129: Stepparent Vs Bio Parent: Seeing Conflicts Differently
Conflicts are inevitable on family journeys. Rodney and Annetta Whitney share their journey, confusing dynamics, and their light bulb moments with Ron Deal. Stepparent, if you feel like an outsider, keep having hard discussions and don't give up.
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Conflicts are inevitable on family journeys. Rodney and Annetta Whitney share their journey, confusing dynamics, and their light bulb moments with Ron Deal. Stepparent, if you feel like an outsider, keep having hard discussions and don’t give up.
129: Stepparent Vs Bio Parent: Seeing Conflicts Differently
Annetta: Now, looking back, what I see, when you have a blended family, there's a loss no matter what. If it's divorce, death, there's a loss, and I don't think I anticipated the loss. I can say even in our premarital counseling, there was no discussion about this. We were really unprepared—really, really unprepared.
Ron: Welcome to the FamilyLife Blended podcast. I'm Ron Deal. We help blended families, and those who love them, pursue the relationships that matter most. And as you'll hear in this episode, pursuing what matters most with intentionality can help you through a tough time in your journey toward familyness. More on that in a moment.
Hey, if this podcast or the FamilyLife Blended ministry is serving your family, let me ask you to do one of two things. Would you share with a friend so that they can benefit like you have? Or maybe donate to FamilyLife Blended so we can reach someone else. It doesn't have to be much; anything would be appreciated. It'll help us keep the lights on.
We heard from Sarah who said, "I wish your book The Smart Stepmom was on Kindle." Hey Sarah, I've got good news. It is. And most of my books are on Kindle and many of the books are also available on audiobook. So, you just got to go to the right source: Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com. Those are good online places to review all of the formats that it's available in.
We also heard from an engaged bride who wrote and said this, "The day after our wedding, my fiancé's daughter has a cheerleading showcase. He thinks we should go." So, it's his daughter. "He thinks we should go. I absolutely do not. I think we should enjoy our honeymoon for a few days, even if we have to miss it. Ron, what do you think?"
Okay, that's a good question. Here's what I wrote back. I said, "Well, assuming that there's no extreme circumstance here that would make being there a necessity—like If this child is deathly ill, or there's a really difficult ex-spouse that's going to crucify you for not being there. Unless something like that's going on, I don't think there's a black and white answer to this.
In other words, you've got to decide. It could go either way. Though, I got to tell you, if it was me, I'd want my honeymoon to be as big and awesome as it possibly could be. Spending an exclusive time on a honeymoon is really important for a marriage. You're going to make a million sacrifices for your kids after this, so why not start your marriage off with some time dedicated for just the two of you? That sounds like a good idea to me.
Now, this situation reveals a common dynamic between biological parent and stepparent. The bioparent feels strong that we need to stay close to the child for this reason, or that reason, and they're sensitive to how their kids feel if they weren't there. While the stepparent feels like, "Boy, this child is being prioritized over my marriage." So essentially, the parent and the stepparent see the situation very differently, and that puts them at odds with each other. Well, that's the topic of this edition of FamilyLife Blended.
Rodney and Annetta Whitney are a stepfamily couple with three children. They've been married for 22 years. They serve on the staff of FamilyLife® as Weekend to Remember representatives for Houston and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Their mission is to build thriving marriages and families through the power of the gospel. Rodney, Annetta, thanks for being with me today.
Annetta: Thank you.
Rodney: Thank you for having us.
Ron: Alright, guys, tell us a little bit about your family.
Rodney: Well, we've been married 22 years. We have three children: one daughter, two sons. Everybody's out of the house, so we're empty nesting.
Ron: Celebrating that, aren't you? That's really good. Nan and I are empty nesting as well. We enjoy it most of the time, although sometimes we kind of miss it. How about you guys?
Annetta: It's a transition. I forgot how to wash the dishes. [Laughter] I used to have someone to wash the dishes all the time.
Ron: The hired help's not around anymore, are they? [Laughter]
Annetta: No. We're the hired help.
Ron: That's right; that's right. Yes, definitely some transition taking place there. Yes, there's always a mixed bag, I think. You know you do miss some things. You miss them. You miss some activities with them. But at the same time, sometimes it's really great to just have that freedom.
Okay, so you've been married 22 years. How old were the kids? Who brought children into your marriage?
Rodney: I did; I was married before and I have a daughter, previous marriage, and she's the oldest, what, by ten years. She's ten years older than her first brother.
Ron: Good. And what's her name?
Ron: Cydney, okay. How old was she, Annetta, when you came into her life?
Annetta: Seven years old.
Ron: Okay. Now, you've had the two boys since being married, so they're your kids together, correct?
Ron: Alright. Cydney's seven. Is she a just lovely seven? Was she a precocious little seven? What was that like, Annetta, when you came into her world?
Annetta: She was a lovely seven—until we walked down the aisle; things changed.
Ron: Okay. Let's just jump back into that for a minute. I want to hear the story. Can you think of a circumstance or a situation that sort of exemplifies the dynamic there?—what it was like before the wedding and what it was like after?
Annetta: There were times where people thought that I was her mother before we got married. And then—I remember the first incident. I was like, "Oh, wow, this is different." Rodney had gone to the store, and it was just her and I and something happened. I asked her to do something, and she said, "You're not my mother." I was like, "Okay." I had never been a mother to anyone. So that was I could tell this is we're on a journey.
Ron: Do you remember what you felt when she said that to you?
Annetta: I think what I remember was "I'm not her mother" and "How can I be the best stepmother?" —not to replace because I can never replace her mother, but how can I be the best mother and nurture her?
Ron: Okay, so there was this little switch. Was that confusing to you? —who she was before and how things begin to change after the wedding?
Annetta: Definitely. It was very confusing. Like I said, I just felt like I was on a new journey. I was like, "Okay, this is a new situation." Now, looking back, what I see: when you have a blended family, there's a loss, no matter what. If it's divorce, death, the story goes on and on, but there's a loss. I don't think I anticipated the loss. And I can say, even in our premarital counseling, there was no discussion about this. We were really unprepared—really, really unprepared. I can say for me as a stepmother, unprepared.
Ron: Okay, so "You're not my mom;" that comes out. Were there other little moments where you're like, "Yes, sure enough, there's something here that's the journey," as you described it?
Annetta: You know, when you would have to drop her off back at her mom's house. You know, "Why are you not coming in?" I didn't feel like I necessarily needed to come in. When she moved with us when—it was probably about nine years after that—that's where I really saw the loss. Episodes where, you know, I'm not a fan of my stepmom.
Ron: Yes, yes, and so what'd you do there? I mean, I imagine you took it to Rodney, took it to your husband at some point.
Annetta: I did take it to Rodney, but I don't think Rodney knew we were a blended family until, what year? [Laughter] He really didn't know.
Ron: Okay, Rodney, what does she mean by that?
Rodney: I remember sitting in one of your conferences, and I'm like wondering, "What are we doing here?" [Laughter] And so you did this demonstration on the stage where you had the two parents and the child in the middle, and you tied ropes around their hands. You said, "Okay, parents take a step away," and then the child was in the middle. Then you said, "Okay, child, go by your mom," and so when the child went to the mom, it pulled the dad over there too. I'm sitting in the audience, and I'm like, [Laughter] "Oh my God, that is me, that is—" and so then I look at her and she's sitting there— [Laughter]
Ron: Okay, people can't, if you're not watching on YouTube, you cannot see what he just did. He just crossed his arms and sort of leaned back.
Rodney: Yes. She's looking at me like, "You just realizing." It was like a light bulb went off.
Ron: [Laughter] And that was a little ways in. Annetta, is this a frustrating moment thing, dynamic for you that you can't—
Annetta: Are you kidding me? [Laughter]
Ron: I thought maybe so.
Annetta: Are you kidding me? I say this now. You can't own what you don't acknowledge. So you can't own it unless you acknowledge that you see. It's almost like when you put your hand in front of your face. If you have it so close, you don't see it. And so, of course, I knew that at a distance. It was very frustrating, feeling like no one understood how I felt.
Ron: Okay, so I got to put a few words on this for our listeners. If you know anything about our material that we talk and teach, write about so much, this is the outsider experience. So Annetta is an outsider trying to figure out how to move in to become an insider with Rodney and his daughter, but these little moments, especially the parenting moments: "You're not my mom," that's a clear declaration, "You're an outsider. You're not part of us." And you know, that marginalizes, and it creates that distance and frustration.
And then an outsider, Annetta, talks to Rodney, the insider dad, and he's like, "What? I don't get it. What's the problem? I don't see what you see." And that's a very common space for stepcouples to get into where they're talking about the same thing, but they just don't see it with the same eyes. Is that something you guys have? I'm curious if you've talked with other couples or if there are other moments that you can relate to?
Rodney: I guess for me, I didn't see that we had a problem or an issue because for me, Cydney was the person that brought me back to Annetta. We had broken up, and then Cydney was, she kept asking, "When are we going to see Annetta? When am I..." —and so she's the one that brought the relationship back together, and then ended up, you know, we proposed to Annetta. Cydney and I proposed to Annetta and so I didn't see that there was an issue. I couldn't figure out, what's the big deal? What's the issue?
Annetta: But I can say now being a part of several other small groups, blended small groups, I feel that this conversation needs to be had way before you get married, number one. And number two, the outsider is trying to get in and they don't know how to get in and how to fit in and they're trying. And what I can see is a lot of bonus children, stepchildren can put a wedge.
Ron: Yes, in other words, you're suggesting that children will actually take advantage of this. Really? Do you think that happens? Of course, it does. I'm being very facetious at this point in time. [Laughter] Yes, and there's always at least one child that will take advantage of that little gap between parent and stepparent. And so when that happens, you know, then things even sometimes get more difficult.
Annetta, I want to go back to this issue that becomes a marriage issue, I think. I don't know if it did for you guys or not, but it's sort of the—there's this wedge. There's this thing: "Wait a minute. I'm trying to tell you something about what's going on between me and your daughter, and you don't see it. I feel so alone in this. Nobody understands how I'm feeling." Stepparents say that a lot. So where did that go in your heart as it related to your marriage?
Annetta: I felt like he was in the middle. He had to choose me or choose her. And because she lived out of state, you know, you want this cohesive family. She's far away. You don't see her for the summers, and you want it to work. And then you hear secrets, or "I did this for her." It comes up. It's like, "Well, why you didn't tell me you were doing that? Let me know. I'm not going to say yes or no but let me know." I can see how that could kind of cloak it where you need to really be naked in it. And just like, "Let's be honest. Let's see it the way it is. Let's make a game plan. Let's pursue this. Let's do this. Let's do it. And let's do it together and in a long haul."
Ron: Yes. Okay, Rodney, some biological parents have told me in the past, "I didn't think anything of it. I just went and did this thing for my daughter and then later found out that my wife felt like," you know in your case, "that I was hiding something from her." Was that you? Or was there sort of a conscience, "Ah, this is delicate so I'm just not going to let her know"?
Rodney: No, I think it would be the first I didn't see that we had an issue even sitting here right now. I didn't realize that she was this hurt. I, I'm, man, I'm sorry.
Ron: I appreciate you saying that. Even now, beginning to see it with different eyes—your wife's eyes. See, what I want to say to our audience, this is what insider outsider stuff can do. Like it's very insidious in the sense that it does put you in a different place and you don't always realize what's going on with the other person. And so, it's hard to even understand that. It makes sense though, Rodney, that you would say, "Yes, I didn't think there was a problem, so I just did stuff," and only later, you know, even now, coming to see it from a different vantage point.
I'm thinking about, okay, so Cydney's growing up, you guys start having kids of your own, and as she begins to grow, how's the relationship going for you, Annetta?
Annetta: —with her, or her and her brothers?
Ron: All of the above, really, with her, and then as the other kids came in, too, I wonder what the dynamic was there.
Annetta: I think the best way to describe the relationship is in progress with her brothers. I would like to see them closer together. That's all they have is one another. And, you know, her youngest brother, she cut the umbilical cord and it's like I want there to be closeness because we're not going to be here forever, and they do need one another.
As it relates to our relationship, there was an incident that kind of put a fracture in it, but I'm just so persuaded by the word of God. Love is patient. It waits and waits, and waits, and waits, and so we just have to have that willingness to go again and again and again and just bring your full, "This is who I am. I can't change who I am."
Ron: Yes. Boy, I appreciate that heart in you and that wisdom that you're adopting God's truth for your circumstance, trying to be patient, trying to wait, trying to continue to love as best you can within the limits that their relationship allows; but at the same time to be available for the relationship to grow and move forward if Cydney were to desire that.
Annetta: And then you have to go further into that verse in 1 Corinthians; how it keeps no records of wrongs. And we have to keep the records on zero level.
Ron: Okay, Annetta, I can hear somebody pushing back right now. Some listener is going, "Whoa, whoa, no record of wrongs; that child treats me very badly. I need to know where I stand with that child so I'm hanging on to those resentments." What would you say?
Annetta: I would say, if they're a believer, that same verse is, there's no records as far as the East is from the West. I think we can justify it. I think we can say, "You know what, they did this." There were some things that Cydney did. There were some things that I did that were wrong. But we need to have that same posture of just really pushing as far as the East is from the West and just to go again, and again, and again.
Ron: Sometimes and again, and again; yes. Oh, so as she started to grow and hit her adolescent years, I'm just curious, things get better? Were there moments of two steps forward, one step back? How would you describe that?
Annetta: Are you going to answer?
Rodney: Oh, me?
Annetta: Yes, you. [Laughter] The one who doesn't know.
Rodney: I think, as she was growing, it was like a disconnect, I would say. And then, we came back together again for college. You went up, flew up there, went to her high school, did all of that. And then she ended up going to college in Louisiana and so she stayed there for a year. And then she moved in with us when we lived in Houston.
Ron: She's now a young adult in her early twenties?
Annetta: Early twenties.
Rodney: Yes. She lived with us maybe four years or something like that. At that point, it really got to the position of where I felt like I was in the middle. I could see where two women can't be in the same house and so I'm like, I got to get her out of here or I'll be out here. I ended up getting Cydney an apartment, like right around the corner from the house, so she has her own place now.
Ron: Has that physical distance, sort of helped?
Annetta: I think for me, it goes back to what I said. It is a journey. It really is a journey. I wish I could say, you know, we're just the best and … No, it's a process and a course that we're still on.
Ron: You know what I love about this conversation is that it's revealing something that I think is very common and that many, many stepfamilies have this experience where they're still working on something. Some things are good, many things perhaps are good, but there's something that's not. And it doesn't feel like they finished cooking. You know, we like to talk about cooking around here. And the crockpot's still doing something, but it's just been a long journey as it relates to that ingredient or this ingredient or this situation.
And that's a reality for a lot of people. And it doesn't mean you've failed. It doesn't mean that there's not any harmony or love or things that are shared, but it just means there's still some things that are not yet.
Annetta: I agree.
Ron: Yes, so let's reflect on the two of you for a minute. So, 22 years, the journey still continues as it relates to this particular dynamic in your family. What kind of things have you learned have been helpful? Or even the stuff that didn't really help you preserve your marriage. What have you learned about trying to keep the marriage together, even in the midst of that stressful dynamic?
Annetta: I think the one thing that I learned that I think I did not know—well I know I didn't know—was the bio parent really should take all of the discipline; all the communication needs to come from them first. I wish I would have known that from the beginning because you're pushing and you're never going to get in that way.
Ron: Okay, that's a good word. Can I have some things you wish you would have done differently sounds like?
Annetta: Some things that I would have done differently?
Ron: Yes, yes. That you would have done differently if you—if you could go back, maybe, could you give us an example of something you wish you'd handled differently?
Annetta: I still go back to the love factor—more love, more patient, and to be kind is different than being nice. Kindness—
Ron: Say more about that.
Annetta: Yes. Kindness, I would define it as a willingness to bless another, to be kind. I know I have a love factor deficiency in a lot of areas as it relates to a stepmom but I'm in progress. And love, it just does not fail. And so, I'll just go back to what I said earlier.
I'm just willing to go again and again. There have been misses. I've kept records. I've been jealous when she was in the middle of us. I may have boasted about some things, but it's the patience and kindness and just knowing that love won't fail.
So, more love. I wish I would have had more love. Need—I didn't even know that I needed it. I didn't know how much more I needed it, as a stepmother.
Ron: That's a good word.
Rodney, looking back, preserving marriage, working, keeping that intact in the midst of some question marks about your family, what would you say is something you would recommend to people?
Rodney: I grew up in a household where my father, he left on Monday and came back home on Friday. At school they asked you, "What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to be when you..." And so they said—they got to me, and I said, "I don't know what I want to be, but I want to leave on Monday and come home on Friday." And so I was gone a lot. It forced Annetta to be that parent that's raising the kids at home. She was dealing with Cydney and the two boys, and I was gone.
I think if I can go back, I would. I now realize that my presence is necessary. You can work, work, work and be able to buy the finest whatever. But I can remember getting a box—going up the street to the store and getting a big box, put it in the truck, come back home. We brought the box upstairs and we get in the box, and we were riding down the stairs in a box.
Ron: [Laughter] And they had a blast.
Rodney: They're still talking about the box; not the Xbox, and no… They're talking about, "Remember when we got in the box, and we rolled down the stairs?" That's a real lesson.
Rodney: I mean, presence; your presence is required.
Annetta: But I think there's, if I could add, there was one thing that he did that really stood out to me. There was a situation and he made it plain to Cydney that he's bonded to me. That stood out to me. I don't know if you remember that, where you really said, "This is my wife." And that, I think if you put that stake in the ground, at least it gives some boundaries.
Ron: Yes, and I would completely put an exclamation point behind that, especially in those moments where you sense that the child is really challenging the stepparent. It's really important for the biological parent. Hey, you can do it with a smile on your face. You can look at your kid with a big smile and say, "Hey, I see what you're doing here and you're not winning. This person, this marriage; it's going to last till death do us part, baby." And you put that stake in the ground, and it does communicate something very important to your child.
You can then turn right around and give them a hug, being mindful that they're feeling a little weird about what's going on in their life. You can give them a hug, but you put that stake in the ground at the very same time. And that's really, really important.
So Annetta, how did that make you feel when he did that?
Annetta: I felt like we were one, and that it wasn't one and a half. We were one. Because your children will go away. Dennis Rainey said this, I believe on the cruise one time, he said, "May your marriage outlive your children." Cause this is all we have. We're bonded together. We're one. We're not one with our children, our stepchildren.
Ron: Wow! Guys, you work in marriage ministry. I mean, you're trying to encourage people to take advantage of FamilyLife's Weekend to Remember® marriage conference that we do all over the country, for couples in first marriages, as well as in blended family marriages. We have a particular breakout, a special breakout just for couples and blended families at that event all over the country.
Is there something that you've learned from that event, being around it, seeing it, watching people go? Is there something you've learned that's just been a blessing for your marriage?
Annetta: I would say our first Weekend to Remember, and it was time for us to do the introduction of Ron Deal. We get up there and most of the time there's a very small percentage of people that come; and it was over 100 people in there at 8 o'clock in the morning.
Ron: For the blended family breakout session?
Annetta: Yes sir.
Ron: Wow, wow.
Annetta: Yes, sir. I say, "Count the people; count the people."
Ron: That's amazing.
Annetta: But it really shows that there's a need, and we've been very intentional to provide aftercare. We'll call it aftercare, but small groups related to this. Our first blended small group, we had five states represented on our call. We had an ex-spouse on the call with their new spouse. It was like, we were like, "Wait a minute." [Laughter]
I said, "Wait, they were married. Oh, and they were married. Oh boy." [Laughter] So that was really encouraging that we're not missing it. We're not missing it.
Rodney: And I think we're set to be intentional when it comes to this particular ministry, and that's part of our calling. I mean, it's us. And so, we're setting forward and pushing to make sure that every has a place at the Weekend to Remember that we are…
Ron: Guys, listen, I just want to thank you so much for sharing your life and being real. There are lots of people listening or watching right now who can relate to something in your story and they're feeling undone, maybe. I don't know if that's a word you would use, but in progress; it's still in process. I think that's where a lot of families are, and it's really, really okay.
I was talking to another group earlier today, and I said, "Don't forget to enjoy what you have that's going well; continue to pray and be intentional about the things that you're not thrilled about; keep working on those things but enjoy what you do have." Has that been something you guys have found your way into over the last 22 years?
Rodney: I remember, Ron, on our wedding day, one of Annetta's friends, she came to us right before we walked on the aisle, and she told us, "Y'all remember to pray together every day." I wasn't thinking about praying. I was trying to get to the hotel.
Ron: That's right.
Ron: First things first.
Rodney: Yes, [Laughter] and so I'm like, "Yes, okay, whatever." [Laughter] And so 22 years later, I would say you have to be connected to the vine. Apart from the vine you will die. You have to be connected to the vine.
Ron: Wow, that's really good. Rodney, Annetta, thank you for being with me today. I appreciate you guys, appreciate your work, and thanks for sharing your life with us.
Rodney: Thanks for having us.
Ron: To the listener or viewer: if you want to learn more about some of the things we've talked about—for example, the Weekend Remember marriage conference—you can go to FamilyLife.com and learn all about that event—takes place in cities all over the country and it does have a blended family breakout specifically for couples in stepfamilies.
Many of the subjects we talked about today are in my book The Smart Stepfamily. If you don't have that book, let me recommend you pick that up. And you might want to watch the eight session video series that's available through RightNow Media, also called The Smart Stepfamily, based on that book. This revised and updated material is what puts stepfamily ministry on the map. Grab it; share a copy today. And by the way, it's free. That's right. The series is available for free. Check the show notes and you can find out how you can get connected to that.
If you haven't subscribed to this podcast yet, please do that. We don't want you to miss anything. And ladies, don't forget our monthly Women and Blended Families Livestream hosted by Gayla Grace. They can be found on our Facebook page and YouTube channel. You can watch, share, all kinds of things. We'd love to have you be a part of those in the future as well.
You know, it just occurred to me I need to say thank you again to all of you who joined us in our matching gift challenge in the month of December. Thank you for helping us finish out the year strong and supporting our work so that we can continue to reach more people around the world.
Speaking of around the world, we've had a generous couple make it possible for Nan and I to travel to New Zealand in September 2024. We're going to help FamilyLife New Zealand start there and grow their blended family initiative. So let me just say to anybody who's listening or watching, you're in Australia or New Zealand: hey, come see us. We're going to be around. We'd love to connect with you and have you be a part of those events, so stay connected to us and we'll let you know more as time goes on.
If you're looking for my speaking schedule in general, go to SmartStepfamilies.com and click events. It would be fun to see you in Bryan, Texas; that's coming up soon, or Victorville, California. I'd love to meet you there.
And if you live in the DFW area, Dallas-Fort Worth area, in the Metroplex, make plans to be a part of our live audience for Blended and Blessed®. Our next Spring livestream is going to be Saturday, April 27th. We're going to be in McKinney, Texas. And for all of you listening, who go, "I don't live in Dallas-Fort Worth," it's okay. You and your church can host this annual livestream for blended family couples. It's really inexpensive to do that, so get it on your calendar now, Saturday, April 27th. Check the show notes for more information.
Okay, next time on the FamilyLife Blended podcast, I'm going to be talking with Vaneetha and Joel Risner about a traumatic childhood story, a dysfunctional family, and a God who showed up. That's next time on FamilyLife Blended.
I'm Ron Deal. Thanks for listening. And thank you to our production team and donors who make this podcast possible.
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