9 Hard Truths I’ve Learned as a Stepparent [With a Dose of Encouragement]

Are you in a relationship where becoming a stepparent is on the table?

I’ve been a stepparent for over 12 years. It has been a calling; this is for sure. Though it has been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done, it has also been rewarding.

When I first became a stepparent, I faced hardships I didn’t even know existed. I scoured the internet looking for help, and it seemed there was nothing more than forums where other women (like myself) gathered to complain and compare notes.

It was encouraging to know I wasn’t alone, but it didn’t offer any hope. A few years ago, I did a Bible study at church about stepparenting. The book we used was trying to be helpful, but it still missed some of the hard realities.

I’ll say upfront, not everyone will agree with my assessment because every situation is different.

However, I’ve been the stepparent from many angles, so I wanted to share the hard truths I’ve uncovered during my journey.

If you’re looking for a heads up of what you may experience as a stepparent, here’s my take on the matter:

Note: I’m not a professional. The information I’m sharing is meant for informational purposes only. Please seek the help of a mental health professional or a marriage counselor if needed.

My Story

When my husband and I first got married, he had two kids from a previous marriage. In the beginning, we had the kids every other weekend, one time during the off weeks, and any time we were afforded the opportunity outside of those days.

As the years progressed, the oldest child decided to move in with us. During this time, we had one child while the other remained with the other biological parent. This wasn’t ideal, but it was what we had to do for a year.

The next year, the youngest child moved in with us also, and we shifted to having the kids 100% of the time. How you stepparent will change drastically depending upon which scenario you’re in.

Here’s the scoop on what I’ve learned from being in each situation:

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1. You Aren’t the Parent…Or Are You?

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When you marry someone with kids, their kids become your kids. Yet, this relationship can look different depending upon your situation. You must figure out your place, but this will take time.

During my early days of marriage, I felt pressure from all sides. Some wanted me to back off while some wanted me to step up.

As you begin to feel pressured, it’s the perfect time to get to a place of total silence and prayerfully figure things out.

You’re in the situation. You know it better than most others because you’re living it. Therefore, you must assess where you’re at and develop your game plan from there.

If you have the kids on the weekends or 50% of the time, your role will look different from those raising the kids 100% of the time.

When the kids have two active biological or adoptive parents, you get to be an added person to love them, but you don’t have to step up to fill a role which is already being filled.

However, if you’re in the situation where you’re raising the kids full-time and there is an absentee parent, don’t be afraid to step up if the kids want you too.

This was a hard one for me because I felt like by stepping up, I was giving up hope that my children would achieve reconciliation in their lives.

Growing up with an absentee parent, I know the hurt all too well. I don’t desire for my children to experience the same hurt.

But after a step parenting Bible study, I realized what they needed was a mom right now. It doesn’t mean I’ll be the only mom their entire lives, but that’s my current role.

Assess your situation, and always remember, it isn’t about you when it comes to stepparenting. It’s about what’s best for the kids, their needs, and where you fit in to help them have the best life they can have.

2. Do This Expecting Nothing in Return

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Let’s be honest, if we all had kids and expected them to end up being a bunch of criminals, we probably wouldn’t reproduce.

We all have children or raise children because we want them to be the best versions of themselves.

I got caught up in the lie of holding God to a promise He never made. I took Proverbs 22:6 as a promise instead of a principle.

When one of our children became an adult, I was crushed at some of the choices he was making.

For a couple of years, I became angry with the LORD. I didn’t walk away from Him because I knew I had nowhere else to go, but I was mad.

During those years of wrestling I learned something. I was expecting something in return for my obedience. In reality, I should’ve been obedient to God because I love Him, not because I wanted my kids to turn out a certain way.

It was pride.

From the day I realized this, I’ve parented completely differently. I no longer raise my children with the expectation of who they’ll become.

I raise my children for the present day, and I know if they turn out wonderfully, it will be because of God’s mercy and grace. If they turn out the opposite, it’ll be because of their own choices.

I only answer for me, and I strive now to walk in obedience out of love for my God.

Moral of this story: when you become a stepparent, don’t expect glory or anything for that matter. Fill this role to the best of your ability because it’s the right thing to do.

Don’t take too much credit for the good things your kids do, but also, don’t take too much credit for the wrong they do either.

Do what God has called you to do. Lean into Him every single day and leave the results to Him.

3. The Pressure is Real

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When I became a stepparent, I found two common reactions. Either people were glad I was there, or they wished I’d go away.  

The crowd who’s glad you’re there is frequently the support system. Maybe they’re glad the widow has found a new mate, or maybe they saw the heartache your new spouse and stepchildren went through because of a divorce.

They’re glad someone is there to help them start a new chapter of joy.

For the people who don’t want you there it’s because they’re afraid. Afraid you might do a better job than the previous spouse, take the position of the previous spouse, or worse, the kids might love you more.

Both sides can make life hard at times. The ones who are glad you’re there, can unknowingly put a ton of stress on you because they may have expectations.

For the group who doesn’t want you around, they can make your life hard because it feels like you’re living life under a microscope.

The pressure can feel immense at times, and I’ve cracked under it. I’ll admit it.

There were days I woke up and thought, “What have I gotten myself into?”

I learned early on not to complain about my hardships because most don’t understand. Many people (wrongly) assume you knew what you were getting into when you said, “I do.”

In reality, most stepparents don’t have a clue what they’re marrying into because each circumstance is so different.

But you must learn to take your hardships to God because if He’s for you who can be against you? (Romans 8:31)

Don’t get upset when you’re under pressure. Realize that God has you right where He wants you (assuming you’re in His will.)

Seek Him like never before, and if He’s with you, you will not fail. But I’ve learned, God needs to be the main source of comfort.

It doesn’t mean He won’t send loving family, friends, or even a good therapist your way to help you through, but make sure He’s first.

4. Most People May Not Understand

People may not understand what you’re going through as a stepparent. Even other stepparents may not fully get it because each situation is so different.

Some have totally cordial relationships with all parties in their situation, the kids love them, and their biggest concern is juggling more people in their home.

Need help juggling your home? Check out this book! 

Where other stepparents feel like a complete outsider. Maybe there’s a vindictive ex-spouse, the kids are hurting, and the stepparent’s spouse is always stressed out because they don’t know how to handle it all.

I saw this firsthand in our step parenting Bible study. It was good to know we weren’t in this alone, but it was also clear all of our situations were very different.

Some became stepparents because of a death, some were in civil situations, others were in hostile situations, some step parents were young, and others were older.

Don’t get frustrated when people don’t understand you.

Realize, God is your source of comfort. He won’t judge you or put unfair expectations on you.

He will understand, and He is the only way you will stepparent well whether you have the kids a few days a month or every day.

Check out The Book of Comforts. It’s a wonderful resource when you’re in need of a hug from God’s Word. 

5. It’s a Calling

I’ve been pretty tough on stepparenting up to this point because I don’t want anyone to be disillusioned.

It isn’t about dressing your stepchildren up, showing them off around town, and living life like The Brady Bunch.

This is one thing every stepparent will probably agree with: how you think stepparenting will be and how it is are totally different things.

Being a stepparent is one of the most selfless things you can do. It doesn’t matter how frequently you have the kids.

If you’re making a conscious decision to pour into the life of a child you aren’t obligated to pour into, you’re being selfless.

Not everyone can handle being a stepparent. The percentages of failed marriages rise each time you remarry. I’m not an expert, but I can’t help but believe blending a family is one of the contributing factors.

It’s hard to learn your place in a family and make everything work, but if you can do it and are willing to invest in children you don’t technically have to, it has to be a calling.

Stepparenting isn’t easy. It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I know God has brought me to it. Therefore, I get up every day and give it all I have.

6. Tough Skin is a Must

As I mentioned above, don’t be surprised if everyone isn’t your biggest fan as a stepparent.  Maybe some will even doubt your abilities to stepparent well.

Don’t get your feelings hurt. Instead, develop tough skin and remember what they say about opinions. 😉

Discernment is vital when developing tough skin. You shouldn’t become prideful and assume every critique is wrong.

However, you shouldn’t assume every piece of advice is accurate or is sent with well-wishes either.  

It’s hard to take criticism and handle it well, but the sooner you learn how to do this the better you’ll fair in the world of stepparenting.

7. Create Boundaries

This is a big one. As a stepparent (whether you’re raising the kids full-time or only have them certain days of the month) you must realize you aren’t their biological or adoptive parent.

What I mean by this is realizing what may be appropriate with your own child isn’t always appropriate with your stepchildren.

Things such as discipline, bath times, or diaper changes should be discussed with the biological parent before you assist or have any part of them.

In my family, my husband handled bath times and diaper changes when the kids were smaller, and he still handles the majority of the discipline with my stepchildren.

Bedrooms are off limits in our house. All our children know not to enter our room without knocking, and it isn’t a hangout space.

Mine and my husband’s bedroom is on a separate floor from our kids, but our exercise room is on the same floor as our children’s bedrooms.

When I need to exercise, the kids know to go to a different floor in the house.

I was raised in a household with a stepparent. My mom took great care to implement boundaries to ensure everything was above reproach in our home at all times.

It was a no-brainer when I became a stepparent to do the same thing.

You must stay above reproach as a stepparent, and I highly recommend putting boundaries in place in your home as soon as possible.

8. Prayer and Self-Care Are Musts

You can’t stepparent well without prayer. This may be the most challenging job you’ll ever have.

You’re raising kids who have experienced some form of trauma or (to be frank) you wouldn’t be in the picture.

They’re going to have emotions, bad attitudes, many times they’ll be pulled in different directions, and have other people’s insecurities projected onto them.

Their life isn’t easy which means yours won’t be either.

How do you survive and even thrive as a stepparent? Prayer! Lots and lots of prayer.

As a parent (in general) I pour into others in mass quantities on the daily. I used to try to skip out on self-care because I thought, “Why do I need it?”

Reality check: If you’re pouring into others in mass quantities, you need to be refilling yourself faster than you’re pouring out.

If you need a couple hours a day to exercise, do your devotions, meditate, practice yoga, take a walk, whatever you do to replenish yourself then do it.

Don’t feel guilty. Don’t let others tell you it isn’t important. No one is walking in your shoes. No one has the right to tell you how your journey should go besides God Himself.

Take as much time as you can each day for yourself because your family depends upon it. You can’t pour from an empty vessel.

9. Everyone Should Play by the Same Rules

This section will be short, sweet, and to the point. It may be typical for there to be different rules for different people in a situation.

For instance, sometimes the biological families will be given more wiggle room while mutual friends or stepfamily are required to abide by the rules a little closer.

As an example, if grandma can get away with loading the kids up on sweets and not making them take a nap, but the step grandmother would be called out on this behavior, something needs to be fixed.

If left unresolved, it will cause stress in your marriage. It will also be confusing for yourself and the children because the rules change based upon who is around.

Not to mention, it’s just plain hurtful.

If you notice this happening around you, take it to your spouse. Be sure to approach it in the right way but explain how hurtful and difficult this bias makes things for everyone.

These are 9 stepparenting points I’ve realized during my journey as a stepparent.

This role isn’t always glamorous or even super fun, but I love my husband and children more than anything.

I’d do it all again (even the hard moments) to be where I am now. God has used this calling to mold me more than anything else I’ve experienced in my life.

Though the journey may not always be smooth sailing, it’s definitely worth it.

I hope these pointers, though blunt, somehow equip and even encourage you during your own journey as a stepparent.

Best wishes to you and your family!

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