Posts tagged step-parenting

11 ways a smart stepdad can engage



KilimanjaroHiker“How tall is it?” I ignorantly asked a Kenyan missionary.

“Mount Kilimanjaro is over 19,000 feet tall,” he smiled. “It’s big!”

No kidding, I thought. I could see the outline of the tallest mountain in Africa from my third-floor Nairobi apartment 130 miles away. “It might take a while to climb, huh?”

On average it takes an expedition four to seven days to climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro. And why do people climb it? Because it’s there, right? Just conquering the challenge is one reason people take on this massive testimony to God’s creativity. And then there’s the view from the top. On a clear day you can see for hundreds of miles in a 360-degree panoramic view. Oh, yes, there’s plenty of reward for those who conquer the mountain. But it often doesn’t feel worth it until you reach the top.

When reflecting on his role as a stepfather, David said, “I simply didn’t have any idea how hard blending a family would be. I lacked any knowledge of how to deal with my stepkids.” Conquering Stepdad Mountain might not be as rugged as climbing one of the world’s tallest peaks, but it will probably take longer than you expect.

And you’re not just climbing because it’s there. You’re climbing because it matters. Yes, there is reward for you at the top, but there’s also reward for your family and stepchildren. How you live, love, and lead your stepchildren (and biological children) will create a legacy and heritage that long outlive you. It’s important that you climb well.

So how do you climb? Here are some best practices of smart stepdads, young and old, new and veteran. Consider how you might implement them into your climb.

1. 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. Then you can climb Stepdad Mountain one step at a time.

2. Know your place. A smart stepdad understands that there is an inherent dilemma to his task: How can you be Dad when you’re not Dad? Obviously, you can’t. Even if the biological dad is deceased, you will never replace him, so don’t try. Playing “who’s your daddy” only causes stress in your home. And stress in a stepfamily thickens blood, pitting you against your stepchildren and often your wife.

3. Understand the limits of your role. It’s not your responsibility to undo the past. The negative consequences of divorce, or the pain children experience when a father dies is not yours to resolve. Come alongside children in these situations and try to offer a positive influence over time, but don’t try to be the white knight in shining armor. Just love them.

4. Move in with tact. Don’t be a bull in a china shop. 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. We were never able to build anything. Now that she is a grown woman, I sense she is becoming a little less competitive … but I think the best way to describe our relationship even now is ‘uneasy toleration.’” Anthony’s climb was, and is, steep. Thank goodness he respected this reality or things might have become worse.

5. Partner with your wife. She needs to believe that you are committed to and care about her, her children, and their 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 make suggestions, especially early in your climb, 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 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. Until you have earned their respect, let your wife handle punishment with her children. Leadership that shapes character is a function of emotional attachment with a child. Ruling with an iron hand without a foundational relationship sabotages your level of respect and subverts what you are trying to teach.

Many stepdads mistakenly assume that not taking the lead is a sign of weakness. Actually, it is an indication of strategic wisdom and strength. So while taking the time to build a solid relationship and gradually moving into discipline, trust your wife to continue being the primary parent to her kids.

7. Be patient with your wife, especially when her past creates emotional baggage that you can’t change. Danny shared that his wife’s first marriage left a lot of emotional scars that he thought he could change. “I didn’t have a clue how hard it would be for her to overcome them,” he said. “We have been together for nine years and I’m still dealing with her insecurities. It’s part of who she is, so I just deal with it and go on.”

At first, Danny thought he could “love it out of her,” but in time he came to see that ultimately this was her mountain to climb. He could choose to love her as best he could, but in the end, she would have to deal with the emotional residue from her first marriage.

8. Be equitable in parenting. Wayde 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.

9. Unless proven otherwise, assume your stepchildren would pick their dad over you. Recognize that a huge step toward gaining your stepchildren’s respect comes from respecting their relationship with their father (even if he’s deceased) and not positioning yourself in competition with him. Doing so just pushes them further away from you and closer to their dad.

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 stepkids’ dad. If, on the other hand, I put the kids in the position of having to choose between me and their dad, I always assume they would choose him. (This is especially difficult at times when I want to selfishly ‘one up’ him to make myself look better.) This also means that when my wife and stepkids are badmouthing him, I have to keep from being drawn into the discussion. They will turn on me in a heartbeat.”

10. Remain engaged. Through the years I’ve worked with many disengaged stepdads and their families. The reasons for their drift varied: one man had a “these aren’t my kids” attitude; another had an extremely introverted personality and he simply didn’t know how to engage people in general, let alone his stepchildren. Still others found themselves paralyzed by the guilt of not being around their biological children.

“How can I really enjoy my stepkids when I feel like I’m shorting my kids of my time?” one man said. “In some bizarre way I think I’m making it up to my kids when I deny myself time with my stepchildren.” Still other stepdads find that once they’ve disengaged, which may have initially been part of surviving the confusion of their role, they can’t find their way back.

If you have been disengaged, you can’t stay that way; you hold an important role in your stepkids’ lives. When you married their mother, God positioned you as a role model, friend, teacher, and mentor.

The specifics of how intimate your role will become cannot be predicted, but you have a responsibility to make the most of the opportunities you are given. You can be a blessing to your stepchildren, but not if you don’t engage. To the best of your ability, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). And remember, if you want to have influence with someone, you must be moving toward them emotionally and them toward you. If one of those isn’t happening, forget about having influence or authority.

11. Don’t go it alone. A smart stepdad will also surround himself with a band of brothers. Joe, a stepfather of two, encourages young stepdads to be involved in a fellowship with other men where they are open and honest about their lives. “You cannot do this alone,” he says. “You desperately need other men to walk with you on this journey. Without my band of brothers I never would have come this far. If there are men in your life that have ‘meddling’ rights, then you can stay on the right path with the right attitude.”

Adapted excerpt from The Smart Stepdad © 2011 by Ron L. Deal. Published by Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by Permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “11 ways a smart stepdad can engage” by Ron Deal on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistListen to the FamilyLife Today three-part audio broadcast with Ron Deal on how to be an effective stepfather.

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Thank you for choosing to be my dad



Bill Eyster has been executive vice-president of FamilyLife since 2006. That Thanksgiving, he wrote this tribute to his stepfather, Dr. Alvin L. Morris, but felt it would be better to deliver it the following June to honor him on his 80th birthday.

Al Morris passed away October 10, 2013. Since then, Bill has felt led to move his family back to Kentucky so he can care for his mother, Beverly.

choosing to be my dad

Beverly and Al Morris

I know you don’t want a big deal made of your birthday and that speaks to the kind of man that you are, but this is as much for the rest of the family as it is for you. I want them to know …what I have come to know, understand, and appreciate about you.

I think it’s important that the grandchildren recognize the legacy that their grandfather passes on. They need to know the impact you have made on my life. So, Al, please humor me and allow me to tell you how much you mean to me.

Al, you are intentional about everything and when you married my mother you knew what you were stepping into.

At age 13, I had been filling the self-imposed role of “man of the house” for close to four years. When you came on the scene and began to date my mother you were able to see first hand how broken I was.

You saw my anger, my rebelliousness, and my bad choices.  You witnessed crushed tables, all night outings, and other such challenges. But, because of your love for my mother, you chose to marry her and intentionally accepted the responsibility of raising an independent 6-foot-tall, 13 year old boy that was full of anger.

The challenges with me didn’t stop there. I was running hard and a living example of a rebellious “red headed stepchild.” You experienced late nights, bad grades, disrespect, ill gotten speakers, a trashed brand-new RV, “borrowed” cars, unauthorized parties, and a continually bad attitude. It’s not lost to me that you had already raised three great children and yet you accepted the responsibility for raising me.

In the 32 years I have had the privilege of being your son …

  • I have seen what it means to be a man of integrity,
  • I have seen what it means for a man to love his wife,
  • I have seen the importance of family,
  • I have seen hard work and dedication,
  • I have seen a man who loves the Lord,
  • I have felt acceptance … I have felt loved.

As I have gotten older and closer to the age at which you made this choice, I marvel. Through it all you never treated me or made me feel like a stepchild. You set high standards and challenged me to meet them. You selflessly and intentionally accepted me, loved me, and cared for me. You were always there.

As I have grown in my faith, I realize how God put you in my life to play a major part in making me the man, the husband, and the father that I am today. I thank God each day for you and want you to know I am deeply grateful for your love, for your acceptance, and for choosing to be my dad.

— I love you.

Your Son — Bill

_____

If you haven’t written a tribute to your parents, we’d encourage you to do it while you still can. If you need help, check out our free resource The Best Gift You Can Give Your Parents, or get Dennis Rainey’s bookThe Forgotten Commandment.  

If you’ve given your parents a tribute that you’d like to share with the readers of Stepping Up, we’d love to hear about it. Whether it’s something you’ve written or recorded on audio or video, just Contact Us here.

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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