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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


Part-time Parent, Full-time Worrier

The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it ~ Steven Pressfield

I have a secret...I'm a step-mom.  A role often portrayed with evil undertones or by a flippant, selfish woman.

That's not me.  I'm not the evil step-mom.  Nor am I a woman who was self-absorbed and never had children.  Fortunately, my life has been much more complicated than that...Yes, I said fortunately...

I've journeyed through the emotions and grief of not having my own children, struggled through the options of adopting and fostering and then found peace and comfort in believing I have actually been called and chosen to be a step-mom and aunt.

But, some days it scares me to death.

If you looked at my resume, I'm perfect for the job.

I'm a licensed mental health professional - actually with a couple of extra credentials...started my career with six years of work in some hard core residential juvenile facilities...eleven years working in elementary, middle and high schools as a school psychologist and now the last four and a half years in full-time private practice as a therapist.

I've completed continuing education training in trauma (I think that's perfectly appropriate for step-parenting), marriage, step-family development, parenting, assessment, mediation...you name it - after 15 years of being licensed in the mental health field, I have thousands of hours of professional development.

On paper, I'm the perfect step-mom.  In reality, there is no perfection in any type of parenting.

There are struggles.  There are emotions.  There are worries.

It's hard some days.  It's maddening other days.

This journey has brought much laughter and also many tears.

I've been given an opportunity to love two amazing boys I wouldn't have had the possibility of growing with...it is definitely a journey I didn't seek, yet a journey I am learning to enjoy and embrace.

Being a step-mom was not in my childhood dream.  I never daydreamed..."When I grow up, I want to marry and divorce and then after failing at it once, I want to marry someone who also failed at a marriage...oh, and please include children and an ex-wife in that package."

No one...not one single little girl...has ever dreamed of being a step-mom.
Little girls put on the princess dresses...no one even manufactures step-mom costumes...because it's a complicated role and difficult to define.

And just like many other roles we assume in life - if you aren't in them, you don't necessarily understand them.  Honestly, there are many days, even after five years, I don't even understand the task at hand...nor do I always know my role.

But, you can guarantee I've studied for this gig.  Even the best students don't always perform at their highest level and I've had plenty of times I've walked away knowing I didn't engage my skill set to the fullest.

There is a ton of pressure to perform as a step-mom - especially without biological children...this is it for me.  Not only am I critiquing myself, there are plenty of others on the sidelines judging, too.  And there are the cheerleaders, as well.

As the boys have gotten older, they face more obstacles of peer pressure, making choices independently, and having the responsibilities and consequences of those choices.

And, just like a biological parent, I face more worry time.  Did I say the right thing 3 years ago when I "taught" them to apologize?  Have I asked for too much structure in the time they are with us?  Did I put too many restrictions on technology?  Are we teaching them enough about finances?  I should have them write essays when we're driving to UT games...why haven't I turned every moment with them into a teachable moment??

There is no such thing as part-time parenting because you continue to be a full-time worrier.

Believe. Create. Live.
© 2014 Rebecca G. Townsend