How to Overcome Blended Family Dysfunction
dysfunctional blended family!
Blending our families is an adventure. And any great adventure is equal parts fantastic and scary! When the honeymoon phase of remarriage and co-parenting wears off, you’re left wondering what to do with the sudden dysfunction. Or, maybe you skipped the honeymoon phase altogether and went straight to dysfunction; which has left you worrying that the same problems that plagued your prior relationship will break this one too.
In the beginning of our marriage, Vanessa worried that divorce would again be the outcome. Taking divorce completely off the table ultimately allowed us to see that working through dysfunction was an essential part of marriage. Sanctifying as it is, it would be impossible to have a good marriage without the struggle.
Your remarriage will face dysfunction. But with God, fruitful blended family relationships are possible
Defining dysfunctional blended family
The hiccups and speed bumps we encounter in any family are a part of what it means to be human. Sinful in nature, there will always be issues of hurt feelings and misunderstandings, especially in the relationships we have with those closest to us. But knowing Jesus as our savior should also mean there’s plenty of grace to go around.
Now, we’re not talking about daytime talk show level dysfunction here or instances of abuse. We can all agree those are different conversations. What we’re discussing here are the anxieties that come with co-parenting and the messy day-to-day stuff of blending your bunch. Issues like whether you should expect your new step-kids to call you mom or dad? Or the conflict that can come from pushing for bonding moments when the kids aren’t interested (see our last article, Learning to Love Your Step-Kids , for more on that). And how about communication dynamics with an ex-spouse? What if you can’t seem to get along?
These are the kinds of dysfunction we all deal with, but we can take heart in knowing that even Jesus’ lineage was littered with dysfunction!
Types of Dysfunctional Blended Family
The Root of blended family Dysfunction: Unmet Expectations
Anyone who’s had any amount of counseling knows about the, “e” word: expectations. And most of us believe we have very reasonable expectations for the people in our lives. Some of us even believe we have no expectations at all. But, the truth is, we all have them. And having expectations isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but they do need to be recognized for what they are. Remember, what you consider reasonable and normal isn’t necessarily what your new spouse and stepchildren feel is reasonable and normal.
So, what are some examples of expectations that you had when you decided to remarry and become a step-parent?
Did you expect to bond with your step-kiddos right away? Did you expect you to agree on rules like curfews and chores? Maybe you expected the kids to make their beds every day and your spouse just doesn’t think it’s all that important.
We probably don’t need to say anymore. You get the picture. Expectations can lead us down frustrating roads and become the enemy of joy. We encourage you to communicate your expectations and stay flexible with the needs of your spouse and stepchildren. Regardless of what we think — our way is not always the best way.
Tools for the Transition: Prayer and Preparation
One, powerful way to avoid death by expectation is to pray from the beginning. Ask God to fill you with grace for new routines and different ways of doing things around the house.
Lean into His faithfulness. Any season of transition is difficult and getting remarried and becoming a stepparent is a huge transition! Start praying early on with your future spouse, asking God to help you both give each other the space needed to feel all your feelings and make mistakes. He’ll walk with you through this new season and give you a heart of curiosity as opposed to judgment.
Second, only to prayer is preparation. A healthy understanding of what life will really be like after the ‘I dos,’ will help you manage expectations. It’s true what they say — we don’t know what we don’t know. So ask questions. Have a conversation with your future spouse beforehand that allows you to get a better idea of the parts of their life that you, perhaps not having children, haven’t walked through.
It’s important to recognize that things will be different than they were during your season of dating; a time that was chock-full of fun activities to help strengthen your relational bonds. Those days of fun aren’t over, of course, but it’s natural that they slow down in order to make room for everyday life. There are boxes that need to be unpacked, the kids need shuttling back and forth to their biological parent’s homes, and there are likely just under 1000 school forms to fill out.
Walk into your remarriage forearmed with prayer and preparation. These tools won’t necessarily make things ‘easier,’ but it’s always better not to feel blindsided.
Protect the Unity of the Family
There’s nothing the enemy likes better than planting seeds of doubt in our minds and hearts. Be on guard against allowing those seeds to take root and become bigger than they need to be. Guarding our minds and hearts is ultimately what will lead to unity in our families. And to do that, we need to stay firmly planted in God’s word. Throughout the challenges of blended family life, it’s our foundation in Christ that sustains us.
In the midst of arguments over bedtimes, curfews, or what your stepkids get to do at their mom and dad’s house but don’t get to do at yours — we encourage you to center yourself and your family in Jesus.
Here are a few practical ideas for how to exactly that:
- Find a church home
Make it a priority to find a church where your family feels supported. A good, Bible-teaching church is essential to any new marriage but absolutely vital to a blended family.
Create community by joining a small group and get to know the people in it. Don’t be afraid of being vulnerable. Sharing your worries with Christian brothers and sisters that can pray for you and practically support you is so powerful. And it keeps the enemy from being able to convince you that you’re all alone in how you feel. It’s likely that someone in your group is either experiencing similar trials of their own or has a testimony that will encourage you.
- Spend time in daily prayer
With littles this might be tough, but it’s likely that you can at least have prayer time before dinner. Or you might try a family devotion time every Sunday (or any other day that works well for the family). Consider holding hands as you go around the circle and encourage one another to pray aloud.
You might also start a family bible study. If you’ve got antsy little ones or reluctant teens, there are even bible studies that can be watched instead of read. Get into the word, as a family, however you can.
- Be intentional about fun
Just as you’d be intentional about planning date nights with your spouse, be intentional about creating bonding opportunities for the family. Things like game nights, movie nights, or special holiday traditions or trips can be meaningful bonding moments.
Don’t leave fun to happen by chance. Our day to day lives are full of tasks and responsibilities that can easily crowd our calendars. Plan for days of fun with the family.
All of these steps will help you protect the unity of your family. When the storm comes and the winds get stronger, your house will not be blown over (Matthew 7:24-29).
Let Grace Abound
Building a blended family unit that functions well – in love and in truth, takes time. We’ve talked here about the intentional steps that you can take to help your family get there, but there will also be seasons that are simply tougher than others. It’s important that we give ourselves the grace to get through the rough patches and learn from them.
Spouses, we encourage you to bless one another by reminding each other that it’s ok not to know exactly what to do. The enemy easily plays on our insecurities and whispers to us that every new hurdle is insurmountable. But if we’ve been indwelt by the Holy Spirit we know that nothing is insurmountable. We know that all things are possible with God. He will enter in and bring good even from our dysfunction.
dysfunctional blended family & its overcomes!
Scott and Vanessa Martindale
Founders of Blended Kingdom Families