Cheryl Shumake: Loving before You’re Loved as a Stepmom
About the Guest
- Cheryl Shumake's website: Step Mom Sanity
- Cheryl Shumake on FamilyLife Blended.
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At the end of the day, someone has to lead with love. Author Cheryl Shumake takes on the challenge of loving before you’re loved as a stepmom.
Cheryl Shumake: Loving before You’re Loved as a Stepmom
Ann: Have you ever heard the phrase: “When are you going to give me your pants?”
Dave: That’s a phrase?!
Ann: What do you think it means?
Dave: “When are you going to give me your pants?”
Ann: I’ve heard the phrase: “Hold onto your pants.”
Dave: “When are you going to give me your pants?”
Ann: I’ve never heard that phrase.
Dave: I don’t know.
Ann: But we need to ask someone who might know.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Ron Deal is with us, our director of Blended here at FamilyLife Today. Ron, do you know what that means: “When are you going to give me your pants?” I have no idea.
Ron: You know, actually, I never heard that phrase ever before; but I learned it by talking with Cheryl Shumake, which people are going to hear today. You know, I’m not going to tell you; they are going to have to listen to the broadcast. [Laughter]
Dave: You’re not going to tell us! We’ve got to wait for this?
Ron: Hey, our theme is waiting.
Dave: Yes, so we’ve got to wait.
Ron: So I’m going to make you wait. [Laughter]
Dave: Alright, so she’s going to explain in her story. So who is Cheryl? I know we talked about her yesterday with our listeners. If you missed yesterday, go back and listen because this is a continuation of her story.
Ron: So Cheryl is a teacher, a stepmom, coach/life coach. She founded Stepmom Sanity. She has written a book that we are talking about in this particular podcast that we are sharing with our listeners today. The book is called Waiting to Be Wanted: A Stepmom’s Guide to Loving Before Being Loved.
We jumped into that conversation yesterday, and we’re going to continue that today. And this really funny phrase popped up. I didn’t know/I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about, so I made her explain it. Our listeners will finally get to that.
Now, yesterday, you may have noted that this conversation took place in October of 2021; that’s when I was talking to her. We were still in the middle of the pandemic at that point in time. I just want to say: stepparenting is a little bit like living in a pandemic. Sometimes, you are waiting to be loved; you are waiting to be appreciated; you have lots of questions. Just like in the pandemic—we had lots of questions, some of which, still, are not answered, even today—but we do the best we can, and we try to trust in the Lord. That’s really the heart of this conversation. So let’s pick it up there.
[Previous FamilyLife Blended® Podcast]
Ron: The problem here in waiting—what’s happening is—you clearly want more of a connection and a relationship than the other person wants with you. Whoever wants the least wins.
Cheryl: That’s/isn’t it such a power struggle?—that, absolutely, is the truth.
Ron: Now, let me just put this into context because this is true in any relationship. A lot of people listening right now went through a marriage, where you wanted more than the other person wanted; and they wanted you less than you wanted them, and they won. That’s the end of the relationship; right? Whoever wants the least wins. They have the most power/the most say. They get to dictate whether there is intimacy, or closeness, or what have you.
That’s true in a marriage; that’s true in a work relationship. If you’ve ever tried to make a sale to a company who doesn’t really care about your product, you lose; they win. They get to dictate the terms of any relationship that may or may not happen.
It also is true in parent/child relationships, and it’s really true with stepparents. You are eager; you have a high desire; you want to move toward these kids and close the gap, so to speak. They get to decide whether that gap gets closed or whether it stays really wide. That’s frustrating, especially when you are large and in charge.
Ron: Cheryl, you’ve got a good relationship with your daughter; and as you said, that is easy—you know what closeness is—it doesn’t take a lot of work to manage all of this. And then, you have hard. There is easy, and there is hard.
Talk about that for a minute: the desire to escape into your own children and away from stepchildren. I realize that is a momentary thing; but if you do that too much, I think that could have some real negative impact.
Cheryl: It definitely can. It will set up a dynamic in your family of: “us versus them.” You are trying to bring your family together; and you are creating a line in the sand, if you will; and you are stepping across the line with your children. You are leaving your spouse and his children on the other side of the line. It is detrimental to bringing a family together.
Again, like I said, I don’t recommend escaping too often. This is when we really have to, for lack of better vernacular, put our big girl pants on—and stand up and take the hard, along with the easy—so that, eventually, we can lead our family to better. That’s the ultimate goal: to bring this family to a better position, where we are relating better to one another. Even if we are not 100 percent bonded, we can be better tomorrow than we were today.
Ron: At the end of the day, somebody has to go first: somebody has to lead with love. It’s often that highly-motivated person, which means it’s you, as the stepparent. Take me inside that for you. You go back [to your former home]—you find your distance; you recalibrate—and you go, “Okay, let’s be a big girl. Let’s go back and try to love them, even though they are not yet, fully loving, and embracing me.” What does it take to find the strength to do that? That’s hard.
Cheryl: Yes, it is very hard. For me, it really took understanding that I was—again, I was called to this role by God—my life isn’t by happenstance. For those of us, who have faith in Jesus Christ, we were led to this point in life. As God walks us into this place, He fully equipped us to handle the ups and downs of our blended family life. It’s a matter of us looking to the Lord for strengthening in that.
I also, very practically speaking, I talked to people; I talked it out. Sometimes, when you say something, it lessens its sting. I was able to say: “This hurts,” or “I don’t understand this; can you give me some perspective?” We have to get out of our own heads and allow other people in to speak truth and to speak life. Quite frankly, there were times I just had to grin and bear it. I had to get a straw and suck it up, honestly. [Laughter]
I had to: “Listen, I am here; I have chosen this. I said, ‘Yes,’ to this. I’ve accepted loving these children, even if they do not love me; so what does that mean?”
And lastly, Ron, and I will say this—again, not to be impractical at all—but when you get a picture of how Christ loves us, that love is very, very active, regardless of reciprocity, or feelings of affection or emotional connection—I understand that I am loved, despite having been an enemy of God. I was loved to friendship with God.
That helps me learn how to love before I am loved, because it is the same way that I was loved; and it is that love that God has given/that He has shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Spirit. It’s in there; I just have to allow the Spirit of the Lord to activate it.
Ron: What does 1 John say?—“We love because He first loved us.”
Cheryl: —“…first loved us”; yes.
Ron: You know that’s the story—if somebody is listening right now, and you just really are not familiar with the Christian story/the story of the Bible—the overarching narrative of Scripture is: God, who pursues, in love—in spite of our frailties, and failures, and sin that creates this gap—He’s constantly trying to close the gap.
And when God comes, in the form of Jesus Christ, we see it—over, and over, and over again—with the people He pursued and how He closed the gap with the disenfranchised; and the outcasts of society; and the people who were forgotten, and left behind, and pushed down. He often closed the gap with those people—even people who really made a lot of mistakes and done a lot of sinning in their life—His love overcomes that. That’s the story of Scripture.
Yes, I think we can find inspiration for moving toward the people, who are having a hard time loving us—the people we value—it’s difficult; it doesn’t mean it is easy. It is wrought with a blow, here and there, and makes you rethink. And every once in a while, you need to retreat and go recalibrate—I love you the way you said that—and then go, “Wait a minute; God did this for me. Alright, here we go: lean in; hold onto Him.”
Cheryl: “…hold on to Him”; yes.
Ron: And just try to love—not over-love—love in a strategic way. I guess what I am trying to say there is—not push so hard that it makes it really difficult for that child to receive it but in a way that is palatable for them—but just to gently continue to press in.
Cheryl: You know, I always advise stepmoms to look for organic opportunities to set the stage for connection. Whatever happens in that moment—the outcome belongs to the Lord; the results belong to Him—but you just—
Ron: Can you give me a good example of that?—maybe, a story from your own life.
Cheryl: Absolutely; absolutely. There was a time with one, in particular, who I had a very hard time. She was very connected to mom—and not that the others weren’t—but she struggled more than anyone with conflict of loyalties. I know we are all familiar with that terminology.
I set up an opportunity for us to go out to a play, and I know that is something she enjoys. I invited her along; and of course, she went. She had just a ball, and it opened the door for conversation as well. I didn’t initiate the conversation—I did not initiate the conversation—she did. I let her talk about whatever it was she wanted to talk about. Some of those things were very difficult for her; some of those things were very easy and very light and very on the surface. But by opening up the opportunity, she walked right into it.
I didn’t rush in. Let me say this to the listener: “I didn’t use that as an opportunity for me to, then, rush in and say, ‘Here I am! Super Stepmom!’” I really kind of laid back and allowed her to lead the relationship; and lead in our conversations; and lead how close she needed to be, which changed over time. Sometimes, she was closer; sometimes, she was not.
Ron: There is so much wisdom in what you just said. It’s almost like: “Okay, I can’t push this any farther than they can go. I really need to let them feel like they are leading the dialogue and the conversation and try to meet them where they are.” That is so strategic. You’re still leading with love; because you are creating the opportunity, but you are pacing with the child.
Ann: You’re listening to FamilyLife Today, and we’re listening to a portion of the FamilyLife Blended podcast with Ron Deal and Cheryl Shumake.
Ron, there is a lot of wisdom in that last story she told; and it’s really wise of her—but really difficult too—to be waiting and pace with your child.
Ron: We opened up by talking about how—any relationship—whoever wants the least/whoever cares the least about the relationship is the one who has the most power.
She, as a stepmom, recognizing that—in this case, her stepdaughter—was not very interested in developing their relationship. So what did Cheryl have to do? She had to wait on her stepdaughter; she had to be available; she had to love. She had to be near enough that—when her stepdaughter turned around, so to speak: “I’m right here,”—but even then, I can’t just jump in and go: “Okay, let’s go!” You have to let that child lead, and that is so difficult. It’s more waiting. You have a little of her—but you don’t have a lot of her—so you have to wait and wait even more.
That, I think, was so much wisdom that, everybody listening, has a relationship, where they can apply that.
Ann: Well, Ron, we’re going to get back to your conversation; but before you do that, remind us about the Summit.
Ron: Yes, Summit on Stepfamily Ministry is our ministry-equipping event—two days, in-person—this is not a virtual event; you’ve got to show up. This year, it is in Phoenix, October 13 and 14. We’d love to have people come and learn how they can be, and their church can be, more relevant to the blended families in their community. Visit us at SummitOnStepfamilies.com for all the information.
Okay, Dave and Ann, while we jump back into this conversation, let me just tell the listener: it’s really, really nice, if you’re a stepparent in a struggling situation, to have home base; and in this case, it’s her marriage. So when we jump back in, I’m asking Cheryl: “How is your marriage supporting you in your struggles as a stepmom?”
[Previous FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Ron: One of the things that I think is a backdrop to this whole—“How do I pursue this child, who is not quite interested in pursuing me back?”—I think the context of the marriage in the blended family is the backdrop to this. If you are feeling connected with your spouse—and there is a good foundation there/a trusting relationship there—then somebody has got your back in this space that is hard with the child.
But on the other hand, if you are feeling a little insecure in that space: “Wow! How do I press in here when I’m not even sure I’ve got you helping me, coaching me, supporting me in the backdrop?”
You talk about something in your book that made me think of the ghost of marriage past; it’s that: “Boy, I’ve been burned before; I’ve gone through the difficulty of a previous marriage that failed; and then how, now, do I trust you? How, now, do I put my heart in your hands and feel confident with that?”
Let’s just back up for a second.
Ron: I’m curious how that whole ghost of marriage past thing: “Did you protect your heart, when you were dating and early in the relationship, before you guys married?”
Cheryl: I wasn’t as protective of my heart, honestly, at that time. Jonathan and I were friends; he actually was a guest at my first wedding. We were friends in high school and in college. We had reconnected some three years or so after my divorce and some five or six years after his.
Initially, it was me reconnecting with a friend; but when it moved beyond that, and I recognized what was happening, then, yes, I got a little bit more protective; because I’m giving up independence. “I was down this road for 17 years with someone before and look how it ended. Do I really want to give myself over into this relationship? This is a different kind of relationship; it’s not a first marriage…”—
Cheryl: —and on, and on, and on it went.
I struggled, initially in our marriage, to let go. Something very innocuous happened—I was talking about a couch and what I needed to do to get this couch—"I need to save,” and “I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do that.” My husband—I don’t think he would mind me saying this, because he said it before—he teared up; and he asked me, “When are you going to give me your pants?”
Ron: Huh. [Laughter]
Cheryl: “You and me—we both can’t wear the pants—when are you going to give me your pants?” [Laughter]
Ron: Ha! I got it! [Laughter]
Cheryl: Yes, but I realized I was hurting my marriage; I was hurting him; and I was hurting any potential that we had to have a connected marriage as long as I held onto my independence in that way.
Ron: Okay, so he felt the lack of trust. He made a comment; it brought it to your attention. Now you are aware of it; what did you do?
Cheryl: It was a slow road—it was a giving up of the ground, inch by inch—and at every turn, I was praying. I really had to learn how to trust God again, in a relationship/within the context of a relationship, that I can let go. As I gave up, inch by inch, and I saw his consistent response—not perfect but consistent response—it enabled me to give up more. I really had to, again, take a deep breath and just began giving up little areas and spaces.
Ron: I so appreciate that; I just want our listener to catch it: you had to press in and give up a little—trust a little more—surrender a little. When that was met by steadfastness and faithfulness in your husband, that just added more confidence on your part; and you gave a little more; get a little more—you know, it’s that back and forth, to and fro—you still have to take a risk, even when you are unsure.
Cheryl: Love is risky; isn’t it?
Ron: It is.
Cheryl: It is absolutely risky, but it is so rewarding. The risk and the reward kind of go hand in hand. We just won’t have [one] without the other.
Ron: If you’re listening right now, and you’re the spouse—and you felt some distrust coming from the other person, whether you’ve deserved it or it is sort of a left-over ghost from marriage past for them, and they are just projecting that on to you—please hear how difficult it is to take those risks and move toward you in trust. It is really helpful when you are patient/long-suffering with them, and when you can understand why they can only give you a little bit, not as much as you would like, necessarily.
Also, hear the importance of you loving well in return, and how that does help to build confidence and grow their relationship/your relationship together over time.
I’m wondering about this as how it impacted, then, your relationship with your stepchildren. Again, the backdrop is marriage. If you’re kind of/if you’ve got questions in your head about that [marriage] relationship, and now you have questions about your stepchildren, you can get lost as a stepparent and go: “What am I doing here? How do I/every relationship seems to be demanding more of me than I knew I would have to give. How do I do this?”
Cheryl: Yes, I want to backtrack to something you said about the spouse. The one thing that did help me—Jonathan had a saying from the beginning of our marriage: “It’s you and me against the world,”—and he would include the children. He would say: “…even these children; because one day, they are going to grow up, and they are going to have lives of their own, and I want to be sitting across the table from you, 50 years from now.” His support made all the difference in the world.
But to answer your question more directly, I would say that what I found—again, along with Jonathan’s support—is I had to make a decision. Of course, my heart was going to be guarded. If it’s guarded with him—and this is the foundational relationship in this family—it’s going to be guarded with the children as well.
As I gave up ground with him, I found myself more willing to open up/more willing to be vulnerable to the likely rejection, and likely misjudgment and misunderstanding, that I was going to receive from the children. I fully expected that was going to be the outcome—that I was going to open myself up to more, which meant I was going to feel more—but because I had his support, that made a huge difference.
I think it really just came down to a decision. I had to make a decision: “How do I want to be in this marriage? How do I want to be with my stepchildren? How do I want my daughter to view this opportunity that we have to see the redemption of God, to see restoration, to/how do I want her to remember how her mother modeled herself in this situation?”
Ron: Wow. So you were mindful of the example you were setting: you want to show your kids that love is risky and takes risks. “Love never fails,” is the way
1 Corinthians 13 puts it. In other words, it keeps moving forward—even in the face of difficulty, of risk, of challenge—that’s a lot.
And when you said, “I had to make a decision,” you know, I thought of another word. I think you could say: “Faith: I had to have faith that, if I love, there will be pay off.”
Dave: We’ve been listening to part of a FamilyLife Blended podcast with Ron Deal, talking with Cheryl Shumake. By the way, that’s just part of the conversation. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and hear the rest of that conversation.
But boy, what she said there at the end, Ron, is really home base. The foundation of our marriage/the foundation of our family is where life comes out; I mean, it’s the rock. If that is not something you are taking care of, the rest of your life is shaky.
Ron: Yes, you are exactly right; and she made a decision to stand in faith and keep loving. I love that part about her husband. He sort of made a decision, too: “I’m with you. You and me against everything else. Let’s do this.” He was her support during those difficult seasons of their life.
For those who are married, marriage is meant to be that rock—like you said—it’s the thing that holds us up. Sometimes, one of us has got to do more of the holding than the other one; but that is the partnership. That is what God invites us to be able to do for each other.
Ann: I love the idea that we are a team; because so often, we get divided—especially with our kids and blended—and we can just take sides. I like the idea of saying: “I’m for you, and I am fighting for you.” That means a lot and is motivating for all of us.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann with Ron Deal on FamilyLife Today. You can hear the rest of Ron’s interview with Cheryl Shumake when you search for FamilyLife Blended wherever you get your podcasts. Look for episode 73, Waiting to Be Wanted in Your Blended Family. The link is also in today’s show notes at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Coming up on October 13-14 is this year’s Summit on Stepfamily Ministry. This is the premiere ministry-equipping event to help church leaders learn about healthy blended family living and the essentials of local ministry. You can find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com.
You know, we all long for homes, where we can thrive and flourish; but what does it take to have a spiritually-vibrant household? Don Everts will be joining Dave and Ann in the studio to talk about just that. That’s coming up next week.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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