FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Blending a Family after Loss: Ron Deal

with Ron Deal | March 8, 2024
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Stepparenting is hard, especially after loss of a family member. Ron Deal understands how blending a family can be hard, and in his book 'Preparing to Blend,' crafted for engaged or pre-engaged couples with kids from previous relationships, he guides you through the journey of combining loss and love, touching on wedding planning and communication.

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  • About the Host

  • About the Guest


  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Stepparenting is hard, especially after family loss. Ron Deal offers insights on wedding planning and communication for soon-to-be blended families.

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Blending a Family after Loss: Ron Deal

With Ron Deal
March 08, 2024
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Shelby: Hey, before we get started with today’s program, I’m Shelby Abbott. We are rapidly approaching Easter. One of the things that I have done with my family is go through FamilyLife’s Resurrection Eggs® with them. If you’re wondering what that is, like “I have no idea what that means,” it’s a carton of 12 plastic eggs. Each one has a little item inside that is different every single day for the kids to open.

There are little notes that help you understand what the significance of that item is. There’s a book to guide you through the process to help your kids have fun, but also focus on the real meaning of what we’re celebrating when it comes to Easter. We want to send you a carton of them this week as our thanks to you when you become a monthly financial partner to help support and make the ministry of FamilyLife possible.

You can go online to and find the “Donate Now” button at the top of the page. Or you can feel free to give us a call at 800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.” You can also send your donation by mail to FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, Florida 32832. It’s going to be a blast if you go through this with your family, and happy Easter.

Peta: I just felt the Holy Spirit say to me, “They will always long for their mom, and you will be there, and it’s going to hurt. When they get married, when they graduate school they will long for her. They are hurt, and they’ll want her to be there and she won’t be, and there will be joy and there will be grief, always.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: Hey, Ann. I bet you didn’t know that 75 percent of pre-blended family couples don’t get any premarital counseling.

Ann: Okay. Hey, Dave. Did you know that most churches have no idea that the premarital training they do for couples getting married for the first time is grossly inadequate for couples forming a blended family?

Dave: Wow!

Dave and Ann: We need to do something about that!

Dave: Well, the good thing is today we’re talking about premarital counseling specifically for couples that are forming blended families.

Ann: I think maybe some of you know this and maybe some of you don’t, but in 2021 Ron Deal launched the book, Preparing to Blend. That’s just a premarital program for couples that are forming blended families, and for the pastors who serve them. FamilyLife and Ron also do a virtual training workshop for pastors on a regular basis, which is really pretty cool.

Dave: In fact, he even has Blended and Blessed®coming up in April, April 27th, which we can tell you about a little bit later. After his book launched, Ron interviewed some couples for his FamilyLife Blended® podcast, to see what was helpful for them. We’re going to be hearing a portion of that conversation today on FamilyLife Today.

Ann: Ron is the Director of FamilyLife Blended, and he hosts our podcast for blended families. The guests that you’re going to be hearing are Jonathan Pitts and, at the time, his fiancé, Peta Sergeant.

Dave: Some of you know Jonathan. He’s an author, speaker, Executive Pastor at the Church of the City in Franklin, Tennessee. We had him on FamilyLife Today about his book after his first wife died.

Ann: And Peta was born in Malaysia, raised in Australia. This is kind of a fun little fact: she’s an international actress of stage, film and TV.

Dave: So if you’re not in a blended family, the discussion about loss and new beginnings may have application for you or someone you know, and you might also listen to know how to help a friend or family member in a blended family. We’re going to go right to the interview that Ron did with Jonathan and Peta. Here it is.

[Recorded Message}

Ron: Peta, let me just ask you something to make sure I have this right. You were married and divorced, and you’re not bringing any biological children to this relationship. And Jonathan, you were married and had four girls with your wife, Wynter, and then she got sick and passed away.

Jonathan: Yes.

Ron: How has that past and that loss rippled into your present? I know there is a lot in that, but just kind of high level, in general, how has that story of loss influenced you coming together, deciding to get married, and then deciding to be a family?

Jonathan: We really met in June, our first date. I wouldn’t even consider it a date yet, but in that I shared my story, she shared hers, and I would call them two pretty big stories, two very different stories, but ultimately—

Peta: It’s hard when you’re meeting somebody at 40, and you don’t want to say everything up front, like, “Well, this, this, this,” [Laughter] but at the same time you know you’re in a demographic where you don’t necessarily want to muck around, and if somebody can’t hold space for the bigness of your story or the bigness of your loss and what that means for the girls and all that sort of thing, you kind of want to get to it pretty quickly.

Jonathan: Yes.

Peta: There’s actually a quote that I want to share. We’re also renovating a second master room in the current house, and we had talked about buying a new house and having a fresh start, trying to come into this thing with newness. I happened to be watching the MasterClasses, and there was one on there by a woman named Kelly Wearstler, who’s a pretty well-known interior designer.

She said this thing that not only for us felt like confirmation that we should renovate, but it just felt like it gave us language around what you’re asking. She posited a couple of questions in the MasterClass: “How can an old soul be given a new spirit?” Of course she’s talking about architecture and historical buildings. “How can the two have a conversation in the new space, the old and the new?”

“We want to embrace the past, but we also want to give our space a new spirit. You need to remember there is always going to be a dialogue going on between what’s new coming into this space and what’s already there, what’s historic. So what do you want that conversation to be?”

You know, when you’re going through your space you want to look for architectural features, historic features that you love, that you think, “Not only do we not want to change that, we want to repeat it somewhere else. We want to bring it forward. We want to be intentional about how we replicate the cornicing or that beautiful wooden door.”

So it just kind of gave us a mindset around not just how do we hold space for Wynter for the girls, but what are the ways we can kind of not only hold space for what’s already there, but actually create space to carry it forward and kind of include it in what we’re going forward in? I feel like for me it was like “I’m one coming into your five, and there’s a lot to learn there.”

We’ve used language like “Sometimes it feels like, even though I’m 40 years old, I feel like I’m being adopted.” That’s the kind of language I’ve used with the girls sometimes, because as much as I feel the discipline, the weight, and the importance and the conviction, really, to hold space for their mom and to bring that forward in ways that I can, I also want to challenge them or in a good way confront them that they also need to make space for me.

If we’re going to have familyness—I love that word that you use in the book—into our vernacular, then we all have to kind of make room for each other. I think early on I felt like I was drowning a little bit in trying to carry Wynter with me.

Ron: Right.

Peta: I didn’t know her, and bringing her for the girls and making sure they didn’t feel like I was a threat to their mom’s space, and I think now—

Jonathan: —yes, it’s good.

Ron: The book clearly says coupleness does not equal familyness. The idea there is that when you find somebody you’re romantically interested in and fall in love with this person, that’s essentially forming a couple bond, a couple relationship. But becoming family is a different bond; it’s a different combination of relationships. Just because you’re in love with a person does not mean that you’ve become a family.

For most people it starts to happen after the wedding takes place. But I’m just curious: when you first read that or saw that or heard that, how did that hit you?

Jonathan: I think for me the thing that was most attractive to me about Peta was her desire for familyness. In fact, she felt like the Lord kind of told her that she was going to adopt kids when she got married, so coming into it she even started praying for the girls before she met the girls, and that was probably the most validating for me that I could take a risk on loving.

Familyness has been and continues to be a challenge in different ways, but it is the long term vision, which for me has been just validating for our relationship. I don’t know—maybe I’d say this for somebody that’s thinking about blending, thinking about proposing. It’s such a high value for her; it’s been such an important thing for me. Probably specifically because my girls lost their mom, to have somebody interested in me that’s not interested in them was a very scary thought, probably a leading thought, actually.

Ron: Absolutely.

Peta: Yes. I think for me the greatest challenge has been what I feel in my spirit.

Ron: When you say, “What you feel in your spirit,” is that a fear that you have?

Peta: No, it’s I think I’m 100 percent a glass-half-full optimist. I don’t know how to say it. I don’t know who can relate to this, but two things were really formative for us. One was the engagement, and one came after the engagement.

When Jonathan proposed to me, he actually had to ask me three times, because I ended up having this kind of moment when he first asked me, but then immediately I felt like I saw—and for me this is what I mean by “in my spirit”—I felt like I saw a series of images of each of the girls at pinnacle moments in their lives, getting married, graduating high school, all of these very formative pinnacle moments.

I felt this sense of myself there but a little bit still on the outside. I just felt in my spirit that the Holy Spirit said to me, “They will always long for their mom and you will be there, and it’s going to hurt. They’ll always long for her, like when they get married, when they graduate school—

Ron: Yes, they will.

Peta: —they will long for her, and they’ll want her to be here, and there will be joy and there will be grief always.” I just felt like in my spirit the Lord said to me, “If you’re not willing to stand in that grief with them, then don’t say ‘yes,’ because it’s going to be for the rest of your life.”

“You’re going to be the one who is there when they long for their mom, and you’ve been there, doing the thing with them and spending the time with them, and cooking their meals, and they will be like, ‘We want our mom’ and that’s going to hurt everyone.” And then I said, “Yes,” like, “I could do that.”

Ron: What is so beautiful about that, Peta, is that you saw a reality and you said, “I choose ‘Yes.’”

Peta: Right.

Ron: I think so many people have the assumption that, “Because you and I say ‘yes’ to each other, the kids are not going to have those moments where they see me but wish and long for their mother. They’re just going to be fine. We’ve repaired it; we’ve fixed it. We’ve taken care of that hurt or pain in their heart.” But no, how much more special it is to see it for what it is and say “yes” to it.

Peta: It’s beautiful, and then there are also moments when I’m there and they don’t see me, and they want their mom. It really does hurt, and that’s what I mean by for me the biggest wrestle is in my spirit. I feel “I can do this. I love them. I’m born for this. I’m made for this. I’m forged for this.”

For me, trying to figure out how to maintain the integrity of who I am as a woman, as an artist, as a being, spiritually, emotionally, physically, so it’s just like how do I figure out how to be in that space of holding space for their mom, being with them in their grief, but also feeling, “I have to be able to be myself here?”


Ann: You’re listening to FamilyLife Today, and we’re listening to a portion of the FamilyLife Blended® podcast with Ron Deal and guests Jonathan Pitts and Peta Sergeant. Honestly, Dave, I’m thinking about you when your dad remarried. I don’t think most couples necessarily think through how this marriage will affect the entire family, and even each child as they’re blending.

Dave: Yes. I don’t think my dad and my stepmom are unlike anybody else. They did absolutely no preparation and struggled. I think most do, even if you do prepare, but it’s definitely helpful to prepare. Listening to Jonathan and Peta talk about it, man, they are just like everybody else. That’s why it’s so great that Ron wrote Preparing to Blend.


Ann: Yes.

Dave: It’s good for couples in their first-time marriage, but if you’re trying to blend a family and you don’t have any premarital preparation, it’s going to be nothing but a train wreck. We have a free sample of Ron’s book available. You can download the introduction and first chapter in our show notes at

Ann: Okay, let’s pick up the conversation after Ron asked Jonathan and Peta how the chapter on wedding planning—

Dave: —with kids—

Ann: —was helpful.

[Recorded Message]

Jonathan: Yes, I think up until the point where Peta invited the girls to be bridesmaids and we invited them into the process of the wedding, I think both of us had real fear around encroaching on the way they’d want to experience—instead of inviting them, we were kind of pushing back, not wanting to offend, not realizing that it would probably be more offensive to just not say anything.

So the book actually gave us language for it. We read the chapter and sat down at the dinner table. What was the title of the chapter?

Peta: “The Wedding.” It was about planning your wedding.

Ron: “Plan Your Wedding.”

Jonathan: Yes. We sat down at the dinner table and one of the girls asked a question about the wedding. So we basically just jumped into the conversation with fresh information.

Ron: You went with it.

Peta: I know. [Laughter]

Jonathan: It was like we were professionals, basically. But it was the beginning of us including them in the wedding in every way, and not just the wedding, but also in our home renovation, flooring that we’re going to do, and not making it seem like we’re making all these changes to our home, and that’s also something  being imposed on you, as opposed to something that you get to experience and be a part of and have choices in,.

Peta: I think some of the language that you use in that chapter about how, because we’ve always talked about the wedding as a threshold moment, as this before and after thing. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but you used some language in the book about how that before and after can feel for the kids, and how much that has to be walked back if it’s not crossed over properly.

So I think for me, because I don’t like confrontation—who’s not scared of rejection? I don’t want to be rejected by the girls.

Ron: You brought up rejection a couple of times. What are you doing to try to navigate that and not be the villain in their eyes?

Peta: I think the main thing is communication. If there was an overarching statement I would make about what we gained from the chapters of your book that we looked at, it would be the human condition, grief, loss, joy, commitment, love, loss again, all of the things that you walk through as a person on the earth. It’s common to us all, but it’s also very unique in the way that you experience it as an individual.

So there’s a way to connect with that, because it’s common to us all, but there’s a way to articulate it that becomes very valuable, because the articulation of your process and your grief and your loss and your redemption and your recovery facilitates the expression of who you are as a human being.

Ron: And you move toward them in that expression of who you are. Yes.

Peta: Yes. So for me I think that’s an area of strength that I have, and I know that that’s something—that’s why the mining for conflict and for me coming through kind of the glass wall of “I don’t want to be the villain,” or “I don’t want to upset them,” or “I don’t want to hurt them with my—.” I can see that my presence hurts them, which is very painful because I’m very—you know I’m an actress, I’m very—I’m an empath and can feel and all these sorts of things.

So I think the main thing for me was understanding that there’s only one way to help the faculty of language as they grow as little girls into young women and adolescents into young women. The grief that they’ve been through, the process that they’re going through which is not of their choosing right now as we come into union and familyness all needs to be articulated.

It all needs to be given language, so for me there’s been some really awkward conversations where I’ve just tried to mine for and give voice to and help them articulate how they feel.

Ron: That’s so good.


Ann: We’ve been listening to a portion of the FamilyLife Blendedpodcast with Ron Deal. Ron is joining us in the studio. Ron, it’s great to have you. This conversation is so interesting to me.

Dave: Yes, I have to say—I don’t know if you were thinking this—I think I could listen to Peta’s accent forever.

Ann: I thought the same thing.

Dave: It’s really beautiful.

Ann: She makes me calm.

Dave: Yes, and what she was just saying—when my dad and my stepmother married, I was in middle school. Biatta was her name. She did a good job of reaching out. I think she saw the struggle in me. I don’t think my dad saw it, but I think my stepmom saw it and she sort of reached out. She had empathy and asked, “Are you okay? What questions can I answer? How can I make this easier for you?”

It didn’t make it easier but it did make me feel like, “Okay, she wants to be a part of my life, and she understands this is not an easy thing for a son or a daughter to come into.”

Ron: Well, that was very compassionate of her to move toward you in that space. That’s exactly what Peta was saying. She’s working hard to bless the girls by honoring their mother, but stepping into their grief to whatever degree they will allow her to and respecting that space while at the same time finding her own identity as she moves into their life.

This is a good example of the kinds of things—most of us when we grow up dreaming of that person we’re going to spend the rest of our life with and meeting them, we don’t also think, “And I’m going to have to be able to grieve along with their children in order to have this marriage.” But that’s the kind of complexity that comes when there are children in a blended family.

Ann: Ron, one of the things your book is designed to do is just to help couples see the family that they are creating, so just give us an idea about Growing Activities and how they help couples like Jonathan and Peta.

Ron: Preparing to Blend is an entire, comprehensive premarital program for couples forming blended families, and it doubles as a guide or resource for pastors or mentor couples that are trying to do premarital education with couples. Essentially it replaces everything you’ve ever done in the past and brings it into a context where it’s specifically designed for stepfamily couples.

There is a Growing Activity within the book, for example, that is all about seeing your family for what it’s going to be. So you get to design your own family genogram, a digital version of that that you do online, but it incorporates right into the material of the book. That’s the kind of Growing Activities we’ve designed right into this, so that you’re not just coming in with misaligned expectations of preconceptions of what your family is going to be, but then you really get a sense of what it can be.

I think the more informed you are about what you’re actually building and creating and how children need to come along with you in that process, then you make better decisions. There’s actually eight different Growing Activities built into this program.

Dave: We mentioned earlier about Blended and Blessed coming up April 27th. Covering the same topics or totally different?

Ron: Totally different. Blended and Blessed this year is about building unity in blended families. At FamilyLife we talk a lot about oneness.

Ann: Yes.

Ron: Well the biblical term for that is unity, so what does that look like and how do we manifest that in blended family situations? Blended and Blessed is our annual livestream event. You can attend from anywhere in the world. We tell people, “If your time zone doesn’t match up with our time zone, that’s okay. You can either push pause and wait until it works, or you can wait until the next day and start it from the beginning, however you want to do that.”

We have churches that gather couples together and watch it as a group. is the place you go to find out all the information and how to register. We’d love to have anybody listening join us, or churches to host it for people in their community.

Ann: Ron, it’s always great to be with you. Thanks so much.

Ron: Thanks for having me.

Shelby: Yes, just as Ron said you can find it at that website, or you can go to the show notes at and click on the Blended and Blessed link there.

I’m Shelby Abbott and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Ron Deal on FamilyLife Today. Ron has written many, many books, but one of them that he wrote that we want to talk about is Preparing to Blend: The Couple’s Guide to Becoming a Smart Stepfamily. It talks about a lot of different specific things that blended families experience that maybe other couples don’t.

This is your go-to guide for family identity, daily routine, finances, navigating the complexities of grown children or challenges with a new life together as you blend. You can go online to find Ron’s book at, or you can find the link in the show notes for today’s episode.

Now we talk about marriage a lot. We were just talking about blended families and uniting people in oneness, but there are a lot of couples that are not married yet, and they’re wondering “What do I do?” “How do I proceed?” “What do I say?” “How do I go about preparing for marriage?” Well guess what?

Beyond the madness of wedding planning, we want to help you focus on building a great marriage foundation, starting with five essential conversations. Those five are finances, sex, God, family and the future. David and Meg Robbins have put together an entertaining and romantic book called Preparing for Marriage.

It’s a study guide to help you walk through your engagement together, and figure out what those five essential conversations are, how they need to happen, and how they are directly applicable to you. So if you are an engaged couple or you know an engaged couple, we encourage you to check out Preparing for Marriage. You can find the link in the show notes at

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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