Becoming a stepparent is like standing on the edge of a pool wondering how far you should go in. There are people in the pool, and one of them- your new spouse- is beckoning you in with open arms. Others have their back toward you, hoping that you’ll take as little as possible of their space. In the middle of the pool is the one (or ones) everyone came to swim with, and if they are under 8, they are probably waving at you. If they are five or six, they might even be calling your name. If they are teenagers or adults, they may be pretending you are not there. Worse yet, they could be wishing it.
Should you play it safe and dip your feet in the shallow end? Or should you take your chances and dive in?
You probably can’t avoid getting at least partially wet, and more so if the child ends up living with you. But how deep you go into the pool is determined by how much risk your heart is willing to take. That choice will likely be determined by how fragile your heart is, how supported you feel by others, and whether or not you are counting on something in return for what you give. An article in Psychology Today stated that “Step parenting is a daunting task, because it requires transitioning from stranger to parental figure in the eyes of someone who has a previously established parentage. Perhaps another way to state it is that the pool is already full when you are invited in.
Negotiating my feelings about stepparenting happened long before I became one myself because my parents are divorced and remarried. Having stepparents slightly altered my perspective on being one—giving me a little more grace and understanding in my role. But ultimately, I learned what every stepparent learns: the depth of gratitude and love and pain and discomfort you feel is directly tied to how much of your heart you decide to give. And if you weigh the cost and decide to give your whole heart, I can tell you by experience that you will be changed.
Nothing can prepare you for every trial you will face as a stepparent, but there are some insights that can help equip you for the challenges ahead. You will be called to love bravely in an often thankless role. My hope is that this book will encourage you that the journey is worth it, because God will use stepparenting to grow your soul. CS Lewis declared that “to love at all is to be vulnerable; love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” While this is true in all relationships, it may be especially true for stepparents, because you will learn to love with no strings attached. You will always be a child’s choice.
Step parenting isn’t for the faint of heart because it requires sacrifice and courage. You may be tempted to minimize your role by keeping your heart closed, but you will miss out on the gift that will enlarge your soul. By parenting a child that isn’t yours, you have the opportunity to learn unconditional love, which is the part of you God longs to grow. Love is best and brightest when it is delivered with open hands, and stepparenting will present you with that chance. You will learn in your job description what all parents discover when their children leave home: Our children don’t belong to us. They are given to us to nurture and build into- and as a stepparent, you will be a part of that process in your child’s life. You may only be an add-on parent, but if you embrace your role and live it for all it’s worth, you will have a unique voice into their growth. You may not share biology or be listed on their birth certificate, but you can heal broken places and bring an objectivity that biological parents don’t always have. The joy will be yours to quietly celebrate as you watch your stepchild flourish, because you will know the commitment you made to your parenting played a part.
Grace-Filled Stepparenting is available here.