by Kali & Elizabeth Schnieders
(Taken from You're Not My Mom)
Unless the Lord builds the house, the stepmom labors in vain.
Psalm 127:1 (paraphrased)
To say our family’s adjustment to marriage was stressful is like saying a hurricane is a bad hair day. We all enter relationships with expectations that are likely to go unmet. If the expectations aren’t discussed in advance of the wedding vows, a power struggle can result…particularly in the areas of parenting and domestic responsibility.
Larry was looking for me to lighten his load with Elizabeth, but I was expecting him to continue in the stellar hands-on parenting style I had come to admire. And it seemed to me Elizabeth’s expectation was to keep me locked in a closet until summoned to wash her clothes or buy her something.
I wanted a new mom, but Kali’s not what I had in mind. Now I’m stuck with her!
I also never realized after working a full day, I’d then be expected to cook! What do you mean, what’s for dinner? I hoped we’d be going out to eat. I didn’t know how to cook. I had been a single, career-minded woman eating micro-meals, but at least I had cookbooks. “Perfect, I thought. “After Work Cookbook: Quick Meals in a Jiffy.”
Flipping through the pages I saw Mexican lasagna. Okay, I don’t have pepperjack cheese, but I do have Swiss. I like Mexican and I love lasagna—tossing in a third culture can only improve the dish, right?
“Come and get it!” I soon called to my family, beaming with pride.
Elizabeth wriggled into her chair and sniffed a forkful of lasagna. “I’m not eating this.”
Before the “Yes, you are, young lady” could escape from my mouth, Larry took his first bite. I could tell by his expression that I wasn’t going to win any Betty Crocker awards. I tasted it myself and quickly decided I’d be lucky if I didn’t get arrested for attempted murder.
“This is disgusting!” Elizabeth snapped, running to the kitchen to pour a bowl of Cocoa Puffs.
Mexican lasagna—oh, brother. What a dork of a stepmother she’s turning out to be. I miss mommy so much!
The following night, the dinner I prepared was not much better so Elizabeth announced, “From now on, I’m cooking my own meals.”
Each night, our eight-year old would make an insulting comment about the meal I was preparing, elbow me out of her way, and concoct some sort of entrée using Uncle Ben’s instant white rice with a squirt of hot water. “That is not a healthy meal,” I worried.
We defaulted into frequent trips for fast food, and on those nights, Larry reminded me that kid’s meals included meat. “There’s calcium in that Frosty, you know!” he proclaimed.
“And I suppose a pickle counts as the five servings of fruits and vegetables she needs?” I retorted. “Unless Doritos have become a Basic Food Group, that child is not properly nourished.”
“Now Kali,” Larry cautioned, “don’t worry. When Annette died, I was concerned about Elizabeth’s nutrition so I consulted her pediatrician. He said, ‘If you leave kids alone, their bodies will tell them what is missing, and they’ll eat what they need.’”
“I suppose that might be true if a child didn’t consume an entire bag of chips and four Cokes before dinner!” I ranted.
But Larry didn’t want to hear any more about her diet, and I wondered if my husband felt he had made a matrimonial mistake. I was starting to question the same thing.
I had imagined chatty family dinners where we would all discuss our day, then after we finished the dishes we’d play a nice board game. But mealtime stress was taking a toll on tempers. Elizabeth’s verbal jabs at me were growing increasingly aggressive, and I was growing more irritated.
“Elizabeth, that was uncalled for,” my husband would say. However, Daddy’s “pride and joy” had a way of winding him around her pinky, and the gentle wrist tap rarely produced the desired results. Oh how I longed to hear Larry announce a zero-tolerance policy by saying, “Kali may not be your mother, but she is my wife, and I expect you to treat her with respect!”
Regardless of what was said or done, things grew worse.
In reality, I spent more time with Elizabeth than Larry did. I wanted to be considered an equal partner on the parenting issues. But to Larry, I was more of an assistant coach who was overstepping her boundaries. Like so many stepparents, I had plenty of responsibility and no authority.
All this left a bewildered stepmom asking, “Why must I constantly bow to this miniature tyrant who kicks me one minute and asks if her laundry is done the next?”
So the tension mounted, and we retreated to separate corners of the house to lament.
Mommy, why did you have to leave me? I need you to come back, to tuck me in like you used to. I cry myself to sleep almost every night. I’m just not happy anymore without you.
In my own hurt and confusion, I sought comfort in a devotional book and a comfy chair. I’d hardly settled into the cushions when the tears began to roll.
I stared at the ceiling, as if by looking hard enough, I could see into heaven and obtain my mother’s wisdom. “Mom, I don’t know what to do. I thought a mother was what Elizabeth needed and a partner is what Larry wanted. Yet no matter what I suggest, I’m rarely taken seriously.
My soft tears turned to great sobs, and I took my complaint to an even higher authority. “God, I’m in way over my head. I don’t have any idea what I’m doing. I need Your help.”
It’s hard to explain what happened next. It was almost as though God were placing His hand upon my shaking shoulder. I dried my eyes and opened the devotional book on my lap. I wept again when I saw the words printed on the page.
“Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” (Psalm 42:5)…
When the psalmist put the question to his soul, he discovered the cause for his deep grief. He found the trouble not so much in the severity of the conditions around him, as in the darkness that pervaded his own soul. He had lost sight of God. . . .” 
It was true! In my well-meaning but misguided attempts to be Wonder Woman at work and Martha Stewart at home, I was so overwhelmed that any notion of turning to God for help hadn’t even bleeped across my radar screen.
While I didn’t know a thing about children, God did, and what’s more, He knew everything about this child He’d put in my path. He was willing to share His wisdom and help lift my burden. When I reached out to heaven—heaven reached out to me.
If Only I Had Known . . .
· People begin relationships with high expectations that will likely go unmet.
What I Would Have Done Differently
· Negotiation is part of the blending process. Talking about expectations and disappointments can diffuse some of the tension in a new stepfamily.
Excerpt taken from You’re NOT My Mom! and printed by permission of NavPress. For more information or to order a copy, go to www.navpress.com.
KALI SCHNIEDERS lives in Dallas with her husband, Larry. An inspirational speaker and the author of Truffles from Heaven, she was featured in A Celebration of Women alongside Elizabeth Dole, Mother Teresa, and Beth Moore.
ELIZABETH SCHNIEDERS graduated in 2003 from the University of Kansas with degrees in psychology and journalism. She is currently pursuing her MBA at the University of Denver.
1 Mrs. Charles E. Cowman, Streams in the Desert-2 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1966), p. 71.