Posts tagged step-family

Advice for stepdads … from stepdads



“Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.”
(Prov. 8:10-11 ESV)

God’s Word offers profound and timeless life wisdom — and it should be sought after throughout our lives. There is another wisdom to be desired (albeit not nearly as perfect): the life wisdom shared by godly people who have walked before us and learned important lessons, sometimes from their mistakes.

When I was writing my book The Smart StepdadI assembled a focus group of stepfathers and asked them to share their best advice for stepdads. From stepdads, young and old, new and veteran, here are a few of their gems.

  1. Know your place. A smart stepdad understands that there is an inherent bind to his task: how can you be dad when you’re not dad? Obviously, you can’t. Instead, strive to be a calming, godly presence in the home, an added parent-figure for the children.
  2. It’s not your responsibility to undo the past. For example, years of poor parenting from your wife or her ex-husband, the negative consequences of divorce, or the pain children experience when a father dies is not yours to resolve. Come alongside these situations and try to offer a positive influence over time, but don’t try to be the knight in shining armor. Just love them.
  3. Move in with tact. Don’t be a bull in a china closet; respect children’s loyalties. “I became a stepfather when my stepdaughter was eight,” said Anthony. “Her father was very involved in her life and a good Dad. There just wasn’t room for me in her heart; therefore, we had a very strained relationship.” Anthony’s stepdad journey was challenging; had he forced his way in to the family, it would have been worse.
  4. Round off your rough edges. If your personality is naturally angry, critical, aggressive, controlling, or stubborn, don’t expect your stepchildren to warm up to you — and don’t expect your wife to entrust her children to you. You must manage these negative traits or you’ll find it nearly impossible to become a leader in your family.
  5. Partner with your wife. A mom needs to believe that you are committed to and care about her, her children, and her past experiences before you will receive her trust. Therefore, do a lot of listening before injecting your opinion; demonstrate an authentic appreciation for all she has done to provide for her children before trying to make suggestions. When you do suggestions, especially early on, be sure to reveal your heart’s intentions first. Consider the contrast between harshly saying, “Your son is a lazy boy. When are you going to make him get up in the morning and get to school on time?” and saying, “I have come to really care about your son David. I’m hoping to offer some guidance to him and better prepare him for life. I’ve noticed he’s struggling to manage his time and responsibilities with school. Can we talk about how we might encourage more responsibility in him?”
  6. Be equitable in parenting. Wade observed, “I’ve always felt that my wife has supported my authority with her kids as long as it was fair and equal to what I’d use to punish my kids.” If you ever want to turn your wife into an angry mother bear protecting her cubs, just show favoritism to your kids and treat hers unfairly. Believe me, you’ll awaken the bear.”
  7. Unless proven otherwise, assume your stepchildren would pick their dad over you. A huge step toward gaining your stepchildren’s respect comes by respecting their relationship with their father (even if deceased) and not positioning yourself in competition to him. Tim, a dad of two and stepdad to two understands this well. “I have always tried to keep in mind what I want my child to hear from my ex or her new husband about me. I then apply the Golden Rule to my stepkid’s dad.”
  8. Trust God to lead. Probably the one universal negative experience of stepdads is the feeling of uncertainty. If you find yourself wondering what to do and how to go about it, you’re in good company. From a spiritual standpoint, uncertainty is an invitation to faith. God always uses our “I don’t know what to do’s” to invite us to trust Him more — and we should. Don’t anguish because you don’t know what to do. Ask God to show you. Don’t panic in your uncertainty and give up on your family. Seek a word from the Spirit. Don’t assume you are alone. Find comfort and direction in His Word and press on.

If you’re a stepfather, we invite you to share your advice for stepdads below.

If you’d like more encouragement and equipping as a stepfather, visit FamilyLife Blended.

Stepping up in a stepfamily



“Thanks for recognizing that we’re not the church’s dirty little problem.”

John was spiritually paralyzed by his past.  “I just never thought I could go back to church again, after the divorce and all.  And to top it off, I went and got remarried.  Everyone knows stepfamilies are not considered whole, just mended parts of what’s been broken.”

His statement captures the spiritual struggle of many Christian stepfamily adults.  Guilt over decisions or actions that contributed to a divorce and a sense of shame from living in a “less than whole” family situation lead many people to feel as if they are “the churches dirty little problem.”  For others, an overwhelming feeling of unworthiness keeps them in a holding pattern around God and his church, but never touching down in his love.  These dynamics often combine to create spiritual barriers for stepfamily members that distance them from God’s healing power.

FLBlendedLogoSecond Class Citizens?
I responded to John’s spiritual guilt and shame by suggesting that even though he didn’t live in an “ideal family” configuration, he wasn’t a second class Christian in God’s Kingdom.  “God’s plan for one man and one woman for life does bring greater harmony to the home, but living in an intact family does not determine our worth in God’s eyes, nor our ability to receive forgiveness.”  I went on to share with John the truth about many of the characters of the Bible who were men of great faith, but whose families were far less than ideal.

“Abraham lied on two occasions saying Sarah wasn’t his wife.  He was afraid for his life so he disowned her.  How selfish is that?” I pointed out.  Sarah and Hagar fought over which of their sons would be the most important in Abraham’s family.  Much like a modern-day stepfamily, there was jealousy, bitter rivalries, and loyalty conflicts between Abraham and his two wives (see Gen. 16, 21).  And the problems didn’t stop with his generation.  If we analyze the families of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph — the Family of Promise — we see power struggles, family secrets, exploitative and coercive relationships, marital game-playing, manipulation, and parent-child alliances for selfish reasons.  Furthermore, the dysfunction continues to mushroom through the family of David, who is called a “man after God’s own heart,” but whose household included a premeditated murder to cover an affair, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, a son who replicates his father’s disgrace by raping his half sister, and a brother who avenges her humiliation by murdering his brother.  John was beginning to feel a little better about his past and current stepfamily.

Forgiveness for All
Stepfamilies need to understand this critical message: there are no second class citizens in God’s Kingdom simply because there are no first class citizens.  We’re all just sinners in need of a Savior.  If God could use imperfect men like Abraham and David for his purposes, why can’t he use people in stepfamilies?  If God can bring redemption to the houses of Isaac and Jacob, can’t he bring redemption to yours?

The exciting message of the cross is this: God loves and forgives the imperfect people in stepfamilies just like he does the imperfect people in biologically intact families.  He is ready, willing, and able to welcome stepfamilies into righteousness.  The only question is will you step up to receive his forgiveness?  Will you step up to renew your relationship with him or remain paralyzed by your guilt and shame?

His door is always open … step on in.

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