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Stepfamilies: I Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know

Updated: Feb 25, 2023

“Before our wedding Andy and I attended a stepfamily workshop to become educated on the issues we would encounter. Even with that insight we were shocked by many of the issues we have faced during the blend,” Jessie stated.

“What I don’t understand is why many of our friends and family make hurtful comments? I waver between responding with a sarcastic retort or ignoring them. I’m not sure what’s the best way to make them stop”.

Many people don’t understand that stepfamily dynamics are radically different than first time families. They assume a parent and a stepparent have the same relationship, authority, and attachment with the stepkids. It’s unrealistic and uncommon for a stepparent to automatically have the same love, compassion, instincts, patience, and bond with a stepchild as they would their own.

A stepparent enters a child’s life after he/she has experienced one of the most devastating experiences in life—the loss of the original family unit. This trauma often instills fear, insecurity, anger, and uncertainty in the child. This distressed child is then expected to welcome, accept, and support the new spouse in mom or dad’s life. We assume they will instantaneously unite as a family.

The child already has a mother or a father (even if they are deceased), and he or she rarely desires additional parents. In addition, the parent’s remarriage may have triggered a fear of being disloyal to the other biological mom or dad. This is true whether they are a child or an adult. If the child fears it will wound a parent if they embrace a stepparent, they rarely do it. This is true even if the parent is emotionally unhealthy or negligent. The loyalty and hard-wired bond between parent and child is fierce.

Here are four things often said to stepfamilies that should be avoided because it causes sadness and discouragement:

1. “You should love these children exactly as you do your own.”

Even Dr. James Dobson laughed when I shared this statement with him during a radio broadcast. He followed the chuckle by saying, “That’s ridiculous”.

I agree.

Often a stepparent does eventually grow to love the stepkids. However, the relationship builds and bonds over time—sometimes it takes many years. It is exceedingly rare for a person—man or woman—to love the children his/her spouse has with another person just because they walked down the aisle, exchanged rings and said “I Do”. The stepparent grows to love his/her stepkids because they are an extension of the spouse. But it’s not instant—like JELL-O. And if the kids are resistant it requires a great deal of patience, prayer and forgiveness.

2. “You knew what you were getting into.”

The number one statement I hear from stepparents is, “I had no idea blending a family took this much work and effort. I just wanted to love my spouse and his/her kids. I assumed we would all mesh together because we want to be a family. I am completely shocked that it’s this complicated”.

They didn’t know—what they didn’t know.

If a church desires to help this couple, there are excellent Christian resources that can help the couple, the extended family and the community. They reveal how to blend slowly and what to avoid to strengthen the union.

3. You aren’t a real mom—you wouldn’t understand.

Stepdads are often viewed as a hero. But stepmoms, especially those who have no biological kids, are sometimes viewed as insignificant. Even though shes trying to be “super mom” by doing the laundry, dishes, carpool, cooking, homework, sporting events, and balancing the checkbook, she’s often labeled, by other mom’s, as irrelevant. She’s easily dismissed and it hurts.

A stepmom does have a different role than a mom. Shes her husband’s support system, and a soft place for him to fall when life becomes difficult. She also brings a woman’s perspective and gifts into the home. She’s not there to become another mom to kids who already have one. She is there to be a voice of wisdom for her spouse.

4. Too bad the kids don’t live with you full time. That would be easier.

No, it would not. And here’s why.

The children who do the best after a divorce are the ones who have an ongoing, healthy relationship with both parents. The deficiency, dysfunction, or neglect from a parent often results in more suffering for the child. The rejection of a parent can implant a deep wound of loneliness and self-hatred.

The shame that comes from believing the lie that we are worthless and unlovable is a powerful tool in the hands of our enemy. It frequently leads a child into addiction, emotional instability, violence, self-harm, unhealthy relationships, codependency, and promiscuity.

After a divorce, if at all possible, maintaining a stable relationship with both biological parents is the wisest and most beneficial decision for the child.

Stepfamilies are often complicated. And there is much the church body, and extended family, can do to make the journey easier on everyone.

Wise Words to Say:

  1. You are a great stepmom/stepdad. The kids are blessed to have you even if they don’t express it.

  2. Wow! You took on a huge role by becoming a Stepmom/Stepdad and caring for kids that aren’t your own.

  3. I see your effort, and how hard you try to be a good stepparent. Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. They might not ever thank you, but God sees you. And He smiles.

  4. I know this is harder than you thought it would be. Would you like to set up a time to pray together?

  5. I want to be there for you. I’d like to financially help you attend a stepmom retreat.

  6. I just read that my neighborhood Church is having a class for stepparents. Would you like me to pass on that information?

  7. I know you make incredible sacrifices for your stepkids. Incase no one has ever mentioned this to you before, I want you to know I see the love of Jesus shining from you onto these kids. That blessing will stay with them their entire lives, and even if you don’t see the fruit of your sacrificial love, it’s there.

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