Stepparenting is tough. Mistakes are made. Misunderstandings happen. And variables outside our control influence stepfamily relationships. We often take one step forward and two steps back. But there is always a new tomorrow—a fresh start to work through differences and have hope for harmony.
My husband, Randy, will be the first to say he’s done a lot of things wrong as a stepfather. He has been a stepparent to my two daughters for 20 years. He got up when he fell down. He sought help when he needed answers. He cried, prayed, struggled, fought, apologized and forgave. He smiled with gritted teeth. But Randy never quit. And his stepdaughters love him dearly.
But it hasn't always been that way.
My youngest daughter, Jodi, was almost 3 when we married and Jamie was 5. Randy had a difficult time with Jamie from the beginning. She didn't want another dad in her life and she made that clear. 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." It was a tough season.
Randy also brought two children to our marriage and trying 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, so we began counseling to work through the bumps.
During her teenage 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 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 became 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. But the next day, they were at it again.
During her high school years, Jamie participated in competitive cheerleading. The ongoing drama, 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 Africa on an eight-month missionary trip after college. She left in early summer and we knew it would be difficult to communicate with her while she was gone. As I suspected, however, she made sure to call on Father's Day, despite the time difference. When Randy answered the phone, I saw tears in his eyes as he listened to Jamie recount life-changing experiences, knowing he had contributed to her stability and maturity that enabled her 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."
Gayla Grace is a freelance writer, wife, mom to three and stepmom to two.
Published June 2016