My Kids, Your Kids, Our Kids... It’s Complicated
My young stepson lives across the country, so we get to keep him once a year, for a month. Truthfully, it’s been difficult for me to get to know him. I’ve found myself doubting the goodness of my own heart, because we all struggle to reacquaint after a year apart. I also have to make a conscious effort to see him as separate from the “baggage” attached to him.
Making a blended family work — whether it’s from divorce or widowing — is so much messier and harder than the romanticized version of The Brady Bunch that I grew up watching. And the statistics for blended families are bleak, with about two-thirds of remarriages ending in divorce.
Working Past the Stereotypes
Many of us relate to the stories of folklore and fairy tales, those of wicked stepparents terrorizing innocent stepchildren, the most familiar being Cinderella. They strike a chord with us because we likely relate not just to the persecuted heroine, but the wicked stepmother or stepsisters.
Honestly, I’ve related with all of these characters. I’ve been a stepchild and a stepsister. And now I’m a parent and a stepparent.
Because everyone in a blended family comes with baggage, my family and I have been forced to navigate not just the breadth of inherent trials and challenges, but also the depths of our own hearts. And if we’re all being truthful here, the depths of the heart are not always pretty (Genesis 6:5).
So, in our efforts to love well and reflect biblical values that make any family unit successful, we’ve learned to walk closer to Jesus and stay in His Word, so that He can transform our hearts and guide our steps (Romans 12:2).
5 Ways to Survive the Struggles of Blending Families
1. Start building relationships, ASAP!
Developing bonds is vital, but it takes time to get to know one another, to earn trust and respect. Doing fun activities together, volunteering together, and creating new traditions will unite family members. It’s also important to bond individually, by sharing adventures, dreams, or skills. I’ve found that the simple act of putting a puzzle together can help me quickly reestablish a bond with my stepson.
Another way to begin earning trust and respect is by scheduling frequent family meetings, where everyone is heard. This is where honest, open, mutually respectful communication begins. As parents, we set the tone (James 1:19).
God is bigger than sad statistics.
2. Don’t play favorites.
My brother warned me (or cursed me?) before I remarried, “What are you going to do when he treats his son better than yours?” Of course, I couldn't have imagined it at the time, when everyone was still on their “best behavior,” when our boys got along and enjoyed spending time together, and when the stresses of “visitation” and daily life hadn't yet set in.
But due to my stepson’s infrequent visitation, my husband doted on his son and didn't want to discipline him for fear of total alienation. Because of what I perceived as favoritism, I overcompensated with my son, trying to protect him from unfair treatment.
So, we’ve learned to beware of favoritism and overcompensation — real or perceived.
3. Lead with love in discipline.
God gives us boundaries because He loves His children and wants to protect us. Likewise, once we can establish that our rules and discipline are motivated by love and concern for a child, he can more easily accept and respect our authority.
Since it will likely breed resentment if we discipline a stepchild before building a bond, it’s wise to initially give biological parents authority over a child’s discipline via previously established bonds (Ephesians 6:4). While we can still teach children to honor both parent and stepparent, this gives a stepparent time to earn a child’s trust (1 Timothy 5:1-2).
In order to effectively guide our children's hearts toward God, we’ll need to continually seek His wisdom (Proverbs 22:6).
4. Prioritize your marriage.
As a couple — whose own adjustment and honeymoon phase was likely cut short by a built-in family — putting Christ at the center of the marriage helps maintain a much needed healthy partnership.
Because of the additional challenges of a blended family, it’s wise to seek out marital advice and/or counseling at the first signs of trouble. It’s helpful to examine any unhealthy baggage we’ve carried into the relationship — even before remarriage.
5. Seek God first.
As spiritual leaders of the household, we can both lead our family in prayer and in other spiritual activities like attending church, serving and family Bible reading. We can love, honor, serve, and encourage one another (Ephesians 5:21, Romans 12:10).
It’s important that our family sees us pursuing Christ and walking out our faith, not just speaking it, especially in how we respond to difficult situations. For instance, if we experience stress, conflict, or animosity due to an ex-spouse, it’s just selfish and spiteful to bash them in front of a child, who didn’t ask for the situation in the first place. Instead, we can live out Ephesians 4:29, by never allowing unwholesome talk to come out of our mouths, but only what is helpful for building the child up according to his needs.
We can tell our kids how and when we mess up. An apology carries more weight than we know. And we mess up...often.
Beating the Odds
Thankfully, we have a God of healing and restoration, who answers our cries for help (Joel 2:25, Psalm 18:6). He shows us how to love well. And “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
If we’ll seek Him daily, He’ll help us beat the odds. God is bigger than sad statistics. He can grow our hearts and give us wisdom to love and lead our family in a way that brings Him honor and glory.