You notice your friend’s sad face at the kids’ soccer game and wonder what’s up. As you approach her with a friendly “hello” and a casual “How are you?” her emotions spill out with her words as her chin begins to tremble.
“David’s working today, so I’m in charge of his kids,” she shares. “It was a hard morning. Cassidy wanted nothing to do with me. She just kept asking for her mom. The day after drop-off is always hard, but I couldn’t deal with it today. Am I not good enough? Will she ever accept me into her life? What am I doing wrong? I know how to be a mom, but not to her. I thought after two years of marriage things would get better, but I feel like they’re only getting worse.”
What do you say? How can you help?
Rejection shows up at some point in most every stepparent’s life. It’s a normal building block on a fragile structure in the early years of a blended family.
If you’re not a stepparent yourself, you might wonder how to help. Here are a few ideas:
1. Offer empathy.
Rejection hurts. A trite or well-meaning answer like, “Cassidy must be having a hard time, too,” will only leave your friend feeling worse. Acknowledge her feelings with sincere, heartfelt words. Then give her space to say more: “I’m sorry, Andrea. I know that must be incredibly hurtful for you.” Pause and offer a hug. Encourage her to talk it out if she feels comfortable. Be a listening ear without trying to give solutions. It’s likely Andrea has few channels where she feels safe to express her honest stepmom feelings.
In their book, Building Love Together in Blended Families: The 5 Love Languages® and Becoming Stepfamily Smart, Gary Chapman and Ron Deal affirm the perils of rejection: “When you are highly motivated toward building love, rejection is terribly discouraging and defeating. … it can make you want to give up.”
They offer encouragement on being stubbornly persistent to show yourself faithful as a stepparent, even in the midst of rejection. Offering empathy for your friend’s feelings will help give her the courage she needs to keep moving forward in her stepmom role.
2. Help them garner a realistic view of the situation.
In the midst of rejection, a stepparent considers few positive characteristics about a relationship. It’s easy to focus only on the negative. After listening and empathizing, consider how to nudge them toward a different perspective.
As an outsider looking in, you can offer your friend a realistic view of the relationship you see building. “Andrea, I know it might seem like Cassidy wants nothing to do with you, but I’ve noticed she seems quicker to offer hugs and smiles toward you than she did a few months ago. It looks to me like you’re doing a lot of things right in pursuing a closer bond with her.”
Focusing on the positive aspects of a relationship allows for hopeful thoughts about the future. Your friend might need to voice her complaints about the rejection she’s enduring at times, but don’t allow her to stay stuck in a critical spirit about her stepfamily. Pointing out even small aspects of good things happening in their relationships can keep a stepparent hopeful of brighter days ahead.
3. Encourage personal resolve in the face of rejection.
Deal and Chapman state that one part of the personal resolve necessary to stay faithful in the midst of rejection is raw determination—forging ahead when it would be easier to give up. They go on to say another aspect of resolve that’s needed must be found “above and within.”
When we find our sense of worth and identity in a relationship with God, we can then separate who we really are from who the rejecting person implies we are. We determine our identity, instead of staying hooked to one defined by someone else. “Finding significance from above and definition from within will fuel your resolve to continue knocking on the door of [your stepchild’s] heart without letting their resistance destroy you,” Deal and Chapman write.
Reassure your friend of the depth of God’s love for them and His ability to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:17-20). Encourage her to step away, with God’s help, from a defeated and insecure image that rejection easily creates. And help her build personal resolve that keeps her moving forward and gives her the tenacity she needs to pursue stubborn love with her stepchild.
4. Help focus on unity with their spouse and creating long-term relationships with their stepchildren.
The feelings of rejection that stepparents encounter in the beginning often dissipate and end altogether as time passes. When the bonds of familyness form, inclusion takes over. A marathon mindset helps a stepparent survive a season when rejection seems to dominate at every turn.
On hard days, a unified couple relationship can help a hurting stepparent. Encourage your friend to confide in her partner about her feelings. Biological parents don’t always recognize the rejection and loneliness stepparents endure and can show support in front of their kids to help.
I’ll never forget a comment my husband used to make with his kids (more than once) when the sting of rejection showed up for me. “Gayla isn’t going away,” he would say. “We need to find a way to include her in our family circle and all get along.” His comment went a long way in encouraging my pursuit of relationship-building.
Healthy boundary setting can also help a stepparent cope with rejection. Encourage your friend to include self-care in her routine and couple-time away from the kids. Invite her out for coffee, get a pedicure together, or just go to the park for an afternoon of girl time. A sense of belonging in other relationships can help your friend push against rejection in her home when it shows up.
When facing rejection, faithfulness counts
Reasons for rejection might be traced to a variety of factors. But regardless of where it originates, it can create doubt and insecurity about relationship-building.
In the face of rejection, Chapman and Deal encourage stepparents to engage in a long, tenacious love with their stepchildren that will prove itself over time. “Love and faithfulness are critical to growing and sustaining healthy relationships,” they say. Even when feeling powerless against the obstacles, “Faithful love is your power; it has the muscle you need to turn things in a better direction.”
Most stepchildren simply will not continue to reject a stepparent long-term who engages in an authentic love relationship with them.
Encourage your friend to keep Christ as her cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20) as she frames an unshakable structure with building blocks that stand against the winds of rejection and create healthy long-term relationships in her stepfamily.
Copyright © 2020 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
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.