By Dan Seaborn, Crosswalk.com
The Art of Blending
Just like there are many ways to blend a smoothie, there are many ways to blend a family. A widower with children marries a widow with children. A divorced person with children marries someone who has never had children and the two of them have a baby. Two people who have been divorced and both have children from those marriages get married. Approximately one-third of all weddings in America today form stepfamilies. In all of these cases, people are trying to blend families – and it’s not always a smooth process.
One of the first steps to successfully blending a family is to make sure that you are healed from whatever happened in your previous relationship that caused you to remarry. If you were widowed, have you grieved that loss? If you were divorced, do you have peace about it? If you were hurt in some way by your spouse, or if you never wanted the divorce in the first place and harbor anger, it will be difficult for you to successfully navigate co-parenting. This is especially true if your spouse remarries and you don’t. And now you have to share the parenting with your ex-spouse and their new spouse! Healing doesn’t come from listening to your friend rip apart your ex-spouse or from you berating them in front of the children. It comes from seeking wholeness from God. If you’re carrying a grudge against God because your spouse died, then you need to do business with the Lord first.
It’s important that your heart is in the right place in order for a blended family situation to mix well, because this kind of blending will test your patience, bruise your ego, and make you question your sanity. But, hopefully it will also expand your ability to love in ways that you have never imagined. And, through it all, there must be a commitment to include Jesus Christ – the most important ingredient in the blending. When Jesus came on the scene more than two thousand years ago, He changed parenting forever! He brought a fresh approach of balancing grace and truth. That’s why we need to parent like Jesus parents us. And that can happen even though you aren’t parenting in the same house as the person who helped you create these children.
It may not be how you pictured it, but it can still be done. When you don’t agree on a parenting issue, it’s not necessarily because you are divorced, it’s probably something you would have disagreed on if you were still married. You still need to solve it. There also can’t be different rules at each household or different rules for her kids than his kids. There’s a risk of that happening when you are blending stepchildren who may be answering to four different people that are co-parenting. That will simply confuse the children and undermine your authority at every turn. You have to come to an agreement that is upheld regardless of who the children are with at the time.
This will occur only after some (probably) tough discussions between all of the parents who are sharing these responsibilities. This is when egos must be set aside for the sake of the children. It’s not about who walks away getting their way, but about what is the best way for the children. If you focus on God’s truth in raising the children, that will lessen the confusion, because then it’s not about what you want or how your ex-spouse thinks the children should be raised, but about how God thinks they should be raised.
This kind of family situation requires a lot of grace because there are simply more people involved, and nobody is perfect. Not only will the children mess up and need words of affirmation about your love, but as parents, you will not always respond the way you should. And that will require grace from your co-parent and your children.
Empathy is a good path to grace. If you can step back and see the situation through the eyes of others who are involved, you might see how whatever happened could have happened. When you only see with eyes of judgment or through the lens of how you would have handled a situation better than your ex-spouse, you are seeking to win at all costs. And that means that everyone loses in the long run.
In a blended family situation, it’s easy for parents to forego truth and feed their guilt instead. They change their recipe for parenting because they want to make up for what they think their children might be missing because the family unit is no longer together. Even when it’s critical to discipline their children and mix in truth, they add a lot more grace than the situation calls for. They let things slide because of their own shame. They lessen the consequences of disobedience, or they turn a blind eye when wrong behavior occurs. However, what needs to happen is for that guilt, shame, or anger to be given to God so that you can get back to parenting like Him.
There is no such thing as an “instant family.” Forging a bond of love and trust takes time, whether the child is a biological descendant or comes to you through adoption or marriage. Just because two adults who have children fall in love and get married, that doesn’t mean that the children will fall in love too. Parents need to be patient and understand that the children are going through something as well.
As followers of Christ, we have all been adopted into God’s family, so His model of parenting is based on a blended family of sorts. If we parent by His example and in His strength, we will find hope and a future for ourselves and our children.
Dan Seaborn encourages individuals and families to lead Christ-centered homes. His practical illustrations and memorable real-life examples teach others how to win at home. In 1995, Dan founded Winning At Home, Inc., an organization that produces media resources and hosts special events to develop marriages and families. Dan also serves as the Director for the Marriage & Family Division of the American Association of Christian Counselors. Prior to founding Winning At Home, Dan served at a large church in Michigan as pastor of student ministries and then as pastor of family life. He is the author of 12 books, including his latest, Parenting with Grace and Truth (Barbour Publishing/Shiloh Run Press). He and his wife Jane have four children and live in West Michigan.
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Publication date: April 12, 2017