When Stepparenting Gets Hard
Hope to break your blended family's invisible walls? Author Laurie Polich Short & husband Jere offer ideas from the path to doggedly love their stepfamily.
About the Guest
Hope to break your blended family’s invisible walls? Author Laurie Polich Short & husband Jere offer ideas from the path to doggedly love their stepfamily.
When Stepparenting Gets Hard
Laurie: Because stepparenting is such a sacrifice in so many ways—you’re walking into a pool of hurt/a divided family—and you are going to get some of that spilled on you.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: Well, today on FamilyLife Today, we get to listen to Ron Deal from his FamilyLife Blended® podcast, which comes out every two weeks.
Dave: If you’re not listening to it, you need to subscribe; because it’s really, really good content.
Ann: —and so practical.
Dave: We get to listen in to a conversation Ron had about, what I think, a lot of blended families feel. I know I felt it when my dad got remarried: “Where do I fit? How do I step into this family?”
Ann: I am thinking especially—just <a i I’m a stepmom, and you have a family already established with your new husband, and he has kids, you’re wondering: “What’s my place? Where do I fit?”
Dave: So today, Ron interviewed Laurie and Jere Short. Laurie stepped into a family already established. She is single with no kids—comes into this family—and her analogy of what that felt like is very true.
[Interview from FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Ron: Laurie, the opening line to the introduction of your book says: “My stepson gave me permission to write this book.” [Laughter] I thought that was great. By the way, there is a picture of the three of you—you, Jere, and your stepson Jordan—in the front of your book. I think it’s on the wedding day; right?
Laurie: It is, and that picture embarrasses my stepson greatly at this point. [Laughter]
Ron: How old was when that wedding day picture was taken?
Laurie: He was six years old.
Ron: Jere, how old is he now?
Jere: He is 17/almost 18 here.
Ron: So it has been a few years since you guys married. You say in your book that: “Becoming a stepparent is like standing on the edge of a pool, wondering how far you should go in.” Tell me about that. What was it like for you?
Laurie: Well, that analogy for me came from thinking about what it’s like to stand on the edge of a pool when there is a bunch of people in it. Certainly, when you are becoming a stepparent, what I say in the book is that: “The pool is essentially full when you get in.” That can be cause to pause and say, “How far do I really want to get in?” I know that because stepparenting is such a sacrifice in so many ways—you’re walking into a pool of hurt/a divided family—and you are going to get some of that spilled on you at some point.
I know that it’s very tempting to say, “I’m not going to give my whole heart to this, because it’s going to be broken.” As C.S. Lewis wisely says about love: “Your heart is always broken. It’s only valuable the more you give of it.” That’s really the mystery of stepparenting—is that God provides what you need—but you do feel, at that moment when you are starting, “Do I want to get in here?”
I <a i about how, if the children in the pool are young, they are waving at you, wanting you to come in; if they are older, they could very well be ignoring that you are even there; that is a hard wall to break through.
Ron:you were already in the pool; she is now approaching it; like. “How does that work?”
Jere: Well, of course, I wanted her to dive right in and be a part of that. I’ve seen the fruit of that every moment. Also, her background, too, of youth ministry and everything like that—I’ve seen the fruit of that, as well, in the relationship—just kind of understanding kids even more.
She has been, I want to say, the ideal partner to come into this relationship; and I’ve seen that so many times, along the way, of just—that, maybe, is that outside voice, looking in, and seeing things that you don’t see.
Laurie: Well, I will say, though, I thought for sure, when Jordan was a teenager, those would be my best years. I didn’t know what I was doing when he was six years old; and I even talk about in the book that I went over to my friend’s house, who had a child the same age, just to see if we could be together; because I was so/I had no idea what to do.
Ironically, Ron, the teenage years have been my most challenging with Jordan; because it’s been in this season that he is really understanding his situation. We’ve gone through a lot because of that. So it’s ironic; but I thought, because I was a youth minister, “Oh, I’ll know exactly what to do once he’s a teenager”; you know? [Laughter] But I experienced what every other parent did that was in my office—crying on my shoulder—that’s what I did.
Ron: That’s exactly—you know what?—it’s interesting you brought that up; because I flagged a section of that last chapter, where you have a dialogue with Jordan. There was something that jumped out at me about how, in the teenage years, there was kind of a switch back that is pretty characteristic of teenagers with stepparents. If you come into their life when they are very, very young, you tend to be mom or dad—they treat you well, and there is a lot of love shared—then, the teenage years hit; and sometimes, the kids pull back a little bit.
is the way that little dialogue went for you. Laurie, you said—as you look back; you’re talking to Jordan: “’Was it hard having two moms? Did you feel any conflict of balancing us both?’” After a little bit of silence, Jordan says, ‘I think it wasn’t difficult until later on. At first, it was easy; because life is simple,’—and that’s that small-kid point of view; yes, life is simple—’Once I got into sixth grade, it kind of started getting difficult, because it was sort of like a conflict of interests, especially because you guys had a lot of different rules that were different than the ones that I had at Mom’s house/very different expectations. It was two completely different households.’”
Then you say, “’Okay, I want to ask you about that later; but I was referring to loyalty that you might have felt towards your mom. Did your masking about loyalty you felt toward your mom. Did that affect your relationship with me?’” Jordan says, ;Yes, you were always kind of second to her—because she was my mom—so that was always a thing. If she set a rule, and you set a different rule, I tend to follow hers.”
Alright; so what I <a i we see in that—this dynamic of becoming a teenager: he’s got his own worldview; he is starting to think differently about life, and circumstances, and you and your place in his world; there was a natural loyalty that existed with his mom and just different rules—did you feel that being second thing that he referred to?
Laurie: we raise him, he is with us most of the time. He has been with her seven to eight weeks each summer up until COVID. It was really his teenage years and technology advancing the way it did—so now, there is FaceTime ®; there are group chats—there is all of that going on.
He never made me feel second in terms of my discipline, which I feared. I feared that I would one day say something he didn’t like, and he would say, “You’re not my mom”; and it would just kill me. But I prepared myself for that; because I know how hard it is to be a parent of a teenager anyway, biologically or otherwise. They go through a lot—and being a youth pastor—I heard so many parents in pain through those phases, so I was prepared; and that has not happened.
However, there have been many times—one of which I refer to in the book—where I have heard from his room peals of laughter on a conversation with her and all kinds of warmth and fun. She is the friend/the pal, the one that he can just chat with on the phone. The one who has to discipline him, and do some of the harder things, in my caricature perspective, the wicked stepmother. I think, because I am a four on the Enneagram, and very emotional, it’s been more internal for me,I felt these things that I haven’t necessarily articulated to Jordan; but I’ve definitely felt them. Jere and I have the kind of relationship, where I can cry on his shoulder quite a bit about that. [Laughter]
Laurie: But that has been the painful parts of this is: “I raised you, but you are not my biological child.” In a I accepted that as God’s call in my life: “This is going to be the mom that you are. It’s not the package that you prayed for, but this is the package I’ve given you,” and “There is going to be a reason for this.”
Of course, all of this is because of that—embracing of that call—so those are my little sad-nesses. I know Jere has felt those, as well, with his stepkids.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today. We’re listening to the FamilyLife Blended podcast with Ron Deal. He is interviewing Laurie and Jere Short. I thought that was great what Laurie said because she said, “This is what she prayed for; but God had given her something different, and it was her calling.” I think we can all relate to that, like, “Oh, wait. My experience isn’t what I was hoping for”; but when we can turn it and see it as God’s calling, that takes us to a different place.
Dave: Yes; whether you are in a blended family, or any state in life, there is that moment you have to decide: “Am I going to accept the life God’s given me?” It is beautiful that she got to that point; but as we know, there is probably a lot of stuff swirling around the middle of that family.
Ann: It’s so complex, and complicated. That’s why I thought the pool analogy was so perfect just because there are a lot of different people in the pool; and you are trying to figure out: “Where do I fit in?” I just like the way Ron always gets really practical in helping families know: “This is what you can do…”
Dave: So let’s go back to the pool.
[Interview from FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Ron: I want to go back to the swimming pool analogy, just for a second; because I feel like that is such a good analogy. So Jere is in the pool, on Day One, with Jordan; and Laurie, you are approaching the side of the pool, trying to decide, “Do I go in the deep end?” Jere is saying, “Yes! Dive in! Come on; let’s go.” By the way, I’m aware—at least, from Jordan’s point of view—biological mother is, also, in the pool. There is a pool of hurt. There are other family members, who are connected to the pool, or sitting on the side with their toes in or something.
“How do you find room, Laurie, and where do you step in?” If you were talking to somebody, who is just beginning that journey: “What are their first steps? What would you tell them to be watchful of and wary of?” and “What would you tell them not to do?”
Laurie: Well, there is so much in that question, Ron; but yes, all of those people are in the pool, and the exes are in the pool. That is the first thing that I want to say to stepparents—is that, when you are marrying your spouse, you are not only marrying their children; but you are marrying their past in a very real way, because you are going to be negotiating with these people all throughout your child’s upbringing. That is what is so important for a stepparent to know; is that: “Your child’s health depends on your openness to these other people that have to be a part of their life in order for them to be healthy.”
has probably been the most challenging is because, certainly, getting in the pool involved a relationship with somebody that probably would have preferred I wasn’t in the pool. Getting in the pool was trying to make sense of a pool of people that really weren’t all on the same page—and not to mention—all of the stepkids that Jere had.
And this pool of lots of different dynamics, I think, actually helped us; because we weren’t just dealing with one difference—me being a stepparent and one divorce—it was actually, Jere was a second spouse [of former wife]; now, she is married to a third spouse. I’m a first spouse. We have these kids, who are from different combinations of people—plus, we’re both stepkids; both of our parents are divorced—and we’re saying: “We want to do this differently. We want to be committed. We want to have a marriage that is committed. We want to have kids who love us and who are healthy. Whether they are related to us biologically or not, this is what we want,”—that was my desire, getting in the pool; it has been more complicated.
Jere: I think too, when she talks about jumping in the pool—or “How much do I go in?”—that’s when you have to really look at the child too. I was thinking of what Jordan says in that last chapter about: “Don’t go in there, trying to replace the parent.” So looking at that child, and what stage they are at—the age and everything like that—is crucial to how to approach and how much to jump in. You throw a cannon ball on a teenager—[Laughter]
Ron: Good luck with all that. [Laughter]
Jere: all over.
Ron: It’s all over; yes.
As I’m listening to you—and keeping with the title of the book, to be grace-filled as you go into this pool and consider all the other characters that are connected to it—you have to be inclusive; you have to be open—I think is what I hear you saying—that you have to consider them and know your place in light of who they are.
I guess the alternative would be to be possessive and try to be in control of the relationships as you want them to be, and try to marginalize the other people connected to the pool. I’m sure you guys would say that would be a catastrophe.
Laurie: It would be, and it is a huge temptation.
Ron: Jere—Laurie, in her book, says: “Stepparenting is a marathon, not a sprint; and the first few years will demand you accommodate people’s grief and feelings,”—I’m wondering, Jere, from your point of view, what kind of grief did she have to accommodate?
Jere: Well, for sure, the obvious one is when Jordan’s mom moved away to Australia—that grief/that abandonment, really, that he’s probably only really looked at and dealt with over the last, maybe, couple years—Laurie had to step up and absorb that.
There were times when—it was funny—when he would get really sad about a dog that we had in the house, with his biological mom, when we were living there. It was like every sad thing that would pour out of him—he would put on this dog, Kaya; and he would just weep about Kaya—I’m like, “You weren’t really all that close to that dog.” [Laughter] But we kind of pointed that as a way that he would release some of that grief/some of that unknowing stuff that he was feeling; it would come out as that. We always waited to hear the Kaya cry come out of him, every once and a while.
Ron: I do think that is insightful. I do think kids kind of displace their feelings onto something neutral/something safe rather than directing that directly at Laurie or taking out on her, which is what some kids do. Some listener is going, “Oh, yes, that’s what my kid does. They take it out on us when it’s really pain about the other household, or something going on with the other parent; but we are the easy targets, because we are the ones that are here, number one; and number two, we are the ones who are stable.” In a way, it’s a backward compliment when kids kind of give you the grief that really belongs somewhere else.
Jere: That was kind of the relationship that kind of occurred between my stepdaughter and myself and how that kind of crumbled. She took out a lot of her anger—I mean, I contributed to it for sure when everything was splitting up and my anger and everything—but for almost three years, she didn’t speak to me. I had people say to me that I was the safe one to be mad at, because she knew that I was stable and unconditional about my love for her.
Laurie: I will also tell you that, as she has gotten older—now, 30 years old—her perspective on the situation has helped us so much to affirm everything that we believe in and know that Jordan will know so much more when he is an adult. I think a stepparent has to say that to themselves every single day of their parenting: “You are not at the end of this story, and your child is doing things now that are not representative of the truth or what he or she will, one day, feel.”
You just have to know that so you’re not tempted to talk about the other parent, or talk about what’s wrong, or talk about things that really the child shouldn’t have to internalize; because the child will always be loyal to their biological parents, no matter what they do or say. You just have to hold onto God and hold onto the fact that someday your child will have a different perspective.
Jere’s daughter doesn’t even fully share our faith perspective, but she understands so much more now who Jere is and was in her life; and has filled us with her affirmation and love; and told us many times, “Jordan will know someday.” She’s just been great.
Ron: I love that advice: “Tell yourself, ‘Your story with this child is not yet over.’”
Dave: We’ve been listening to the FamilyLife Blended podcast with Ron Deal, where he interviewed Laurie and Jere Short. What a great ending perspective of: “Tell yourself, ‘Your story with your child is not over.’” That is so important for every parent to remember.
Ann: I think that really takes trusting Jesus and keeping our eyes on Him.
Dave: Yes; here is the thing—we just heard a little clip; I mean, that wasn’t the whole podcast—you can go listen to the whole podcast. Go hear the ins and outs and the end of that story. I tell you what: it was a beautiful picture of God being in the middle of the chaos of a family—this one being a blended family—and meeting us and meeting our kids every step of the way. That is true, even when you don’t see the end of the story yet.
Shelby: You know, coming from a blended family myself, I know the complications and the craziness that can happen when you take two families and blend them: when you have stepkids and stepparents, and biological kids and biological parents. It’s always a helpful reminder to know that God can continue to work in the messiness of blended families. We’ve heard just that from Laurie and Jere Short. A great reminder to know that God works, and we can see redemption and continuing restoration happen in our families when it is difficult for us to view right now.
Short has written a book called Stepparenting: Help and Hope for This Unique and Loving Role . That is available in our Resource Center. We encourage you to check that out. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy—reserve one—or you can call us at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,” to reserve your copy of this incredibly unique and helpful resource.
Speaking of blended families, Blended & Blessed® is coming up very soon. The uniqueness of this year is that it is a one-day live event happening on April 2 nd in Houston, but it is also a live-stream event for stepfamily couples, single parents, and dating couples with kids. The beautiful thing, as well, is you can attend live; you can stream it anywhere in the world in English or in Spanish.
We encourage you guys to log onto FamilyLifeToday.com. You can learn more about the Blended & Blessed conference that is happening. We’re going to have speakers like Ron Deal, Kathi Lipp, Gayla Grace. Join us for our sixth annual Blended & Blessed, where this year, we will explore the beauty, and challenge, and art of living in the midst of a stepfamily, creating what we could call a family masterpiece. For more information, again, you can register at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can give us a call at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
That’s going to wrap us up for this week. If this content today or any of the FamilyLife programs have been helpful for you, we’d love for you to share today’s podcast with a friend or family member. While you are there, you can really advance the gospel effort of what we are doing at FamilyLife if you’d scroll down and rate and review us as well.
We hope that you have a great weekend. We hope you are able to gather with your family and worship at a local church, and we hope you can join us again on Monday as pastor and author Garrett Kell is going to be talking with Dave and Ann Wilson about what it means to be pure in heart. He is going to encourage us, in healthy and empathetic community, in the context of wrestling with sin.
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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