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I always say that I fell in love with my stepson first – which at times has made him giggle, roll his eyes (tweenager) and now as an adult, my boy just grins impishly. Falling in love with my husband next should have been expected: the most attractive thing about this man is the kind of dad he is to our two kiddos. Crazy as I am about my two boys, my stepdaughter has been the sweetest surprise from day one. I actually didn’t know she existed until our first date, and from the moment I met her, I was smitten. I am reminded that although it started out beautifully, my stepfamily’s “love story” was hard-fought and a life-long work in progress. I have learned a few things along the journey that I hope will resonate with you.

Love is a choice. For me, this is one of the most beautiful aspects of being a stepmom. Although it doesn’t feel like much of a conscious choice these days – they couldn’t get rid of me if they wanted to! – I wake up every day ready to go into battle for my family. Even if they never say it, it speaks volumes to our stepkids that we stick around even when things get ugly sometimes. One evening, my stepson was acting out because both of his parents were out of town and he was stuck with me for the week. I finally looked at him and explained that no mater how he felt – I wasn’t there because I had to be, I was there because I wanted to be.

Love takes time. I know there are stepmoms reading this who struggle to like, let alone love, their stepkids. Others are desperately seeking a relationship with stepkids who treat them with indifference or contempt. I can’t speak to your specific family dynamics, but I can tell you that the passing of time made a big difference in mine. All four of us have gained perspective and clarity as we get farther and farther away from the tumultuous early years of our family. My stepkids, specifically, learned to think and feel independently of both sets of parents – and to reexamine past circumstances with fresh eyes. Even when the truth hurt, it freed them to love without reservation.

Love is hard work. I feel like this should say, “Love is a roller coaster.” I feel like trust is a huge issue in step and blended families. Spouses are learning to trust each other, stepkids are learning to trust stepparents and vice-versa. Our hearts become big, thumping red targets for every possible misstep and misspeak – let alone all of the external influences that call our motives into question. And every time one of those missiles hits its target, we have to reflect, regroup and mend the broken relationships – it can be exhausting! The highs can feel really high, and the lows even lower.

I want to close by reminding you that love is worth it. The love of your husband and your stepkids is worth fighting for – and the best way you can do that is by praying. February – and Valentine’s Day – can be extremely difficult when you feel like a third or fourth wheel, or that the love you share is conditional (very common in second families). I want to encourage you to take your broken heart to God. His love for you is greater than you can ever imagine, sweet friend, and He wants to bind up those wounds so you too can become the woman, the wife, and the mother He created you to be.