• These step-relationships form instantly, rather than over months and years as with most nuclear families. Many times these new relationships are unwanted by one or more persons, creating 1) lots of resentment, 2) the phenomena of family members allying with each other against an "outsider" and 3) large doses of rejection.

• When couples remarry, they typically do not grasp the need to commit their unconditional love and acceptance both to the new spouse and that person's children (whether the children reciprocate or not). Neither do couples fathom that they also effectively marry each other's former spouse until the major tasks of child-rearing are complete. As long as both biological parents remain involved with the kids, the former spouse unavoidably will have a heavy influence on the step-couple's home life.

• Stepparent roles are largely undefined by our culture. Stepparents fly by the seat of their pants, too frequently landing in the middle of emotional minefields.

• Sorting out discipline issues becomes a major task, as blood-relationship loyalty tends to rank higher than the marriage relationship.

• Stepparents often are perceived "wicked" whether they really are. 'Steop', the Old English origin of the prefix 'step,' means 'related by marriage rather than by blood.' In the 15th century, Sir Thomas More, who was a stepson, wrote, "Even a loving stepmother brings no fortune to her stepson." Countless stories and fairy tales have stereotyped stepparents as evil. These stories certainly taint the reputation of a stepparent, but even more, the emotionally damaged filters through which stepchildren and others view stepparents often cause truly caring stepparents to be perceived as malevolent. A stepparent's own insecurities, if not dealt with in a healthy way, can cause that stepparent to actually fulfill the negative prophecy of "wicked stepparent."

All of these dynamics are normal for stepfamilies. Yet couples usually are unprepared and expect the new marriage to work better than the last. Maybe the Apostle Paul had the above complexities in mind when he said, "I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them to remain even as I" (1 Corinthians 7:8).

One stepfather acknowledged the sensitive nature of the stepfamily issue for the church when he said, "Divorce and remarriage are not something the church wants to appear to support -- it's a fine line." But no matter how high a standard we hope to attain in our churches, the reality is, divorce and remarriage will take place in the lives of believers and "pre-Christians" alike until Christ returns. Even Paul recognized that many would remarry, adding this statement, "But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion" (1 Corinthians 7:9).

I believe our best hope of reversing the worldly mindsets of marriage and family is in reaching people with God's ideal in whatever their state. Meeting stepfamilies at their point of need, helping them understand the complex nature of stepfamily life, then equipping them with the practical and biblical tools to persevere will help stabilize the foundations of the children currently in their care.

Do stepfamily classes help? The same stepfather who acknowledged the "fine line" for the church added, "... many [in the stepfamily group] have said, 'It saved our marriage and it continues to save our marriage.'" One stepmom, meanwhile, noted that attending the stepfamily group has been their last resort for several couples before contacting a lawyer.