How Can Two Families Be Blended Successfully?
- Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve recently remarried after the failure of our first marriages. How can we successfully blend our two families into one?
Thanks, Names Withheld
Are you going to preach on what happens when your step-father brings his son home to live in your family?
Nine-year-old girl, Name Unknown
I'm not certain whether it was the trace of a tear down her cheek, or the soft quiet voice of the nine-year-old child standing beside me. I had just preached on Biblical family relationships and was moving toward the side door to greet guests.
Suddenly, ever so softly, I heard her call, "Pastor Roger." I looked down to the little child standing beside me. I bent low to hear her say, "Are you going to preach on what happens when your step-father brings his son home to live in your family?"
"Has your step-father brought his son home to your house?" I asked.
"And it's not going very well, is it?"
The next Sunday I preached about blended families. The term "blended family" is the label for describing couples who are putting two families together. Perhaps a more correct title would be "blending families." Blending marriages is an ongoing process. The child beside me represented millions of Americans who’ve gone through the trauma of a broken family — and are now being blended into another one.
Unfortunately, not all families work out well. In Ephesians 5 and Genesis 2 God outlined His plan for successful marriages. We might summarize His model succinctly: “God’s plan is for one man and one woman to become best friends and partners for a lifetime.”
Robert Redford, the famous actor and sex symbol, was asked what makes a great lover. He shocked all by not giving the expected macho man answer. He answered: “A great lover is a man who can satisfy one woman for her entire lifetime and she does the same for him. Love is not running around from woman to woman. Any dog can do that!”
Blending families is difficult but not impossible. I know that the task is difficult because I can't find one successful family blending in the Bible.
Abraham tried to blend Sarah and Isaac with Hagar and Ishmael and finally threw Hagar and Ishmael out of the house (Genesis 21).
Jacob tried to blend four families with disastrous results (Genesis 29:38ff):
First wife Leah and her children Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah;
Second wife Rachael and her children Joseph and Benjamin;
Concubine Bilah and her children Dan and Naphtali;
Concubine Zilpah and her children Gad and Asher.
Jacob’s family was destroyed by jealousy, murder, rape, deceit, and favoritism.
Davidbegan with first wife Michael and married perhaps as many as 28 more. His last wife was the infamous Bathsheba. There were numerous concubines in between. At least ten sons are named in scripture. In addition he had "more sons and daughters born to him." You wouldn't want to grow up in David's family. He tried to blend about 30 more families than he had time for. Among his children we read of murder, rape, rebellion, incest, hatred, bitterness and anger (2 Samuel 8-18; 1 Kings 1-2).
Solomon'sproverbs contain many, many impassioned pleas to have only one wife! In fact at the end of his life he advised us to “rejoice with the wife of our youth” (Proverb 5:18). He had 70 wives and 300 concubines. Looking back, the multiple families he created were more trouble than they were worth. Solomon grew up in a blended family. He didn't want anyone else to have to go through what he went through."
God and Solomon were on the same page when they both advised, “Make your first marriage work.” One man in our congregation said: “If I had just worked on my first marriage, I would not have gotten divorced. I'm the same guy in the second marriage that I was in the first marriage. I gave up too easily.”
Nevertheless, when all is said and done, don't be discouraged. Families can be blended. I know quite a few who have done it successfully even though it doesn't come naturally -- or easily. Everyone I know who succeeded testify that the struggles were worth it!
By the way, the Old Testament practice of marrying multiple wives is known today as bigamy and is against the Law. In America today, believe it or not, bigamy is widespread. We call it “serial polygamy” — we have several husbands or wives over a life time — just not at the same time.
I would like to share a some of the information that I have gathered over the years about successfully blending marriages.
Most of the practical advice I know came from the suggestions of Christian speaker, author, and counselor, Craig Massey — much of which is outlined in the concepts which follow.
Massy writes: "Blended families have two extra stressors that God never intended. First is someone else's ex. Second is someone else's child! Stress in blended families is not doubled. It goes up exponentially."
Here are some other factors that can hinder successful blending.
1. Finances are often given to more than one family.
2. The blended family is born of loss, failure, hurt, and grief. Everyone needs comforting.
3. Everyone in a blended family has a previous history with ingrained living patterns and already built-in value systems.
4. The parent/child bond predates the married couple. A parent and children from a first marriage form a very tight system. There's little time for the new couple to bond before they are thrown into the complex role of parent someone else’s children.
5. The individuals often lack good conflict resolution skills.
6. Complex, informal alliances form which often exacerbate existing dysfunctional relationships.
Massey emphasizes that If a step-family is going to fall apart, it usually happens in the first two or three years. Unfortunately most blended couples don’t feel the need help until it is way too late.
Let me share several suggestions that you may find helpful in blending two families into one.
1. Clarify expectations (Proverbs 3:13-15). It is foolish to think that the blended family members will feel like, or relate to each other like a biological family. However, it helps when the children can see people decide to work together, love each other, and begin to form new bonds.
2. Mourn the losses (2 Samuel 12:15-25). Everyone grieves the failure of their original family after a divorce or death. Understanding, patience, wisdom, comfort and love are essential for all.
3. Strengthen your marriage (Ephesians 5:21-33). The weakest link in the blended family is the marriage relationship. Therefore, make every effort to invest deeply into the life of your new spouse. Massey writes, "I know of one Christian stepmom who said, 'It was the children — not my husband — that I wanted to divorce.'"
4. Help the children understand the truth of what is happening (Matthew 18:1-6). Unfortunately, the majority of children whose parents divorce blame themselves for the break ups: "If I hadn't been born when I was, I think they would still be together. I should have just acted better when I was little." Children are seldom led into an understanding of what really happened to cause their parent's divorce. Unfortunately, they must put the pieces together as best they can.
Many children begin to think of themselves as one of the puzzle pieces and assume responsibility for reuniting their parents and thus restoring their original family. Many struggle with dreams like: “When mom and dad get back together everything will be wonderful.” The second futile dream is that somehow, if they can just figure out how, they can put their parent’s marriage back together again. It takes wisdom to help both dreams dissipate slowly!
5. Work hard at conflict resolution (Matthew 5:25-26). All families have conflicts. My experience is that most blended families aren't skilled in conflict resolution. This is especially devastating when they are still working through significant traumas and griefs.
6. Agree on discipline (Proverbs 13:14). "You're too hard on mine and too easy on yours." Develop the same set of rules for all children and enforce them fairly and consistently. The natural parent is in the best position to discipline his or her own children because he or she knows his or her children best.
7. Build a strong relationship with God and other believers. Saturate yourself in Bible study and prayer. Jesus understands all your feelings, triumphs and defeats. Step-parenting can be a lonely job. A support group will help fulfill Paul's admonition in Galatians 6:2 to bear one another's burdens.
8. Practice agape love and forgiveness (John 13:34-35). An intense feeling of love for step-children may never come; but, that's okay. Keeping a child's best interests at heart and acting in loving ways is marvelous parenting.
9. Be patient (Philippians 4:6). Becoming a family takes time. One couple said: "We just don't think it is going to work with Johnny. We got married a year ago, and he's not adjusting. We're thinking about sending him to live with his father." Most of the time that would be a great mistake. One year is hardly even a beginning. Hang in there. Be patient, success takes time.
If you are now in a blending family, my heart goes out to you. I know you have experienced much pain and loss. Life was never designed to be this way and I am so sorry for what has happened to you. Nevertheless, never lose hope. God usually has good days ahead. My prayer is that you will experience them.
Well, Names Withheld, I hope that you find here some helpful guidance on how to blend your two families into one. May God grant you "one big happy family" in the days ahead.
And to you, Name Unknown, I doubt that I will ever see you again. However, I pray that one day our paths will cross and you can tell me how well everything worked out the day that your daddy brought his stepson home.
God bless you both,
Dr. Roger Barrier recently retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Publication date: April 11, 2012
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