Biological Moms, Stepmoms: Can we really get along?
Biological moms & stepmoms can be malicious, competitive, even wounding. But Ron Deal tells of two women who found healing in their toxic relationship.
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Biological moms and stepmoms can be malicious, competitive, even wounding. But Ron Deal tells of two women who found healing in their toxic relationship.
Biological Moms, Stepmoms: Can we really get along?
Ann: Let me ask you a question.
Dave: I love it when you ask me a questions.
Ann: Did your mom and your stepmom get along well?
Dave: I don’t love it when you ask me questions. [Laughter]
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 the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Did your mom and your stepmom get along at all?
Dave: Not at all. I don’t even know if they had a conversation. I’m guessing they did in private. But at our wedding that was going to be the first time they ever met, and it was the worst stress you could add to a wedding because they were fighting like—
Ann: It was terrible.
Dave: It was bad. My mom did not want to be any part of my dad’s new wife’s life.
Ann: Do you think that’s typical that most moms and stepmoms—do you think they get along well.
Dave: I would guess so but I think we need to ask somebody that knows what they are talking about and that would be Ron Deal.
Ron Deal is with us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, Ron. How are you doing?
Ron: I’m doing well. Thank you. It’s always good to be with you guys.
Dave: You are smiling because as the director of our blended family ministry, you know the answer to this question. Do bio-moms and stepmoms typically get along?
Ron: I think there’s tension. I think that’s the common experience, whether one of them is perceiving that or imagining that or there has been some exchange between them, generally speaking there’s some tension.
Ann: It’s going to be interesting today because we’re going to listen to part of your FamilyLife Blended® podcast, which is episode number 80 with Charlene Roberts & Chazzie Carr. Tell us about them.
Ron: Okay, let me tell you about Charlene first of all. Charlene and her husband Steve, they are friends of mine. They have a blended family of five. They started an educational outreach called TheStepFamilyNetwork.com. It’s an educational platform for people. I’m one of the featured guests on their network, and they have other speakers as well where people can get good content.
Now Chazzie Carr sells beauty and wellness products, and she is a mom and stepmom of three. Chazzie is the stepmom of the shared child that we are talking about here, and Charlene is the biological mom.
Here’s what really got me turned on to this conversation with these two people. About a year ago I saw a Facebook post, where Charlene posted talking about Chazzie and how they at one time they had a very toxic, competitive relationship is what she said. She went on to say, “We were one another’s source of a lot of emotional pain.”
So far, I’m thinking, “Hmm, what’s new?” Well, then she turned a corner and she said, “But by God’s amazing grace, we have found a way. Healing our past -We forging a new way forward, we now share a heart in forgiveness. We’ve built a friendship. We even run a beauty and health and wellness business together helping other women feel confident about themselves.”
I pursued them and said, “Can we talk?” They sat down for an interview with me for the FamilyLife Blended podcast.
Let me just set up this first clip. There’s an old little joke that says every marriage lives in a two story house, his story and her story. Well I often think bio-moms/stepmom tension conflicts is also a two-story house. They each have their perspective. Everybody makes sense of what they are seeing from the other side the way - they want to make sense of it. It just leads to animosity and pain between the two of them.
That’s where we are going to start this conversation. Again, Charlene is the biological mom. She felt rejected and judged by Chazzie who is the stepmom in this blended family, two households in scenario. Let’s pick it up there and hear Chazzie’s point of view.
Chazzie: I think we actually did meet before I married Scott. But of course, I just had the information from Scott about what kind of relationship it was. And I made my own observations. It felt chaotic to me the way that they were managing the kids schedules and things like that, so I was making my own judgements based on what I was observing and then was prideful about “Well, I would know better, because I have a background in education. I know what kids need. They’re doing it wrong.”
I had a lot of that judgement even before meeting Charlene. It didn’t serve me in building a relationship with her immediately. But I just didn’t trust that we would come from the same perspective and have the same goal, I guess, because they were doing things so different as far as how I thought it should be.
I am a pretty boundary person, in general. I’m not a big hugger. Coming into a situation where there was this familiarity really fast didn’t make me feel comfortable. That was just my temperament to start off with. It was just a lot of different factors all at once. That may be why I was a little more distanced at the beginning. I wasn’t quite sure what I was stepping into. That’s kind of, I think, was a rocky start from the beginning from those things.
Ron: I’m hearing a couple of really big things. Just from a personality stand point you are not a natural hugger/affectionate sort of thing; plus new people, that’s an awkward space for you, is what it sounds like.
Ron: Then you had two impressions as the incoming stepmom. One was “I have a little bit of information and based on that, I kind of have some judgements of who Charlene is.” Then the other side of you was “I want to help.” It sounds like you were like, “Hey, I have something to offer here. I can help out this young man and his dad and I’m going to bring some good into this scenario. It might mean some things have to change or something.” It sounds like that was your heart in the beginning in your journey as a stepmom.
Chazzie: For sure, he was five and so young. I felt like there was something I could help bring to it.
Ron: I think that’s a common experience stepmoms have. They have good will. They come in and they’re going to try to help. They are going to contribute something good to this child, to this family, to the scenario, whatever it might be. Sometimes that eagerness is a bit of a setup in terms of how the adults meet one another and try to deal with each other. I’ll open that up to either one of you. Can either one of you relate to that if you talk to other stepmoms?
Charlene: Absolutely, I talk with stepmoms quite a bit, Ron. I think it’s more common than not, that stepmom and bio-moms really have this clashing dynamic. I can definitely attest to that. I’m a biological mom, and I’m also a stepmom to my husband’s daughters. I definitely know both sides.
As Chazzie was telling me some of her insights, I kind of laughed a little inside because I thought, “My goodness, we’re really not that different. We’ve actually been through a lot of the same emotions and the same frustrations.
Ron: Charlene, back to your side of this, that first meeting or maybe the first few meetings, what was your posture coming in meeting Chazzie?
Charlene: If I’m being completely honest, I’m a people pleaser. I had never really had an experience in my life up until the point where I met Chazzie where I felt really rejected by Chazzie. I felt like I wasn’t given a chance. I had this side of me that I really wanted her to get to know me and I really wanted her to like me. That’s the people pleaser side of me or was.
Being completely honest, I felt like I didn’t have a fair chance to prove who I am. I thought, “If she ever got the chance to know me, she might actually like me.” I felt rejection, Ron. That’s what I felt in the beginning. I had never really experienced it on that level with another person.
To come in and have this other—like, “I-don’t-accept-you” kind of emotion, it was hard. I really struggled with that.
Ron: Personally, the way you’re wired, that means a lot to you - to win the approval of other people What did that do in terms of your fear as it related to Chandler and parenting then—between households and your ex-husband and Chazzie?
Charlene: That had a definite trickle-down effect. I think it created a space where I felt she didn’t trust me. Then it created this where I didn’t trust her, her intentions. It did; it had a definite trickle-down effect. My son, Chandler, definitely felt that between the two of us.
Ron: He felt that.
Charlene: Oh, yes.
Ron: In what way did he feel that?
Charlene: I think there was obviously a sense of competitiveness. I very much felt like, “I’m the mom,” and I wanted to respect Chazzie’s role. Again, I was a stepmom so I very much was coming from a perspective that I wanted her to treat me—you know, we have this expectation of how we want to be treated and when we aren’t being treated that way we become upset.
I think when we’re stuffing those emotions and hiding those emotions we’re not really good at hiding those. Those do come through in our family relationships and especially to our children.
Ann: You’re listening to FamilyLife Today. We are listening to a portion of the FamilyLife Blended® podcast with Charlene Roberts and Chazzie Carr.
Ron, they didn’t start off on the right foot, did they?
Ron: No, they did not. I must say their dynamic is a little bit atypical. It’s usually the stepmom who is hoping to connect and be accepted by the biological mom. But in this case, it’s the reverse of that. But they still end up in the very same place. That is - they are at odds, they each have their little story about the other, and they are sticking to their story, which means there’s a great distance between the two of them.
Notice they saw a trickle-down effect, as she called it, in Chandler-Charlene’s son was obviously impacted by this.
I was struck at the top of this broadcast you asked Dave about his mom and stepmom, and he noticed the trickle down effect. He made a comment about that. He said your wedding was really stressful because you knew they were in the room.
It always affects the kids. The conflict is never just contained between the two individuals. It always impacts the children, which is obviously a reason why we would love to see people to figure out a way to close that gap, to maybe apply a little love and forgiveness, whatever it takes, to get there and see if they can’t cooperate on a much higher level on behalf of the children that are involved in their life.
Dave: The question we’re all asking is how do you change that? We are going find out. But what changed their relationship?
Ron: Yes, Dave, that is the exact question I asked them. I’ve got to tell you; I went out on the conversation. We don’t have time to hear everything from that podcast. But they had a lot of conflict, a lot of hurt. They had a lot of battles in court. They talked about how their inability to get along, the two households, just led to court and mediation and lawyer bills and all kinds of stuff.
I asked them that very question, “Okay, how did you guys move past all that and get to where you are now?” Let’s hear what they had to say.
Charlene: For me in my perception in how I saw the path forward in getting through to the other side was always genuinely wanting to have the sweetness of forgiveness. I really wanted to have a relationship with Chazzie and with my son’s dad.
I think sometimes we do that because it makes us feel good. I wanted to make sure—I actually been through a long process over the last few years in learning about codependency and carrying the emotions of others.
I had this addiction where I’m like, “In order to feel good I want to make sure other people feel good.” It’s kind of this. But for me, in moving through forgiveness, especially with Chazzie, because I will honestly say, Chazzie was my hardest relationship and I really wanted to figure this out. “I want to have a relationship with her and I want it to be genuine.”
It came unexpectedly. But I know for me, Chandler got married about a year ago. Prior to that I had been through my own recovery program and just trying to heal some of the traumas in my past. Because I think sometimes what we don’t understand is that we carry traumas from our childhood that come into our marriages. They come [into] how we raise our children, how we contend with and deal with our interpersonal relationships.
There was a lot of self-realization when I decided—really, I surrendered. I was living in such a broken place, and it wasn’t just with Chazzie. I looked at a couple of my relationships. My marriage with Steve was struggling. My relationship with my stepdaughters was struggling. All my relationships seemed to be having this conflict and this struggle. I just remember being so distraught and just pleading and praying to God to please help me find a path to healing and to better my life.
That’s a long and personal story but really it was in the surrender and deciding I didn’t want to live like this anymore. I was so miserable. On the outside I looked like this joyful, happy person, but inside I was just in so much pain, because I felt like my relationships were—like I have been self-sabotaging myself and I was self-sabotaging my relationships around me. I needed to take accountability for that.
That was really hard to look in the mirror and understand that maybe the problem wasn’t Chazzie, maybe it wasn’t Scott, maybe it wasn’t my husband, or my children or my stepkids. It was me.
When I got intentional, and I spent a year in recovery. It was the best thing I ever did for myself. Because you start doing inventory of your relationships and where the damage was. Really it starts back in your childhood.
There were a lot of self-realizations and a lot of being able to forgive ourselves is first and foremost the hardest thing. I always thought forgiveness came easy. I thought, “It is easy to forgive people,” but I didn’t know what true forgiveness was until I experienced that with Chazzie and with Scott.
When Scott reached out to me to apologize, he said, “I’m going through recovery. I’m in this program where I’m learning about recovery.” I just about lost it. Because I thought, “So am I,” and he was asking for forgiveness. I said, “Scott, you are already forgiven. I forgave you a long time ago.” But it felt nice to have that.
He also conveyed to me that Chazzie was supporting him in that. That meant so much to me to hear that she was supporting him in the two of us being able to move forward in forgiveness. For Chazzie and I that came at an opportunity last year at my son’s wedding/our son’s wedding. My son asked, “Could you help Chazzie put a dinner together?” Our side of the family was taking care of the dinner.
I was a little apprehensive because I didn’t want to step on toes and again there was a little bit of a history there, but I thought, “I would love to do that for you.” So, I reached out to Chazzie.
Ron: How did that go, Chazzie? You’re on the receiving end of this. What were you thinking and feeling?
Chazzie: I had done a lot of work to get to this point. [Laughter]
Ron: You got your own little journey going on behind the scenes?
Chazzie: Just before Chandler graduated high school, I started thinking about my place in his future life. I have pretty deep relationships, and I don’t have a lot of surface relationships. I hold relationships close to me so when I do extend myself and let someone be a part of my life that way, it means a lot to me because I am genuine with it.
At the end of his junior year/senior year, I just started thinking about “He’s going to leave home and he may choose to never come back. That is not the kind of relationship I want to have with him. Then he’s going to get married.” I’m a bit of an over thinker—“Then he’s going to get married and have kids, and I’m never going to know about what’s going on.”
I just went forward in my brain about all the “What ifs” if I didn’t make something different. I thought about Charlene and Steven and my relationship with them. I really came back to how it impacts Chandler and that he’s not going to want me around if I make it difficult, because he doesn’t really like difficult situations. I knew this about him and wanted to change something within myself in order to be included.
Maybe that’s self-serving but I really did want him to know that he could love all of his family. He could have all of his family around without it being contentious or without it being uncomfortable even. I had looked at that as “Okay, you have to change you. You’re the only one that can shift this relationship. It doesn't matter what Charlene chooses to do. All you can focus on is what you choose to do.”
I started thinking about how can I show up the way I want to show up. This shifted into some other relationships in my life, but Charlene was the one where I had the most regret about how I treated her in our earlier part of our relationship, and how I felt just guilt about that because I was not kind many times.
But that was a point, and I don’t know if you remember this Charlene, but I reached out to her about the time he was graduating high school, and I talked to her about doing graduation announcements. She was okay if I did that for him. Also, try to coordinate so that we could sit together at graduation where it didn’t have to be this thing where he had to coordinate two different events.
Unbeknownst to me, she wasn’t quite in that same space of trusting me yet. So we didn’t come together for that graduation. I mean but we didn’t have full communication. It was funny though, I was just thinking, I used to ask Chandler when he was a teenager, “Do you think your mom and I could be friends?” I asked him that a couple of times. He’s like, “You know what? I think you could be friends.”
I was like, “Okay.” It already started; like, “Okay, there is possibility there. If my son thinks we could be friends, then maybe in the future that would happen.”
That kind of shifted for me when he was 17, 18. I just reached out to Charlene and sent her an email just apologizing for not handling things better when Chandler was younger. She had responded, but it didn’t start a relationship of any sort. But at least I tried to make amends in the best way that I could in hopes that going forward with life events that we could work together and make it a place where Chandler felt loved and cared for.
Then when he got married, I remember thinking about that wedding dinner. I wanted to be involved, but I didn’t want to take over anything at all. Finding a way to work together, it took a lot of guts for me to call her. [Laughter]
Ron: Yes, what courage.
Chazzie: I remember just being so nervous; like, “Okay, Chazzie, just do it-just call her-just dial her number, have a conversation. It’s okay.”
Getting to that point was challenging but it was worth it. We did work together, and we were able to communicate and use each other’s strengths. It ended up being a wonderful wedding.
I remember even on his wedding day feeling so much gratitude that we got into a place where we could be in the same space and feel love and gratitude together with Chandler and for one another. At the mother-son dance he danced with Charlene and then he danced with me. It just brought up all kinds of emotions of feeling that unit was complete and that it was worthwhile. It was really healing to go through that opportunity all together.
Dave: You’re listening to FamilyLife Today.
Man, I’ll tell you, Ron, that interview that you did on your FamilyLife Blended podcast with Charlene and Chazzie—honestly that last little picture I have in my mind of the wedding dance is so far from the reality of our wedding where my stepmom and my bio-mom would not talk.
Ann: They wouldn’t even look at each other.
Dave: They would not even be in the same room. My mom didn’t show up at my dad’s funeral because my stepmom was going to be there. It’s the opposite of what Charlene and Chazzie just modeled for us. What a beautiful picture; it’s the gospel.
Ann: It’s super encouraging to hear stories like this, isn’t it?
Ron: It is, absolutely. It can be done. Now notice, one of the things they had to do to make this possible, is they had to leave the door open that God maybe working behind the scenes.
Of course, neither one of them knew there was recovery effort going on by the one and the other one’s having this heart connect to God and softening. They had no idea, so when they started making little, small moves, I call it, towards one another, “Hey, would you be willing to this? Could we maybe work together on Chandler’s wedding,” lo and behold they discover a lot had changed and now there’s an opportunity for them.
It took courage to reach out; it took trusting God to think that maybe something could be changing with the other person. And of course, they had to be working on their own heart. That’s an equation that adds up to forgiveness and a new relationship. It’s really a beautiful picture.
Ann: Not only that, now they are business partners, which is—
Ron: I know, isn’t that crazy?
Ann: —amazing, yes.
Dave: I even think of Chandler. I’m sitting there thinking, “What was he feeling as he saw his stepmom and his mom in a loving relationship. That’s a beautiful thing.” We started earlier saying, “This will affect down the legacy, down the family.” And it sure does.
Ron: It does. We’ve said this a thousand times on this program: the gospel redeems, not just our soul and spirit to God, but our human relationships as well, and in this case, for the next generation.
Shelby: You are listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Ron Deal on FamilyLife Today.
Maybe you’re in a blended family and find that you have some complicated and stressful relationships. If so, we’d love for you to join us for Blended and Blessed®, our live event and livestream just for couples in stepfamilies. It’s coming up April 29th.
With Blended and Blessed, you don’t even have to leave home to attend. You can learn more under the “Show Notes” section on FamilyLifeToday.com. Just look for “Blended and Blessed.”
Tomorrow, we’ll have Harvard graduate, Shaunti Feldhahn, and Dr. Michael Sytsma discussing the question I think everyone has thought about in their marriage: “Is our intimate life normal?” That’s tomorrow. I hope you’ll join us.
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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Reference: FamilyLife Blended® Podcast; Episode #80, From Toxic Competitors to Business Partners