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Roger and I met online. The first time I heard his voice was in a recording he sent me of Lydia (who is four and has the cutest little cartoon mouse voice) reciting the books of the Bible, in order, from Genesis to Revelation with just a few prompts from him.

As I write this, the four of us are gathered on Roger and my bed as he goes through the books of the Bible with the kids again, as he does frequently. Sometimes I participate. Sometimes I just watch. As a stepmom, moments like these are two-sided. I will never get enough of watching their faces as they soak in their Daddy’s attention. It’s pure bliss.

But sometimes a dark thought creeps into my mind: What am I doing here? The three of them are happy together. Do they need me? I feel like I am an imposter.

These doubts don’t last long. I married a man who believes that the relationship between a husband and a wife is the most important relationship in our home. I didn’t have to squeeze myself into a place in their family that doesn’t quite fit. He created a place for me. I do belong.

When Roger and I started talking about marriage, we talked about it being the biggest priority in our home, even over the children. (Now, before you hit the little red X on this article with the fury of a thousand suns, hear me out. That was a hard sentence to write. I bet it was hard to read!) My parents taught me this model as a child and, though I didn’t like it at the time (what child doesn’t want to be the center of their parents’ world!?) I saw the wisdom of it as an adult. But, not having biological children of my own, I felt unqualified to make the argument. My giving parenting advice is like someone saying they can diffuse a bomb because they’ve watched Lethal Weapon.

Now, as a stepmom, I feel like I can speak to this a little better. Not because our children are tiny walking bombs. (Heavens, no! They’re perfect angels of course!) And not because I am doing anything right but because I live in a home where this is lived out on a daily basis.

The Bible delineates our relationships really well:

  • Of course, our relationship with God is the most important. There is nothing you will encounter in your life that is more important than God.
  • Second, your marriage. This is a relationship that mirrors our relationship with God. It is the most important relationship with another human in this life.
  • Third comes your children. Third seems like a long way from the front, and a terrible place to relegate those amazing little creatures. But God has a reason for this placement!

As a biological parent, putting your children first makes a lot of sense. If you are reading this article, you have likely survived some really terrible times, and your children have too. Watching your children go through a separation or divorce between their parents is one of the hardest things a parent will go through. The instinct to guard and protect your children from further harm is natural, healthy and beneficial. And, having brought another adult into their lives and into your home, it can be very difficult to open up and risk letting your children get hurt again. That instinct to guard them doesn’t just go away. And it shouldn’t.

Loving your spouse first, before your children, doesn’t mean that your children are getting less love from you. In fact, it provides them with more and better love from both of you. Practically, this might look like:

  • Backing up your spouse when they institute discipline.
  • Having your children wait for you to finish a conversation with your spouse before interrupting.
  • Being sure that your child does not squeeze between you and your spouse in bed or on the couch- have them sit on your other side.
  • Setting aside time alone with your spouse.
  • Defending your spouse when your older child degrades them or minimizes their contribution to the family.
  • Not letting your children pit you against each other. Be sure you are talking to your spouse about issues with the children.

Talk to your spouse and find out what they need- maybe they need something as simple as a few minutes of quiet over their cup of coffee, so you make it happen. Personally, I need space that is mine and kid-free. We happen to have a half-bath on our master bedroom and Roger helps me maintain it as a kid-free zone. If one of the kids needs to use it, I can give permission or ask them to wait for the “family” bathroom- it’s my decision. This means more than Roger will ever understand.

As the biological parent, Roger creates the environment in our home. If he were to prioritize his children over me, I would struggle with feeling like I was competing with the children for his love, causing feelings of jealousy and bitterness. You can see here where the “evil stepmother” comes from. However, because Roger loves me first, I am confident in my place in our home and it allows me to stand next to Roger and help him love our children. Eventually, when the children leave our home and find their own spouses, they will have had a healthy marriage modeled for them. Roger and I will be left with a thriving relationship that we have invested into all along.

I belong in our new home because Roger both created and defends my place in our family. My place is beside him, helping him love and raise our children together.