The ‘Step-Parent’ Label

I used to hate the term ‘Step-Parent.’ To be honest, sometimes I still do. But not because that role isn’t significant–it is–but because society seems to have adopted the mindset that “step” implies a permanent and noticeable separation between the parent and child. “Oh, you’re the step-parent? So he/she’s not really yours then.” Ugh, it’s cringe-worthy, right?

I am a step-mom to the kids my husband had before we met. My husband is a step-dad to the kids I had before he and I met. My children have a step-mom. But we’re so much more than just another authority figure who happens to live in the same house; we are parents. We are parents to the children to whom we gave birth, and parents to the children with whom we were blessed through marriage. And do you know what I’ve learned about being a step-parent? While some separations are necessary (you still have to respect the roles of the biological parents and try not to overstep your bounds), there doesn’t have to be a separation of heart. It’s a given that we love our children with our whole hearts, but love doesn’t stop at sharing DNA! Just like parents who adopt, it is possible to love “someone else’s” child as your own.

So, how do I see the awesome responsibility and privilege of being a step-parent now that I am one? Let me break it down for you.

When you marry a man or woman with children, you step willingly into the role of parent to his or her children.

When your step-children are scared during the night, you step through the bedroom door to comfort them until they fall back asleep, even if it means sleeping on a hard floor.

When your step-children need help with their homework, a lunch packed for a field trip, a chaperone for a school dance, or a shoulder to cry on, you step in and meet their needs, even at the expense of your own.

When big events come in your step-children’s lives, you celebrate hard and burst with pride, but when it comes time for congratulatory hugs you step aside and let the biological parents have first dibs.

When the difficulty or awkwardness of dealing with the exes threaten to overwhelm you, you step around those feelings and treat them with kindness and respect for the sake of the kids.

When the biological parent feels threatened or a big decision needs to be made between the biological parents, you step back and respect their role as primary parents, even if you feel left out.

When you see your step-children hurting or struggling, you step toward your Heavenly Father and seek His counsel, His comfort, and His intervention on their behalf.

When your step-children challenge your authority or try to push you away, you step away from the urge to lash out from the hurt and instead realize this is hard for them too, and you respond with patient and unwavering love in the face of their confusion–even when it breaks your heart.

When your step-children are frustrated with their biological parent and come to you to vent, you step back from the temptation to make yourself look better, and instead remind them of how much their parent loves them and assure them they’ll get through this.

When your step-children hug you and tell you they love you–and you know they mean it–you step into the realization that you are so blessed to call those children yours and you can’t imagine your life without them.

So there you have it; my new and improved outlook on the step-parent label. Step-parents step in, step through, step aside, step away, step toward, step into, step around, step back, step willingly into the crazy, challenging, sometimes-painful, rewarding chaos that becomes their new reality. I won’t lie…it’s hard. Sometimes it brings you to tears of frustration and defeat, and you’ll swear you sprouted four new gray hairs in the course of a day. But then there are the times where it brings you to tears of laughter, tears of joy, tears of relief, and you’ll swear there’s no way you could imagine your life without them in it ever again.

So here’s to all the step-parents out there who carry the extra load, who bear the hurts and frustrations that sometimes come with it, who willingly take on the extra responsibility, who work hard to provide the financial, physical and emotional needs of children to whom you didn’t give birth, who made the decision to love someone else’s child as your own. 

You are strong. You are courageous. You are appreciated. You are valued. You are important.

You are called.

Thats right; you are called into a ministry in which you have the opportunity and privilege to show a child how many different forms love can take, to demonstrate the love God has for us and to practice that love in a tangible way on a daily basis. And even on the most frustrating days, even on days where you may feel like giving up, please know that you were placed into this family for a reason and that your efforts, your time, your energy, your love, and even your tears will not be wasted. You are doing amazing work!

God bless you, step-parents. I leave you with this prayer:

Lord, there are so many added challenges to being a step-parent. Blending a family can be difficult, and sometimes it doesn’t go as smoothly or as effortlessly as we would like. In those situations we ask that You provide patience, resiliency, strength, and diligence to keep working at it, to not give in to defeat, and to keep honoring You. Bless our families with tolerance, patience, humor, laughter, and a deeply rooted love that only You can provide. Sometimes being a step-parent means having your heart broken again and again, and during those times we pray for your comfort and strength to keep our chins up and keep on loving in spite of the hurt. Give us the wisdom and willingness to teach, guide, coach and support our step-children through life. Open our hearts and fill them with love and gratitude for the extra children with whom we’ve been blessed. Help us to be living examples of You, to demonstrate true love and to guide our children and step-children into a deep, meaningful relationship with You. Help us to model patience, honesty, integrity and respect. Help us to be the parents You’ve called us to be–both to our children through blood and children through marriage. We thank you for the incredible responsibility and privilege of being a parent.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

(And for fun, here’s a pic of me with my step kids (who in real life I just call “my kids”) on our 5th anniversary.



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