Building Stepsibling Bonds

Illustration of three kids shoveling snow
Jojo Ensslin

Shortly after we married, my husband and I discussed ways to get our three boys, the stepbrothers, to bond. "Lock them in a room together for the weekend" was No. 1 on the bad-idea list. Fortunately, a huge snowstorm provided us with the opportunity to get our boys, ages 10, 7 and 5, to work together toward a common goal. School cancellations were announced long before bedtime, allowing my husband and me to set our loosely contrived plan into motion.

Ground rules

We announced to the boys that they'd be responsible for clearing not only our driveway and sidewalk but also those of our elderly neighbor. Noting the blank looks on the boys' faces, my husband glanced at me and dropped the bomb:

"Together, boys. You must work together. Clearing our drive and walk is your responsibility as members of this family. With that said, we'd like to pay you for clearing Mrs. Martin's. But we'll only pay you if you do the job together." I didn't realize I was holding my breath until he was finished speaking.

We didn't know exactly how this plan might go over, but we knew we had to try. It began pretty much as I'd envisioned, with the oldest declaring a course of action. He knew he'd be met with resistance, and he was — both from a younger biological brother who wasn't about to be ordered around and from a younger stepbrother unaccustomed to taking orders from anyone but Mom.

Our middle boy began to cry and fled to the safety of my husband's arms, expecting to be relieved of all duties. Our youngest child — and until recently, an only child — crossed his arms and dug in his heels.

"I. Don't. Want. To."

My husband and I stood calmly and waited. I was dying inside.

My husband sighed in exasperation. "OK, listen. If you shovel a couple of inches now and a couple of inches later tonight, you can do the rest in the morning."

Team effort

The boys' first round of shoveling went well enough, but after they came in for hot chocolate, the youngest fell asleep. We understood the arguments the older ones presented: "He's little; he can't shovel very much anyway; we're fine doing it without him." However, we stood our ground. The project had to be completed as a team, so we woke our youngest.

They went out again, and from my post at the window, I could sense their sullen attitudes. They came in silently and went to bed without comment.

"What if we are making things worse between them?" I asked my husband.

"Well, at least we don't have to shovel," he said.

Morning came, and shoveling looked easy compared to rousing three sleeping boys on a snow day. After coercing, nagging and encouraging them out the door, my husband and I did the one thing that should have kicked off this endeavor: We prayed.

A shared experience

Thirty minutes later, something amazing happened. Our youngest child came to the door panting and yelling that the neighbor two doors down had shown the boys how to use his snowblower and then set them loose on the neighborhood. Is there anything more exciting to young men than gas-powered machinery? We stood at the window watching our team of boys take turns clearing snow.

When they finally came in, frozen and sweaty and overflowing with enthusiasm, the youngest announced, "You don't have to pay us; everyone else already did!"

I stepped into the kitchen to warm the hot chocolate and listened to their banter as they pulled off layers of wet gear. My heart sang as they teased each other, relived moments of snowblower peril and strategized for the next big snowstorm.

It worked, I thought. Thank You, Lord. The hard work and fun (and money) provided a foundation for the boys to relate to one another. That they were accomplices in an adventure we were not part of, seemed to lend added energy to their camaraderie. Years later, the "big snowstorm" (and that snowblower) still makes regular appearances in family conversation.

This article appeared in the January/February 2012 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was titled "Breaking the Ice."
Copyright © 2011 by Karen Klasi. Used by permission. Focus on the Family.

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