What to Say to a Friend Struggling with Adult Stepchildren


When I married my widower husband several years ago, I married a broken family of survivors: three adults who lost their loved one to cancer. My husband felt ready to move on, but his daughters struggled. They feared sharing their father and welcoming a new family member. However, the girls and I have found shared interests through hobbies and work. We also have found common ground by loving their dad well, enjoying the grandchildren, and making family time count. Our trust in each other has grown by recognizing mistakes and acknowledging hurt feelings—with a few silences in between. God has sifted me by using my stepdaughters’ occasional rejection.

As your friend blends with her adult stepchildren, position yourself as a listener and encourager. Based on my experience, I offer these ideas to help her through this season of life:

Encourage her as she practices imitating Christ. If you haven’t been in her shoes, God can still use you to intercede on her behalf. Pray that she practices gentle words and silence when she feels provoked and that she repays coldness with kindness. Remind her about Satan’s role in the division of families. As you speak verses over your friend, reminding her, for example, “our battles are not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12), you equip her with tools to combat various situations: veiled insults about her cooking, making light of her efforts to engage with step-grandkids, or disgruntlement during the holidays.

Counsel your friend to make an effort to love the children individually and equally, as God loves us—even though she may connect more naturally to one than another. Stepchildren have more trust for a stepparent who doesn’t triangulate or pick favorites.     

Ask her truth-and-grace questions. Is your friend trying too hard to win her stepchildren’s approval? If so, remind her of the qualities you value in her—she doesn’t need to prove her worthiness. Remind her she brings fresh perspective to the household. Pray and brainstorm together about ways she can minister to her adult stepchildren with the unique gifts God has given her “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

Pray for her boundaries. Her stepchildren may expect her to treat them like their mom does or did. That’s okay if it means showing kindness or interest in their hobbies, celebrating accomplishments, or mentoring them through job changes, child-rearing or life’s disappointments.

However, if your friend mentions actions disruptive to her marriage or demeaning to her personally, help her come up with phrasing to address those issues. For example, if the kids frequently visited their father’s house unannounced before his remarriage and continue to do so—or sift through personal closets or papers–help her with a plan to talk to her husband and/or kids.

Ignoring disruptive habits gives the stepchildren power over the marriage, which God doesn’t intend. Assistance from you to formulate God-honoring responses for family discussions can also help your friend avoid a sudden outburst of anger or the temptation to villainize the kids to their father. She will likely be very grateful for your help.

Stand by her as she honors their biological mom. If your friend married a widower as I did, she may notice times when her adult stepchildren miss their mom. Though it may feel awkward to her, encourage her to ask them questions at times about this woman who shaped their childhood. By doing so, she’ll learn a thing or two about her stepchildren that will help her serve them in the future.

When your friend turns to you with hurt or weary feelings from the struggles of a blended family, remind her that the Great Physician cares for her. Though the past enemies of death or divorce have brought heartache in her family, God can use her role as stepmom and prayer warrior to enrich the futures of these stepchildren. Pray for her assurance that God delivered her to them for a reason.

C.C. Allen is a writer and student at Dallas Theological Seminary.

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