Being a parent is one of the most challenging and yet rewarding jobs a person can have. As your children grow older, so does your relationship with them.
Mother and father are essential to the health and well-being of the family, but there are times when dad is no longer in the picture, either due to death, divorce or separation. A father-figure is still so important to children throughout their lives.
There are those special individuals who are willing to take on the responsibility and work of being a stepdad, one of life’s most difficult endeavors.
But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God. —1 Timothy 5:4, KJV
While most biblical writers vehemently espouse overcoming marital problems, advocating staying married to a husband or wife, sometimes life makes this impossible. A mother may be widowed. Abuse, incarceration, religious or cultural clashes, irreconcilable differences and other circumstances all make divorce a viable choice when all other options have been overturned.
While mothers may be busy trying to fulfill their new roles as both parents and bread-winner, there may come a time when they meet an appropriate partner, someone new to introduce to their children and family. And so the preparations to be a stepdad begin.
The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. —1 Corinthians 7:39, KJV
Joseph was the first step father mentioned in the Bible, undertaking the safety and raising of God’s son, Jesus. He did so after much soul-searching, bound by his love for and obligation to Mary. He undertook this life-long task, knowing that Jesus would know who his true Father was, realizing that he and Mary were just care-takers for this very special child.
Step parents differ from biological parents because they are usually not there for the birth, and often not for the early childhood of their new children.
Children may feel that they already have a father, and may question why they need an interloper to come into the family and take attention away from them. Christian parents must show love, kindness, honesty and patience. The stepfather has a difficult path to follow.
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, be hath denied the faith,and is worse than an infidel. —1 Timothy 5:8, KJV
While the biological parent has a ‘natural’ authority, the newly blended family has to agree upon the stepfather’s role. Some mothers may have been without a partner for so long that they aren’t willing to support the step parent fully unless there is open and honest dialogue, especially if ground rules haven’t been set. This can set up a division between the parents, and give children leverage to use one parent against another.
No stepfather wants to feel like a third wheel, un-respected and unwanted. It’s difficult enough to enter into marriage, especially if both parents already have children, without this barrier. There are several important steps to take to make the marriage, and new parenthood, a go:
Assess the Situation
Are the children young, suffering the pain of loss or abandonment? Do they act out because of fear and anxiety? How can you offer support and love as well as encouragement to these children without stepping on mom’s toes? It’s good for you to have boundaries, but you may have to change your expectations from what you originally thought.
Let the children know that you care for their mother and them, and that you want to be a part of their family. You are not their father, but you are willing to take on that role if they will let you. Let them choose what they wish to call you, but encourage them to realize that to you, they are as much your own children as any biological child would be.
No matter how they act out or misbehave, how they challenge you, they are children. Include them in family activities and laugh with them, have fun with them, but also gently discipline them. Discuss this with mom and ask her opinion of your role. She may ask you to let her consistently discipline the children or she may be relieved to have your help, especially with teens and older tweens. Let the children know that you love their mother, too. She needs your help and support to make this transition easier.
Get Family Counseling
Ask your pastor for help, discussing your role in the family with your future wife and with all the children concerned.
Keep ground rules consistent and give your children the Christian guidance they need. Act out of love and respect, and hopefully they will eventually follow suit.
Do Not Judge the Natural Father in Front of the Children
Try to have a cordial relationship. No matter your personal opinion, the children don’t want to hear it. If their father still has a role in their lives, be as friendly as possible and make visitation as stress-free for the children.
They don’t want to be grilled and raked over the coals every time they visit their dad. If the father has passed away, encourage children to talk to you about him if they are able. Look at photos together. It may lessen the pain. Some children carry feelings of guilt at the loss of a parent: it’s a natural part of grieving.
Be There for Them
Don’t let them down. If they are counting on you to be at an event, be happy to be there and do your best to attend. If you can’t, be honest: Children respect honesty and have no patience with excuses. Value them and their accomplishments.
If they aren’t ready to have you as dad, you have no choice but to accept that. But also let them know in every way how proud you are of them and how happy you are to be a new part of the family.
Prepare to Have Your New Children as Part of the Wedding Ceremony
Ask what roles they would prefer to have: Flower girl, ring bearer, groomsman, maid of honor. Let them be a part of the whole event, even if it’s just a simple back yard or beach affair. If you want, make the ‘honeymoon’ a family affair at a theme park or other special place.
If they aren’t going on the honeymoon, plan a party or even just plan an event for them and you immediately after your return. Share the love!
If these steps are continued after marriage, if love and acceptance are consistently shown throughout the children’s lives, they will have no choice but to eventually accept the step father into the home. He will become either a second or a new “dad.”
It doesn’t take magic, it takes self-discipline and a lot of hard work. But in the end, it’s worth it when children come to you as well as their mother with their concerns and experiences. It’s then that the “step” is removed and you are, truly, dad.