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|Headed for the Promised Land!|
|1.||Through Wilderness Wanderings||17|
|Seven Steps in the Journey|
|3.||Smart Step One: STEP Up! Discover a redemptive God who loves, forgives, and provides strength and direction for the journey||51|
|4.||Smart Step Two: STEP Down Adjust your expectations and learn how to cook a stepfamily||61|
|5.||Smart Step Three: Two-Step Your marriage must be top priority||76|
|6.||Smart Step Four: Step in Line (Part 1) With the parenting team||101|
|7.||Smart Step Four: Step in Line (Part 2) Parent and stepparent roles||140|
|8.||Smart Step Five: Side Step The pitfalls common to stepfamilies||164|
|9.||Smart Step Six: Step Through The wilderness: Overcoming special challenges||193|
|10.||Smart Step Seven: Step Over Into the Promised Land: Stories of those who are making it||214|
|11.||Smart Questions, Smart Answers||230|
|A Message to the Church|
|12.||Ministering to Stepfamilies||251|
|Appendix A||Medical Permission to Treat Minor Child||263|
|Resources for Stepfamilies and Churches||264|
Have you ever tried to put together a 3-D jigsaw puzzle without instructions and without a picture on the box to show you what the final product should look like? Try adding a blindfold. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? In fact, it doesn’t even sound fun to try. Attempt to combine members of two (or more) different households and you’ll encounter similar frustrations.
Putting together or integrating a stepfamily is one of the most difficult tasks for any family in America today. Integration involves combining two unique family styles, various personalities and preferences, differing traditions, pasts, and loyalties. Yet most people make the decision to bring two families together without consulting the instructions (i.e., God’s Word) or developing a shared image of the final product (the picture on the jigsaw puzzle box). Blinded with a well-intentioned ignorance, couples march down the aisle a second or third time, only to discover that the building process is much more difficult than they anticipated—and the rewards are few and far between, especially in the beginning. But the odds of your success increase dramatically when you take off your blindfold and see a picture of how a healthy stepfamily looks and acts.
WORKING SMARTER, NOT HARDER
The purpose of this book is to give you just that—a healthy picture of a successful Christian stepfamily based on God’s instruction manual. And believe it or not, it can be done if you work smarter, not harder. Working smarter means understanding the dynamics of stepfamily life and development, and making intentional decisions about how you will grow together emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.
If you are currently married and perhaps finding that your three-dimensional puzzle is depending on a fragile foundation, read this book with an eye for what you can change. Once you’ve developed concrete ideas for putting the pieces of your family together, begin working the plan cautiously but with much determination. You’ll be amazed at God’s power to heal your heartaches and turn your unstable or crumbling puzzle into an edifice that is safe, beautiful, and built on a firm foundation.
If you are currently single, divorced, or widowed and are considering marriage, and if one or both of you have children, you’ve turned to the right source. There are many hidden challenges in stepfamily life, and you need to be as prepared as you possibly can. Taking off your blindfold and seeing clearly the journey ahead is the best choice you can make.
If blending is not the goal, then how do you cook a stepfamily? < I recommend a Crockpot cooking style. Stepfamilies choosing this style understand that time and low heat make for an effective combination. Ingredients are thrown together in the same pot, but each is left intact, giving affirmation to its unique origin and characteristics. Slowly and with much intentionality, the low-level heat brings the ingredients into contact with one another. As the juices begin to flow together, imperfections are purified, and the beneficial, desirable qualities of each ingredient are added to the taste. The result is a dish of delectable flavor made up of different ingredients that give of themselves to produce a wondrous creation.
The key to Crockpot stepfamilies is time and low heat. I’ve already stressed the importance of being patient with the integration process and not trying to force love, care, or togetherness; perhaps you’ve noticed that the one common element of the food processor, microwave, pressure cooker, and blender integration styles is an attempt to quickly combine the various ingredients (people, rituals, and backgrounds). Such an effort almost always backfires, bringing a backlash of anger and resentment.
Stepfamilies need time to adjust to new living conditions, new parenting styles, rules, and responsibilities. They need time to experience one another and develop trust, commitment, and a shared history. They need time to find a sense of belonging and an identity as a family unit. None of these things can be rushed. People who are trying to prove to their parents, friends, church, minister, or themselves that their remarriage decision was right for everyone, need their family to "blend" quickly. But they are often greatly disappointed and feel like failures. A slow-cooking mentality, however, brings relief from the pressure to show everyone you can get along because you assume from the beginning that it will likely take years for your stepfamily to integrate. It also invites you to relax in the moment and enjoy the small steps your stepfamily is making toward integration, rather than pressuring family members to move ahead.
Cooking with low heat refers to your gradual, intentional efforts to bring the parts together. It is working smarter, not harder. To illustrate the Crockpot mentality at work, let me apply some Crockpot approaches to the previous examples of what not to do.
A Crockpot stepfather, as opposed to the blender stepfather, would not worry excessively about why he isn’t bonding with his teenage stepdaughter or assume he and the kids should all blend to the same degree. Slow-cook stepparents understand the cardinal rule of relationship development with stepchildren: Let the stepchild set the pace for the relationship. If she is receiving of the stepfather, let him return the child’s affections. If she remains distant or standoffish, he shouldn’t force himself upon her. Find ways of managing rules and getting through life (see chapter 8), but don’t insist a child welcome your authority or physical affection.
The food processor adults had a similar struggle. They hoped the children would want to refer to their new stepparent with a term of endearment. When this didn’t happen naturally, the food processor parents demanded they do so. But a Crockpot adult would understand (even while wishing it were otherwise) that a stepparent can be "daddy" to his youngest stepchild, "James" to his next oldest, and "Mr. James" to the teenager. Crockpot stepfamilies recognize the emotional and psychological attachment children have to biological parents and don’t force them to change those attachments.
The microwave-turned-Crockpot mother will accept that her husband will struggle to respond fairly to her children. As a Crockpot mom, the formerly frustrated pressure cooker mom will not immediately respond with anger to her son who is uncooperative with his stepfather. She will look past his oppositional behavior to see a boy who is struggling with loss, unable to connect with his biological father, and discouraged with his family circumstances. And Paul, the pressure cooker stepfather who tried to meld two Christmas traditions, would allow his stepfamily to develop an entirely new Christmas tradition. He and his wife, for example, might have a series of family meetings with the children to discuss their preferences and wants. It may be they decide on an entirely new tradition to honor each family’s history by alternating how gifts are opened, or they may decide to let each parent and their children keep their own tradition.
This last idea refers to "mini-family" activities. Early in a stepfamily’s integration process it can be helpful to maintain separate family traditions and rituals by giving parents permission to spend time with their children without the step relations present. Stepparents need to give their new spouse and stepchildren time to be alone, without intrusion. The biological parent can play games with her children, while the stepparent enjoys a personal hobby or goes shopping with his children. Such mini-family activity helps children get uninterrupted time with their biological parent and siblings, honoring their need for attention from the ones they love most. It also affirms to children that they have not completely lost access to their parent. As helpful as compartmentalized mini-family activities can be, however, those without a Crockpot mentality often perceive segregated time as an indication of family division.
The Smart Stepfamily by Ron Deal
Copyright © 2002, Ron Deal
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
Posted February 24, 2005