FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Stepfamily Frustrations: Dr. Darrell Bock

with Darrell L. Bock | April 22, 2024
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Adjusting to a new family is hard. Dr. Darrell Bock had to join a whole new family after his mom passed away when he was a teenager. He knows all about handling blended family issues like getting along with step-siblings and step-parents, managing money, and talking things out.

  • Show Notes

  • 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.

Dealing with a new family after his mom passed, Dr. Darrell Bock understands handling blended family issues like getting along with step-siblings, managing money, and communication.

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Stepfamily Frustrations: Dr. Darrell Bock

With Darrell L. Bock
April 22, 2024
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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: What do you think one of my top spiritual pathways of how I connect with God is?

Ann: Football.

Dave: [Laughter] That's funny! I did not expect that. That was pretty good. [Laughter] No, I mean, you think about worship. You think—

Ann: —It’s stories.

Dave:  —you know, some people like you are nature, Bible, prayer, worship.

Ann: You cry your eyes out when you hear a great story.

Dave: Yes, I can't explain it. When I hear a life-changing story where Jesus literally transformed somebody's life, I'm bawling almost every time. And guess what? Today, we get to hear a great story.

Ann: We are going to be hearing this story with Ron Deal and our guest, but Ron is the director of our Blended Family ministry. You all know that. He hosts our FamilyLife Blended® podcast. So, today we're going to listen to just this portion of his conversation with Doctor Darrell Bock, who's a seminary professor at Dallas Seminary. And listen to this: he's authored—

Dave: — 45 books!

Ann: —and he and his wife Sally have three children and five grandchildren; and he grew up in a blended family.

Dave: You may notice this conversation didn't happen in our studio, so it's going to sound a little different, but it's a great conversation.


Ron: Let's talk about your childhood a little bit. How did your blended family journey begin?

Darrell: Well, it began out of a little bit of tragedy, to be honest. My biological mother passed away when I was 14 years old. I am one of four children in the family, and I'm in position number three. I have a brother who's seven and a half years older than I am. I have a sister about four years older than I am, and then I have a little sister who's only eighteen months—we're only eighteen months apart.

So, my brother, when my mom passed away, was already out of college. My sister had just gone to college. I was a sophomore in high school, and my little sister was either in eighth or ninth grade. I can't remember if she was one or two years behind me in school. And that death was important because my mom had had cancer since I was eight years old.

We had been attending a church, a moderate theological church, I would say, up until the time I was about eight years old when she had her first surgery. And then, she was in and out of surgery over the next six years multiple times, and so, that broke up our exposure to the church as a family.

The kind of important feature of this is, my parents confided in my older two siblings about where mom's health was pretty much all along the way, because they viewed them as old enough to be able to deal with it; but they did not do that for myself and my younger sister. So, we experienced—my younger sister and I—experienced the death in a very different way than my older siblings did.

In fact, I didn't know that my mom was very close to dying until my brother showed up outside my door in an English class that I was sitting in. I'm looking through the louvers of the door, and I can see his face. My first thought is, “What in the world is he doing here? He's supposed to be in law school or in college.” When I walked out, the first words he said to me is, “She's going,” which means mom is dying, and I had no clue it was even close. So, that was like a shock!

The nature of this experience was challenging for me, but it was even harder on my younger sister who was totally caught off guard, and it literally threw her off the tracks emotionally for about a 10- or 15-year period.

So, now, we're in a family in which I have a dad who works, who travels like crazy, and in a job that is causing that. And then there’s—my little sister and [I] were at home,  and then, two children who were away. So, we were separated from the experience of what was coming for dad.

Ron: Yes.

Darrell: We did have an older lady who lived with us who kind of watched over us, so we weren't totally on our own, but that was the context.

My dad eventually started to date someone and, eventually, married this woman. It was someone who my little sister and I got to know, but it was someone who my older siblings really didn't get to know. When he got married, there were all kinds of reactions to what was going on when that happened. That was probably four years later or so. I actually don't know the/I don't remember the exact time.

Ron: Do you know why your parents didn't tell you and your younger sister what was going on with your mother?

Darrell: They thought that we were so young and would be so, perhaps, bothered by the news of the reality that they were trying to protect us. And my reaction out of that has been [that] I will never try and protect my child from something that's coming if it has the potential to really be life-altering in terms of what they need to know. Because the impact, which was hard on both me and my younger sister (it was even harder on her), even though it was a very well-intentioned act of protection, it didn't end up really protecting us in the end.

Ron: You know, I'm sitting here thinking about so many times through the years we've had people contact our ministry and say, “There are pieces to the story of our divorce that we've never told the kids.” And you know, it's, “What do we do with that?” On the whole, I just think keeping secrets does not serve children well. It sounds like your experience would support that.

Darrell: Yes, like I said, the decision we've made in our family has been to try and keep our kids informed on anything that comes close to that. Fortunately, we haven't had anything near that level to have to deal with, but I think it marked all of us in that regard.


Ann: You’re listening to FamilyLife Today, and we’re listening to a portion of the FamilyLife Blended podcast with Ron Deal and guest, Darrell Bock.

Dave: Yes. I tell you: that secret is a heavy—

Ann: —yes!

Dave: Man, oh man, I grew up in a blended family, and there were—

Ann: —secrets.

Dave: —a lot of secrets, but that's a really heavy one.

Ann: And it's not just blended families that have secrets.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: Everybody has them.

Dave: By the way, if you're interested, the next Blended and Blessed livestream is this weekend, and I know it's late notice, but it's a livestream, so you can just click in right now! It isn't too late to do that: Go there. You can find out how you can click in. You don't want to miss it. You're going to hear stuff like we're just hearing right now. So, let's go back and hear some more of Ron and Dr. Darrell Bock's conversation.


Ron: Sometimes, on this program and in my writing, we talk about the quake that ultimately led to a blended family being formed. Your mother's passing was that massive earthquake. There are always aftershocks, and I think, for a lot of parents, we sort of miss the aftershocks that our children experience. That is, in between mom's passing and dad remarrying, there are years of a single parent. Life is very different now around the home. It's just you and your sister. The older two are out of the house. Some woman's coming to help kind of oversee or care for you a little bit, but certainly not mom.

I'm wondering, what were some of those other aftershocks for you? Any changes in school, [your] Dad relationship, [or] anything like that?

Darrell: Yes, there are lots of elements. First of all, the woman who cared for us had been a part of our family, really, since I was born. So, she was in the house and lived with us. So, she was—it was like having a relative in the house, if I could make an analogy.

Ron: Okay, okay.

Darrell: So, that's important, because it was not an “in and out.” She was very connected with us in many ways.

The second element, that I think’s important here—and I don't know to define it as an aftershock or just the reality of it—is that when my dad started to date the woman who became my stepmom, she was in and out, around. She was sometimes around when he wasn't in terms of just being available. She had three children of her own, whom I was getting to know in the midst of that, so there was that dimension of managing that—three younger children. They were all younger than either me or my younger sister. They were becoming a part of our lives on a regular basis, especially when dad was around.

She was helping me negotiate my teenage years as we drew closer to each other, et cetera. But then, when she was not around, and the person who took care of us was around but wasn't really a parent figure in many ways—just an administrator of the house, if I can say it that way—I was in the odd position of having to be a brother and a dad to a sister who was only 18 months younger than I was, and [she] was going through her own teenage adjustment along with the shock of how the death hit her that I was having to work to some degree to manage in the home.

That was probably the biggest aftershock: the way it changed the way I had to relate to my sister Jody and what that involved for us as we kind of flipped. Sometimes, we were interacting as brother and sister, and sometimes, I was having to function almost like a way-too-young surrogate dad. That was the challenge; and then, my stepmom-to-be— eventually my stepmother—was helping me negotiate some of that when she was around, when he was in town (he was out as much or more as he was in), so it was a very disruptive lifestyle that was a part of our real life.

Ron: You kind of playing the dad role a little bit with your younger sister; that had to be confusing for both of you.

Darrell: Yes, very confusing for both of us. Yes, and she didn't appreciate it when I flipped roles, you know? I mean, I'm a brother. I'm not a dad. That was a challenge.

And then, I think the other part of the big picture in terms of the total story and where we're headed is, I went through that, and my younger sister went through that, and we got to know the stepmother-to-be, if I can say it that way. But my older siblings didn't have that experience. They were totally detached from the relationship [and] binding with someone who was going to become their stepmom.

Ron: And so, when she entered the family formally—when your dad married her, what was the impact on you and your siblings at that point?

Darrell: Well, we all had different views about what was going on, and very different views. My older siblings had questions about the wisdom of dad marrying this woman. I have never talked to them about why that was, but they weren't thrilled with the marriage. Let's just put it that way. And then, my younger sister was so coping with the loss of mom and the fact that this woman could never be that; that the remarriage was hard for her.

I ended up, out of the four, being the one (I'll say it this way) who was the most accepting of what had happened, and having to deal with, to some degree, the various reactions, when everybody was together, to what was going on in the way people were being viewed in those relationships, et cetera.

And being in an odd position in another sense in that I'm not the oldest. I'm the third oldest. I'm probably the closest to her in some ways because of where I was in my status of life. And so, all that impacted the way we were all perceiving what was going on.

Ron: Sometimes, parents and stepparents ask me questions like, “Okay, so what can we do?” The assumption is that there's some magic bullet that the adults can do that all of a sudden opens up the hearts and minds of the children, in spite of whatever their age is and whatever their past has been, that circumvents all of that, and all of a sudden there's this magic connection that can be made. No, the takeaway here is: children are people.

Darrell: That's right.

Ron: They have strong, strong feelings and beliefs about the new marriage; about what it means, what it doesn't mean. “How does this affect my relationship with my biological mother?”—in your case, that's now deceased. They have strong beliefs about all of this, and they're going to be a factor in the equation.

Darrell: Yes, even a controlling factor to some degree, because the ball isn't always in the stepparent’s court. The ball is very much back and forth between the child and the stepparent, and the child is also dealing with stuff that impacts how the game's being played, and that's beyond the stepparent’s control to some degree. The stepparent can impact how the game ends up being played out by how they react, but that stuff going on within the child is part of what is creating the dynamic, and you don't always know, and sometimes, the child doesn't even know—

Ron: —hat's right.

Darrell: —what's creating that.

Ron: Okay. That is very well said. Essentially, what is on the line here is trust. You were able to trust her, in part, because you saw them dating. You got to observe that process, and there was some integrity to that, so you were able to kind of glean from that and you had a little bit of doubt about her—

Darrell: —that's right.

Ron: —but there were some other things that were happening that were overcoming that. For example, you got time with her, so you got to develop your own relationship that stood on its own. She's pouring into you all at the same time, and so, you see her heart and you're thinking, “This is somebody I can trust.” At the end of the day, that had more going for it in your relationship.

But your siblings, for whatever reason—circumstances, out of the house; you know, the shock of mom's death for your younger sister—it's a different equation. It doesn't add up to the same amount of trust. In their case, it was more doubt and suspicion than it was trust, and that closed the door on the relationship developing, at least initially. And over time, I'd love to hear more about how that developed in that space.

But the thing to say to the stepparent listening to all of this thinking, “Okay, Darrell's right. So, a lot of this is in the court of the child. What am I to do in the meantime?” Well, be trustworthy, even if they're not necessarily giving you that many points for being trustworthy, if I could say it that way. Trustworthiness eventually adds up to something; don't know how much; don't know how quickly that door will open to their heart. But if you're not trustworthy, then the door never opens to you, so it has to be the thing that you lead with as that stepparent who is pursuing a relationship with the child.

You think biblically a lot, day in and day out; that's your academic world and professional life. Is there a theological or biblical concept that you kind of wish blended families understood, that if they applied it to their family, this would really help?

Darrell: Yes, it's a simple idea. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your child as yourself. Love your new children as yourself. Don't think about so much about where you are as thinking about where they are and love them accordingly.


Ann: We’ve been listening to a portion of the FamilyLife Blended podcast with Ron Deal and Dr. Darrell Bock, and the host of that podcast now joins us in the studio.

Hey, Ron. Glad to be with you today! 

Ron: It's always great to be with you guys!

Dave: We just heard a pretty up and down, devastating story, and he ends when you asked him, “What advice do you have?” with a very simple but profound truth. How would you react to that? “Love God. Love your neighbor.”

Ron: I mean, so many things just come down to that, right? Love God. Love others. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Sometimes, [in] blended family situations— adoptive family or foster family situations—people are thrown into being neighbors, so to speak, with a new family member. That even happens in all families: your son or daughter marries somebody, and you have a daughter-in-law. Or whatever—and, all of the sudden, there's new family. How do you approach that?

You can always go back to that simple notion. “I just need to try to love them as best I can. If this were a neighbor in my life, or somebody living literally next door, how would I build a relationship with them? What would I do? What would I not do? And how do I adopt that posture in my heart that says, ‘I'm going to be open towards you’?”

That's one of the things we heard in Darrell's family story. There was this divide between the older siblings and then Darrell and his younger sister, the younger siblings. Some of them had more access to the stepmother than others did. Some were just more open, naturally, because of the back story and how the family came together. No matter what position you're in, loving your neighbor is always a good thing.

Dave: Do you think it's any harder in a blended family than in a biological family, to love? I'm just thinking of my own mom. I don't think she ever loved my stepmother. She was cordial to her, but—

Ann: —she didn't even know her.

Dave: —yes, I mean, it was—she was hurt by the whole deal. And then, when my dad remarried, we all became a part of the family with my stepmom. My mom just sort of  stayed away and never really—even on our wedding day, when Ann and I got married, that was the first time my mom saw my stepmom, and she would have nothing to do with her. And she never did.

Ron: In the case of your mom, another Scripture comes to mind: “Love your enemies”—

Dave:  —yes. [Laughter]

Ron: —"and pray for those who persecute you.” Again, what Jesus is saying there is [paraphrased]: “Try to set aside what's going on with you and have some basic respect and care towards people that are difficult, difficult to love.”

In the case of your mom, Dave, she couldn't love the idea of your stepmom, because all that was represented in who your stepmom was and what had transpired before she came into your life. So, it's hard. That is enemy territory, if we could put it that way. And yet, how do I come with a basic respect and a basic sense of care and love for people in general? Not easy. I'm not saying that's easy. I just know that we're called to it.

Ann: Ron, let me ask you: you talk about this quite often in your podcasts and in any of your conferences; you talk about the stepparent building that relationship with their stepchild and how trust is so important. Talk about that a little bit.

Ron: Yes. Well, Darrell's stepmother is a really good example of that. She did not overstep her bounds. She knew the limitations of her role, and that engendered trust in Darrell's heart toward her. In other words, she didn't come in and say, “I'm your new mom, [the] new sheriff in town. This is what's going to happen whether you like it or not.” No. She was respectful of Darrell; of his emotional connection to his biological mother, who had passed away; to the rest of the family; and that made it easier for Darrell to like her.

Now, again, he had the opportunity of getting to know her, and that trust built over time, and she invested in Darrell in his adolescent years. He talked about how she became somebody who could talk to about life. His biological mother was not there, but yet, now the stepmom was. So, she did fill that role in some ways for him, and all of that engendered trust, which made it easier for him to move toward her emotionally. He had two siblings who did not have those same opportunities.

Let me just make a comment to the stepparents listening right now: you're the same person—at least you try to be. You try to be loving and trustworthy with all your stepchildren, but sometimes, because of their age and circumstance, and whether they're out of the home, or maybe in a different home more often than another child is, you just have more opportunity with some kids and therefore, the relationship can deepen and grow in ways that it doesn't with another child. And that's hard; that's difficult. You're still the same person. You're making the same effort, but you're not necessarily feeling the same results.

Again, there's only so much you can control, but continue to be the loving person that you can be. It just might take longer with another child, given those circumstances, than it will with somebody else. So, stay the course and don't quit.

Dave: And tomorrow we get to hear Part 2 of Ron's conversation with Darrell Bock, and you do not want to miss it.

Shelby: I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Ron Deal on FamilyLife Today. Ron and the Wilsons have been listening to the FamilyLife Blended podcast episode with Dr. Darrell Buck. If you haven't had a chance to listen to Ron's FamilyLife Blended podcast, I encourage you to check that out and subscribe to it. [It has] lots of great insight for blended families or families that are looking to blend.

Now, unique families who are in a blended situation have a lot of normal problems and issues that they deal with as a married couple, but they're also dealing with unique ones as well. And that's why we are excited to talk about the Blended & Blessed one-day marriage event for couples in blended families. That's actually happening this Saturday in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It’s really about building unity in blended families because that can be extremely difficult. So, we encourage you to join us for the Blended & Blessed Marriage Conference that’s going to be happening this Saturday.

If you can't attend in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, you can also stream it from home yourself, or you could actually join a church that is going to be streaming in different areas as well. There are going to be some great speakers like our very own Ron and Nan Deal, Cheryl Shoemake, Glen and Brenda Stewart, and Gayla Grace. You can find all the details, including how to stream it, in the show notes at

Now, coming up tomorrow, if you're in a blended family, how do you do things like manage finances or estate plan, learning, or how do you build trust as a new stepparent? Well, Dr. Darrell Bock is back tomorrow with Dave and Ann Wilson and Ron Deal to talk about just that. We hope you'll join us.

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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