Dear Church: Stepmother Isn’t a Dirty Word

Dear Church,

You may not remember me. I haven’t stepped across your threshold since March, and it has been even longer since we met regularly. Quite frankly, we may have never met again if  the quiet whisper of Holy Spirit or guilt or whatever doesn’t stop urging me to return. I feel the need to find a community of believers again. But like so many, I’m painfully broken and scarred and nervous about coming back. 

And you took great pains to push me aside, to leave me out, to let me know I don’t belong. I saw you roll your eyes when I stood up to be recognized as mother, then you had some balls for wanting to me to serve in your nursery. I left when I didn’t fit into your mother club because I haven’t yet shoved a new life out of my uterus. Perhaps, I made you a bit nervous when my kids were gone every other Sunday and claiming them as mine and not acting like a stereotypical stepmother.

For years, I mothered or if you prefer step-mothered my children(I will always and unabashedly refer to them as mine; they are a part of my soul and fiber and being even though we share no biological DNA). They lived and ate and slept and learned in my home, our home. I ignored the sleepy groans, the “I don’t wanna get ups.” We drove to school and slaved over homework and traveled to the beach, the mountains, even Disney World. For those years, I invested full-time in being a stepmother who didn’t resemble Cinderella’s stepmother. I loved as I know how to love because the Bible never really says directly how to be a stepmother.

But now, I’m mothering on the weekends, over the phone, sometimes, through email. I’m closer to the norm than I would like, but it is reality for now.

Maybe, this makes you a bit more comfortable. My new stereotypical stepmothering existence, a parent on the weekends, free and childless during the week. Or not. I understand why you may think I don’t deserve any recognition because parenting on the weekends must be easier. Hell, it’s practically part-time. But you don’t understand this: no parent is ever a part-time parent.  I worry from afar, and I hope the homework gets done  and video games and television kept to a minimum. I see the pain for my husband after phone calls when the kids cared more about the television than talking. Sometimes, they are flat out rude. How is this any easier? We both know it isn’t.

I have watched you my entire life glorify, exalt, and praise mothering as long as it existed neatly inside your idyllic family picture. Not all families do. I wish you could see how you have pushed those of us “non-typical” families and parents to the fringes. Sometimes, we leave and never come back. Perhaps, you will never understand stepmothering until you stop treating it as some dirty word.

Stepmother isn’t a dirty word, but “forgotten” is.

For many of us stepmothers, we feel forgotten and lost in your church circles, your Christian parenting/family blogs. We look for some small in road to the conversation about the struggles we all face as parents–whether we have “step” in front of our parental title or not. Whether you dear church like it or not, we are still a part of you, and we beg for a seat at the table, to be part of conversation about parenting and loving. We want you to hear our stories and understand us.


14 thoughts on “Dear Church: Stepmother Isn’t a Dirty Word

    1. I think anyone who doesn’t fit inside the “normal” family model feels this way. I’m convinced that we need to change how we think of family and be more open to listening to others and embracing their needs.

  1. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing this so honestly. I have a step-mom that became such when I was 19 and one year from being married myself. I didn’t know what to make of the title, honestly. I’d rather have referred to her as my dad’s wife, but as time has gone on and she has loved my children with a beautiful grandma’s love, I have embraced the title, step and all. This post has helped me in my love and respect for her difficult role, so again thank you for opening up. (And thank you for linking to The Parent ‘Hood!)

    1. I became a stepmom when my kids were MUCH younger(6 and 3), so I can imagine how awkward and strange and unnerving it must have been for you at 19. It is a hard role to fill, and too many times, step-parents don’t receive any support from the church or its community. This needs to change. Thank for you sharing your perspective here.

    1. Sometimes, I think the worse form of exclusion is silence. We don’t talk about how divorce affects those who had nothing to do with it. The church needs to do a better job of addressing the tough issues too.

  2. Hello Sarah!
    Thank you so much for opening up and sharing! It breaks my heart to hear women experiencing the same rejection in their community, even more though when the church is involved. It sets a bad impression to non believers about our loving and freeing faith and weakens the BODY of Christ (we are his body) by excluding His people.

    When hearing stories like yours I immediately reminiscence “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks
    against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and
    judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law
    but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to
    save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor” -James 4:11-12.

    And then I instantly think about Jesus. His magnificent words as He gave His life on the cross willingly,“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”- Luke 23:24

    I am praying for you and your lovely family that you receive love and acceptance from a community free from judgement and condemnation. A community that truly “loves their neighbors as they love themselves” (Matthew 22:39) and recognizes the beautiful, unconditional mother you are. Motherhood is one of the most phenomenal roles, yet such an impossible love. I can’t even fathom your position, however I do know that He would never give you anything you cannot bear. So “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” (Psalm55:22), for “The Lord is YOUR light and YOUR salvation—whom shall you fear? The Lord is the stronghold of your life—of whom shall you be afraid?” (Psalms 27:1). “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to
    prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

    As Romans 12:2 states that we are not of this world, we are transformed. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (John 15:18)

    Check you the lyrics to “Cry No More” by Virtue. This song helps me realize we are NEVER alone. God is carrying us every step of the way!

    God Bless You!
    You and your family are in my prayers.


    1. Sadly, the church wants to ignore that divorce rates from within are the same as those who do not attend services. We can’t keep clinging to our “perfect” version of family any more. Thanks for your kind words!

  3. oh, this is hard. i can see how it can be a thankless, can’t-win sort of role at every turn, and how awful to get more grief from the place and people called to be warm and welcoming. i hope you find you way back, because i know the Church needs you and all of us. we’ve got to stop acting like a club or high school clique and be the people of God. <3

    1. Oh, yes, it is hard, but I wouldn’t change my decision to marry my husband or invest in my stepchildren’s lives for anything. Change can only happen if we can ever leave behind the “Cleaver Family” ideal, and if we all speak for those on the fringes too.

  4. Thank you, Sarah. Thank you for opening my eyes wider and making more uncomfortable than I already am for anyone who is in a “non-traditional” when? where? family. Thank you so for helping me to hear and to know and to dang well do something to make the church a more embracing and engagng place for all people.

    1. So many times, we don’t realize how we are hurting those who don’t fit simply because we don’t know. We should be working together to embrace one other rather than trying to see who is better, has the most ideal family, etc.

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