Jesus said, “You’re not my real dad.”
Okay, maybe I’m putting words in the mouth of a 12-year-old Jesus when His mom and dad asked where He’d been after they had been separated from Him for three days. And although His parents must have known Jesus wasn’t the typical 12-year-old boy, they were indeed His parents, and rightfully concerned about Him. Yes, even Joseph, His stepfather.
As a man, a father, and a stepfather, I can relate to Joseph in this moment. It had to sting a little when Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).
Consider this for a moment—Jesus, the Lord and Savior of the world, was raised by Joseph, His stepfather. I never really thought about it in that context until I married into a family of four new kids. We became a blended family with seven kids altogether. I sought out direction to best prepare for my new role.
But how is the role of being a stepfather addressed in the Bible? Just what authority do stepfathers have in the lives of a blended family’s children? Let’s ask WWJD—What Would Joseph Do?
I needed a biblical model
When Leah and I first met, I was serving as a city police chief and accustomed to commanding officers through the most difficult of situations. Before we married, we agreed we’d share the responsibility of parenting to include discipline and mentoring. But the difference between theory and reality soon had Leah and me at odds with each other.
With a young son of my own, Max, who has Down syndrome, I was overly protective. And I struggled to figure out how to handle Leah’s youthful crew. I resorted to what I knew best. Max would continue to be shielded from everyone but me, and I would command her kids like any crack squad of subordinates.
We men are leaders, doers, and fixers by nature. When we feel as if something is inaccessible, we tend to rebel against it. Guys don’t handle emotional assaults or ego jabs very well. Even the smallest slight can come across like a major attack on our manhood … especially coming from a child.
Many blended relationships fail because the man of the house can’t, or won’t, invest the time and effort to mesh with the children. I’ve heard men say, “I’m not going to be talked to like that by a child.” It’s an all too popular battle cry for retreat and eventual surrender. It’s usually countered by a mother’s natural defense of her child. And just like that, the battle lines have been drawn.
After a few meltdowns and hurt feelings, I knew there’d have to be a better way. That’s when the lightbulb came on and I finally understood what I was doing wrong. I needed a supernatural guide to being a stepdad, and that would only come through God’s Word.
The Joseph example
When it comes to kids, being a commanding, manly man at domestic war doesn’t cut it. Learning to stepparent as a godly man among your blended family is the answer.
The interaction I mentioned earlier between a young Jesus and His parents says plenty about Joseph and his character as a stepfather. Like many men, Joseph could’ve easily snapped back by asserting his earthly authority as an adult. Instead, he understood and encouraged the relationship Jesus sought with His real Father. It didn’t diminish Joseph’s role; it strengthened it.
Let’s take a quick look at the interaction described in Luke. It all began in the proper tone when Mary took a unified stance with her husband: “Your father and I have been searching for you in great distress” (Luke 2:48).
When spouses don’t communicate, one spouse can alienate the other when dealing with an issue concerning the children. Mary, in this case, didn’t alienate Joseph. She made sure Jesus knew they were both worried and were out looking for Him. It’s important for the kids to know that you both love them. Don’t assume they know how you feel. Not saying or showing it because you’re the strong, silent type is only interpreted by kids that you don’t care about them.
Of course, even though Jesus understood who His true Father was, He respected Joseph’s authority as an earthly dad: “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them” (Luke 2:51). It’s probably safe to assume that Joseph earned that reverence through a lifetime of pursuing a loving relationship with Him.
Allow this illustration to encourage you that no matter how awesome or absent the kids’ connection with their biological dad may be, there is endless capacity for a loving relationship with you.
Without blending your family on biblical principles, each spouse will become more territorial on their side of the line in the sand. Gradually, neither will be willing or able to meet in the middle and come to a compromise.
Here are a few ways you can be the kind of dad that Joseph was.
First, for those who are dating, accept her and her kids. Her kids are not your competition. If you get married, they will be your responsibility. Believe it or not, you and her kids are vying for the same things from her—love, time, and attention. Her kids have already been through enough. Either add value to the family unit, or don’t ask her to marry you.
Second, if you’re already married and have hard feelings toward the kids, pray for God to change your heart. They need a Christian male role model, not a job-site foreman. No matter their ages, they are your beloved wife’s children. Give them that respect. You are the adult—always hold yourself in that humble esteem.
Third, you are not in competition with their biological dad. Encourage a healthy relationship with him. They will respect you for that.
One last guideline that I’ve used: Always consider the way you as a child would want to be treated or how you want your own child treated. Then do that. It all goes back to Jesus’ golden rule. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them …” (Matthew 7:12).
Copyright © 2019 Scott Silverii. All rights reserved.
Dr. Scott Silverii and his wife, Leah, have blended seven kids and a French Bulldog named Bacon into a wonderfully unique family. A retired chief of police, Scott and his wife are the founders of Blue Marriage, a ministry that mentors law enforcement relationships, and he’s also on staff at MarriageToday. Scott holds a PhD in cultural anthropology from New Orleans University, and he is working toward his Doctor of Ministry at The King’s University.