Time Out for Women | May 4, 2017
About 3 years ago, I asked for a priesthood blessing of comfort during a difficult time. Though I was fully expecting the Lord to speak words of affirmation (which He did), I was not expecting what came next. I was distinctly told by the Spirit that the comfort I sought could be found in building a relationship with someone I desperately did NOT want to know—my stepchildren’s biological mother.
This?!? This was the road to comfort and peace? I mean, my husband’s ex-wife Nikki was great… at a comfortable distance where I could sort of pretend she didn’t exist.
Let me explain. Some other people in my position might tell you that they never imagined they would end up as a stepparent and that it was never part of their plan. But not me. I truly believe that I was divinely prepared to take on this type of mothering. At a young age, I became obsessed with the idea of adoption and always seemed to visualize my future with 10 babies who looked nothing like me or my husband, Brad Pitt. I was single well into my 30’s and often dated men who had children from previous relationships. I found it easy to fall in love with children I hadn’t born myself and never felt squeamish at the idea of an insta-family. My long time obsession with adoption seemed especially merciful when I had a few health issues later in life that curtailed the possibility of bearing children of my own. As compensation, I feel like Heavenly Father made it easy for me to imagine my life as a stepmom. When I met and fell in love with my husband, a huge part of our romance and future revolved around his amazing kids who were 6 and 8 when we got married. Loving our little insta-family fiercely was the easy part.
What didn’t come easily was sharing. Because I will never have biological children of my own, I pour every ounce of my mothering energy into my two stepchildren. There were strange moments when I found myself resentful of the fact that they were not fully “mine”. I had all kinds of plans for how I would raise my kids from infancy—what I would teach them, how they would view the world, what I would tell them about life. But they had a mom who was already building that sort of familial infrastructure with them. Intellectually, I understood that I hold a special and unique purpose and place in their lives, but I couldn’t help mourning the loss of control that co-parenting with another family brings. And though I never expected the kids to ever call me "Mom", it still stung to hear them correct someone who accidently referred to me as their mother when we were testing out bunk beds at Ikea.
And Nikki was the real mom. The other woman who got first dibs on the macaroni necklaces and handprint Mother’s Day art. She was always generous and patient with me as I learned my role, but it was easier on my heart to compartmentalize the two families. Though we never spoke ill of one another and worked hard to never make the kids “take sides”, we definitely didn’t sit and chat. And now I was being asked to develop a friendship. Why? Why would the Lord ask me to step up in this way when He knew it would require serious heart-stretching?
Well, I may be stubborn, but when the Spirit reveals something to me that strongly, I can’t ignore it. So the next time I texted Nikki about drop offs and pick ups, I asked her if she had some time to talk with me… about the kids. I just couldn’t bring myself to say, “I want us to be friends.” That felt too needy. Too weird or lacking in boundaries. I often tried to put myself in her shoes and I could only imagine the mental and emotional gymnastics it takes to let your children love another “mother” even if it has the word “step” in front of it. I recalled all the times I had done things that must have felt frustrating to her and the few times when I KNEW I had stepped on her toes. That almost derailed me in my effort to develop a friendship. I’m deeply afraid of not being liked!
But as I prayed fervently during the drive to her house, my mind also recalled the times when she had been generous and forgiving of my failures. I was reminded that we both are women of God who believe in Him and His divine plan of happiness. We both have made and work toward keeping covenants with our Father in Heaven to “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9) and that includes one another. That covenant does not exclude any group or person, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Most importantly, we both love these children who didn’t ask for any of this.
Our children. God’s children.
I took courage and kept on driving.
Our first conversation may have felt tentative, cautious, guarded (at least from my perspective!) but they didn’t stay that way. Though we are careful to avoid subjects that don’t engender loyalty to our spouses, Nikki has truly become, as the Lord promised, a comfort to me. She is able to laugh with us about the crazy things the kids do and we can share the things we’re learning about parenting when we sit next to each other for 2 hours of our lives that we can never get back at the elementary school talent show. Because I know her better, I now understand how her presence in my life is giving me freedom to be the mother I always hoped to be instead of blocking it.
I knew that something amazing was happening when my stepdaughter cheerfully declared to someone that her mom and I were friends and asked if I was going to come in and hang out during a routine drop off. Together, Nikki and I are working to shape the lives of two human beings who need what each of us has to offer. And in the process, we are honoring our commitment to true discipleship. I believe we are living unto the Lord in this small but important way.
I understand that a relationship like this is not possible or even advisable for everyone in a similar situation and my heart aches for my sisters who are struggling to find peace in their stepparenting role. To be honest, I don’t know if I would have sought it out without such a strong prompting from God. But I do know that each of us will absolutely be asked to step out of our comfort zone as we seek to ARISE and live unto the Lord. It’s just part of the process. And in presenting us with what I like to call our ”Divine Friction”, He will also ABSOLUTELY guide us to the source of all comfort and courage, our redeemer Jesus Christ. It is our challenge and privilege to accept His guidance and choose to grow.
KaRyn Lay is part of the Time Out for Women team and works hard to share all the great stories of women on TOFW.com who Arise and live unto the Lord. She has been a stepmother for 5 years and loves to go camping, bake bread and sing karaoke with her family.