Posts tagged blended families

Resurrected pain



Resurrecting pain

Ron & Nan Deal and sons

I am dreading the holidays. My 12-year-old son, Connor, died in February 2009 and every year I become anxious about facing the holiday season without him. How can my family go through the motions of our annual traditions without Connor? How do we find the “joy of the season” with so much sorrow in our hearts?

Most likely you, too, have been through a significant loss in your life. I know your children or stepchildren have. And whether we like it or not, the magic of the holidays also resurrects our pain. Loss is central to the stepfamily experience. I suggest you get prepared to face it, especially during this time of year.

The Enduring Nature of Loss
Whether your loss came this past year or 10 years ago, you won’t “get over it.” You will only get through it. Loss endures. And special family occasions, like the holidays, remind us once again of what is no more.

A deceased parent will be missed this time of year with extra tears. A family fractured by divorce will feel again the pain of being emotionally splintered into two houses. Children will reminisce about what was and what could have been, while reprocessing how they feel about the new stepfamily members in their lives. Grandparents will wish the family could, once again, all be together. And when the awkwardness of holiday activities confronts, stepparents may again evaluate the realities of life and expectations lost.

Because loss is enduring, these types of responses cannot be helped. And they should not be avoided. The fragile nature of stepfamily living sometimes leads people to deny resurrected pain or try to “fix” others who experience it. Grandparents, for example, might assume that a child who cries once again over the loss of the original family just needs a well designed world that will make everything better. Even worse, insecure parents may emotionally punish a child for not being loyal to the new family. For example, when learning that his adult children questioned whether they would attend a pre-Christmas party that included their stepmother’s adult children and grandchildren, one father threatened not to attend his grandchild’s Christmas play. He thought by threatening to emotionally withdraw himself he could encourage his adult children to accept his new wife. How misguided!

Responding to Loss
Loss does not need to be fixed. It needs to be expressed—and received with compassion. Don’t be afraid of your own feelings of loss and don’t fear listening to those of others. The process of “bearing with one another” is how we survive grief (Galatians 6:2).

Give permission to grieve and use the holidays as a springboard to conversation about loss. A stepparent might say to a child, for example, “I noticed that you’re not getting to spend as much time this year with your dad and his parents. I’ll bet that makes you sad. [Pause and wait for a response.]” Or, while engaged in a holiday tradition that started before the stepfamily began, one might say, “I know this reminds you of [missing family member]. Tell me a story about when you used to do this activity together.” These small conversations give permission to grief and the emotional connections therein. Plus, when communicated by a stepparent, they engender respect, care for the person, and may actually facilitate the new stepfamily relationships.

Model sadness. Adults should talk openly about their sadness and express tears. This communicates that it is okay for others to do the same, but more importantly, it models for younger children appropriate ways of grieving.

Coach children in healthy grieving. Labeling the emotions of children, for example, helps them learn to identify the emotion in themselves. “I’ve noticed that since coming home from your mom’s house you are pretty irritable. I’m wondering if you are missing her a lot lately?” A child who has been acting angry in this situation can now deal with their sadness, a necessary action if they are ever to stop being inappropriately angry and irritable.

Act in kindness. Consider what might minister to someone’s grief and act accordingly. A stepfamily member might encourage, “I know your sister’s family is only here for a short time. Why don’t you spend extra time with them and I’ll manage the children for a while.”

Don’t take it personally. Stepparents, especially, need to disconnect from the pain of their stepchildren during the holidays. A child’s sadness for what has been lost is not necessarily a rejection of you. Don’t make it about you; keep it about them.

Manage your guilt. Biological parents can become frozen by their children’s sadness. Yes, their pain may be a result of your past choices, but don’t allow that guilt to paralyze you from setting reasonable limits and enforcing rules. Permissiveness does not heal pain.

The Great Teacher
Loss is the great teacher. It has the power, for example, to deepen our walk with the Lord, reprioritize our lives, and remind us what matters most. The loss of my son has certainly had that impact on me. This holiday, don’t squash your grief (or anyone else’s). God will teach you much if you will pay attention to your loss and listen.

Learn more about Connor’s Song, the ministry started in Connor’s memory.

Stepping up in a stepfamily



“Thanks for recognizing that we’re not the church’s 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.

FLBlendedLogoSecond Class Citizens?
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, exploitative 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.

Forgiveness for All
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.

6 tips for building relationships with your stepchildren



God has a plan for marriage.  It’s a good plan.  Wait, it’s the BEST plan.  There’s only one problem with it.  It was given to fallible, sin-laden humans to execute.  So, many of us find ourselves at a place in life we never expected.  We never thought we would be divorced, or that our spouse would die so young.  Yet, it happened.  The good news of the Gospel is that there is hope for those who grieve and forgiveness for those who seek it in a spirit of true confession and repentance based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Then we move on with our lives in the grip of God’s grace.  And, for many of us, that means being re-married and having to figure out how to integrate ourselves into a family that’s already been formed and has a past.  How can we build strong relationships with our stepchildren?  Ron Deal, a recent addition to the FamilyLife team as the director of Blended Family Ministries, has written some great material on how to navigate in a step or blended family. We know many of you are facing these issues.  It is our prayer that you find help and hope in Ron’s advice and guidance.  Here’s an article that Ron shared on our FamilyLife.com website —

familylife ron deal step families blended families

6 Tips for Building Relationships with Your Stepchildren

Improving your relationships with stepchildren is one of the greatest challenges of forming a stepfamily.  Use the following suggestions to help you to be intentional about slowly building your relationships:

1. Do not expect that you or your stepchildren will magically cherish all your time together.  Stepchildren often feel confused about new family relationships — both welcoming and resenting the changes new people bring to their lives. So give them space and time to work through their emotions.

2. Give yourself permission to not be completely accepted by them.  Their acceptance of you is often more about wanting to remain in contact with their biological parents than it is an acceptance or rejection of you.  This realization will help you to de-personalize their apparent rejections.

3. Give your stepchildren time away from you, preferably with their biological parent.  The exclusive time stepchildren had with their biological parent before they married you came to a screeching halt after the wedding.  Honor your stepchildren by occasionally giving back this exclusive time in one or two hour increments.

4. Early on, monitor your stepchildren’s activities.  Know what they are doing at school, church, and in extracurricular activities, and make it your aim to be a part.  Take them to soccer practice, ask about the math test they studied for, and help them to learn their lines in the school play.  Monitoring seeks to balance interest in the child without coming on too strong.  (From Stepfamilies: Love, marriage, and parenting in the first decade, J Bray, New York: Broadway Books, 1998)

5. Until they feel comfortable with you, buffer your relationship by including other people.  Be involved with stepchildren when another family member can be present.  This “group” family activity reduces the anxiety children feel with one-on-one time with a stepparent.

Adults frequently assume that the way to get to know their stepchildren is to spend personal, exclusive time with them.  This may be true with some stepchildren; however, most stepchildren prefer to not be thrown into that kind of situation until they have had time to grow comfortable with the stepparent.  Honor that feeling until the child makes it obvious that he or she is okay with one-on-one time.

6. Share your talents, skills, and interests with the child and become curious about theirs.  If you know how to play the guitar and a stepchild is interested, take time to show them how.  If the child is interested in a particular series of books or a video game, become interested and ask them to tell you about it.

These shared interests become points of connection that strengthen trust between stepparent and stepchild.  Sharing the Lord through dialogue, music, or church activity is another tremendous source of connection.  For example, service projects are wonderful activities for parents and stepparents to experience together.  Few things bring people together like serving others in the name of the Lord.  Discussing values through the eyes of Christ and having family devotional time can also strengthen your relationship.

 

 

© 2008 by Ron L. Deal. All rights reserved.

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