… from the bungalow

Zen and the Art of Step-Parenting


Simon and LucasHere’s something I’ve been struggling with for a few months now: How to be a loving step-parent. It’s really not as easy as, “love me, love my kid.” I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I naively thought that to be true. When Karin and I talked about moving in together, I figured she would just love my kids because she loves me, and vice versa. However, while it’s true that you can want to take care of a child because you love his parent, you do not automatically have unconditional love for him.

I’ve heard that single moms can develop an unconscious resentment toward their own child if that child reminds them of their ex in some way. So imagine if this is not your biological child (and therefore do not have unconditional love for him–yet), and he reminds you of his father, whom you happen to know, and with whom you’ve been in an altercation… Yeah.

I’ll admit I have some resentment toward Lucas’ father. And Lucas does remind me of him. I have to think this creates a bit of an uphill battle for me. On top of that, he behaves very differently than my own kids (who are not perfect angels, themselves). Karin and I have had a few conversations that went something like this:

“Your kid is teaching my kid such-and-such behaviors.”

“Well, my kid wouldn’t have to act this way if your kid didn’t act that way.”

“Well maybe if you didn’t do this and that, your kid wouldn’t be so whatever.”

Et cetera.

Breathe. Come together. Discuss.

So what do you do? How do you develop love for someone else’s kid? Well, I’m learning a few tricks.

  1. Change your language. Don’t think of him as “someone else’s kid.” Think of him as a child. “Children” need and deserve love. “Kids” can be little jerks. Better yet, think of him as your child, which takes me to …
  2. Fake it ’til you make it. This is true for so many things in life. If you’re anything like me, most kids are not going to simply win you over with their personality. In A Treatise on Parents and Children, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “a child is a nuisance to a grown-up person.” So, rather that seeing them as an intrusion on your space and time, you spend time with them like you mean it. The change in behavior will provide opportunity for changed thought patterns, and thought patterns create beliefs.
  3. Forgive. This one’s tricky. If I carry some subconscious resentment toward the child because he reminds me of his father, who I take issue with, it only makes sense that I resolve the issue with the father, right? I don’t have to sit down with him and hash out my feelings and blah-dee-blah, but I can silently, within the space of my own heart, hold peaceful thoughts for him.

In time, it will happen. I will learn to love Lucas as my own son. It’s my desire to do so, and so it will be. But if it’s my desire, then why does it seem to be taking so long? Do I truly desire it? What’s the block?

The short answer: Fear.

I’m afraid that my kids will somehow feel slighted; that if I can love another child so easily, what is my love for them really worth? I’m afraid that I will grow attached to this child, only to have him swept away from me if something were to happen to his mother. I’m afraid…

I’ve been the primary caregiver for my two boys for most of their lives. Before my divorce, I was a stay-at-home dad. My oldest, Finn, has special needs. Believe me when I say that before Finn my life was almost meaningless compared to the things that little professor has taught me. It’s been so hard at times. It’s also been such a blessing. But when you love someone so completely, it’s devastating when things go “wrong.” (I’ll save that for a later post.)

LucasLove is risky. But you know what? In my experience, the risk is worth the reward, ten times over. Love brings blessings. So why wouldn’t I take the risk? If someone asks me a few years from now, “To what do you attribute this charmed life that you lead?” I want to be able to say in no uncertain terms, “Love. I decided a long time ago to love; freely, explicitly, and without hesitation.”

That is my desire, and so it will be. Love begins now.

Parenting (and conjecturing) from the bungalow,


So what are your thoughts? Please share. And if you’re a step-parent, what are some of the ways you’ve learned to love your step-child(ren)? Did it come naturally to you? Or did you work your way into it? I’m looking forward to hearing from you! 🙂


Author: Chris

Introspection to a fault. College administrator, parent, soapmaker.

15 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Step-Parenting

  1. I loved this! It is so introspective and honest! Well done!

  2. Wow! I guess I never stopped to consider this issue before. Thank you for teaching me about it! It’s good to be aware of the burdens that others silently bear.

  3. WOW! You can write, I am very impressed. I enjoyed reading that. You could write a book about all of this. Remember in scripture it says in 1 Corinthians 13 that: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
    May the Lord give you the strength and a heart to love unconditionally because this will remove fear.
    1 John 4 vs 18 says “perfect love casts out all fear”
    Hope this encourages you. Karin and you should teach your kids to love each other, that’s where it will all start.

  4. We are a step family but in this case I and my daughter were the “package deal” after my divorce. U are right about the “fake it” only that phrase may bother some who may like to think of it as “practice”. Doctors practice medicine; parents, both natural and new do the same with parenting. Time together through thick and thin creates the bond. Just keep up the practice through the thick and thin. Writing down the rules or making behavior and chore charts is a big equalizer especially when it doesn’t say “your kid , my kid”.

  5. I don’t have any step-children but… I do remember what it was like with Mary the last however many years… Whenever we had a problem, I admit that I was stubborn about it. I always thought that she was trying to BE my mom… and no one could ever take that title. But there is a way around it that I notice that she just didn’t find… not that I took steps to help her… but I think that being close friends with them helps. Not that it’s much different from being someone’s parent, in fact I think the distinction is in how you address them… Maybe he’s too young for this to be his mindset… but it might be something to consider.

    • Thanks for that insight, Cassie. He is young, and his dad was really only around for the first two years of his life, but there is a bond there that shouldn’t be overlooked.

      I’ve read that step-dads have more success acting like a fun uncle than a dad, but that just seems too impersonal to me. It’s difficult for me to get in the “fun uncle” mindset with someone who lives with me and depends on me for shelter and guidance.

  6. Step parenting is HARD. I never thought it would be so hard. Fortunately/Unfortunately, I had an aunt who did a terrible job step parenting, and I used her lack of kindness and good will as a catapult to be a better step parent. I always remembered my cousin’s broken heart, and kept close to mine that I never wanted my step daughter to feel that way in my home. I also wanted her to feel like she belonged, and so treated her just as I treated my own, even when I didn’t feel like it. This included teaching her good manners, and doing a bit of battle over chores and rules – because they were good for her. It would have been so much easier to let that stuff go, and concentrate on teaching my kids those things. I think she gets it now, honestly. I hope so, anyway. This is a great post – I am going to share it with a couple of friends who could benefit from it!!

    • Thanks so much for your reply, Megan! I’m thankful (as I’m sure your step-daughter is/will be) that you were able to learn from another person’s example.

      As an update on this post, I have been doing better, but I am still learning. In life, it often seems like the most difficult thing to do is also the most worthwhile. For me, in this situation, it’s the “treating him like my own” part that fits that category. But we’re getting there! 🙂

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