The Vocation of Stepparenting (Rooted Parent)

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From the beginning of our courtship my husband was a “package” deal. He had a precious three- year-old son who was the center of his universe. I marveled at my joyful yes to taking on this pair, as previously I had never dated a man who had been married before, much less a man who already had a child. God has a sense of humor.

So from day one of our marriage I was both a new wife and a new stepmother. A few well- intentioned friends cautioned me that I was marrying my husband, not his son, and that I needed boundaries regarding my emotional and physical availability to my new stepson. This quickly became hogwash to me. We were creating a family and I was either all in or all out. Boundaries and availability quotas had no place in our life together.

Being “all in” did not mean that my stepson was ours 24/7. He had a mother nearby and I learned how to participate in my stepson’s life of two houses and two routines. I loved this little boy; I dreaded every time he left for his other house. Our life got messier, and richer, with the arrival of a brother and then a sister for my stepson. Messier because my son and daughter stayed in one house while their brother yo-yoed between two. My stepson called me by my Christian name, and my son and daughter called me Mama. Holidays were never right because my stepson was with his “other” family.

So what exactly is stepparenting? That’s an impossible question to answer because each situation is so unique unto itself. Think about the stepparents you know, or know of. I became the stepmother of a very young child – some new stepparents find themselves with grown stepchildren they rarely see. Some stepparents marry a widow or widower, while folks like me stand aside as the two living but divorced parents navigate the back and forth of their shared child(ren). Some stepparents bring their own children into a new marriage, and life looks something like the Brady Bunch. Or not.

I never prayed to God for a stepchild. When I played with my dolls, never was I their stepmom. Perhaps this is because stepparents are almost always in their role due to a divorce or a death. That is not positive advertising, but it is true. How does God redeem a role that is predicated by loss? How, if at all, can a stepparent be used by Christ? Being a stepparent can feel like being a second-class citizen in the eyes of the world, and likewise in the eyes of your own stepchildren.

Praise be to God because we have a Biblical role model, and he is the stepfather of Jesus our Lord. Joseph is the stepparent’s patron saint, and we could find none better than this faithful man.

Consider what the Bible tells us about Joseph. We know that Joseph was a just man (Matthew 1: 19), and his decision to divorce Mary quietly was very kind. Jewish law dictated that Joseph should have Mary and her unborn child banished from society, if not stoned to death. But God intervened with the first of many dreams and told Joseph that this baby was conceived of the Holy Spirit. God told Joseph to marry Mary and give the baby the name Jesus, and he obeyed God. Was he clear that this baby was not his? Yes. Was he clear how this troubling development would play out in his marriage with Mary? No. Joseph operated solely by faith, not by knowledge or sight.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that again Joseph was directed by a dream to flee Bethlehem and hide in Egypt with Mary and her young son (Matthew 2:13). Joseph’s duty to his wife and stepchild unfolded as the Holy Spirit revealed it. Moving the family to Egypt saved young Jesus’ life. Joseph provided protection, a sterling lineage, and steadfastness to his family.

One final glimpse of Joseph is seen in the Gospel of Luke 2:41 – 52. It is the story of twelve- year- old Jesus in the Temple during the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem. Joseph and Mary unwittingly left the city without their oldest son, and when they discovered this on their journey home, they rushed back to Jerusalem to retrieve their child. Mary was the parent to speak when they found Jesus in the Temple amazing people with his understanding. She gently scolded Jesus, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” Jesus responded “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:48 – 49) Joseph was silent, but he was present, at Mary’s side as her partner.

The last thing we know about Joseph is that when the family returned home from Jerusalem, Jesus was submissive to them, i.e. both Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:51). Jesus lived in a family narrative completely unto itself, and it included respect for his stepfather. Joseph did not get a starring role in Scripture, nor was he at the foot of Jesus’ cross. He was faithful as called upon, and he helped raise our Lord to an adulthood that would culminate with an empty tomb and the redemption of the whole world.

I have the perspectives of both a stepparent and a biological parent. They are not the same role or the same relationship, but they share more than we may think. Aren’t we all really the stepparents of our children? All our children ultimately belong to their perfect, heavenly Father, dwelling in His house. The lack of control that is a given in stepparenting is an appropriate perspective for all parenting. Faithfulness and obedience best direct our parental footsteps, along with the humility to know that ALL our children belong to Him.

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