The Do’s and Don’ts of Step-Parenting
Disclaimer: I’ve never been a stepparent. But since both of my parents are divorced and remarried, I have had stepparents ever since I was four years old. I’ve also been influenced by several step-grandparents and a mother-in-law who is my husband’s stepmother.
Through all these relationships, I’ve learned both positive and negative truths about step-parenting. To stepparent well is a huge challenge, but it is possible with God’s help.
This is my best advice for step-parents based on almost 40 years of experience as a stepchild.
Don’t badmouth your step child’s mother.
No matter the age of your stepchild, this is an unforgivable sin in his or her eyes. I still vividly remember the first time I overhead a stepparent saying unkind things about my parents. It hurt in such a tender place in my heart that I never let that person get close to me. Saying unkind things about the other parent can destroy all hopes of having a positive relationship with your stepchild. No matter how terrible your step child’s mother is behaving, ask God to set a guard at your mouth. This rule also applies to extended family members on your stepchild’s mother’s side. Honor your stepchild by never saying something negative about his or her family members.
Don’t complain about the times your stepchild is with you.
Every wife I know wants more quality time with her husband. But it’s unwise to express this sentiment in front of your stepchild. He or she is probably already feeling in competition with you for their dad’s attention. This was true when I was a child, and I deeply resented comments along these lines. Resolve to make positive comments when you are with your stepchild and refuse to complain. Strive to help your stepchild feel valued and accepted. Plan quality time with your husband when your stepchild is at his or her other parent’s home, if possible.
Don’t force relationships on your side of the family.
I remember being forced to give kisses and hugs to extended family members on the stepparent’s side of the family when I was young. Because I didn’t even know these people, I felt extremely uncomfortable, yet powerless to resist without creating a scene. I wish that my stepparent had allowed those relationships to naturally unfold. Instead, the forced contact backfired, and I never made quality connections with that side of the family. Experts say that a child needs at least five years to adjust to the changes after a divorce and remarriage, and it may take even longer for extended family relationships to take hold. Be patient and prayerful, and let your child explore those relationships on his or her own terms.
Do go out of your way to include and affirm your stepchild.
The best experiences I had with step-relatives were when they helped me feel that I belonged. My step-grandparents graciously gave me the same dollar value of birthday and Christmas gifts as their grandchildren, and those gestures spoke volumes to me. My stepmother-in-law always treated my husband and me as well as she did her own child. Because these people went out of their way to include and affirm me, I have no negative feelings toward them. They felt like “real” relatives to me. Your kindness will mean the world to your stepchild.
Do give your stepchild plenty of quality time with your husband.
If your stepchild lives in a different household at least half of the time, it’s essential that this child gets as much quality time as possible with his or her dad. I’m sure you want a positive, loving relationship between your husband and his children. By encouraging your husband to have one-on-one time with his child, you will pave the way for better relationships in the future. Keep in mind that adult stepchildren crave quality time with their dad as much as young stepchildren do.
Do work hard at creating a peaceful atmosphere.
A stepchild usually receives his or her “step” status through trauma, such as divorce or death. It will take years for those wounds to heal. By working hard to create a peaceful atmosphere, you can help your stepchild heal faster. Read everything you can about becoming a loving, supportive stepparent. Also meditate on Romans 12:18 NIV: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” As a stepparent, a large portion of the peaceful atmosphere depends on you. The more you seek God’s will and wise counsel about how to establish peace, the more you will bless your stepchild and your husband.
By applying these do’s and don’ts to your relationship with your stepchild, you can greatly improve your chances of quality relationships in the future. God wants to help you become the best stepparent for your stepchild. Follow him closely in your daily walk and commit to showing your stepchild love and respect no matter what. God will reward you as you are faithful.
Wife Step: Ask God to show you specific ways on how to be a better step parent this week.
Sarah Geringer is a speaker, artist and author of Transforming Your Thought Life: Christian Meditation in Focus and three self-published books. She is on the devotional writing teams for Encouragement for Today, A Wife Like Me, Devotable, Hope-Full Living and Woman 2 Woman Ministries. When she’s not reading over 100 books per year, Sarah enjoys painting, baking, gardening and playing the flute. Her daily must-haves are hot tea, dark chocolate, and fresh flowers. She lives in her beloved home state of Missouri with her husband and three children. Sarah writes about finding peace in God’s Word at sarahgeringer.com.