Blended Families: A Different Ocean
About the Guest
When it comes to the issues of marriage, according to blended family expert Ron Deal, remarried couples sail in a completely different ocean. And,navigating the rip tides and cross currents of that ocean requires purposeful attentiveness to the unique issues of remarriage.
Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
When it comes to the issues of marriage, according to blended family expert Ron Deal, remarried couples sail in a completely different ocean.
Blended Families: A Different Ocean
Bob: When two families come together to form a blended family, Ron Deal says the mom and the dad need to relax—slow down a bit. He says, “Most parents are trying to push too hard too fast.”
Ron: “We’ve got to cook this thing! We’ve got to get these people to like each other! We’ve got to be family to one another. So, we’ll orchestrate, in our timing, as adults, when the kids are going to be happy.” [Laughter] That’s really funny when you say it out loud; isn’t it? And so, it goes into push, and demand, and shove, and orchestrate. It’s all about our needs and not feeling guilty anymore. I get it! I know what you are after. The goal is not the issue / the goal is fine! Familyness is the goal—that’s great! But the strategy might not get you there.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, August 10th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.
We’ll hear some wise counsel today from Ron Deal about how families can come together without getting chopped up in a blender. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. We have said many times here that in marriage there is a degree of difficulty as a husband and wife try to blend their differences to form oneness in a marriage relationship. If you’re in a blended marriage, that degree of difficult gets harder.
Bob: That’s why having someone like Ron Deal, who can help you with the challenges—that improves the odds of you winding up with a healthy, strong, blended marriage or family.
Dennis: Ron Deal heads up our Blended Family Initiative. Bob, there’s nobody better, in the country, to give a biblical approach to a blended family. It is the fastest-growing form of marriage and family today. We have to be addressing it with good, sound wisdom; and Ron’s got it!
Dennis: You’re going to get some excellent advice and counsel for how you take a blended family and make that marriage strong in the midst of the swirl and everything that’s taking place around that marriage. There are a lot of things that really are out—it seems almost—to defeat the marriage in the midst of trying to build stability.
Bob: Yes; Ron often talks about the fact that his goal, in what he’s doing, is really to help the children of blended families have a strong, healthy family environment because he knows what the statistics say. If he can get mom and dad—in a blended marriage—to have a strong, healthy marriage, it’s the best predictor of what’s going to happen with those kids in the next generation.
What we’re going to hear today is Part One of a workshop that Ron Deal did recently, talking to an audience of couples who are in a blended marriage, and talking about some of the real challenges that come with trying to blend your family.
Ron: If you know anybody who’s dating or somebody who is dating a single parent—and it may be still in the dating/courtship trying-to-make-decisions phase—I want to give you some wisdom from my youngest son, Brennan. He’s now 14; but when he was 9 years old, he sat down with a friend of his one day. They came up with three ways to get a girl. Now, I’m telling you folks—this is phenomenal stuff.
So, here you go: “If you want to get a girl, you’ve got to be yourself—don’t burp—just be yourself.” [Laughter]
And all the ladies said—
Ron: Amen; right? Number two: “If you want to get a girl, don’t chew gum in front of her. You’ll be talking like, ‘Hi,’—smack, smack—“do you want to”—smack, smack—“go out?”—smack, smack. And she will say, “No way, loser!” [Laughter]
And the number three way to get a girl is: “Do not give her a wedgie.”[Laughter] Now, the good news about this advice is that this works before the wedding and after; alright?
So, if you are already married, you can keep this up. You’re thinking: “Okay, that’s great. Is this as good as it gets?” Okay, let’s put this into adult-speak for just a minute. Let’s just see if we can learn something from it; alright?
If you want to get a girl, you’ve got to be attractive. You’ve got to be kind. You don’t want to stink! You know what I’m talking about? You don’t want to do things that make the other person just kind of not want to be around you. Well, that works beforehand; and it kind of works after the wedding too.
Let’s put number two into adult-speak. If you want to get a girl, communicate and connect. You’ve really got to understand each other. You’ve got to figure out how to bridge those differences between who we are—as male/female, person and person, style and style, interests and interests. There are a whole lot of things we have to work towards to find each other; right? Learn how to connect. And you have to continually work on connecting well.
What about the number three? Do you think we can put that into adult-speak? No, we can’t. Just don’t give her a wedgie; alright?
It’s been four years now; but the Super Bowl commercial from Doritos®, a few years ago, went viral. Do you remember that one? “Keep your hands off my mama; keep your hands off my Doritos!” We learned something really quickly—this is not the same kind of family as a biological family. Think about it! This guy is coming on the scene, and he doesn’t have a place / he doesn’t have a position. He doesn’t belong there, and the kid does. The kid knows it! And the kid claims territory—that belongs to the child—that does not belong to the adult.
So, if this guy, actually, enters this woman’s life and becomes a part of this family situation, how is he going to be a parent? How is he going to have authority? How’s he going to connect? How’s he going to have a position of leadership? How’s he going to step up in this kid’s life—in this climate / in this environment—when he hasn’t been invited in by the child?
He might get invited in by the woman—but to be invited in by the child—are two separate processes—two emotional, relational, different processes. In the book, Dating and the Single Parent, I call it the difference between coupleness and familyness. Coupleness is one thing. Familyness is a whole other thing. And so, we’ve got to figure out how to manage both of those dynamics in becoming stepfamily smart.
Let’s just kind of do a couple of case studies in stepfamily complexity so you can begin to understand. As you’re watching this, just think a little bit about your complexity. Your story is going to be a little bit different than this, but this will give an illustration; alright?
Let me tell you about Susie and John. They lived in one part of the universe, and they got married. They had three kids: Mary, Mike, and John, Jr.; but as life would have it, Susie and John divorced. In another part of the universe are Bob and Betty. They, too, got married.
They, too, had two kids: Ted and Carrie; and they, too, divorced.
Since that time, Betty has remarried Frank. Bob has remarried Susie. Now, when Susie married Bob, she knew she was getting a mother-in-law and father-in-law. That’s what you get when you get married to somebody, but she had no clue that she was also getting an ex-wife-in-law—an ex-wife-in-law? “Well, what do you mean by that?” Well, you know, Bob’s ex-wife, Betty.
“Wait a minute,” Susie says, “Ron, are you telling me Betty is a part of our family?” Well, I know she doesn’t come over and help clean up after dinner or she doesn’t donate any of her money to pay your bills—I get that—but, oh, yes, she is a part of your family. All she has to do is pick up the phone and call Bob, and the weekend schedule changes.
So, Susie has to, now, deal with the fact that her life is being controlled, or scheduled, and so on by another woman; but here’s the little back story I need to tell you about Susie. You see, she’s one of those large and in-charge moms that gets it all done; alright? She’s got the schedules. She’s got the kids’ routines.
She’s got this going and that going. She’s aware of what’s going on with the kids emotionally, and she’s on top of all of it.
Well, when she married Bob, one of the things she liked about him was he’s pretty amenable. I mean, he kind of goes along and gets along—right?—especially, as it relates to the children. He’s just kind of flexible that way. It’s all good with him; but what she didn’t realize is that her ex-wife-in-law, Betty, is also a large and in-charge mom.
So, now, what you can see in this new situation—this new stepfamily, with three houses in it, and five different people trying to parent the five kids—is that Susie and Betty are constantly in competition for Bob’s affirmation, and Bob going along, and Bob saying, “Yes; that’s good with me.” Betty can pick up the phone, call her ex-husband, and ask him to change his schedule; and he’s all good with that. But now, that he is married to Susie, who says: “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Wait a minute. How is it that she gets to dictate our schedule?”—Bob finds himself stuck between two women, who are warring over his time, and his affections, and his saying, “Yes, Honey, I’ll go along with that.”
Susie has primary custody of her three kids. They live with their mother and their stepdad. Every other weekend and six weeks in the summer, they are spending time with their dad, John. But Betty has primary custody of her two kids. They live with their mom and their stepdad. On occasion, Bob and Susie have all five. Can anybody spell the word, “complexity”?
See, it’s not just about what happens between Bob and Susie. It’s about the ocean in which they swim. It’s about all the undercurrents, and the sharks, and the reefs, and the stuff they have to watch out for and manage. That has as much impact on their coupleness as their sex life does, as their shared faith in God does, as how well they communicate and resolve conflict does. That’s complex!
Now, basically, that’s one stepfamily configuration. I hired a PhD in math, a few years ago, to go and figure out for me how many different stepfamily configurations there could be because I wasn’t smart enough to figure it out myself.
I mean, you have somebody who was divorced and somebody was widowed—or two people were widowed—or neither one has been married before but one of them had a child out of wedlock—or—there are eight different types of couples in stepfamilies; right? Then, one brings a kid, or they both bring kids—yours and mine—or we have an “ours baby” / a mutual child—sometimes, we call it. You put all those configurations in the computer, and you get 67 different possible configurations; alright? This is one. Your story is going to be a little different.
So, whatever your story is—you’ve got to figure out complexity. You’ve got to just step back for a minute, every once in a while, and go: “Okay, Honey, it’s you and me against that! Let’s get in the same boat together in this ocean. Let’s learn how to swim together in this ocean. But most importantly, how do you and I, Honey, as a team, deal with our complexity?”
Complexity brings stress, but here’s the real kicker: “Stress thickens blood.” What I mean by that is—functionally, you’re all kind of here.
As the stress goes up, on the Susies and the Bobs, what they tend to do is to kind of—Susie begins to look after her cubbies a little bit more. She begins to kind of divide lines—like, “My kids and me over here,” or “I’m going—I don’t want to hurt them any more than they’ve already been hurt. It’s already been hard enough as it is.” I get that. You don’t want the kids to hurt anymore.
But when you begin to kind of resort to protectiveness, then, that means you are unwilling to connect, and do some agreement, and find some willingness to risk on behalf of the marriage. Then, sometimes, you are more protecting the kids than you are your relationship / your marriage. That thickens the bloodline. It thickens it over here, but it weakens it over there.
So, let’s talk about how you cook a stepfamily. This is kind of an attitude and an approach to building relationships within your home, but it’s really a long-term attitude. It really says, “Okay, what does it take for us to kind of become family?” See, you didn’t necessarily know it; but the day you walk down the aisle, you answered one family question—but you asked a second one that nobody had an answer for.
So, here’s the first one you answered. When you walked down the aisle and got married, you answered for everybody, in attendance, and God—you said: “We now are a couple. We’re together. We are in covenant with one another. We’re a couple.” You defined the relationship—husband and wife “‘til death do us part.” It’s a really cool definition / everybody gets it.
But here’s the question you created, in defining your coupleness. You raised a question for everybody else; and that was: “Okay, now, all of you, that are connected to us—you are now family. Now, figure that out.” You didn’t realize you were asking that question; but that’s the question that really gets asked because your kid, or their kid, or both kids, or ex-spouses, or grandparents are all now going, “Okay, so how do I relate to you?” So, really, the question is: “How are we going to fit?” and “What way are we going to be family—to what degree are we going to be family with one another?”
You probably didn’t realize it, but you went about—you’ve got a philosophy about how to cook this family, with all these different parts. When you say, “Honey, why don’t you take Johnny out and throw the football?” that’s a cooking strategy. What you are saying is: “Go spend time together. Enjoy something together. You guys will bond and create relationship, and you’ll become family.” Now, that makes sense! That’s what you want. That’s your heart’s desire. That’s what we’re after. There is nothing wrong with that goal! Please hear me. There is nothing wrong with the goal.
But on occasion, the strategies—the cooking strategies—that we can use sometimes do more harm than they do good. For example, saying to kids, “I know he’s not your dad; but why don’t you just call him ‘Dad’ anyway?” That’s a cooking strategy. I’m going to lump that into the blender category; right? “We’re going to be a blended family. We’re going to use a blender to make this thing work.” So, what happens when you put all the ingredients in a blender and you turn it on? You force them into relationship with one another. You take a whole lot of different ingredients and you cram them together with friction, and high heat, and stress. All of a sudden, they are one fluid mixture.
As the joke goes, “Somebody had to get creamed in the process.” Usually, that’s a child.
Let’s do a little case study. This is the blendering with the emotional affections. You know—how we all kind of have a relational style—all families do. Let’s just look at it on one little piece of how we do relationships. Let’s think about the emotional continuum of closeness for a minute. On one end of this continuum, we have people that are super, super close together. You know, kind of the stereotypical New York Italian family, where everybody eats together all the time. If you have a birthday party, 80 cousins show up because that’s what you do. Everybody is in one another’s lives. You make mutual decisions with one another. You talk to six family members before you decide anything. They’re very, very tight—you with me?
On the other end of this continuum are families that really value their alone time / their independent time. You grow up—you kind of have your own household / your own life. You move away, and you stay in contact with your family; but man, it’s all on you.
So, you make independent decisions. If somebody kind of suggests that you ought to do something, you are offended by that. You know, “Why are they getting in my space?”—you with me on that? It’s not that these people don’t love their family members—they do! They just value their independence. It’s a style; right? So, you’ve got this continuum.
Let’s go back and talk a little bit about Susie and Bob for a minute. You see, Susie grew up in a family—they do a whole lot of stuff together all the time—every holiday / all the traditions. There is a togetherness message in everything that they do. Bob grew up in a family that, on this continuum, is about right here. They really value their independent time. So, here’s their different styles; right? Then, they get married. What happens in their blendering? They make these assumptions about how they are going to become family to one another. Susie—large and in-charge—really has a high, high need for that to happen fast. Of course, she would because being together is a sign that things are okay; and that’s what you want.
So, Saturday morning comes; and it goes like this—Susie walks in to Bob. He’s shaving; and she says: “Listen, Honey, I just looked at the family calendar. You’re not going to believe what I just saw.” She says: “It’s Saturday. All five kids are here with us, and we have nothing to do today.” Bob says: “Really? No soccer games, no church function, no—I mean, we don’t have to mow the yard?” She says: “No, it’s done. It’s taken care of. Can you believe we have nothing to do all afternoon? I’ve got an idea!”
Bob goes, “Oh, no. Okay, what’s your idea?” She says, “Well, I’m thinking we ought to do something together today.” Bob goes, “Okay, Honey,”—remember—go along / flexible; right?—keep the peace: “I’ll go tell my kids. I’ll go break the news.” “Hey, guys, listen. Two o’clock today, we’re going to climb in the car. We’re all going to go bowling.” Ted goes: “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on, Dad. I can’t go, Dad—not me.” “No, son, I’m sorry. We’re all going to go. So, be ready—two o’clock.”
Susie goes and tells her kids: “Guess what we’re going to do today?! We’re all going to go bowling!” “Yay!” Everybody is excited, thrilled, and happy. Two o’clock comes. They pile into the minivan. They don’t even get out of the driveway—and you know what happens; right? Ted starts picking on the youngest—“He’s touching me! He’s touching me!”—from the backseat of the car. Bob spins around: “Alright; I don’t want anybody touching anybody. We’re having fun today! You’re going to have fun whether you like it or not.” That’s what blenders do!
They go to the bowling alley. It’s—and the whole day, it’s just kind of this seething, below the surface; right? It’s bubbling up. It’s brewing and brewing. Most of it centers around Bob’s oldest son, Ted, who is just kind of the antagonist in the home, at that point in time. He’s a teenager, and he’s just kind of got the attitude-thing going on. And Susie, over there, going, “If my husband would just take care of business with that boy, we’d be having fun; and we’d be happy right now. But no, he’s just talking to him.”
So, Susie, who’s never had a 17-year-old son, knows exactly what Bob ought to be doing to fix this situation.
It’s been seething below the surface until it breaks through the emotional ceiling, which is that place where Susie can’t stand it no more! She runs over to her husband and says: “That’s it! I’m sick and tired of this! You need to settle him!” “I am trying to settle.” “No, you’re not because if you were taking care of”—[sobbing incoherently]. Then, she turns on Ted. Ted’s going: “Whatever! Get out of my face. You’re not my mom!”
What I would suggest—there is a whole lot going on in this scenario—but what’s pushing it / what’s driving it?—the fuel that’s in the tank is this blender assumption that says: “We have to make it happen now! We’ve got to cook this thing! We’ve got to get these people to like each other. We’ve got to be family to one another. So, we’ll orchestrate, in our timing, as adults, when the kids are going to be happy.”[Laughter] That’s really funny when you say it out loud; isn’t it? So, it goes into push, and demand, and shove, and orchestrate. It’s all about our need to not feel guilty anymore.
I know what you are after. The goal is not the issue / the goal is fine! Familyness is the goal—that’s great! But the strategy might not get you there.” [Sobbing] “But Ron, that means we’re not a family. If we’re not a family, then, I’m feeling guilty.” Yes. You can wrestle with that guilt—just don’t let it control you because if it controls you, then, it’s going to push you back into blendering / then, you’re blundering—you with me? Don’t cook a stepfamily with a blender. Cook it with a crockpot!
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to what not to do today as Ron Deal has been talking about the blended family situation.
Dennis: You remember how many different forms of blended families there were?
Bob: Yes; I think he said it was 67.
Dennis: Yes. I mean, they come about in so many different ways. It’s not like there can be an equation that is easily applied to all these different situations. And it’s why a couple—I’m telling you—if they don’t have a good, vibrant faith in Jesus Christ, and in the Scriptures, and tied into a local church, and growing, as a couple, spiritually, they’re not going to be able to take the raw components of their relationship and end up really being able to honor God with it. They are going to fall prey to their circumstances—to the blending. As Ron just said, that’s not what we need. We need a crockpot.
Bob: You know, this is something that Ron has written on extensively. He has a book and a DVD series called The Smart Stepfamily. He has a book for kids called Life in a Blender, along with books for stepdads and stepmoms. If you go to FamilyLifeToday.com, you’ll see the resources Ron has created. I would just encourage you—if you’re in a blended family, there’s a way to make this work and make it work better, but you need to get some help. You need to get some coaching from a guy like Ron Deal.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out the resources that are available at FamilyLife Today for blended families. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Ask about the resources we have available for blended families.
And then, think about joining us in September, out in Colorado Springs. September 29 and 30, we’re going to be on the campus of Focus on the Family® as we join together with our friends at Focus for a two-day Summit on Stepfamily Ministry™. Ron Deal’s going to be there, Greg Smalley; Dennis and I are going to be there, along with a number of other speakers, as we talk about how you can help blended families in your church / in your community.
If you’re a counselor or a pastor, or just a person with a heart to help blended families, come on out and join us for a couple of days as we gather together some of the best thinking on this subject in The Summit on Stepfamily Ministry. Find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call if you have any questions at 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, today is a big silver day for our friends, Jim and Cheryl Holmquist—25 years of marriage for the Holmquists. They got married on this day in 1991. Jim works here at FamilyLife; he’s one of the guys who helps make our Weekend to Remember® getaways happen for couples all across the country. We want to say, “Congratulations!” to the Holmquists as they celebrate their 25th anniversary today.
We think anniversaries matter. We’re the Proud Sponsor of Anniversaries™, here at FamilyLife.
In fact, all that we do is designed to help provide the kind of practical biblical help and hope you need so that your marriage / your family can thrive, and you can enjoy many more anniversaries for years to come. That goes for folks in blended families too. We want to make sure the marriage you’re in today is the marriage that you go all the way to the finish line with.
And we want to thank those of you who help support this ministry and make it possible for us to effectively develop godly marriages and families. We appreciate your partnership—couldn’t do it without you. In fact, if you can help with a donation today, we’d love to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a set of three Bible studies. These are a part of our Art of Marriage® Connect Series. These studies are designed to be used in a small group setting, or a husband and a wife can go through these on their own. These three studies are yours when you’re able to help FamilyLife with a donation of $100 or more. You can do that online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate.
Or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear more from Ron Deal about how important it is to blend your family slowly and take time. We’ll hear more about that tomorrow. Hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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