My wife and I were both in our thirties before we started dating, and with that age usually comes a past. I had mostly been a boring, nerd of a bachelor, spending time with my friends, playing music, watching and reading a lot of sci-fi. My wife, in the meantime, lived a completely different life.
She was married young and had two kids when she was in her early twenties. I don’t want to speak ill of anyone, so suffice it to say the marriage was not good for her or the kids, and it ended in disaster. (My wife has been in tears over what happened to Lysa Terkeurst because she can empathize with it so much.) There is a reason divorce wasn’t in God’s plan for us, because it hurts husbands, wives, and children. But sometimes, after you’ve tried every avenue of reconciliation and forgiveness, there is just no choice, and even the scriptures give an understanding of when it is biblical to be freed from a spouse. (Matthew 19:9, 1 Corinthians 7:15)
So I’m sure that some of you already see the minefield coming up here. A single guy with no one to look out for or worry about but himself, and a single mom with two small kids. I can hear the cringing now as you all try to imagine that working, and we’ve all heard the horror stories. My family was scared, her family was scared, I was scared, she was scared, the kids were scared, I think that it is fair to say everyone was scared except for God.
There is good, in fact great, news! It worked! We’ve been married for a number of years now, the elementary school kids that I first met in fear and trembling, (me, not them) and bribed with superhero action figures and glittery jewelry boxes
What I want to share with you today are some of the ways that God, Christine, the kids, and I made that happen, and I pray that it will be a blessing to you and your future family.
1. Mom has to let her new husband be Dad.
This is a huge one that I don’t think can be emphasized enough. If Christine would have held the reigns tight, and never let me help, never let me make decisions, never let me discipline, never let me hug my kids or call them son and daughter, I would just be a step-dad.
You see, she was already and would forever be Mom to them. Whatever she said, went. It was just her and them for most of their lives. If my wife hadn’t respected me as a father to her children, then they certainly would not have. We often underestimate the impact our attitudes have on our kids, but it is massive.
Now, I don’t want to imply that caution and due diligence shouldn’t be paid. We both agreed to that early on in her relationship. Her kids were her number one priority, and I didn’t to be just some guy who dated mom for a while and then disappeared. I wanted to be as sure as possible that I was going to be around for a long time before I even met them. So, we waited until we were confident that it was serious before I even entered into their lives. And, well I’m not sure I really believe in love at first sight, because I know Christine and I had to work at it, but it was pretty close to love at first sight with those two. They wanted a real Dad so badly and, even though I didn’t know it before then, I wanted those kids as my own too.
Christine started letting me help be a clueless Dad very shortly thereafter, and God wrote the rest of the story from there, because Christine let Him make me a Dad. Thank you my love, and thank you God.
2. Let the kid or kids take their time.
It would have been so easy to jump into this and expect the kids to instantly respect me, love me, come running to me for band-aids and handouts to go hang out with their friends, but I just wasn’t Dad right away, and that’s okay. For me to be able to be Dad, not only did my wife have to agree to it, but the kids had to agree to it as well.
It definitely took some time. After God gave Christine the okay to tell the kids they could start calling me dad, neither did for a while, and I didn’t push them. (Christine was a little more eager to push them, so I had to hold her back, but it’s because she knew we were going to be married, and she was worried about my feelings. She’s a great wife.)
In their own time they both liked the idea, and there have been some bumps along the way, although not nearly as many as you might think. Now, I can’t guarantee that every situation will turn out that way, because again, it has to be by consent of the children. It’s always been my choice to see them as my kids and their choice to see me as their Dad. If I had tried to force them, I’d just be some creepy authority figure with a complex.
3. Treat them like they are your children.
This may seem obvious, but it took me a long time to get used to this. To understand that it was okay to tell them that I love them, to spoil them, to say “Go ahead and eat a piece of candy, I’ll tell Mom it was my fault.” If you really want to be a dad and not just a step-day, then treat them like kids and not step-kids. We all know about Cinderella and the wicked step-mother who treated her daughters better than Cinderella. Unfortunately, that’s not just a story. I have a friend who was raised by a guy that she considered her dad, but when her mom and step-dad separated, suddenly he only came to see his son, and he never spent any time with her anymore. She was heart-broken. She thought he was Dad, but to him she was just step-daughter.
If you want to move into being a real father, then act like it. Cut back your hobbies for theirs, feed them, teach them how to play musical instruments, or sports, or teach them how to woodwork, or cook. Pray for them. Sacrifice for them every day, and be willing to give your life for them. Don’t hedge your bets to see how they’ll act, or if they’re good kids. Realize that it’s your job to give them all of the training and tools to become good kids and better adults. If you would, or do, do it for your biological children, then do it for your step-children also, and you’ll be well on your way to be being Dad, and not step-dad.
4. Love your wife.
This isn’t directly about the kids, but believe me when I say this will impact them as much or more than anything else. For a lot of kids going into a mixed family, they’ve already seen what a bad marriage looks like. They already seen bad parenting, abuse, neglect, and a parent who doesn’t love the other. What they need from their new dad, is to learn what a loving marriage looks like.
I pray that someday, when my kids are married, they’ll know that their mom and I aren’t perfect, but we always loved each other. They’ll know that we fought sometimes, and sometimes I was selfish or mean, but they’ll know that they’re that way sometimes too, and that they can still love and respect their spouse. My kids need to see in me a very faint shadow of what I see in Jesus.
Christ loved the church so much that he bathed her in the word of God and sacrificed his life for her. I am called to love my wife in that same way, and by example to teach my children what that looks like. If they have someone around who doesn’t really love his wife, then that is just another example of someone in their lives who doesn’t care about their mother or them. But if they can find a man who loves his wife, and who pastors his family, then they have found a real Dad at last.
I believe that if you can put these things into practice, along with a lot of prayer and help from God and your wife, then you can go from being step-dad to being Dad, and trust me, that is one of the greatest things that can ever happen to you this side of Heaven.