Thanks for writing and Mazal Tov, Congratulations, on this upcoming lifecycle event. I want to thank you for willingness to ask about your role and your desire to find a meaningful way to participate in this important family milestone. I think it’s wonderful that you want to be able to be a part of this event and to do so sensitively.
I think it’s important that the parents talk with one another about the involvement of the stepparent well in advance of the lifecycle, especially if a biological father is still in the picture. Similarly, I think it’s crucial that the parents (step-parents included) talk with the child about what he/she feels comfortable in terms of the stepparent’s involvement. I do firmly believe that it’s possible for a non-Jewish parent/stepparent to participate in meaningful ways in all Jewish lifecycle events. To do so, I encourage open dialogue and empathic listening between family members and with the clergy. Start early and speak respectfully, not only toward one another, but also with a mindfulness of one another’s faith traditions.
For me, my personal rule of thumb is that it comes down to whether the role of the non-Jewish parent/stepparent is a “faith affirming” moment or not. By that I mean that the non-Jewish parent/stepparent should not recite any blessing, Hebrew or English, that affirmed some aspect of Jewish tradition, be it the patriarchs/matriarchs, God, “chosenness” for our relationship with God through Judaism, etc. Those honors are to be reserved only to the Jewish family. If however, you found a reading/prayer that was non-faith specific, I would have no problem giving that to someone not of the Jewish faith. In our community, the “Prayer for Peace” or the like is often reserved for those family members. Similarly, I like to invite non-Jewish parents/stepparents to offer an English blessing to the child, a few words to them as they begin this transition into the next phase of their adult life. For those who would like, when your child has his/her honor and reads from the Torah, I invite both parents to stand next to the child and witness the event firsthand. This allows you to be there for this wonderful moment and be respectful to the tradition, all while having the role of being present as a parent and support system.
I hope that this upcoming event is one of tremendous meaning for your entire family. May it be an opportunity for your family to come together to celebrate and enjoy many more happy occasions to come. Mazal Tov!