Stepfamilies face many challenges. Taking a group of total strangers and throwing them together and expecting them to get along is chock full of problems. These stepfamilies are often called "blended families", but there's nothing blended about most of them. They tend to be more like two opposing armies lined up for battle than anything that can even remotely be referred to as "blended". Just ask most couples who have blended families about their experience and you will probably hear the word "hell" in about 60 seconds.
My best advice to those who are considering remarriage with children from previous marriages: wait. Just hang on, trust God during this time and wait until the kids are grown-and even then it still isn't a guarantee! Sometimes even adult children will have a difficult time with their parent's remarriage situation. But generally those who wait until the kids are out of the house have much less trouble and way fewer problems.
If, however, you choose to go into the stepfamily situation, know that it's going to be a very rough road to travel. You will have to deal with each other's children, the ex-spouses, the multiple sets of grandparents, complicated holiday and summer schedules, etc. Again, in my opinion the best thing you can do is to wait until the kids are all out of the house and then move on to a new relationship.
That being said, here are some general guidelines for those of you who are already in a blended family situation:
- Don't make your spouse choose between you and his/her kids.
- Allow your spouse time with his/her kids.
- Let the biological parent deal with discipline issues.
- Get help from other stepfamily organizations. (see the links on our website)
- And above all: DON'T criticize or condemn your spouse's children. I know, I know... you're just trying to help your spouse see the problems and you're just trying to help, but trust me - you are headed down the path of misery. You want to help? Volunteer at the local homeless shelter. Let your spouse deal with his/her own kids.
Finally, don't try to change people - just try to understand them. People don't like it when others try to change them. Go down that path with your step-children and you can virtually guarantee you will become the "wicked step-parent" in their minds. Understand why they act the way they act and let them know you understand, and you have a chance to turn from a wicked step-parent into a compassionate human being.
I suggest that you use the FLAG PAGE program that we have available on our website www.flagpage.com and have everybody go online and do theirs. This is a very simple tool that we use with couples and it works great with step-families. It gives you a measurement of what makes each person tick; what they truly need to feel loved and understood. And remember: while you may know the nuances of your own kids - why they act the way the do and what their emotional buttons are - you can't possibly know the new kids in your family the same way. Without a map like the FLAG PAGE, you will be walking through a mine field. Everyone has their triggers, and if you don't know where they are, one wrong step and things blow up!
I recommend that you do the FLAG PAGE with the whole family. Get the book Discovering Your Heart that goes with it and then sit down and talk about all of your FLAG PAGES together. Then you will get the understanding of why each one acts the way they act, this is what they need to feel loved and happy, and this is who they truly are. It's still hard, but it can really help everyone understand each other. There is a six page printout that goes with the FLAG PAGE and I recommend that you read these stories that you get to the family. Read them aloud so that the kids hear what's right about them. Everyone loves to hear what's great about them and it really does something for the kids to hear this.
Finally, go through the process of creating everyone's Five Rules to Feel Loved. It's a simple exercise that gives you a road map to follow for these kids. Post them on their doors and now everyone knows what the others need, how to relate to them, how to build them up and encourage them. It's really powerful stuff. That kind of light shining into the relationships helps tremendously.
Mark Gungor is one of the most sought-after speakers on marriage and family in the country. Each year thousands of couples attend his Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage® seminars. His take on marriage issues is refreshingly free of both churchy and psychological lingo. Mark is pastor of Celebration Church in Green Bay, WI. He speaks for churches, civic events, and business meetings and is even a speaker for the US Army. Mark has been featured on national broadcasts such as Focus on the Family and ABC News. His daily radio program is heard on over 250 radio stations nationwide. Visit www.LaughYourWay.com