Identity In Blended Families
About the Guest
parentssummit.com. He and his wife have four children, ages 2-14, and are a blended family. If he's not re...more
Growing up, Dave Bondeson’s father told him, “Remember, you’re a Bondeson and a Christian.” Dave finds it challenging to translate that into a blended family with a stepdaughter whose last name is not Bondeson.
Identity In Blended Families
Bob: Dave Bondeson is a stepdad raising a stepdaughter. Over time, he has come to realize that he has to approach a stepdaughter differently.
Dave: I think that I am more guarded in my responses with Layla. I know that my authority, especially over the first many years of our relationship, was positional. I knew that I could lose that more quickly if I respond in a manner that is interpreted poorly.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 11th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. Stepparents have a different kind of relationship with their stepchildren than bio-parents have with their bio-kids. We’re going to spend time exploring that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, one of the challenges I think all of us face, when we’re raising our kids, is to try to develop a sense of identity: “What does it mean to be in our family? What’s our family identity?” This was big for you guys; wasn’t it?
Dave: Oh yes. You know, when I grew up, I had no identity; because our family sort of blew up. I didn’t know what a Wilson was. I have to tell you—when Ann and I got married, we said: “This is big. We have to create the Wilson identity.”
Ann: Well, in my family, this was really big. To be a Barron—when we were growing, it was everything. We didn’t talk about Jesus or anything else, but it was being a Barron.
Dave: And me, being a little bit competitive—[Laughter]—you know, her dad was a baseball coach for me in high school. I’m like, “I have to beat the Barron identity.” [Laughter] I’m not kidding, Bob; we had song that we taught our kids, when they were little.
Ann: We made it up.
Dave: We made it up. We picked them up on Fridays, and we’d do this little party night. Do you want us to sing you the song?
Ann: Oh, yes.
Bob: The Wilson Family song.
Dave: We haven’t sung this in years—
Ann: You ready? It’s our identity song. [Laughter]
Dave: Let’s see if Ann can remember. It goes—
Dave/Ann: [Singing] Party night, party night,
Party night at the Wilson house.
We’ll be there; we’ll be square,
We’ll be wearing our underwear.
Dave: So that was it. [Laughter]
Bob: So, your identity was built around party and underwear—is that what…?
Dave: That’s it. Is there anything better than that? [Laughter] That’s life—right there!
Bob: But there were some serious things. You were telling your boys: “To be a Wilson—
Dave: Oh, totally.
Bob: —“means these kinds of characteristics…/these qualities…These are things—this is what it means to be a Wilson”; right?
Dave: Yes; I mean, even that crazy song was—one of the things we wanted to be “a Wilson” was joy, and fun, and laughter—so there’s that.
But the real serious stuff was identity; integrity; a big one for us was hard work—that we’d know how to suck it up and get a job done.
Ann: And faith was big too.
Dave: Faith was huge. The whole time—at least, for me and Ann—we were trying to impart a new legacy. Change the identity of where I came from and [create] a brand-new legacy.
Trust me—you know this—it was really hard to establish a Wilson—or anybody’s—identity.
Bob: Well, and think about it—in an intact family—you mentioned your family blew up. When you have one identity, with a dad who’s in the home, and then a second identity, because now there’s a stepdad in the equation, that makes what’s already hard even more confusing.
Dave: Oh, you’re bringing multiple identities together; and you’re trying to decide “Who we are,” which is what we’re talking about today.
Bob: Yes; we’re going to hear a conversation today that’s actually part of a brand-new podcast that FamilyLife® has developed. It’s called FamilyLife Blended®, with Ron Deal. Our listeners know Ron—he’s the person who gives leadership to FamilyLife’s blended initiative. I think he’s the top person in the country on the subject of blended families.
Bob: So this new podcast is to help people, who are in blended families, or people who know people who are in blended families. If you’re interested in finding out more about FamilyLife Blended or the other podcasts that we’re developing, you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and check out the FamilyLife podcast network page. All of our podcasts are available there; in fact, FamilyLife Today is available as a podcast. If you’d like to get it sent to you regularly, you can search for it in iTunes or Stitcher; or again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and check out the FamilyLife podcast network.
On Episode One of his podcast, Ron talks to Dave Bondeson, who is the pastor of Family Ministries at the Woodlands Church in Plover, Wisconsin. He and his wife have four children, ages two to fourteen; they are in a blended family. Ron talks to him, in Episode One, about creating a family identity when you’re in a blended family.
[Podcast, Episode One]
Ron: Your dad said something to you throughout your life. It was a question that affected you, as a father. What was that?
Dave: Yes; it was less of a question—more of a statement that he just said on a very, very regular basis. As I was leaving the home, he would always look at me or my brothers—I had two brothers, growing up—and he consistently said, “Dave, remember you’re a Bondeson; and you’re a Christian.” Those are the two things that he would say over, and over, and over again.
In elementary school, that was a, “Oh, Dad’s talking to me; that’s kind of cool,” [Laughter] and then in junior high and high school it was: “Oh my goodness, Dad, I’ve heard this a million times. What does that even mean?—I’m a Bondeson and a Christian.”
But as—I think it was when I got into college and I started reflecting on the legacy that my parents left for me and what it means to be, in my context, a Bondeson. What my parents lived out—in terms of the character, and the humility, and the inquisitive nature that they—they’re both scientists—that they would bring to life; but then, coupling that with just this deep-seated trust in who God is and what God has done—the redemptive work of Jesus Christ: “You are a Christian,”—that just became so foundational for who I was.
My dad has since passed away, so he has left a legacy of what it means to be a Bondeson. I still have, to this day—it was almost ten years ago—I still have, to this day, people coming up to me and saying: “This is what your dad meant to me in my life…”
Ron: Oh, wow.
Dave: “This is what he taught me in a Sunday school class…” or “This is what he demonstrated as he led a meeting…” To be a Bondeson—to have that family identity—has been incredibly profound.
Dave: It was kind of this tension, even growing up, of—I always figured that I would tell my kids, consistently, “You are a Bondeson and a Christian,” so that they got annoyed with it; and then later, they learned the value of it. I’ve had to wrestle with how blended situations changes that and what that looks like.
Ron: Yes; so I’m thinking about this journey for you. Obviously, it’s very clear that meant something to you—it took on meaning; it gave you a sense of legacy; it gave you a sense of longevity and generational impact; and “I’m a part of that,” and “I have some responsibility, and maybe some obligation”?
Dave: Yes; I think the responsibility was huge. It was identity, for me, really. I’m identified with this couple—my mom and my dad—who have lived out these character traits. I’m identified with the body of Christ—that identity has shaped who I am/how I interact with the world.
As parents, I think it’s so important for us to help our kids shape their identity in a biblical manner. I think one of the helpful ways that I saw modeled in my life was just that repetitive phrasing of: “Dave, you’re a Bondeson and a Christian,” “You’re a Bondeson and…”—that was a drumbeat that was beat into my life; and then it was exemplified. It wouldn’t have meant the same thing if my parents didn’t live it out, but they did. They gave me that bar, almost: “This is what this looks like...”
Ron: I want to come back to that identity thing, because I think that’s really significant. It’s a good observation on your part—that it’s different in blended families—but we still have to get there somehow. Tell us a little bit about your family—set the stage for us.
Dave: Yes; so I’ve been married for eight/going on nine years. I have one 14-year-old stepdaughter, Layla—she’s beautiful; she’s unbelievable.
Ron: Okay; so she’s 14.
Dave: She’s 14; and then, I have 3 biological children: Eden is 7; Ebenezer is 4; and then our youngest, Ray, is just about 3—she’ll turn 3 fairly soon.
Ron: Can you say to the three biological children, “Hey, you’re a Bondeson and a Christian”?
Dave: I’ve really avoided that. I have started doing that a little bit more with our seven-year-old, as she gets out of the car—send her to second grade: “Remember, Eden, you’re a Bondeson and a Christian,” because that is her identity.
But I think, in a blended context, we can be alienating in the language that we use too. I don’t want to say anything that might make Layla feel like she’s not a part of our family—
Dave: —so I’ve tried to be really intentional. I’ve had intentional conversations with my wife about how we’re going to navigate this. If Bondeson is going to mean something, we have to make sure that it means something for Layla; because she’s not—she doesn’t have that last name.
Dave: Now, that doesn’t mean she isn’t a Bondeson; so that’s a conversation I’ve had with her as well. I’ve tried to use phrases like, “You’re my daughter and a daughter of the King,”—things that communicate the same idea—“Identify yourself with us, as your parents/identify yourself with your heavenly Father.”
Ron: You know, one of the core issues that is going on in nearly every blended family is: “Where do I fit? How do I belong?” It is a question of identity and belonging. You start off with insiders and outsiders—you know, people who are biologically related. Your wife and Layla, for example, are insiders on Day One when you walked in; and you were the outsider.
You know—to some degree, over time—the gap between insiders and outsiders gets smaller in blended families—for most.
Dave: Those are definitely things to navigate. I think that’s been one of the biggest adjustments for me in a blended family. I was raised in the most traditional family you could draw up on paper, and I always assumed that would be my context. So, when my family started, and it was not my context—I married a single mom, and we walked into life like that—I had to do a lot of adjustments.
It’s caused me to continue to do a lot of adjustments, even now that we have four; and it is this blended context. I really had to be open-handed about the insider/outsider feel, and really had to identify and put away a lot of assumptions about what family would always be like.
But at the same time, I know that my wife and Layla have a unique relationship that I’m not trying to break into—I’m trying to almost cultivate and encourage. There are times, where it is going to be healthiest for me to say, “There is something going on there that I need to let happen, and let them get away.”
Ron: We were talking, earlier, about shaping our kid’s identity, biblically. You know, we’ve talked a lot about the—“You’re a Bondeson” side of that equation—but not so much about the—“and a Christian.”
How do we do that?—talk to me about helping to shape our kids and their identity, whether they happen to be biological children or stepchildren.
Dave: I’m a big Deuteronomy 6 guy: “Talk about these things as you walk and as you lie down, as you walk by the way, as you sit in the doorposts of the city,”—this concept of: “We do disciple-making with our kids in the nooks and crannies of everyday life.”
So that’s really become my MO [method of operation], as a parent—is that we’re eating lunch, and my kids mention something; and suddenly, we’re off on a conversation about some level of the Bible or talking about theology. This happens often! This happens regularly. I’ve realized that is because I’m primed for those conversations—I’m ready for those; I’m hungry for them; I’m looking for those opportunities. That’s really shaped how I approach those.
Ron: Finding those little moments to just connect faith and life.
Ron: That’s what really helps communicate godly values, over time—and with it—a sense of identity; that: “This is who we are. We are people who live and connect our understanding of God in the world with how we live life.”
Dave: It starts with us! It starts with us being filled with knowledge of what God is doing, and the work that God is doing, and the beauty of the gospel; and it overflows into our kids.
So often, we talk about parental intentionality as, when we get to a moment, where we have to choose how to respond. We make a decision to respond in a way that’s biblically-focused.
I’ve thought about intentionality more in that: “I’m so filled with the things of God/I’m so passionate about the things of God that, when I respond, the natural way that I respond/what is naturally going to come out of me, is biblically-oriented and biblically-directed. The intentionality starts almost even before the response—it starts with what I’m going to fill myself with—not this decision that happens in the moment of response.
Ron: Let’s run this back through the filter of identity for a minute, because—is that easier for you to do with your three biological children than with your stepdaughter? I mean, is there any thought that runs through your mind of, “Hey, even though this outflow/this response is biblically-oriented and -centered—it’s value-centered—I know my relationship with Layla is different than my relationship with the other three.” Does that affect how it comes out of you?
Dave: I think that I am more guarded in my responses with Layla.
Ron: —a little more cautious?
Dave: Definitely, a little bit more cautious. I know that my authority, especially over the first many years of our relationship, was positional. I knew I could lose that more quickly if I respond in a manner that is interpreted poorly.
Ron: So, just for our listener—real quick—positional authority is: “You’re the man of the house”; right? So there’s a position—
Dave: I’m the stepdad.
Ron: —like a teacher in a kids’ classroom, they have a position that affords them a certain amount of authority; and children, basically, respect that. But, that doesn’t mean they love the teacher; it doesn’t mean that Layla loves you.
Early on, you were kind of responding out of positional authority.
Ron: And did that evolve and change?
Dave: It has; it has. But one of the things that I’ve had to be guarded about, I think, is that it’s not my intentions that will determine how she interprets my actions. I can have the best intentions; but if her interpretation of my actions is negative or really—really, “He was so mean in that context,”—then that’s going to affect our relationship.
That doesn’t mean that she gets to steer the ship; that doesn’t mean that her perception of everything is definitional, but I have wanted to be very intentional about making sure that I’m guarding myself to not respond in a way that can be very, very, very negatively interpreted.
Can I give you an example of a time that really went poorly for me?
Ron: Yes, please.
Dave: This was kind of a low part, maybe, of my stepparenting. [Laughter] We were decorating the Christmas tree. She had begged, and begged, and begged; and finally got her own Christmas tree in her room. She’s decorating that tree—she was probably nine—not in a good mood/not in a good time—whining a lot, yelling, angry.
I finally was fed up—I had it. I’m not a guy who responds really, really strongly; I try to reserve that for moments, where I want to make a pretty powerful impact. This has worked out, sometimes. [Laughter] I just said: “You know what? Fine! If you’re not going to be part of what we’re doing, you can just go to bed.” I pulled her covers back, almost violently, to let her get into bed.
My intention was to make a bold statement that just said, “You’re either part of what we’re doing right now or you can be in your room by yourself.” There were a bunch of glass ornaments on her comforter that, when I pulled it back, they shot across the room and hit the wall on the other side—exploded. My intentions were to communicate that “We want you with us,” or “It’s time to go to bed.” What came across was, “Get in line, or you’re going to be in trouble.” It did not go over well.
Honestly, Ron, I spent months recovering, as a stepdad, from that. That hurt our relationship in such a way, in part because it was a side of me that she hadn’t seen, but in part just because of what I communicated through that. It did not go over well.
Ron: Yes; it spoke to her safety with you, and it damaged it—it sounds like.
Ron: I know we’ve all done that. I’ve certainly been there/done that; and listeners, probably, have had those bad moments too. How did you breathe through those months of trying to repair, when you knew, “I have really kind of made this difficult”?
Dave: Two things: one is I intentionally addressed it as often as I could. I certainly made sure that I apologized. I didn’t apologize in the height of her emotional response—that wouldn’t have communicated to her at all. I let her know that I was sorry [at that time], but that wasn’t where I sat down and explained to her, “I made a mistake; I responded the wrong way.” I made sure that she understood that [later].
But then, outside of that, I went forward with the knowledge that I had damaged our relationship—that I needed to be careful in the conversations that we had, that I needed to realize that that instance was going to be a lens through which she viewed our interactions.
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to Episode One of a new podcast called FamilyLife Blended. It’s a part of the FamilyLife® podcast network—Ron Deal talking to Dave Bondeson, who his a pastor in Plover, Wisconsin. If you’d like to hear the entire conversation, that is Episode One of the new podcast, FamilyLife Blended. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the FamilyLife podcast network link. You’ll find Ron’s new podcast, as well, as other podcasts that we’re creating, here, at FamilyLife.
You know, what they were talking about—the whole idea of being intentional about repairing relational damage in a family—that’s something all of us have to deal with in a blended family. The opportunities for that relational damage—it just seems like there’s more opportunity to scar one another.
Dave: Yes; there are so many dynamics going on. I mean, like you said—in a traditional family, there’s conflict; and you have to resolve it—in a blended, you have all kinds of history, now—different personalities, different names/identity—is what they were talking about.
It made me think, you know, what Dave did—going to his stepdaughter to make sure he reconciled this thing—I don’t know if he knew this; but he is, literally, doing something Jesus commanded. It’s one of these verses in the Bible, in Matthew 5, that a lot of preachers don’t want to preach—and I’ve been a preacher—because—I’ll read it to you. Listen to this—He says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother [or sister] has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar; first go and be reconciled to them, then come and offer your gift.”
Bob: You know what’s always stood out to me about that verse? You’re at the altar, and you remember your brother has something against you.
Bob: It’s not that you have something against your brother. You remember that they have a problem with you. You take the initiative to go fix that, even though it may not even be your issue; right?
Dave: And that’s what I love about what Dave did—he didn’t wait. He knew there was a problem; and it didn’t even matter if he caused it, or she caused it, or somebody in the family did—he’s like, “I have to go.”
Ann: But I love that he kept going, you know, it wasn’t a one-time thing. He kept going back. Sometimes, those hurt feelings—and you may have even forgiven—but you’re still going back to make sure things are okay. He’s continuing that reconciliation.
Dave: What he modeled for us is one of the hardest things to do. It doesn’t matter who’s wrong: “Go. Go now. Go to reconcile,”—he modeled that for us.
Bob: Well, again, we just had a chance to hear a portion of Ron’s conversation with Dave Bondeson. If you’d like to hear the entire conversation, the podcast is available. You can go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com and sign up to subscribe to Ron’s FamilyLife Blended podcast. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
There’s also information on our website about the upcoming Blended and Blessed® event that’s going to be taking place on Saturday, April 27th. It’s available to be streamed all around the world; in fact, individuals, and small groups, and churches have already signed up to participate in the livestream event.
The President of FamilyLife, David Robbins, is here with us today. You’re a big fan of these events; aren’t you?
David: I am. You know, in our 18 months we have been in this role at FamilyLife, Meg and I have had the joy of joining 2 of Ron’s events. I’ve watched, personally, the transformation take place as these couples—who usually aren’t in places where they can have really honest, transparent conversations—are able to be in a room with people just like them, understanding some of the unique challenges and complexities of a blended family.
Often, they’ve come to and have said, “You know, I often feel marginalized and on the outskirts of a lot of the conversations that happen when it comes to marriage and parenting.” They just thank me that FamilyLife and FamilyLife Blended creates these spaces for these conversations and growth to happen.
Bob: We want folks, not to think just about how they can benefit from this upcoming event, but start to think about others around you who could benefit as well.
David: Yes! If you are connected to a blended family in any way—or maybe it’s with your church—if you want to gather a group of people together and to watch Blended and Blessed, it really would be a powerful thing to do.
Bob: Yes; you could do it in your living room/you could do it in a church setting—wherever you can gather a group of people together—or if you want to watch it on your own, you can do that as well. Again, find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Keep in mind that things like the Blended and Blessed event, the FamilyLife podcast network, this daily radio program, what’s available on our website—all that we do, here, at FamilyLife—all of that happens because of listeners, like you, who have stepped forward and said: “This matters to our family, and it matters in our community. We want to help provide practical biblical help and hope to married couples/to moms and dads who are raising the next generation.”
Those of you who have taken the next step with us, as listeners, and become supporters of this ministry—or become Legacy Partners, who give each month—we’re grateful for the partnership we have with you in making FamilyLife Today possible in your community. If you’re a long-time listener, and you’ve never made a donation—or if you’ve given, from time to time, and you’re thinking today might be a good day to make a donation—we’d love to hear from you.
In fact, we’d love to send you, as a thank-you gift, a set of Resurrection Eggs®. This is a tool we created to help share the gospel story with young children. The Resurrection Eggs are our gift to you when you make a donation today of any amount. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, thanks for your partnership with us. We look forward to hearing from you, and we hope you enjoy your Resurrection Eggs.
And we hope you can join us back again tomorrow when we’re going to talk about a movie that’s going to be in theaters next week for two showings only. This is exciting; it’s an animated version of the classic story, Pilgrim’s Progress. We’ll meet the screenwriter and director tomorrow, along with the producer of the film, and find out more about their plans for Pilgrim’s Progress. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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