If I’m honest, the thought of being a stepmother has long terrified me. Disney movies are indeed formative, for at the age of 5, Lady Tremaine of Cinderella became my stepmother archetype. As an adult, I recognized the severe flaws in this caricature (thankfully); however, the idea of being a stepmother was still unsettling.
When I met my husband five years ago and discovered he had a six-year-old daughter, my heart sank a bit. Up until this moment, my fear of stepparenting had been theoretical—I never actually thought I would be a stepmom. I never envisioned myself playing this part or sharing the responsibility of raising someone else’s child. Though I didn’t actually fear turning into the “Wicked Stepmother,” I definitely feared being perceived as the antagonist in a child’s life, particularly in my soon-to-be-stepdaughter’s life.
Before we took our vows, my husband and I had many conversations about this new role I was taking on. I wanted a bullet-point job description as well as a plan of action for every situation we might encounter. In response to these fear-driven demands, my husband often responded, “For now, I need you to be like an aunt. Or a mentor. Someone that can encourage, listen, and be a friend to her.” At the time, I didn’t realize how much truth this statement contained. Instead, I often felt dissatisfied by his responses, as they weren’t as detailed as I’d hoped.
It wasn’t until one of my therapy sessions that I gained some clarity on this part I was about to play. In response to the question, “What does it look like to have the mind of Christ towards stepparenting?” I began to think about Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather.
The example of Joseph
The Bible says little about stepparenting. Actually, it gives no directives at all. That is unfortunate considering one in three Americans is either a stepparent, stepchild or in some form of a blended family. Yet, the Bible does give us a glimpse of a stepparent in the story of Joseph.
Most of what we know about Joseph comes from Matthew and Luke’s gospels. In these two accounts, we learn that Joseph was engaged to Mary prior to her pregnancy, was righteous, experienced fear, listened to divine communication in dreams, was present at Jesus’ birth, protected his newly born son and wife in fleeing to Egypt, made a home for his family (Matt. 1:18—2:23), descended from the house and family of David, was present at Jesus’ circumcision and temple dedication and worried about his stepson (Luke 2:1-52).
What strikes me most about Joseph’s character is Matthew’s description of him as “a righteous man” (Matt. 2:19). We often think of being righteous as being upright, virtuous, guiltless or following God’s laws. This isn’t wrong. However, dikaios, the Greek word behind “righteous,” also means “him whose way of thinking, feeling and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God.” I think this definition is most fitting, as this was Joseph’s very mindset.
As a Jewish male in the first century, Joseph had every right to call off his engagement to Mary. Upon finding out his fiancé was pregnant, the only logical conclusion he could’ve drawn was that she’d been gallivanting around Nazareth. Considering betrothal was just as binding as marriage, this adulterous act would’ve shamed Joseph, threatened his reputation and damaged his ego. The only way to save face was to cut ties with Mary. This is what Joseph intended to do until an angel of the Lord appeared to him and provided a behind-the-scenes explanation of Mary’s miraculous conception. In response, Joseph acted obediently and took Mary as his wife. In so doing, he became Jesus’ stepfather, dedicating himself to helping Mary raise God’s Son.
Joseph’s decision revealed his willingness to participate in God’s bigger plan. Joseph recognized that doing God’s will was more important than preserving his own reputation or pursuing his own agenda. He understood God’s plan for the world and sought to carry it out in his role as husband and stepfather. And ultimately isn’t this what having the mind of Christ is all about?
If I hadn’t become a stepmom, I don’t think I would’ve developed such a respect and admiration for Joseph’s role. Granted, stepmothers and stepfathers experience different challenges and hurdles; yet there is much overlap between these roles. I think this is why Joseph is often referred to as the “stepparents’ patron saint.”
A supportive protagonist
Unlike Lady Tremaine, Joseph wasn’t the antagonist in Jesus’ life. Rather, he was a supporting protagonist. In this supporting role, Joseph was faithful, understanding and helpful. He was a steadfast spouse and a dedicated stepparent. Had he said “no” to playing this role, he would’ve missed out on the opportunity to participate in the life of a precious child. He would’ve forsaken the offer to partner with the ultimate Protagonist in his divine drama.
This is how I’ve ultimately come to define and understand my role as a stepmom—a supporting protagonist. In the past three and a half years, I’ve been privileged to be the supporting protagonist in my stepdaughter’s life. This has looked remarkably similar to what my husband suggested in our early conversations. I’m a friend, a mentor, a coach and an encourager. I’ve been present for significant moments and have rejoiced, cried and celebrated alongside my stepdaughter. I’ve supported the lead protagonist, my husband, and partnered with the ultimate Protagonist, relying on his wisdom and compassion to best love my stepdaughter.
There’s no doubt that stepparenting is hard. It’s messy. It’s daunting. It often feels like a relational teeter-totter. And it never looks the same from one blended family to the next or one stepparent to the next. I’ve relied on books, blogs, prayer and the advice of other stepmoms and stepfamilies to help navigate both the practical and challenging sides of this complex role. I would have floundered without the guidance and wisdom from these incredible resources. Yet, I still find the most solace in Joseph’s story and experience.
The mind of Christ
I never got to directly answer my therapist’s question, but if I had, I would say to have the mind of Christ towards stepparenting is to think, act and feel as Joseph did, for he was wholly conformed to God’s will.
I don’t think any stepparent really knows what they’re getting into. I don’t think Joseph probably did either. As humans, fear and the unknown are intimately connected to a need for control. I experienced this firsthand at the prospect of becoming a stepmom. I think Joseph experienced it too.
Yet, in the midst of his fear, rather than grasping for control, Joseph surrendered his control to God. He didn’t allow fear to eclipse his role in God’s plan, prevent him from acting out God’s will or stifle his love for God’s Son. This surrendering of fear created space for acceptance, sacrifice and trust—all characteristics desperately needed in stepparenting.
While my task isn’t as monumental as Joseph’s, recasting my role in the grander scheme helps me see past the daily minutia of stepparenting. It helps me see God’s perspective on this role, which helps me surrender my fear, creating space for acceptance, love, sacrifice and trust. It helps me have the mind of Christ toward my stepdaughter, my husband, myself and our unique triad.
God entrusted his greatest gift to a stepparent. In my most challenging moments as a stepmom, I remember this. Children, whether biological or not, are one of God’s most valuable gifts. Loving a child always falls within God’s grander, overall scheme. God’s will is to love, therefore, whether a biological parent or a supporting protagonist, to lavish love upon a child is to have the mind of Christ.