God’s Step Family

family picture taken at son's wedding

Family picture at a recent wedding – all except our 12 yr old who was with his dad that weekend – another step family dynamic

Step families are not the same as nuclear families.  They’re just not.

Sometimes we expect them to be the same…which usually leads to frustration and disappointment.

Every family has its own unique dynamics.  In a nuclear family, children born into the marriage are raised from infancy in the environment of that nuclear family.  They accept their parent’s behavior, attitudes, priorities, traditions, beliefs and parenting styles as normal.  No matter how abnormal the family may be relative to society, children raised in the nuclear family accept it as normal.  And that common shared acceptance of normal combined with common shared experiences, shared genetics, and blood ties creates a unique bond within the nuclear family that is not shared with anyone outside the family.

Step families are a bit different.  Step parents coming into the family are usually older with more life experiences.  Each parent has traveled a different path to arrive at this common point in life.  Each has a different history, different traditions, different values and priorities, different prejudices and concerns, different parenting styles and different perspectives.

They also each have a unique bond to the children they bring into the step family…the bond of shared experiences, values, priorities, traditions and concerns…the bond of nuclear family.  This bond is beautiful but is not shared equally with everyone in the step family.  That doesn’t mean others in the step family are loved less…it simply means they have less in common.

Children coming into the step family also have traveled different paths to arrive at this common point.  They carry their own perspectives, values and concerns.  And they each bring their own individual perspectives to the step family dynamics.

I have parented both in a nuclear family and in a step family.  While both are challenging, based on my experience, step parenting is the more difficult role.

In a nuclear family, roles are generally well-defined and everyone knows the roles.  As a step father I often find myself struggling to define my role…to learn what it means to be a good step father…what it means to be a good husband to the mother of my step children…what it means to be a good father to my biological children in a step family setting.  And just when I think I’m making progress, it changes…because step family dynamics often dictate role changes based on circumstances.  Some circumstances allow a step parent to be very involved in mentoring a child, while other circumstances call for the closer bond the child has with their biological parent.

On top of all the other challenges of step parenting, our unrealistic expectations often get in the way, leading to unnecessary frustrations and added tension.  We tend to hold the nuclear family up as the ideal and expect the dynamics of the step family to follow the same model.

Our Christian church culture often reinforces this unrealistic perspective.  Sermons are preached exalting the nuclear family as God’s ideal and quoting troubling (and often misleading) statistics of risk for children outside of a nuclear family.  Many churches (falsely) teach that anyone who has divorced and remarried is living in sin.  And individuals who have divorced are often excluded from leadership roles in the church.

It’s easy for step families to start feeling like second-class Christians.  And it’s easy for parents in a step family to try forcing family dynamics to conform to the nuclear family ideal.

But what does God say about His ideal family?

In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:5-6 NASB)

Did you catch that?  To what purpose did God, in His love, predestine us?  To adoption!

God’s family is a step family!

The blood that unites us is not the blood of shared genetics, but rather the blood of covenant.  The bonds are not bonds of shared experiences, but rather bonds of love rooted in faith and hope.

We each have traveled different paths to arrive at a common point in life.  As in every step family, we each bring our own history of experiences, traditions, expectations, values, priorities and concerns.  Like every step family, the dynamics sometimes become intense, and in times of stress we tend to migrate towards those to whom we feel the closest bond.

And we work past the difficulties by trusting in God’s love, God’s providence, and God’s grace.

God’s ideal family for which He has predestined us is a step family.  And that step family environment, with all its crazy dynamics, is a beautiful place to be…a place of ministry and growth…a place of learning patience and flexibility…a place of evolving roles…often a place of frustration…always a place filled with love and grace.

I am so thankful to be a part of this wonderful step family!


Your thoughts?


[Linked to Messy Marriage, Unforced Rythms, Wellspring ]


14 thoughts on “God’s Step Family

  1. My nuclear family was one of constant crisis, high stress, etc – you know my story – so reading that we are all adopted? What a relief – the pressure’s off.

    Good post, Joe!

    • Yes, a relief, indeed!

      The other great thing about adoption is the choice involved. We wouldn’t be in the family if God had not specifically chosen us nor if we had not specifically asked to be adopted.

      Gotta know we’re loved! 🙂

  2. You got this exactly right.

    The concept of ‘second-class Christians’ is also applied to new converts…”Baby Christians”.

    It’s disrespectful, and irritating beyond belief. The folks who consider themselves part of God’s ‘nuclear family’ in a particular congregation act like the in-crowd (remember the 60s?), and anyone who they consider to be less ‘holy’ is firmly set aside. Divorced? We’ll patronize you, and ‘love on you’, but you will never be fully accepted. There’s no recovery from that one.

    Wonder what Jesus is thinking?

    Sorry if this sounds like a rant…and it is…but I think that Christians can be the worst enemies of Christianity.

    • Yes, you’re absolutely right. Christians can easily fall into ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality, even toward fellow Christians.

      I’m still sorting thru exactly how I feel about that.

      It’s easy to respond with a similar ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality…to lump together all the Christians who snub people they deem ‘less holy’ and verbally blast away at them…

      But…then I’m reminded how typical this is of step families, especially in the early years. A child blatantly disobeys the step father. The step father responds in what he sees as a loving firm manner, making it very clear that such behavior will not be tolerated, as he would with his own child. The child acts shocked at being addressed that way by someone who is not his biological parent…and Mom reacts to her child’s distress. Now, step-dad feels he’s been shoved aside and treated disrespectfully by all involved. AND…just like that the situation has disintegrated into an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ perspective with lines drawn along boundaries of closest bonds.

      Yet, nobody set out to hurt anyone…and the whole reason emotions are running high is because they really do love each other and are very invested in the relationship. The hard part necessary to defusing the situation is to realize that this is normal, and that it doesn’t need to be ‘fixed.’ Over time as trust is gained and shared experiences are accumulated, things will improve. But for those early years, it’s a simple normal response to what has become a stressful situation.

      In other words, a big part of the bonding process is learning to adjust expectations and accept the reality that step families have these crazy dynamics.

      So…I’m thinking maybe it’s the same with God’s step family. Maybe the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ is somewhat inevitable at this stage (meaning in this life) and maybe the quickest route toward bonding is to adjust expectations…

  3. I particularly enjoyed the reminder that we are all adopted. That certainly doesn’t make us second class.

    • Absolutely right, Forrest!

      We’re all adopted kids. One big step-family with lots of crazy dynamics and differing perspectives.

      And one wonderful loved-filled adopted Father who chose each one of us!

    • Step parenting is a tough role, but a rewarding one.

      This past week I received a text from my grown step-son thanking me for being there for him and telling me how much he appreciates me. I cannot express how that text thrilled this step-dad’s heart.

      David, God has a plan for your life and for the lives of each individual in your family.

      The prior divorce did not throw His plan off track…He knew how and when that marriage would end before the vows were ever said. And He already knew how He would bring you into your current marriage and use each individual in your step family to minister to one another.

      He’s that good! 🙂

  4. What a redemptive perspective, Joe. I love this so much.

    There is often so much pressure in Christian circles to “get it right — or else”, but voices like yours play such an important role reminding us that GETTING IT RIGHT is not as firm a place to stand as trusting God to MAKE IT RIGHT. Oh, yes. That’s hope.

    Thank you for linking this thought-provoking post with Unforced Rhythms.

    • Well stated, Kelli!

      The Christian walk is not about always getting it right. Rather, it’s about God’s grace being worked out thru the lives of imperfect creatures living in a fallen world.

      Thank YOU!

  5. “God’s family is a step family!”
    That’s such wonderful news. With all its crazy dynamics, yes. We all can fit in and belong here. You always have such a great perspective, Joe, so full of grace! I see Jesus in you.

    • Lisa, that’s the highest compliment you could ever have given me. That’s my highest goal…that somehow, someway folks can catch a glimpse of Jesus through my life.

      And, yes, that’s the beauty of step family…it’s made up of such different people from such different backgrounds, but everyone belongs and everyone is loved.

      Thank you, my dear friend!

  6. I’ve never been part of a step-family, but there is always that possibility in the future for my daughter if/when I remarry. It’s a little bit scary because I know I would likely struggle with the subtle differences. It would be another lesson in tolerance. Just what I need.

    • Yes, another lesson in tolerance, indeed!

      In every marriage, each partner brings their own expectations into the relationship…and there are always issues in melding the individual expectations into a cohesive reality.

      In a step-family environment, those individual expectation issues are raised to the power of the number of people involved. Because the newlywed spouses aren’t just bringing their own expectations into the relationship…they’re also bringing their children’s expectations into the relationship…and their personal expectations and their children’s expectations reinforce each other on some points and contradict each other on other points.

      Lots of interesting dynamics! Lots of opportunity for miscommunication and hurt feelings…

      But also lots of opportunity for grace and ministry to people very much in need of love and acceptance…

      By God’s grace, my step family is a pretty wonderful environment! 🙂

      Praying for God’s blessing in your life, Dan, both as a single parent and in whatever new relationships may develop for you!

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