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Smart Stepfamilies

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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.

1.   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.


2.   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.


3.   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.


4.   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)


5.   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.




Gayla Grace is a wife and mother to five children in her blended family. She holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology/Counseling and is passionate about helping other stepfamilies due to the struggles her family has walked through. She ministers to stepfamilies and can be contacted through her website: www.stepparentingwithgrace.com.




Comments ( 3 )
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#3: by Ron Deal on 11.10.2013 @ 07:28am CST

Hi Julie-- Yes, there is something just for you. The Smart Stepmom book has an entire chapter on Adult Stepfamilies (that is, when you marry and the kids are adults). I suggest you pick up a copy.

#2: by Julie on 11.09.2013 @ 09:45pm CST

Thanks to both of you... such encouragement. My husband was widowed 12 years ago and we have been married for 5 years. His five "children" range in age from 21 to 40 years old. I had not been married before, ever... Imagine getting married for the first time at 54yrs old. My husband is 10 years older and still very active. I work as a Nurse. The hardest part for me was to move into the home that he and his first wife built and face all the memories that were before me. Actually.. my relationship with the kids has improved.... lots of prayer, love, tears, and patience. I think the tough part right now is having time where my husband and I have some time away from phones/texting.... to have some fun, talk and connect. Most info on step parenting deals with the younger child, coming from divorce and remarriage. Is there anything that may pertain to a middle age woman marrying a widower with grown children?
#1: by Toni on 05.04.2010 @ 10:21am CDT

To all the other step-moms... consider this:

Being a stepmother can be a very painful experience, especially if you are an "all in" kind of person.

The trials and tribulations are tempered with times of joy but I have to say it can take years maybe decades to see the true worth of all your efforts... stay the course... I remind myself daily that God has a plan for everyone including my step children. My job is to be loving and plant the seeds of Christ.

People who are not in step situations will not understand... how could they? It all seems so simple to them... make rules, enforce them, and demand respect! Get in a group of other believers who are in step situations... you'll be surprised how much it helps and how often the unbearable situations that happen to you are so minor in comparison to anothers.

Pray often each day and know that God values your works... put away the worldly desire to be recognized by steps and spouse here in this world... know in your heart that God sees your actions, loves you, and your reward will be in heaven.

I can say all this with my heart because I'm in for a decade now. It's been hard, there's been good and bad but through it all I've leaned on Christ, when I was too weak to walk he carried me... he'll do the same for you.

Blessings dear stepmothers... you probably won't be recognized this mothers day but you pick up the dropped balls, sacrifice often, and persevere through it all... THAT'S A REAL MOTHER!

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