Being a step-parent is very sacrificial and requires a thick skin to roll with the punches that come with the role. I always tell my friends who are dating a person with kids that step parenting can be extra hard work. Marriage is hard enough alone, so imagine adding kids, exes and brokenness into the mix!
Many couples step into to a blended family ill-equipped with blinders on and unrealistic expectations about what this intricate process needs. Like me, many think they will beat the stigma of the evil stepmom Disney has unfurled and magically swoosh her new family into a happily-ever-after kingdom. The truth is, it is a challenging process.
“Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God” (Mark 10:27, NLT).
This is the one truth I’ve gripped onto for the past seven years in our family. Have we successfully blended? Not entirely. Have I wavered? Yes. Has HE? Never.
As our family walks through this process, here are a few things we’ve learned along the way that has helped overcome some of the challenges.
Blending takes time
First, the goal is to build long-lasting relationships, and this won’t happen overnight or in a few months. Like all relationships that are not linked by blood, love, trust and affection take time to develop. Especially if you have children who have been hurt in the past and have trust issues, you cannot expect to win their hearts by just buying them gifts and taking them out. If it only were that simple! Blending takes several years and the process is gradual. This is especially true if the children still have the other parent active in their lives. They may feel disloyal to their mom or dad if they love the stepparent, making the process for blending even slower. According to experts, blending a family usually takes seven years. But this may take longer as there are different factors affecting the process.
Pick your battles
Choose what hills to die on and don’t focus on the petty things you cannot control. Negotiate and compromise. You cannot change your step kids or the ex, but you can bet God can change things when you pray! You can’t change your spouse’s parenting skills, but you can ask God to give him/her a teachable heart and grace to improve. Then maybe, you can ask God to change your heart. Sometimes disappointments come from unmet expectations. When those expectations are not realistic or ungodly to begin with, perhaps it is a matter in your heart. I speak from experience.
Learn to step back and let your spouse take control. You are not your stepchild’s mom or dad, and you should probably not handle some sticky or uncomfortable situations all on your own.
Let go, forgive and reconcile
Great step parenting requires a very forgiving person. Don’t hold on to grudges and unresolved conflict. This can have very damaging effects on the blending process, and most important, your marriage.
Remember these powerful promises from the Scriptures:
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
“Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city” (Proverbs 16:32).
No Brady Bunch
Expect the unexpected and know that there will be bad days. During the courting days, everyone seems to get along just fine. But this is not the case after you marry and start doing life altogether. There will be days of tension, rejection and betrayal. As a stepparent, you must learn to not target the kids or take it out on them. They’re just kids, and they struggle with understanding their complex families and emotions. If you have a home where there are half-siblings and step-siblings, expect some rivalry and jealousy. You have to understand that kids also have a hard time transitioning into the new people in their lives and in their personal space. So don’t think you’ve failed or married the wrong person just because your kids are squabbling.
Another uncomfortable topic is the notion that you will love your step kids instantly and as naturally as you love your own kids. You may not love your step kids as your own right away because they are not your own and you are still getting acquainted. The love a woman has for the children she birthed is different from the love she will have for another child. But love for your step-kids can be more special because it takes more effort to develop. This kind of love is a choice and must be nurtured intentionally. In the end, remember the promise: “Everything is possible with God.”
I must admit that being a stepmom has shown me what real faith means. Faith means more than just hope and positive thoughts. Now, it means believing in God’s promises and acting upon them, despite my feelings because he is constant and a promise keeper. That is why, in the end, it is all worth it.
Not every family is the same; the blending process may be seamless and shorter for some. There are so many factors affecting how people do family and parenting, so these topics are not definite. For more practical tips on effective step-parenting skills see Laura Petherbridge’s book “101 Tips for the Smart Stepmom” or Ron Deal’s “The Smart Step Family.” You can also go to www.familylife.com/blended.