This is not the world I imagined leaving to my stepkids. The news headlines, the social media posts, the hardships faced by our family and friends…I find myself whispering, “Jesus, you can come back anytime now.” Are you walking through a hard season with your stepkids? Whether they are questioning their sexual orientation, in an abusive relationship, struggling with an addiction, or are engaging in destructive behaviors, it’s hard as a stepmomma. On one hand, I think these seasons and situations are easier for stepparents to handle: we don’t carry the guilt that biological parents often do, allowing us to have greater clarity in dealing with heart issues. One the other hand, the prodigal stepchild can reinforce a feeling of powerlessness, a seeming inability to speak into his or her life. Now, I’m not a counselor, or an expert – but I have been in your shoes. Here are a few thoughts on how to walk through a prodigal season with grace and peace:
- Be a safe place. I’m not suggesting you condone or enable destructive behavior, but be a person that your stepchild can talk to without judgment. Open up dialogue with your stepson or stepdaughter and just listen. Acknowledging their fears, worries, and struggles may just create a space in which they will also allow you to speak into their life.
- Set up loving boundaries. This is a tough one. If your prodigal stepkid has younger brothers or sisters at home, I believe it is your responsibility as a parent to protect siblings from both the influence and collateral damage of their poor choices. You may also witness the other parent loosening or removing boundaries altogether, and your stepchild (adolescent or adult) may naturally choose to spend time where they are held less accountable for their actions. They may not hear you at first, but keep communicating that healthy boundaries allow your family to have a relationship with them, not prevent it. The ball is in your stepchild’s court.
- Pray for restoration. Relationships with parents are often the first things to go when rebellious behavior starts. You are the ones holding them accountable, while friends may encourage them to act on their feelings or “be true” to themselves. Stand on this promise: no matter what’s been said or done, Jesus redeems all things.
- Be lighthearted, even when you don’t feel like it. I’m not usually a “fake it ’til you make it” girl, but when your stepkid shows up for a family dinner, set aside your disapproval and just love on them. Demonstrate your desire to be a part of their life and ask questions about their job, pets, or favorite TV shows. Your stepkid knows you don’t approve of his or her life choices, but make an effort to show that you care about them.
- Wait with open arms. Do you remember the father’s response in the parable of the prodigal son? Always be expectant of the miracle God can do in your stepkids’ lives.
And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. – Luke 15:20
- Plan for after-care. Find resources to help your stepkid – and you! – walk through the lasting effects of their life decisions. Emotional wounds can linger long after the physical evidence is gone. Continue the open and honest communication, and journey alongside them through counseling and reorienting their life. Also, be keenly aware that your stepkid may slip back into old bad habits or relationships – we’ve all been there! Don’t judge; instead, be ready and willing to pick them back up.