September 16 is National Stepfamily Day! Are you celebrating your family?
Maybe your children or stepchildren will be in their other home on this day. Consider a text or a phone call to tell them you’re thinking of them and celebrating the opportunity you have to be in their lives. Take your wife to dinner. Talk about the positive ways your relationships as a stepfamily have grown and come together.
Men, you play an important role in the lives of your children and stepchildren. In our own family, my husband Randy has been a stepdad to my two daughters for 25 years and dad to his three children who have all entered their adult years now. His influence and presence have helped shape them into Christlike, caring adults who contribute in positive ways toward others and their communities.
Randy will be the first to tell you—he hasn’t done everything right. He carries a few regrets of less-than-perfect parenting days. But that didn’t stop him from asking for forgiveness when he failed, seeking the Lord for direction when he floundered, and continuing the hard road of parenting five kids the best he knew how.
Tips to lead your stepfamily
The dynamics of stepfamily life create questions and complexities that might leave you scratching your head for answers. What is my role in my stepdaughter’s life? How do I navigate these outsider feelings with my wife and her kids? Why is there so much disharmony in our home?
You may not find quick-and-easy answers to all your questions when you marry into a stepfamily. But you can consider ways to lead your stepfamily well, with God’s help, that will influence positive relationship-building and carry long-term influence.
My friend Josh has been a dad and stepdad for 15 years. He’s formed some intentional habits to help lead his stepfamily that stem from Alcoholics Anonymous slogans with parallels to stepfamily life. Here are a few he shared with me:
Progress, not perfection
We start stepfamily life with expectations of a new family that will love each other without borders. That doesn’t always happen, especially during the early years. It’s tempting to give up when it takes longer than we anticipate for family members to even like one another. But when we focus on the progress of a few steps forward, without the stress of perfection, we gain hope to keep trying.
As a husband, be sensitive to indicators that your wife is discouraged. As a young stepmom, I struggled under the sting of rejection at times. I let myself believe I would never measure up in my new role. Date nights with my husband revived my wounded spirit. His love and encouragement toward progress, not perfection, prodded my heart to push past my insecurities and pick myself up for another round of stepmothering. His kind words and compassionate gestures sent powerful messages to my discouraged soul.
Let go and let God
Most men like to fix things, right? That’s great when the refrigerator’s broken or the car won’t run. But broken relationships in your stepfamily don’t come with simple fixes. It may not be easy, but I encourage you to let go of trying to solve all the problems and lead your stepfamily to God for answers. He’ll show up every time.
When God told Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses’ first response was fear. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). God answered Moses the same way He answers us: “But I will be with you” (verse 12).
You don’t have to carry the weight of finding fixes to your problems. He walks with you. Will you let go and let God?
Easy Does It
Marriage starts off complicated if there’s a former spouse in the background. In our own family, we walked through a long, hard adjustment period. My former spouse was threatened by a developing relationship between my two girls and their stepdad, Randy. Harsh words were hurled at Randy when the two were together.
After prayer and counsel, we finally opted to speak with my ex about his hostile attitude. Randy assured him he wasn’t trying to replace him as their father but wanted to be an additional parent and support for the girls. He humbly asked for his cooperation to work together for the sake of the children.
Randy and my former spouse will never be best buddies. But over time, their relationship improved. My daughters have now exited the nest and their dad and stepdad have learned to respect one another, honoring the position they each carry in the girls’ lives.
“Easy does it” will serve you well as a stepdad. Whether you’re forming relationships with your stepchildren or talking with a former spouse, don’t force your new position. Slow and steady builds trust and acceptance over time.
One Day at a Time
When my friend Nathan lost his job during the pandemic, he obsessed over concerns of the future about how to provide for his family. He couldn’t manage his anxiety and began to experience panic attacks for the first time. But I saw him at church recently, and he told me he’s doing better.
“I don’t have a job yet,” he said, “but a counselor helped me learn how to keep my focus on the present and not anticipate problems of the future. I still find myself worrying how we’ll continue to pay our bills at times, but I’m getting better at trusting God for what we need today.”
Discouragement creeps in when we jump out of today and into tomorrow. But when we commit to live one day at a time and stay focused on the issues of today, life becomes more manageable.
I love the story in Exodus 16 of how God provided for the Israelites. They had left Egypt a month prior after witnessing God’s spectacular deliverance from their bondage with the parting of the Red Sea. But, just like us, they found something else to grumble about—their lack of food.
Out of His great compassion, God offered a supernatural gift: manna. He gave strict instruction that they gather only the daily portion and not keep it until the next day or it would spoil. However, some disobeyed. They refused to believe God would meet their daily needs and kept manna for the next day, finding it full of maggots.
How often do we do the same? We don’t trust God is big enough to meet our needs, so we create our own solutions. As a husband and a father, you offer a model worth following when you trust God for your needs, one day at a time, without concern for the future.
“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34, NIV).
You are making a difference while leading your stepfamily
A man’s stable presence provides valuable influence for his family. My own dad continues to model and teach life lessons to me through his later years. I remember a conversation during a hard season a few years ago that brought tears to my eyes.
Mom’s dementia had become increasingly difficult to manage. I never heard Dad complain, though, or waver as he cared for her. “Your mom has made a lot of sacrifices for me over the years,” he said. “It’s now my turn to make sacrifices for her.” He was the perfect model of his wedding vows—for better or for worse.
As a leader in your home, you’ve been given an opportunity to make a difference in your family as a husband, dad, and stepdad. Commit to be intentional in your behavior. Lead your stepfamily well, with God’s help.
And perhaps consider how to celebrate your family on National Stepfamily Day!
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Gayla Grace serves on staff with FamilyLife Blended and is passionate about equipping blended families as a writer and a speaker. She holds a master’s degree in Psychology and Counseling and is the author of Stepparenting With Grace: A Devotional for Blended Families and co-author of Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. Gayla and her husband, Randy, have been married since 1995 in a “his, hers, and ours” family. She is the mom to three young adult children and stepmom to two.