talked over Ben, “The mean step-mother locked her in the dark place. And when the birdies and mice made her a dress, the evil step-mother and evil step-sisters ripped it up.”

“It was so mean!” “She was so evil!” “The evil step-mother was bad!”

They went on for a few minutes and I let them rant and express their disdain for the evil step-mother.

When they finally took a breath, I said calmly and with a little giggle, “You know, I’m a step-mother, too. I’m Patrick and Connor’s step-mom.”

They became very still and quiet – for what seemed like an hour. Ben spoke up, “But Aunt Becca, you aren’t an evil step-mother. You are a nice one and you aren’t mean to Patrick and Connor.”

Anna chimed in, “Yea – Aunt Becca, you are the good step-mother – not the evil one.”

And we finished the puzzle then scurried into Ben’s room for the Lego building and an afternoon filled with fun.

Would she use her power for good or for evil?

Although the afternoon is stored as a joyful memory for all of us, it could have ended up in the pain part of our memories.

After reflecting on the conversation, I see how I could have led this discussion south - in a heartbeat.

I could have defended myself, my role, my fellow step-mommas and quickly shut down the kids.

I could have had my feelings hurt.   All of my insecurities, feelings of being a second-class parent, hurt and anger of not being a biological mom could have easily welled up inside of me and spewed out onto my innocent niece and nephew – or it could have leaked out of my eyes with heavy, painful, salty tears.

After six years as a step-mom, there are still days of hurt. Times of frustration. And, moments of jealousy.

But, in that moment with Ben and Anna, I saw it as an opportunity to slay the dragon of the evil step-mother. I jumped on the occasion to deflate the long-standing media projection of a step-mother as being selfish, immature and self-serving.

What if Ben or Anna found themselves in a position as a step-parent in 25 years and only had this negative perception of it?

Would they miss out on an opportunity to love and experience a fulfilling life?

Would they shy away from personal and interpersonal growth because of Disney’s 1950 portrayal of a now growing role in our society’s families?

What if I wouldn’t have reminded them of my role as a step-mom? What if my moments of shame about being a step-mom had overtaken my pride in the family I have been called to be a part of?

If I had chosen silence, hurt, or anger that afternoon, I would have only given more power to the historical and distorted view of step-families.

Step-Families can be amazing

Instead, I wanted to plant a seed for Ben and Anna. A seed that gives them optimistic views of hope, grace, and love in situations that may not always be viewed as promising or fruitful.

My experience has not been evil. It has not been easy, either.

I know there is no perfect family – biological, adoptive, step. There is no flawless parent. There is no impeccable child. We are all second-class compared to the Perfection of the Divine.

There is Goodness where you decide to see it. I choose to see love in our imperfect step-family. You can choose that, too.

Believe. Create. Live.

© 2015 Rebecca G. Townsend


My Brokenness ~ My Strength

The wound is the place where the Light enters you ~ Rumi

What if each enlightened moment of our Brokenness was actually a connection of who the Divine had really intended us to be?

If we owned and admitted our shortcomings, our faults, our fears, our disappointments, would that fuse our souls together?

Is it in our shattered souls that we are made whole?

The broken pieces of my being could be scattered and abandoned along this journey. I coultumblr_mss663MSVv1s5tpyno1_500d have left behind wounded areas of my heart – wounds that are so old, they would have shriveled up and died if I chose to ignore them.

I could reject the damaged parts of myself – the choices I’ve made in the past for which a plea of temporary insanity could have been used (certainly these poor choices are not over yet)– the ugly thoughts and words that exit my being – the irresponsible actions – the selfish behaviors – the early wounds that have remained infected by careless and unintentional stabs by others…

I could attempt to leave all these damaged and defective pieces of myself to disintegrate.
But then who would I be?

I would have no depth. No compassion. No empathy. I would not know deep love and forgiveness.

I would be empty. I would be nothing without my Brokenness. I would be shallow without my faults.

It is painful to hold, examine, and glue together our jagged, severed, and crushed pieces of who we thought we were – who we dreamed we would become.

Re-examining the wounds is often agonizing – we’ve ignored them for so long because our bodies remember the burning, stabbing, sharpness that dug into our soul.

So, we fantasize about leaving the fragmented and shattered scraps behind, brushing ourselves off and leaping forward with hopes no one notices and no one remembers.

We remember. It doesn’t matter if no one else does. We do. And when we least expect it, the wound stings, sometimes with piercing throbs and torments our weakened being.

Many of us chose to risk the unexpected torment of our past. We gamble with the possibility of emotional dynamite exploding at an inopportune time.

And some of us take an equally hazardous plunge. We choose to step back into the place of pain – the pain package we thought we’d so carefully wrapped up.

It’s an uneasy and frightening step. The fear is that you will be engulfed by the agony, grief, bitterness, and/or sadness and barely escape with more damage and hurt.

But, we are unwrapping the pain package more informed than we were before. We are only bringing light and love to the wound – resuscitating vital pieces of our soul. We are choosing to strengthen what once was weak and forgotten.

We are embracing an opportunity to heal ourselves through this unwrapping. We are bringing fresh air to an infected wound that is seeking to be cared for. If it were not still hurting, you would not hear from it. It would not surprise you by speaking up in the middle of a sleep, in the midst of a benign conversation, or during a calm, quiet moment.

The Brokenness seeks your attention. If it is ignored, Brokenness will grab your attention and disrupt you, just like a toddler throwing a tantrum.

It is scary and unnerving to re-open the pain package. You know what you are opening now. This pain can be temporary. This pain can be grieved. This pain can be examined for glitters of gold and goodness.

You don’t have to do this alone. We all have hidden pain packages. We all have Brokenness. Every. Single. Person.

I would be weak without the emotional cement that reconstructed what once was broken.   My soul would be vacant and my mind desolate if my life were smooth and perfect.

There are gifts and beauty in my Brokenness.

My Brokenness connects me with others.

My Brokenness unites me with the Divine.

My Brokenness is my strength.

Believe. Create. Live.

© 2015 Rebecca G. Townsend


Emotional Independence Day

Emotional Independence Day

Often we find it easier to think our way around things rather than to feel our way through them ~ Mark Nepo

I’ve been experiencing some frustration with words lately. They do not seem adequate. They don’t fit the depth of emotion that is stirring inside. And, they seem to be easily misinterpreted.

Where are our hearts to temper these flares?

In the last several years of my journey, I’ve worked to awaken my heart and cautiously unshackle the armor I spent most of my life laboriously fashioning around it.

All of that effort was an attempt to keep it safe from pain…to protect it from carelessness – my own recklessness and the nonchalant stabs from others.

Unfortunately, what I have uncovered doesn’t resemble what I remember it looking like. This heart was once full of hope, joy, happiness, optimism, spontaneity, unashamed and bold thinking.

It is so small…so frail and fragile now. I am not sure it can survive without the steel protection.

The temptation is to continue to overfunction with my brain. Intellectualize life – all of it…you know, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I can easily do that. I’ve been doing it and am pretty accomplished in that arena.

But, those rationalizations aren’t as satisfying as they once were. There isn’t relief and peace in those justifications. There are pieces missing. Pieces of me I have abandoned in an attempt to conform with the perceived rules of this life.

wounded-heartThis shriveled and scarred heart has been silenced for so long. Yes, she has occasionally been heard, given hope – only to find the shackles of silence are slapped back on with great fear. Fear that someone heard the weakness, the pain, perhaps even afraid the giggles and lightheartedness would be misunderstood and unintentionally wound another’s tender heart.

There are an abundance of deep wounds of so many, it is almost paralyzing to think about navigating your way through them. We can’t easily see one another’s brokenness and emotional fractures because we are smart.

We are smart enough, creative enough and brave enough to camouflage those cracks – we pour quick-setting cement into the emotional sink holes instead of seeking the core problem; we conceal the bruises with a pretty smile, charming hello and an insatiable need to care for others.

We have learned, and accepted, to think and strategize our way through life rather than to feel and experience it. It is safer, cleaner, quicker

It is also hollow. It is isolating and disconnected. It can feel so empty.

I know it isn’t too late to resuscitate my heart. But it is risky. I want to be gentle in nursing it back to its full capacity – I don’t want to use a defibrillator to shock it into beating. I want to be delicate and tender with this precious gift.

It is a process. A journey that will not be traveled without injuries, set backs, and obstacles. But seeking to live in alignment with the heart the Divine gifted to me and listening to its wisdom, its mercy, kindenss and even its humor, is where I will experience freedom.

Freedom from the words that seem inadequate. Freedom from needing an answer. Freedom from having to be right. Freedom from the urge to prove something. Freedom from having to be better.

Freedom to be me. Freedom to be exactly who the Divine intended me to be.

I Believe. I Create. I Live.

© 2015 Rebecca G. Townsend

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