During my first years as a new stepmother, I encountered envy, rivalry, comparisons, and a lot of dissatisfaction. I felt as if my stepchildren compared me to their deceased mother in everything I did. I was shocked one day when one of the older children told me, "The reason I'm so mad at you is that you do so many things better than Mom did, and it hurts." I never dreamed she felt that way.
Even though the comment troubled me, it triggered some helpful self-examination. I had been trying so hard to be the perfect wife and mother, not realizing that in the process I was making everyone feel uncomfortable. I had to admit that I'd been countering what felt like constant criticism by priding myself on the superior way I did things. And that I was comparing the way my own daughter acted to the way my husband's kids acted. I was actually working against the family bonding I wanted so much.
My stepdaughter and I agreed that comparisons weren't productive, and they kept us from getting along with each other. It was easy to point out many of the wonderful things that I knew about her mother. We also discussed the strengths of each of the children in the family and agreed that no one should feel inferior or superior because of grade point average or any other reason.
I also realized that I had to start looking at my whole family situation from a more spiritual viewpoint. I believe that each individual is created by God and that God loves and cares for everyone. The Bible says each one of us is precious to our Maker: "&#8230; the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Matt. 10:30). This helped me value the qualities and contributions of each family member.
I remembered how my husband and I had prayed when we were thinking about getting married. We had come to rely on God as Principle, the all-wise and loving Principle that doesn't put people in wrong positions. To me, that meant that I couldn't possibly be inadequate for the tasks at hand. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor, wrote, "Let us open our affections to the Principle that moves all in harmony, &#8211; from the falling of a sparrow to the rolling of a world" ("Miscellaneous Writings," pg. 174).
I also thought of an analogy with numbers. The principle of mathematics defines the specific value of each number. Each one is crucial. A seven isn't better or worse than a three or a fourteen. And God gives each of us specific spiritual value, purpose, and the abilities we need in every situation. God gives everyone unlimited qualities such as patience, joy, wisdom, integrity, and love.
The problems didn't disappear over night, but these ideas were a springboard for a profound change in my thinking. Realizing that my place and identity &#8211; and the place and identity of everyone &#8211; is defined by God made a big difference. Our family life did begin to adjust and correct. Each of the children has developed into a unique, productive, and caring individual. The stepdaughter I mentioned is an especially accomplished young woman. In college she finished writing a book she had been talking about for years. We enjoy a close and loving relationship. Along the way she said to me one day, "I'm grateful to my mom. She encouraged me to have big dreams. And I'm grateful to you because you've taught me how to work to turn my dreams into reality."
The Spirit itself
beareth witness with
our spirit, that we
are the children of God:
And if children, then heirs;
heirs of God, and joint-heirs
with Christ ...
Romans 8:16, 17
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor