Day 3: Protecting Your Stepfamily Marriage
But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. (Genesis 21:9-11)
God’s design for the family begins with marriage laying the foundation for the home. But stepfamilies are at a disadvantage when they begin because the couple isn’t the foundation. Because parent/child relationships predate the new marriage and are bonded by blood, history, and family identity, the marital relationship is often a secondary relationship in the home instead of the foundational one. Unless your marriage becomes primary, you will continue to experience distress and instability in your home.
The process of establishing the couple as the foundation relationship of the home can feel like a win/lose situation for biological parents and children. It’s not. It’s a matter of significance. Not that a spouse matters more than children, but rather that the stability of the marriage has more of an impact on the stability of the home than the impact the children have.
Children will never suffer neglect because their biological parent makes a strong commitment to his or her spouse, the stepparent. Couples in biological families where the marriage preceded children naturally “sit in the front seat” with one another yet still make plenty of sacrifices on behalf of their children. Even still the couple maintains their first-love commitment to one another.
A similar balance is healthy in stepfamilies.
- Set a regular date night and keep it. Prioritizing time for one another helps children see the importance you place on your relationship.
- Support your spouse’s parental role with your children. Back them up and insist that your children treat them with respect.
- Biological parents: spend regular one-on-one time with your kids and remain involved in their activities. This reinforces that they haven’t “lost” you and paradoxically makes acceptance of your marriage easier. This is the both/and balance.
- Stepparents should insist out loud that the biological parent spend time with their children. This communicates that you are not in competition with the kids.
- When children show signs of stress or anxiety as you “move your spouse into the front seat of your heart,” be sympathetic, but don’t let guilt put distance in your marriage.
- When children challenge the role of the stepparent, respond firmly and with compassion. “You’re just changing the rule because she wants you to,” is a common complaint. Acknowledge the child’s confusion and move forward. “You’re right. Things are different now that Linda and I parent together. And if I were you, I’d be upset about this, too. But this is the new rule and I’m in agreement with it, so please abide by it. Let’s go.”
Based on The Smart Stepfamily by Ron L. Deal. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
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