This is Jessica.
Her drink is coffee with caramel and cream.
Though the enemy tried to thwart this conversation a few times, Jessica and I were able to prevail and connect on Zoom one quiet spring morning to talk about step-parenting.
Jessica must get a lot of Brady Bunch jokes in her current situation: she and her husband both brought three children to their marriage making them parents of six. Collectively they have children aged 7 years to 19 years old. And five years ago, when they blended their families, Jessica found herself without guidance for navigating such a difficult life stage.
Though Jessica had started dental school, she recently made the weighty decision to step away from that and, as she termed it, “reset the tone” of the household. Having half of one’s children as step-children must present daily–if not hourly– challenges. She sat down with me in the throes of a busy life season to tell me all about it.
JESSICA’S STEP-PARENTING JOURNEY
“We know that divorce isn’t God’s design. We have free will and made our own choices and now we have to deal with the results of those choices. It isn’t God’s design for us to have a split family engaging in co-parenting, but here we are and we need to do the best we can from here.
The biggest challenge in step-parenting is knowing my place when it comes to the relationship with my stepchildren. These kids have gone through the heartache of divorce, the confusion of accepting a new parent into their lives, and the sudden onset of new siblings. And stepkids are often stuck in the middle of mom and dad wondering can I like my stepmom? Should I not like her? It’s not that their biological mother is telling them not to like me, yet there is some sort of unspoken loyalty and taking to me may feel like a betrayal. I understand that. I also understand as a mother how it can hurt to give up a little bit of your child to someone else.
So my role is this: to help heal their hearts. My stepchildren have been through something really tough and they are likely still aching from these events. I am not their mom; they have a mom. I am not their dad; they have a dad. I am a guardian who can offer love and support as they navigate this new future.
And don’t get me wrong, parenting pre-teens and teens is not easy even in typical households. I frequently default to Proverbs 15:1 ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.’ I am here to build all of my children up with gentle dialogue, not to break them down by reacting out of my flesh.”
ADVICE FOR OTHER PARENTS HEADING INTO STEP-PARENTING
“If I were to offer advice to parents who are about to have step-children it would be this: bolster your marriage. A strong marriage is required to withstand some of the storms that occur with blended families. Put God first, then your spouse, and then your children.
God’s design is to have the spousal relationship before your parent-child relationship. I know this stance is not culturally popular, but if you are not strong in your marriage, how can you two be strong for your children? Pray together. Talk about the kids. Build that solid foundation for your kids that they may not have always had in the past.
Step-parents, accept that this situation is complicated. There are going to be hard times. You are going to make mistakes. You have to give yourself some grace.
Create healthy boundaries. It will be tempting to want your stepkids to like you and think you are cool and fun, but that’s not actually what you or they need. You need to develop firm relational boundaries from the start that indicate that you are going to make decisions that keep them as healthy and safe as possible.
When respect is established, the fondness will follow.
And lastly, getting to know your new extended family and building relationships is so important. When divorce happens, there is also a wider range of people stepping in. So you are parenting not only with your ex-spouse or your new spouse, but with grandparents and aunts and cousins who swoop in to help (for better or worse). The stronger you can make these kids’ tribe, the better.”
IDEAL RESOURCES FOR BLENDED CHRISTIAN FAMILIES
“When my three step-children moved in, I looked around for help and I wasn’t really finding it, so I had to just figure it out.
There are so many blended families in the church and yet they are never talked about. And ironically, If we really consider Jesus’ earthly family, we must recognize that Jesus was raised by a stepfather– Joseph. And yet there is still no conversation about it in our churches.
What we need is to hear the truth from other step-parents.
My goal is to write a book that is a collection of stories from step-parents–the good, the bad, and the ugly. We need to know that we are not alone.
Someday, it would be cool to see a ‘stepmother’ and ‘stepfather’ version of these books because men in particular have even fewer resources for this kind of thing.
Last but not least, churches could start a support group for blended families to come together and pray through some of these issues.”
A FINAL WORD ABOUT STEP-PARENTING
Jessica concluded our discussion with the statement that a step-parent has the potential to have so much impact on a child’s life.
In fact, Jessica’s own father is technically her stepfather and she has had such a wonderful relationship with him. In fact, for her 37th birthday this year, she asked him to adopt her officially.
Christianity is nothing if it is not about redemption and second chances. Though blended families have had their share of hardship, it does not have to end there– that would be like the crucifixion without the resurrection.
I am so grateful to Jessica for sharing her heart and story about being a mother in a blended Christian household and trailblazing the way for future families to find Christian support in this situation.
With His love,
To connect with Jessica, click here to be taken to her Instagram profile.