Step-in Parenting

By Davalynn Spencer

Parenting is a challenging call. But the call to parent someone else’s child can often overwhelm us with a do-or-die, sink-or-swim fatalistic mind-set.

When my husband and I married, I gained a six-year-old stepson who spent summers and some holidays with us. He lived in a different state, and though we would like to have had him more often, we were happy for what we could get.

As a step-in parent, I did not ask my stepson to call me “mother” or “mom” or any other endearment while he was with us. I was not his mother and could not take her place, so I gave him the choice to call me whatever came naturally to him. However, my authority as his father’s wife was clearly established in our home, and he respected that.

Young and inexperienced in parenting, I did many things wrong, but choosing to accept him for who he was and giving him unconditional love helped us over the rough places and eventually won his trust.
When writing my novella, “The Wrangler’s Woman,” I drew upon my early experiences as a step-in parent. The story’s premise did not exactly match my circumstances, but the heroine’s challenges as a step-in authority were close to what I lived through.

The heroine, Corra Jameson, is hired to help a widowed rancher turn his tomboy daughter into a young lady. Corra moves in with the family and faces the challenge of being considered an interloper with no real authority, yet one who expects a child to change her ways. A three-prong approach helps her win the daughter over.

First, Corra demonstrates complete acceptance of the girl for who she is, even though it is Corra’s job to change what she is.

Next, Corra commands respect for her authority-by-position—that of a hired “lady-trainer” who is completely capable of accomplishing the task at hand.

Finally, Corra does not try to be the girl’s mother—substitute or otherwise. Through thoughtful acts of kindness, expectations of compliance, and as much giving as taking, she wins obedience, the required changes, and eventually love.

We live in a give-and-take world with an emphasis on taking. But if we choose to give where, when, and what we can, we will reap a harvest of love, even as a step-in parent. Maybe we won’t see it immediately, the next year, or in the next 20 years. But we serve a loving Father who has assured us that what we give will be returned to us, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.

About Davalynn Spencer
Bestselling author Davalynn Spencer writes Christian romance with cowboys and teaches creative writing at her local junior college. She has a background in journalism and rodeo, and makes her home on Colorado’s Front Range with a Queensland heeler named Blue and two mouse detectors, Annie and Oakley. Visit Davalynn on her website at

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