This is the last chapter in this sub-section on blended families. It does not cover all the material in this book, just some of the main issues. So far we have focused on the most common type of blended family, those produced by subsequent marriages.
Some important ideas: remarrying involves integration of two families not just two people; care should be given to children's condition, fears and needs, allowing them to grieve and recognizing that children of different ages have different needs when a blended family is formed.
In this final chapter on blended families we will look at some of the other challenges faced by those who find themselves in blended families (as children) or about to enter into this situation through marriage or some other life change.
I do not want to give the impression that the only things connected to blended families are problems and challenges but many times people enter into these situations and they are not ready or aware that these are the very real issues that they will have to face.
Stepping in as a stepparent
Parenting is a difficult job under the best of circumstances, but when you have to parent a child that is not your own, the degree of difficulty increases considerably.
- The difficulty of parenting around visitation schedules
- The problems associated with parenting his or her children
- Interference from the ex's and their families
- Rejection from the children themselves
- Indecision of your spouse to allow you to fully parent their child
- Lack of any parenting experience
These are just some of the problems that the stepparent faces in a blended family situation.
When faced with these challenges the one thing for new step- parents to remember is the original reason for being there in the first place, the love of their partner. When things get difficult and confusing, the motivating factor needs to be the original love for the spouse. That love makes it all work somehow.
Aside from this love however, stepparents need to realize that there will be some significant changes that have to take place in their new position. Doing so helps to sort out many of the problems.
1. Stepping in from the outside
Stepparents are strangers who step in from the outside of life to the very core of life. Many times one partner moves into the home of the other, that means that this person has not only entered a house but stepped into memories, special traditions, in-jokes and ways to do things, etc. For stepparents this may mean a certain time is needed to learn the history, language and rhythm of the home and family; it takes time to learn about relatives, routines and memories (pictures and home movies).
This can make a stepparent feel like an outsider. Even if the family buys a new house, there are still plenty of reminders of the old life. It is important to know about the past but also create memories of the new family so they can be added to the old. Get a camera and start "making memories" and change some of the family pictures on the wall to include you.
2. Stepping into a new role
Stepparents do not have a positive image. It is difficult to break the stereotypes of stepparents: no experience, intruder, mean (Cinderella).
Partners give confusing and mixed messages: sometimes my partner asks me to act like a parent and take the initiative; sometimes my partner tells me to just be a stepparent and check things out with them first; sometimes my partner just wants me to butt out because this matter deals with "her" children. And yet, the stepparent is expected to love their stepchildren as if they were their own.
The answer for stepparents is not to try to re-create the role or style of the biological parent, but rather to develop the style and character of our heavenly Father who is the model for parents both male and female. A few of His qualities are:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
- John 3:16
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;
- Romans 10:12
Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
- Luke 12:6-7
And you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
- Hebrews 12:5
The parents may change but what makes a good and Godly parent always remains the same.
3. Stepping into new responsibilities
Some think that parenting is simply providing food, clothing, education and discipline. Parents and stepparents are responsible for these but are also responsible for attitudes that children develop as well:
A. Attitude toward marriage itself
Children in blended families may not be optimistic about marriage since they have seen one fail. Parents need to instill a positive and hopeful attitude about marriage, and teach children about God's plan for marriage contained in the Bible.
B. Attitude toward self-worth
Blended families have suffered setbacks and major adjustments. These usually take a toll on a child's sense of worth. An important task for stepparents is to help children feel good about themselves. They need to provide encouragement and positive reinforcement for the things that they do well and the good qualities you perceive in them.
C. Attitude toward life itself
Children who lose parents tend to see life in terms of this one major event. They assume that life is not going to treat them right because it has let them down in a big way already. Step- parents can help show them how to take these defeats and turn them into successes, thus making them stronger. The more the blended family succeeds, the more the child has proof that good can come from bad.
D. Attitude towards God
The best gift a stepparent can bring into the new family is a strong faith and commitment to serve God. This may not be easy because the family may not be where you are. When this happens you have to show them Christ and what His presence can do for them.
If the stepparent has no religious convictions but the new family does, the gift is reversed.
In either case, do not abandon the Lord for the new parent or family; bring them to the Lord.
4. Stepping into new relationships
The hardest part of stepparenting is developing simultaneous relationships with people who are not just potential friends that you can take or leave if you do not like them. In stepparenting you have to develop relationships with people who have become your family, people you cannot just ignore or give up on if it does not "click."
The source book provides eight steps to developing relationships in a blended family:
Accept the fact that you are a stepparent.
Because it is a blended family there are limits on time, limits on history, limits on finances, etc. But there is no limit on love and respect. The relationship of the past is limited, accept that, but the future relationship is limitless, work on this instead.
Educate yourself. Parenting is a learned skill.
Most learn about child rearing from their parents and the day to day experience of bringing up their own children from birth. Stepparents have to take over from a fixed point. This is difficult but not impossible. They need to ask questions, read books and consult others who are in the same boat. A stepparent can organize a group to help others and share what they have learned. The more one knows, the better able they are to form more satisfying relationships with their blended family.
Do not assume.
Do not think you know how to parent. You may have parented your kids, but you have not parented these kids. Learn about their history and needs, and work towards understanding them.
You cannot tell how you are doing in the family unless you set objectives:
- School objectives
- Recreational objectives
- Church related objectives
- Personal objectives (e.g. to be able to settle arguments without yelling)
It is encouraging when we are able to measure individual and group objectives as a family.
Be flexible yet firm.
Firm in the sense that you mean what you say and say what you mean. Firm in the sense that there are rules and expectations. Flexible in that you know there are exceptions and that circumstances and lifestyle changes may cause you to reevaluate earlier decisions and rules. This type of attitude enables children to feel secure and encourages them to have open and honest discussions with you.
In most cases the kids would rather have the old parent instead of you. You need to "sell" yourself a little to show that you want their approval and that their acceptance of you is important. It is discouraging to them if your attitude is that your position as parent has exclusively been decided by their other parent. If you are too demanding they may see the price of accepting you is too high and be discouraged. If you do not demand anything and you do not ask for respect (let's be buddies), then they will not see your value to the family.
Show them your worth and desire to do a good job as a parent and loving spouse to their other parent and they will eventually come to accept and value you as an equal partner in the family; not the same as the parent who is gone but an equal part of the family that now exists.
There may be things said and done (especially at the beginning) that will be hurtful. Learn to forgive.
The ability to forgive unenthusiastic children, your parents who think you are crazy to marry into this family, your ex, your partner's ex, your in-laws (all of them), yourself (for not being and doing all you want to do) will tear down walls, heal wounds and show the beautiful spirit of Christ to your new family.
Learn to laugh.
Laughter is a balm and a tremendous bonding exercise. Friendships are born when two people laugh together. Learn to laugh at yourself and encourage your partner to laugh at your failings and then press on. Solomon says laughter is medicine for the soul.
In the end it is the grace of God that has either:
- Supported you while you mourned a dead spouse
- Forgiven you for failing at a marriage that has left you as a single person or single parent
- Strengthened you to go through the ordeal of being left by an unfaithful spouse
- Brought you to the point where you find yourself in a blended family situation
In all of these situations and more, God's grace has been with you to keep you sane, keep you going and keep you saved.
If you are in a new family, that same grace will enable you to find joy and peace as well as opportunities to serve the Lord and honor God with the family He now has grafted together for your edification.
Have faith, do your best and depend on the Lord for all your needs and cares. God bless all of our families and whether they are nuclear or blended, make sure the Lord Jesus is the Lord of your home.
For more information on this topic I recommend the source book used for this section entitled, "The Blended Family" by Tom & Adrienne Frydenger.