Melissa and Bradley are planning their wedding. They’re happy together and are “convinced” their marriage will succeed. Well, actually, they are mostly convinced. Melissa has been married before and brings two reluctant teens into the relationship. Brad says he loves Melissa’s children. He wants to be their father, but senses their resistance. In a recent discussion, both kids confessed that they “already had a dad.” After a few hours of counseling, Brad admitted that maybe he didn’t “love” Melissa’s children as much as he wanted them to love him. I (Rich) explained that it would take time for him to love the children where they were emotionally, not where he wanted them to be.
You have to take things slowly. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean that you’re going to automatically love their children. All relationships take time to grow and develop. Be willing to give everyone the time and space that they need. It will come. —Kelly LeFurgey
Most counseling professionals understand the complexities in blending families. According to the Journal of Divorce and Remarriage (2015) the number of newlyweds who bring children into the marriage relationship has increased to over forty percent. For some of them, the term “blended family” has become euphemistic for disaster. Although many of the blended families in the bible demonstrate the difficulties supported by research and social sentiments, the scripture is clear that blending a family can work.
When Marty and I (Rich) meet with couples, we help them walk through the following action steps:
Have a discussion where you tell your children that you are giving them the freedom to communicate their thoughts and feelings.
Melissa’s discussion started rough. The children had bottled-up emotions that exploded into the room. We had explained that this might happen and had asked her to pray through I Corinthians 13:4, especially the words. “Love is patient, love is kind.” She shared patiently and without the same emotions her children had displayed that Brad was not their dad nor did it mean that he was replacing him. Melissa explained that she had been praying for them and considering their needs while growing to love Brad and that she hoped they would come to love him in their own time.
Authentically love each other as husband and wife.
Children are usually watching for the signs of a failed marriage – they have seen it before – and they know how much it hurts. Melissa had read this in a magazine article, but had not thought through the possibility her children had only painted over the pain of the divorce and that this had slightly altered the color of every experience they had with Brad. When Melissa read Ephesians 5:25 and I Corinthians 13:4-7 to her children and explained that this was the kind of marriage she and Brad wanted to work toward, the children began to see that the relationship was much more than a reaction to loneliness. Like other children they were impressed by the honesty and the authenticity they began to see in Melissa and Brad. They began to understand what Rich and I so strongly believe: a marriage characterized by love and respect can provide a model of hope and stability.
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The parent should remain “in control,” not the stepparent.
We explained that one of the destructive factors in many blended homes is the assumption that when people marry, each fills a traditional “mom” and “dad” role. In this combined role, each is equally responsible for the lines of authority. While the bible supports this for the family where the children are the offspring of the mom and dad in that home, the blended home is different.
Pick your battles with everyone, including yourself. . . Remind yourself everyday that you have been given another chance at love and cherish that opportunity. —Jessica Warrick
Many couples incorrectly assume that marriage trumps normal relational development – that some kind of parental magic happens at the blending ceremony. The marriage is between the husband and wife – the rest of the family relationship takes even more time and energy. If the children don’t like some of the new house rules agreed on by Melissa and Brad, they need to take it up with their mom. Melissa and Brad need to be on the same page, but the spokesperson to the kids is Melissa. As Christ “gave himself up for her [the church], Brad must give himself up for Melissa and her children (Ephesians 5:25). Brad spent considerable energy winning Melissa’s heart, he now must do the same with her children.
My Stepdaughters have two really good parents who love them to pieces, I don’t have to be a mother’ . . . they already have a mom. I support their father with parenting, but for my personal relationship with them, I get to really enjoy the kids. —Brynn Bruno
Give the children permission to be honest with the new spouse.
No matter how difficult the messages he receives from the kids are, Brad is learning he must be visibly open to any and all conversations. Rather than reacting, he must listen with empathy. He must remember that he and Melissa fell in love, which didn’t automatically include the kids. When rough days occur in this family, the kids may play the victim card. One of the strongest means of trumping is to listen without immediate comment. Children know they are loved when those who claim to love them listen.
Regularly assess your progress.
This critical step assures that they are on the same page as the kids grow accustomed to Brad and the new routine. Skipping monthly assessments can create distance between the husband and wife. The assessment can be as simple as “How are you feeling about our family now?” or as complex as “Let’s go and talk with an older couple at church and ask them to tell us how they think we’re doing.”
Promote positive emotional ties between the children and their natural parent.
This may be particularly difficult if the spouse’s Ex is a jerk or worse, but the key here is that the children have to be able to say, “My stepdad worked hard to try and restore my relationship with my real parent.” Brad soon realized that he did not gain anything by tearing down their natural dad. He is wiser than most. We have seen children opt to take sides with a dad who is in jail or totally uninterested in them simply because the “new husband” (or wife) spent time belittling the children’s real parent.
Both Brad and Melissa are constantly looking for signs that her children are beginning to accept Brad in more of a fatherly role. They are celebrating with trips for ice cream, a movie or a small adventure. This approach helps the new spouse feel valued by the natural parent while simultaneously providing additional and important family time. Celebration is a scriptural principle; it is what the wise do regularly.
Usually if these seven actions are followed, the children involved come to love and respect the new partner and eventually give him or her permission to assume some of the responsibilities of love. Even when permission is given, the wise spouse will use any new level of control wisely and sparingly.
Brad and Melissa represent a growing population. Bringing kids from a previous relationship into a new one can be a curse or blessing—it depends on the presence of a scripturally-sound plan that recognizes the uniqueness of the blended family – a plan that seeks God’s guidance in helping the new couple find the right blend.
1Zeleznikow, Lisa and Zeleznikow, John. “Supporting Blended Families to Remain Intact: A Case Study.” Journal of Divorce & Remarriage. May/June 2015.