“If one of the partners brings children into a second marriage, it can be very difficult, but heaven help the couple when both bring children.” These were the words the psychologist spoke as he concluded the seminar.
A knot the size of a wash tub formed in the pit of my stomach as a feeling of despair washed over me. I had attended this meeting for help, and instead was receiving a pronouncement of doom for my blended family. But instead of giving up I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders and determined that if it were possible, my husband and our seven children would survive. A survive we did!
If because of death or divorce and remarriage, you find yourself in a blended family, let me offer some suggestions that may help you survive.
1. Realize the awesomeness of the task and seek God’s help. When my husband and I decided to put our families together, we had no idea what a massive undertaking it was. We just asked God to bless our marriage and help us raise our children according to His Word. He has been faithful in spite of our many blunders.
2. Be a friend, not a replacement, to step-children. No matter how much you would like your family to be the ideal mom-dad-children relationship, in a blended family it cannot be so. Trying to force the children to replace the natural parent with the step-parent by insisting that they call him “Dad” or her “Mom” can bring severe resentments. Strive to be a friend and let the child decide what he/she wants to call you.
3. Agree on behavior guidelines. This can be a touchy situation if you and your spouse do not have the same ideas about rearing children. Sit down and discuss the issues and write out some guidelines. Some compromises will be necessary. Seek God for His guidance, and He will give you the needed wisdom.
4. Be realistic. Don’t overreact. Deal with the problems as they arise and keep the communication lines open between you and your spouse and the children. Problems such as jealousy, resentment, and conflict can be minimized by learning to accept each member of the family as they are, warts and all. When your eldest stepson feels demoted because he lost the seniority to your eldest son, discuss the situation with both boys and come to an agreeable compromise. Unresolved resentment can build into an erupting volcano in the teenage years. Don’t wait to deal with these problems.
5. Let the biological parent be the disciplinarian. This may cause the wife some difficulty if she is the parent who stays home with the step-children while their father is at work. But this can be eased somewhat if she has the father’s permission to deal with the child in a disciplinary way and vice versa.
6. Strive for fairness. Ask yourself, “If this was my child instead of my stepchild, how would I react to this situation?” Asking myself this question has caused me to change my approach on many occasions.
7. Keep the home atmosphere positive. Work toward emphasizing the strength of your family members and minimizing the weaknesses. Be generous with praise and if you must criticize, let it be constructive criticism. No put downs!
8. Learn from your mistakes. Admit when you are wrong. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m sorry.” Children are understanding and forgiving.
9. Keep your family in church. Encourage them to pray and read the Bible. Set the example before them by keeping your own daily devotions. The fruit of the Spirit will become evident in the lives of every member of the family in this way.
10. Have a daily family altar. This may be the greatest tool you have in building a strong blended family. It was at our family altar that our children learned to pray, memorize Scriptures and discuss and resolve problems. Laugh, cry and share together. God uses this special time to bring tenderness and a special closeness that is vital to all.
11. Have fun together. One of our favorite fun times was tent camping and fishing. Find something everyone enjoys and do it often. It builds special relationships.
We brought five sons and one daughter into our marriage and eighteen months later we added our own daughter. Some or all of their childhood was spent in a blended family environment. At one time we had six teenagers in our home ranging in age from thirteen to nineteen. All of them grew to be hard-working responsible members of society.
How did we do it? We made lots of mistakes, suffered the consequences, and learned from them. And I can say what the seminar speaker said many years ago. Truly “heaven helped us” and we give God all the glory.