By Heidi Vegh, Crosswalk.com
Blended families are complex. If you are reading this, chances are you can relate. I know I can. Many of us who have taken this on find ourselves reeling from the negative emotions or relationship dynamics that are anything but pleasant. We wonder, how did we get here? Initially, we go into marriage with the best of intentions, but it crumbles before our eyes. We see our spouse receive a diagnosis that ends in death, or a tragedy ends their life much too soon. These are common life occurrences that can result in a blended family home where everyone is adjusting to a new way of life. It is up to us to cultivate the loving home that everyone longs for.
When my first husband died of cancer in 2013, I was left with two small boys, ages 6 and 7, at the time. I remarried 18 months later and leaped headfirst into the blended family life, complete with a stepson and ex-spouse. These were family dynamics I never envisioned in my childhood dreams. When my new husband and I were engaged, we thought we would get ahead of the game and read Ron L. Deal’s book, The Smart Stepfamily. He claimed that it takes seven years for a blended family to come together and feel connected. Without striving to be too naive, we looked at each other and said, “Psh, that doesn’t apply to us. Our kids love each other, we love each other’s kids, and this is going to work, and it won’t take seven years!”
We stand corrected. Here we are almost seven years later, and the issues still abound. I don’t mean to say this to discourage you but to allow you to embrace the fact that blended families will never be finished with their work. As the children grow and mature, there will always be challenges to overcome and contention to address. But with a pure heart and pure motive, even the most challenging circumstances can produce beautiful outcomes.
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Blended families most likely come with the responsibility of parenting a child that is not our own. This is where true challenges can take place. Loving a stepchild often doesn’t come naturally because we don’t possess the biological bond that enables us to love them unconditionally. Loving a stepchild takes intentionality. Just because you love the parent you married doesn’t mean you will automatically love their child; it takes time.
In some cases, the other parent is no longer around because of death or other reasons. This leaves you parenting a child as their full-time mother or father, creating little room for space from them which is more demanding and overwhelming. It will require more intention and grace. Pray for wisdom with each difficult encounter, and remember that God chooses you to raise them into the Godly people they are created to be. This can be especially challenging with children that hold resentment and look to you as someone trying to replace their deceased or missing parent. Be open to talking about that parent, celebrate their birthday ( if they are deceased) with them, and ask questions about what they were like. This will help them realize that their parent is not forgotten or replaced.
1. Give yourself grace
The step parenting game is not easy. It can at times create more frustration than parenting your own child. Again, we don’t have the biological bond that tends to be more forgiving or understanding. There may be resentment from the child that we strive to graciously process and frequently fail. I have learned through trial and error where I have fallen short in dealing with my stepson, and strive to do things differently. I still fail and must apologize, but I hope that he sees my true heart for him. We will make many mistakes along the way, and we need to be prepared for that. The most challenging part is admitting where we are weak and being willing to forgive ourselves and apologize to the ones we’ve hurt. The more we can take our mistakes as they come, learn from them and move on, the easier it will be not to allow unpleasant feelings to take root.
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
Thankfully, with the help of the Lord, we don’t need to rely on our own strength. When we depend on Him, He will fill us with HIS grace.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
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2. Be the Peacemaker of the Home
The Lord calls us, especially mothers, to be peacemakers in the home. We read in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed (spiritually calm with life-joy in God’s favor) are the makers and maintainers of peace, for they will (express his character and) be called the sons of God.”
In a home with built-in tension, there needs to be a steady rock on which the family can rely on. With God’s help, we can aim to be that steady rock. Here are ways you can cultivate peacemaking in your home: Pray before reacting. Don’t exasperate (to irritate or frustrate). Apologize for anger or erratic behavior. Show them the same love and affection as you show your own children.
In Ephesians 6:4, we read, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger (Do not exasperate them to the point of resentment with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; not by showing favoritism or indifference to any of them), but bring them up (tenderly, with loving-kindness) in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
An amazing thing happens when we allow ourselves to change into kinder, more understanding, and loving people. Those around us follow suit.
3. Don’t Let Feelings of Resentment Take Root in Your Heart
These children that suddenly live under our roof can also take residence under our skin, creating resentment. Stop this at the first sign. Don’t let these feelings fester. Remember that God allowed them to be put under your care and no matter what the circumstances are that lead them to your arms, always remember it is not their fault.
(Love) is not rude: it is not self-seeking; it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; 1 Corinthians 13:5
They don’t deserve to get any backlash from the circumstances they couldn’t control. It is helpful to put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you lived in a home without one of your parents, only to be parented by another adult? This practice can be beneficial and give you the ability to empathize with any difficulties they are struggling with. Be sensitive to their unique lifestyle and aim to love and support them through it.
4. Learn to Love and Appreciate Their Biological Mother/Father
In our blended families, we often deal with ex-spouses. These all come with their own set of entanglements. Unfortunately, there are many situations where the other parent is not willing to accept you as another caregiver of their child. Accept this with grace and love them anyway. Be kind, loving, and accepting when dealing with them. A solid, peaceful relationship with your stepchild’s biological mother/father will speak love and acceptance into the child’s life. Never, I repeat, never talk negatively about their parent in front of them. There is possibly enough contention between the two parents; you don’t need to add to it.
5. Keep the Rules and Expectations the Same for All Children and Don’t Play Favorites
Let’s be honest. If we live in a blended family with our children and our spouses’ children, we tend to be on the side of our own children. I have witnessed this behavior in my home with my husband with his son and me with my two sons. This is normal; however, to maintain equality in the house, we need to stay on top of this tendency and constantly be aware of how we are treating our stepchild. We want them to all feel equal in the eyes of the parents.
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6. Have One-on-One Time
Be intentional about spending one on one time with your stepchild. This practice gives them a sense of belonging and importance in the family. Make plans with them and find fun things to do together. My heart for my stepson is for him to know without a doubt that he is loved and missed when he is away. The one-on-one time gives us a chance to bond without the distractions of the house.
Stepparenting can feel like an overwhelming task, and the mountain of expectation is very high. We chose to have these children in our lives, and we need to honor our commitment not only to the person we married but also to the children we now raise. Whether full-time or part-time, let’s allow space for God’s goodness to shine through complex circumstances and bring our families to a place of peace. These blended families that are created out of tragedy or loss are precious, unique, and loved by God. They have purpose and the divine opportunity to thrive. They are filled with difficulty and complexities that we were never prepared for but can also exhibit grace and joy when done with a pure heart.
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Heidi Vegh is a writer living in Gig Harbor, WA. She is a remarried mother of four, navigating the blended family life after the loss of her first husband to cancer in 2013. She longs to use her writing as a way to encourage others who have experienced loss and guide them on the road to healing. She contributes to her blog found at www.thebreathingmama.com, sharing stories and devotionals of faith stemming from her loss and healing, mothering, and her blended and complex family. She graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a degree in Creative Writing and English and is working on her first book. When she is not writing she loves to travel, craft, and experiment in the kitchen. Visit her Facebook and Instagram (@breathingmamalife) to learn more.