Especially for Stepfathers
Being a dad in a step family is one of the greatest family challenges of our day. Studies estimated that one in every four children that grew up in the 1990s in the United States would eventually be in a stepfamily setting. Over 90% of those children would, statistically, live with their biological mother and a stepfather. So, if you are a stepfather, you are not alone. Consider with me some information, from a variety of sources concerning stepfamilies, to help define the challenge associated with this quickly growing position in the American home.
The step family faces unique pressures. One or both mates may have a former spouse, former in-laws or children from a previous marriage. Most partners in these marital settings admit they had little comprehension how tough it would be to combine two families. They are apparently unprepared for the fact that the stepfamily is an unnatural social setting which will not readily yield to developing relationships with the same ease as in the natural family. In simple terms, it is a whole lot easier to develop love and patience for your biological child than for the child of another. Add to that the fact that the stepfamily is often created after the heartache and bitterness that accompanies divorce.
When all the elements are factored in, it is no surprise that serious problems often arise as couples establish stepfamily relationships and children try to respond to their new situation. It is no wonder that the second marriage often yields to these pressures and consequently fails at a much higher rate than first marriages. Take heed to be successful as a stepfather is no easy task.
Facing The Facts:
Many times a single mother seeks to remarry believing a father for her children is vitally necessary for their physical and emotional welfare. Such marriages, however, do not reproduce a normal family structure. Statistically, children in stepfamilies are found to have as many or more behavioral problems than those living in single parent homes. Up to 75% of stepchildren repeat a grade in school and those same children are 70% more likely to be expelled than children living with their natural parents. Surveys show that stepchildren struggle with loneliness and run away in disproportionately large numbers. Evidence points to the fact that they have difficulty adjusting to their new family setting. To conquer these problems will require uncommon devotion from a step dad to his children.
No doubt most men take on the role of stepfather with high hopes of success and a strong desire to meet the needs of new family members; however, the stepfather seldom, if ever, replaces a child s natural father. No matter how irresponsible a biological father may have been toward his children, they will generally hold him in high esteem. As a stepfather struggles with developing the necessary balance of love and control toward his children and wrestles to define his role in guidance, care and discipline, he can experience much frustration. Perhaps this frustration is part of the reason why children in stepfamilies are more likely to experience harsh parental discipline than their peers in the natural family setting. Obviously, such is not acceptable, but, unfortunately, is too often reality.
A wise stepfather will also realize that children are often caught in the middle of parental conflicts, fearing that love to a stepfather may be perceived as disloyalty to a biological father. Sadly, adults often foster those fears by negative words and actions.
Needless to say, the facts are not very encouraging. Thank the Lord, your family can be different, but to be successful as a stepfather, you must face some hard realities and respond to them with spiritual grace and insight.
GUIDELINES TO HELP:
Whether we like it or not, the role of the stepfather will vary from family to family dependent on acceptance by the children, the involvement of the children s natural father and other factors that are beyond the stepfather s control. The Apostle Paul learned to be content in whatsoever state he found himself (Philippians 4:11). He expressed his confidence for success with these words: I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Phil. 4:13) A stepfather must find contentment with his circumstances and determine by faith to do all things through Christ as the source of his strength.
The first priority in facing any spiritual challenge is one s personal walk with the Lord. Every family will face many pressures which will require spiritual wisdom to endure. A stepfather must provide true spiritual leadership. Church involvement, prayer, devotional time and a spiritual response to difficult situations is essential. If you as a stepfather succumb to the pressures and end up in spiritual defeat and discouragement, the family will fall when you fall. Your family must be able to see Christ in you. Colossians 2:6-7 states, As ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. In simple terms, you need to be a strong and growing Christian. Pressures either drive us to the Lord or drive us away from him. You need to make sure they drive you to Him.
To handle difficult situations in the wisdom of the flesh will usually make things worse than when they started. When searching the Scriptures and praying, we will find the answers we need for the challenge at hand. It is not enough, however, to simply open the Bible during a crisis and hope the solution will jump off the page at us. Spiritual wisdom comes through consistent and continual study of the Word of God. Gradually, wisdom is developed and the principles of Scripture are built into our lives. There are no short cuts to maturity. Start today and receive the rich dividends in the days ahead.
The second priority in life for a married man is to strengthen his marriage. Marriages established with the best of circumstances are shaken by the storms of life. A stepfather must commit himself to being the best husband he can be. Your marriage may be a second try for you or your wife, or maybe both. If so, a tremendous amount of spiritual and emotional baggage has been brought into your relationship that may take a heavy toll on you. You will need to go the second mile in communication, tenderness and understanding. You will have to fight off selfishness and its companion self-pity, especially when you feel you are giving and giving in your marriage, but never seem to get much in return.
The challenge, to love your wife as Christ loved the Church, is one that you must heed daily. That love is best understood as the sacrifice of oneself for another. (Ephesians 5:25) That is your primary marital responsibility. You will have to work hard to develop and keep a close relationship with your wife.
Usually when a young couple gets married, they have a couple of years without children. This gives them time to get to know each other more fully and work through the needed adjustments to get the marriage on a good foundation. As a stepfather you were not afforded that benefit. Consequently, the earliest months of your marriage included one or more children to fit into the adjustment period.
Whatever the particulars of your situation may be, you will need a love that can only be produced by the Holy Spirit of God, in order to give and give and give again. Remember, though, there are no other options. Your family must be a success.
Though it may be difficult, recognize as we mentioned earlier, you are probably not going to replace the natural father of your stepchildren, especially if there has been a divorce and he is still living. Proverbs 17:6b states, The glory of children are their fathers. God has secured in the hearts of children a special place for their dad. Experience demonstrates that children often maintain a loyalty to their natural father in spite of the fact that he may have failed, hurt or even abused them.
For two years during my college days, my wife and I were house parents at a children s home. We basically had the children with us as though they were our own. On one weekend a month they were scheduled to be with their parents or parent, as the case might be. Many of these children could have been home, but they were not wanted. One set of three, two brothers and a sister, were caught in the divorce tragedy. Their parents divorced and they each remarried. In the new marriage setting, neither parent wanted the children from their first marriage, so the kids ended up in the home. There were other situations equally bizarre. The amazing fact was that all the children maintained incredible loyalty to their natural parents.
To a large degree, as you will learn personally, your role in the lives of your stepchildren will depend on their willingness to accept you. You may feed them, clothe them, and meet many of their needs without ever receiving the love and appreciation you may want and expect. You must handle this spiritually and not fall into the trap of hurt, anger or bitterness. You may be tempted to remind the children of their father s failures, but to do so will only bring hurt to the very ones you want to help. Let their father s deeds, good or bad, speak for themselves. Accept your role with grace, work hard to earn the children s respect, and seek to have a great spiritual impact on their lives.
You must make every attempt to be involved in the lives and activities of your stepchildren. It is hard when your efforts may not seem to be appreciated, but you need to work hard to be respected and accepted. The children did not ask for their situation; their choices were made for them. The fact that stepchildren tend to feel lonely and often run away, is a signal that some very important aspects of stepfamily relationships are generally ignored or handled poorly. A single mom often pours her life into her children. She tries to make up for the absence of their dad and sometimes gains emotional support for herself by involvement with them. The stepfather enters the family, but instead of filling the void left by the absent father, he is often perceived by the children as taking away their mother. It is true that marriage is the primary family relationship and yours will require much time and effort. At the same time, your stepchildren must see you as a loving and devoted addition to their family, not someone who is robbing them of their only source of security and stability, namely their mother. You must be a very real and supportive presence in their day to day lives and acknowledge that when you married their mother, you accepted them as a permanent part of your future.
One of the most dividing problems in the stepfamily is the discipline and training of the children. This whole realm will demand a great deal of communication and agreement between you and your spouse. The natural parent has both the right and responsibility to address these areas, but your role must be carefully established and defined. Your goal is to achieve as natural a setting as possible, because you are the head of the home. A major question is does your wife have enough confidence in you to allow you a free hand in the care of her children? If she does, how will the children respond?
Many stepfathers have fared well until a crisis in a disciplinary situation. The words, you have no right & you are not my real father, have pierced many stepfather s hearts. A very positive response of love, firmness and encouragement will provide the best chance to establish a strong and lasting bond. The needed message to the child is the same that a biological father might give, I love you, but you must obey. For a stepfather the difficulty is multiplied a dozen times, but success is a must.
The children may seek to drive a wedge between you and your spouse. If they succeed, the whole family will face years of heartache and turmoil. Solid agreement on standards, curfews, chore responsibilities and disciplinary procedures will put stepfamilies far ahead of many natural families in maintaining good order in the home.
When discipline is necessary, it must be carried out in a God-honoring fashion. Remember, discipline is not merely punishment for disobedience; it is correctional with a view toward the future. It is an opportunity to teach valuable lessons and strengthen the bond between parent and child. Never let the time of discipline be reflective of the frustration you might feel toward the whole stepfamily experience.
For every child, emotional security stands out as a very important need. As a stepfather, you must seek to meet that need and be sure your presence and actions do not undermine your child s welfare. As has already been suggested, you dare not be viewed as taking the children s mother away from them, but instead, must devote yourself to being a participant in the children s lives. It is not unusual for a stepchild to threaten to run away, believing he can find a home with his real father or his paternal grandparents. At such times the child needs assurance of love and a statement affirming that he is wanted, already has a home, and is staying right where he is. Too often the frustrated stepfather offers to help pack the suitcase or buy the plane ticket for the move. This kind of response convinces the child that his thinking was correct; his stepfather does not really care and would rather have him out of the house.
Along the same line, and perhaps even worse, is the threat to send a child to live with someone else, if he does not shape up. These warnings are the most destructive comments that can be made to stepchildren. They convey that love is conditional and that the parent-child relationship will continue only as long as it is convenient and not too much trouble. The toughest child on the outside is too fragile on the inside to bear the hurt that accompanies such remarks.
As a stepfather you have a unique opportunity to play a special role in the life of one or more children. There is little hope that it will be an easy task and, in fact, may be characterized by unrequited love and unappreciated effort. If you pay the price of sacrificial love and fulfill your role with eternity s values in view, you may be granted the blessed privilege of salvaging from the heartache of this world, the greatest commodity on earth, a child. Surely, He who is the father of the fatherless (Psalm 68:5) will grant you mercy, strength and help.
Parental agreement in rearing one s natural children is not easy to attain for a husband and wife. To achieve it consistently and effectively in the stepfamily can be much tougher. As a stepfather you must be spiritually and emotionally prepared for the challenge. The burden will be even greater if you have children from a previous marriage that live with you, or if you and your present wife have children together.
As the husband and father of your family, you should set the standards of discipline and practice in your home. You must establish the spiritual direction of your home and keep everyone moving in that direction. To do these tasks well, you must guard against any form of favoritism in your own actions and protect your children from favoritism shown by others. Love, support, kindness and firmness must be equally meted out to all. Material benefits as mundane as food, toys, clothing and education must be equally available. You must strive for balance that often eludes the average natural family. To accomplish this, you may battle your own feelings or you may have to slow down a well meaning relative who wants to make up for the seeming deprivation suffered by one of the children. As with other of your obligations, this can be a tough one to carry out, and in some instances be almost impossible, because of grandparents and other relatives. It will not be an easy task, and though sometimes it is faced by the natural family, it is almost always faced by the stepfamily and with far more complications.
An area more delicate than all the rest must also be addressed. As unpleasant as it is to consider, statistics reveal that molestation and sexual abuse occur in unusually high percentages in the stepfamily. Proverbs 9:9 says, Give instruction to a wise man and he will be yet wiser. In the spirit of that verse, I share these concerns.
Sometimes problems can occur among stepchildren. A typical case might involve an older stepbrother taking advantage of a younger stepsister. The two children are not biologically related and yet find themselves in circumstances generally reserved for the natural family. Common practices of indiscretion that would mean nothing to natural siblings can lead to trouble among stepsiblings. These could include how young people might dress in the relaxed setting of the home or that stepsiblings might be often left alone when parents are working or out socially. The wise parent will be alert to these dangers without being unfairly judgmental toward their children.
More often, however, abuse is found when a stepfather misuses a stepdaughter. The situation is the same as with the siblings. In our homes, we tend to be less discreet in our actions than we would ever be in public or in the presence of people other than family. Unfortunately, lusts that would virtually never arise in a man toward his biological daughter may be stirred up toward a stepdaughter. Some will be offended at these warnings, but no one is exempt from temptation and sin. Sin is the product of the flesh (Galatians 5:18-21), and we all are still plagued with the sinful nature. Victory comes by walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), guarding our eyes (Psalm 101:2-3), and fleeing temptation (I Corinthians 6:18). Your personal standards of purity, prudence, and discretion must be kept very high. Heeding Paul s warning in Romans 13:14 has preserved many from getting into situations where sin might occur. He said, But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof. To not make provision for the flesh means to avoid those situations where there is even the slightest possibility that Satan could get us to fall. You may be one of those few stepfathers who can earn the full trust and respect of his stepchildren. Do not violate that trust, because it is very rare and precious. Beg God to establish and preserve in your home, a wholesome atmosphere of peace, happiness and virtue.
It would seem logical that first marriages and natural families have a far better chance for success than second marriages and stepfamilies. When one enters a stepfamily, emotional and spiritual baggage usually comes along. All the pressures that come to bear on the natural family are increased, and all the obstacles to success are enlarged. Many fail to see the full picture and do not count the cost involved in making the stepfamily successful.
If you are in a second marriage, you have much to overcome to achieve the measure of happiness you desire. The demand for love, patience, communication, understanding, and self-sacrifice commonly required in a first marriage will be multiplied for you. It will take work and creativity to conquer the pitfalls generally encountered in the stepfamily.
Thankfully, our God is the God of all grace (I Peter 5:10) and His grace is sufficient to meet our every need (II Corinthians 12:9). Determine to be the man you must be to make your family live in peace, harmony and the joy of the Lord. Then make it happen, one day at a time. Count the cost and be willing to pay the price of success.
Second marriages end in divorce at an amazing rate of 65%. Your marriage can be part of the 35% that make it and the far lower percentage of people that genuinely have a good marriage. Children of divorced parents are far more likely to get divorced than children who grow up with both biological parents. By God s grace and through careful adherence to the teachings of Scripture, your children can be different.
What price must be paid for success? The price will be unusual dedication to following all the Bible says about family life and unusual personal surrender to the Savior’s Lordship. Dad, to a great degree, you will determine the success of your family. Face the challenge realistically and face the challenge spiritually.