10 Keys to a Healthy Step Family

Being a stepparent can be very challenging. Steve Arterburn, of New Life Ministries, offers these suggestions.

1. You must “connect” with the children at their point of emotional need. Remarriage is a challenge for everyone, but especially the children. For most children, their parent’s decision to remarry represents the loss of the dream that their biological parents will reunite. Even children whose parents had a terrible relationship have the fantasy that someday everyone will be happy. The grief associated with this loss is painful and can last a long time.

2. Encourage your children to talk about their feelings. You may not like everything you hear, but your children need a safe and nurturing environment to respectfully share their emotions. The best way to encourage your children to open up is to set the example. When you are transparent about your feelings you foster the security and trust they long for.

3. Have realistic expectations. Getting to know each other will take time. You will not experience instant intimacy, trust and respect. The expectation of quickly becoming “one big happy family” will set you up for disappointment every time. Hope deferred makes the heart sick… Prov. 13:12.

4. Establish new family traditions and rituals. Every family needs to develop its own culture. By establishing traditions and rituals for your new family you provide a greater sense of belonging for everyone involved. Including the children in the process will increase their level of support and cooperation.

5. Be sensitive to traditions that have already been established in your child’s life, even if they don’t include you. If your child has always visited their grandparents for a week during the summer or spent Christmas Eve with their non-custodial parent, don’t suddenly change those traditions. The resentment your child may feel could undermine all your efforts to create new, positive memories.

6. Don’t trash your child’s other biological parent. By showing respect and civility to the other biological parent you minimize conflict and actually strengthen your relationship with your children. As bad as some situations can get, control your feelings and comments. So then, let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Romans 14:19.

7. The marriage relationship must be a priority. Every successful blended family has one common characteristic - a strong bond between the husband and wife. Couples in blended families have incredible distractions in their lives compared to most first marriages. Ex-spouses, in-laws, financial obligations, new schools and new homes can rock the foundation of the marriage.

8. Parents must clearly define and consistently follow through with rules for discipline. Many stepparents tend to be too lenient with their new stepchildren in hopes of winning their acceptance and approval. This approach never works. All children need and expect to have boundaries in place, and consistent discipline is one of the most effective and powerful ways of communicating love and respect.

9. Both parents must be involved in establishing the rules for discipline. Parents must always present a unified front when enforcing the rules. Children are very smart and will try to figure out how to play their parents against one another. Parents who don’t allow their unity to be broken are much more likely to gain respect and obedience from their children.

10. Place God in the center of your home. The ultimate key to every family’s success, no matter what the circumstances are, is choosing to make God the centerpiece of your home. To be the kind of parent or spouse you want to be requires wisdom, patience and love. The best way for you to develop these character traits is to have a vibrant relationship with God. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you. Matt. 6:33

By Steve Arterburn


Used by permission of New Life Ministries. New Life Ministries has a variety of resources on men, women and relationships. Call 1-800-NEW-LIFE or visit www.newlife.com.

New Faces at the Table

No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. ~ Luke 5:36

The wallpaper in the children’s guest bathroom gave me nightmares. It looked like a big coloring book with partially colored characters of children playing happily all over the walls. The uncolored characters seemed to beckon any child who entered the room to pick up their crayons and finish the job. In fact, my husband obliged these happy little faces on the wall by giving his daughters crayons while they sat on the potty. Wisely, I held my tongue after seeing this wallpaper, but a notation was made in my mind to change it as soon as possible.

After Harvey and I married, my children and I moved into the house he had shared with his ex-wife and daughters. Because my husband’s business is located on the adjoining property, moving to another house was not an option for us. I didn’t mind living in this house, but the very thought of embellishing it with my own personal style of décor was energizing. Being a new bride, I was anxious to remove all traces of its former occupant.

As it turned out, complications in the property settlement from my husband’s divorce prevented us from making any changes to the house. I was destined to live with those little faces on the bathroom walls for another two years. When the time finally did arrive, enabling us to make changes in the house, I was more than ready.

Approaching my husband with the idea of changing the wallpaper in the bathroom seemed simple enough, but I was unprepared for his response. He said, “The girls love that wallpaper, and besides, my ex-wife didn’t pick it out, I did!” I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before—only a daddy would choose that awful paper and then give his kids crayons to color on the walls! He explained that he wanted to encourage his daughter’s creativity.

My argument was straightforward and had two points: First, the bathroom in question was a guest bathroom as well as the children’s bathroom; I was worried about giving my guests nightmares. Second, if this was to be my house, I wanted to decorate it my way.

This debate continued for several weeks, usually on laundry day. The laundry room was at the rear of the bathroom in question. Those little faces sneered at me from the walls every time I walked through the bathroom to change a load of clothes. To my relief, Harvey finally relented and the faces came down. The wallpapering was done while the girls were with their mother for summer visitation.

The new wallpaper was a simple design, matching the southwestern décor in the rest of the house. Harvey’s house was finally becoming my home.

Everything was going well—until the girls came home on their weekend visit. They didn’t seem to mind the main part of the house being decorated in my style, but when they went into their bathroom and there were no happy faces to greet them, attitudes changed. In their eyes, I had done more than just replace wallpaper; I had removed a vital connection to a past they were clinging to. The reality of their parents’ divorce was still an open wound.

It wasn’t really the little faces missing from the walls that posed a threat to the girl’s world; it was the new faces at the dinner table. Although Harvey and I had been married for more than two years, the wallpaper change was a rude reminder of the fact that Dad was married to someone else. Adding sting to this tender wound was the realization that my children and I were living in their house, making changes while they were away.

Whenever two previously established families come together, everyone sees new faces. In fact, there were several new faces at our table. From Harvey’s vantage point and mine, it was a marriage made in heaven. We actually thought our kids would be glad to see us happy.

Our children, however, were seeing these “new faces” at the dinner table not as guests but as replacements or intrusions. From Harvey’s daughters’ perspective, my three children and I were the new faces. From where my children sat, it was Harvey and his three daughters who were new.

Everyone at the table viewed the new faces differently from the old ones. The new faces didn’t share the same memories, habits, mannerisms or even looks as the old faces. For instance, when my daughter talked about gymnastics in the third grade, only her brothers and I could remember it. When Harvey’s daughter told of their dog, Peewee, and his funny antics, we couldn’t visualize it because we had never seen him. Peewee was a part of the girls’ lives long before my children and I entered their world.

My daughter and I love to make a silly “monkey face.” My mother, brother and several of my cousins in another state make the same face because we all have the same shaped mouth. Harvey’s girls have tried to make this face, but they can’t do it. Our physical bodies are completely different. Harvey’s daughters are fairly tall, blond and have fair complexions. My kids, on the other hand, are short and dark-haired with olive complexions, like me.

Habits and disciplines are different as well. My children were used to a set bedtime and had regular chores. Harvey’s daughters were permitted to stay up later if they were watching a video, and life was generally more laid back.

What does this mean? We would never blend because we didn’t share memories, looks or habits? Of course not! However, in order for the old and new faces, regardless of perspective, to come together and actually become a family, a certain amount of stretching and shrinking had to occur.

My point is illustrated in another of Jesus’ parables. Luke 5:36 reads:
“No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.” (NIV)

I used to do a fair amount of sewing when my children were young. Because of my experience with cloth, I could easily relate to this parable. To patch an old pair of jeans with a new piece of denim, it is important to wash and dry the new fabric before sewing it into the old jeans. If I get lazy and skip this step, my work, no matter how skillful, pulled apart.

Expecting everyone in the newly formed household to instantly become a family is like sewing a patch of new denim into an old pair of jeans. Before an old pair of jeans can accept a patch of new cloth, this stiff, new fabric has to be “worn” a little and experience some shrinking and softening. In other words, a new piece of cloth must be properly “aged.”

When the whole family moves in together—or even when part of it is separated, as in the case of another parent having custody of the children—everyone in the blended family has to make adjustments emotionally as well as physically. Each child needs to be affirmed and encouraged as to where they fit into this new family. Likewise, a new stepparent needs to allow time for everyone to adjust to these new faces, gradually and gently assuming a position of authority.

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Help For Blended Families

My husband Charles and I stood in front of the minister holding hands with one another and with our five children. It was our wedding day--the second marriage for both of us. We included our daughters and sons in the service because they, perhaps even more than we, would be forever affected by the vows we were about to exchange. Later that morning when we walked out the door of the little village church, we went from being two individual families to one blended family.

As the formerly married marry again and bring their natural children into the new relationship, as we did eighteen years ago, everyone involved is suddenly thrust into a new experience--the 'blended family.' This occurs even if the children do not live in the same household with the parent who remarries. Since children generally spend weekends, holidays, or extended summer visits with their natural parent and new stepparent, everyone involved needs opportunities and activities that provide a sense of belonging.

And when a child's natural mother and father both remarry, he or she must then find a rightful place in two blended families--which include stepparents, stepsibilings, stepgrandparents, and others on both sides. Building and managing all these relationships can result in stress for everyone.

If children are born later of the new relationship, the blending takes on still another dimension. Meanwhile, the adults in the household also have one another to think of! This adds up to a tall order for anyone. But the blending can occur. Many parents and children attest to the success of their blended families when they really get involved in each other's lives. And that's what it takes--involvement. It's vital for parents and children to do things together--to pray, to play games, to participate in family projects or learn new skills, to be involved in gift-buying and giving, to have a voice in financial decisions, and to be listened to at family meetings.

Getting your blended family up and running may require a little help. Ours certainly did. We welcomed it, knowing we could benefit from the experience of those who had gone before us. Here are some of the ideas that worked for us. I hope they will be useful and encouraging to you.

TALKING TOGETHER

Communication breakdowns, hurt feelings, special needs, individual viewpoints, differing ages, temperaments, and backgrounds all play a part in the dynamics of living together. Loyalty conflicts spring up. Relationships are jealously guarded. Individuals pit themselves against others and often refuse to talk about what’s bothering them.

You can help yourself, your spouse, and most of all your children with an exercise called Heart Talks that will stimulate and encourage everyone in your family to express-- in a safe environment--what’s bothering them.

Cut out a paper heart from construction paper. Then on a poster board, list the following partial sentences about family life (or make up your own):

• I feel angry when...

• I’m unhappy when...

• I wish our family didn’t have to...

• I don’t like it when...

• I feel left out when...

Sit in a circle on the floor. Model a few sentences so the children will hear how to share their feelings responsibly. For example, it would be okay to say, "I feel angry when Jenny plays with my dolls without asking me first." It would not be okay to say, "I feel angry when dumb Jenny trashes my dolls when I’m not around to stop her."

Start with one person holding the heart. Invite that person to choose a phrase from the list and to finish it out loud. Then pass the heart to the next person and so on.

Afterward ask family members to repeat at least one message they heard during the exercise and to offer a solution, if one is called for, or to give a word of encouragement. For example, Jenny could apologize for playing with her sister’s dolls without permission and agree to ask for it from that point on.

CREATING NEW CUSTOMS TOGETHER...AND KEEPING THE OLD

As parents of a blended family you have an opportunity to initiate new customs, but also keep the old ones alive, so the children especially will not lose touch with their roots. For example, Margery and Bill allow their children to decorate the family Christmas tree in three stages. Margery's son and daughter add ornaments they've had since they were babies when their natural parents were still married. Their mother wants to acknowledge with them the validity of that time in their lives. If they want to share a memory they are welcome to do so.

"Too many parents who have been divorced don't want to give credence to anything from their former life," said Margery. "But this is a real loss for the children. It's almost like saying that only a part of them is valuable." Bill has taken a cue from Margery and now invites his children to do the same. Then together as a blended family, they all hang the ornaments and decorations that represent their new unit. "This way everyone is included," said Bill. "We now feel as strongly about keeping old customs as we do about creating new ones."

PLAYING TOGETHER

Games, songfests, sporting events, picnics are all good ways to relax and play together. In addition, look for opportunities to connect that are fun, but somewhat unusual. This will surprise and delight your kids and show them in a new way how much you value them.

For example, plan a family slumber party. Invite the kids into your room for a picnic supper or a pizza-on-the-floor party. Follow that up with a movie on video that everyone can enjoy, and then spread out the sleeping bags and snuggle in for the night.

Julie says her family looks forward to this event. "On one night every few months we break our usual custom of eating at the table and sleeping in our own beds. The kids get a real kick out of that."

In the morning, take everyone out for breakfast, or better yet, prepare breakfast as a family. Put each person in charge of one item. Even the younger ones can help by setting the table. You might be surprised at how much intimacy can result from such an experience.

LEARNING TOGETHER

Give yourselves the gift of learning and growing together--one parent and one child at a time, or as a group, depending on the size of your family and the ages of your children. For example, suppose you want to explore camping. Call your state park system and find out what campgrounds and trails are available. Maybe there's a group or national organization, such as the Sierra Club, with a chapter in your city. Join and get involved.

Maybe you'd like to plant a garden together, arrange flowers, learn more about the Internet, how to play tennis, or what’s involved in skiing or scuba diving. Look into YMCA-sponsored events, community seminars, and training programs in the area you wish to pursue. Local newspapers and the Yellow Pages are also good starting points.

Focus on learning the skill so you can practice and participate together, rather than simply gathering information. For example, one mother signed up for piano lessons along with her children. They supported each other through practice sessions and performed in the same recital! A stepdad who had always wanted to learn chess, took up the hobby with his thirteen-year-old stepson.

PRAYING TOGETHER

Every family can benefit from spiritual support. But what do you do when religious traditions, practices, and viewpoints differ somewhat among family members? For example, the new parents may be practicing Christians. But the parents in the other home may not be, or they may practice a faith you cannot condone. Yet you don't want to undermine those parents in the eyes of your/their children.

Start by setting a standard for your blended family. When you're together in your house you go to church, pray at meals, pray before bed, read Scripture as a family. The children will quickly recognize and respect this routine. It's what's done in this home. When they visit their other parents, release them to the Lord's care, trusting he will guard their minds and hearts. Pray for their safety and well-being while they're gone. Embrace them lovingly when they return.

Religion is one of the most challenging areas blended families face. You will need the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit as you establish your own practices and at the same time show respect for those who may disagree with you. In the end it is your love and the consistent practice of your faith that will impact your children the most.

By putting these ideas and more into action you will create and nurture a strong base of love and mutual acceptance within your blended family. And most important you will be secure in the promise of Scripture: "For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you" (NIV).

The ABC's for Blended Families


by Maxine Marsolini

Living with step relationships isn't as easy as it sounds. Statistics tell us that blended children are at greater risk of living in high conflict homes where sixty percent of them will once again fall apart. Most of us have made a New Year's resolution at least once or twice in our lives. We've been taught to believe we can change habits by walking into a new year with a new goal. In the past, I've resolved to exercise, eat more salads, and attend church. These activities are now a part of my life.

I'd like to challenge you to a 2005 resolution—to put The ABC's for Blended Families into practice. Don't expect to do them all in a week's time. Be diligent. The whole year lies ahead of you.

A Accept Your Family
Make each person feel he or she is a very important part of the new family. Avoid favoritism of one child over another.

B Build with Love
Mother Teresa said, "I have come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience. For all kinds of diseases there are medicines and cures. But for being unwanted, except there are willing hands to serve and there's a loving heart to love, I don't think this terrible disease can be cured."

C Calculate Financial Needs
Talk about money. Money habits can make or break a marriage. Be prompt with spousal/child support payments. Decide who will manage the checkbook or if two checkbooks will be kept. Talk about allowance money, a reasonable household budget, and a will that is caring and inclusive.

D Develop Personal Space
Children in stepfamilies, whether living with you day-to-day or only once in a while, need to be treated like family and not visitors. Personal space says, "I belong here." Provide at the very least a private dresser drawer or cupboard shelf.

E Encourage Family Fun
Keep fun on the calendar. Fun relieves stress and gets everyone smiling. Toss a Frisbee, go to the beach, hike a trail, or plan a picnic. Do things that have nothing to do with work.

F Forgive Past Hurts
A blended family builds on the prior family's broken dreams. Often people are emotionally entangled with the past. Until you choose to forgive, and let your bitterness go your new family does not have all of you.

G Grow Good Attitudes
Attitudes are self chosen. Grow in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

H Honor Each History
Look at the ethnic diversity within your family. Celebrate something from each person's heritage (i.e. food, song, fiesta).

I Initiate Family Meetings
Family meetings keep every one abreast of family matters. Events, financial needs, chores, or venting a frustration can be aired here. Make sure all family members are allowed to voice their concerns.

K Knit Lives Together
Shared experiences make us feel more a part of one another. Even if you don't like sports, do your best to create family time out of the ball games, the band concerts, and the awards assemblies that gratify another family member.

J Junk the Jealousy
Jealousy is self focused and demonstrates a lack of maturity. Find a better way to express your emotions.

L Laugh a Lot
Laughter is good medicine and keeps us from taking life too seriously. Read funny stories, tell clean jokes, or rent an amusing video. Never use laughter to poke fun at someone.

M Maintain Wholesome Values
The moral fiber of society is based on godly principles. Model telling the truth, keeping your word, and not using coarse language before you expect your children to put these things into practice.

N Normalize Appropriate Discipline
The birth parent should be the primary disciplinarian of his or her child at first. In time, and in unity with the stepparent, slowly bring consistency to disciplinary standards that will be upheld with all of the children.

O Oust Unhealthy Habits
Be honest with yourself. Is there a habit (alcohol abuse, drugs, anger, over spending, or name calling) you need to get rid of? Make a plan to clean up the problem.

P Pray for Guidance
The medical community agrees with the Christian sector. Prayer helps! Take your problems to prayer. Pray as a family. Pray with a friend.

Q Quantify Every Victory
Celebrate the smallest successes as well as the big ones. A child who shares with a stepsister should be praised for his loving gesture. A teen that lands a summer job should be admired.

R Respect Satellite Relationships
Show respect for your child's relatives. Do not talk negatively about them. Your child gathers feelings of worth by how well you accept his or her closest relatives.

S Strive for Stability
Dinner is at 6:00, everyone does chores, and curfew is at 9:00. We all need a degree of consistency for life to feel orderly.

T Think before Speaking
Once words leave our mouths it is impossible to drag them back. Be quick to listen and slow to speak.

U Undertake Peaceful Negotiations
Disputes are inevitable. Train your children with great problem solving skills before they leave home at age 18.

V Validate Each Person
Self worth is important to our well being. Find something each day that is worth validating in each person—a smile, a hug, a helping hand.

W Ward off Criticism
Critical words can crush the heart of a child or a spouse. Pleasant words are like honey to the soul. Learn to speak the truth in love.

X eXtend Grace Often
The Golden Rule is grace in action. It says, "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you."

Y Yield to Others
Don't insist on having your own way. Look out for the interests of others.

Z Zoom toward Goals
Goals let us live with purpose. Plan to save for college, take a vacation, or create harmony with one another. Then put aside the money or time to meet your goals.

Consider posting this alphabet where the whole family can routinely see it: on the refrigerator or a bathroom mirror, or frame it and hang it in each bedroom of the house.

What is a Blended Family?

You'll have a stepfamily when one or both of parents get remarried. It is also called blended family because people from two houses get mixed, stirred and blended into one.

Being in a blended family is hard. There are several problems and issues that only blended families face. A few of these are:

  • Extended families do not always accept the new spouse or the step children.
  • Both parent and stepparent do not treat children in the blended family equally.
  • Many stepparents have difficulty in loving their stepchild or stepchildren.
  • The children are not accepting the new "parental authority" in the home.
  • The new home has two sets of rules, and two types of discipline.
  • Discipline from a stepparent usually results in frustration, opposition, and disrespect.
  • Children have two homes, with two sets of rules and different methods of discipline.

Expert say that it can take more than two years for blended families to settle and be blended into life together. Combining two families into one is a real challenge!

Blending a family is a journey. Taking and applying God's promises seriuosly helps blended family walk into the path of victory. Jeremiah 29:11 says: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

O ur ministry is to give hope for blended families, to guide remarrieds nurture the new marriage, to help fluorish a healthy relationship between stepparent and stepchildren, and to establish happy, loving, and God-centered families.

T his site is dedicated to our loving family and most of all to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.