I couldn’t help but chuckle as I read our son’s description of our family. I’d come upon his elementary assignment while cleaning out closets for our move, and the title “My Family” caught my attention. Nathan wrote,

We are a family of seven. I have no full-blood brothers or sisters. I have a brother named Payton and three sisters named Jamie, Jodi, and Adrianne. Jamie and Jodi have the same mom as me but a different dad. Payton and Adrianne have the same dad as me but a different mom. Jamie and Jodi are stepsisters to Payton and Adrianne. My family is complicated, and few people understand us, but it’s my family.

Now a young adult, Nathan no longer describes our family as complicated. He learned to embrace the differences in his sibling relationships. Love among stepsiblings and half-siblings and stepparents and stepchildren has grown to look and feel similar to what traditional families experience. But we will always carry a unique identity with stepfamily variables. My stepchildren call me by my first name. My daughters have a different last name than others in the family. We’re not a first family.

Learning to embrace our differences as a stepfamily

In a blended family home, we don’t always like to admit we’re a stepfamily. It’s easier to cover up the details than go into an explanation on divorce, stepchildren, loss, and brokenness. But when we try to hide our past, shame creeps in. Secrets set us up to fail.

We might want to act or look like a traditional family, but we’re not—we never will be. We can’t present that pretense to others. When we learn to embrace our differences and keep God at the helm of our family, we walk away from our shame and brokenness. We can hold our head high as a beloved child of God, unique in the beauty of our identity.

Here are three areas we’ve learned to embrace our differences as a stepfamily.

1. We function differently as a married couple.

Our marriage began with four kids from the start. Years of nurturing a couple relationship with extended time alone didn’t happen. As a result, our coupleness suffered at times.

We were pulled between allegiances to our kids and opposing views from life experiences. Tension showed up when relationship-building stalled because of our differences. But as years marched on, we discovered the value of offering compassion and understanding for the path each of us had walked. We opened our hearts to include experiences different than ours. And in time, we found our differences as a married couple didn’t have to spell conflict, but rather a deeper understanding of one another.

2. We parent differently.

Traditional parenting doesn’t happen in our home. Randy and I both brought two kids to our marriage and a former spouse. In the early years, co-parenting relationships carried combative dialogue and less-than-agreeable attitudes. Arguments quickly flared about the back-and-forth routine, communication with our exes, and the details of parenting Randy and I disagreed on. The struggle was real.

Finally, we surrendered to another way: God’s way. His way included a flexible heart toward change, an open mind toward compromise as we sought unity in our parenting, and a resilience for circumstances that weren’t easy. We accepted that disparity would continue to show up at times in our parenting and co-parenting interactions. But we could seek harmony in our relationships and “live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18) as we learned to embrace our differences.

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3. Family gatherings and relationship-building look different.

Holiday schedules and vacation trips look different with blended families. Some years, everyone shows up around the table for special meals, and the entire family gets to vacation together. Other times, kids are with their other parent and a smaller crowd gathers. We’ve learned to enjoy our time as a large group or small. We’re thankful for less-than-perfect relationships and love for those who join us.

We also cherish the grace that’s easily extended to one another after years as a blended family. Love wasn’t assumed to happen, and intentional effort was required to smooth out the differences and rough edges from a past with long-lasting consequences. Our scars kept us on our knees as we pursued loving interactions that needed God’s help.

Relationship-building in a blended family looks different, but it’s uniquely beautiful.

It’s okay to be different

In our family, we’ve decided it’s okay to embrace our differences as a stepfamily. We don’t try to hide them.

Scripture teaches us that as believers, we’re called to be different. We strive to talk and act differently than our nonbeliever friends and coworkers. We seek to live a life that reflects holiness and purity. First Peter 1:15 says, “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.”

When I accept that it’s okay to be different, I’m more likely to walk in holiness and have compassion for others in my stepfamily. I don’t have to criticize my stepchild because they behave differently than I expect. I’m less likely to condemn my former spouse, who acts in a way I don’t understand. I can more easily view others through a lens of understanding and not one of judgment.

As a blended family, the road we walk is different than the road our neighbor is on. But that differentness doesn’t define us in a negative light. We’re all defined the same as Christians—children of the King who are precious in His sight.

Copyright © 2021 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Gayla Grace serves on staff with FamilyLife Blended® and is passionate about equipping blended families as a writer and a speaker. She holds a master’s degree in psychology and counseling and is the author of Stepparenting With Grace: A Devotional for Blended Families and co-author of Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. Gayla and her husband, Randy, have been married since 1995 in a “his, hers, and ours” family. She is the mom to three young adult children and stepmom to two.