"The Hot Seat" with Dr. Kim

Question: "We are raising a "blended family".  The ex-wife is very much involved in the children's lives.  What is a good starting point to come together on values within the family while not excluding the third parties views or wishes"

Dr. Kim: Wow! That is such a great question and one that almost every blended family asks.  The first really important thing you have to do is accept the reality of what you can do and what you cannot do.  You cannot control anything done in the other home.  You can control what happens in your home.  Start there.

Prayerfully decide with your spouse what you want your home to look like and the values that are very important to you.  You might even break these down into two groups.  One would be the essential values that you will not compromise on.  The second would be the values that are important to you but that you can have some flexibility with.  Once you and your spouse are totally on the same page begin to implement these into your home.  

Next, be consistent in your home and do not be negative about the other home.  The second part of this is so important.  My experience is that over time the children will see the difference in the homes and, more often than not, they will choose the values of the home that is fair and consistent and where they see that the values really make a difference in the lives of the family members.  

Bottom line: Spend your time and energy on what God leads you to do and then lift the rest to Him in prayer.

 

"When Your Child's Other Home is Leading Them Away From Christ" - Guest Post by Ron Deal

 

 

"I really want my two children to love the Lord, but when they spend time with their dad and stepmom, they are exposed to a lifestyle that goes against what the Bible teaches. What can we do? I'm tempted to discourage them from going to see their dad." 

One challenge of faith training has always been how to minimize the world’s influence upon our children. Sometimes, however, the “world” is another parent or household. This presents some very difficult challenges to faith training since children internalize each parent and their values. It’s one thing to say “don’t listen to the world”; it’s another to say “don’t listen to your dad.”

Let’s first address Judy's temptation to limit the contact between her children and their father. While the desire to protect the faith of her children is understandable, becoming a barrier between the other biological parent and their children is not recommended because it usually backfires. As children become aware of the parent’s hindrance, they usually grow to resent them and, ironically, shut out the parent’s value system judging it as hypocritical. In addition, when an ex-spouse feels cheated out of time with their children they may retaliate, exposing the children to more parental conflict. Instead of limiting contact, you must find other ways of influencing your children. Here are some suggestions.

First and foremost, admit that you cannot control what is taught or demonstrated in the other home. Many of the battles between homes are essentially about power and control. Trying to control the environment of the other household only invites between home hostility. Stop trying to change your ex-spouse. (If you couldn't change them in your marriage, what makes you think you can change them in your divorce?) Letting go of control forces you to let God manage what you can't change and make the most of your time with your children.

Influence your children toward the Lord with much intentionality. All parents need to model the Christian walk and impress on their children the decrees of God (Duet. 6:4-9); parents whose children are witnessing differing values will have to be even more intentional in their faith training. One useful strategy is utilizing spiritual inoculations. Medical inoculations are controlled injections of a virus; this allows the body to develop anti-bodies that can combat a live virus, if ever encountered. Similarly, spiritual inoculations discuss viewpoints that oppose the word of God and then teach Biblical concepts that help children combat them. For example, parents can discuss a TV program that glorifies greed and then present children a more godly view of money management and stewardship.

Children who have one parent not living a Christian life will need inoculations to help them deal with an environment that is hostile to their growing faith. It is critical, however, that parents remain neutral about the other parent; the inoculation cannot be a personal attack. A comment like, "Your father shouldn't be lying to his boss—he is so self-centered," pulls on children's loyalties and burden's them with your judgment. Ironically, it also diminishes your influence as they react defensively against your negativity. A more appropriate response is, "Some people believe lying is fine when it serves a purpose. But God is truth and wants us to be honest, as well. Let's talk about how you can practice that in every aspect of your life."

You may have to endure seasons of prodigal living as your children try out the values of the other home. This is a truth that many parents fear. Children may experiment with the "easier, less demanding" lifestyle of the other home, especially during the teen years when they are deciding whether the faith they've been handed ("inherited faith") will become their own ("owned faith"). Lovingly admonish them toward the Lord (not "away" from the other parent), and be close enough to reach when they repent as many children and young adults will return to the wisdom of your values.

Pray daily for the strength to walk in the light and introduce your children to Jesus at each and every opportunity. Your model is a powerful bridge to their personal commitment to Christ. Do all that you can to take your kids by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master (Eph. 6:4).

Ron L. Deal, LMFT, LPC Director, Blended Family Ministries, FamilyLife President, Smart Stepfamilies.com

See all of Ron's Resources in the Awesome Marriage Store: http://iwantanawesomemarriage.com/store/

"Overcoming the Jealousy Monster" - Guest Post by Ron Deal

 

JEALOUSY

 

Michelle and Jackson called for an emergency premarital counseling session. “We’re getting married next month and I’m finally facing my jealousies,” Michelle said. “Jackson is very close to his ten year-old daughter, as he should be, but it scares me. I don’t know why, but I’m jealous of her. I’m also jealous of the fact that when Jackson and I have a child together it will be my first, but not his. Nothing in our marriage will ever be the first.”

Michelle’s honesty was refreshing to me. Stepfamily members frequently experience some measure of jealousy within their home, but often don’t tell anyone out of embarrassment or shame. In my experience, that makes things worse; jealousy buried alive quietly erodes family relationships.

Jealousy and its close cousin, resentment, are not uncommon in stepfamilies. Differences in emotional connection and attachment (see the July 2010 issue) between parents, stepparents, and children, for example, make jealousy a common emotion. Complex Old Testament families that mirror modern day stepfamilies had similar dynamics. For example, Sarah, Abraham’s first wife had been expecting a baby promised by God. When she tired of waiting to become pregnant, she took matters into her own hands. Genesis 16 tells us she came up with what to us would be a horrible option, but was a common practice in that day: she offered her maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham as his second wife so they could have the promised child through her. The plan went awry once Hagar became pregnant with her son, Ishmael, and started belittling Sarah. Instead of being fulfilled by Hagar’s child, Sarah felt challenged, insecure, jealous, and very angry. This ignited an ongoing rivalry between Sarah and Hagar. Later, when Sarah did have son Isaac, the rivalry escalated. Competition, jealousy, favoritism, and insecurity described their family experience for generations.

Jealousy, called an act of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:20), is typically rooted in insecurity and fear. Sarah and Michelle alike found themselves jealous of their stepchildren for fear that what was special to them would not be as cherished by their husbands. Michelle was also jealous of all the “firsts” in Jackson’s life (e.g., first marriage, first pregnancy, first birth, first family holidays, etc.) that Michelle could not be part of. How many women grow up fantasizing about being “second” in their husband’s life and heart?

Since history can’t be changed, how can Michelle cope with what has come before her? How can she embrace her stepdaughter, her husband, and his past?

Insecurity and jealousy temps us to hold tight to relationships we deem fragile and compete with others for a position of importance. This intensifies their competition with us as they, too, fight for belonging. It activates the jealousy paradox: fighting for position only garners resentment against you.

Overcoming the jealousy monster, then, begins with the willingness to trust the grace paradox which recognizes that having a gracious spirit toward others actually makes more room for you to be loved and embraced as well. Listen to the wisdom of Scripture.

“One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”

-- Proverbs 11:24-25 NIV

The wisdom of this passage is that a gracious, generous spirit toward other stepfamily members invites relational prosperity. A spirit of competition, on the other hand, brings relational bankruptcy. Grace connects while possessiveness divides. If Michelle is going to manage her jealousy, she must reach toward her stepdaughter, not away from her. She must be inclusive, accepting, and choose to be supportive of her stepdaughter’s relationship with her father, Michelle’s husband, Jackson. This gives permission to her stepdaughter’s place in the home and paradoxically will increase the grace Michelle receives as the new stepmom.

This same principle applies to Jackson’s past. Every time Michelle feels fearful that being “second” means she isn’t as important as she’d like, she must choose to give permission to Jackson’s past. She must find a way to incorporate it as a reality into her marriage, rather than try to deny it or minimize it. To do so only invites competition and fear. Acting on jealous feelings never diminishes jealousy. Acting on grace, however, does.

Be inclusive, filled with grace, not exclusive, filled with fear. That’s how you overcome the jealousy monster.

Ron L. Deal, LMFT, LPC Director, Blended Family Ministries, FamilyLife President, Smart Stepfamilies.com

See all of Ron's Resources in the Awesome Marriage Store: http://iwantanawesomemarriage.com/store/

 

"How to Cook a Stepfamily" - Guest Post by Ron Deal

Whether you realize it or not, your stepfamily has an assumed integration style. By that I mean a set of assumptions about how your stepfamily ‘ought’ to come together. Think of it as how you're going to bring together the different ingredients of your home (adults and children), that is, how you're going to "cook" your family. There is one strategy that works best, but let’s start with the cooking styles that generally don't work. What’s Your Style?

Blender. This mentality assumes all ingredients can be whipped together into one smooth mixture. I’m sure you’re aware that the most common term used to refer to the stepfamily is "blended family." But those of us who specialize in stepfamily therapy and education do not use the term "blended family" simply because most stepfamilies do not blend--and if they do, someone usually gets creamed in the process! When cooking, blending is a process by which you combine ingredients into one fluid mixture: think of a fruit smoothie or a cream soup. Rarely can it be said that a stepfamily becomes ‘one’ in a relational sense. More realistic is a process by which the various parts integrate, or come into contact with one another, much like a casserole of distinct parts.

It is quite normal for a stepparent to have close bonds with one stepchild, be working on bonds with another, while experiencing a distant relationship with an older child. Relationships will be different within the same stepfamily, not one fluid mixture.

Food Processor. These stepfamilies chop up one another's history and attempt to instantly combine all ingredients with rapid speed. When love doesn't occur right away, people are left feeling torn to pieces; no one remains whole.

A classic example of this mentality is the adult who demands that the stepchildren call their stepparent "daddy" or "mommy." It is as if the child is told, "We've chopped up your real dad and thrown him to the side. This is your new dad." Some parents actually think their children will buy that.

Microwave. These families refuse to be defined as a stepfamily and seek to heat the ingredients in rapid fashion so as to become a ‘nuke-lier’ family (pun intended). They avoid labels like stepfamily and the implication that they are different from any other family. People tell me they resent being called a stepfamily, because it makes them feel second-rate. There is nothing inherently wrong with being a stepfamily; it is neither better nor worse than other family types, just different.

Let me emphasize this point. No matter how desperately you may want your stepfamily to be like a biological family, it simply cannot be. It is true that every stepfamily has aspects that are reflective of biological families. But every stepfamily also has unique characteristics that differ from biological families. Some parts function the same; some don't.

A major barrier to healthy stepfamily adjustment is a parenting team that denies this reality. Consciously or unconsciously, people often try to make their home to be just like their family of origin or their first family--only better. "After all," someone might say, "the Brady Bunch did it. Why can't we?"

Coming to accept your family’s unique challenges and opportunities is a tremendous first step to finding creative solutions to your dilemmas. If you refuse to admit a difference, you inadvertently shut off your ability to learn new, more effective ways of relating.

Pressure Cooker. This family cooking style results in ingredients and spices (that is, rituals, values, and preferences) being put under pressure to meld together completely. The family is under great duress, and since expectations are so high, the lid often blows off the pot.

An example of the pressure cooker mentality is when stepfamilies assume that the answer to every conflict in holiday ritual is to combine the traditions. It’s important that stepfamilies understand that combining rituals works sometimes, but pressuring people to be okay with the combination can sabotage the results.

An example of the trouble this creates can be illustrated by the following example. Paul and his children developed a meaningful Christmas tradition in which each person opened one gift on Christmas Eve and the remaining gifts the following morning. However, his new wife, Sharon, and her children held the tradition of opening all the gifts Christmas morning after a special breakfast. In a panic, Paul called a few weeks before their second Christmas together. "I'm dreading Christmas this year. Last year Sharon and I combined our holiday traditions and it was disastrous. To honor my family, we had all the children open a gift Christmas Eve, and to honor Sharon's family we had breakfast and opened the remaining gifts. But no one liked the outcome. Everyone acted as if we were at a funeral instead of a celebration, and eventually Sharon and I ended up in a fight that lasted through New Year's Day. What are we supposed to do this year--go to our separate corners and pray no one throws a punch?" Finding what works during the holidays sometimes takes trial and error; but pressuring people toward acceptance only leads to error.

Tossed. Like a salad, this style throws each ingredient into the air with no consideration as to where it might fall. The ingredients keep some of their integrity, yet are expected to fit together with the other pieces. Examples of this style can be subtle or extreme.

When one child is spending time at their other home, remaining children often believe they can play with the absent child's toys or belongings. Children should be taught that even though someone is temporarily away from one home, the absentee's stuff is not free game. Respecting one another's possessions is important because it teaches people to honor others; it also communicates belonging to the child who is spending time at the other home. "You may be at your dad's house, but you still have a place here."

Culinary Insights

So if all of these integration styles are generally not helpful, what style should be used? I recommend a Crockpot cooking style. Stepfamilies choosing this style understand that time and low heat make for an effective combination. Ingredients are thrown together in the same pot, but each is left intact, giving affirmation to its unique origin and characteristics. Slowly and with much intention, the low-level heat brings the ingredients into contact with one another. As the juices begin to flow together, imperfections are purified, and the beneficial, desirable qualities of each ingredient are added to the taste. The result is a dish of delectable flavor made up of different ingredients that give of themselves to produce a wondrous creation.

The key to Crockpot stepfamilies is time and low heat. I've already stressed the importance of being patient with the integration process and not trying to force love, care, or togetherness. Often, in an attempt to quickly combine various ingredients such as people, rituals, and backgrounds, stepfamilies use the food processor, microwave, pressure cooker, and blender integration styles. Such an effort almost always backfires, bringing a backlash of anger and resentment.

Stepfamilies need time to adjust to new living conditions, new parenting styles, rules, and responsibilities. They need time to experience one another and develop trust, commitment, and a shared history. They need time to find a sense of belonging and an identity as a family unit. None of these things can be rushed. Adults who are trying to prove to their parents, friends, church, minister, or themselves that their remarriage decision was right for everyone, push their family to "blend" quickly. But they are often greatly disappointed and feel like failures. A slow-cooking mentality invites you to relax in the moment and enjoy the small steps your stepfamily is making toward integration, rather than pressuring family members to move ahead.

Cooking with low heat refers to your gradual, intentional efforts to bring the parts together. It is working smarter, not harder. Let's contrast some Crockpot approaches to the examples of what not to do.

As a crockpot stepfather, you don’t worry excessively about why you’re not immediately bonding with your teenage stepdaughter. Slow-cooking stepparents understand the cardinal rule of relationship development with stepchildren: Let the stepchild set the pace for the relationship. If the child is receiving of you, then openly return the child's affections. If she remains distant or standoffish, find ways of managing rules and getting through life. But don't insist a child automatically accept your authority or physical affection.

The food processor adults have a similar struggle. They want the children to refer to their new stepparent with a term of endearment. When this doesn’t happen naturally, the food processor parents demand they do so. But a crockpot adult would understand that a stepparent can be "daddy" to his youngest stepchild, "James" to his next oldest, and "Mr. James" to the teenager. Crockpot stepfamilies recognize the emotional and psychological attachment children have to biological parents and don't force them to change those attachments.

And Paul, the pressure cooker stepfather who finally turns to the crockpot method, would encourage his stepfamily to develop an entirely new Christmas tradition. He and his wife, for example, might have a series of family meetings with the children to discuss their preferences and wants. It may be that they decide on an entirely new tradition to honor each family's history by alternating how gifts are opened, or they may decide to let each parent and their children keep their own tradition.

A Watched Pot Never Boils

This last idea refers to mini-family activities. Early in a stepfamily's integration process it can be helpful to maintain separate family traditions and rituals by giving parents permission to spend time with their children without the step relations present. Stepparents need to give their new spouse and stepchildren time to be alone, without intrusion. The biological parent can play games with her children, while the stepparent enjoys a personal hobby or goes shopping with his children. Such a mini-family activity helps children get uninterrupted time with their biological parent and siblings, honoring their need for attention from the ones they love most. It also affirms to children that they have not completely lost access to their parent.

Troy and Meredith called me with a typical integration struggle--what to do with free time on Saturday afternoons. Prior to the remarriage, Troy and his children--Josh, eleven, and Emily, nine, enjoyed spending their Saturdays together. Whether miniature golfing, playing softball with friends, or riding bikes in the park, their priority was doing something together. Meredith and her sons--Terry, thirteen, and Joe, eight, had a different preference for free time. They valued independent time away from each other so each could pursue his or her particular interests. Meredith considered it her "down time" to relax and read a good book, Terry enjoyed playing with friends, while Joe mastered his latest computer game.

At the time they called, Troy and Meredith had tried everything they could to create a "blended family." They challenged one another and the kids to take turns spending their Saturdays doing activities together or apart. One week they would all go miniature golfing only to discover that Meredith's kids complained they were missing out on their fun. Joe would then pester Emily when he got bored, quickly turning the outings into arguments. First the kids would whine and complain, and then Troy would suggest to Meredith that she needed to better control her son. She would feel attacked and defensive about her parenting and resent Troy's "controlling" behavior.

The next week they would try to let everyone experience the joys of "doing your own thing." But inevitably one of Troy's children would try to join Meredith's children in some activity, resulting in arguments and slamming doors.

"We've tried everything," they insisted.

"No," I responded, "you've just tried many cooking styles, hoping to create a biological family that does everything together. What you need to do is back off, and honor one another's past by spending time with your kids doing what you like most."

"You mean he should go golfing with his kids while the boys and I do separate things? That wouldn't be a family afternoon at all," Meredith challenged.

My response was sobering. "Yes it would. It would be a stepfamily afternoon." I went on to explain that pressuring the various ingredients to blend was blowing the lid off the pot. Troy and Meredith needed to accept their family as different so they could discover a creative solution. Mini-family activities might not feel like a good solution because they were trying to steer their family as they would a biological family. Accepting their stepfamily as one in the integration process would help them to see that for now, this was the best solution. After cooking a little longer--giving the family time to come together--another solution might become more appropriate.

Unrealistic expectations often set couples up to overcook their stepfamily. Trying to force, pressure, or quickly cook the ingredients of your home will likely result in a spoiled dish. But stepping down your expectations and giving your stepfamily time to cook slowly will make integration more likely in the long run.

Ron L. Deal, LMFT, LPC Director, Blended Family Ministries, FamilyLife President, Smart Stepfamilies.com

See all of Ron's Resources in the Awesome Marriage Store: http://iwantanawesomemarriage.com/store/

 

"Six Steps Forward, Not Looking Back" - Guest Post by Ron Deal

Life is full of challenges and rewards. Stepfamily life is no different. Sarah knows just what I mean: “My first marriage to Jimmy was a battle from the day it started. I wanted romance and an intimate union; he wanted independence and freedom. He finally found it with another woman. But this marriage to Hector is everything I dreamed about. We laugh, share decisions, and have the same outlook on life. God is the center of our marriage. Things would be great if it was just Hector and I, but it’s not. When my kids are with their father for the weekend, Hector and I relax and enjoy each other. But when they’re here, the house is tense. And I feel guilty because of all the stress.”

It is estimated that 30% of all weddings in the US today form stepfamilies. Some follow the death of a spouse or a divorce; still others are formed when a marriage takes place after an out-of-wedlock birth. But no matter what preceded the union, stepfamilies—like all families—have unforeseen pressures and challenges that eventually give way to tremendous rewards. For Sarah, life may feel like two steps forward and one step back. But as long as they don’t look back, stepfamily success will come once they take these six steps forward.

STEP Up to discover a God who loves and forgives those in stepfamilies. Stepfamilies are not always born from sinful behavior (as many Christians assume), but even “Biblically innocent” stepfamilies often feel unworthy of God’s full redemption since their family doesn’t match God’s ideal design for the home. That’s why many stepfamilies are relieved to realize that none of the Old Testament families were perfect, and most didn’t resemble God’s ideal family model. Still, God loved them and used them for his purposes. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David’s families—just to name a few—were all less than ideal. Yet God’s redemption applied to them as well. Stepfamilies don’t have to live in fear that their spiritual past will forever haunt them, for God’s grace is always available to restore hope.

STEP Down your expectations of how quickly your stepfamily will integrate. “Why won’t my son talk to his stepfather when he has a question about school?” one mother asked me. “Tim is a nice guy, and he’s a lot better at math than I am anyway,” she continued. Carol wanted so much for her son Jamie to feel just as comfortable with his stepfather as he did with her that she pressured Jamie to pursue a deeper relationship with Tim. Jamie and Tim got along already, just not as well as Carol had hoped. Stepfamilies must be patient with the process of relationship building—sometimes called integration. The average stepfamily needs around seven years to really form a family identity. Furthermore, pressure from parents often creates resistance in children, which means a big step backward for the stepparent. Learning to accept and appreciate relationships as they are today, not worrying about tomorrow, contributes to a more relaxed family and greater harmony.

Two STEP. The marriage relationship is by far the most important earthly relationship in the stepfamily home, yet it is often the weakest. Parents and children have a bond forged by blood; the new couple’s bond is literally an add-on relationship. Making the marriage a relational priority is critical to family success. For biological parents, this means balancing time and energy given to children and the marriage, but it also means communicating to your children through actions that the marriage is unbreakable and that the couple will lead the home together. Children are often threatened by this change at first, but once they accept it, experience safety and security.

STEP in Line with all the adults (of both homes) who have parental influence with the children. Children in stepfamilies often have three to five (sometimes more!) adults who contribute to their daily care. Adults must strive to work in cooperation with as many of the other adults as possible. For example, initially stepparents must learn to borrow power from the biological parent in order to carry out and enforce discipline. They can’t stand on their own power until they have developed a trust-bond with the children; this can take many years, depending on the age of the child. Biological parents must show respect toward the stepparent and make them an equal partner in parenting decisions so that children also gain respect for the stepparent.

Children in stepfamilies frequently have another home to which they belong. Adults, especially ex-spouses, need to cooperate as the children move back and forth. However, strong negative emotions and a painful past make this level of cooperative co-parenting very difficult. Christian stepcouples need to demonstrate a significant amount of grace and forgiveness in these situations so that children aren’t caught in ongoing battles.

Side STEP common pitfalls. Without even knowing it, many adults overlook common struggles within their home. For example, children, who continue to be sad about the loss of previous relationships, need their grief acknowledged and should be granted permission to grieve. Connections to the past should be honored and respected, not shoved in the closet. In addition, traditions celebrating holidays and special days should be kept when appropriate while the new stepfamily creates some of their own unique traditions. This allows persons to carry their past with them while they connect with new relationships in the present.

STEP Through the wilderness with trust and determination. Like Moses and the Israelites headed for the Promised Land, developing a healthy stepfamily is a journey—sometimes a long journey. Remaining dedicated to gradually forming a family identity is critical. Stepcouples attending my stepfamily conference often ask “So, where’s our honeymoon?” I’m quick to give them hope: “There is a honeymoon for stepcouples. But as for the Israelites, the ‘honeymoon’ comes at the end of the journey, not at the beginning!”

Stepfamilies—just like all families—can be places of warmth, love, and belonging. They can also be filled with many unforeseen challenges. But for stepfamilies that hold God’s hand, and trust Him to show the way, the journey to the Promised Land is worth the wait.

Ron L. Deal, LMFT, LPC Director, Blended Family Ministries, FamilyLife President, Smart Stepfamilies.com

See all of Ron's Resources in the Awesome Marriage Store: http://iwantanawesomemarriage.com/store/

"My Role as a Stepmom" - Guest Post by Amy Urbach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amy Urbach is the founder of Blended and Bonded. http://blendedandbonded.com/  She and Eric have been married for 6 years. They have 5 kids. Amy has a 21 year old  daughter that is a Junior in college majoring in Marriage and Family Counseling. Amy also has a 17 year old son, he is active in band and wants to go to culinary school. Eric has a 13 year old son that is very active in sports, an 10 year old daughter and a 8 year old daughter. Both girls are active in dance and twirling.  We are honored to have Amy partner with us for Blended Family Month at Awesome Marriage.

Going into my role as a stepmom, I really thought it was going to just be an extension of my role as a mom. After all, I’ve been a mom for a long time and fairly successful at it, in my opinion. When I became a stepmom, it seemed I suddenly became completely incapable of doing anything right. I couldn’t fix hair, I couldn’t cook, I couldn’t buy the right size clothes and shoes. To some degree, it turned my world upside down. I was angry, hurt, frustrated and just about every other negative emotion you could think of.

All along, without even realizing it, God had a plan and had things under control (as He always does). I began to realize that I wasn’t alone and there were many other stepmoms dealing some very similar things. While my circumstances were a little different, the underlying theme was the same. Still today, and especially in the early days, I’ve had the support of a dear sweet friend that God placed in my life shortly after I married. She has been my rock. She too is a stepmom and is on the other side of the difficult times of raising her three stepdaughters. I didn’t ask for her. God was gracious enough to send her to me. If you ask, he will provide someone for you.

You see, I can’t please everyone, but I can please GOD. Pleasing GOD should be and is my purpose. As my pastor recently said, “Being worried about what others think about you is the quickest way to forget what God thinks about you. " (Craig Groeschel)

When I’m angry, I remind myself that troubles happen to the best of us. I forgive myself and forgive those who have angered me. I trust that God has this under control. Proverbs 17:14: “starting a quarrel is like a leak in a dam, so stop it before it bursts.” Proverbs 14:30: “that a sound mind makes for a robust body, but runaway emotions corrode the bones.” Proverbs 20:3: “good character averts quarrels, but fools love to pick fights.” Don’t get me wrong, this is easy to put down on paper, but much harder to put into practice. I ask God for strength, peace and wisdom daily.

When I’m lost and don’t know what to pray for, He does: Romans 8:26: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know how or what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.”

The most reassuring verse I can rest in as a stepmom and life in general is this: Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

I am called by Him to be the best wife, mom, stepmom and much more that I can be.

Amy Urbach

"Stepping Up in a Stepfamily" - Guest Post by Ron Deal

  "Thanks for recognizing that we're not the churches dirty little problem."

John was spiritually paralyzed by his past. "I just never thought I could go back to church again, after the divorce and all. And to top it off, I went and got remarried. Everyone knows stepfamilies are not considered whole, just mended parts of what's been broken."

His statement captures the spiritual struggle of many Christian stepfamily adults. Guilt over decisions or actions that contributed to a divorce and a sense of shame from living in a "less than whole" family situation lead many people to feel as if they are "the churches dirty little problem." For others, an overwhelming feeling of unworthiness keeps them in a holding pattern around God and his church, but never touching down in his love. These dynamics often combine to create spiritual barriers for stepfamily members that distance them from God's healing power.

I responded to John's spiritual guilt and shame by suggesting that even though he didn't live in an "ideal family" configuration, he wasn't a second class Christian in God's Kingdom. "God's plan for one man and one woman for life does bring greater harmony to the home, but living in an intact family does not determine our worth in God's eyes, nor our ability to receive forgiveness." I went on to share with John the truth about many of the characters of the Bible who were men of great faith, but whose families were far less than ideal.

"Abraham lied on two occasions saying Sarah wasn't his wife. He was afraid for his life so he disowned her. How selfish is that?" I pointed out. Sarah and Hagar fought over which of their sons would be the most important in Abraham's family. Much like a modern-day stepfamily, there was jealousy, bitter rivalries, and loyalty conflicts between Abraham and his two wives (see Gen. 16, 21). And the problems didn't stop with his generation. If we analyze the families of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph-the Family of Promise-we see power struggles, family secrets, exploitive and coercive relationships, marital game-playing, manipulation, and parent-child alliances for selfish reasons. Furthermore, the dysfunction continues to mushroom through the family of David, who is called a "man after God's own heart", but whose household included a premeditated murder to cover an affair, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, a son who replicates his father's disgrace by raping his half sister, and a brother who avenges her humiliation by murdering his brother. John was beginning to feel a little better about his past and current stepfamily.

Stepfamilies need to understand this critical message: there are no second class citizens in God's Kingdom simply because there are no first class citizens. We're all just sinners in need of a Savior. If God could use imperfect men like Abraham and David for his purposes, why can't he use people in stepfamilies? If God can bring redemption to the houses of Isaac and Jacob, can't he bring redemption to yours?

The exciting message of the cross is this: God loves and forgives the imperfect people in stepfamilies just like he does the imperfect people in biologically intact families. He is ready, willing, and able to welcome stepfamilies into righteousness. The only question is will you step up to receive his forgiveness? Will you step up to renew your relationship with him or remain paralyzed by your guilt and shame?

His door is always open...step on in.

Ron L. Deal, LMFT, LPC Director, Blended Family Ministries, FamilyLife President, Smart Stepfamilies.com

See all of Ron's Resources in the Awesome Marriage Store: http://iwantanawesomemarriage.com/store/

"Remarriage Sex: Tips for Not Getting Caught in the Past" - Guest Post by Ron Deal and David Olson

When asked about the previous sexual relationships of their partner, 90% of healthy couples agree in our national study of stepcouples reported that there is nothing to be worried about. However, in 42% of the lowest quality couples at least one partner showed concern about their partner’s previous sexual experiences. When we looked more closely, the differences between strong and unhealthy couples regarding this aspect of sex were even more apparent. Unhappy couples were twice as likely as couples with an average marriage (19% of all 50,575 couples) and four times as likely as happy couples to report feeling concerned about the previous sexual experiences of their partner. What seems to be in question is how previous experiences compare to the current couple’s sexual relationship or how they might be limiting their sexual fulfillment.It’s vitally important that couples move through this concern so that it doesn’t hide below the surface like a malignant cancer eroding a partner’s perceived significance in the relationship or their ability to fully enjoy sex within the marriage. Couples would do well to carefully discuss their concerns being careful not to compare the current sexual relationship with the past, but to express their desires for how they would like to see the relationship or their confidence in their partner’s satisfaction improve. Don’t let your fears related to the past go unaddressed or they will limit your intimacy today.

Tips for Reducing Problems: 1. Don’t make comparisons in your mind...or out loud! “Why can’t you touch me the way John did,” isn’t going to breed confidence in your partner. Keep your comparisons to yourself! Nor should you linger on comparisons in your own mind. Doing so keeps you looking back instead of connecting to the moment at hand. 2. Stay open to new preferences. Your new spouse’s sexual preferences may vary from a previous partner. Don’t think that what “worked” with a previous partner will work again. Listen to verbal and nonverbal messages telling you your partner’s preferences. 3. Calm your insecurities. If you were sexually rejected or traumatized in the past, be careful not to let your insecurities or anxiety run ahead of you. 4. Give yourself time to develop a couple groove. Learning how to read one another, when to respond with a specific touch, or your couple sexual style will take time. Learn as you go; share what you learn. 5. Confront your sexual ghosts. Don’t be quick to make negative assumptions about your partner’s motivations or behavior. When fearful, try to take small risks to increase your willingness to trust. 6. Don’t ignore sexual problems and don’t overreact. It’s normal for couples to have a sexual complaint of some kind. Don’t panic if you encounter difficulty, especially if you are aware that your spouse had a good sex life with their former partner. Remember, it’s only a comparison if you make it one. Talk it through and if necessary, find a sex therapist that can help. 7. If you are stuck worrying about your spouse’s former sexual experiences, strive to accept being “second”. In my experience, people who get stuck really are struggling with not being their mates “first and only” sexual partner. Accepting that they have had other sexual experiences does not mean your sex life can’t be wonderful. If you are “exclusive in their heart” now, then strive to rest in that assurance.

Ron L. Deal, LMFT, LPC Director, Blended Family Ministries, FamilyLife President, Smart Stepfamilies.com

See all of Ron's Resources in the Awesome Marriage Store: http://iwantanawesomemarriage.com/store/

"Ghost Whispers" - Special Guest Post by Ron Deal

So what does your ghost say? Having a ghost from marriage (or childhood) past is not uncommon. We have a little emotional residue left over from previous relationships (even ones that were mostly happy). It’s part of our nature to carry some bruises from the past. Because I discuss marital ghosts in great detail in The Smart Stepfamily I won’t take the time to review the concept here. But I have identified a few specific ghosts that seem common in my counseling experience (from divorced and widowed partners). I’m wondering if you can relate to any of them mentioned here. I’m also wondering if you’ve uncovered the whispers of your ghost(s). Review those below and if none of them match your ghost, share its whispers with us (see below).

Common Ghost Whispers:

· Protect the Kids – this ghost seems to have the children’s best interests at heart. In reality, it is protecting you. It says, “What does he/she know? They’re just a stepparent to your kids. You better watch out or your kids will experience even more pain. Protect them when you can.”

· Keep Your Eye on the Money – especially after experiencing a tremendous loss in income, this ghost urges you to watch every dime. It says, “you better keep a little money stashed away just in case. You don’t want to get stuck holding the bag again. Besides, you have children to provide for; make sure they get their share first.”

· Who’s in Our Bed? This ghost is concerned that sex this time around might pale in comparison to previous sexual relationships. It urges couples to “check for compatibility” before marriage and plants seeds of fear within marriage. It says, “I wonder if he/she is thinking of someone else right now; I wonder how our love-making compares. Maybe I need to act sexier to keep their attention. Whatever you do, don’t relax, there’s too much at stake.”

Whispers of the Divorce Ghost:

· Trust Not, Want Not – this ghost says “Avoid vulnerability and the dangers of ‘wanting’. Being in a position of wanting or pursuing the other person puts you in a vulnerable place—like walking on the edge of a cliff. Better to make sure they want you more than you want them.” Careful calculated guardedness is this ghost’s friend.

· Fear Factor – this ghost says, “You better watch your back. You never know what’s really going on with your spouse or when the other shoe will drop. I advise you to check cell phone bills, read his/her emails, and check to see if their stories are true. Remember, marriage is not forever.” A thick emotional shield is this ghost’s best protection from further harm.

· You Know What That Means – this ghost is quick to interpret the meaning of words and actions in a negative light. It says, “Did you hear that? That sounds just like what old so-and-so used to say and you know what that means. You better beat them to the punch / watch your back / argue your case before it’s too late.” Defensiveness and judgment are this ghost’s friends.

Whispers of the Widow Ghost:

· You’ll Never Find Another Just Like Him/Her – many widowed persons enjoyed their partner and didn’t want to live without them. While divorced persons often look for someone different than their previous partner, widows and widowers often find themselves looking for someone much the same. This ghost says, “He/she was one of a kind. This person just can’t live up to what you had… You see? Did you see that right there. That’s just what I was talking about. Good luck trying to make this work. Things just can’t be the same.” Don’t look for a replacement partner. Release that every relationship is entirely new because it’s the combination of two people’s interactions that make-up the marital dance. They’re not the same – and neither are you. Judge this relationship on it’s own merits.

· What Would He/She Say About This Person? Trying to evaluate a new dating partner or spouse through the eyes of your deceased spouse is ultimately an issue of permission. Some widows don’t feel they can fully embrace a new relationship without the “permission” of a former spouse. This ghost says, “I know he/she told you before they died that they’re okay with you getting remarried, but you don’t know if they would approve of this specific person. You just can’t be sure.” Of course, that is true. You can’t be sure. But then, that’s not the point. If your former mate approved of you and found you to be competent, their trust in any future mate for you would be based on their belief in you, not the person. You have their approval.

Ron L. Deal, LMFT, LPC Director, Blended Family Ministries, FamilyLife President, Smart Stepfamilies.com

See all of Ron's Resources in the Awesome Marriage Store: http://iwantanawesomemarriage.com/store/

"Life in a Blended Family" - Guest Post by Amy Urbach

 

Amy Urbach is the founder of Blended and Bonded. http://blendedandbonded.com/  She and Eric have been married for 6 years. They have 5 kids. Amy has a 21 year old  daughter that is a Junior in college majoring in Marriage and Family Counseling. Amy also has a 17 year old son, he is active in band and wants to go to culinary school. Eric has a 13 year old son that is very active in sports, an 10 year old daughter and a 8 year old daughter. Both girls are active in dance and twirling.  We are honored to have Amy partner with us for Blended Family Month at Awesome Marriage.

Nobody gets married thinking, “Someday I’m going to get divorced, remarried and live happily ever after”. But all too often many people find themselves in that very situation. Statics suggest that either you, someone in your family or someone you know are in a blended family.

I have learned that life experience is the best way to reach out to others. Sometimes it can be as simple as sharing your story. Although as difficult as times may be, I am thankful that my experience may offer some comfort to others. Support in this life of blended families is key.

It is easy to look at all the things that go wrong with blended families. It is easy to dwell on the lack of control we may feel at times, or the negative behavior of others. When we make a choice to focus on the things we can control and the things that we can change, we then gain back control and peace. It is when we realize that we can only control our environments and actions that we can have a heart of gratitude. It is our attitude that determines whether our kids will be angry, insecure, frightened or emotionally hurt. As adults, we must make a choice to take the burden off our children and allow them to be kids and freely love everyone.

My husband and I have a very busy life. We are a family of 7. I have two children and my husband has 3. I come from a blended family. I have had a stepmom since I was 5, my kids have a stepmom and I am a stepmom. I have seen, first hand, all angles of blended families. As Ron Deal says, blended families don’t have a family tree, they have a forest. Although the ideal situation may be to never have to deal with the forest of a blended family, I am thankful for all of the family I have. I have two sisters and a brother that I may have never had otherwise. I am so thankful that my stepmom and I are great friends and can spend time together. I remember, as a kid, times were not always smooth and easy, but she kept a steady course and cared to fight the fight. She is now a good friend that I thoroughly enjoy spending time with and thankful to have in my life.

I am thankful for my kids’ stepmom as well as the relationship I am able to have with her. I won’t say that I don’t experience times of jealousy or frustration, but I know she has a good heart and my kids’ best interest at heart. I am thankful for her involvement in their lives as well as their fathers. I am thankful that my ex-husband and I have been able to look past our differences and hurts and work together for the greater good of the kids. There are times of disagreement and conflict, but stepping back and looking at the big picture has worked for us.

Amy Urbach

"Two Six Steps Forward, Not Looking Back" - Guest Post by Ron Deal

Family life is full of challenges and rewards. Stepfamily life is no different. Sarah knows just what I mean: “My first marriage to Jimmy was a battle from the day it started. I wanted romance and an intimate union; he wanted independence and freedom. He finally found it with another woman. But this marriage to Hector is everything I dreamed about. We laugh, share decisions, and have the same outlook on life. God is the center of our marriage. Things would be great if it was just Hector and I, but it’s not. When my kids are with their father for the weekend, Hector and I relax and enjoy each other. But when they’re here, the house is tense. And I feel guilty because of all the stress.”It is estimated that 30% of all weddings in the US today form stepfamilies. Some follow the death of a spouse or a divorce; still others are formed when a marriage takes place after an out-of-wedlock birth. But no matter what preceded the union, stepfamilies—like all families—have unforeseen pressures and challenges that eventually give way to tremendous rewards. For Sarah, life may feel like two steps forward and one step back. But as long as they don’t look back, stepfamily success will come once they take these six steps forward. STEP Up to discover a God who loves and forgives those in stepfamilies. Stepfamilies are not always born from sinful behavior (as many Christians assume), but even “Biblically innocent” stepfamilies often feel unworthy of God’s full redemption since their family doesn’t match God’s ideal design for the home. That’s why many stepfamilies are relieved to realize that none of the Old Testament families were perfect, and most Key Stepping Stones for the Journey

· Perseverance—The first few years are often the most difficult. Set your mind to persevere until rewards come. · Patience—The average stepfamily takes 7 years to integrate. Warm relationships might not come for many years, so be patient. · Listening—Bio parents and stepparents experience their family differently, as do bio children and stepchildren. Learn to consider what it must be like to be another in your home so you can empathize with their concerns. · Flexibility—Because stepfamilies are different than biological families in many ways, you will have to find creative solutions to many everyday issues. You can’t afford to be rigid. · Humor—In the midst of a chaotic moment, humor is definitely the best medicine for stepfamilies. Humor helps you to step back from the crisis or circumstance and see it in a whole new light.

didn’t resemble God’s ideal family model. Still, God loved them and used them for his purposes. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David’s families—just to name a few—were all less than ideal. Yet God’s redemption applied to them as well. Stepfamilies don’t have to live in fear that their spiritual past will forever haunt them, for God’s grace is always available to restore hope.

STEP Down your expectations of how quickly your stepfamily will integrate. “Why won’t my son talk to his stepfather when he has a question about school?” one mother asked me. “Tim is a nice guy, and he’s a lot better at math than I am anyway,” she continued. Carol wanted so much for her son Jamie to feel just as comfortable with his stepfather as he did with her that she pressured Jamie to pursue a deeper relationship with Tim. Jamie and Tim got along already, just not as well as Carol had hoped. Stepfamilies must be patient with the process of relationship building—sometimes called integration. The average stepfamily needs around seven years to really form a family identity. Furthermore, pressure from parents often creates resistance in children, which means a big step backward for the stepparent. Learning to accept and appreciate relationships as they are today, not worrying about tomorrow, contributes to a more relaxed family and greater harmony.

Two STEP. The marriage relationship is by far the most important earthly relationship in the stepfamily home, yet it is often the weakest. Parents and children have a bond forged by blood; the new couple’s bond is literally an add-on relationship. Making the marriage a relational priority is critical to family success. For biological parents, this means balancing time and energy given to children and the marriage, but it also means communicating to your children through actions that the marriage is unbreakable and that the couple will lead the home together. Children are often threatened by this change at first, but once they accept it, experience safety and security.

STEP in Line with all the adults (of both homes) who have parental influence with the children. Children in stepfamilies often have three to five (sometimes more!) adults who contribute to their daily care. Adults must strive to work in cooperation with as many of the other adults as possible. For example, initially stepparents must learn to borrow power from the biological parent in order to carry out and enforce discipline. They can’t stand on their own power until they have developed a trust-bond with the children; this can take many years, depending on the age of the child. Biological parents must show respect toward the stepparent and make them an equal partner in parenting decisions so that children also gain respect for the stepparent. Children in stepfamilies frequently have another home to which they belong. Adults, especially ex-spouses, need to cooperate as the children move back and forth. However, strong negative emotions and a painful past make this level of cooperative co-parenting very difficult. Christian stepcouples need to demonstrate a significant amount of grace and forgiveness in these situations so that children aren’t caught in ongoing battles.

Side STEP common pitfalls. Without even knowing it, many adults overlook common struggles within their home. For example, children, who continue to be sad about the loss of previous relationships, need their grief acknowledged and should be granted permission to grieve. Connections to the past should be honored and respected, not shoved in the closet. In addition, traditions celebrating holidays and special days should be kept when appropriate while the new stepfamily creates some of their own unique traditions. This allows persons to carry their past with them while they connect with new relationships in the present.

STEP Through the wilderness with trust and determination. Like Moses and the Israelites headed for the Promised Land, developing a healthy stepfamily is a journey—sometimes a long journey. Remaining dedicated to gradually forming a family identity is critical. Stepcouples attending my stepfamily conference often ask “So, where’s our honeymoon?” I’m quick to give them hope: “There is a honeymoon for stepcouples. But as for the Israelites, the ‘honeymoon’ comes at the end of the journey, not at the beginning!”

Stepfamilies—just like all families—can be places of warmth, love, and belonging. They can also be filled with many unforeseen challenges. But for stepfamilies that hold God’s hand, and trust Him to show the way, the journey to the Promised Land is worth the wait.

Ron L. Deal, LMFT, LPC Director, Blended Family Ministries, FamilyLife President, Smart Stepfamilies.com

See all of Ron's Resources in the Awesome Marriage Store: http://iwantanawesomemarriage.com/store/