In honor of Father’s Day, I began reflecting on the role my husband Randy has played as a stepdad. Randy has been a stepfather to my two daughters for 17 years. He will be the first to tell you he has done a lot of things wrong. But his stepdaughters love him dearly.
It hasn’t always been that way.
My youngest daughter, Jodi, was almost three when we married and Jamie was five. Randy had a difficult time with Jamie from the beginning. She didn’t want another dad in her life, and she made that clear to him.
He overheard a conversation between the two girls one night in the bathtub during our first year of marriage. “I hate him too, I can’t believe Mom married him,” Jamie told Jodi. There was little love, or even like, between Randy and the girls in the beginning.
During our second year of marriage, Randy left the house one evening and called from a nearby hotel. “I’m not coming home tonight. I’m not sure I’m coming home again. I can’t cope with the ongoing conflict between me and you and the kids.”
It was a tough season. Randy brought two children to the marriage also and attempting to blend our four children, ages 3-10, while learning how to stepparent and parent together proved harder than we anticipated. But neither of us wanted to endure another divorce. Randy and I began counseling that year to work through the bumps.
During her teen-age years, Jamie challenged us on every turn. If Randy punished her in the slightest, she threatened to call Child Protective Services. She ran away more times than I can remember (but thankfully never went far). After one particularly aggravating day with defiant behavior, Randy took Jamie’s cell phone and threw it to the ground. As it busted into several pieces, Jamie began yelling at us both. The night didn’t end well. And I wasn’t sure the sun would come up the next day.
But it did. And Randy didn’t give up on his stepparenting journey with Jamie.
When she came into driving age, Randy wanted to teach her to drive. She tested every ounce of his patience. They would come in from a driving session hardly talking to one another–Jamie’s anger brewing over. But the next day, they were at it again.
During her high school years, Jamie participated in competitive cheerleading. Randy would jokingly say, “Do you call cheerleading a sport?” The ongoing drama with other cheerleaders, out-of-town competitions, and continuous suction cup to his wallet threw Randy into stress overdrive. His grumpiness overshadowed his joy at times. But he didn’t quit supporting Jamie and the things that made her tick.
Do you have to be a perfect stepfather to have a meaningful relationship with your stepchildren? NO!
Randy’s stepdaughters, Jodi, now 20, and Jamie, now 22, love their imperfect stepdad.
Why? How did that happen?
Randy never quit. He got up when he fell down. He sought help when he needed answers. He cried. He prayed. He struggled. He fought. He apologized. He forgave. He smiled with gritted teeth. But he never quit.
Is it a cycle? Yes. You take one step forward and two steps backward. You celebrate a season of growth and then start a season of despair. You gain the insider status one day and feel like an outcast the next.
Does that mean you failed?
Stepparenting is tough. Mistakes are made. Misunderstandings happen. And variables outside our control influence stepfamily relationships. But there are new tomorrows. A fresh start to work through differences. Hope for harmony.
As a stepfather, you’ve been given an opportunity to influence a young child’s life like no one else can. In an imperfect way.
Are you up for the challenge? I hope so.
Because my husband will tell you: there are rewards to your efforts as a stepfather, even when you’re not perfect…but oftentimes they’re at the end of the journey.
Gayla Grace has been a stepmom to her stepson and stepdaughter for 18 years. She writes the blended family column every other month for Parenting Teens and supports stepparents through her website and blog at www.stepparentingwithgrace.com.