Stepfamily KidsMay 18, 2018
What does it feel like to hear your parents are getting a divorce? How does it feel when one of those parents remarries? Shannon Simmons and Lauren Reitsema share the stories of their blended family experiences.
What does it feel like to hear your parents are getting a divorce? How does it feel when one of those parents remarries? Shannon Simmons and Lauren Reitsema share the stories of their blended family experiences.
Bob: Lauren Reitsema remembers being a teenager and getting stunning news from her parents.
Lauren: Eighth grade/ninth grade, my dad picked me up from sports practice in high school and said that he’s moving out of the house. I said: “No; you’re not! That’s a joke; right? It’s not April; this isn’t really happening.” It turned out to be a real threat. About two or three years into counseling, and trying to figure out how to make it work, my parents filed for divorce when I was a junior in high school and I was getting ready to leave for college. I felt like I got hit by a Mack® Truck; because they actually had sat us down, as kids, and said, “You need to know that this is a family that will never get divorced.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, May 18th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What happens to a teenage girl who gets hit by the Mack Truck of her parents’ divorce? How does that impact her as she moves into adulthood? We’ll hear more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. One of the things that we have the privilege of doing, here, at FamilyLife® is helping husbands and wives / moms and dads navigate their way through very challenging family situations. In recent years, we’ve been speaking to couples who are in blended families.
And we’ve been talking to folks who are ministering to those in blended families in an event we do every year called the Summit on Stepfamily Ministry. I was part of the Summit, back last October. This is significant ministry that’s happening as we gather together with these leaders from across the country.
Dennis: Yes; this isn’t theory. There’s a lot of reality taking place today in blended families. What we’re about to hear today are a couple of ladies—one who was grown, at the point her parents separated and got a divorce, and a blended family was established at that point; and the other, who actually grew up in a blended family.
The reality is, Bob—when that happens, children do have to process what they see. I think we can use this—even the imperfect—it’s not the ideal. It’s not why God established marriage in the first place, but it does happen. We need to know how we can help people process what they’re experiencing in a godly fashion.
Bob: Our goal is to help people, from wherever they are right now, move forward in the best godly redemptive way they can.
Dennis: Yes; not get paralyzed.
Bob: That’s right. And Lauren Reitsema, together with Shannon Simmons, were at the Summit. I had the opportunity to talk to these ladies about their experience—not so much focused on the divorce of their parents—but to talk about what it was like, as a young person, to see mom and dad fall in love with somebody else and start a new relationship and a new marriage.
Bob: Lauren is here from the Front Range. Shannon is here from Little Rock, Arkansas. In fact, Shannon—well, tell everybody what you do. You work with Ron.
Shannon: I’m his project coordinator/administrative assistant at FamilyLife Blended®. I’ve been with that team for about two years now—two-and-a-half years—but at FamilyLife for about five years.
Bob: And you and your husband are also speakers at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways.
Bob: Lauren is here, as I said, from the Front Range in Colorado. Tell everybody what your full-time job is.
Lauren: I am the communications director at a non-profit in Denver called The Center for Relationship Education. We teach relationship skills, from fourth grade through divorce recovery, in public schools across the country; because our heart is to prevent relationships from ever hitting a crisis point and teach kids—from healthy friendship development all the way through marriage—how to do relationships well.
Bob: You are in an intact marriage and family yourself; right?
Lauren: I am. My husband and I just celebrated our ten-year anniversary. We have a seven-year-old daughter, Leah, and a four-year-old son, Jace.
Bob: And Shannon, your marriage background—it’s an intact family with blended characteristics.
Shannon: Yes; we are a first marriage blended family; or as Ron would say, a multiple partner fertility family. I like saying that—it makes me sound smart. [Laughter] But that just means that there was a pregnancy that wasn’t a wedded pregnancy before we married. He had two, and we have three together. We’ve been married 17 years.
Bob: Got it. And both of you have, as a part of your experience, having grown up in a home where mom and dad broke up. Lauren, what was your family of origin story?
Lauren: My family of origin—I have an older brother, younger brother, younger sister. We grew up in a mountain town called Evergreen, Colorado, and listened to the elk bugling in the meadow. It was a wonderful life.
My parents were both involved in CBS leadership and Bible study. We started a church out of our basement. I knew the leadership. We would request worship songs as kids. I never remember not knowing who God was. My dad’s a doctor; my mom’s a business owner.
We moved to Denver. In that season, I was entering middle school—about eighth grade/ninth grade—my dad picked me up from sports practice in high school and said that he’s moving out of the house. I said: “No; you’re not! That’s a joke; right? It’s not April; this isn’t really happening.” It turned out to be a real threat. About two or three years into counseling, and trying to figure out how to make it work, my parents filed for divorce when I was a junior in high school and I was getting ready to leave for college.
Bob: You had, as a junior high student, no idea that there was tension / there were issues in the marriage?
Lauren: No; my parents literally took us on a ski trip, which we did very often. We had a family pow wow or family meeting, and it was in that time that they announced my dad was moving out.
I felt like I got hit by a Mack Truck, because they weren’t volatile. They square danced together at different events. They had friendships and family members. They actually had sat us down, as kids, and said, “You need to know that this is a family that will never get divorced.”
Was yours a different dynamic? Did you know there was tension?
Shannon: Actually, I am the product of teen pregnancy. My parents were teen parents, and they did not marry. I grew up being the illegitimate kid in a single mom home—saw a dad who chose to marry someone else / have a family with that woman—thinking, you know, he didn’t want me. Then seeing him divorce that woman and had adultery; then remarry another woman and have a child with that woman. Then he passed away. The divorce of his marriage and his death—that’s a lot to deal with, but that’s my family of origin.
Bob: You had a relationship with your dad while you were growing up, even though he and your mom had never been married.
Shannon: I had a distant relationship. Dad was around, and his grandmother helped raise me and all of that; but he wasn’t a provider. He didn’t help my mom with support. My mom did marry, eventually, and then she got a divorce. But we were kind of distant—I love my dad / I respected him—but in my teen years, I had a different perspective of him because of things I would hear. I began to call my dad “sperm donor” behind his back, of course, not in his face. But that was the type of relationship I had.
Bob: Wow. It’s interesting that we don’t think our circumstance is abnormal when we’re growing up because it’s what we know. It’s not until later that we start to look around and go, “Oh, not everybody’s family dynamics are like mine.”
Do you remember when it started to dawn on you that your family dynamics were unusual or that it wasn’t the norm?
Shannon: When I went to college, at a predominantly white university, and began to get involved in the Baptist Student Union, where I was one of the very few minorities, I started hearing how people grew up; and that didn’t match.
Bob: In that moment of going, “This doesn’t match,” was there hurt, or bitterness, or anger that came out of that?—or did you just kind of compartmentalize all of that; do you think?
Shannon: There wasn’t anger; it was just a little sadness. You know, one of my friends—she talked with her dad and that sort of thing. I didn’t have that type of relationship. It wasn’t until I had a mentor tell me that I needed to reconcile with my father, as a college student. One summer, while on missions, I sent my dad a letter, just apologizing to him that I wasn’t a good daughter and “I want to have a good relationship with you.”
He began to reach out and began to talk on the phone, and he would come and visit me. Then, that following January, my father passed away in a car accident. I’m so grateful that I stopped calling him “sperm donor” before he died and that I had a healthy perspective of him before he passed away.
Bob: Yes. Lauren, from being a junior high student and getting hit by a Mack Truck with the news, there were, you said, three years of counseling and attempts to put this together. I’m sure in those three years you were praying, hoping, believing that they’d figure this out and stay together?
Lauren: Oh, absolutely. We always hoped; but in the back of our mind, we were very cautious because we knew it was serious when, as soon as they made the announcement, the dynamic of our family changed. It was as if all of the faking it, all of the incremental hurts, all of the masks were off; and we saw things that we had not recognized for 14 years happening in our house.
Bob: So the hidden tension came out in the open in that three-year period?
Lauren: Yes; it was as if: “Now, that the kids know, we can just be mean to each other.”
Bob: Wow. Were you mad at both mom and dad?
Lauren: I was! I just was mad; because they broke a promise—not only in their vows—but they promised us that this wouldn’t happen. I really—it was—the trust was gone.
Bob: I want to jump ahead to how old you were when either mom or dad said “Hey, I’ve got news.”
Lauren: Well it’s interesting. For my dad, he—my stepmom is someone we’ve known for my whole life. So that was really hard. She’s a kind, wonderful person, who I have a great relationship with; but I felt really betrayed by her. There was not infidelity that I know of at all; so I felt like, “How could someone who knows my mom, and knows our family, and is supposedly loving my dad—how could you do this by being the person that he’s falling back on?”
But my dad and I weren’t nearly as close in that season, and so I had separation from that relationship.
Their wedding happened within a year / almost a year of the divorce; it was very sudden. My dad took us on a family trip with her—that we did with my mom, multiple years in a row—and that was our “This is your stepmom,” kind of coming-out party.
Bob: So, wait, wait—wait.
Lauren: That was really hard.
Bob: You’ve done the same kind of family trip—mom and dad—and now, it is dad—
Lauren: And then my dad just loves this trip. He’s a creature of habit, and he took her. It was a kind of a: “Meet your stepmom. I’m going to marry her. Let’s go.” It was a beautiful trip. It was a place that we had a lot of family memories; so I felt really, again, betrayed by that one. I celebrated him, but I still had a lot of stuff I was working through.
Bob: Wow. Did either your mom, or your dad, ever come to you and say: “I’m thinking about marrying this person; what do you think?”?
Lauren: The trip for my dad was that, but it was almost a “What-do-you-think,”—
—it wasn’t a “What do you think?” It was: “This is happening. Be nice!”
With my mom, it was—she swore she’d never get married again: “I’m not going to do that!” Then, when she found love—she found somebody who is really kind and compatible with her—I think she shifted a little bit, but she was very much dialoguing with us the whole time: “What do you think?” and “I’m not going to marry him until…” or “…if,” or “…when.” We never tried to break that marriage up; but for her, it was more of a “You need to do things for yourself.” We were adult children, at that point, and again had more time to heal before he entered the picture.
Shannon, growing up with a mom who was essentially a single-parent mom, how old were you when she met and fell in love with her husband?
Shannon: I think I was around eight, maybe; and I think, maybe three years later, that’s when she was pregnant with my younger sister. And then, maybe a year or two later, they divorced.
I remember her dating him—I remember being around his mom, and his family, and that was strange. But she never asked: “Are you okay with this? How do you feel about this?”—wasn’t any of that in our home; she just did.
Bob: The dynamic I’ve often heard is that kids—there’s some part of this new guy or this new woman in the family dynamic that’s attractive / that we like: “We go out and do fun stuff together. He buys presents for me and all of that.” And yet, that’s mixed in together with “He’s taking my mom or my dad away from me.” What were you feeling, as an eight-year-old, when there’s now a guy in the picture who’s a part of the family?
Shannon: You know, reading Ron’s books, I’ve learned that a stepdad will come into the situation—kind of looks like a hero—because a single mom has been struggling and surviving. I’m from a strong black-woman type family; she taught me some independent skills and that sort of thing, and he was supposed to add to the equation.
If it’s a stepmom coming in, it’s a little different: “You’re messing up this happy home,”—that sort of thing.
But there wasn’t: “Oh, this is a plus for me.” It was always—because it was kind of introduced to me—“You know, he’s going to be more of a dad than your dad is; because your dad doesn’t even send support, and you hardly see him anyway. You might as well call him ‘Dad.’” I’m like, “I can’t call him ‘Daddy,’” even though, in my mind, I’m thinking, “That’s a sperm donor—that’s my daddy—and I can’t call another man, ‘Daddy.’” So that was the only thing with me—it was kind of forced that: “You should call him ‘Daddy.’” I’m like, “I can’t”; yes.
Bob: We’ve got an open chair here. Ron are you—where’s Ron? I know Ron well enough to know he’s sitting, there, wanting to say about seven things. [Laughter] So hand him the microphone, and let him say what he’s been itching to say.
Ron: Oh no, my secret is out! [Laughter] Actually, I just have questions. Lauren, you were talking a minute ago about—I felt like you were saying, “I was split in two,”—both when your dad remarried and when your mom remarried. There was a part of you that celebrated your stepdad, for example; but there was a part of you that still hoping, and wishing, and longing for what could have been. I think maybe you felt that way when your dad married; or maybe it was just: “No; you didn’t have any split. There wasn’t anything positive in that.”
Talk about: “What do you do with that?—the two sides of your heart that are in two different places about mom.” Let’s just focus on mom—about mom’s new man and what that means for you, in your life: “How do you cope with that, as a kid?”
Lauren: So, as a kid—it’s hard to answer, because I was in more my later adolescence and adulthood when this process was happening. But the one place you really struggle is in identity loss. You’ve got this family’s surname on this side, with a new baby, and an answering machine message that you don’t even recognize.
And then, you’ve got this family, with a whole new heritage and stepsiblings and older adults. All of a sudden, you’re an aunt and you’ve never had kids. Your brothers and sisters have never had kids.
I—it wasn’t until I married Josh, and I took on a new surname and had that covenant of nuclear beginning that I really felt like I knew where my family was—because we were either the “first marriage kids” to my stepmom and my half-brother, because they had a baby when I was in college—or we were the “step kids,” who were younger than these older kids, who had already done all these milestones that we felt were robbed from us. I was the first in my family to have a baby, and my stepdad had grandchildren already. I felt like all of my firsts were taken away, and it wasn’t my choice.
Bob: Wow. We don’t have time for you to ask all the questions you want to ask. [Laughter] But here’s what I want you to speak to; because, obviously, this happens. Divorced moms and dads meet, and fall in love, and make choices to blend families. What should they keep in mind about the reality that the kids are being brought into at that point? How do they navigate that in a way that is as healthy for the kids as it could possibly be?
Ron: Okay; so my guess is, if you’re sitting in the audience—and you’ve lived anything that their parents have walked through and your kids have experienced anything, even remotely close—you’re feeling a little bit of guilt; and you’re feeling a little bit of hope; and I hope, a whole lot of empathy. That’s what I would want you to focus on—is the empathy piece:
Step in their shoes. Understand what it is to be a kid—and how complex it is, and how divided they feel, and “I don’t even know who I am anymore. My identity is gone,”—all of those things are going on while the family is trying to blend.
“Help parents move toward those pieces of their children’s lives.” Let me say that again: “Help parents move toward their children and these pieces in their hearts and lives,”—not move toward them with: “This is happening. Be happy,” or “…Be nice,”—as the way she said it—not that; because that’s the parent’s need, not the child’s need.
Move toward the child’s needs and issues and say: “Help me understand this,” “Tell me about that,” “I get it, which may mean you’re mad at me right now. I understand. I love you; I know this is hard, and I’m still here with you.” That empathy piece—moving toward the child helps heal / helps bring through the grief. And most importantly, keeps the child and the parent closer together.
Bob: We could spend the rest of the morning just kind of working through all that we’re hearing here. This has just been a glimpse. But to Ron’s point, hopefully, it’s opened all of us up to be able to say: “These are hard moments. Let’s get on our kids’ sides and just say: ‘I want to help.
‘I want to hear. I want to listen. I want to feel. I want to bear your burden,’” which is what the Bible tells us to do—bear one another’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ in that. That doesn’t take away all the pain / doesn’t deal with all the hurt and the heartache, but it is being Christ in the midst of that with your kids.
We appreciate both of you sharing your story; and Ron, thanks for being up here. Thank them; will you? [Applause]
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to a conversation that took place, back in October, at the Summit on Step Family Ministry—an event that we hosted to help equip leaders who are involved in working with blended couples and with stepfamilies.
Dennis: And Bob, I take away three things from what we shared there. Number one, first of all, life is full of brokenness. I wish it was perfect. I wish that two people, who made a covenant with each other, went the distance every time; but it doesn’t always happen.
And so, the second reality occurs; and that’s pain.
Pain has to be called what it is in the life of a child. The more we, as adults—especially families, in the midst of this, who are raising step children—the more that we can understand that the child doesn’t know how to process what he or she has experienced—but we can guide them. We can listen to them. We can help them. I think that helps the child grow up through the brokenness.
And then finally, third, children today need love in all kinds of situations—the kind of love that lets them, maybe, act out their anger / what they’ve experienced. But they need a parent, who keeps coming toward them, expressing the love of Christ and letting them know: “You know what? God is going to use this in your life. You may not like your circumstances. It won’t be the last time in your life you face this, but the God of redemption can take a broken situation and use it for His purposes.”
Bob: Yes; I’m thinking back to the event we hosted last month, the Blended & Blessed® one-day event that was livestreamed around the country.
We had a lot of people who joined us on that day for that event, but I know many of our listeners missed the event and would love to have access to the videos or to the audio. We’ve got an all-access pass available if you’re interested in viewing the videos or listening to the messages. There are also discussion questions available for each of the sessions.
You can find out more about the Blended & Blessed All-Access Pass when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. We also have resources from Ron Deal, including a book called Life in A Blender that’s all about how you can help kids in a blended marriage or family situation thrive. Again, look for the information about what’s available for blended families when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or call us if you have any questions: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, our goal, here, at FamilyLife is to effectively develop godly marriages and families. Wherever you are in your situation, we want to help you move forward / make progress in your walk with Christ and how that affects your marriage and your family. We want to provide practical biblical help and hope for couples and for families—that’s our mission.
We’re grateful for those of you who are a part of the mission, especially those of you who are regular monthly Legacy Partners. What you do each month, as you provide a donation, you provide the financial stability so that this ministry can continue to broadcast in your local community and so that we can reach out into more areas—reach more people more regularly with this daily radio program and with all that we offer through FamilyLife Today.
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When you enroll this month, two things are going to happen. First of all, we’re going to send you a gift card / a free registration to an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway that you can use for yourself or for someone that you know.
Secondly, every donation you make over the next 12 months, as a Legacy Partner, is going to be matched, dollar for dollar, up to a total of a half million dollars. That matching-gift fund has been provided for us by some friends of the ministry, and we’re trying to take advantage of it. Would you consider becoming a new Legacy Partner? You can sign on easily at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to enlist at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
If you’re interested in making a onetime donation, that’s going to be matched during the month of May as well. So, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and donate, online; or call to donate: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
And with that, we’ve got to wrap up for this week. Thanks for being with us. I hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday. We’re going to talk about the reality of domestic violence in our culture and what women, in particular, can do to help recover from abusive relationships—how they can learn to walk in wholeness. Justin Holcomb will be our guest. We hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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