Blended Families Part 5: Favoritism and Other Four-Letter Words
We’ve been talking about the challenges blended families face and also some of the ways their struggles are common to us all. Today we’re going to look at one of the biggest issues parents, step-parents, and children face when two families become one … favoritism. We’ll also look at the need to view the blended family as one and how to avoid having a child-centered home.
In the last blog, I said the overarching goal of blending a family and for all of life is to please God (2 Cor. 5.9)—not to get along, not to have our needs met, not to feel loved or appreciated, but to please God.
I also discussed the importance of biblically loving one another, rather than merely getting along or even liking each other (Blended Families Part 3). And last week I started discussing the priority of the husband and wife relationship (Blended Families Part 4). Today we’ll look at some specific ways we can strengthen the marriage relationship, even while handling tough parenting issues.
Joe’s & Liz’s Story
Do you remember Joe and Liz (Blended Families Part 4)? Week-ends were rough with the added dynamic of Joe’s son from his previous marriage. How might they plan to have a better week-end the next time Joe’s son is with them?
Praying Together for God’s Wisdom
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
God promises to give wisdom to those who ask in faith and have a heart that’s willing to obey. And later in his epistle James added, “You do not have because you do not ask God” (Jas. 4.2). Parents in blended families need wisdom and, yet, how often do we actually stop and ask?
Failure to ask for God’s help and wisdom is foolishness, at best, and more often a form of pride, since we’re really saying, “Lord, I don’t need Your help. I can figure this out for myself!” It’s so easy to think the way that seems right to us is the right way. But Proverbs says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14.12). Whether we’re faced with a stressful, potentially mine-filled week-end or just day-to-day events, we should be praying regularly for God’s wisdom.
Family Not Families
It’s important to see your family as one and your children as yours jointly and to prayerfully make decisions as a team. Practice taking time to talk over issues, in advance, considering the needs of all the children and your family as a whole. It’s especially important not to make special rules for children who aren’t in the household full time or to favor your biological children over your step-children.
Favoritism … The Other F-Word
Favoritism is quite possibly the biggest destroyer of the blended family. It weakens the husband and wife relationship, hinders the step-parent’s relationship with the other children, and leads to anger and bitterness. And, ironically, it often hurts the favored child as much as anyone else. Trust me on this one; it will create chaos and can drive a wedge between family members faster than you can imagine.
Think about Jacob and his children. Of his 12 sons, Joseph was the favored one. His favoritism resulted in jealousy and hostility on the part of the 10 older brothers and led to them plotting to kill him and, eventually, selling him into slavery (Gen. 37). It would be many years before his father would even know Jacob was still alive and for the family to be re-united.
Favoritism is easy to slip into. Divorced parents often struggle with guilt over the pain their divorce has caused the children (Blended Families Part 1: the Losses & the Gains) and do things in an attempt to make up for it. Single parents and their children have had their own way of handling problems and now things have changed. Biological parents may feel their children are being treated unfairly by their spouse and move into protective mode.
But favoring any of the children is self-defeating. It’s far better to teach all the children to respond biblically. That means honoring, respecting, and obeying their step-parent. If you need to talk to your spouse about unfairness, do it privately and seek counseling together, if necessary. Sometimes we have blind spots where our biological children are concerned and a third party can bring needed clarity.
Note: It goes without saying that I’m not talking about genuine abuse of any kind. That may need to be dealt with in other ways. If you believe your children are being abused, seek counseling with a good biblical counselor right away. And, if necessary, remove yourself and your children until things can be worked out.
Consider Your Spouse
The husband and wife relationship must become the primary one. You should be concerned about being a good parent, but it’s even more important to be a good husband or wife. As I said last week, this is not only important for the sake of your marriage, but for the well-being and security of the children, as well.
Look for ways to reinforce the marriage relationship. Show affection for your mate in appropriate ways in front of the children, as well as, in private. Let the children know you’re a team. Don’t do things or make decisions behind your spouse’s back. Don’t ever let it be you and the children against your mate!
Listen to your mate in a non-judgmental way. There may be times when you feel like he or she is being critical or less than understanding about some aspect of family dynamics. Make it a habit to first be a good listener. Don’t be too quick to try to fix their feelings or tell them where they’re wrong. Listening, seeking to understand, and praying are better places to start.
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (Jas. 1.19-20).
Set aside time each week for the two of you to talk about the children, but also about things unrelated to them. A lack of biblical communication leads to assumptions and all kinds of other problems.
You’ve probably heard it before, but you need to hear it again! Make time to have fun together. No matter what, you’re still a couple. Whether it’s a regular date night, dinner and a movie from Red Box after the kids go to bed, or a long walk, you must make couple-time a priority. You need time for intimacy, time to laugh, and time to do things you enjoy. The key is to plan, it won’t just happen!
Avoid a Child-Centered Home
What with soccer practice, piano lessons and after school activities, children can easily become the focus of the family. Scheduling, decisions, and problems can become the constant subject of discussions. And with blended families, trying to keep everyone happy can become an easy trap into which to fall. While these things do need to be discussed and schedules need to be worked out, if couples don’t keep this under control, homes can quickly become child-centered.
In a child-centered home, parents are often frazzled and children begin to believe the world revolves around them. Even if their exhausted parents manage to keep up the charade, life has a way of intervening. Children in that environment become spoiled, self-focused, and ironically, angry. In fact, Lou Piolo in his book, The Heart of Anger (subtitled “Practical Help for the Prevention & Cure of Anger in Children”), says that raising children in a child-centered home is one of the ways parents actually provoke their children to anger. (See link below for more about Lou’s book and other recommendations.)
Instead, blended families, like all families should be God-centered—seeking to love each other biblically and growing to become more like Christ.
One Couple’s Story
James and Sue have been married for 8 months. James was married previously and has a 5-year-old son, Troy. James picks Troy up from school on Friday evenings and takes him home on Sunday evenings. This was a great arrangement for James before he got married because he travels making mid-week visits difficult. But now that he and Sue are married, it leaves little couple-time. In addition, Troy has become accustomed to his father’s undivided attention on week-ends.
After 6 months they visited with their pastor about it and began to implement many of his suggestions. For starters, James began looking for ways to let Troy know how important Sue is to him. He talked about her more and asked for her input constantly.
He also made constant eye contact with her while he was playing with Troy, would hug her frequently throughout the week-end, and would often whisper to her about how much he was looking forward to being with her after they put Troy to bed.
On alternating week-ends they would plan a family outing or an activity for the three of them and the next time a date night where they got a babysitter and spend time together as a couple. James was concerned about criticism from his ex-wife, but he and Sue prayed about it and determined to explain the situation patiently, if necessary.
On the occasional Saturday when James had to work, Sue would take Troy to the park. She got him an inexpensive camera and she taught him about photography, something she was passionate about. They looked forward to their photo outings and put together a scrapbook of nature shots.
James’ and Sue’s week-ends quickly became more relaxed and all three of them began to enjoy each other more and more.
It All Gets Back to the Goal of Life
Even when you’re trying to do your part to be a godly mate and a godly parent or step-parent, things aren’t always smooth sailing, but you can avoid many of the pitfalls by doing things in a God-honoring way.
And in the end, you must learn to evaluate how you’re doing based on what God says is important. Remember the goal of life (2 Cor. 5.9). If you’ve done what you believe He would want you to do, you can go to bed each night satisfied that you’ve pleased Him and leave the results in His hands.
I’m praying this helps you grow in your blended family and as part of God’s blended family.
More soon … Donna
Strengthening Your Marriage by Wayne Mack
Previous Post in the Series:
In Blended Families Part 1: The Losses & the Gains I talked about the losses that many members of blended families face. Understanding those losses can increase our patience with each other and lead to great gains.
And in Blended Families Part 2: The Same Only Different I shared that while blended families have unique problems, the root issues are the same as those we all face. I also shared an incredible promise from God’s Word that applies to blended and biological families alike.
In Blended Families Part 3: Loving Not Liking Each Other we looked at how we must learn to love each other biblically and what biblical love looks like on a practical level.
In Blended Families Part 4: The Goal of Life we talked about keeping the main thing the main thing.
Some of the subjects I’ll cover in future blogs:
Blended families in the Bible
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!
Your questions, please share them in the comments section.
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