How can a Stepfamily be a Happy One

All families struggle at times to be happy, but blended families often have bigger obstacles to face than others. For instance, the quality of the relationship between the stepparent and the stepchildren has a big impact on the level of happiness in a blended family. Loyalty issues with the biological children and knowing how to discipline also add major complications.

To meet these challenges well, a husband and wife must make their relationship to each other the top priority ( Genesis 2:24 ). All efforts toward a happy home are useless if you don't consider your spouse's feelings and make decisions together. A spouse whose feelings are ignored will begin to feel neglected, insecure, and unloved, which creates unhappiness. It's important for spouses to discuss everything and make decisions only after they have come to an agreement.

It takes a lot of time to build loving relationships in a blended family. Emotional bonds don't happen overnight, and it's unrealistic to think that a stepparent and a stepchild will automatically hit it off. Sometimes that happens, but more often than not, it takes years to develop a more normal parent-child attachment. Be patient when it comes to developing close relationships with your stepchildren ( Proverbs 19:11; Colossians 3:12 ). Also be realistic enough to recognize that sometimes the kind of affection you long for never develops. Nevertheless, stepparents need to respect and accept their spouse's children, not seek to force an immediate close relationship. That respect and acceptance often turns out to be the foundation of the relationship you desire.

As your husband or wife gets to know your children, they will begin to see things in them that you may have overlooked. Be open to your spouse's judgment about your children. You may feel threatened to hear something negative about them, but listening to your spouse shows respect. Valuing these insights indicates that you respect your spouse's important role in the family. Honoring his or her opinion may even help solve some of the discipline or relationship problems you may have with your children. It's natural to feel protective; but those protective feelings could lead you to reject valuable observations, which can in turn lead to heated disagreements over the children ( 2 Timothy 2:22-26 ). When that protective instinct is turned on, admit it to your spouse and talk about it. If you are open about your feelings, you can develop deeper trust and intimacy with your spouse ( 1 Corinthians 13:6; Ephesians 4:15; James 5:16 ). Remember that it's not you against your spouse; it's you and your spouse, together, trying to find the best way to raise the children that God has given you (Proverbs 1:8).

Both the natural parent and stepparent are responsible for the guidance of the children ( Proverbs 13:24; 23:13; Ephesians 6:1,4 ). If you love your children (or stepchildren) you will lead and train them. Neglecting to help prepare them for life is a failure to love. Biological parents, in their own way, need to make it known to their kids that the stepparent has equal authority so that there is a strong united front. It's vitally important for the kids to know that there is agreement between you, and that each of you has the same authority over them.

Blended families have just as much hope for happiness through good relationships as traditional families. They need to recognize that their unique situation has unique challenges, and that those challenges are best met when they have built a strong, God-honoring marriage.

by Allison Stevens

New family, New mission

Pain travels.

Over the treacherous waters of the Caribbean Sea, across the majestic mountains and waves of grain of the United States, sorrow arrives at a small Longview house. That's where Amber Collins sits at the computer, feeling the agony of the street children and young slave boys and girls of Haiti, known in that country as "restaveks." The word is Creole for "stay with."

Most of the time, these rural Haitian youngsters are sent by their families to stay with relatives --- godparents or aunts and uncles --- who live in the large cities. The children's parents hope they will find education and employment there, but instead the children end up working hard for no money or food and are often physically and sexually abused.

The echoes of their anguish stick with Amber, especially when she looks into the eyes of the children born to her and her husband, former Haiti resident Abdias Calixte.

Filled with love and laughter, the Longview children's eyes are so different from those of Haiti's street kids.

Amber and Abdias met on the Internet before the terrorist attacks of 2001. They married in 2002 and combined their families, which include four children from previous relationships and two born to the couple.

They moved to Longview from the Vancouver area, which is where Amber is from, in an effort to find an affordable place to live. Amber is a stay-at-home mom, and Abdias works out of the Millwright Union Local 1707 in Longview and takes welding classes at Lower Columbia College. The couple met when Amber came upon postings Abdias had made on Christian online site, messages giving thanks to God for Abdias's good fortune in his violence-filled homeland.
"I was simply letting people know what I have to say about God," Abdias said. "I am being grateful for who I am, I am grateful for everything that is in my possession."

Abdias was born in Port au Prince, where he worked as a bodyguard.

"There has been so much violence and insecurity for the past 10 years, there needed to be a tremendous increase of armed bodyguards to secure all those businessmen," Abdias said.

Amber contacted Abdias, and soon felt he was a soulmate.

"After a few weeks, I was captivated by his awesome attitude," Amber said. "I didn't want anything to do with Haiti though. I didn't even know where it was."

She discovered that the country is not far from the United States, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Haiti is one-third of the island of Hispaniola, sharing space with the Dominican Republic.

For a girl who had grown up in Battle Ground, Wash., the island seemed exotic and unknown. Yet Abdias' spirit and words touched her. Abdias had already realized that Amber was the woman for him. One day, he announced it.

"He really didn't ask," Amber said. "He just kind of said, 'You're my wife' and waited for me to realize it."

Growing up in Cite Soleil, which translates to Sun City in English, Abdias saw its problems first hand. His mother died when he was young, and he dropped out of school to help support his family.

Despite the poverty, his life was better than that of the street kids and restaveks, since he had family who loved him, Amber said.

She met some of Abdias's relatives when she traveled to Haiti. They married in a hotel room with his family, his father and three sisters, Amber said. "The ceremony was in French, and Abdias translated."

Even though they were wed, Abdias' and his children's passage to America was anything but easy. "It was right after 911, so everything was just a mess with immigration," Amber said. "It took 16 months to get him here."

In the meantime, Amber studied Abdias' homeland and ran across Michael Brewer's Haiti Street Kids, Inc. Web site.

Brewer set it up after he retired from the military and used his savings to start a home for rescued restaveks and homeless kids. On the site, he posts startling, saddening and, often, horrific photos of the children's lives.

"It was captivating at the time, but you know how you forget about things," Amber said.

She was soon caught up in parenting the new blended family, which includes 12-year-old Taylor, 10-year-old Ecclesiaste, 8-year-old Sofia, 6-year-old Marvel, 2-year-old Elvalina and 18-month-old Judah. Amber's children are from a previous marriage, and Abdias' sons were born to a girlfriend in Haiti.

Amber Collins, seated, right, is trying to raise money for street children in Haiti, which is where her husband, Abdias Calixte, left, is from. She and Abdias are shown here with some of their children, clockwise from rear, Ecclesiaste Calixte, Sofia Sanchez, Judah Calixte, Marvel Calixte and Elvalina Calixte.

Amber's son, 9-year-old Tomas, lives with his father, and Abdias' 4-year-old son Salem stayed in Haiti. Amber said her husband's sisters are looking after the youngster while she and Abdias work with immigration to get him to the United States.

Recently, Amber again came upon Brewer's Web site when she participated in a Web forum called

"Someone had posted it, and I was like, 'Oh, I remember that,'" she said. She contacted Brewer and asked what the charity needed.

"He said, 'Funds.' "

Amber offered to run the charity's myspace site, then began brainstorming ways to raise money. The site includes links to the Haitian Street Kids Web pages as well as those for other Haitian groups.

While Abdias supports his wife's efforts, he spends most of his time taking welding classes at Lower Columbia College and working out of the Millwright Union Local 1707 in Longview.

His day starts again at 4:30 a.m. and his shifts are long. When he gets home, it's usually a meal, a little relaxation, and sleep, Amber said.

She has more time to think about the unfortunate children in Abdias's homeland, more time to follow the troubles there on Michael Brewer's Web site.

"I can't imagine someone saying they're going to give my child a better life, one that I can't provide, and then beat them," she said. "And have this child run away and live on the street and I don't know where they are. I can't fathom it."

With just enough income to make ends meet for their own families, the couple cannot afford to contribute to the charity. So Amber decided to hold a "pound-a-thon," with friends offering money per pound or a flat fee.

She's lost more than 11 pounds so far, and she's selling Avon products to raise money for the charity. "You help as much as you can, and then you need to get creative."

By Brenda Blevins McCorkle, The Daily News
Apr 15, 2007 - 12:03:41 am PDT

10 Things to Know Before You Remarry

I’ll never forget it. Elizabeth Einstein, a well-respected stepfamily author and trainer, stunned a group of ministers when she told us to make remarriage difficult for couples in our churches (1). She wasn’t implying that remarriage is wrong, but was simply suggesting that remarriage—particularly when children are involved—is very challenging and that couples should count the cost and be highly educated about the process before getting married.

Eyes Wide Open

The following list represents key "costs" and "challenges" every single-parent (or those dating a single-parent) should know before deciding to remarry. Open wide both your eyes now and you—and your children—will be grateful later.

1. Wait 2-3 years following divorce or the death of your spouse before seriously dating.

No, I’m not kidding. Most people need a few years to fully heal from a ending of a previous relationship. Moving into new relationships short-circuits the healing process, so do yourself a favor and grieve the pain, don’t run from it. In addition, your children will need at least this much time to heal and find stability in their visitation schedule. Slow down.

2. Date two years before deciding to marry; then date their children before the wedding.

Dating two years gives you time to really get to know one another. Too many relationships are formed on the rebound when both persons lack godly discernment about their fit with a new person. Give yourself plenty of time to get to know them thoroughly. Keep in mind—and this is very important—that dating is inconsistent with remarried life. Even if everything feels right, dramatic psychological and emotional shifts often take place for children, parents, and stepparents right after the wedding. What seems like smooth sailing can become a rocky storm in a hurry. Don’t be fooled into thinking you won’t experience difficulties. As one parent said, "Falling in love is not enough when it comes to remarriage; there’s just more required than that."

When you do become serious about marriage, date with the intention of deepening the steppparent-stepchild relationships. Young children can attach themselves to a future stepparent rather quickly so make sure you’re serious before spending lots of time together. Older children will need more time (research suggests that the best time to remarry is before a child’s 10th birthday or after his/her 16th; couples who marry between those years collide with the teens developmental needs).

3. Know how to cook a stepfamily.

Most people think the way to cook a stepfamily is with a blender ("blended family"), microwave, pressure cooker, or food processor. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of these "cooking styles" attempt to combine the family ingredients in a rapid fashion. Unfortunately, resentment and frustration are the only results.

The way to cook a stepfamily is with a crock-pot. Once thrown into the pot, it will take time and low-heat to bring ingredients together, requiring that adults step into a new marriage with determination and patience. The average stepfamily takes five to seven years to combine; some take longer. There are no quick recipes, only dedicated journeyman.

4. Realize that the "honeymoon" comes at the end of the journey for remarried couples, not the beginning.

Ingredients thrown into a crock-pot that have not had sufficient time to cook don’t taste good—and might make you sick. Couples need to understand that the rewards of stepfamily life (e.g., security, family identity, and gratitude for one another) come at the end of the journey. Just as the Israelites traveled a long time before entering the Promise Land, so will it be for your stepfamily.

5. Think about the kids: "Yours and Mine"

Children experience numerous losses before entering a stepfamily. In fact, your remarriage is another. It sabotages their fantasy that mom and dad can reconcile, or that a deceased parent will always hold their place in the home. Seriously consider your children’s losses before deciding to remarry. If waiting until your children leave home before you remarry is not an option, work to be sensitive to your child’s loss issues. Don’t rush them, and don’t take their grief away.

6. Manage and be sensitive to old loyalties.

Even in the best of circumstances children feel torn between their biological parents and likely feel that enjoying your dating partner will please you but betray their other parent. Don’t force children to make choices (an "emotional tug-of-war"), and examine the binds they feel. Give them your permission to love and respect new people in the other home and let them warm up to your new spouse in their own time.

7. Don’t expect your partner (new spouse) to feel the same about your children as you do.

It’s a good fantasy, but stepparents won’t experience or care for your children to the same degree as you do. This is not to say that stepparents and stepchildren can’t have close bonds, they can. But it won’t be the same. When looking at your daughter, you will see a sixteen-year-old who brought you mud pies when they were four and showered you with hugs each night after work. Your spouse will see a self-centered brat who won’t abide by the house rules. Expect to have different opinions and to disagree on parenting decisions.

8. Realize that remarriage has unique barriers.

Are you more committed to your children or your marriage? If you aren’t willing to risk losing your child to the other home, for example, don’t make the commitment of marriage. Making a covenant does not mean neglecting your kids, but it does mean that they are taught which relationship is your ultimate priority. A marriage that is not the priority will be mediocre at best.

Another unique barrier involves the ghost of marriage past. Individuals can be haunted by the negative experiences of previous relationships and not even recognize how it is impacting the new marriage. Work to not interpret the present in light of the past, or you might be destined to repeat it.

9. Parent as a team; get your plan ready.

No single challenge is more predictive of stepfamily success than the ability of the couple to parent as a team. Stepparents must find their role, know their limits in authority, and borrow power from the biological parent in order to contribute to parental leadership. Biological parents must keep alive their role as primary disciplinarian and nurturer while supporting the stepparent’s developing role (read The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family for a complete discussion of parental roles). Managing these roles will not be easy; get a plan and stick together.

10. Know what to tell the kids. Tell them:

  • It’s okay to be confused about the new people in your life.
  • It’s okay to be sad about our divorce (or parent’s death).
  • You need to find someone safe to talk to about all this.
  • You don’t have to love my new spouse, but you do need to treat them with the same respect you would give a coach or teacher at school.
  • You don’t have to take sides. When you feel caught in the middle between our home and your other home, please tell me and we’ll stop.
  • You belong to two homes with different rules, routines, and relationships. Find your place and contribute good things in each.
  • The stress of our new home will reduce—eventually.
  • I love you and will always have enough room in my heart for you. I know it’s hard sharing me with someone else. I love you.
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Work Smarter, Not Harder

For stepfamilies, accidentally finding their way through the wilderness to the Promised Land is a rarity. Successful navigation requires a map. You’ve got to work smarter, not harder. Don’t begin a new family until you educate yourself on the options and challenges that lie ahead.

By Ron L. Deal - President of Successful Stepfamilies

Kids in Crisis

Weighing the protection of children against the rights of the parents.

When does discipline cross the line to become abuse? It’s a tough challenge for the child welfare system to weigh the protection of children against the rights of parents. In the United States there are only 25,000 caseworkers charged with investigating nearly 2 million child abuse claims each year. With extraordinary access from the Indiana Supreme Court, MSNBC-TV took an unprecedented look inside the complex world of child abuse investigators. This is the story of one family torn apart when one of their children makes a claim that ultimately causes trauma for them all. You can decide who is telling the truth and ultimately whether the state’s actions were in the children’s best interest.

It was a quiet spring night in Indianapolis in a blue-collar neighborhood on the city’s south side. A phone call earlier in the day had set off a chain of events. The call brought a child welfare investigator to the home of Cary and Michelle Pitcock. Michelle’s 13-year-old daughter Amber accused her stepfather of abuse; he claims it’s Amber that is causing the family turmoil. The drama that played out over the next year shows what a fine line there can be between protecting parents’ rights versus the welfare of children.

Michelle Pitcock and her daughter Amber

Michelle and Cary Pitcock are married with 3 children, Amber, Michelle’s daughter from a previous marriage, and two sons, Karl and Brent. The Pitcocks have been a blended family of 5 for 10 years, but the last year has been especially tough.

Cary Pitcock, Amber’s step dad says he and his wife Michelle are at a loss about how to handle their teenage daughter. They said she’s running wild and out of control. And that night was a perfect example.

Jackie Bean, the child welfare investigator assigned to this case, follows up on a report from 13-year-old Amber who says her step dad hit her. Amber was put in protective custody at a local hospital that night with cuts and bruises she received just hours earlier. At 9 p.m. on a school night Jackie showed up, with a police escort, at the Pitcock’s Southside Indianapolis home to check out the story.

It had only been a matter of hours since this crisis escalated, set in motion with a phone call to police from Cary and Michelle asking for help with the daughter they claim was out of control. Cary assumed Jackie and her police escort were there to haul him off to jail because of Amber’s claims he beat her earlier in the day. Instead of Cary being removed from the home - he learns the truth: they’re here to take away his other two kids. Investigator Bean fears Pitcock’s younger children are in danger.

This is the most gut-wrenching part of a child welfare investigator’s job…

Cary and Michelle Pitcock are in a state of shock. They’ve just been told their two kids will be taken away and the news hasn’t sunk in yet.

As Karl and Brent are taken away from the only home they’ve known they and their parents have no idea of the turmoil ahead.

The two boys face a long night and investigator Jackie bean has hours of phone calls and paper work.

At the heart of her case is 13-year-old Amber who also has no clue about the months and years of chaos this one night has brought on.

So, just who is telling the truth on this night? Is it Amber, who has accused her step dad of abuse? Or is it Cary, her stepfather? At this point, Jackie doesn’t know for sure. Just how far can the government go to learn the truth?

Balancing the rights of parents with the welfare of their children: it’s not only complicated it can be explosive. Taking a child from his parents is one of the most intrusive acts our government can make.

God's Plan for Blended Families

If you are in a blended family, you know that living in that environment can be a bumpy road in life! The process of blending two families into one is often extremely challenging. When two people marry, they always hope to live happily ever after. For first time marriages the success rate is near 50%. However, when people with children marry a 2nd or 3rd time, or when a person marries a spouse with children, the statistics change significantly. The high divorce rate in the world in the last several years has led to a high number of blended families, and the number grows each day.

Why is the divorce rate higher in blended families? A marriage that creates a stepfamily has more dynamics to deal with than a first-time marriage. These dynamics include such things as children from one or both spouses, possible rejection of the step-parent by the children, interference from former spouses, two sets of rules, two types of discipline, many personalities, possible custody or child-support court dates, juggling of children between the natural parents for visitation, and overcoming the "stepmother" syndrome.

It was through our prayer time with God that we started to understand the dynamics in our family and the changes that needed to take place to make our family blend. The first thing we needed to understand was that God was on our side. He had completely forgiven us in our past failed relationships, and He wanted to restore our lives and give us a loving family environment.

Through our prayer time, we began to realize that our family was divided. There were areas we were fighting each other rather than working together. Matthew 12:25 describes the shortcomings in families today.
"Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, 'every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand."

All families can blend, but it takes commitment, love, grace, sacrifice and time...

Your family will blend when you realize that God is a good God, and is on your side.

How to Build a Healthy Relationship With Your Stepchild

Parenting holds a great many challenges. Little is more challenging than the role of Christian stepparent. In short, the stepparent joins the biological parent in raising his or her child, but does so initially without a clear bond with the child. Parental authority is based on the depth of relationship between adult and child. The stepparent-stepchild relationship is weak due to little emotional connection and only a brief shared history (developed while the adults were courting), making the stepparent's role very difficult and frustrating.

Consider the email I received from a biological father looking for help: "Jean is the stepmother to my seven year old son. In the past ten weeks, a very intense relationship has developed between them. Once inseparable, Jean now wants nothing to do with him and has told him as much. This has strained our marriage, and she has talked about leaving. Our marriage is as perfect as one can get when my son is visiting his mother, but when he returns it is very uncomfortable for everyone. My wife does not understand why God is doing this to her, and she is questioning her faith."

Stepparenting is Tough!
I can just imagine this stepmother explaining her situation. She likely feels confused about her role, displaced from her husband when her stepson is around, andhelpless to change the situation. Despite all this, my experience tells me that she is also feeling guilty, because she knows that God is expecting her to love this boy. It's a tough situation to be in. Finding an effective stepparent role is indeed a challenge. Yet, with healthy expectations and a specific strategy to build relationship, a satisfying bond can be nurtured.

Realistic Expectations
Stepparents and biological parents alike frequently expect too much from the stepparent, especially early in the stepfamily's development. Research confirms, for example, that stepparents and biological parents generally assume that the stepparent should be affectionate with stepchildren and attempting to assert authority (to establish their position as "parent"). However, stepchildren report-even five years after the wedding-that they wish the stepparent would seek less physical affection and back away from asserting punishment. The challenge, then, for biological and stepparents alike is to lower their expectations and negotiate a relationship that is "mutually suitable" to both stepchild and stepparent. Let's examine some key principles that may help.

1. Give yourself time to develop a workable relationship. Realize that love and caring takes time to develop, especially with pre-adolescent and adolescent children. Some research suggests that children under the age of five will bond with a stepparent within one to two years. However, older children-teenagers in particular-may take as many years as they are old when the remarriage takes place. In other words, a ten-year-old may need ten years before they feel truly connected with you. Try to imagine your stepfamily in a crock-pot; it's slow cooking, so don't rush it. Besides, crock-pots do gradually bring all the ingredients together so trust that the low heat will eventually do its work. Here are some "low-heat" crock-pot cooking recommendations:

  • Do not expect that you or your stepchildren will magically cherish all your time together. Stepchildren often feel confused about new family relationships, feeling both welcoming and resentful of the changes new people bring to their life. Give children space and time to work through their emotions.
  • Give yourself permission to not be completely accepted by them. Their acceptance of you is often more about wanting to remain in contact with their biological parents than it is an acceptance or rejection of you. This realization will help you to de-personalize their apparent rejections.
  • Give your stepchildren time away from you, preferably with their biological parent. The exclusive time stepchildren had with their biological parent before he or she married you come to a screeching halt after remarriage. Honoring your stepchildren by giving back this exclusive time will help them to respect you sooner.

2. Children's loyalty to their biological parents may interfere with their acceptance of you. Children are often emotionally torn when they enjoy a stepparent. The fear that liking you somehow hurts their non-custodial, biological, parent is common. The ensuing guilt they experience may lead to disobedient behavior and a closed heart. In order to help stepchildren deal with this struggle:

  • Allow children to keep their loyalties and encourage contact with biological parents.
  • Never criticize their biological parent, as it will sabotage the children's opinion of you.
  • Don't try to replace an uninvolved or deceased biological parent. Consider yourself an added parent figure in the child's life-be yourself.

3. The cardinal rule for stepparent-stepchild relationships is this: Let the children set their pace for their relationship with you. If your stepchildren are open to you and seem to want physical affection from you, don't leave them disappointed. If, however, they remain aloof and cautious, don't force yourself on them. Respect their boundaries, for it often represents their confusion over the new relationship and their loss from the past. As time in the stepfamily crock-pot brings you together, slowly increase your personal involvement and affections. Together you can forge a workable relationship that grows over time.

Recently a gentleman told me that it took 30 years before he could tell his stepfather he loved him. Undoubtedly, his stepfather struggled through those years for his stepson's acceptance. But despite his godly attitude and leadership, his stepson simply couldn't allow himself to return that love. Eventually, however, love won out and was able to express appreciation to his stepfather for being involved in his life. Trust that doing the right things in the name of Christ will eventually bring you and your stepchildren together. In the meantime, set realistic expectations that don't leave you feeling like a failure (until that day arrives).

Relax and Build Relationship
Relax. It's an interesting word to hear when you feel like you're not making any progress as a stepparent, yet that's exactly the word I continue to use in therapy with stepfamilies. The crock-pot will eventually bring you closer together with your stepchildren, but you can't force their affections. So relax, accept the current level of relationship, and trust the crock-pot to increase your connection over time. In the mean time, use the following suggestions to help you to be intentional about slowly building your relationship.

Early on, monitor(1) your stepchildren's activities. Know what they are doing at school, church, and in extracurricular activities, and make it your aim to be a part. Take them to soccer practice, ask about the math test they studied for, and help them to learn their lines in the school play. Monitoring seeks to balance interest in the child without coming on too strong.

A second suggestion also seeks to build relationship, but slowly. Throughout the first year of remarriage, stepparents should be involved with stepchildren when another family member can be present. This "group" family activity reduces the anxiety children feel with one-on-one time with a stepparent. Adults frequently assume that the way to get to know their stepchildren is to spend personal, exclusive time with them. This may be true with some stepchildren; however, most stepchildren prefer to not be thrown into that kind of situation until they have had time to grow comfortable with the stepparent. Honor that feeling until the child makes it obvious that he or she is okay with one-on-one time.

Another suggestion for building relationship is to share your talents, skills, and interests with the child and to become curious about theirs. If you know how to play the guitar and a stepchild is interested, take time to show him how. If the child is interested in a particular series of books or a video game, become interested and ask her to tell you about it. These shared interests become points of connection that strengthen trust between stepparent and stepchild. Sharing the Lord through dialogue, music, or church activity is another tremendous source of connection. For example, service projects are wonderful activities for parents and stepparents to experience together. Little brings people together like serving others in the name of the Lord. Discussing values through the eyes of Christ and having family devotional time can, also, strengthen your relationship, as well encourage spiritual formation in the child.

Find Your Role with Discipline
Perhaps the most confusing role for a stepparent is how to set limits, teach values, and enforce consequences. Indeed, the most common pitfall for stepfamilies is when the biological parent hands off too much responsibility for child rearing, and the stepparent begins to punish the child for misbehavior too quickly. Rather, a unified team approach that involves both biological and stepparent is best.

Early on, teamwork for the biological and stepparent begins with the acknowledgment of the stepparent's lack of authority due to a weak-although growing-relationship with the children. Until parental status(2) is attained (and that can take 18 months to many years) the stepparent should focus on building relationship (see section above) and being an extension of the biological parent's authority. Initially, this is done by through two tasks: 1) negotiating a set of household rules and a standard of conduct for all the children (whether biological or step) and 2) putting the stepparent in the role of "baby-sitter."

Negotiating a household set of rules and conduct involves both adults, but takes place (initially) outside of earshot of the children. As all effective parents, the couple must discuss rules, standards, consequences, and a system of discipline for the children. Then the biological parent can communicate this to the children. When either adult acts outside these negotiated rules (or fails to uphold them), children can divide and conquer the couple. Conflict and resentment are sure to result.

On the other hand, when a baby-sitter cares for children, it is understood that they have authority because the biological parent has put them in charge. Likewise, once rules are communicated, the biological parent must pass power to the stepparent by communicating to the children the expectation that they obey and respect the stepparent. If a rule is broken, it is the "household's" or the "parent's" rule, not the stepparent's. If a punishment is executed by the stepparent, it is the "biological parent's" punishment. Later, when the biological parent enters the picture, they should support the stepparent's decisions (hopefully they are in line with the pre-determined system of discipline), and then reinforce their expectation that the child obey the stepparent in the future. This baby-sitter role thus creates space for the stepparent and stepchildren to build relationship and, at the same time, empowers the stepparent to have influence in the home.

If children have struggles accepting the stepparent's position, compare their obedience to the stepparent with their obedience to a teacher, coach, or camp counselor. Sometimes, the fear of betraying a non-custodial, biological parent keeps children from being cooperative with a stepparent. However, their fears might be reduced if they view the stepparent "just like a teacher."

Eventually, the stepparent may move from a baby-sitter role to that of an uncle or aunt (where the children consider the stepparent "extended family," but don't offer them the full authority of parenthood). In addition, because stepparents will bond with younger children much sooner, they may be "extended family" to young children and "the baby-sitter" with older children. As you can tell, keeping open communication about the stepparent's changing role with children is an important task for couples.

The Value of Stepparents
Did you ever stop to notice that the God of the universe entrusted His son to be raised by his stepfather, Joseph? Yes, in that sense, Jesus was a stepchild. Despite little scripture about Joseph's character, we can rest assured that God picked him for a reason. He must have had a tremendous influence on Jesus during his early years. I suppose we could say that Joseph's impact on Jesus' growth in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man (Luke 2:40, 52) is immeasurable.

The challenges of stepparenting are very real. The importance of your role in the life of your stepchild is invaluable. Commit yourself to the Lord, as did Joseph, and offer His love to your stepchildren (to whatever degree possible). You may never realize how important you are.

By Ron L. Deal, M.MFT.
Successful Stepfamilies

Modern-Day Brady Brunch: Marrying With Children

“Mommy, Mommy, Mommy,” chanted my newly acquired daughter as she held my hand and skipped with joy beside me shortly after her father and I had said, “I Do.” I was tickled that this little eight-year-old girl who had been raised by her father for over four years was so gleeful to have me as her new Mommy. Little did I know that the first chance my natural born children had to speak with her alone that day, they let her know that I was THEIR Mommy, not hers or her brother’s. My kids explained that just because their Dad had married their Mom, did not give them permission to call their mother “Mommy”. They assured these younger children that they had no intention of calling their father “Dad”.

I didn’t hear about this encounter on my wedding day. The children told me eight years later. On our honeymoon weekend, I had no clue that the beginning of “Xtreme Sibling Rivalry” had begun at our dear friend’s house, where our children were staying. Because I was marrying a man who was crazy about the Lord and me, I just knew everything would be okay. My husband had even made up a song for our wedding that said that this marriage would stand the test of time because it was a marriage of three – him, God and me.

He’d been raising his two children and I’d been raising my two children. We were both single parents in love with the Lord and each other. We were in our late 30s and the children ranged in age from six to twelve. We had dated for four years and took a step of faith by getting married.

No book or article could describe all the challenges we faced putting all of us and our emotional baggage under one roof. I went from a mother of two to a mother of four inwardly hurting children in a matter of 20 blessed minutes.

We are still together and almost have an empty nest, but the marriage was not a marriage of three, it was a marriage of seven. Personally, I don’t know how any blended family could stand the test of time without the Lord.

The honeymoon ended and our 21st century Brady Bunch began. We had great intentions as parents and we made plenty of mistakes. The first mistake was that we merged our families into the house that my children and I had lived in since my youngest was born. Hindsight has been painfully clear in this area. My children saw him and his children as invaders. It was okay with them (sort of) that I married this man, but not okay that they had to share their Mommy, their house, their stuff, their world. From the beginning this made things difficult. If I could do it over, I’d rent out my house and my kids and I would move into a neutral location with him and his kids. This would negate the territorial battle that we endured.

A second area I wish I could do over is how I spent my time. Each child needed a regular dose of one-on-one time with my husband and me. With our work schedules, activities with church and various little leagues, most of our time was gone before we knew it. My husband or I occasionally chose to bring one child or another on an errand, but that really didn’t meet each child’s need to be special.

We managed to do a few things right that I would recommend to any blended marriage. The most important thing we did was raise them in a Bible believing environment at home and at church. The love and acceptance that we received from our church family helped each one of us at some of our most trying times.

Establishing the concept that we were one family sounds like it would be easy, but that was a struggle. When a husband and wife become one it’s because they desire to be one. Bring children into the picture and you don’t always have that on your side. From day one of our marriage, we told the children they were brothers and sisters. Then we backed it up by never introducing one of the children as a step-anything. They were not as quick to accept the labels, but as time wore on it became their truth as well. Now there isn’t a doubt in their minds about it – they all treat each other like brothers and sisters. This has been one of the most joyful signs that our pressing the issue that we weren’t separate families was well worth the effort.

Another thing we did right was to take time for a one-on-one date, just him and me, on a regular basis. Even if we didn’t have the money to go out, we got in the car and went somewhere that didn’t cost anything. I guarded that time and had to make all the childcare arrangements to go out, but that also helped maintain the oneness of our little Brady Bunch.

Many feared that my natural children would be deprived of some of my love and attention when I married a man with two children. The blended family that we created has been proof that a mother’s love is not divided when she agrees to a package deal marriage. Her love is multiplied. We are one family and I have four children to love along with one wonderful husband.

Author: Beth Patch