Loving Your Step kids – How do I learn to love my step kids
It may be the biggest taboo topic or question in any blended family: how do I learn to love my step-kids?
This co-parenting thing is not for the faint of heart, is it? Blended family issues are real. And the questions we have as divorced and remarried couples keep us up at night: What if we can’t get this co-parenting thing right? What if we repeat the mistakes we made in our previous marriages and, by extension, hurt the children that God’s entrusted to us? The enemy would have us believe that anything short of perfection will lead to our failure as parents. But our encouragement to you is to take a deep breath and let God meet you in your doubt and insecurities.
Step for Loving your Step Kids!
Love Takes Time
When we don’t feel the same way about our step-children as we do about our biological children there’s a weight and a burden we carry. Most of us wonder why the feelings don’t instantly emerge. If we’re Christians, the love should just flow from us without a problem, right?!
The truth is, that for many stepparents, it doesn’t happen that way. And the weight of guilt we carry about a lack of emotional attachment can leave us feeling hopeless. But what we know if we’ve accepted Christ as our savior is that we are never without hope. Let that sink in for a moment – it should instantly fill your lungs with air as we accept the fact that we may not feel the same intensity of love for our step-children right now, but the reality is that the Lord is faithful to change that.
None of us like this word — but patience is key. The reality is that we’re coming into a child’s life after they’ve had years of bonding experiences with their biological parents. Maybe we’re step-parenting a teenager or even an adult that’s moved out of the house! It will, understandably, take time to develop feelings on both sides of the equation. Yet we can be assured that feelings can be built over time whenever we make the choice to love.
A Beautiful Combination: Choosing to Love and the Grace of God
We know from scripture that one of the fruits of the spirit is love. In Colossians 3:14-17, it’s said that we’re to put on love. Like clothes that have been given to us by the Spirit, we put on something that perhaps doesn’t come naturally, but is completely accessible to us. The bible refers to this kind of love as agape love. It’s a kind of love that’s sacrificial. It means we continue to put ourselves out there even when we may not “feel” it or perhaps the love we show isn’t appreciated or returned by our stepchildren. In either case, we’re empowered to choose agape love through the Holy Spirit. Let’s not forget that the God we serve is love.
It’s because of this, that we can set aside our pride and treat love as a verb. We can choose to show love to our stepchildren by actions that we take which will lead to feelings of love. Carve out special time to spend with them and make it your mission to figure out how your kids see and experience love. For many kids, it’s quality time. But again, this can be a gradual process. We aren’t going to have our entire relationship changed in one afternoon of playing baseball, though the movie industry might have us believe that.
Chances are, your child is also experiencing the discomfort of not understanding their own feelings and wanting things to just feel normal. They know the emotions they’re “supposed to” have and carry the added weight of potentially thinking they’re being disloyal to their biological parent as their feelings for you develop.
Again, be patient and stay intentional about getting to know your step-child. Let God be in charge of helping feelings to develop.
Celebrate Their Uniqueness – Loving your Step Kids
A mindset of celebration goes a long way towards the development of a love relationship. We believe that when God looks down on us, he celebrates the way he’s made us all uniquely. In the same way, as parents, we’re to celebrate the uniqueness of our sons and daughters!
And as step-parents, we can’t manufacture the feelings that make us want to celebrate, but we can show intentional acts of love regardless of our feelings. Through God’s sovereignty, those feelings of love become a much-welcomed by-product that begins to flow naturally. Our job is to go after each child (whether they’re biological or step) with zeal.
Pursuing our stepchildren may take a lot of prayers, patience, and persistence on our part. In fact, we hear often from step-parents that they feel uncomfortable being “pushy” about opportunities to bond and that if the child declines their initiations they’re inclined to back off. And while we’re all for honoring healthy boundaries, and allowing for space when needed, we also want to encourage you not to wait too long before making another attempt. It’s important that our kids know that we’re not giving up on them. Whether it’s in a few hours or a few days, we will initiate again. We can’t allow ourselves to become hopeless or discouraged in the face of rejection.
Pursue Your Stepkids as God Pursues You
For Loving your Step Kids you needs Closely linked to initiation is just showing up! Make sure you’re present for the sporting events, the science club event, or whatever your stepkid’s interest is (whether you’re interested or not). Showing up not only communicates that you care, but it’ll also help you to really figure out what makes your kids tick. And it’s that understanding that will help in you plan future initiations with them. If your kid just wants to play with Legos, play with Legos! See if you can help them build something new. Get invested in what they’re invested in, even if it’s just for moments at a time.
When you do have the opportunity to spend lengthier amounts of time, perhaps it’s initiating a few hours at the zoo, doing an arts and craft activity, or going swimming. These activities are often especially good with younger kids. As kids get older, maybe it’s just a quick trip to Starbucks together. It can be difficult to find the time for these activities because we’re busy people. We’ve got jobs, ministries, and other familial responsibilities. But what we know about kids is that they often spell the word, love, t-i-m-e. So, we recommend that step-parents spend as much quality time as possible, as an act of love. Sacrificially giving that agape love that God calls us to.
Reading a bedtime story at the end of a long day can be the last thing we want to do, but don’t miss the opportunity to read that book about dinosaurs again. Recognize it as an opportunity to connect with your stepson or daughter and help build the relationship that God has for you.
Read the book, play the video game, and pray. God will honor your obedience and the sacrifice will be worth it.
Be a Supportive Co-Parent by Managing Your Expectations
If you’re in a newly blended family, we encourage you to have a conversation with your spouse about co-parenting expectations. Sometimes biological parents can expect that the step-parent is going to love their children immediately because they love him or her as their spouse. But, often, feelings don’t emerge that quickly or automatically.
Create an open dialogue about your kids. It’s healthy to open up and admit that you’re struggling or that your feelings just aren’t there yet. As spouses, we’ve got to give each other grace and allow God to move. Talking to one another will help us work through the rough spots as a team and understand how to pray for and encourage one another.
As biological parents, it’s natural to worry about whether your new spouse will ever love your kids the same way they love their own. But be patient. Every situation is different, and feelings will develop at different rates for both your spouse and your child. Your kids may even be experiencing feelings of anger with you and therefore lash out at your new spouse. Our emotions are amazingly complex. Give both your spouse and your child space to grow together. God will bless the generosity of your heart.
Let Love Grow to Loving your Step Kids
Remember that God is in favor of your marriage and your love story. He wants to do profound work not just in the midst of your family, but inside of you as an individual. Rest in the knowledge that He is faithful to do just that, as you pray and persist.
Scott and Vanessa Martindale
Founders of Blended Kingdom Families