Blended Families Part 1: “The Losses and the Gains”
Blended families—they’re everywhere. Maybe your family is a blended or step-family. If so, you know blended families face unique challenges and issues. They also face the everyday problems of living with other sinners in a world that’s been damaged by sin.
When couples remarry after death or divorce, one or both may bring children from previous marriages into their new family unit. Sometimes there are children from multiple marriages and, even, other relationships outside of marriage.
They also bring different parenting styles, different traditions, different levels of spiritual maturity, and different expectations. Sometimes, those expectations can be unclear, even unrealistic.
Many of us grew up watching TV shows like The Brady Bunch and Step by Step where blended family issues could be handled during a 30-minute TV show. And engaged couples who’ve been struggling with single-parent issues like loneliness, financial difficulties, and the hazards of the dating scene can view remarriage as the answer to all their problems and be blind-sided by the reality of blending a family.
What is a blended family?
A blended or step-family is a family where one or both parents have a child or children by a previous marriage or relationship.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary the word step comes from the Old English word steop, meaning “loss.” A Germanic form of the same word means “to bereave” and one form literally means “to be pushed out.” It originally referred to children who had lost one or both parents, but has evolved to mean the children of divorce or previous relationships and their parents.
While step-children may not be literal orphans, loss still plays a part in the step-family story. At least one and, usually, multiple people in a step-family have suffered loss through death, divorce, or other circumstances:
Children have lost or never had a nuclear, biological family.
Spouses have sometimes suffered abandonment or rejection by a former spouse.
Spouses and children may have lost a parent or partner by death.
Children often hope their parents will reunite, so the step-parent represents the loss of that dream.
Often remarriage involves a move to a different home with the respective losses of neighborhood friends, changes at work or school, even sharing rooms with newly acquired siblings.
There are losses to family traditions and routines.
And sometimes the changes in family dynamics result in losses to extended family relationships with grandparents and others.
Understanding how those losses affect you, your spouse, and your children can help you work through the issues with wisdom and grace, and help you discover the blessings of being a blended family. Proverbs 3.13 says, ” Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding.”
How can those losses affect spouses?
“Baggage” is term that’s tossed around a lot in the context of divorce and remarriage and it’s, actually, a very appropriate one. If you imagine each unresolved issue or offense as a piece of luggage and imagine you and your spouse each carrying an armload of them, it’s easy to understand how intimacy, both sexual and emotional, might be challenging to achieve.
Issues and relationships with ex-spouses can create problems, especially if they’re still in the picture. Some people try to pacify their exes to keep the peace; others find it hard to let go of anger and bitterness. Child support issues and visitation can further fuel heated emotions.
If the former spouse has died there can be guilt over the new relationship or an idealized view of the deceased spouse that’s impossible for a new spouse to meet.
How do the losses affect the children?
Children may be angry over the losses they’ve suffered. They may resent another parental figure telling them what to do. Since divorced parents often turn to their kids for emotional support their children may feel rejected or pushed aside by a new spouse. They may be facing questions and criticisms from the other parent as they go back and forth between two households. They may even feel guilty and disloyal if they decide to accept their new step-parent and siblings. Just to name a few.
How do those losses affect parents?
Step-parents can face rejection and anger from step-children. The children may reject their authority, become defiant or just shut-down and refuse to participate in family life.
Parents who’ve been divorced or contributed toward the heartache their own children experience suffer from enormous amounts of guilt. And guilt can be a bad motivator. It can lead to favoritism and over-indulgence. And if both parents favor and over-protect their biological children, the results can be disastrous.
While it may be true that our choices have caused our children great pain, healing comes from dealing with the situation biblically. Favoritism and over-indulgence only bring on a new host of problems. We’ll talk more about these twin destroyers in a future blog.
Does that mean it’s hopeless?
No … in fact, the potential for blessings is almost unlimited. Psalm 68.6a says, “God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.” But it does mean you’ll have to learn to acknowledge the issues and losses and learn to think and deal with them biblically.
Start by prayerfully considering your own heart attitude.
3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?(NLT)
How have you been responding to others in the family? Are there attitudes and actions you need to address? What were you hoping to accomplish when you responded in a certain way?
1 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? 2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. 3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. (NLT)
We’ll talk more specifically about some of the attitudes and issues God wants us to examine in upcoming blogs, but for now ask God to help you begin to take inventory of your own actions.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (NLT)
Pray and ask for His help to see your part in any problems.
Some of the subjects I’ll cover in future blogs:
Blended families in the Bible
Loving, not liking, each other
The goal of life for blended families
The F-word in blended families—favoritism
How to prepare your children for being in a blended family
Damage control—healing the mistakes
Dealing with in-laws and out-laws
Helping your child be part of the “other” blended family
Dealing with “exes”
You’re not my dad!
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