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April 3, 2024

In the early years of our marriage, I wondered if we would make it to our next anniversary.
Blending four children, grappling with our stepparent roles while learning to parent together, combating ex-spouses, and trying to stay afloat with job, church and community obligations seemed impossible.

As we celebrated 21 years of marriage recently, I’m thankful we never quit.

Randy and I lead an ongoing stepfamily class at our church and often counsel other step couples. One day I asked him why he thinks the divorce rate of remarried couples is so high. His answer was simple: they quit too soon. Yes, there are struggles with ex-spouses, a complicated schedule, bickering kids, financial concerns, and on and on. But the reason most remarriages fail is because step couples don’t devote enough time to work through the kinks and find success in their relationships. Perseverance is a foreign word in too many homes.

Stepparenting should be viewed as a marathon, not a sprint. If a marathoner begins a race with even a small consideration to quit when it gets hard, he won’t finish. When the muscle cramps slow his gait, when the road stretches endlessly, when his breathing labors under the hot sun, as others stumble along the way, he has to decide he won’t give in to the temptation to stop. The choice is daunting.

It’s no different as a stepparent. Without a firm commitment to trudge through the challenges that come your way, you won’t make it. It’s tough. Very few stepfamilies escape what stepfamily expert Ron Deal calls the “wilderness wanderings.” The wanderings will look and feel differently for every stepfamily, but just as the Israelites wandered aimlessly through the wilderness for 40 years, most stepfamilies endure days, and possibly years, of hardship and suffering. If you don’t determine ahead of time that you will persevere when it gets tough, you will turn back. You won’t find the blessings that accompany your journey in the end. Stepfamily statistics confirm that.

Randy recently experienced the privilege of walking his youngest stepdaughter, Jodi, down the aisle. His face radiated with the joy of the moment. Tears welled in my eyes as I recounted his 20 years of commitment to my girls. But Randy will be the first to tell you he is an imperfect stepfather. Although his stepdaughters now love him dearly, it hasn’t always been that way.

Jodi was almost three when we married and my oldest daughter, 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 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.”

Stepparenting should be viewed as a marathon, not a sprint. If a marathoner begins a race with even a small consideration to quit when it gets hard, he won’t finish. When the muscle cramps slow his gait, when the road stretches endlessly, when his breathing labors under the hot sun, as others stumble along the way, he has to decide he won’t give in to the temptation to stop.

It was a tough season. Randy brought two children to the marriage also and attempting to blend our four kids, 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.

Jamie challenged us on every turn during her teenage years. 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 difficult 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—Ja mie’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.

As Jamie left for college, I’ll never forget her words to him. With a wrap-around hug and a smile on her face she said, “Thank you for being such a great dad to me. I love you!”

Jamie traveled to Mozambique, Africa for an eight-month missionary journey after she graduated from college. She left in early summer, and we knew it would be hard to communicate with her while she was gone. As I suspected, though, she made sure to call on Father’s Day despite the seven-hour time difference. When Randy answered the phone, I saw tears in his eyes as he listened to Jamie recount life-changing experiences. He knew he had contributed to her stability and maturity that enabled her young life to now make a difference with others. She closed with the words every stepfather loves to hear, “Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you. I miss you.”

Do you have to be a perfect stepparent to have a meaningful relationship with your stepchildren? No! Randy’s stepdaughters, Jodi, now 24, and Jamie, now 27, 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. 

Stepparenting is tough. Mistakes are made. Perseverance in the midst of it requires an intentional choice. But with that choice comes reward. I love the promise of Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (NIV). James 1:12 offers another promise: “A man who endures trials is blessed, because when he passes the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (HCSB).

If you’re trudging through difficult days in your stepfamily, don’t give up. Rely on God’s strength and power to sustain you—He will see you through to better days ahead.

Gayla Grace writes, speaks, and coaches on family and stepfamily issues. She is a wife, mom to three and stepmom to two, ages 16-31. She holds a master’s degree in Psychology and Counseling and founded stepparentingwithgrace.com to offer coaching, resources and other support to stepfamilies. She co-authored Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul and resides in Shreveport, LA.

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