The Ups and Downs of Step-Parenting
One evening, shortly after Richard and I married, he settled into his lounge chair to read – oblivious to my 14-year-old daughter’s piercing scowl and clenched fist as she stomped into the bedroom. But he heard her words. Melanie flung her body face down onto my bed, muttering, “It’s not fair, Mother! Richard is sitting where my dad is supposed to be. I’ll never accept him – and don’t expect me to either.”
I wondered if we were doomed from the start, while Richard wondered if his friends’ advice had been right. “I’d wait to marry after her daughter is grown,” one said.
“I wouldn’t get involved at all,” another said.
Against a backdrop of tension, nonacceptance, and few legal rights, this 42-year-old bachelor had committed to financially supporting and educating another man’s child with unresolved issues hovering in each corner of our lives.
Looking back, I believe the wisest decision we ever made was discussing our relationship with a Christian psychologist three months before our engagement. For weeks we sifted through our expectations and our fears. Individually and as a couple we discovered we needed an attitude adjustment: Richard had to be No. 1 in my life, and I had to be No. 1 in his.
I remember tears rolling down my face when I told Melanie, “Honey, Richard must come first in my life now. That doesn’t mean I love you any less. I’m not rejecting you or leaving you. You are part of our family now. Richard is not trying to replace your dad. He wants to be your friend. All I ask is that you respect him.” That commitment stabilized our relationship and supplied consistency to our co-parenting. Assured that he was No. 1 in my life, Richard knew he stood equal with me, so that together we could present a united front for the rough teen-rearing years ahead.
Here’s what he says:
- “I reminded myself that God had placed me in this new family because He wanted me there. So I couldn’t allow anything or anyone to deter me from being the best husband and stepfather I could be. Reading Ephesians 6:10-18 taught me to ‘put on’ God’s armor and ‘stand,’ helping me control most of my angry, impatient or negative thoughts that sometimes invade my mind. I realize that I don’t have to win – I just have to stay. That’s what Melanie needs most.
- “I didn’t hesitate to involve myself in her activities, showing up at softball games, videotaping horse shows, taking Melanie and her friends out for ice cream after church youth-group meetings, and sitting in the passenger’s seat as she learned to drive a car.”
- “I listened to what Melanie said, conveying to her that she is important and that I want to know and understand her. One Saturday, while running errands a store clerk asked, ‘Is this young lady your daughter?’ and I answered ‘Yes’ without hesitation, unaware that Melanie would later joyfully exclaimed to her mom: ‘Richard claimed me!’”
- “Eventually, I realized that Melanie’s initial resistance to me stemmed from a conflict of loyalties. Her biological father was her idol despite his earlier decision to leave his family, yet I took better care of her than he did – because I was there. I let Melanie know from the beginning that I wanted to be her friend, not replace her father; and along the way to today Melanie has become my biggest fan.”