Blend Your Family After Remarriage
- Monday, April 25, 2005
After losing a previous spouse to death or divorce, you and your current spouse celebrated the joy that your remarriage brought into your lives. But, unlike couples marrying for the first time, you likely had children standing beside you when you said your new wedding vows. And uninvited guests like resentments, power struggles, and visitation logistics crashed your wedding party and moved into your new home.
Blending a family after remarriage demands more wisdom and strength than any husband and wife can summon on their own. But God stands ready with His perfect wisdom and limitless strength to help you.
Here's how you can blend your stepfamily into a cohesive unit of people who love each other and work together well:
Look for hidden treasure. Although everyone in your family may be tarnished and rough from the stressful experiences of divorce or widowhood and the tensions of adjusting to a stepfamily, remember that God sees each person as a treasured gem. Ask God to help you see everyone in your family as He sees them - valuable jewels with great potential to shine.
Tie your family's knot together. Decide to pull your family together in a three-way knot so they don't unravel. First, make Jesus the foundation of your home. Second, make a commitment to Jesus and your spouse that divorce will never be an option for you, and have your spouse do the same. Third, establish and maintain an open line of consistent communication and compromise between spouses.
Be willing to make some sacrifices. Understand that it's crucial for you to make some key adjustments to enable all your kids to find their places in your blended family. Allow time for everyone to adjust to new faces.
Don't immediately take over the discipline of your stepchildren. Instead, gradually and gently assume a position of authority, after they have developed a bond with you. Choose your battles to win the war by letting some insignificant offenses slide so you can focus just on what's truly most important - building your kids' character traits over the long haul.
Implement the "closed door rule." Realize the importance of you and your spouse both presenting a united front to your children in all areas of permission, discipline, and rewards, so the kids don't play one of you against each other. When you and your spouse disagree about something, schedule a time to discuss the issue in your bedroom behind a closed door. Keep talking and praying until you reach an agreement. Then, once you're in unity, deliver the verdict to your children.
Don't force acceptance or love. Understand that it will take a lot of interaction and bonding before you can reasonably expect your stepchildren to accept you and grow to love you. Spend time with them regularly and work toward embracing them as your own children. But don't insist that your stepchildren call you "Mom" or "Dad" unless they choose to; know that they can still have a loving relationship with you while calling you by your first name.
Don't try to replace their biological parents, or compete with the memory of a deceased parent. Instead, strive to be a genuinely loving extra parent in their lives. No matter how much a stepchild rejects you, never stop choosing to love him or her through your words and actions. Trust that the relationship will eventually improve.
Help your friends and extended family adjust. Talk about each of your household members equally to friends and extended family. Remind friends and extended family of everyone's upcoming birthdays so no one in your house feels forgotten or left out. Don't cut ties with your children's natural grandparents. Maintain friendships with your former in-laws if doing so won't put a strain on your current marriage.
Forgive. Ask God to help you through the process of forgiving your former spouse and others of past wrongs. Know that doing so is crucial for your healing and your family's good health.
Create traditions together. Seek to do fun things together as a family, while maintaining every member's unique personality and style. Keep traditions from your old families that still hold value for you. Create new traditions, as well, to make fresh memories in your new family. Communicate clearly what is expected of everyone, such as attending church together every week.
Overcome resentments. Recognize and admit the ugly emotions you sometimes have toward your stepchildren, for whatever reason. Repent by stopping unhealthy behavior and consciously turning in the opposite direction to do what is right, with God's help. Be proactive about blessing your stepchildren however you can. Look for opportunities to say "yes" to them when they ask you for something. Praise them and show them affection often. Trust that, over time, your bond with your stepchildren will grow.
Unpack old baggage. Get rid of emotional responses from your previous marriage, and other old attitudes and behaviors that don't fit your new family. Pray with your spouse often, seeking to communicate well with God and each other so you can reason together wisely.
Model respect. Let all of your children see you showing respect for your spouse on a regular basis, and have your spouse show the same respect for you. This will motivate the children to treat both of you with respect.
Parent both sets of children equally. Regardless of how you feel about anyone at any given time, treat everyone fairly and equally.
Follow God's design for your household. Know that God wants everyone in your family to submit to His leadership so they can grow. Follow God's established order of authority in a family, in which the buck stops with the husband and father. Respect the fact that husbands should love their wives sacrificially, and that wives should express their thoughts and feelings freely, but still submit to the husband's decision whenever an agreement can't be reached about a particular issue. Let your love for God motivate you to submit to His design for your family.
Deal with stepsibling rivalry. Give each child plenty of one-on-one attention. Assure them that they will not lose their place in your family. Let them know that your act of embracing their new stepbrother or stepsister doesn't mean that you're rejecting them. Give them a tangible understanding of their importance and reaffirm your love for them. Try to meet each child's needs without neglecting the others.
Be peaceable toward your ex-spouse. Look past any grievances you might have with your former spouse, and decide to demonstrate respect and love toward him or her, no matter what. Rely on God to help you do so, and trust that taking the high road will lead to healing in your current family.
Maintain consistency amid changes. Understand that, even if your children or stepchildren are only in your home part time, you and your spouse are full-time parents. No matter what the logistics of your children's visitations, keep the same standards and rules. Know that doing so provides much-needed stability and security for the kids. Have a bed for each child in your home, whether or not the beds are used all the time. Allow the kids some transition time once they return from visiting their other parent's home.
Don't use gifts or special outings to try to manipulate your children to like you more than your former spouse or decide to spend more time with you. When planning how to spend holidays and vacations, consider what's truly best for the children rather than just what you would personally like the most. Consistently demonstrate love for your children, at all times and in all situations.
Think carefully before going to court. When considering whether to take legal action over a divisive issue, honestly ask yourself: "Is going to court the best thing for my children?", "Will they be better off, or will it primarily benefit just me?", "Can I afford all the risks and costs involved, and is it worth it?", "Is God leading me to go to court?" and "What other options do I have to settle this issue?"
Teach your children the "three Rs." Equip them with a biblical foundation for succeeding in life by teaching them reverence for God, respect for others, and responsibility.
Make wise financial plans. Eliminate unnecessary financial pressures by talking and praying about your family's finances with your spouse. Honestly evaluate your financial situation, discuss realistic expectations, reach an agreement on your family's goals and how to reach those goals, make a budget, then commit to God and each other to follow it. Be sure to plan for giving, saving, investing, and getting out of debt, as well as regular spending.
Reduce stress through planning. Consider what obstacles you currently have to getting everyone to church, school, work, and activities on time. Think about what battles you have over homework and chores. Then talk and pray with your spouse to come up with a strategy to repair each of these leaks in your family's pipes before they burst.
Save time however you can. Make productive use of your downtime, such as when you're waiting in the parking lot for the kids to get out of school. Use the time to write shopping lists and thank-you notes, return calls on your cell phone, or even study the Bible. Plan and prepare meals in advance whenever possible so you can pull one out of the freezer when you're in a rush. Have each of your kids help with big household chores such as laundry. Buy birthday and Christmas gifts throughout the year to avoid last-minute rushes.
Set healthy boundaries for adult children. Let your adult children know that they're always welcome in your home. But if they ever move in as residents back during a transition period in their lives, make sure their stay is temporary, and make sure they pay rent and clean up after themselves.
Adapted from Tying the Family Knot: Meeting the Challenges of a Blended Family, copyright 2004 by Terri Clark. Published by Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.broadmanholman.com.
Terri Clark is a speaker and freelance writer who, along with her husband Harvey, has successfully blended and raised a family of six children. Terri frequently speaks to women's groups around the United States and leads a city-wide, nondenominational women's group. She and Harvey reside with their blended family in Pearcy, Arkansas.
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