In our world there are many non-traditional parents out there—foster and adoptive parents, step-parents, aunties, grandparents and others—raising kids who are missing a parent for whatever reason. It may not be how we imagine the ideal family, but it’s part of life in a fallen world. In fact, non-biological parents can play an important role in redeeming difficult family situations.
To be honest, step-parenting is not really something I had thought about much. That is, until I became a stepmum six years ago—quite a surprise for a never-married 42-year-old. Taking on someone else’s kids (four amazing souls who totally have all of my heart), I was so thankful for the very real experience of God the Father adopting me into his family and calling me his child. That has significantly shaped the way that my husband’s kids have become our kids, my kids. The human example of Paul discipling Timothy, calling him ‘his son in the faith’, has also shaped my vision of parenting—helping our kids to know, love and follow Jesus all of their days.
You would think that settling into the family and taking on another’s role would be the hardest part of becoming a stepmother. Yet, after recently being on the receiving end of another dismissive comment, I realised that actually, one of the most significant challenges has been managing other people’s reactions to our family situation.
In light of that, I want to share some thoughts to help you understand and support step- and other non-biological parents:
Don't believe Disney
We're not all horrid stepmothers or fathers. We cry with our stepchildren when they grieve their missing parents. We work two jobs to support them. We love them. We encourage them. And we do all of the things other parents do.
I couldn't love my four stepchildren any more than I do now. I'd take a thousand bullets for them. My role in guiding, teaching, training, helping, consoling, kissing bruised knees, supporting them in their disappointments and cleaning up their vomit is just as real as any other parent’s.
We’re doing real parenting
We are often treated as though we're not ‘real’ parents, as though we're second class or even invisible. As a dear friend who is raising her sister’s child said, ‘Parenting is parenting, whether you gave birth to them or not!’
So please don't talk down to step- or foster-parents about parenting. Their experience and knowledge are just as real as yours. They may even have some wisdom that could benefit you.
We’re doing our best in a complex situation
Step- and foster-parents are doing their best in complex environments of grief and loss—death, divorce, desertion, abuse. We are there to hold our little ones as they sob for their mum or dad. Can you imagine holding your seven-year-old (or seventeen-year-old), whom you love to bits, as they sob for their biological mother? It’s an overwhelming mixture of love for your child and sadness for their loss. There is grief for us step-parents as well.
Keep thoughtless comments to yourself
People make astounding comments to step-parents: ‘Those poor kids—no mother!’, ‘She should still be here’ or even, ‘I was friends with her, so I can’t be friends with you’. Step-parents are trying to love and raise their new kids. Please keep your comments to yourself. And please don’t talk about the missing parent with them, unless they raise the topic. Your words can be more tactless and hurtful than you think.
Please remember that step-parents are doing their best, just like you. ‘Real’ parents come in all shades of competency. No birth parent is a perfect parent. And a step- or foster-parent can be a wise, loving and good parent.
Cut them some slack. Try to understand some of the challenges that they face. Encourage them to keep going. Pray for them. Support them. Love them. You never know—one day, you may be called to raise someone else’s children.
Lynette Cain has been following Jesus for 30 years, married to Gordon and mothering four kids for 6 years and serving in ministry for 13 years. Currently, she serves as a pastoral consultant, professional pastoral supervisor and mentor. You can look her up at www.slowerdeeperwiser.com.
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