Today’s post is a guest post by Hearts at Home speaker Michele Cushatt. Michele is presenting a blended family workshop at our 2011 Hearts at Home conferences. It received rave reviews at the National Conference in March. You can find Michelle online at www.michelecushatt.com. You can also purchase a recording of her workshop (and other conference workshops) online HERE.
If you’re in a blended family, may her experience and wisdom encourage you. If you’re not in a blended family, may this give you insight into the challenges others face. And if you know of a mom who needs this encouragement, could you please pass this on to her?
Marriage is like a beautiful, ornate glass pitcher, standing tall on the counter of our youth. We fill it to the brim with glorious dreams, never anticipating anything will keep us from drinking deeply, “until death do us part.”
That was my story—until divorce shattered the glass. A lifetime of dreams leaked out in a flood.
Through remarriage, I tried to frantically glue the glass shards back together. I wanted to revive the traditional family I’d lost, and I exhausted myself and my new family in the process. Within months of our wedding, I discovered my plan was flawed. Parenting schedules, grieving children, complicated holidays, and a less-than-enthusiastic biological mom shortened our honeymoon bliss. Remarriage didn’t glue my dreams back together – it reminded me how broken we were. And I wanted out.
It took me years to accept that the glass pitcher was gone. No matter how much glue I used, it would never again hold water. I grieved, deeply. But slowly God cast a new vision: the broken glass could be rearranged into a picture. A glass mosaic picture. An art form no less beautiful, but simply different.
It’s been well over decade now, and my husband and I are still married—and happy about it! We now see our stepfamily as a carefully crafted masterpiece, still in progress, broken pieces being slowly redeemed into a beautiful whole.
If you’re in a stepfamily, you’ve likely felt overwhelmed, frustrated, and utterly alone at times. In fact, chances are you’ve muttered the words I screamed more than once: “I didn’t sign up for this!” Many of you may be ready to call it quits. But hang in there. A thriving stepfamily doesn’t just happen – it takes the skills (and the patience!) of an artist:
Skill #1: Establish a Biblical Perspective
“We always sit in the back row at church. I don’t think we deserve to sit with all the normal families.” I listened with empathy as a stepmom revealed a common fear: Does God love stepfamilies?
When it comes to redeeming the lost, we believe God can rescue the alcoholic, the thief, even the prodigal. But the broken family? Ashamed, we fear we’re outside the redemptive capacity of God.
A quick glance at the Bible says otherwise. Adulterers, polygamists, bad parents, marriage-breakers, and the promiscuous line Jesus’ genealogy. Yes, God is for marriage—one man to one woman for a lifetime. But ours is a broken world. Can God redeem our messy families? Absolutely. That’s why Jesus came. You may need to make right some wrongs and work harder than you ever imagined. But don’t fear: His love and His redemption are boundless.
Ingredient #2: Realistic Expectations
Unrealistic expectations are poison to the stepfamily, infiltrating even good moments with disappointment. What can you expect in a stepfamily? Conflicting parenting styles, special occasions involving exes, weekend activities interrupted by parenting schedules, awkward parent-teacher conferences, different rules in the “other” household. Remember the glass pitcher: if you try to recreate a “perfect” family, your disappointment will leak on everyone, creating quite a mess.
Ingredient #3: Marital Connection
The best gift you can give your children is a strong marriage, but not to the exclusion of the children who have been deeply affected by this remarriage. Practically speaking, how do you invest in your remarriage?
- Commit to it. After enduring a death or divorce, it’s natural to cling to your children. You’ve bonded in your grief. But your new marriage requires bonding as well. Communicate your commitment to your marriage, both to your husband and your child. And reassure your child that your love doesn’t diminish in the presence of another.
- Present a United Front: As much as you may disagree with the parenting style of your new spouse, disagree privately and not in front of the children. Children come equipped with the “divide and conquer” technique. Be aware of their tactics. And resolve to be a team.
- Make Time for Togetherness: Honeymoon phase? What honeymoon phase?!?! Remarriages with children dive right into the thick of homework, soccer practice, and doctor’s appointments. Be intentional about creating togetherness. Whether a date night on alternate weekends or dancing in the kitchen before dinner, show your children and each other that your marriage matters.
- Communicate Grace: Family needs to be a place where it’s members can fail—including your spouse. Stepfamilies are complicated. Knowing the “right” way to do things is difficult. Be empathetic toward your spouse and communicate grace: “I know you’re in a difficult position. Thanks for trying so hard.”
- Have Fun! In the midst of the normal stressors of stepfamily life, it’s easy to forget to enjoy each other. Laugh more. Learn to be flexible. Find things you enjoy doing together. And smile!
Ingredient #4: Safe Environment
The stepfamily is a scary environment, whether birthed from a death or divorce. Threads of loss weave through its members, even if the remarriage is one that was welcomed.
A safe environment helps curb some of the fears innate in stepfamilies and offers reassurance. But safety starts with you. Develop a secure identity. Refuse to be easily affected by the vacillating words and emotions of other family members still grieving and adjusting. Encourage open communication, even when what is shared is difficult to hear. Allow for differences. Establishes healthy boundaries, allowing grief and emotion but refusing rudeness and abuse. Enjoy one another, laugh, find joy in the midst of complications. Be flexible when plans need to change. More than anything, persevere in love, the kind of love God offers without condition. Persevering love is safe—and irresistible.
Ingredient #5: Critical Resources
For too long, stepfamilies lived in isolation. Resources were almost non-existent. Churches—purported to be a hospital for the sick—didn’t know how to minister to non-traditional families.
Today stepfamilies fail at a rate of 70%, an alarming number that’s finally getting needed attention. Thankfully, resources are more available than ever before. Utilizing these resources is critical in building a thriving stepfamily. Locate and connect with other blended families. Many churches now offer support groups—everything from Divorce Recovery and Grief Recovery to small groups made up entirely of stepfamilies. Books, videos, article and online resources can be found with a click of the mouse. A handful of books and resources I recommend include:
- The Smart Stepfamily (Ron Deal, Bethany House, 2002)
- The Smart Stepdad (Ron Deal, Bethany House, 2011)
- Ron Deal’s Website: www.SuccessfulStepfamilies.com
- The Smart Stepmom (Ron Deal & Laura Petherbridge, Bethany House, 2009)
- Laura Petherbridge’s Website: www.LauraPetherbridge.com
- The Remarriage Checkup (Ron L. Deal & David H. Olson, Bethany House, 2010)
A thriving stepfamily doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a work of art, requiring time, creativity, and a gentle grace. You may feel ready to walk away, but our God can redeem everything lost, making beautiful the broken. C.S. Lewis said it best:
“For God is not merely mending, not simply restoring a status quo. Redeemed humanity is to be something more glorious than unfallen humanity.”
I’m praying for you, my friend, and your beautifully redeemed family.