When You Can’t Make It Better for Your Stepkids

A mother standing outdoors with her adolescent  son, looking at him with disapproval. He is looking down with his arms folded, caught doing something he wasn't supposed to do.

"I'm not going, and you can't make me," my 12-year-old stepson shouted when it was time to visit his biological mom. He marched to his room and slammed the door. He refused to see her because he blamed her for his parents' divorce.

I was sure he'd be happier if he and his mom reconciled, so I had tried to talk with him about forgiveness. But he felt justified in his anger toward her, and he simply didn't want to let it go.

I, too, had trouble letting go. I wanted to fix the problems I saw in his life. But I had to accept that they weren't my problems to fix. As a natural fixer, it took some time for me to realize this. Here are some truths I learned during that process:

Our house is our house, and their house is their house.

My husband and I decided early in our marriage that we would treat all the children the same, regardless of family of origin. But when my stepson stopped visiting his biological mom, she didn't treat him the same as she treated his sister, who still visited her.

One Christmas, he didn't receive any gifts from his mom, while his sister received many presents. He was hurt and angry, and I empathized with those emotions. I wanted my husband to talk with his ex about it, but he simply said, "Her house; her rules." I realized that I would not want another family to question our parenting decisions, so I resolved not to interfere with her decisions.

Being supportive doesn't mean being responsible to fix the problem.

My stepson often complained to my husband and me that he felt unloved by his biological mother. He retaliated by ignoring her phone calls and refusing to visit her. Then she would feel hurt and become angry with him, continuing the cycle of negativity.

I wanted to do something to alleviate his pain, but fixing the problem wasn't my responsibility. All I could do was offer emotional support as he shared his feelings. Anything more would be overstepping my role as a stepmom.

I'm not God, but I can place my problems in His hands.

When I see my kids and stepkids hurting, I want to zoom in like Wonder Woman and fix it. But I'm not Wonder Woman, and I'm certainly not God. Fixing broken things is His role and prerogative, not mine.

One day when my stepson was upset, I reminded him that everyone in this world is broken in some way. Our family is broken because of the pain of divorce. I'm broken; he's broken; his biological mom is broken. Broken people have broken relationships, but God can help us mend them. He's really good at fixing broken things, but we have to ask for His help.

Blended-family problems often work themselves out over time.

Some issues, like sibling rivalry, crop up in most families when kids reach a certain age. Just when parents think the problem will never end, the kids grow into a different stage. This happened with my stepson. When he finished high school, he suddenly decided to let go of the past and forgive his mom. Today, they enjoy a healthy, positive relationship.

Diane Stark is a freelance writer from Indiana who writes about family and faith.
This article first appeared in the October/November 2018 issue of Focus on the Family magazine and was originally titled "When You Can't Make It Better." If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
© 2018 by Diane Stark. Used by permission.

Next in this Series: Help Your Stepchildren Feel Secure in Your Love for Them

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