Six years ago, I stepped into the new territory of stepmom-dom with shaking knees and a healthy fear of emotionally scarring my stepdaughter for life. What should my role in this child’s life actually look like? Would I fail? And how would I know if I had? Would she hang a quarterly report card on the bedroom door or place it nonchalantly on the kitchen counter? “You got an F this time, but chin-up, better luck next time?”
Some of my friends encouraged with confidence, “You’ve taken her in and committed to loving her as your own child, and you should relate to her accordingly.” This notion seemed daunting and ill-fitting especially considering she had an awesome mom, whom she adored. Others said, “She’s not your kid. So you really don’t have much say over things, do you?” It was a great question; one I wished I knew the answer to. How much say should I have? Why did my heart often feel as though she was my child while my head fully recognized she wasn’t? And what was I supposed to do with the conflict between the two?
My husband was also stepping into his role as stepdad, and like most things, he did this with ease. He had none of my questions about his role. He joked with my son’s dad at drop off times as if things had always been this way and none of it was the least bit odd. Meanwhile, I continued to devour any and all material on blended families and stepparenting I could find. And still, I fumbled. I struggled. I felt unsure, unsteady, and yes, at my wits end regularly.
Maybe, I’m singing your song today. Perhaps, just this morning you saw the weekend approaching, considered the impending stepchild visit and couldn’t resist the urge to place your face securely inside your palm. Hey, you’re not alone, and this is going to get better.
While it took some (a lot of) time and (a lot of) work, I did eventually learn some key truths that set me free in my step-parenting journey. Today, I’d like to share them with you.
- Be prepared for things to get ugly. Inside, that is. You may well have intense, unexpected feelings you aren’t sure what to do with. Can I gently encourage you to view these feelings as an opportunity? Take them to Jesus and ask him to show you the root of these emotions. Having hard emotions in tough situations can be normal, but what you do with them doesn’t have to be. You can choose not to act out of those feelings of hurt, jealousy, anger or insecurity and choose to love instead. When things don’t look the way you thought they would, and disappointment comes– grieve, adjust and then move forward.
- Extend grace. You know, that thing that makes room for faults, imperfections, and general humanity? Many days, I’ve had to encourage myself to wipe some grace all over it and move on. Whether it’s extending grace to yourself, your spouse or your stepchild, the neighbor, or the guy ahead of you in the drive-thru, the lens of grace will help you see others and yourself more clearly. When in doubt, extend grace. Many situations will be far less dramatic and painful when intentionally filtered through grace-filled eyes. Feeling unseen and underappreciated? Speak up and then extend grace.
- Choose love. I came to love my stepdaughter hard and fast. We had a spectacular first summer together. She came often and we did countless amazingly fun summer themed activities together. I’d always wanted a little girl, and my heart loved her like she was mine– but she wasn’t. And when the summer came to an end and everything changed, my heart broke. With the start of school, the time-sharing schedule changed which meant I saw how small my voice in her life truly was. It hurt. It would have been easier to withdraw my heart, to keep her at a distance so it would be less painful. But that isn’t what I’ve been called to do in her life. I’ve been called to love. And that’s what I do, even when it hurts.
In the end, every situation will look different, and it’s up to us to trust our roadmap– the Bible. How much ownership you’ll have in your stepchild’s life may never be clear-cut. Your influence and ability to speak into their lives may ebb and flow as the relationship does. It may be more for one child than another based on the dynamics of that particular relationship. And if you think about it, none of these things are much different than they would be with your own children. Your stepchildren, just like your own children, are often outside of your control. But if you utilize the tools in your stepparenting tool belt like grace, preparation, and love, the lack of control can feel less much less daunting.