Prioritizing Your Relationship
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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
Blending a family isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth it. Ron Deal reminds couples that their marriage must be a priority if the marriage is going to thrive. Hear one young woman share what it’s like to be a stepdaughter.
Prioritizing Your Relationship
Bob: Is it possible for a stepdad to be the kind of protector, and guide, and leader to a stepdaughter that he wants to be? Ron Deal says that can get kind of tricky.
Ron: That’s one of those delicate pieces, where stepdad is saying, “Yes; but I’m here to help.” He’s got a big heart; he’s got great intentions. He’s been to the men’s ministry at his church; and he knows what leadership—he’s been listening to Dave preach about this forever—he’s been through Stepping Up®, and Dennis Rainey taught him how to be a man and be a leader. Here he is, trying to do that; and the stepdaughter is going, “Well, you ain’t my dad; back up.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, July 1st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. How can a godly stepdad or stepmom be the kind of parent God wants them to be in the lives of their stepchildren? Ron Deal says that can happen; it just needs to happen slowly and carefully. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating. Ann, you were a gymnast; right?
Ann: I was.
Bob: And during the time that you were—
Dave: This is going to be fun, talking about Ann’s gymnast years.
Ann: I always like when people—[Laughter]
Dave: She comes running in the house and does aerials. It’s just fun—[Laughter]—maybe not.
Bob: When you were a gymnast, a part of your score was based on the degree of difficulty of the routine you were doing.
Ann: That’s very good; I’m very impressed by this.
Dave: Bob, how do you come up with this stuff?
Bob: I watch the Olympics; okay?!
Dave: No; I mean, here we are, talking about—okay—
Ann: Yes; I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Dave: —I want to see where you go with this; this will be fun.
Bob: Well, so if somebody is doing a simple routine, and they do it flawlessly, they are still not going to get a ten because it was a simple routine; right?
Bob: If you want a ten, you’ve got to do a complex routine; and you’ve got to do that really well.
Bob: So I’m thinking—
Dave: I’ve got you, Bob; I know where you’re going now.
Bob: I’m thinking, “People in a first marriage may not ever get to a ten, because they don’t get the degree of difficulty that’s”—you know what I mean—
Ann: That’s kind of a genius thing right there; right?
Bob: —you can have a ten in your first marriage. I’m not saying your first marriage can’t be all that God intends for it to be, because it can be and should be; right?—
Bob: —“but the degree of difficulty in a second marriage is certainly/usually higher, because there are just a whole bunch more complicating factors that come into a second or a third marriage.”
The reason I know that is because I’ve spent the last, almost, decade—
Ann: Because we have the expert with us.
Bob: That’s right! We’ve worked together—Ron Deal and I. Ron, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Ron: Thank you.
Bob: For almost a decade now, you’ve been giving leadership to FamilyLife Blended®. You’ve got a podcast; you do events; you’ve got books, and resources, online material. And you’ve just updated The Smart Stepfamily® video series. How many sessions in the series?
Ron: There are eight sessions, plus a bonus session for children, and a bonus session for dating couples, and a bonus session for pastors.
Bob: It seems to me, as we’ve talked about this this week, a lot of the degree of difficulty and complexity in a blended family comes around parenting issues.
Bob: We were just in a setting together, where somebody asked you a question that I thought was a pretty good question; because I’ve heard you say, “I’ve said to people, ‘In a blended relationship, the marriage ought to be the priority relationship.’” This person said, “Boy, it just feels wrong to say that; because it sounds like you’re saying, ‘Your kids shouldn’t be a priority.’” You kind of reframed that. Explain how you would say that differently if you’re talking to a couple now.
Ron: Well, in Genesis, we talk a lot around here about the Bible talking about leave and cleave: “Leave father and mother and cleave to your wife/your spouse.” That’s really a shift in allegiance. It’s not saying, “Abandon your father and mother.” What it is saying is, “No; you shift your primary allegiance to your spouse and become a new unit that establishes a new home and a new family.” You maintain connection, in relationship with father and mother; so they are still family.
Likewise, when a parent marries somebody, you have this significant shift in allegiance. That’s what marriage is—is you are saying: “You are the primary relationship in my life; and my allegiance, ultimately, until death do us part is to you. I still have children; I’m responsible to them; I’m obligated and committed to them; and I love them. I care for them, and I’m going to pour myself out into them,”—in their child-rearing years—“but I’m married to you for life.”
It’s never—“You’ve got to choose one over the other,”—which is what, sometimes, people hear; and that’s what’s unfortunate. Nobody is saying that. We’re saying: “Continue to be a mom or a dad, and love your kids well”; and “Your new allegiance in life is to your spouse.”
Bob: This is true whether it’s a first marriage or a second marriage; because again, the marriage needs to be the primary allegiance.
Ron: By the—I’m so glad you said that—because that’s the other way of thinking about this. A husband and wife that are raising their children—if you went to them and you said, “Hey, look; who is your number-one relationship?—is it to your kid?” They would say, “No; it’s my husband”/“…my wife.” Well, does that mean you’re neglecting your kids? No, we’re not neglecting our children; nobody even questions it when it’s a biological first family.
Bob: Here is where it becomes confusing for all of us. When your 13-year-old has more emotional needs/more challenges than your spouse does, all of a sudden, you’re investing more time, more effort, more energy into that; because the need is obvious/it’s presenting itself. You go, “We’ve got to go where the trauma is; let’s deal with this.” That can quickly start to feel like, “This has now become the priority relationship.”
Ron: Right; there are seasons of any marriage—first marriage or blended family marriage—where you do need to pour a lot into a child or a group of children, based on their life or circumstances that are going on—sometimes, kind of putting your marriage a little bit on hold, like you’re hanging on, but you know you—and that’s good, and right, and appropriate. At the end of the day, though, you’ve got to maintain that marriage; and you’ve got to shift back to your allegiance, and supporting, and nurturing your marriage relationship; so you don’t give your marriage away to your kids.
Bob: When you updated The Smart Stepfamily DVD series/the video series, you added something that had been missing. We’ve talked about this, this week. You added the child’s perspective and brought in some emotional intelligence and emotional understanding that, maybe, had been missing the first time around.
Ron: Yes; I wanted people to hear from real-life couples and kids. We were able to work in some clips, throughout the video series, where you actually get to hear some real stories.
Bob: One of those stories that you feature we hear a daughter and her stepdad address the challenges. We hear some of the emotions that she was feeling and some of the frustrations that the stepdad was feeling.
[The Smart Stepfamily DVD Series]
Kirk: My parenting style was more based on rules and structure. I came in, you know: “This is how it’s going to be,” with a whole lot of expectations. My big thing was wanting the children to help with the parents.
Sarah: Me and my stepdad definitely butt heads a lot. It felt very much like he was trying to come in here and just be sort of, like, a patriarch, or my dad, or something. I didn’t like having someone else tell me what to do.
Kirk: Sarah’s grades were struggling. I started to ask Lori to speak into that situation and pass out some consequences to make sure that she was following through. Lori initially thought it was very harsh/very extreme.
Lori: Because she would come to me; and I would give permission, without talking to him. It was difficult; because I had felt like I was a single parent for seven years, and I did everything. I would negatively interpret what he was saying as him saying that I was a bad parent.
Instead, I was more like, “Okay; well, I still have to co-parent over here with my ex-husband; and we need to be on the same page as far as if there’s a: ‘Okay; you don’t get your phone for two weeks,’ or ‘You don’t get to go out for Halloween this year, because you are failing this class; and you’ve not been doing your homework.’”
Kirk: There have been times where I have felt disrespected, and even left out to dry or left in the lurch, by Lori. It’s at that point that I need to just remember that she’s for me; she’s not against me. I need to understand that there are going to be some things that she wants to do that is for the benefit and blesses all of us.
Bob: Boy, you can hear all three of those folks trying to figure out how to work it out, and they are trying to figure it out. They are all a little frustrated with how things are going, because it’s counterintuitive to how they would naturally move things. They want to believe the best about one another; but in the midst of it, we can get sideways on this stuff.
Ron: He wants to be a good leader; he’s trying to bring some good structure and some good ideas into the family. His stepdaughter says, “You’re not my dad; don’t try to act like my dad.” She’s got a point; right? He’s not the dad; she’s got a biological dad. She’s trying to figure out where to put him [Kirk] in her heart.
The biological mom is saying, “Whoa! Are you saying I’m a bad parent?” She’s feeling accused: “You’re telling me something about my daughter here. You’re kind of telling something about me.” Then, Lori, the mom, is saying, “Oh, I have a former husband I have to consider, and we are co-parenting”; so there is a third parent in this equation. All of a sudden, there is just a whole lot of things to navigate and negotiate.
I want to point out the daughter felt like: “He’s trying to be my dad. I don’t want you to be my dad.” I think we ought to talk about that for a second; because that’s one of those delicate pieces, where stepdad’s saying, “Yes; but I’m here to help.” He’s got a big heart; he’s got great intentions. He’s been to the men’s ministry at his church, and he knows what leadership—he’s been listening to Dave preach about this forever—he’s been through Stepping Up, and Dennis Rainey taught him how to be a man and be a leader.
Here he is, trying to do that; and the stepdaughter’s going, “Well, you ain’t my dad; back up.” So how do you do this?—“I am paying for everything, but she won’t let me be the dad.” It’s delicate; this is where you respect where the child is, and you figure out how to lead through your wife.
Ann: Tell us how you can do that. Give us an example.
Ron: A good example would be Kirk coming to his wife and having dialogue about: “What do you think about this or that?” or “…this behavior?” or “How would you respond to that situation?” The two of them do a lot of conversation behind closed doors about how they want to lead as a unit. Then, on agreement, change might happen.
We’re probably going to encourage, in the beginning years of this blended family, that Mom be the one who implements those changes. Why?—because she has a clearly-established relationship with her daughter; and her daughter knows exactly who she is in her life: “You’re my mom.” There is some weight of authority there.
So, all of a sudden, Kirk and Lori are leading from unity. Lori is implementing; but Kirk is bringing great wisdom to the family, and he’s making his contribution. His direct relationship with his stepdaughter will be a function of time and relationship, and it could take another period of time before he feels comfortable enough saying directly to her, “Let’s do it this way,” or “No; you can’t do that.” He is still the leader; he’s just leading indirectly instead of directly. That’s a wisdom that I think stepdads really need.
Bob: You show—in this series, you let us see that, when couples stay after this and they are committed to this, there can be good outcome.
Bob: In fact, we get to hear from this same family—
Ron: —Part Two.
Bob: —some of their good outcome. Listen to how Part Two goes.
[The Smart Stepfamily DVD Series]
Kirk: Over this past weekend, we were at a wedding. She actually/she pulled me aside and said, “Thank you so much for loving my mom the way you do.” It meant the world to me; because it was almost six or seven years of just constantly feeling frustrated and finally getting through to say, “It is making a difference.” It’s not easy. Parenting—in any relationship—is not going to be easy; but it’s one that really—there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and the kids definitely see it.
Ron: You know, when you get a little reward like that, you really need to hold onto it. Kirk obviously did.
Let me just point out—his stepdaughter didn’t necessarily say a direct comment to him—“Thank you for being my stepdad,” “Thank you for loving…” “Thank you for stepping into my world and life.” What she said was, “Thank you for loving my mom.” Now, that may not be the ultimate compliment that Kirk is looking for; but it’s a pretty good one, because what it represents is: “I see the contribution you are making in my mom’s life. It’s helping her life, and that’s helping my life.”
Sometimes, stepchildren have a hard time saying, “Thank you,” directly; but they can say it indirectly. Take that and run with it.
Dave: I was going to say, “That’s like a 9.8 on that vault landing.” You wanted a 10, but that’s as good as a 10; right?
Ron: 9.8 is pretty good.
Bob: That’s right.
Bob: You end this series with a pretty emotional moment. Do you need to set this up for us before we hear this clip?
Ron: You know, as we’ve already said this week, you need to know that there are rewards coming. We talked about the passage of time. You can never really predict how fast any one blended family is going to come together—but typically, it takes five to seven years—and sometimes, a little longer; sometimes, a little less. But recognizing that you are on a journey, and you’ve got to trust the process to work on your behalf. If you give up on the process, then you don’t get the rewards that you’ve been looking for. You need that perspective.
This next clip: you’re going to hear from a stepdad, a mom, and a stepdaughter talking about—in the words of the child—“We were a mess.” They stuck with it, and it ends pretty good.
[The Smart Stepfamily DVD Series]
Mom: Kevin and I, probably a year after we met, got married. Of course, I brought a child into the relationship. She was just turning 12; that brought with it its own set of challenges.
Stepdaughter: When my mom and Kevin first got together, I really kind of didn’t know how to feel. It was kind of new for me, so I was not receptive. There was a lot of pushback.
Kevin: We wouldn’t eat at the same table. She would take her food upstairs. We very seldom ride in the same car. Going through that phase of it/the tension—that was probably some of the dark times for me.
Mom: There were just lots of very tense moments, where it just did not seem like it was working—lots of times with him in the garage, kind of working out his frustrations; lots of times of her telling him, “You’re not my daddy.” Me, kind of, caught in between and trying to get both of them to kind of come together.
Stepdaughter: There was a time when I was having some extreme health issues; and I noticed that a lot of the people that I called my core friends were not, you know, there for me/were not able to come through—to the point where, I was isolated and didn’t have anybody—but my mom and Kevin were there for me. They dropped everything, regardless of our background/our history.
Kevin: It was like God had dropped a ton of bricks over my head and said: “Wake up. Regardless of how she acts, you still show love; show that you care; show that you are going to be here, regardless.”
Mom: She realized, “Oh, they are going to always be here for me”; and I could kind of see the change in her.
Stepdaughter: For three or four years, I’m starting to see the growth and the connectivity of our family/our unit; right? So I’m loving this. I still felt like something was missing. Talking to God and praying about it, I actually called my mom one day; and I was like: “Mom, I have an idea. I’m going to ask Kevin to adopt me.”
Kevin: I knew nothing about it. I thought we were going over to shoot a video about blended family; and little did I know that I would be asked to adopt. Of course, I would say, “Yes,” in a heartbeat; I was just overjoyed.
Stepdaughter: God taught me how He views us—we’re ugly; we’re broken; we’re all different shapes and pieces—but look what God can do with anything, because our family was a mess. Look at what He’s done, and look at what He’s doing with us. He can make something out of anything.
Kevin: It took close to 18/19 years for this thing to come full circle. It was truly God working in her life—just the fact that we’re all together.
Ron: That was a long road/a long journey. What I love about this guy, stepparents—man, this guy said: “You know what? No matter what she does, I’m going to love her.” He felt a tug of the Holy Spirit on him, just stayed dedicated to doing what you can do. I can imagine the many, many nights—can you imagine not riding in the same car, because your stepdaughter won’t ride with you? That’s awkward; that is painful.
Bob: That’s rejection; that’s what it is.
Ron: That’s rejection!
Ron: And night after night after night, he—you can just imagine him going: “Okay; I’m supposed to still love? Are you kidding, God? Where’s the payoff for this?” Then, one day, she says, “Would you adopt me?”
Now, I want to be quick to say, “Adoption is not the ultimate, end-all game of a blended family life; but in this case, it represented the culmination of all of that work”; and they’ve reached the Promised Land.
Dave: And you talk about perseverance—18/19 years—he said.
Ann: Especially in a culture and a generation that we want immediate gratification—
Ann: —he waited 18 to 19 years, and he was so patient. The verse that came to my mind was Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding”—which is so easy for all of us to do—“in all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.” And that took a while to make straight that path.
Dave: Thanks, Ron, for making me cry today. [Laughter]
Ron: Just doing my job.
Dave: What a beautiful story.
Ron: Just doing my job.
Bob: The verse that came to mind for me—
Bob: —was Romans 5:8, which says, “While we still sinners—
Ron: — “yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Bob: —“Christ died for us.” I’m just thinking, “This stepdad modeled—
Bob: —“the love of the Father/the persevering love of the Father, in the face of rejection/in the face of sin, and just said, ‘I’m still going to love you while you’re still in rebellion against me, while you’re still in isolation, while you don’t want anything to do with me.’”
Ann: That’s the gospel.
Bob: It is the gospel on display in a blended family; and ultimately, that’s what we’re praying for—
Bob: —in a first marriage/in a second marriage—whatever it is. We’re praying that redemption, reconciliation, forgiveness, healing, hope—all of that—comes to bear; and God gets glorified in the process.
Ron: And the church has a role in this. If this guy had had—I don’t know this part of the story—but if he had a group of people around him/maybe, some other blended family couples he gets to meet with on a regular basis—or a pastor he gets to meet with—who says: “Yes; I get it, man. I’m hearing you, but hang in there. I’m with you. We’re praying for you. Here is a tip...” “Here is a tool,” “Here is a resource,” Here’s something to encourage you along this journey,”—keeps him going.
Bob: Yes; you’ve got to believe—on year three or four or when he’s still being rejected—somebody is whispering in his ear/somebody’s saying, “Come on. Hang in there,” because to go it on your own—
Ron: Yes; right.
Bob: —you’ll get discouraged pretty quick.
You put together this video series hoping that you would help, not just to transmit information, but to build communities—structure/support structures, little microcosms, little support groups—so that couples can be doing this for one another, all the way through.
Ron: Yes, church leaders are going to learn a lot from the series. They are going to get that tip, or that tool, or that one sentence that they have in their back pocket to share with somebody at the end of a service, who really needs some encouragement. I think it’s the way to go—letting the church be the church to one another around some good information that’s going to help encourage them on their journey.
Bob: Always great to have you on FamilyLife Today. We love listening to the podcast, too.
Ron: Thank you. I love doing the podcast; we are hearing good things from listeners. It’s a lot of fun, and we’re able to talk about real-life things on that podcast; so it’s good.
Bob: Thanks, Ron.
You can find out more about the FamilyLife Blended podcast when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Also, information about The Smart Stepfamily DVD series that has been redone recently—we’ve been talking about that today—information on how you can get copies of those videos or access the videos, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for information about that.
Then we should also tell people about the event you have planned for October 1st and 2nd. For the last, I think, almost a decade now, we’ve been doing a Summit on Stepfamily Ministry in the fall; and it’s a two-day event. People have been coming from all around the world to be trained and equipped on how to do stepfamily ministry more effectively. This year, October 1st and 2nd, the Summit on Stepfamily Ministry is going to be happening in your home community. It’s actually going to be happening in your living room, because we’re doing it as a live-streamed event.
We’ve all figured out, here in the last several months, how to connect with people more effectively online. We believe this is going to be the largest event ever held to train people in how to do effective stepfamily ministry. It happens October 1st and 2nd. People are already signing up to be part of this event. Information is available online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Go to our website and make plans to carve out a couple of days—with other people on your church staff, or people in your community, in your life, in your world—who are involved in ministering to couples or families in blended families and stepfamilies. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and plan to be part of the Summit on Stepfamily Ministry happening on October 1st and 2nd. The info you need is all available right there. If you have any questions about the summit or any of the resources we’ve talked about here today, call us at 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk about what can be one of the hardest, most painful circumstances that married couples have to deal with, and that’s the issue of infertility. Matthew Arbo is going to join us to talk about how we hang onto our faith/how we walk with Jesus during those difficult times. 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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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