Earlier this year I had the privilege of preaching with my son, Clay. From the time he was small, he’s wanted to be a pastor. Here he is on a random Sunday morning looking like a 6-year old playboy at church. What can I say, he’s his Daddy’s boy.
Fast forward a few years and he’s ready to graduate from high school. He’s quite the goofball but the heart is the same: tender but strong. His heart is big for the Lord and his family. You see, we’re blended. His Dad and I were high school sweethearts who broke up, married other people and had families, and then got back together 22 years later.
Technically, Clay is my step-son, but we refuse to label ourselves step-anything. This confounds most people. I often find myself explaining that yes, he’s my son but the other person qualifies me as his step-mom only in a somewhat hushed tone. I try very hard to keep my cool because we’ve worked for 7 years to eradicate the concept of step from our vocabulary. As in, his kids versus my kids simply doesn’t exist in our house.
Around Christmas I was privileged to be able to deliver a sermon that I called The Island of Misfit Toys: Blended families during the holidays. A last minute development resulted in Clay and I brainstorming the night before church on the concept of blended families at the holidays. We gave the sermon together–it was his first. The video is at the end of this post, but I wanted to share with you Clay’s view of blending families. It’s truly unique.
Clay has been the youngest, middle and oldest. He’s in two blended families with multiple siblings and has acquired some interesting observations along the way. As we get ready to attend his high school graduation along with his other family, I’m reminded that none of this is about us, it’s all about him.
With regard to holidays, Clay notes that kids in natural families subscribe to what we call the fallacy of the two holidays. It’s never exciting to go to two houses for the holidays. You’re always pulled in two different directions. Kids are often in a lose/lose situation. Meaning, either they choose where to go (which is stressful) or its chosen for them (which is stressful, too). You think holidays will be the same, but they are never the same because half of your family is different now, no matter how hard parents try to keep traditions the same. In Clay’s experience, “I always had Christmas with strangers because this wasn’t the family I grew up with.”
In other words, blending was easy, but adjusting was hard.
According to Clay, kids feel like their “natural” family is being replaced if the blended family tries to hard at being “happy” or “normal.” This stunned me because isn’t that what we all try to do? Fake happy family until we make it a happy family?
We turned to scripture and found a few key touch points for blended families to consider.
Forgiveness — Colossians 3:12-14
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts,kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
You can’t ask your kids to forget about “what was” and only live in “what is.” That’s not fair, nor realistic. You can walk in forgiveness every day and speak kindly and with respect of the other family they are part of.
Peace — Matthew 5:9
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Your goal should be peace both within the family and between families. Parents, let the kids warm to the idea and the situation. Just because we are legally bound doesn’t mean we are emotionally bound. Parents joining a blended family is their choice. As a kid, it’s not their choice but it also can’t be their choice. Think of a blended family as a rescue animal–you can’t run up to it. You have to approach slowly and gently. Parents have to create an environment where comfort and peace can evolve naturally and at its own pace.
Gentleness — Proverbs 15
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.
Be gentle with affection and discipline at the start. In our family we just jumped right in with, “I don’t care if you came out of my body or not, I’ll ground you all the same.” It worked for us–albeit weird at first. Clay’s heart is for the older kids. They can’t be expected to adjust quicker simply because they are older or more mature. They have more time in the “natural” family and more memories accumulated making it harder to accept and adjust.
Honor — Proverbs 3:16
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
We should honor the place the ex-spouse and entire other family has in the life of your kid. For example, cooperating with alternating holidays and not complaining about giving up a little to get more later. Remind kids to call the other parent on holidays or special occasions like birthdays. Honor the other parent on a day of celebration, like weddings or graduations. Make it comfortable for everyone to be involved, not just your family. Well, let me rephrase that. It’s not always going to be comfortable, but you should shoot for inclusive at least. Bottom line: T.R.Y.
Respect — Romans 13:7
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Respect is a huge part of our family. We try not to argue about blended family stuff in front of the kids. If we do, we also resolve in front of the kids so they can see the argument then the resolution. Be on time with drop off and pick up. Make travel time fair–meet halfway. Assuage your child’s guilt about receiving gifts from the other parent. Be happy for them when they get a spectacular gift instead of jealous that you didn’t think of it first. Remember, you loved the ex-person once. Find some shred of decency to hang on to so your child can continue to love them fully in your presence.
Clay’s advice to parents in blended families
Don’t act like everything is ok all the time. It’s not, so just be real. Don’t pretend like you know what your kids are going through. Even if you are from a blended family its never the same situation twice. Impulsive decisions are hard to handle. It’s like whiplash, so make big decisions carefully. Consider banning the word step in the house. It was hard at first (adjusting) but in the long run it was a good decision. If there are other siblings, treat everyone fair. Once you get through the introduction (everyone being nice) it’s all the same–kids are kids are kids.
When it comes to parental roles that have already been taken, it’s hard on the kids. Adding a mom or adding a dad is much weirder than adding a sibling so treat it as such. Don’t talk down about the other parent in front of your kid.
I’ve always thought of my parents as two halves of me, so I felt like half of me was being bashed. — Clay
Nearly seven years later and our blended family is one of the proudest accomplishments of my life. My husband agrees as do the kids themselves. If you’re in the process of blending or dealing with dysfunction, take heart. Listen to your kids. Take Clay’s advice and adjust accordingly. Talk a lot and pray even more.
Remember, your kids will be adults a lot longer than they will be kids. Keep your eye on the long term relationship with your kids in lieu of short term favor that evaporates when they are teenagers anyway.
^ This is my vote for his senior picture. He chose another one. But, hey, I took the picture and this is MY website, so I get to choose. No one is the boss of me!