A stepparent (sometimes spelled step-parent) is a person who marries someone who already has a child. A stepparent is distinct from the natural parent or the legal parent and is only a parent to his or her spouse’s child by virtue of the marriage.
Some stepparenting relationships are wonderful and fill a vital role in the family. A stepmom or stepdad can be as close or closer to a child than the biological parent. Other families, however, are plagued with issues due to the children’s lack of acceptance of the stepparent or the stepparent’s lack of wisdom in dealing with the stepchildren. While the Bible does not specifically address the topic of stepparenting, many principles and examples may help blended families adapt to their new roles and create a happy environment where everyone can thrive.
Adoption is a recurring theme in the Bible and has some bearing on stepparenting. Even if there’s no legal adoption, the stepparent can benefit from treating his or her stepchildren as though they were adopted, offering acceptance and unconditional love. God calls Himself our Father and us His adopted children (Romans 8:15; Ephesians 1:5). A Christian stepparent can model to his or her stepchildren the love and tenderness that God has for us.
Jesus was raised in part by a stepfather. Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus (Luke 1:35), but he willingly took on the responsibility of raising a child that was not his. He modeled for other stepparents the right attitude toward Mary’s Son—so much so that Jesus was known as “the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:35).
Stepparents benefit from applying God’s instructions on marriage. Ephesians 5:21–33 is a blueprint for a godly marriage, and when the marriage is secure and happy, the stepparenting will go more smoothly. In God’s design for the family, husbands must be the leaders and love their wives sacrificially, and wives must follow their husbands’ leadership respectfully. Both parents must model their roles for the children. When stepchildren know their biological parent is happy and the home is a peaceful haven for everyone, many stepparenting issues will resolve themselves. Children feel secure in a home where both mother and father feel secure in their own relationship.
An issue can arise in stepparenting regarding parental authority. The biological parent may want the stepparent to assume the role of Mom or Dad, but then interfere when the newcomer tries to instruct or discipline the children. Jesus said, “A house divided will not stand” (Matthew 12:25). So wise parents will agree on boundaries and consequences before trying to co-parent the children. A stepparent entering an established family structure can find it overwhelming and may be tempted to bow out of all parental responsibility. However, if the biological parent will take the lead in establishing a healthy relationship between the children and the new parent, it is easier for everyone to adjust to the new roles. Any disagreement or confusion about parenting rules and discipline should be handled behind closed doors so the children always see a united front.
Problems in blended families can arise in relation to the other biological parent—the one not living in the home. In a divorce involving children, parents must decide on primary custody, visitation schedules, and child support. Those issues often create great tension and strong emotions on both sides. Stepparents can get caught in the middle and may be tempted to try to defend their new spouse or stir up animosity toward the ex. This doesn’t help and often pulls the children into the middle of an adult war. A wise course for the stepparent is to refuse to engage in anything pertaining to the ex and to watch what is said to the children about their other parent. Proverbs 15:1 applies: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” When stepparents resolve to be peacemakers, they bring the blessing of cooler heads and wise counsel to their spouses. Stepparents have the power to prevent additional drama by refusing to be drawn into the skirmish.
Any adult who chooses to step in and raise someone else’s children should be commended. It is a noble endeavor but may be met with resistance from many directions. Wise stepparents never try to replace the biological parent; however, they can create their own place in a child’s heart by offering their own style of parenting. The family must be in agreement about what name the stepparent assumes, and children should not be forced to use “Mom” or “Dad” if they are not comfortable doing so. Stepparents can reassure the children that it’s okay to love both the biological parent and the stepparent. They are not in competition. If the children complain about the ex, a wise stepparent will listen and validate their feelings without taking sides. Children’s loyalties fluctuate, and a stepparent who gets caught up in partisanship may live to regret it.
The best thing a stepparent can do is to model the love of Christ toward the spouse and toward the children. Even when the children reject early efforts to connect, stepparents can remember that we also rejected Christ at first (Romans 5:8). But He did not give up on us, so we will not give up on the ones He has placed in our lives.