Parenting is forever. Sure, the details change through the years. And for the most part the load often gets lighter. But children are always on your heart. You will ALWAYS be a mom or a dad.

And the same goes for step-parenting. Some of those realities have become especially clear to me recently. I married late in life – I was 48. My husband had two adult sons with families of their own. I became a step-mother under perhaps the easiest of possible circumstances. And yet there was still a very real process of adjustment in becoming a family.

I had it easy. My husband was very clear about where I stood in his heart, and I never felt I had to compete with his boys for his affection. His sons and their wives welcomed me gladly into the family, and we never felt any resistance from them about our marriage. There have been no fights with an ex-spouse, no shuffling kids back and forth between two parents, or any of the other painful dramas many step-families must address.

Some things I was prepared for. I was prepared to never be “Mom” to his boys in the same sense as their mother. I was prepared to always be number two or three on the list for holiday gatherings, rather than number one. I was prepared to listen with interest when they talked about old memories, knowing there were decades of memories between them that I could never completely share. And I stepped into this family with an open heart ready to give of myself rather than looking for anything I could receive in return.

And yet a few things I was unprepared for. Nothing would have changed my glad willingness to join this family. But if I could tell the “me” back then what I know now, there are a few things I could have done better.

I wish I had paid better attention to my own heart along the way, especially as it related to the children. I didn’t realize how significant that journey would be: I assumed it would be no big deal since the boys were grown and had families of their own. They wanted my involvement faster and to a larger degree than I anticipated. While that was wonderful, if I had thought it through more I would have been better able to respond, and reach out more. I could have made the conscious effort to give more of myself not just to my husband, but to the boys and their families as well.

I wish I had welcomed their affection more easily. I wish I had reached out more often, more generously. I wish I had offered “ME” to them with more open arms, and allowed them to take as much as they wished. I wish I had realized I had an opportunity to make a positive difference in their lives, and enjoyed doing so more, sooner. I still can, and I will!

In looking back at the still-few years since I joined this family I realize my heart has changed. It has expanded. And I want it to expand even more. That will take a conscious choice on my part, and I look forward to the experience. Stretching my heart may sometimes be a little uncomfortable, but I am certain I will never regret doing so.

And I’m grateful to be secure in God’s love, knowing His heart holds me gently, and that it is immeasurably bigger than mine. I believe I can trust Him with my stretching heart!

Your turn: What about becoming a step-family surprised you? What do you wish you had known in advance? What would you say to yourself back then if you could? Leave a comment below. 

P.S. Newsflash: The topic of step-families is a challenging one, and you want to do it SMART! Ron Deal from Smart Stepfamilies is a national expert. His new book Dating and the Single Parent is a must-read for anyone considering forming a blended family.

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