I Feel Bitter Toward My Stepchildren: What Can I Do?

If you’ve worked hard to create a warm relationship with your stepchildren and they’ve rejected you, it’s natural to feel anger at them. If they continue to reject you, bitterness can creep in like a weed that grows overnight. You can be caught unaware and sometimes shocked by the resentment and hostility in your heart.

Because of that, the Bible tells us to deal with our bitterness so that it won’t take root and destroy an already fragile relationship (Hebrews 12:15).  All of us are susceptible to bitterness, but God can transform our hearts. We can admit what’s going on inside us and, with God’s help, change from a heart of hostility to one of humility and care for your stepchildren in spite of their cold stares and defiance.

God is compassionate and cares deeply about the state of our hearts. He knows that we can’t uproot the bitterness on our own; we need Him to help us replace it with a soft heart towards our stepchildren.

Love is the answer to bitterness. You may wince at the thought of loving your stepchildren at this point. You may feel that you’ve been trying so hard and it hasn’t gotten you very far. The kind of love that the Bible talks about, though, doesn’t always include warm feelings. Biblical love is truthful, courageous, strong and always does what’s in the best interest of the other, even when love isn’t reciprocated (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). The good news from the Bible is that when we feel that we’ve given our best shot and we come up short, we can go to the source of love, God Himself and ask Him to fill us with more of His love. We can love because He loved us first (Romans 5:5; 1 John 4:19).

Because love without truth is artificial, it’s essential that we’re honest and look at the relationship with our stepchildren for what it is (1 Corinthians 13:6). We need to be upfront about the ways they’ve hurt us and how we’ve responded to that pain. We need also to be honest about the limitations of the relationship with them. Because of their wounds, they may be unable or unwilling to form the close bond with you that you desire with them. Exposing our hearts to these truths can inevitably lead us to either bitterness or sorrow.

Healthy sorrow leads to change (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). Not necessarily a change in the status of our relationships, but a change from a cold and bitter heart to one that is tender and open to God and to your stepchildren. When we feel sorrow over how we’ve been hurt, we can call out to God and trust He will care for us and heal our wounds.  We no longer have to take matters into our own hands and handle our pain with bitterness and revenge. And when we repent for the ways we’ve hurt others, we’re more likely to extend to our stepchildren the love, grace and mercy that God has given us (Luke 7:47).

Another part of love is being able to genuinely look at the situation from your stepchildren’s point of view. In their eyes, you may be the one who has dashed all hope of their mom and dad getting back together. You stand in the way of uninterrupted time with their biological parent. And it’s likely that they feel disloyal to their biological parent if they get close to you. These feelings are confusing to children and often they react by pushing a stepparent away.

When you go to God for help, pray for your stepchildren, too, keeping their unique needs in mind. This is one of the most powerful and loving things we can do for them (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; James 5:13, 16).  They are hurting and wounded people, as we are, and they need our understanding, love and mercy, just as we need God’s.

It also takes wisdom to deal with this kind of situation where two completely different perspectives clash with one another. The Bible tells us that if we ask God for wisdom, He’ll give it to us (James 1:5). We need wisdom to know what works and doesn’t work with our stepchildren. If your involvement in their lives is met with defiance, you may need to back up a little and readjust what you’re doing. Learn what speaks to them and doesn’t make them feel uncomfortable or threatened.1 If kissing them goodnight makes them feel uncomfortable, then it’s right to stop. If gifts you buy them sit in their closet unopened or unused, then it may be wise to use your money elsewhere.

The battle with bitterness comes and goes. Some days will be better than others. But if you cling to God and know that He can turn your bitterness into a deeper love, you can accept the relationship with your stepchild for what it is now, even though it’s far from what you deeply desire. Prayer, honesty, and reliance on God for His love and wisdom can help shift your focus from having an “ideal” relationship to one of loving our stepchildren in spite of their responses. We can begin to know the joy and peace of humbly trusting in God and watching Him work in our lives and theirs.

  1. Your actual presence most likely threatens your stepchildren, which you can’t change. If stepparents do their part by respecting their stepchildren, then the stepchildren also need to do their part by respecting the relationship you have with their mom or dad. The biological parent (your spouse) can help the situation by positioning you as his or her equal in the home, and as an adult who deserves respect. Back To Article
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