Successfully Blending Families
Curt Grice, Associate Pastor of Educational Ministries
First Baptist Church, Arlington, Texas
A marriage “blends” to become a “step-family” when either spouse brings a child with them into the new relationship. Even though blended families have become more common, making them work well remains a challenge. A family that starts with children as part of the mix needs extra love, grace, forgiveness and intentionality. Here are some suggestions to help you successfully “blend.”
Trust God to help you. The challenges of building a strong marriage and a healthy family demand a deep reliance on God. In part, this means following Jesus’ example of “laying down your life” for your family (Philippians 2:4-7). Regardless of your circumstances – whether your new family is the result of death, divorce or painful choices – you will be called on to lay aside your own interests in order to serve those closest to you.
Take your time. Too many changes all at once can be very unsettling, especially for children. Resist the temptation to rush into a new relationship. Studies show that it’s best to wait at least 2 years after a divorce before re-marriage.
Develop a strategy. Agree with your new partner about how you intend to parent together and make the necessary adjustments to your parenting styles before you remarry.
Insist on respect. You can’t force people to like each other, but you can demand that they treat one another with respect. This includes respecting differences in backgrounds and traditions.
Have realistic expectations. Don’t expect a step-child to “fall in love” with a new parent too quickly… or vice versa. It takes time to develop trust and genuine appreciation, especially when you’ve been hurt. A close relationship can only come after living life together for a while. Younger children will likely adapt more quickly than older children and teens.
Don’t allow ultimatums. Your child or new partner may put you in a situation where you feel like you have to choose between them. Remind your family that you want each of them to be a part your life and they are all important.
Beware of favoritism. Don’t over-compensate by favoring your step-children. This is a common mistake, made with best intentions, in an attempt to avoid indulging your biological children. Do your best to treat every child equally.
Make special arrangements. If one or more children “just visit,” make sure they have a locked cupboard for their personal things. Bringing toothbrushes and other daily items each time they come to your home makes them feel like a visitor, rather than a member of the family.
Give extra care to the children. Strong families always start with strong marriages! The health of the relationship between the husband and wife will ultimately determine the health of the relationship with the children. However, with blended families, a special effort must be made to invest heavily in the children in order to experience a healthy marriage.
This is especially true in the area of establishing authority. Children need parents to exercise legitimate control over them. Unfortunately, children often see a non-biological parent’s authority as illegitimate. When this becomes evident, a step-parent is tempted to either force the issue or simply leave all discipline to the biological parent. Step-parents need to exercise an appropriate measure of authority, but it must be earned, not just demanded.
Ask God to give you extra patience and humility in dealing with step-children… especially when they’ve experienced the pain of death or divorce. You may give a lot of time, energy, love and affection to your new step-child that will not be immediately returned. Think of it as making a series of small investments that will one day yield a wonderful blessing.
Allow God to redeem your story. Every step-family can claim the hope for a redeemed story… believing that the difficult experiences of the past will be followed by better days ahead. Step-families don’t magically recover, but as they submit to God and trust in Him, they find He is still able to make all things new.
Contributions by Kurt Bruner, The Center for Strong Families; Gina Kemp, Jeanne Segal and Lawrence Robinson.
GOING FURTHER – Resources
The Smart Step-Family by Ron Deal – provides a solid Biblical framework and practical guidance for helping stepfamilies work to honor God.
SmartStepfamilies.com offers an exhaustive collection of resources and recommendations as well as an opportunity to sign up for an encouraging complimentary e-magazine.