Relationships are messy–even the healthiest ones. They take a lot of hard work. That’s especially true of the relationship between a biological parent and a stepparent. On the surface, there may be opposing agendas, mixed motives, and strong emotions. The result is often an adversarial relationship between biological parent and stepparent. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are some basic truths that biological and stepparents can agree on and use as the foundation for a positive relationship.
Truth # 1: Expectation Is the Thief of Joy
Both biological parents and stepparents can fall into the trap of adopting unrealistic expectations. A stepparent might think, “When we get married, we will create one big, happy family. My new stepchildren will appreciate me and love me. We won’t have any conflicts because I can tell they like me.” If you’re chuckling now, then you know the truth. Blending families is very. hard. work. It takes time and a whole lot of effort.
A biological parent may have unrealistic expectations, too. They may think, “There’s no way my kids will ever like my ex’s new spouse, much less love them. My kids will appreciate me so much more.” The biological parent may picture their children totally rejecting the ex’s new spouse. The biological parent may even try to sabotage that new stepparent relationship to make sure the new spouse doesn’t bond the kids.
The truth is you want your children to develop a healthy relationship with their new stepparent. Why? Because you want your child to thrive. You want your kiddos to grow up in a healthy environment at your home and at the other home.
Truth #2: Comparison Is a Dead-End Street
For both the biological parent and stepparent, comparison is an insidious lure that will ensnare you in a constant state of insecurity. For instance, the new stepmother may worry that she may not cook as well as the biological mom. And guess what? That biological mom may be wondering the exact same thing. Or a biological dad and stepdad may wonder who has the better athletic skills or who can provide more. Where does the comparison lead? What does it give you in return? A constant state of worry.
Can we let some air back into the room? Everyone has their fair share of strengths–and weaknesses. God created all of us uniquely. Each of us has qualities and characteristics and interests and life skills that are distinct from every other person on this planet. Why else would God create all of us with unique fingerprints? You can get down on yourself because you can’t help your child or stepchild on a school project as well as the other parent did. Or you can accept the fact that you’re gifted in other areas, and you will be able to offer those gifts to the children in another situation.
Truth #3: Encouragement Works Better Than Criticism
As a parent–either biological or stepparent–you will face situations in which you have a choice to make. You can offer a word of encouragement to the other parent, or you can use the opportunity to kick them when they are down. You can tear them down, or you can build them up. Encouraging the other parent can pave the way to a better relationship, both with that parent and with your kids.
The reverse is also true. If you use the other parent’s mistakes as an opportunity to disparage them in front of the kids, not only will the kids resent you for putting them in a precarious situation (which parent do I side with?), but they will also learn that stepping on others is acceptable. Ask yourself this question: How might your relationship with the other parent be different if you chose to encourage them on a consistent basis?
We get it. A lot of co-parenting situations involve a high-conflict ex-spouse, and encouraging your ex or their spouse may be the last thing on your mind. You’re just trying to survive! You may not be able to offer an olive branch right now, but at some point, you might. Be open to the work of God in your ex’s life and your own. He specializes in doing the impossible (Luke 1:37).
Truth #4: It’s All About the Kids
At the end of the day, what matters most is the health and vitality of your children. How you feel about the other parent(s) takes a back seat to the needs of your kids. This will likely mean sacrifice and humility on your part.
For example, you may have to sacrifice some time with the kids so they can enjoy a special night out with the other family. Or, you may have to swallow your pride and ask the other parent for help. If you’re not good at geometry but the other parent loves the subject, you need to make that phone call.
Also, putting your children in the middle of a power struggle does not benefit them. Neither does talking bad about the other parent or family when the children are with you. Think about how your attitudes and actions will influence and affect your kids.
Truth #5: Our Children Do Not Belong to Us
God created our children. They belong to Him first and foremost. He knew them before He knit them together in their mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). God has entrusted them into our care, both biological parent and stepparent. We play a role in their lives, but we are not the central character. That role belongs to God alone. We’re just helping our children fulfill their place in the Story God is telling. In blended families, it can be easy to make it about us instead of focusing on the child and their relationship with the Lord.
Our roles as biological parents and stepparents may differ, but our goal should be the same. We want our children to see an example of a healthy family. We want them to live and thrive in a positive, godly environment. We want them to know what it means to have a Kingdom mindset. And we want them to see Jesus in us. Everything else is secondary.
Scott and Vanessa Martindale
Founders of Blended Kingdom Families