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Cultivating Love in Blended Families (Part 2 of 2)

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Cultivating Love in Blended Families (Part 2 of 2)

Dr. Gary Chapman and Ron Deal explore the unique challenges blended families face and offer practical advice for cultivating healthy, loving relationships. Topics include navigating your role as a stepparent, helping stepsiblings get along well, connecting with adult stepchildren, and more. (Part 2 of 2)
Original Air Date: September 18, 2020

Today's Guests

Episode Summary

Dr. Gary Chapman and Ron Deal explore the unique challenges blended families face and offer practical advice for cultivating healthy, loving relationships. Topics include navigating your role as a stepparent, helping stepsiblings get along well, connecting with adult stepchildren, and more. (Part 2 of 2)
Original Air Date: September 18, 2020

Episode Transcript

Excerpt:

Mr. Ron Deal: What’s different in blended families is you have so many other layers to the relational dynamics that make this even more complex and it’s harder for couples to come together around parenting matters. Therefore, it’s harder for them to keep their marriage safe and protected.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: Well, that’s Ron Deal and he’s our guest again today on Focus on the Family, along with his co-author, Dr. Gary Chapman. And we’re so glad to have you along with us. I’m John Fuller with your host Focus president and author, Jim Daly.

Jim Daly: John, we had an encouraging discussion last time with Gary and Ron as they shared some great principles to help stepfamilies grow in love and understanding for one another. And, you know, I was a kid in a stepfamily, so I get it. These are very poignant comments that they’re making that I lived through as a child. And I didn’t do that well. I didn’t particularly like my stepfather at certain days, you know, when things weren’t going right. I just didn’t have a context to understand them. And that’s the point. Last time and today we’re giving you context to understand the emotional and even spiritual dimensions of a blended family. And, you know, honesty is a great path forward. And we learned that last time. Get together, talk about those things that aren’t working. Treat it like a crockpot, not like a microwave. Be patient as the adult in the relationship, particularly with those stepchildren, and move forward slowly. And Dr. Gary Chapman applied the love languages to that. If your love language, for example, is touch. Start slowly with a hand on the shoulder, not a hug. And there was great content there. If you missed it, go back. Get the smartphone app. Download it from our website. Whatever you need to do. This is great stuff for a blended family.

John: It is. We even have CDs because a lot of people still listen to CDs in the car, Jim. So…

Jim: (Laughter) Way to go CD listeners.

John: You’ll find all of these opportunities to watch or listen again at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Gary and Ron, welcome back.

Ron: Thank you.

Dr. Gary Chapman: Thank you. Good to be back.

Jim: It was so good. I really, you know, just the thoughts that you planted, the seeds that you planted in my mind, I know they’re resonating with people. We did talk about cultivating love in a blended family. That’s what this is all about, right?

Ron: Right.

Jim: Um, especially and even in the face of that competition description, Ron, that you gave us. You know, there’s always this underlying competition that my mom shouldn’t be spending that much time with that stepdad. And, you know, the stepfather’s saying those kids are – are taking too much time from my new wife. I want to spend time with her. I think in some ways those are normal feelings, but they can be extremely dangerous and harmful to the relationships, right? That’s the bottom line. Let’s just start with that nugget. Why is it important to back up and understand the environment you’re in, in that moment?

Ron: Well, it’s helpful to know what’s going on in a child’s heart. You know, one of the things occurs to me that we didn’t mention is, you know, stepsiblings are kind of competing with each other for their biological parent. Imagine a child. I get two weekends a month with my dad. And when I’m at my dad’s house, I have to share my dad with my stepmom and my stepmom’s three other children, my stepsiblings. And so, there’s four people spending time with my dad when it used to just be our time with Dad, and it was just us. I mean, that’s a natural, huge adjustment that a child has to make. How do I make room for all these new people in my heart? And when I’m desperately holding on to what I used to have a what really matters most to me, my dad. And so, how do I navigate that? For a stepparent to step back and go, “That’s just silly. I don’t know why you’re worried about that.” Well, you’re not stepping into the child’s shoes in that moment. This is not to say that you let a child be disrespectful in a tone or an attitude because of what’s going on inside them. No, you don’t have to endure that. But it is helpful if you jump into their shoes and go, you know what? I think I’d be wrestling with all of this, too. How do I approach this child in a loving way?

Jim: Yeah. That is really good. I – I’m thinking of that. You know, you’re – if you’re connected biologically to the father and this is your stepmom and the other child is connected to mom biologically, those kids can have some really terrible conversations, right?

Ron: Yeah. Yeah.

Jim: “Your mom is no good.”

Ron: Right.

Jim: Or “Your dad’s terrible to my mom.”

Ron: Yeah.

Jim: It’s all those kinds of things that can occur.

Ron: And let’s make sure we present the other side, ’cause sometimes stepsiblings absolutely adore one another. They all love football and they immediately…

Jim: (Laughter) Right.

Ron: …Have something to come around together. And I’ve never had a sister before. This is great. I mean, there’s a lot of good that happens in the midst of all of this. And really, that’s one other element here. There’s good and hard at the same time. It’s not all good or all bad.

Jim: Yeah.

Ron: It’s often both simultaneously which is just confusing as you’re trying to figure this out whether you be a child or an adult.

Jim: What are some ways to build that relationship within the siblings? What can you do as a parent to orchestrate – if I could say that – and hopefully not manipulate, but orchestrate an environment where the connection can be enhanced?

Ron: One of the things Gary and I talk about in the book is you can’t make anybody love anybody. We all know that.

Jim: Yeah, that’s right.

Ron: You can’t make your child love their child, but you can create a climate where it’s more likely that they will figure out a way to be friendly, friends, family with one another. That that’ll be the process, right? And so, what does that climate look like? Well, we expect you to treat each other well (laughter). You don’t treat your brother or your stepbrother that way. I’m sorry. Knock it off, right? Boundaries and correction and the expectation of kindness within your home. Um, hey, it’s so and so’s birthday. We’re all getting involved with this. Let’s all celebrate Johnny today. Susie’s got a concert at school. We’re all going. We’re jumping in. Stepsibling or otherwise, we do things to support each other. That’s sending messages of, hey, in this crockpot (laughter), we love each other. We take care of each other. You don’t have to have a deep heart, intimate relationship with your stepsibling. We’re not demanding that, but we are going to treat each other with kindness.

Jim: Gary, it poses this question as a parent, hopefully a God following parent who wants that harmony in their home. How can you teach the siblings age appropriately about the love languages? What do you say to them to encourage them to know your brother’s love language? This is what he likes.

Gary: Well, I do think that’s important. It’s another way of kind of bringing them together. And the fact is, everybody needs love. I don’t care how young you are, how old you are or what’s happened in your past. Everybody needs love.

Jim: Well, the Lord did say, “love your neighbor” and “love your God.”

Gary: Absolutely.

Jim: I mean, it was kind of, like, the core thing.

(LAUGHTER)

Gary: Absolutely. So, if we can have a family discussion about the whole concept of, you know, I know we’ve all been through a lot of things. You know, you’ve lost your mother, but we’re together now and we want to learn how to love each other.

Jim: Yeah.

Gary: And I think we would choose to love, but then we learn how to love and discuss the five love languages – five different ways to love people.

Jim: Let me go back to that relationship between the blended family members. You had a story about Cynthia and Jeremy who faced some challenges when they tried to connect with their stepchildren. What took place there?

Ron: Yeah, for this one, it was, uh, kind of that I feel displaced phenomenon that sometimes a child feels. So, Jeremy and his daughter, Chloe, had a good relationship. And Chloe was kind of the only woman in the house, right?
Jim: And how old is she at that point?

Ron: She’s the – she’s the princess in the home. I think she was 12 if I remember right.

Jim: Perfect princess time (laughter).

Ron: You know, very much so. And all of a sudden, here’s the new queen (laughter) in the home, my stepmom. Um, wow, does that kind of steal my place in Dad’s heart, in the home. And the certain things that I could do to just help out in the home. You know, I had a special place contributed to our family and – and now that’s not needed of me anymore. And so, it just feels like, how do I embrace my stepmother? What’s my new identity in the family, right? There’s a – there’s an adjustment that this child has to make. When Gary was talking just a minute ago about the five languages, it occurred to me sometimes the gift you want to give a childlike Chloe is another opportunity to be special. No, you don’t have to cook twice a week anymore. No, dad doesn’t sit on the couch and watch movies with you side by side. Now there’s sometimes another woman who’s in that place. He gets time with you some, but it’s not as much as it used to be. But what can we give Chloe? What can Dad give her that is special? Maybe he needs to create a new little ritual where they’re spending a little time together, where it’s just the two of them, that restores a little of what she feels like has been lost. We are not saying – I always want to be careful and come around the other side. We’re not saying Dad stops being dad. Dad stops being a parent. He stops having boundaries and limits and consequences. And that would be the wrong application. But just something to help restore what – a little of what has been lost.

Jim: You also talk about the five P’s of stepparenting. Let’s hit those.

Ron: Yeah. And, by the way, I think we’re gonna make available to your audience a little e-booklet, The Five P’s of Stepparenting.

Jim: Excellent.

John: That’s good. Thank you for that.

Ron: So, you don’t catch all of these.

John: It’s a free gift, isn’t it?

(LAUGHTER)

Ron: People will be able to download that as a free PDF. That’s exactly right.

Jim: What are those five P’s?

Ron: P number one is partner. This stepparenting is predicated on the notion that the stepparent and the biological parent have really partnered well in their marriage. You’re supporting each other. You’re nurturing each other. The bio-parent understands that they have to play a huge role in the lives of their children to set up the stepparent for some success. At the expectation, all right, kids, you’re gonna be kind and decent to this person. You know, that goes a long, long way, right? Partner also means we talk behind closed doors about parenting, about rules, about consequences, about expectations of the children. We have to we have to parent together. And let me tell you, I’ve done quite a bit of research and looking into the established research on this notion. But less than half of couples that are getting married to form a blended family have any serious conversation about how they’re going to parent together. It is very overlooked by most couples. So, then they get thrown into the mix and now they’re trying to figure it out as they go. You got a partner well around parenting. So, that’s what sets the stepparent up to move into the second P, which is to pursue a relationship with the stepchild. And this is really the heart of what the love language and the message in this book is really all about. How do you pursue with wisdom? How do you pursue carefully? How do you understand what’s going on with the child? Not overdo it. Let me give you a quick little analogy. If you had a new neighbor – John, you got a new neighbor moving in just a couple doors down and you’re thinking, I’m going to go and, you know, meet my new neighbors and try to, you know, get to know him and be a good influence. You know, what would you do? Well, let me ask you this way. What would you not do? If you’re trying to make a friend out of a new neighbor, what would you not do? Well, you probably wouldn’t go banging on their door and shout, you know, “Hey, I’m your new neighbor. Let me in. I’m hungry. I’m going to get some food out of your refrigerator” and just storm you’re way in. Like, that’s ridiculous. Like, we all know that’s not the way it works. Well, what would you do? You’d go knock on the door and you’d wait, and you might have to wait awhile, and they might come to the door and say, “Who is it?” and not even open the door. And you’d have to talk through a door. And how awkward would that be? But, you know, that’s where it starts. And you’d talk long enough to let them know who you are and what you’re about. And if they trust you a little, they might crack the door open. And now you’ve got one eyeball you could talk to. And you – you talk to the eyeball for a little while and they have to get comfortable there before they start moving the door open. Well, you can see the analogy. The child sets the pace for this pursuit. That’s P number three. You’re gonna pursue, but you have to let the child’s pace determine how hard you pursue, how intensely you pursue. Otherwise, you are a nuisance and a threat, right? For P number for patience. P number five is persistence. Those two are the – what we’ve alluded to already. My goodness, if you’re not patient then you’re just, you know, all the time frustrated and you’re complaining and you’re nitpicking about this, that or the other thing and whining to your spouse, the biological parent. Can’t – why can’t you get your child to love me? None of that helps. All of that just stirs stress and tension between family members. It’s not helpful.

Jim: Sure.

Ron: But patience, crockpot mentality, it’s gonna happen. I just have to continue to pursue at a pace that the child can receive and remain persistent. Gary and I believe stepparents should be stubborn – stubbornly persistent at just loving as the child will let you love them and trust that over time that grows into something very authentic and a two way.

Jim: The amazing thing, these are applicable to biological kids.

Ron: Yes.

Jim: I mean, these are good concepts.

John: Yeah. So, we’re going to encourage you to swing by the website or check the notes and get a copy of the little – a download that we have for you which captures those five P’s and explains them a little bit further. It’s focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Let’s move into that older phase. You know, perhaps grandparenting and blended family in that regard. Older couples who remarry often are blindsided by their adult children who react negatively to that. You know, one of the parents has passed away and dad remarries, and it was too fast. And why is Dad doing that? And there’s a lot. And the kids are 30 something, right?

Ron: That’s right.

Jim: And, uh, it makes for some real strange dynamics. Help us understand why adult children might have a hard time adjusting. And now we’re not talking about seeing it through the eyes of a child. It’s like Dad saying, “Come on, John, you’re 35. You should understand why this is okay.”

Gary: You know – you know, not too long ago, I experienced that in – with a family that the two adult children simply did not want their father to remarry. And they expressed and expressed and expressed it. And he decided not to remarry.

Jim: Oh, that’s sad.

Gary: You know, allowing adult children to control his decision.

Jim: Right.

Gary: So, I do think I understand the adult child. You know, as an adult child, you’ve only known a mother and a father. Your mother died and now you’re your dad’s. He’s older and now he’s – “Why does he want to get married? He’s already – he’s too old to get married.”

Jim: Gary, it’s easy to jump to judgment on that for me because I’m already going, “That’s terrible.” But talk about what they’re seeing, the adult children. What’s the justification? What is that insecurity, perhaps, or whatever it might be, and why dad may or may not listen to that?

Gary: Well, I think sometimes it’s because they recognize things in that person that he’s about to marry that he doesn’t see.

Jim: Right. So, that’s valid.

Gary: Yeah. Because when we’re in love, we don’t see a lot of things and somebody’s not in love can see things we don’t see. So, I think we have to be empathetic and I think listen to those things. What are they? What are the reasons why you think I should not remarry? And then take those things seriously and talk about them with the person. Work them out beforehand. I think another thing is, you know, they have these strong memories of their mother and their dad and they have all these mental pictures of how they loved each other all of these years and now at this juncture in life to bring someone else into their family. And then also it can sometimes be a financial thing.

Jim: Sure.

Gary: What’s this woman gonna do? Is she gonna come in here and get all of Dad’s stuff? (Laughter)

Jim: Right. Which is our stuff.

(LAUGHTER)

Gary: So, there are a lot of – a lot of reasons why adult children might not feel good about their father remarrying. But what I would say to them, ultimately, is if the father chooses to remarry, then you need to ask God to help you be kind to your father and be kind to the person that he’s married. You may not have a close relationship. Sometimes it will not happen, but at least you want to be kind to them and treat them with dignity and respect.

Jim: And that’s the Christian attitude. I mean, really, that’s first and foremost. You know, almost 40% – the research is showing about 40% of families in America are blended families. And so, if you’re a grandparent, the chances are almost 50/50 that you’re going to be connected in some way to a stepfamily with your adult children, et cetera. So, the obvious question is, how do you become a good grandparent to those blended grandchildren?

Ron: You know, the interesting thing is the five P’s that we’ve talked about apply to step grandparents, right? You’re going to pursue a relationship with these step grandchildren, but you have to do it at a pace that they receive, that you’re comfortable with, um, and that the adult child will allow. Let’s recognize that – when in the book we call the middle generation. So, the grandparent, step grandparent, is the upper generation, the middle or the adult parents and then the lower is the grandchildren. If the adult child doesn’t really let the grandparent have access to the kids, it’s hard to pursue a relationship. That happens sometimes. So, sometimes the first course of action is building an open door with the adult child and the new spouse and then getting their permission, if you will, to move forward in a relationship with the kids. It can be awkward for step grandparents. We hear from people on a regular basis in our ministry at Family Life Blended that people who say, “I want to. I’m just not sure what to do. It’s so natural to go hug my grandchildren. We have history and relationship and routines, and we love each other. And I just don’t even know who these other children are.” Well, sure you don’t, right? It is different and it will take time. But you be the adult and lead with love and have a gentle pursuit and try to do the best you can. In the meantime, when it comes to the externals, it’s really helpful if you are equitable. Don’t buy your biological grandchildren $100 birthday gifts and $10 birthday gifts for the step grandchildren. Just yesterday I did a Facebook live here at Focus on the Family and that was one of the questions that came in. There’s an inequality at how the grandparents are treating the children. We need to address that. We need to gently say, “Look, if you want to help us…”

Jim: That is so terrible.

Ron: “…If you want to help our family, it can start by just being equitable with your time, your gifts, your willingness to babysit all the kids.” Things like that.

Jim: You know what’s amazing? Grandparenting. I didn’t have the advantage of grandparents. They weren’t connected to our little family, our shrub. We didn’t have a family tree. We had a shrub.

(LAUGHTER)

Jim: But, uh, in that context, there was a surrogate grandparenting family that my mom connected with and they were just super nice older people, the Hopes. They actually led my mom to the Lord before she died. So, they did so much for our little fledgling family. But the thing about it is grandparents, by definition, they can play an incredible role of letting out pressure within the family. You know, you go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and there’s just a way that grandparents can talk to you as a 12-year-old, as a 15-year-old that makes that connection so tight.

Ron: Yes. Grandparents can be a stabilizing force through the difficult single parent years. They step in. They fill the gap.

Jim: Right.

Ron: They pick kids up from school. They make them breakfast. They do – and, by the way, there’s a little loss for grandparents. Now a new stepparent comes in. We have this new family and we don’t need you, Grandma, to make breakfast anymore to drop off or pick up. Well, that creates a little hard place in her heart.

Jim: Right.

Ron: It’s transition for everyone.

Jim: Well, and Gary, I was going to ask you about that, because in the counseling practice that you do, it seems to me the adult children and the grandparents should be able to get together and work these wrinkles out, don’t you think?

Gary: They should be. They don’t always.

(LAUGHTER)

Ron: We wish.

Gary: They should be.

Jim: But wouldn’t it be a good first place to start?

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: Let’s get it up there on the table. Let’s talk it out. The help that you can be to our family, Grandma, Grandpa, and kind of lay it out.

Gary: Yeah. I would say to both the grandparent and to their adult children, if the other one is being negative and the other one is saying that I won’t have a – or they’re being critical, you don’t mimic their behavior.

Jim: (Laughter) Right.

Gary: You don’t say, “Well, then we just will have anything to do with each other.” I’ve seen that so many times. They just cut each other off. And that is never healthy. And sometimes you can go on for years and everybody suffers from that. No, it’s okay. Recognize the hurt that they’re coming from. Both of you have some hurt that you’re expressing. If you can listen empathetically, try to put yourself again – we’ve said this before – put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes and say, “Okay. Now, I can see how you would feel that way. Now, how can we solve this?” And you look for a solution rather than just cutting the ties.

Jim: Right. It’s so critically important. And what a healthier family you will have if you can do exactly what Gary is talking about. Um, I want to dial in to probably the most important question. Again, being that child with a stepdad that I had, um, it can be discouraging, I think, as that parent, that stepparent, if that child just continues to refuse to let you in. And, Gary, this is all been wrapped around the love languages and I get that. And this parent’s been trying. They’ve been doing the touch or if it’s gifts or if it’s affirmation. All of those things that you’ve brilliantly highlighted. But it’s now year five and I’m getting discouraged. And the child is not 10. He’s 15. And the problems are getting worse. The defiance is getting worse. What hope is there if you’ve been at it a long time, even on your knees praying, “God help me with this young boy that You’ve given me to raise as a stepson”?

Gary: Well, I think, first of all, we recognize that we cannot control that stepson’s behavior. As parents or stepparents, we cannot control their behavior, but we can continue to reach out and love to them. Ultimately, love wins even if they don’t ever, you know, warm up to you.

Jim: Right.

Gary: They’re still going to move into adulthood, remembering the way you did reach out to them in love. And I would say also, don’t force yourself on them. I don’t care how long it’s been. Don’t force yourself on them but do consistently reach out and speaking their love language on some level. You know, we’ve talked about different levels of the love languages, but I say be consistent and continue to have a positive atmosphere. God help me to treat them the way You treated me, because the Scriptures say that “God loved us while we were sinners and sent Christ to die for us.” So, I feel rejected by this person, but helped me to love them. Show me how to love them consistently because Your love won my heart. And, ultimately, I hope that my love can win their hearts.

Jim: No, it’s so true. And these are great truths again, for biological families or blended families. These things, these principles all apply. Um, that last question has to be that stepparent who’s at the end. Maybe they’re thinking of giving up entirely because it’s been so destructive emotionally for them and they don’t have the support of the person they married. And the kids and that spouse are kind of winning to wear that person down. I mean, obviously, counseling is the right step there, but where else can they go?

Ron: Yes. I do think resources are helpful. I imagine somebody saying, “Honey, could we sit down and read this book? Can we read it together? Could we just kind of look at this? Could we watch this video of Focus on the Family having this conversation and let our discussion around what’s going on with the child and what’s happening on this side of it? And can you see how this is unraveling your family?” All of a sudden, that becomes intervention. It’s a tool. It can’t be heavy handed. But that person is reaching out for something practical that could help influence the other people in their family. That’s one thing that I’ve seen happen over and over.

Jim: And, Gary, I would think, spiritually speaking, the marriage is paramount because kids will leave.

Ron: Right.

Jim: They grow up and they go. And what you’re left with is that marriage. And that’s why marriage next to your relationship with Christ, your marriage is the next most important relationship, then your kids and then so on to friends, et cetera. So, we’ve got to prioritize correctly.

Gary: Yeah, and that’s why we really emphasize in the book the marriage relationship, because in a blended family, that marriage relationship when the two of you are loving, supporting, caring, encouraging each other, it’s the best thing you could be doing for your children. Whether they’re being responsive to both of you or not, they now have a model of what it looks like to love and care for another person. And giving them that model is extremely important.

Jim: Well, again, this has been terrific. We’ve been at it a couple of days here, and I hope you are inspired. And, obviously, there’s so much more that we couldn’t get to. But in Gary and Ron’s wonderful book Building Love Together in Blended Families: The Five Love Languages and Becoming Stepfamily Smart. Really good stuff. And I think it’s valuable for the biological family as well. There’s so many good things in here. So, do get in touch with us. If you can make a gift on a monthly basis, we’ll send you the book to say thank you. If you can make a one-time gift. We’ll do that. And like I said last time, if you cannot afford it, we want to get the tool into your hands. So, get a hold of us and we’ll send it to you trusting others will cover the cost of that. But again, Ron and Gary, thank you for being with us and for the lifelong wisdom you have developed in this regard. This is your ministry, Ron. And this is what you’ve been doing at Family Life for many years now. And Gary, love languages. Again, just a brilliant stroke that you identified what God did to wire us and that’s wonderful. Thank you.

Gary: Well, thank you. It’s always good to be with Focus on the Family.

Ron: Yes, it is. Thanks.

John: And we’re going to suggest you stop by the website or give us a call to donate and get your copy of this great book, Building Love Together in Blended Families. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And we’ve mentioned that there might be a need for counseling, a couple of times at least during this conversation, and, Jim, generous donors have made it possible for us to have a fantastic team of caring, Christian counselors here.

Jim: Yeah, there are. And they’re there for you. And believe me, after 43 years of ministry, you’re not going to shock them. Don’t be embarrassed. Whatever’s going on, they will lovingly talk with you and help you. And take that in any direction it needs to go.

John: Yeah. Reach out to us and we’ll schedule a consultation with one of those counselors. Again, our number. 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. We hope you have a great weekend and that you can join us again on Monday when we’ll hear from Jim and Lynne Jackson on what messages your child most needs in the midst of disciple and how to share those.

Teaser:

Mr. Jim Jackson: Message number one, you are safe with me. Message number two, you are loved no matter what. Message number three, you’re called and capable. Message number four, you’re responsible.

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