98: Dating and the Single Parent, Revisited
As a single parent, it's natural to yearn for a marriage partner who will love you AND your kids unconditionally. But is that realistic? Listen to Ron Deal's conversation with Sabrina McDonald about dating, remarriage, and stepfamily life after widowhood, and the valuable lessons she's learned.
About the Guest
- Sabrina McDonald
- Get a copy of Preparing to Blend
- Read Dating and the Single Parent
- Watch Ron's Pouring of the Sands video
- Be a part of the Preparing to Blend Leader's Training
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- Join us for the Women and Blended Families Livestream on 11/29
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As a single parent, it’s natural to yearn for a marriage partner who will love you AND your kids unconditionally. But is that realistic? Listen to Ron Deal’s conversation with Sabrina McDonald about dating, remarriage, and stepfamily life after widowhood.
98: Dating and the Single Parent, Revisited
Sabrina: I didn't realize at the time that the waiting wasn't just for me. I should have waited even longer. Not because I didn't marry a wonderful person; I did. He’s absolutely wonderful man of God. We'll often remind each other when we're upset that “You were God's perfect gift for me.” But it caused a lot of problems with the rest of our family by not waiting longer.
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.
I am so glad you are with us today. AJ tells me he's feeling supported by our podcast, Five Stars Rating, and then he says this, “If you feel like your blended family relationship is more difficult than it needs to be, this show will help you see that you are not alone. It has been so helpful to shatter our unrealistic expectations of a nuclear family and rebuild new expectations of what our blended family can look like.
Well, I'm certainly glad we've been able to help AJ, and I hope you, the listener, are feeling better about some of the things in your life because of what you learn here from our podcast. Now, AJ mentioned unrealistic expectations. I got a thought about this. I think most unrealistic expectations are born before marriage; that is during dating and engagement. You know, during that season where everything seems to be going great, you just sort of naturally develop these unrealistic expectations. You don't even realize you've got them until life sort of reveals to you that, no, it's not going to be quite that simple.
In the past, I've written a couple of books to try to address those seasons of life.
One of them is called Preparing to Blend, and it's our resource for couples that are engaged and planning to get married. It doubles as a resource for pastors and leaders and counselors who are doing premarital counseling. And by the way, if you're listening to this podcast, shortly after it releases next week, November 15 and 17, we're going to be doing our Preparing to Blend Virtual leader training again, just two hours. Tap into that. The show notes will tell you how you can be a part of it. And if you missed that next training, just know we do that periodically so you can jump in at any time.
So that's the resource Preparing to Blend, but if we back up even another step, there's a book that I wrote called Dating and the Single Parent. Now, that book is all about dating well, being mindful of your children and recognizing that they're a part of the mix, and how do I think about decisions of/about marriage with my kids or his or her kids in the mix as well? And so that's supposed to lead you up until that time of engagement, and that's when Preparing to Blend that resource kicks in.
We've entitled this episode of the FamilyLife Blended podcast, Dating and the Single Parent, Revisited. Let me explain something and I'll tell you why we added the word revisited. Sitting next to me is Sabrina McDonald. She is a longtime friend of FamilyLife Blended. She has been a contributor to our ministry in writing and in speaking at our events in the past.
She and her husband work in a stepfamily ministry in their local church, so they've got experience along that way. And you are in the middle of writing a book with Focus on the Family®, is going to be the publisher. You want to tell us a little bit about that? By the way, welcome to the podcast.
Sabrina: Thank you. It's good to be here.
Sabrina: The book is kind of our story, and it also is just an encouragement for other families/blended families. You know, kind of what we've gone through and sharing the things that we've done that have been bad. [Laughter] And some of the things we've done that have been good.
Ron: Learn from your mistakes, right?
Sabrina: [Laughter] That's right.
Ron: Somebody once said, “At least make a new mistake. You know, learn from mine; make your own new mistake. Don't make my mistakes. You’ve got to learn from that.
Well, that's great. Do you have any idea when that book's coming out?
Sabrina: I think it's coming out a year from November.
Ron: Okay. Alright; so, November of 23 possibly. Alright folks, so watch for that book and resource coming out. I'm sure we'll tell you a little bit about it when it does.
Okay. The reason we've entitled this episode, Dating and the Single Parent, Revisited is because ten years ago, ten years ago—
Sabrina: Yes. [Laughter]
Ron: —you and I were interviewed on FamilyLife's broadcast/national broadcast called FamilyLife Today. Rob and Rhonda Bugh, who are also friends of this ministry were with us and we were talking about my book, Dating and the Single Parent. It had just come out and guess what? You were still a single parent at that point in your life.
Sabrina: Yes. [Laughter] That was a crazy time.
Ron: That's right. Fun times, right?
Ron: And one of the reasons you were there is because we were talking with a single parent about the book and the resource and the ideas; and Rob and Rhonda had already been married and so they were reflecting back on the past. It was a great three days of broadcast. I felt like it was just fabulous. And part of that was because what you contributed.
Sabrina: I got a lot out of it.
Ron: Good, good. [Laughter]
Okay. And so, here's what we're going to do now. We are going to revisit that conversation from ten years ago.
Sabrina: Wonderful. [Laughter]
Ron: It's a big setup, right? You had no idea what you were in for when you came in today. You're actually going to listen to some of your words back when you were in the dating phase of your life—
Sabrina: —and eat them.
Ron: —as a single— [Laughter] And you get to eat those words. We're going to reflect on them and just revisit. Like, what was going on then? What did you think? What'd you feel? And then, you know, how is life gone and reflect on what you've learned now ten years wiser at this point in your life.
So that's our agenda today. We're so glad you, the listener, are with us. Sabrina, I really hope you don't feel set up. I really don't; you maybe—
Sabrina: You know, you live life, you make your mistakes, and you learn from them. And that really is one of the mottos of my life so it's going to be interesting actually. So we'll see what happens.
Ron: Well, just a quick word. I've been amazed through the years how many people have read Dating and the Single Parent, reached out, dropped me a note. I always love that, by the way, when people do that and gave me some feedback.
Before we jump into the conversation we had ten years ago, I just want to say something about dating sites and resources for single parents in particular. I have a frustration and I'm just wondering what your thoughts would be about this. I feel like dating sites are trying to sell you on the idea that they can help you find the person of your dreams, but they don't necessarily pay attention to context. They don't necessarily care that you're a single parent. It's as if that doesn't matter. It's all the same.
I've actually reached out to some of these sites through the years. I remember back ten years ago when Dating and the Single Parent came out, I reached out and said, “Look, can I do a little series of articles? Let's do some excerpts from the book. You put them on your site, you know, no cost to you, whatever. I just want to help you help the people come into your site to date with more wisdom. Nobody was interested; none of the sites. I sort of learned something then. I kind of think they're interested in you using their resource and paying some money to do so, but they're not really interested in helping you date wisely. Is that me being harsh or you think there's what?
Sabrina: By dating sites you do mean the ones where you meet?
Ron: Yes, yes, where you're getting connected to somebody.
Sabrina: Yes. You know that we met through—did you know we met through a dating site?
Sabrina: Okay, so I do have experience with this. Before I met Robbie, I was on there for a full year, so I do have a lot of experience.
Ron: Did they do anything on the dating site to help you think through becoming a blended family?
Sabrina: Oh no, definitely not.
Ron: Yes, that's my issue; that's the thing. I think it's an easy fix for them and I don't know why they won't fix it.
Sabrina: I think dating sites/the purpose of dating sites is, like you said, they want to make money. They're doing their best to get people together. They really don't care about the relationship. I wouldn't say they promised anything else. You know, they're promising that you'll meet someone.
Ron: A connection, that's all.
Sabrina: Yes. Except for the exception of one. I would say the one, they actually do try to connect you with a person who has similar ideas, beliefs, and things like that. And they probably over promise that, not necessarily on purpose. I just don't think they take into account how complicated life is. I think they're assuming that most people are using it are young, aren't in a blended family, which is absolutely not true. They just don't know their audience.
The others, most of them are kind of free and you do whatever you want to do; we don't really care before or after. And, you know, if you don't know what you're getting into, then that can be very misleading. If you do, it's just like anything—you know, it's like the internet. There's a lot of bad ways to get around on the internet in general. If you use it properly, it's fine, but you have to know what you're doing. They don't help, at all.
Ron: Well, I don't want to be misunderstood by our listeners. I'm an advocate for I think dating sites can be helpful as a first point of contact. That's it. You still have to do the work of figuring out if there's a relationship here.
Ron: Right. So yes, it's sort of a place where you can meet somebody. Be wise about the sites that you use and the apps that you use, because sometimes they definitely have an ulterior agenda in terms of hookup relationships and that type of thing.
Just avoid all of that; that's not helpful. But date with purpose, date with intentionality because a marriage might come out of this, a family might come out of this, and that impacts people and children and the next generation and generations to come. So just be mindful of that. Don't expect too much.
I guess what I'm really driving at here is this thing about unrealistic expectations. If sites don't help educate people about life and how it's a little more complicated dating with kids and marriage with children, then they're helping to add to your unrealistic expectations, which is a big setup. That's my contention; why set people up? Let's help them make wise decisions.
So that's really what we're after. I appreciate you being here today because that's what we're after even today, is to help our listener have a better understanding of life decisions, relationships, their blended family, a friend who's a single parent who's dating, whatever the case may be, and help them make better decisions.
Okay. Let's jump back a decade, . Before we listen to this very first clip, would you set the stage for our listeners a little bit? How is it that you became a single mom?
Sabrina: Okay; my first husband was killed in a car accident. He left for work that morning and I kissed him goodbye, and he never came home again. So, very shocking; did not expect it. It was just a tragic accident, not his fault.
Ron: Was it 2010 that David—
Sabrina: 2010, and my baby was three months old, and I had a toddler that was two. So here I was no job; I was a stay-at-home mom.
Sabrina: And had two babies on my hands.
Ron: This feels like an understatement to say massive earthquake and completely—you find everything you own in ruins/in rubble.
Ron: You're just like, “What now?”
Sabrina: Yes; don't know where to go, what to do. “How am I going to make money?” . “How am I going to take care of these babies by myself?”
Ron: Sometimes I think we put way too much stock in life insurance. “Oh, you'll be okay because you have money.” Like what? Your life is in ruins; that doesn't fix anything.
Ron: Now it might provide for the day, but emotionally, spiritually, the questions, the struggle, the—everything changes—friendships based on being a couple. Like everything changes.
Sabrina: Everything, everything. I mean, you feel like you were living in a perfect—you know what a terrarium is? Where there's, you know, all these perfect—you get the dirt and the little animals living in there. You feel like somebody just came in and just dumped your terrarium upside down and you can't see where you're going, and you don't know what you're doing. Or like shaking up a snowball. You just can't see through it. You don't know what's going on.
Ron: Yes, it's just chaos. I lost a son. You lost a husband. We've talked about this before. It is, it is life changing.
Ron: And you're never the same.
Sabrina: That's right.
Ron: I mean, I tell people that all the time. You're/we're never going back. Nan and I work with a ministry/volunteer with a ministry that works with parents who have lost children. That's one of the hard things we find ourselves saying, “You're never going back to the person you were.” If nothing else, you're unfortunately educated now about suffering and life and loss and difficulty.
Sabrina: That's right.
Ron: You're never going to be the same person. It is life changing. Everybody listening right now has a backstory of some kind. They found themselves in a single parent or dating somebody who is a single parent. There's loss somewhere in that narrative, and you're never going back. Part of what we want you to do is be wise about now, the terrain that you have to manage and navigate, and “How do you go forward?”
Sabrina: That's right. I tell people sometimes it's like losing someone, even through divorce, is like losing an arm and you never grow an arm back. Even if you get a replacement, it doesn't work the same.
Ron: Yes; right.
Sabrina: You just have to learn to live without it. But you do learn to live without. and you move on, and you continue living life. It's different. It's not normal, you know, so to speak. But you can thrive, and you can live.
Ron: Okay, that happened in 2010 for you and a couple years later you find yourself, us together, recording with FamilyLife Today. Now, we're going to play a little clip. Let me set this up; this first clip. So, people listening, you're going to hear a voice of Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine. They were the co-hosts of that program, FamilyLife Today. By the way, that's still ongoing. It's still a part of the ministry of FamilyLife. FamilyLife Today is still a national radio broadcast, and it also doubles as a podcast. If you're interested in that, you can certainly look it up.
Dennis is going to ask you a question. Here's what I want you to do as you listen to your reply. I kind of want you to put on ears that go below the surface. You know that mom, you know that woman who's talking in ways that we don't, and I'd love for you to just say, “Okay, a decade later, I know what was going on under the surface.
I have some perspective about what was happening there—her hopes, her fears, her desires, the interest that was going on.” And just sort of, if you could listen to your words, but then help us understand what else was going on with that woman. Okay?
Ron: Alright; let's play clip number one.
Dennis: Sabrina, you've now been a single parent and you know, obviously not since the very beginning and the death of your husband, but in the past few months have thought about dating. Have you noticed your son and your daughter doing anything kind of irregular when a guy shows up who's kind of interested in you?
Sabrina: Well, you know, Dennis, from the very beginning I was most concerned about the fact that there was a hole in their life; that they didn't have a father. Whenever I would have grief for them and grief that they didn't have a father in their life, I would hear the Lord say to me, “I am their father. I am their father.” I don't have to be fearful that they're somehow going to miss out on something. But at first it was scary to me but—
Bob: You were thinking, “I’ve got to get down to the hardware store and get a replacement part for the one that's gone missing.”
Bob: I mean, I hate to sound crass, but—
Dennis: Well, there was a reason for that. Your husband's dad died when he was a little boy.
Sabrina: When he was two and a half; same age as my son, and he wanted him to have a father. He wanted him to have a father. He felt like he wanted a dad his whole life and didn't have one. He said, “If anything ever [happens], I want you to get married again because I want my children to have a father. I felt I needed to honor that.
Dennis: So you looked for the hardware store?
Sabrina: So I went down and started looking. Who do I have? What are my choices? I met a man who, we just got into a conversation, and he said, “Well, my mother was widowed when I was a little boy, and my earliest memories of her were her going off on dates.” I said, “Well, how did that make you feel?” He said, “I didn't feel badly about it; It was just part of life.”
Right then I determined that just because my children were small didn't mean they didn't know what was going on. They knew what was going on and I had to be very sensitive to what they saw during that time. and um, even then I decided that I wouldn't meet dates at my house. That the men that I let be in their lives would have to be good people, but I had to make sure they were good people. They had to come through that another way other than dating.
So, to answer your question, yes. When they're around men, they do act differently. What's amazing to me at two and four years old, they know they don't have a dad. They know it. They recognize it. When they see other men, they call them “Daddy.” I'll say, “Yes, that's so and so's daddy,” or “That's a daddy in the home.” They realize that they don't have that, but they're not missing something. They don't realize—it doesn't hurt them emotionally in the way that I think it might.
In other words, I don't have to hurry to fill that hole because God is their father and they do have father figures in their lives, and they love being around men. It's amazing to see when the men come, they do have fun with them. They throw them up in the air. They do the things I can't do. They need that, but they are getting it. They are getting men in their lives, godly men—men that I know through friendships that can be a father figure to them without “Mommy's dating all the time.”
Ron: Okay. What are your thoughts?
Sabrina: So many thoughts. A lot of that is still true. Looking back, I think “Yes, that's exactly right.” What I didn't know then was that I think I needed a daddy more than they did. I do believe that fathers are very, very important, but they did have God as their father, and they did have father influences in their life. But I needed them to have a daddy more than they needed them to have a daddy.
Ron: You mind saying more about that? Unpack that.
Sabrina: Yes; help, the time, the encouragement—you know, someone to talk to about things that they were going through.
Ron: Making decisions with somebody.
Sabrina: Yes. I mean, just little things.
Sabrina: —my own insecurities as a mom, you know, “Am I doing the right thing?”
Are they/is this healthy or is it not healthy?” You know, I think that was one of the biggest struggles during that time was no one to talk to. Who cares about your kids as much as you do? I thought if I married someone that he would care about my kids as much as I do but that's not true. Not because I married a person who doesn't care about my kids. He does, but he didn't have that bond with them that I wanted/that I thought anybody would have with little children.
I had no idea how powerful a bond between a biological parent and their child is versus an adult that just comes into their life that doesn't have the biological connection. In other words, I was asking/I was expecting something from a person who is a perfect stranger to my kids. I was expecting something in him that he did not have that has to grow with time.
Sabrina: It was completely my fault to expect that from someone.
Ron: One of those unrealistic expectations.
Sabrina: Oh, yes. As much as you would—you know you don't expect the teachers in your kid's school the first day you meet them to love them like you do. You expect them to respect them and honor them and do what they're supposed to do, and, you know, do all of the need—give them everything they need. But you don't expect them to have the love for them that you have. And yet you're expecting the person you marry to love your children the way you do, and that's not possible. It's just not possible.
Ron: As I listened to the clip, my thought was, “Yes, I'm hearing a mom who's desperate for her kids.
Ron: Desperate for them to have what they need/to provide for them and she herself is in a desperate situation and just wants so much and life has thrown you this big curve and here you are coping, trying to figure it all out. At the same time, you were leaning into God and the idea that God is their provision. You don't want to be desperate in the sense of pathetic.
Sabrina: Right. [Laughter]
Ron: I mean, seriously.
Ron: I mean, a lot of people just sort of get to the point where they are irrational in their decisions about dating and moving forward because they're so emotionally needy in that space.
Ron: That's a tough little line to walk. Like on the one hand, trusting in God and at the same time having a need for yourself and your kids. And you didn't even realize—I think I just heard you say you didn't realize how big your need was.
Sabrina: Right; I didn't realize that.
I would say also, you know, I was preaching to myself mostly in that clip. You know going—every day telling myself “I don't have to hurry.” Because here I had been involved in marriage ministry for so long and I knew how important, and that was one of my biggest prayers for my children was “I know how much they need a father in their life. I've just gone through how many years of telling everyone how important fathers are to their kids and reading all the research, you know about—" I thought “They're going to go to prison because they don't have fathers [Laughter] you know a father in their life and they're going—"
That was one of my fears is I knew how important that role was in the family in general, and now they don't have that anymore. Who is going to make up for what they don't have?
Sabrina: God kept telling me, “I'm going to make up for it. It's okay; you have me.” But it was so hard to believe that; to know that God really would fill in the gap and that I didn't have to be in a hurry. But I really—I knew. I knew. I know what the statistics say. [Laughter]
Ron: Right; right.
Sabrina: I was so scared for them, and so I, I mean, it was just a pure faith to slow myself down even as much as I did.
Ron: We're going to listen to a clip here in just a minute where you referenced that very thing; but before we do, so you were preaching to yourself back then: “Alright, hang in, keep your head, trust God, don't panic.” I'm wondering, ten years later, if you could talk to that woman/that mom, what would you say?
Sabrina: I would say trust in God, know there are plenty of people throughout the world and throughout scripture even who didn't have a daddy like that. They didn't have a daddy in their life. They were raised by a single mom, and they were fine. Okay, don't believe the statistics; believe God's word.
Ron: I believe that. I so appreciate that. You know, sometimes we use stats to try to change people's minds about certain kinds of behavior, and we try to scare them into change. Stats just sort of represent a sample to the population. It does bring awareness. Anything we hear, we should say “Yes. Wow. If I eat bacon every day, probably not good for my heart.” [Laughter] We should know that sort of stuff so we make different decisions, but it doesn't mean you can't ever eat bacon. Like you’ve got to live in perpetual fear. “Ooh, I had bacon yesterday. Am I going to—" That's just not a helpful posture, and it's a fearful posture rather than a trusting God with the possibilities posture.
Okay. Let's listen to another clip from that FamilyLife Today episode.
Sabrina: Want to get remarried? I do want my children to have a father figure in their lives. I do want someone with them that will love them. But you know when I first was widowed and I was praying and I said, “Lord, I really want someone to be here.” I mean, I really had a wonderful relationship with my husband, and I loved him so deeply. We were best friends, and I was praying, “God, I want that again. I want that for my kids. I want it for myself.” I heard the Lord say, “Wait for me.”
Later on, I was thinking about Abraham and Sarah when he told Sarah that she was going to have a baby and she waited, and she waited, and she waited. And you know, eventually she thought, you know, maybe God meant that he would have a baby and not me. And so she went into her servant, Hagar, and said,” Here, I want you to sleep with my husband so we can have this promised child,” and she ended up with Ishmael.
Then I said, “I don't want an Ishmael marriage. I want an Isaac marriage. I want the marriage that God wants me to have. I want the man that God brings to me to be a godly man, the man that God wants, His will and not just to panic or some way of saying, ‘Well, how can I fulfill this? How can I make this happen?’”
Ron: Thoughts? What do you hear?
Sabrina: That's definitely a part of our story, waiting. I didn't realize at the time that the waiting wasn't just for me. I should have waited even longer. Not because I didn't marry a wonderful person; I did. He’s absolutely wonderful man of God. We'll often remind each other when we're upset that “You were God's perfect gift for me.”
But it caused a lot of problems with the rest of our family by not waiting longer. We thought, “Oh, the five of us”—at the time, it was his teenage son, my two kids/small children, three and five, and then me and him and we said, “Hey, this is great. We'll all get along just fine.” I had met his son and we thought in the household, “This is fine by us.” But waiting longer for the rest of the family; we should have waited much, much longer.
Ron: If we were to put words on an unrealistic expectation there, it would be that when we're ready, everybody else is ready.
Sabrina: Yes. [Laughter] It's definitely one of the expectations that is very unrealistic. I mean, he has older children that could have benefited, but his in-laws—you know, the parents of his first wife—my in-laws. I was a little more communicative with them because I'm more talkative of a person. But my husband Robby's family, he didn't talk to them very much at all. I mean, he's a grown man. He thought, “Why would I need to?” But they were scared to death. They had all the questions.
Ron: Especially when you came into the picture.
Sabrina: Oh yes. I mean, all the questions: will she love the grandchildren the way that we grandparents love them? Is she a good person? Even his sisters were unnerved. You know, I'm ten years younger than him, and they're going, “You're like”—he's the youngest of his family, so they're going, “You're like the age of my daughter.” [Laughter] I mean, they were all just, you know, kind of going, “Can we trust this person?”
“Is she going to be around?” “She just wants him for his money.” That wasn't a problem for us but those are the kinds of questions that go through people's minds when they're going, “Why do you want to be married to him?” They don't know you. They didn't spend the last six months dating you.
Ron: Exactly. They weren't really at dinner dates with you guys getting to know you.
Sabrina: They don’t know anything. Then the questions on the other side: will he take care of those kids? Is he going to be overbearing? He was a military guy; is he too harsh? Is he—you know, they are invested in your family and especially as a single parent, they're more invested because they know the loss that you've gone through, and they feel a sense of responsibility to the family.
All these questions are absolutely 100% normal. When your child gets married, you don't question a parent being overly concerned about who they marry. Well, they feel kind of that same burden of responsibility all the way around the family. They're all watching out for you. They're all watching out for your kids, and when you don't include them in that decision, they feel slighted.
Ron: Yes, sure.
Sabrina: You know, like, “Hey, I've been here for you for three years, and now you're just going to throw this person in here.
Ron: Especially after they've filled gaps and you know, they've come alongside.
Sabrina: They babysat. They were there. They were feeding you meals when you needed it. They were the ones who were covering for you when you had to go to work or a job or whatever. And then, you know, it's—I don't know, you pulled the rug out from underneath them, so to speak.
Ron: Okay. I want to press into this because I know somebody listening right now is going, “Okay.” They're already married, like you, a little bit down the road, looking back going, “Oh yes, I kind of had the same expectation. Now what?” In a minute, I want us to come back to a single parent who's listening right now going, “Yes; well, but what do you do?” because you're in love and you want to get married.
Let's take one at a time. Somebody who's listening, like you, looking back going, “Yes, I wish I would've waited a little bit longer. It brought some additional stress and strain to us that we didn't, but it is what it is now. So how do we think about it?” What would you say to somebody who's wondering about that?
Sabrina: You know, in our family, we've had, how do I put it? We've had relationships on both sides that have connected and then those that haven't. I wouldn't say that either one of us have acted differently toward either one of them. It's just some will embrace you and some won't. I think killing with kindness is probably a good rule. However, when I say that, sometimes the kindness comes across as not genuine and they wonder, you know, “What's your motive? Why are you doing this?”
Ron: Again, there's a trust issue there.
Sabrina: Very much; and you kind of just have—just like I think I was naive thinking that “Everybody gets along.” My personality is more of a “I trust you unless you give me a reason not to kind of person. I thought, “Well, of course, they'll like me.” I've even had people say to me, “Who wouldn't/who couldn't like you?” [Laughter] I'm like, “Well, there's, you know, you haven’t seen me when I'm really mad.” That can happen in a blended family.
Sabrina: That was my naivety, was just to think, “Well, everybody gets along. That's how my family is. We're very forgiving. We don't hold grudges.” And then you have other people who are the opposite. They're going, “I'm not going to trust you unless you give me a reason to.”
Sabrina: That's just personality types. I think I was thinking “Because we're family now and we're sort of stuck together, well, we all kind of have to like each other.” You know, you have to sort of move on with things. That's not the case. Not everybody feels that way. They don't even think of you as family.
Ron: Yes. This is one of those reoccurring themes that we come back to on this podcast a lot. And that's, your timing is not other people's timing—a kid's timing versus a grandparent’s, et cetera—everybody has a little bit different timing in terms of their level of openness.
Ron: I think back to the pandemic—you know, some restaurants opened quickly; others were closed and still are. Here we are recording in August of 2022, and some are still just barely opening. Yes, timing is everything and so it didn't always happen as quickly. If you're open, you kind of assume others will.
Sabrina: Right. [Laughter]
Ron: And then they don't and so it is. You know as you're talking, and one of the things I'm thinking for someone who's listening right now going, “Okay, I kind of wish we would have, but we didn't so now what do we do?” Well, okay, enjoy those relationships where the connections are taking place, and be carefully strategic about working on the relationships that are strained—perhaps from something that happened, a decision about getting married and the timing of that—but you know, don't give up on it, but keep working on it.
But at the same time, don't feel guilty enjoying what is okay and helpful. Focus on those relationships that are going well and keep pressing into, gently, the relationships that maybe are not, and hopeful that, you know, both sides will open up at some point.
Sabrina: Right. And it takes so much patience and grace, and you have to keep telling yourself over and over, “How do I want them to treat my wrongdoings?” You know, I want to be forgiven. I want to have grace from them. So you have to give it also. And it's so easy to get bitter and just shut off and say it's easier just to shut it off.
Ron: Yes. Walk away.
Sabrina: Yes, and go, “Oh, well fine.” Let it, you know, “I don't want to talk to you anyway.” That's not the right attitude. I think always having arms open, like, ugh, it's such a hard line to walk because you don't want to be overzealous and force yourself upon someone. Because for a lot of people that pushes them away.
Ron: That's right.
Sabrina: So you have to wait for them to come. At the same time, when and if they do come, you always have to be willing to embrace that. You have to sort of live in a state of openness. And that's hard because we all want resolve. Even when a song—you know, when there's a note that's not resolved, people want the song to end with a resolve.
Sabrina: You know, they can't stand that. Something within our nature that wants there to be a happy ending.
Sabrina: And it doesn't always. I think one of the most important teachings I ever learned from you was when you gave—I don't know if your listeners know about your sand/blending of the sands which you did at a conference. You got up and actually started pouring different colored sands into this container.
Ron: Just for people listening, it's the blending of the sand ceremony that people will do at weddings, where every person, the couple and then their children—I have a little vase with sand/colored sand for them, and they all sort of pour it in. It's kind of like a unity candle that what they're trying to signify is we're all a family now.
Ron: We're all going into one simple place.
Ron: What was the takeaway for you?
Sabrina: And the first time I heard you do that, you poured one halfway in and you're like, “This person only wants to go halfway,” and you set it aside. I'm like, “Okay, well maybe I,”—I'm thinking to myself—"maybe I can get him to pour in later.” And then you left one over here and said, “This person doesn't want to go in at all.” I'm thinking, “Yes, that's the problem. How do we get that person to go in?” As soon as I thought that thought you said, “And that's okay. They don't have to pour in.” And that was my “I want results” moment. I thought “That is mind blowing to think that it's okay for me to let that go and to say, ‘They don't want to blend and that's okay.’”
Ron: Yes. That's a today is not the day for them to join; that they're not putting themselves in. We're hoping and trusting that they will pour a little more of themselves in over time, but I can't make them do it.
Sabrina: That's right. And that comes back to the waiting concept again. You know where Sarah was 90 years old when God decided to give her that baby. Why did He wait until she was 90? I don't know.
Sabrina: I was talking to a lady at my church, and she was—she's an elderly lady, probably around 80 years old, and her husband had recently died, and all of his kids were there. They were blended family, and they were blended back when it wasn't cool. [Laughter] —way back in the day. She's told many stories to me about her blended family, but that day she was saying that it took them until they were well into their adulthood. Their children were like teenagers or almost grown before they decided that she was okay.
Sabrina: And she was around to stay, and they could all be friends. I saw them at that funeral having the greatest time laughing and telling stories and I said, “How did that happen?” She was like, “I just had to wait.” Sometimes that's what God does. We have to wait on Him to change hearts, but He can, and He does, so we can't give up hope on that.
Ron: It’s a beautiful image. Single parents listening right now going, “Okay, I'm trying to do the wait thing, but we're in love and you know, sex interest and desire is high. I think our kids are on board, but now I'm supposed to be thankful about former mother-in-law as well as my own mom and his mom and his ex's mom. And, whoa, this is so much.” You know, it's a delicate balancing act of trying to be aware of all of that. I don't want anybody to hear us talking, going, “Oh, so we're supposed to wait till everybody's ready.”
Sabrina: Until their 90.
Ron: Nope! I'm not doing that because that would be giving the other people way too much power over your decision when to get married. But at the same time, it is something to be prayerful about, to listen and hear and observe and take it to heart and talk with this person you've fallen in love with and try to make some good decisions about being mindful, I guess, is the thing of where other people are in their timing.
Sabrina: Yes. That's right.
Ron: It's not ever going to be perfect, but it could be that there's more people on board.
Sabrina: Yes. I think when we say, “Wait,” it sounds like a time issue. I wouldn't even say it's a time. It's not like you can say, “Hmm, we need to wait one year or two years, or five years.” I think wait means wait for everybody to get their chance.
Sabrina: Not necessarily get on board. But you know, when you're waiting on a train, for example, a train doesn't wait forever.
Ron: That's right.
Sabrina: You know, you got your chance to get on board or you don't. But like in our case, I don't think we gave anyone a chance to get on board. We sort of said “Train's leaving. Too bad for you. Hopefully/hope we'll see you on the next train. [Laughter] We'll see you in the next/at the next destination.
We just didn't think that anyone cared honestly. You know that there was any interest. Like the first time you get married and you're young, the only ones that really care are your parents and so you let them in on the deal and you move on. You don't care about your siblings. You don't come down and say, “Big Brother, do you mind if I marry this guy?” But in this case, they do because they have an invested interest. They've helped you in so many ways. They're a part of you now, and they were a part of the person in your life before.
Ron: Right. They have their own loss.
Sabrina: Yes. They're dealing with their own grief and loss.
Ron: That's right. That's right. That's right. It's just more complicated.
Sabrina: It is. It's just more complicated.
Ron: But I love this idea, what you're saying about waiting. The train is going to leave. You know there's a window of time in there and you jump on board with trust. We're back to trusting God.
Ron: We can't orchestrate perfection. If we could, you wouldn't be divorced. You wouldn't be widowed in the first place. Yes. Like that would've never happened. It's not about trying to gain control over our circumstance. It is about trusting God in what we/what all of life, especially what we can't control, but all of life and prayerfully making those decisions with a mindfulness of how it's going to impact other people.
Sabrina: I think it's a matter of including the other people instead of just walking—you know I remember when Robby was going to tell his sister that we were engaged, and we just marched into her house. Like it's the first time I ever met her, and I already have a ring on my finger. He kind of meant it as a funny surprise, like, wave your hand around and see if she sees your ring.
Well, the first time that might've been funny, but the second time it's really hard—you know, hurt. I could see the look on her face. Like you weren't even going to tell me. I mean, you just met the person. I know she was concerned. You know, “Is she going to love my nephew?” “Is she going to be the right person for you?” You know, all these questions I could see just swirling around in her brain and it was embarrassing. I don't know if she was embarrassed, but if I were in her position, I would be embarrassed by that shock. You know, going, “I don't really know what to say right now.” I don't know if I'm happy or sad or concerned or I have zillion questions.
You know, that's just, you're putting them in a difficult position, and then you're stepping out on the wrong foot immediately. I think it would've been so much better if he had had a conversation with her beforehand. You know, just soften her up and let her ask questions.
Ron: Give her a little time.
Ron: Again, people need time to absorb new transitions. And as much as an engagement announcement is a happy transition—
Sabrina: For us.
Ron: —for at least a couple of people. [Laughter] It is a major transition, a life circumstance that is altering again, and I didn't necessarily have any, you know, say in this—just like the death or the divorce or whatever. So, here's another one. And so, it can have that same sort of impact and you didn't quite even realize that other people might feel it and absorb it in a negative way when it seems to be a happy thing.
Sabrina: Yes, and not even negative as much as just questions. You know, she had no opportunity to ask the hard questions. She's not going to sit there and ask me “So, what kind of a person are you?” You know? I mean, but she could ask him those questions. I would've been more comfortable in that situation also, because there wouldn't have been that awkward, like, “Uh, Okay.”
Ron: Breaking the ice and making an announcement.
Sabrina: Yes. All at the same time. So again, how long would it have taken to do that? Two weeks. You know, I mean, that's really not asking to wait that long. You know, I'm not 90. I'm not Sarah. [Laughter]
Ron: Give a little time.
Sabrina: Yes. A little extra time always helps.
Ron: We have one more clip and we're kind of going back to this online dating thing.
Dennis is going to ask you a question again about online dating. You had an experience then. I'm kind of wondering now, as you look back ten years later, what other experiences you had in dating that have taught you something about forming new relationships? Let's listen.
Dennis: Alright, Sabrina. True confessions. What happened?
Bob: Or what is happening?
Sabrina: Well, I'll tell you what's funny is that someone had finally set me up on another date with someone that I knew that I did not want to marry. And I got to the point where I said, “Oh, we've hit desperation now, so I've got to open up my wallet.”
Dennis: We apologize if he's listening right now. [Laughter]
Sabrina: I said, “I have to open up my world, you know, to more.” It doesn't really narrow as much as it opens it up. And that is what's dangerous about it, because now you're exposed to a whole world. Now, there are sites like eHarmony that are very restrictive, and they try to do a good job of making that a very narrow focus.
But there are other sites, including Christian dating sites that are even more dangerous. Because you assume everyone on there is a Christian and they're all pretending to put on this white robe, and you find out they're whitewashed tombs on the inside. It's a nerve-wracking experience.
I have met nice people, genuine, solid believers that are good people, but I've met a whole lot of scary ones too. One guy, I thought I was going to have to call the police and get a restraining order on. I didn't know if he was going to show up at my house. You know, like I told him, I said, “I have to be both nurturer and protector of my children as a single parent. I don't have a husband in my home to play that role/to be the protector. Now that's up to me.”
When you open up yourself on that online world, I'm easily found, and he found me. And so, you know, I found out later through some mutual friends that he's not the danger that I thought he was, but I'll tell you he came across that way very aggressively. And was even saying at the beginning, “I hope I'm not going too fast for you,” but, you know, and laying out our future together after we'd had like one conversation over email—talking about how he's going to be there for me and be the shoulder to cry on.
That's the kind of people that you can meet there that are in that desperate mode to, “Let's get married,” “Let's push this thing off.” You don't know who they are and they're manipulating you to try to get into a relationship there.
Ron: We're back to the online thing again. Now, the dating sites have changed in the last decade, of course, but that overall feel of “Yes, you're now out there and you can be found.” I'm curious; is there any more to that story?
Sabrina: Oh, the dating sites have changed, and they've become even more difficult in the sense that you can't hide. I mean they, now they've got pings on your cell phone that they can follow you. I thought, “What in the/why would you do that?” But you know, people; they generally think people are good people and they're not psychos. [Laughter] But when you're in a very emotional situation like that and you really think “You are the person that God has for me.” I had many people tell me that.
Ron: Oh really?
Sabrina: Oh, yes.
Ron: Many people?
Ron: I have to go back to this word. I'm sorry if this sounds pejorative, but when there's a desperation in dating, people are not discerning—
Ron: —about their circumstances, their situation, their life, the other person. All of a sudden, it is just, everything's rosy. The white robe—I thought that was so good. Turns out that it's not really who they are and so desperation is never the posture to have to go into a dating experience.
Sabrina: That's right. Oh, and when I set up my profile on there, I really set it up to get rid of people, not to keep people. I wanted to weed out the ones. I had I was looking for a strong Christian man, so I made my profile about as strong and Christian as it could get. I didn't want to hide anything. Then I met guys, who would come on and say, “Oh, I'm a Christian too. I see from your profile, you're very strong Christian.” And I'll say, “Well, I see from your profile that you're trying to hide it. And so, I don't want to be with you. I want a guy who's going to be honest upfront and tell me, really, you know, what his strongest beliefs are.”
Ron: This does speak to the silhouette, the type of person you're looking for, and you knew what you wanted and so you didn't fudge when it came to that sort of thing. I recommend that in the book, Dating and the Single Parent. Like, you need to have an idea of that person, but you also need to have an idea of who they are as a parent or stepparent to your kids. And if they're a parent to their own children, you need to have a sense of: what kind of person am I looking for as a parent to their own children?
Ron: Don't want somebody who's just lackadaisical and doesn't care, or overly harsh or, you know, any of those extremes.
Ron: That needs to be a part of what you're looking for on day one so that you can weed out, as you said, the people who are not really good candidates.
Sabrina: That's right. And to be fair, you know, for single parents, it's so hard after you've been married to date again. You know, when you've never been married before and you're dating, you don't know any different. You just, you have ideas of what you think it's going to be, but you don't really know. And then when you have been married, you at least know what you're missing.
So the things that you love—even in a bad relationship, there are still things about that person you love. That's why you married them. Or there's parts about marriage in general that you love. You know, just coming home to someone at night and having someone to talk to about situations. Or in a bad marriage, you think if only it was like this, then my life would be perfect. Then you have your own set of naivety that you're putting on top of what you do know.
Then there's the whole, you know, sex issue where you if you were not sexually active before when you were single, which is rare now, but if you weren't, then you don't know any better. Well, once you awaken that, now, you desire it. You want that. And so, there's a reason why people rush through and you just constantly fighting those desires and the stuff that you know that you want.
In my case, I had a good marriage and I loved it and I wanted another good marriage to be in. And so, to fight that is very, very, very difficult because I knew what I was missing, and other people do too. I had some people, you know, some guys say, “Well, I thought I was a good husband, but she cheated on me, and she left me.” And you know, so these are good people. They're not just—not all of them are crazy, desperate people. Some of them are. [Laughter] But those are the kinds of—you have to be prepared to ask the hard questions.
I mean, from the moment someone sent me a message, I had about five or six questions I would ask them off the top. I would say, “Tell me your salvation story.” Tell me how you—you know, if they were married before then, because it'll say those kinds of things on their profile. I'd say, “What happened to your marriage?” You know, just the top five things, the most—and, and I went straight for the—
Ron: —the toughies.
Sabrina: The tough. Yes.
Ron: You're looking for character.
Sabrina: I'm looking to kill off. I just was, “I don't even want to talk to you. I don't want to get emotionally invested at all if you're not the one that I need to be with.” And it wasn't everything. It's not like, “What's your favorite color?” Oh, my favorite color's blue. Yours is red. Too bad for you. You're out of here. No, it was the tough, hardcore questions and even those didn't get everybody right away. You know, there was still times I said, “I'm going to go on a date with this person.” Because then you have to find out, Are they attractive?” Because even with pictures, then they're putting on filters and they're putting on—you know, they're taking good shots and angles.
Ron: But I love that your first filters were ones around character and spirituality and things that are eternal. I mean, really, that's the way to say it. Things that are eternal; get there fast. Because if they don't share a common, eternal perspective about life, I don't care what eHarmony says, you're not going to be compatible.
Sabrina: That's right.
Ron: I don't care what a profile says online. You're not compatible. I mean, that's—you know the scriptures are pretty clear. You can't marry just anybody. You marry somebody who's a believer and that's where it starts. So start with those eternal filters and then begin to move into other things where you begin to look at things that are more about preference and personality and things like that—history, background.
I think that is a really serious consideration for a lot of people. If you flip that over, which is what a lot of people do. I mean, think about a hookup experience. We're starting with superficial. Well, what you draw people to, what you draw yourself into is the kind of thing you tend to stay with. So you start with superficial, you tend to stay in superficial.
Ron: And then marriage demands depth and intimacy and maturity, and you're like, “We don't have that. We're going to have to build it now.” Well, that's upside down. Like, it just, it doesn't mean it can't work out, but my goodness, that's a harder way to start.
Sabrina: And in a blended family, it's even—you can't have a blended family without it. If you don't have a depth of character where that can hang on, you're not going to make it.
Ron: In light of all of the parenting, stepparenting, co-parenting loss issues, the open closed issues—
Sabrina: Yes, the depression. A lot of time, especially with men, they put off their grief
and then when—
Ron: It shows up when they finally are settled in a place where they are cared for. I'm not saying that's all intentional, but you're right. That is something that happens, not just with men. I think it happens with women, but it's a good observation.
Ron: Have they grieved well? That ought to be one of those first initial filters.
Sabrina: And they think they have a lot of times, I mean, they don't even know. And then you get into the marriage, and all of the controversy and the tension brings up the things from the past—any of the baggage that you have, even in our situation where you're both widowed.
Ron: I'm so glad you're bringing this up because I just want to add and say this is a typical common experience for all of us who grieve something in our past. The present awakens that grief. It never really/we never really get over it. We carry it with us.
I guess the question we're asking is, does that new person have tools? Have they been intentional with their grief, or have they just been shutting it off, hiding from it, doing very little to talk or discuss or process, share with their kids, grieve with their kids?
All those things would be indications whether it's in there and it's stuck—it's going to bubble out someday and be ugly, or there's a pathway for their grief. Not that it's accomplished, but that it seems as if they have a healthy relationship with their grief.
Ron: That's the kind of thing that you're looking for. Even as we talk, and I look back at a book that I wrote, Dating and the Single Parent, I missed some stuff. There's no doubt. But I do think that there's an awful lot in there that is helpful, useful tools to get people at least focusing on the majors and having the perspective that you need to make those decisions as you begin to move forward.
Ron: I so appreciate your perspective now, Sabrina. And thanks for—and by the way, it was fun ten years ago when we did this. It was fun today. One last time. I'm just curious. Listening back to yourself, do you have any thoughts that you would say, again, to that old self about the process of dating and falling in love again?
Sabrina: Yes. I would say spend more time together with the family. That's probably the main one. I think I met Robbie's son twice before I married into the family, and he met my kids more, but I spent maybe a couple of times with his in-laws, maybe at the most, and now I spend more time with them than anyone. We ended up going to church together.
His kids could have very much benefited from just asking me the hard questions—making them feel included. We did not include them at all. Now we thought we had. It's not we weren't trying to, but it wasn't enough. I think we needed to understand that they were marrying us as well. And your book does say that. You say that in your book? That's why I say we thought we had, but we didn't give them the time. We didn't do it enough. Once or twice was not enough and we were trying to hurry and make it all work out.
Ron: Sabrina, thanks for being with me. It’s been fun.
Sabrina: It’s my pleasure.
Ron: Look forward to your book coming out one of these days.
Sabrina: Thank you.
Ron: So, Dating and the Single Parent is the resource. For those that are engaged, Preparing to Blend not only helps you as a couple walk through that engagement and get ready; it helps your children get ready. Just like she was just saying about helping them prepare for blended family living.
Our leader training around Preparing to Blend continues periodically. That's happening next week, November 15th and 17th, 2022, if you're interested in being a part of that. Maybe you could tell a pastor, somebody at your church who is doing the premarital counseling who could benefit from that.
I just want to say thank you to our listeners. Thanks for being with us today. If you want to know any more information about Sabrina or any of the things that we've talked about, look in the show notes. It's going to help you find links to all of that additional information.
And by all means, if you have not subscribed to the FamilyLife Blended podcast, please do that and give us a little rating, five stars if you like what you hear. And we are donor supported and so Thanksgiving's just around the corner. And if you're thankful for what this podcast offers you, maybe you could make a donation by the end of the year tax deductible. That really helps us continue to do the ministry that we're doing.
Oh, one more thing. Our next Women and Blended Families live stream. It's on Facebook® and YouTube® as well. It's coming up November 29th, 2022. It's the holiday edition, so please don't miss that. The show notes, again, will tell you how you can get connected to that event.
Okay, next time on FamilyLife Blended, you're going to hear another of our growing up blended episodes. This time we're going to be talking with Fred and Anita Von Canon about changing family legacy. That's next time on FamilyLife Blended.
I'm Ron Deal. I'm so glad that you've been with us today. Thank you for listening.
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