Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.
You have heard, more than you needed to, how difficult it is to be in a stepfamily. People living in step families contend with the same thing conventional families do: bratty kids, financial struggles, interfering in-laws, and the like. In addition to all that, you can add angry exes, family members who merely tolerate your presence, custody issues, visitation schedules to the mix and you the best environment for mistakes, misunderstandings, and mayhem. We also battle statistics which tell us the odds are stacked against us. After all;
It takes four to eight years for a remarried family to “gel” and feel like family.
The divorce rate for remarriages with children is almost 65%, with most divorces occurring within the first four years. Which means people are giving up before the family has had time to bond.
Over 1/3 of weddings performed today create a stepfamily, yet remarried couples and their families remain one of the most overlooked demographics in terms of support and practical help.
If that weren’t enough, those of us who live in stepfamilies experience more chronic stress as a normal course of doing “stepfamily life” than most other family categories. Every day we navigate roads full of marriage derailing potholes like; disparity of treatment between natural and step children, the shock of realizing instant love is a myth, co-parenting issues with former spouses, financial strain due to child and/or spousal support obligations, loyalty conflicts, extended family acceptance, legal issues related to the care of stepchildren and so on. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in our bodies, from suppressing our immune systems to upsetting our reproductive systems. Stress, stats, and plain ole stepfamily life, conspire to kill our dreams of happily ever after.
Yet, with all of these challenges and problematic dynamics, thousands of people take the plunge into stepfamily living every day. Why? Some might say it’s because we’re crazy. I believe we are actually people full of hope; and rightly so. Jeremiah 29: 11 states: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD , ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” We do not serve a careless God. He pays attention. He’s intentional about our lives. Nothing is beyond His power to use for His glory and our good. Including our stepfamily relationships.
Challenges in life are not only challenging. There are blessings and gifts held within the challenges, opened only when the focus shifts from adversity to solution. For instance, there is the opportunity for character development, and the forming of good habits, the boon of accomplishment, the sense of joy in reaching a goal. As the old saying goes, “The juice is worth the squeeze”! Lifting weights is challenging but the blessings of a stronger, healthier body and a higher metabolism are worth the effort. (More chocolate for me!) Completing your college education is challenging but the blessings of achievement, creating options for yourselves, and building life-long friendships, are worth the effort. Resolving long-term conflict is challenging but the blessing of restored relationships is worth the effort.
Jonathan and I, along with our children, quickly discovered stepfamily life is challenging. No matter how much stress-free melding is wanted, it is the rare family which goes from blended to bonded without experiencing any bumps along the way. As far as we knew we did everything “right”. We went through pre-marital counseling. Our children participated in pre-marital counseling, as well, and even had their own session with the person conducting our sessions. We prayed. We disclosed financial obligations. We dealt with the past. We talked about conflict of loyalties. We chatted about how to co-parent. We were ready. Or so we thought.
As prepared as we were in theory, reality crashed in and demonstrated how unready we were. Yet, we found family cohesion in the struggling. I came to the surprising realization our stepfamily struggles were actually serving our family. They weren’t killing us. They made us a stronger unit as we fought for our family.
Armed with a changed perspective I started listing some of the blessings I’ve gained being a member of a stepfamily. Below are just a few of the benefits I came up with;
· Our stepfamily is a walking, breathing testimony of God’s ability to heal, redeem, and recover dreams. Stepfamilies are formed on the heels of loss. At least one child has lost the security of growing up in the home with both their parents. At least one adult has lost the other parent of their child through death, divorce, the need to protect themselves, or by mutual consent. Regardless of how it happened, the fact remains, stepfamilies are born out of loss. Yet, hope springs eternal, in a good way. The hurting opens their heart again, the doubtful hopes again, the resilient reach out again. And it is wonderous to behold.
· We have a keen sense of humor and a self-deprecating manner. The only way to survive living in step is to deal offense like water off a duck’s back. It might help to remember half the stuff we get offended by is just not that serious. Armed with a good sense of humor and an understanding that I’m not the only tic looking for a pup, I find I am much more likely to get over myself so we can get on with being a family. (Bonus: humor and humility move you up 30 points on the 100-Point Attractiveness Scale!)
· Grace abounds in our hearts and home. Grace is more than refinement of behavior or courteous manners. Grace is also your capacity to give love and acceptance to an individual without need for them to reciprocate or modify behavior. As we learned to bond, our family members gradually let go of expectations of each other and began accepting each other, and the state of our relationships, as is. This benefit is not exclusive to step family living but when you realize you have to intentionally build bridges between yourself and your bonus children, rather than flow in the natural bonds of biological relationships, you tend to be a bit more accommodating and affable.
· We get to be heroic. You certainly aren’t the only heroes of your life but you do have a starring role as you heroically show up to build a hope-filled future with the remnants of yesterday. Your family is another picture of courage in every day life. Your disciplined fight for change and cohesion in your family dynamic makes a difference not only in your life but in the generations to come. If that’s not heroic I don’t know what is.
· We have developed a strong patience muscle. As a follower of Christ, I have often prayed to be more like Him. Specifically, as it pertains to loving others and being patient. I have noticed, whenever I pray for patience, things begin happening which require more patience than I have ever exercised. The opportunities to use that particular muscle multiplies. Kids lose their mind, drivers forget rules of the road, stepfamily issues intensify. As we learn to manage the rhythms of life with a calm steadiness, patience develops. A patience which serves us well living “in-step”.
· There are tons more interesting people around to get to know and, eventually, lean on. Until Jonathan and I were married, my daughter was an only child with a total of 14 first cousins. I am the oldest of 3 with 12 paternal first cousins and 12 maternal first cousins. My husband has 54 first cousins on his mother’s side of his family alone. Yes, that’s FIFTY-FOUR! We don’t even know how many there are on his father’s side, who was one of 21 children born to Jonathan’s paternal grandfather and grandmother. All of these people are potential friends, beloved family members, confidants, and travel-buddies who may have never crossed our paths unless we were living in a stepfamily.
· You develop gratitude for good relationships. My husband and I recently went to Texas to visit my uncle, and some of Jonathan’s friends. We also visited my mother’s first cousins and my grandmother’s last living sister, whom I have not physically laid eyes on in over 40 years. But, if you saw us, you would have thought we got together every week for Sunday dinner. Where there are biological bonds there is usually a feeling of belonging. The people around you are your people. There is a sense of entitlement that space will made for you and acceptance belongs to you. This is not necessarily so in a stepfamily. The bond of belonging is fought for, or fought against. It is waited for, hoped for, prayed for, so small gains become great victories. What we take for granted with biological family members, we treat with thankfulness in stepfamilies.
This is just some of the benefits on my list. While the challenges can be perplexing, the benefits we gain make facing them worth figuring out how to overcome those challenges. Every day we wake up and ask God for strength. Every day we extend grace, patience and forgiveness because we know the blessings far outweigh the difficulties.
My husband and I gladly walk this precarious road of stepfamily living because we have our eyes on the prize: a truly bonded family. Am I being realistic? I would not have thought so had it not been for my husband’s stepdaughter (the daughter his first wife brought into their marriage, otherwise known as “our oldest”). One Mother’s Day she handed me a bag with a gift inside and said, “It’s wonderful having two moms.” Which leads me to my personal favorite blessing received living in a stepfamily; a heart joyfully stunned by surprising acts of love.
To Your Stepmothering Success!