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Finding Hope for Single Parent and Blended Families, Part 2

From the series House or Home - Parenting Edition

Blended families - if you’re in one, you know how hard “blending” can be. Join Chip as he shares, from first hand experience, some of the pitfalls to avoid, how to hang in when you feel like you may have made a mistake, and the great joy that can come as the reward for your faithfulness and perseverance.

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Well, when you marry someone who is a single parent you become a blended family.

And Theresa will tell you it took me a long time to pray through whether this is the right thing for me because I was scared to death. And I would just say a word to, maybe, ladies at this point.

As I got to know Theresa and I had all the flashing, warning signs of, when I met her I thought, “Oh, I would really like to get to know her.” And then she came over to, I was a basketball coach at the time and we did a, what we called a rally in the living room of a… did a campus ministry.

And she came with these two little boys, you know, and the feet in the pajamas and the little blue jammies and I thought, “Oh, she’s babysitting.”

And so, well I thought, you know, great, because I had met her a couple times and then I found out that they were her kids and so I just said, “You know, I’m not sure I’m ready for a relationship but I know I’m not ready to be a dad.”

And so it was about a two, two and a half year journey and I will tell you the thing that made the difference. It was her walk with God. I mean, I certainly had dated other people and other people were pretty too, etcetera.

But there was a depth and a quality when she talked about God it was like He was in the next room. And I came from a different background and had a lot more of the Bible and sort of things memorized.

But she knew God’s heart like I didn’t. And I realized God gave me the courage to take that step and He gave me a love for those kids and then, of course, just blessed beyond my wildest dreams.

But I will say now let’s talk about a blended family because I’d like to say we got married and the kids shortly after, it was a just a few months, they jumped in my arms. We didn’t have any problems. I became a wonderful father. I knew what I was doing. The kids, within weeks, just said, “Hey, Dad! It’s so good to be with you.” And they loved me and hugged me.

And none of that is true.

In fact, I will just, as a preview before I tell you, you know, sort of the principles and practice for a blended family what I will tell you, I can remember about five years into it, and I have a mentor who is still a mentor and really a father figure to me.

And it was about five years into it and it and we still didn’t have this connection with the boys. I mean, I don’t think they felt like anything was wrong, they never knew their biological father.

But there’s something in your soul that this connection that it still feels like they’re her kids and, you know, I’m the dad but whatever this thing is where you’re the dad, I didn’t have it.

And I remember driving out in the country where he lived and talking to him and really struggling. And I remember him saying, “You know what, Chip? Just don’t rush it. Bonds form over time. You weren’t there when they were early. Just don’t rush it. You know, in due time, you know, God will work.”

And then he said something that was a real perspective giver. It was, “You know, you need to accept,” because I think I can tell you when it was. I think it was shortly after the birth of our first son. Because there was a something special bond I had with my biological son. And it was seeing the distance.

And I remember he looked at me and he said, “You’ll be a great dad but you might not ever have exactly the same relationship. Doesn’t mean you’ll love them less. Doesn’t mean you’ll be less committed. But there may be a difference and you need to recognize that might be a part of your future.”

Because I was feeling guilty. And I was feeling bad about… and then I was longing for that connection.

Let me give you some things that we know and then I’ll get very pragmatic of what we can do.

Number one, blended families rarely, if ever, blend. It’s a misnomer. One author, Dennis Rainey, he actually forces people to talk about being a stepfather or a stepmother because he says the idea of blending sets these expectations.

They’re complex, you’re not going to be the Brady Bunch. It’s not yours, mine, and ours. It’s not like putting all of these people in a blender. Brrrrrrrrrrrr! And then you pour out this spiritual, wonderful, emotional smoothie. You know?

The fact of the matter is is that there’s all kind of issues. And it doesn’t mean it can’t be good. It doesn’t mean it can’t be wonderful. It doesn’t mean God won’t really work.

But if you go into it thinking, “We’re a blended family! We’re going to get in the Holy Spirit mixer and we’re going to be this happy family.”

Because part of it when you’re longing for that person, if you have kids or if you both have kids and you’re longing, and God draws you together then it’s like, “Oh! It’s going to be wonderful!”

And as high as those expectations are when it’s not so wonderful then you think it’s worse than it really is. So, blended families rarely ever really, fully blend.

Second, every family is a relational system and when one part of a relational component of the system changes it has a domino effect. And this, we don’t get this.

So, in other words, let’s take it, I’m a man and I have kids and I get married and, praise God, this woman comes into my life and I think this is wonderful.

And let’s say my kids are eight or nine and I have a daughter who is thirteen. And they’ve even been praying with me and we’ve been going to church together and I’m this single father and this woman comes in and they’re excited.

Well then we get married – yeah, yeah, rah, rah. You know, my daughter is even in the wedding and then we all move in together. And then the first month my daughter realizes that special place I had with my dad is gone. It got filled.

My boys are happy for this new woman but she’s kind of different at home than when they were dating. And all of a sudden some of that, “My dad needed me, he doesn’t need me in the same way.”

That sets off a chain reaction of dominos in the hearts of those kids.

Are you getting it? You got a whole new family system that’s operating and often blended families are super naïve and they super-spiritualize, “Well God will make it happen. You know? Holy Spirit dust. Everything is going to be okay.”

Everything is going to be okay with a lot of hard work, a lot of intentionality, a lot of dependency, and a lot of recognition that this is going to be very, very tough. And you need to get inside your kids’ skin and know what’s going on.

And so, honestly, it rarely, I’m just giving you the facts. This is what we know. It rarely works well or easily. And a significant, high percentage of blended families fail.

Success requires, underline the word, “extreme.” Extreme effort, time, intentionality. And then circle the phrase, “outside help.”

Chances are you try and do this without some good outside help and whether that’s a pastor, mature friends, or a quality Christian counselor, the probability that you, because you can’t be objective. You can’t know what you don’t know. And so it requires that.

So what must you do?

Number one, count the cost thoroughly. For some that’s a little bit late. For others thinking about, you’re dating someone, count the cost thoroughly.

That mentor that I spoke of, wife died very suddenly and very young and after nine years he remarried. And he remarried someone that was not way, way younger but significantly younger that had a couple kids.

And, you know, one was going into college and the other was, like, in junior high. Well, guess what? I mean, the relationship here is great. He realized, and they’re currently related. The biological father who left her and had an affair and then married the person he had the affair, I mean, this is kind of normal life, right?

Well he, like, works now. Well, you know, the younger son really accepted him. The older son, I mean, it was, like, three years before there was the beginning of a connection.

And he realized, “I can’t play the dad role. There’s a different role here. I can’t play the dad of a seventeen year old young man who connects with his dad.”

So I just want you to hear: count the cost.

Second, get premarital counseling from a mutually trusted and biblical, and wise resource and I would add - post marital. Get premarital and post marital counseling.

And notice the adjectives: from a “mutually trusted…” It needs to be someone that you both agree is going to help you. And you need to work through expectations, which are usually way off. You need to work through specific finances. That’s a point of real tension.

You need to talk through the impact on each child. Kids aren’t, like, this group – your kids, my kids – this little group. Everyone of those kids has specific responses in different seasons of their life.

You need to agree on parenting goals, discipline, and have a common front with the kids. This is really difficult. We’ll talk in just a second about the priority. If your kids know that they can pressure you all to get their parent, biological, to stand against your new mate, you’re done. You’re done.

I mean, and kids are smart and they’re selfish little critters. Cute as can be, selfish little critters. And they will try and wedge in between you and your new mate, and you will feel this overwhelming guilt because the fact is is depending on the age, you then had eight years with this child and five months with this man.

Or sixteen years with this child and two years with this man, and now it’s a big issue and where’s your allegiance and where’s your loyalty? It really matters and it matters that you leave, cleave, and become one flesh, and part of that leaving that’s painful is you gotta leave those kids.

They become number two. A very important number two for their health.

And then not on your notes but establish appropriate roles based on age of kids, and involvement or lack of it, by the biological parents.

So you gotta ask yourself, “What’s my role as the new person in this family going to be, based on age, their connection with their biological family, how close they are, how often they relate, whether it’s a positive relationship, or a negative relationship?”

Then we get real specific. Make your mate your new, unequivocal, number one relationship, ahead of your children. And put a star by this one.

Blended families don’t work because this doesn’t happen. You leave, you cleave, you two matter more than you and your kids and, man, that is hard. That is super hard.

But your kids will never be secure unless that’s true. And your marriage will never be the glue that God wants it unless that’s true.

Develop a weekly communication tool and mechanism to wrestle family conflicts, schedules, and miscommunication to the ground in a non-threatening, grace-filled way.

If there’s anything that’s going to make it not only difficult but impossible for this to be successful it’s all the lack of communication. And so this is where you get outside help.

I know Theresa and I, one of the reasons we needed marriage counseling early, we didn’t know how to communicate, we didn’t know about our past, we didn’t know about backgrounds.

We got a communication tool called a conference. Three little questions. Two or three times a week early in our marriage we sat down for anywhere from twenty minutes to forty-five or an hour. “What are you concerned about? What do you wish? What are you willing to do?”

What are you concerned about? What do you wish? What are you willing to do? One person asks the question the other person can’t talk.

And we got all that stuff out without attacking each other and we got to talk about things when we weren’t, you know, hurt, or rejected, or arguing about them.

Because you know what happens with that little conference? Without attacking one another you hear your mate’s biggest burdens, you hear their greatest dreams, and then the last little question: what are you willing to do?

You don’t, the rule is you don’t have to do anything. But if you want to, after hearing all the things that are weighing them down and all the things that put wind in their sails you can reach over and say, “I’m willing to take that burden off you.” Or, “I’m willing to…”

And you don’t have to. But we started to communicate. And you gotta have a weekly communication tool.

Number six: make the spiritual development of your marriage and family the utmost priority. Only God and supernatural love can make this work.

You don’t have that apart from your vital union with Christ in the context of a strong, loving, biblical community. So the spiritual development, I don’t mean just your kids go to church. I don’t mean they just get off to youth group.

I mean the spiritual development of your marriage and the spiritual development of your family. Everything that we’ve talked about in this series.

Whether that’s time in the Scriptures, whether that’s fun, whether that’s building relationships that bond, whether that’s saying, “Here’s, we’re going to have a clear-cut goal.”

Whether that’s sending… love and limits. But I mean, whether that’s praying together as a couple. But, I mean, the spiritual development of your kids has to be.

If you can get that priority, I’ll tell you, all the other dominos of the relationships. And here’s the deal, sometimes it’ll take a few years.

But if you have a short fuse, if you think this is happening overnight, if you think that God’s going to, you know, sprinkle that Holy Spirit dust and it’s going to be great, easy, and early you’ll probably bail out.

Number seven, remember it will take time, it will be harder than you thought, and it can be a glorious testimony of God’s restoration and redemption.

Now, if you’ve had the sense that, boy, he’s really talking about how hard this is, it’s really hard.

But what if the arm of the Lord isn’t too short? What if you don’t bail out? What if you don’t cave in? What if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other? What if you take your vows absolutely seriously?

What if you learned, supernaturally, to love a kid that, down deep in your heart, and you can’t say this to your mate, you think that’s the most evil little punk you’ve ever seen in your life and what you’d really like to do is strangle them instead of be their dad or their mother.

Now those feelings and emotions come. Okay, that’s reality. I mean, that is a reality. And so what you have to do you have to forgive them. You have to give them what they don’t deserve. You gotta bless those who curse you.

You have to say, “Jesus,” what, “Father forgive them they know not what they do.” And you trust that the Word of God, and the power of God, is going to reshape that life.

And God will work. But you’re signing up for one of the most difficult tasks on the face of the earth. But the testimony, the glory of God that can be revealed, and He will make you more like Christ than you ever wanted to be.

Okay? Because that’s what suffering does. That’s what loving people, who don’t love you back, do. That’s what, this is not what I signed up for but this is what I got. And by the way, once you say, “I do,” don’t go down that, “I don’t think this was the right person.”

When you said, “I do,” she became, he became the right person instantaneously. It is the will of God and he’ll give you all you need. So don’t start buying that, “I don’t think I should have married this person.”

That line of thinking will take you very, very bad, ungodly places.

I want you to know He promises in James 1:2 to 4 to “…consider it all joy when you encounter various trials knowing the testing of your faith will produce endurance and let endurance have it’s perfecting or maturing result that you might be lacking in nothing.”

And what He’ll do is, He will reward and bring results beyond your wildest estimation.

My blended family verse, I’ve used this for more than one thing but again it’s Hebrews 10:36: “For you have need of endurance so that once you’ve done the will of God you might receive what is promised.”

Endurance. The Greek word is hupomeno. Hupo, to be under. Meno, pressure or stress. And under pressure or stress, some of you guys and gals work out, and you actually take pressure and stress, about three times a week, and you put it on your back on purpose.

And you start out with some light weights and what it does is it actually tears the muscle fibers. And then when they heal they heal back bigger. And what those are called are strength. And just how God does that with our physical bodies, when you endure, hupomeno. Attitudes, difficulty, problems, expectations – what happens is you wake up five years later, ten years later a stronger, more godly person than you’d ever dream.