When I met my husband,Gregg, he was a 34-year-old divorcé with no children. Despite having no desire whatsoever on my part to even date, much less get married again, within hours of meeting we were talking about getting married.
Plain and simply, God just works in peoples’ lives when He has a plan. Having experienced it in droves in the timing and way I met my husband, I will testify to it.
So, here I was, a mother of a 4-year-old daughter, long-distance dating a man who not only had no children, he was due to deploy at any time. This was January 2002 — just months after the 9/11 attacks, and he was in the 20th Special Forces Group and preparing to head off to defend liberty on the frontiers of freedom.
I was also dating a man whose love language is giving gifts.
Kaylee and I were a package. That never had to be spoken out loud. Gregg knew when he started dating me, when he planned to marry me, that he was dating Kaylee and planning to commit a part of his life to her, too. This 34-year-old divorcé with no children never even faltered about that. His understanding of this particular dynamic was almost inherent in him.
The first time we came to visit him at his house, we drove 5 1/2 hours, from the panhandle of Florida to central Alabama. When we pulled up into his driveway, Gregg came out to the car and collected Kaylee. Maybe I got a hello kiss. It’s hard to say. He was just so excited to take her into “her” room that he just scooped her out of her seat and took off.
As I unloaded my dog and our suitcase from the car, I heard Kaylee’s squeals of delight. When I found them in “her” room, I was almost knocked over by the pinkness of it all.
There was a pink and purple bedspread on the single bed. There was a Barbie horse and a giant stuffed “Magenta” (from Blues Clues) leaning against the ruffled pillow sham.
Covering every shelf and table were Barbies, accessories, dolls, stuffed animals, a chest of dress up clothes, books, coloring books, art supplies…that man had walked along the “pink aisle” of the store and bought anything at all that he thought she would even remotely like.
He loved her like his own even then – before we were ever married. He still loves her as if she carried his DNA. (And I’ll tell you that the two are so alike that most people are surprised she’s his “step” daughter — even though we don’t use that word in our home.)
It never occurred to him that she wasn’t “his” to love in his way and with his passion. It never occurred to her that she shouldn’t just love him back. It has been a beautiful thing to watch their relationship grow over the last 15 years.
If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know we’ve never held her back from her father or even spoken a word against him, because to do so would be to dishonor her father — which is sinful.
But Kaylee slipped into the mind-frame of having two dads very easily, and as her father has proven (unsurprisingly) his own special brand of unreliability, “Daddy Gregg” is her dominant parent – the one who always has a piece of advice, the one who facilitates the things in life she needs when she needs them, and the one who answers the phone when her car is acting funny – even when she’s 600 miles away visiting her “real” father.
I know we were blessed to find Gregg. I think he was blessed to be doubly loved by the two of us.
When you parent your own children, there is a lot more grace, and a lot more gradual growth that helps brew a lot of instinctive parenting that is built on unconditional trust and love on both sides.
I think when you’re a step-parent or the spouse of a stepparent, it requires a lot more intentional parenting, especially as you’re building a foundation of a relationship in an older child. So many times, actions and reactions are analyzed, misconstrued, and/or not trusted, despite the intention of the actions.
Even with the love and care Gregg has given Kaylee over the years, occasionally, the angst that only a preteen or a teen girl can manifest would rear its ugly head, and we’d have to tackle it head-on.
But we always did it lovingly, with understanding, encouragement, and firmness of re-establishing the ground rules of a Biblical home, head-of-household, and unconditional love of both of us, regardless of the title of “step” one of us may have.
My husband did his research and very intentionally parented Kaylee. As our own children came into the family, he didn’t change a whole lot about how he parented them, either.
I know there were times it was difficult for him not to react to the teenage-y angst and such, or not be hurt by it, but he managed to soldier through those times and come out in the light on the other side.
Being a step-parent comes with a special set of challenges. At least in the child’s mind, you’re “replacing” a parent in child’s family dynamic. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding that replacement, there is likely going to be this minute amount of “I wish my parents had never divorced” inside the child that can grow and expand and overwhelm if given the slightest encouragement.
Resentment can grow, feelings can be more tender than they should be. It just is a part of the relationship, and to not face that on some level with a step child, is rare.
When that happens, intentional parenting with grace and love, always with a firm foundation of the model of a Biblical parent/child relationship, is the best way to act or react.
And, as the spouse of a step parent, I know that my always backing my husband’s “play” and not making “Kaylee and me” a unit against him smoothed the way more than almost anything. Kaylee, who loved and trusted me unconditionally, followed my lead and understood that Gregg and I had become one.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. James 1:5-6
Parenting presents unique challenges that God has naturally equipped us to face. Step-parenting sometimes presents additional challenges that require wisdom and intent to handle.