So, I mentioned recently in the blog Storms of Life that I was feeling sorry for myself and considered writing a blog on Blended Family Hell because it feels like hell on earth sometimes. Ok, many times. Well, here it is….
DISCLAIMER – this is where I feel like a pharmaceutical commercial needing 150 disclaimers about what I am about to say including any release of liability for subsequent death or dismemberment. But instead, I just want to say that I super love my husband and I would not trade him for any other man nor do I regret marrying him. I would not trade any of “our” children for an alternate life or ship any of them off whether they are “mine” or “his”… most days. Divorce is not an option and there is no “out” here (though some days my flesh wishes there was). Like it or not, this man that said “oh Lord I want to marry this girl” is forever stuck with me and vice versa. (My mind rolls back to the Tim Hawkins comedy skit about marriage. “Welcome to the jungle, we’ve got fun in games…”. Gosh that video is so funny and so realistic. That man is a genius. Sorry, the ADD kicked in. Moving on….)
As I mentioned in the Storms of Life blog, I have had worse storms than the blended family storm. But just because the blended family storm may only rate as an F3 or F4 instead of an F5 doesn’t mean it’s not a serious storm. Being in a blended family is without a doubt single-handedly one of the most difficult processes you will ever face. I know there are exceptions to that and some people have not had problems. But I have found that the majority of people I know have had GREAT tribulation. And, since I have what I term “street credit” in the blended family arena, I believe I should be allowed to share the good, bad, and ugly truth about it.
In the book “Making Children Mind without Losing Yours” by Kevin Leman, he devotes an entire chapter to this new issue in so many American homes today. The chapter entitled Families Don’t Blend, They Collide starts by saying “parents used to have a lot of kids. Now kids have a lot of parents.” And he gives amazing practical advice on how to DO the stepfamily setting including “disciple your own kid at first, create a new home, compare rule books, they don’t have to love you – just respect you – and vice versa, consider the birth order blender, allow them to grieve for the lost past, deal with anger, prepare for grenades your ex will toss, build a team, establish the strength of your marriage as the centerpiece of the family (by the way any teaching contrary to this marriage statement is false and is not biblically based and probably doesn’t have scripture references in it. If God wanted stepfamilies to have rules different than biological family rules, He would have had them included in the Bible himself.)”.
So, why is the blended family so difficult and heart wrenching? Let me illustrate just a few examples because the chapter headings above simply don’t do the topics any justice. In order to show honor and respect to our children, I have vowed not to call anyone in particular out by name in what he or she has done unless it’s positive and encourages them. But, I’m going to give you examples from the book along with some of our own life experiences and tell you that we have experienced all of them at some point and then some. And then some more. And even more. And a little bit more just in case you don’t get the idea.
They Don’t Have to Love You, Just Respect You – and Vice Versa
“There are some all-out wars that erupt between stepparents and stepchildren. Your spouse’s children have a lot of reasons to hate you, though most of these are irrational. They might consider you an imposter. They might blame you for preventing their parents from getting back together. They might resent you for ‘stealing’ their mother or father away from them. They used to get that parent’s full attention and now they share it with you….” Yep! Been there done that. And let’s remember that they also have another person they love and trust AGREEING with them about how wrong they have been done by the remarriage. We will go there now.
Prepare for Grenades Your Ex Will Toss
“Ex-spouses have a way of making life miserable… your ex has the ability to mess things up for you in a big way, chiefly by stirring up the children…. Your ex might … spoil them, make impossible promises to them (like Disneyland, a cell phone….), teach them bad habits, or turn them against you (she’s not your mom…ever since your dad married her…). If you share legal custody… you have to send your kids off with this person and deal with the fallout later”. (We have been doing better to combat this too. We have scheduled “detoxing” after visits on Sunday nights when they return just to focus on the well being of the children). My favorite advice in that section is “don’t poison their relationship with your ex but try to help them see reality ….and focus on your new relationship and your new family”. I love love love this statement. This allows us the ability to teach on honoring the position of a parent (whether we personally respect their actions or not) as well as putting our combined family needs first. These are EXCELLENT life lessons for everyone. But in a blended family you are forced to learn them (if you want to be successful anyway). Most recently, I was told “my mom hasn’t told me directly that she hates you, but I can tell that she does.”
Avoid Triangles of All Sorts
“It’s common for children to fight a stepparent for ‘control’ of their parent…I’ve heard about stepchildren’s efforts to sabotage the new marriage. Say the couple plans a weekend off by themselves; a kid will fake an illness just to keep them from going. There are regular attempts to pose the question ‘who’s more important: me or your spouse…children may make efforts to pit you against their ‘real’ mom or dad…children will continue to play matchmaker between you and your ex….”. Yep, been there and done that one too.
And don’t forget, you may have an ex that actually encourages the kids to engage in this sort of behavior. For example, my husband’s ex made the following statements in the presence of the kids which only solidified the fears in their own minds: “well the kids still struggle with our divorce…. you abandoned them for another person… go enjoy your new family and leave us alone…” (though their divorce was final before we ever dated and they had been separated for 1 1/2 years) and then the kids would say things like this while they were with us: “mom cries when we aren’t with her… it feels like you’ve just abandoned us… it’s like you don’t want me anymore…”. And then there was the time that I found one of the kids keeping a journal about every move I made (she went to the gym today, she went to a friends house, she went shopping with my sister, if you would just buy me a cell phone I could text you while I’m here …). Hello? Are you stalking me in my own house lol? Is that not hilarious? Remind me to sign that kid up for the police academy!
Can you imagine this being a NORMAL part of your life? This was a normal and common and regular occurrence in our lives for months and months and months. Hence, my description of the blended family being like hell on earth. 10 times worse to infinity and beyond than the traditional family.
Establish the Strength of Your Marriage as the Centerpiece of the Family
“Your relationship with your spouse must be a firm anchor. Your kids will test it, fight it, and resent it. If you don’t make it clear from the start that your spouse comes first, your kids might just succeed in pulling your marriage apart.” When we first faced this test, I actually used the opportunity to instruct on divine order of the home using multiple choice options. For example, husbands love your ____ (wife, child, dog) as Christ loved the church; husbands ought to love their ____ as their own bodies; a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his _____; you husbands must give honor to your ____ that your prayers will not be hindered. The Bible is absolute truth so when in doubt, have a family bible study.
Please be aware too that the world does not respect your stepfamily. My husband recently tried to set my biological son up for a medical visit on his own insurance plan yet they refused to talk to him until they received a copy of the Power of Attorney I signed giving him the “legal right” to make medical decisions for my child. And at school registration, they made it very clear that stepparents were not “legally” considered parents and could not assist with the child’s educational process without a signed and notarized affidavit. Of course, we both did sign all of those required items. But there is nothing quite like being a primary caregiver and giving all of your time, energy, assistance, and your own finances just to be treated like the nothing and no one that you legally are from the world’s perspective. Happy happy joy joy…if you get the idea.
Now, what I’ve shared does not even cover half of our blended family struggles. Not even close. And they are ongoing. We are dealing with at least 5 kids who have felt security in a relationship in the past, but learned through divorce not to allow themselves to falsely feel secure ever again. They have been told they were safe in a marriage when they weren’t. So, we have to do even MORE and show even MORE love and support than a child that has never experienced the pain of divorce. The angles to look at the situation are endless and each view shows great difficulties.
So, why am I sharing all of this? Because I have suffered tremendously over our blended family and have learned that I am sooooooo not alone in this suffering. And guess what, neither are you. “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.
So, let me comfort you if you are in a difficult blended stepfamily. There is HOPE and it DOES get better. Then it gets worse. Then it gets better. Two years ago I thought for sure I had lost my mind when the winds and rain started to pick up. But now, I would not trade our marriage for anything. Until my flesh starts screaming again. Some days, we even feel closer than your ordinary traditional family because we have all gone through “some stuff” together. Other days, not so much.
Thank God for a timely word directing us to the book. We found a RULE BOOK based on the Bible that has helped us navigate the road map toward having a healthy, functional blended stepfamily (well… as good as we can anyway. If a health dysfunctional can exist maybe that would be a better definition). But the results of “healthy” are obvious in that every child in our care has improved medically, academically, socially (especially in activities like band, sports, cheerleading, youth groups, etc) and is a much better person today than when we married in 2010. For example, my 17 year old daughter has gone from saying “I’ll never get married” because of her lack of trust and faith in marriage to writing Proverbs 31 scripture versus on her bathroom mirror and talking about when she gets married one day. If that is not a life changing transformation, I don’t know what is!
That is called hope, love, and a changed heart. God knew for sure what he was doing when He gave me the honor of marrying my husband (even though some days it doesn’t “feel” like it. I must remember that feelings are indicators not dictators and they are NOT reliable). And guess what else, He knew the storms we would face together, He knew how we would handle the storm, and He knew how far we would be today versus when we first married. His ways are higher than our ways. We just have to trust Him. Some days that looks like stubbornness haha.
My favorite verse to stand on during the midst of these heavy winds and rain is “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” Galatians 6:9. We truly try to do what’s “right” even when we are done wrong. And God has honored us for that. Now, don’t get me wrong. Our family is not perfect by any means. We don’t walk around wearing holy halos. Not even close. We all say things, do things, and still sometimes fall for the ‘take the bait’ trap when we shouldn’t. I especially fail at this when the grenades start successfully hitting my house. I’ve mastered pulling the plug out and throwing it back at record speed. I am a paralegal after all. You’d be amazed just how skilled I can be at combat. Like a military trained warrior. And I’ve even shown that our arsenal of weaponry is bigger (kind of the USA showing their big guns. Ya know, mess with Israel and we will blow you to smithereens. And I don’t know if that’s really how it is but that’s the cartoon in my head.) I’ve not quite learned the art of pulling the grenade into my gut when it’s thrown at my house and letting it explode on myself as the ultimate sacrifice for the family. But guess what, I’m working towards that. That is the goal. Some days I succeed. Some days I fail. Lately, I have failed. But I do believe that when I don’t grow weary in doing good, I will be rewarded by God and I’d take a heavenly blessing over a fleshly reply any day…. Except on the days when my flesh is weak LOL. Am I alone in having those days too on occasion? And when I fail, it’s important that I don’t roll around in failure but that I get back up. Though the righteous fall seven times, they get back up. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Confess. Repent. Move forward. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.
Where we once wondered if we would ever be able to pull off this Brady Bunch gig, we now can sit and say yes and amen. But, we can’t on our own. Left on my own, I’d be in family court on the difficult days. That’s a fact. But in Christ, we can! 2 Cor 1:20. Can we do it apart from Christ? Absolutely not. This is a difficult journey and it shows us our weaknesses. But with knowledge comes power. Not of ourselves but from God. It shifts the burden from us and what we can not do to God and what HE can do through us DESPITE our weaknesses!
I really hope you’ve found some comfort and encouragement through this post. And if you know anyone who is considering a divorce, please encourage them to THINK AGAIN! If I have taught these kids anything, it has been to “get married then stayed married” (ya know, the traditional family). This blended family gig is NOT God’s best. It is the backup plan. It’s a GREAT backup plan but compared to His perfect plan, it seriously sucks. And it will force you in almost brutal fashion to develop Christlikeness quickly (patience, forgiveness, etc.). Would it not be better to willingly participate in God’s best plan? Kids, get married and stay married. Period. No one is more able to love and raise your kids than you are. Stepparents (especially for widows) are fabulous, but it’s still so much more difficult. Learn from my mistakes and trust me on that one.
And if you’re struggling in your blended family, stick it out. Get help. Go to individual or family counseling. Or simply put the kids in their proper place. Below God and below the marriage. With Christ, you WILL prevail.
Social media hugs!