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A Blended Family: What I Wish I Knew Then, That I Know Now

My friend Laura Mitchell has learned her lessons about blending two post-divorce families the hard way, and God is “redeeming the hard” as she and her husband minister to other blended families at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas. I asked her to share her hard-won wisdom.

When my husband John and I married, which was a second marriage for each of us, all those 24 years ago in 1996, there were not any Christian books or teachings to help us. As a result, some of our decisions were good and some were not so good; both I will share.

John had a 16-year-old son and twin 12-year-old daughters. I had a 12-year-old daughter. Our new home had four teenagers, plus a good friend of John’s son was around all the time! John’s son and my daughter lived with us all the time. The twins went back and forth to their Mom’s house (five minutes away) every three months.

Because John and I had been friends twenty years before our wedding, I thought it would be easy for us to put our families together. Various experts say it takes five to seven years to blend a family{1} and I thought we would beat those stats! However, I was very wrong. It actually took a lot longer, more like ten years.

The very first thing I wish I had known was that putting together a stepfamily is not “blending” a family, like a kitchen blender that beats fast. But as Ron Deal discusses in his book The Smart Stepfamily: 7 Steps to a Healthy Family, a stepfamily is more like “crockpot cooking.”{2} “Ingredients are thrown together in the same pot, but each is left intact, giving affirmation to its unique origin and characteristics.”{3} So it takes time for a stepfamily to slow cook and develop. And each person in the family needs to grow and develop as a member of the family at his or her own pace, with the ultimate goal of having a loving stepfamily. It takes a lot of tenacity to grow a stepfamily at a slow speed.

Because I had a tendency towards trying to fix things, I tried to make relationships with my stepchildren happen at a faster pace than they were ready. Which resulted in push-back from them, which was only natural. I wanted that “blender” fast speed rather than the slow-cook pace of a crock-pot!

Another thing I wished I had known is what Ron Deal refers to as “the cardinal rule of relationship development with stepchildren”: “Let the stepchild set the pace of the relationship and match their level of openness.”{4} In our family, it took ten years for me to have a relationship with my stepson, and that was after he was married and had a child, and was ready to have a relationship with me. I wish I had known this “rule” at the beginning of our marriage so I would not have put so much stress on myself by thinking everyone needed to get along sooner than we did. It is so important to remember that our self-esteem comes from our identity in Christ, not from whether someone in the stepfamily likes another member. Psalm 139:14 says, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Ron Deal says, “Not every person in your stepfamily will be happy all the time. Learn to live with other people’s anxiety and unhappiness.”{5}

Also, Ron Deal talks about the fact that the marriage must be a top priority. But we didn’t do that; our priority was our kids. We didn’t even take a honeymoon until a year after we were married! I wish I had known the importance of keeping our marriage as a top priority and we had instead had weekly date nights. Maybe then we wouldn’t have fought so much during those early years.

One of the barriers to blending a family that Ron Deal discusses (can you tell I like his work?!) is “ghosts” that can be from a past marriage or even a family of origin.{6} My ghost was the issue of trust. Once I was finally able to share this with John then the ghost started disappearing as my husband made more of an effort to communicate with me when he traveled for work.

Another thing I wish I had practiced in those early years of marriage that I now do is to have a daily time in the Word with the Lord. The Navigators 2:7 Series has helped me with learning to read my Bible, then immediately praying back to the Lord what I have just read and journaling about it BEFORE I pray my prayer list. This has deepened my trust in the Lord.

John and I also now pray together daily. Hebrews 3:13 says, “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” What we did to encourage each other when we were fighting was to write a positive thing about the other person on a sticky note and put it on the mirror above the sink. This helped us retrain our thinking about each other to be more positive.

One of the things I am now learning with my adult children is that I am responsible TO my children but not responsible FOR my children. This means I can respond to them with CARE versus CONTROL and wanting to fix things.{7} We found this chart exceptionally helpful (and not just for stepfamilies, either!):

If I am:Responsible FOR Others
CONTROL
Responsible TO Others
CARE
I doFix
Protect
Rescue
Carry their feelings
Don’t listen
Join in
Show empathy
Encourage
Share
Confront — lots of curious questions
Level — listening to what is NOT being said
Listen
I feel:Tired
Anxious
Fearful
Responsible
Angry
Guilty
Embarrassed
Lonely
Rageful
Congruent
Relaxed
Free
Aware (of reality)
I am concerned with:The solution
Answers
Circumstances
Being right
Details
Performance
Relating to the person, not the solution

I believe if I just share myself, the other person has enough to make it
I am:A manipulator
A controller
A disabler
A helper
A guide
A friend
A parent
A spouse
My self worth:Goes downGoes up
“I expect the person to use the best that is in him; to make decisions and accept responsibility for their own actions. I believe that each of us has enough to make it on his own.”

I hope my story will encourage you to pray daily and let the Lord guide you to a loving, blended stepfamily!

Notes

1. Ron L. Deal, The Smart Stepfamily: 7 Steps to a Healthy Family (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2014), p. 94.
2. Deal, p. 93.
3. Ibid.
4. Deal, p. 94.
5. Ron L. Deal, The Smart Stepfamily Participant’s Guide: An 8-Session Guide to a Healthy Stepfamily (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2014), p. 89.
6. Deal, The Smart Stepfamily: 7 Steps to a Healthy Family (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2014), p. 113.
7. www.watermark.org/ministries/the-prodigal/

Laura MitchellLaura Mitchell is very thankful for her life, as this year she survived stage IV cancer and gets to continue to serve the Lord. She retired several years ago from 40+ years of being an Occupational Therapist for pediatrics and adults. Now she gets to enjoy her hobbies that she never had time for when she was working full time as a single mom, and then as a member of her blended family. She is a watercolor painter, enjoys the outdoors, and often paints nature’s beautiful flowers. She also enjoys playing board games and weekly mahjong. She especially loves the Navigators 2:7 Series and has enjoyed now leading women in this ministry as well as mentoring other women. She’s blessed with her blended family and friends.

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Sue Bohlin

Sue Bohlin is a speaker/writer and webmistress for Probe Ministries, a Christian organization that helps people to think biblically. She loves teaching women and laughing, and if those two can be combined, all the better. She also loves speaking for MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) and Stonecroft Ministries (Christian Women's Clubs) on the topic How to Handle the Things You Hate But Can't Change, based on her lifelong experience as a polio survivor.

She has a freelance calligraphy business in her home studio; hand lettering was her "Proverbs 31 job" while her children were young. Sue also serves on the board of Living Hope Ministries, a Christ-centered organization that helps people struggling with unwanted homosexuality and the family members of those with same-sex attractions.

Sue never met a cruise ship she didn't like, especially now that God has provided a travel scooter for getting around any ship! She is happily married to Dr. Ray Bohlin, writer and speaker on faith and science with Probe Ministries, and they have two grown sons. You can follow Sue on Twitter @suebohlin.

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