When you and your spouse vowed to love, honor and cherish one another, a new parenting team was created. Without the luxury of a playbook, you didn't have options spelled out to overcome the obstacles.
Men and women, I (Gil) must confess I was thrilled to meet my new wife. From the stats that I read, we are enjoying being in the rare 10% of remarried couples who have gone on to improve on what we had. And because I am content in my marriage, I am a better parent.
We have seven children between us. We lovingly refer to them as "Those People." In times of frustration or bewilderment we'd ask, "What are Those People doing? When are Those People leaving?"
The former methods of who you were and how you operated hopefully changed during the transition of being single parent to being married again. Parenting skills are transferable but caution should be used in how soon and how much authority you exert in your new home. You are Dad or Mom to some, and a stranger to others in your own home!
Stepping up to the task of being a dad and stepdad, plus becoming a loving husband all at the same time, really calls upon you to intercede for your new and existing extended family. When you're standing between your "bio-kids" and your stepkids, at times the best you can do is stand still and believe you are going to survive. The "I'm not going anywhere" mentality is a strong tower for both you and your wife.
Here are two questions we asked early on in our stepfamily adventure that have benefitted our kids and our marriage:
How do you feel when I criticize your biological kids?
Brenda: When you criticize my kids, I feel very defensive. Through the years I have defined myself (this is not always a good thing) by what kind of mom I am. When you criticize my kids, you are directly attacking that part of me. It can very easily put a wedge between us. I feel it is a direct reflection of me as a person. I also feel that you don't like my kids.
Gil: It's a complete put down to me implying that I've not done a good job. I also feel disrespected on my parenting skills of my own kids. It damages how I feel toward you because I feel attacked and it creates distance that I really don't want.
Second, how do you feel when I compliment your biological kids?
Brenda: When you compliment my kids, I feel on top of the world. Once again, I feel it is a reflection of me and the wonderful parent I am. It is very important to me that you like my kids as much as I do. When you compliment them, there is a positive connection and it feels great! Our marital team is stronger for it too.
Gil: It is like a pat on the back that I really want…makes me very happy that my kids pleased you and that they had done well. It gives me hope that we can have happy relationships in our stepfamily and that my kids were giving it their best shot. It draws me closer to you and increases my love for you because you see the good in my kids.
We quickly realized that in getting the honest answers out, often the problems we faced in our marriage were not between us but Those People creeping into our relationship. We needed to find a way to parent effectively for everyone's sake.
Stepfamilies need time to adjust to new living arrangements. Are they moving into their stepparent's home? Is there a new house being purchased? How can one of the tiniest rooms in the house have so much potential for a fight than any other room in the house? (We're talking about the bathroom by the way.) I guess it depends on how many girls you have!
Stepfamilies need time to adjust to new parenting styles. Some parents rule with an iron fist, others with a cashmere glove. Taking the time to earn the respect of your stepchild will pay off huge dividends in the end.
Stepfamilies need time to adjust to new rules and responsibilities. Do you make lunch for the kids or do they make their own? Who pays for gas in the car? We have found that when creating the "rules" for our home, including the kids in the plan is the way to go!
Stepfamilies need time to develop. Time and "low heat" are key. Building history takes time. Occasionally, we may feel like we have to rush the process. Unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves, or the unrealistic expectations we let others put on us can be a detriment to the family. We feel everyone is watching, and we can't make any mistakes. If we feel like things aren't going very well, we don't want to admit that we may be failing again. Embarrassment can lead to isolation.
Another way I (Brenda) have tried to affirm my stepkids' trust is to support them with their mom. When it was her birthday and they were younger, I would take them out to help purchase a birthday gift for her. Any time I could "come on their turf" to help them, I did. Once again, I wanted them to know that I am not there to pull them away from their parents. I care about them and want them to know that I am here for them.
One more thought. You can be doing all the right things to build relationship with your kids, bio and step. But if there are destructive conversations aimed at you from the other home, these do not negate the fact of still doing the right thing. These negative comments can undermine what you are doing. If you had to stand before Christ today, would He see your relationship with your kid(s) as supportive, nurturing and pointing the kids to Him? Stay strong and consistent with your kids. It's a battle for their heart.
Showing the child that you are really trying to understand how they feel and what they are dealing with will bring defenses down. Then think how best to love them, whether they are two years old or 32. Remember, they did not ask for this remarriage and whether you've been blending your family for three months or 15 years, adjust and be flexible.
The legacy of your family and children are worth you responding in love to see life through with Those People.
Originally posted July 3, 2010.
Gil and Brenda live in Vancouver, Washington. They have 7 children between them, ages 18-29. Gil graduated from Bethany Bible College; he currently is an insurance broker and active in the community with marriage and family issues. Brenda was on staff as Children's Pastor of their church and now works with a youth development organization and is involved with marriage and family initiatives.
Gil and Brenda deliver a fresh style of encouragement to this ever-growing population in society— the blended family. Willing to speak the obvious from their own step family adventure, the Stuarts share heart to heart as they walk the walk. Their book, Restored and Remarried was recently released along with their 8 week workbook. Gil and Brenda are available for seminars, workshops and retreats. Find them at www.restoredandremarried.com.