The Stepmother Journey
by Gayla Grace
Leaning in close, the counselor quietly began to speak to me. I expected encouraging comments and wise counsel on how to cope with the constant struggle of stepmothering. Instead I heard words that didn’t make sense to me. “I know it’s difficult at times, but you might consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to be part of raising your stepchildren.”
What? Is he crazy? My thoughts took over and I couldn’t respond for fear of what might come out of my mouth. Was he listening to my heartfelt cry for help?
Parenting stepchildren can feel more like a burden than a privilege at times. We have the responsibility of a parent with few parental rights. Fold the laundry. Cook dinner. Run the carpool. Despite our help with mundane parenting tasks, we get little regard as a parent, or appreciation for our efforts.
So, how do we learn to embrace our role as a stepmother? A few key steps can help us thrive and gain confidence with the expectations placed on us.
- Be your own person. Don’t try to replace the biological mom. Don’t compete with her either. It’s okay to be different. When my stepdaughter was young, she thought I was weird because I didn’t know how to French braid hair. Spending a lot of time styling hair wasn’t important to me but she hurt my feelings with her comments. Her biological mom was a wonderful hairstylist and I felt inferior to her. I now recognize the importance of accepting my differentness and being comfortable with who I am, finding my identity secure in Jesus Christ.
- Work harder at being a friend rather than a parent, particularly in the beginning. Developing a relationship with your stepchild is the primary goal for a new stepparent. Find common ground that allows time together comfortably. Let the biological parent take the lead in disciplining during the relationship-building period. Moving into a parental role too soon results in anger and resentment.
- Forgive yourself when you fail. You will mess up as a stepparent. During our early years of marriage, I was easily irritated with the shortcomings of my stepchildren. I reacted in favor of my biological children during times of conflict and was frustrated with my lack of patience and fairness toward my stepchildren. As I sought to forgive myself for my mistakes and learn from my failures, I began making strides toward more effective stepparenting.
- Trust God’s power to heal relationships. Stepfamilies are usually formed as a result of death or divorce, resulting in significant loss for those involved. Healing must occur before healthy relationships can develop. By yielding to the strength and power of the Holy Spirit, we can work through difficult emotions and seek healing in our relationships. I find confidence in the fact that, as believers, we have access to the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Acts 1:8 tells us, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…” (NIV)
- Allow plenty of time for new relationships to develop. Continuously strive for love and acceptance of one another, but don’t expect harmonious relationships overnight. Stepfamily expert Ron Deal tells us in his book The Smart Stepfamily, “It takes seven years for the average stepfamily to integrate.” Complex stepfamilies (when both parents bring children to the marriage) can take even longer. But there are rewards on the stepmothering journey as we learn to love and be loved by our stepchildren.
As an active parent with my stepchildren, I enjoy the rewards of influencing them toward healthy development and spiritual maturity. I take pride as I watch my stepchildren make levelheaded choices and wise decisions as young adults. I’m also rewarded with unconditional love as my stepchildren love and accept me as an important member of their family. By persevering through challenging times, we bonded together as an inseparable family unit. We now easily share in healthy interactions and comfortable relationships with one another.
After fifteen years as a stepmother, I experience far more rewards than burdens. I can honestly say, “It’s been a privilege to take part in raising my stepchildren.” I look forward to the years ahead as our family continues to grow and mature, seeking the Lord for guidance and wisdom, while embracing my role as a stepmother.