39: Grandparenting and the Blended Family
About the Guest
- Learn more about Gordon and Carri Taylor's ministry Opportunities Unlimited. http://www.cgtaylor.com/
- Read about stepgrandparenting and how to bring the outsider in. https://smartstepfamilies.com/smart-help/learn/special-topics/stepgrandparenting-bringing-the-outsider-in
- Learn more about blended family resources. https://shop.familylife.com/Products.aspx?categoryid=171
- Learn more about the Legacy Coalition. https://legacycoalition.com/
- Learn more about the Summit on Stepfamily Ministry. https://www.summitonstepfamilies.com/
- Visit FamilyLife Blended® online for articles, videos, and resources for blended families. https://www.familylife.com/blended
Gordon and Carri TaylorGordon and Carri have been married since February 1986. Both were previously married; Gordon for 18 years, and Carri for over 13 years. Gordon brought three sons to the marriage and Carri brought two daughters. They now have ten grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. They were legal guardians of Carri's oldest granddaughter, born in 1990. Executive Director and Co-Founder of Opportunities Unlimited, Carri is a Certified Communication Skills Trainer (since 1993) and Executive/Personal Co...more
For most of us, grandparents are fabulous! The same usually holds true for stepgrandparents too. But not always. In this episode, Ron Deal talks to Gordon and Carrie Taylor about the unique aspects of grandparenting in blended families.
39: Grandparenting and the Blended Family
Carri: The whole family got together, including her ex, and one of her grandchildren came up to her and said, “Grandma, Grandma. I want you to meet one of my grandparents.” And she took her over and introduced her to her ex-husband.
Ron: From the FamilyLife® Podcast Network this is FamilyLife Blended. I’m Ron Deal.
This donor-supported podcast brings together timeless wisdom and practical help and hope to blended families and those who love them.
This is Episode Number 39, “Grandparenting and the Blended Family.”
Now before we jump into the conversation, I wanted to share some feedback from a listener. By the way, we love feedback from our listeners. Louise asked, “Do you have a workbook study that we can do on our own or at church?”
Well, Louise, yes. As a matter of fact, we have a number of resources that you might be interested in. One is The Smart Stepfamily DVD series. It’s the tenth anniversary edition. There are eight sessions and participant guides to go along with the video.
Another is The Smart Stepfamily Marriage. That’s a 13-week study, and it comes with a free study guide that’s available through FamilyLife. Then we have multiple video studies from our annual livestream event called Blended and Blessed®. Each year is recorded and made available as an all-access digital pass. You can watch it by yourself or with others and make it a small group study. Check the show notes for links on all of these resources and more and keep the questions and feedback coming.
For most of us, grandparents are fabulous. They are the adults who love us but don’t have to discipline us. Because they don’t have to take us home, they relish the chance to spoil us. What’s better than that? Step-grandparenting can be all of that if everyone agrees that it can be and everyone wants it to happen that way. But what if they don’t?
Today we’re talking about the unique aspects of grandparenting in blended families. My guests are Carri and Gordon Taylor. Carri is executive director and co-founder of Opportunities Unlimited. She’s a certified communications skills trainer and executive coach. Her husband, Gordon, is co-founder of Opportunities Unlimited and a licensed marriage and family therapist. He’s been a consultant for the California State Department of Education and has 32 years’ experience as a public school district administrator. Together, Carri and Gordon produced a video series called Designing Dynamic Stepfamilies and they speak around the country on a variety of topics.
Here’s my conversation, episode number 39, with Gordon and Carri Taylor.
Wow. It’s great to talk with you again. You guys have been grandparenting for a long time.
Gordon: A long time.
Ron: Run down your grandparenting and parenting resume for me.
Carri: When we married, he had sons that were 21, 23 and 25, so they gave us a different kind of trouble than those that live in the house.
I had a 14-year-old that made up for all of it, even though she loved Gordon. She loved him and wanted me to marry him and helped him propose. The day of the wedding everything went south. What we say now is, “If we had known, we would not have taken a honeymoon.” We would have put that off because of everything that happened.
Gordon: This is in spite of the fact that I knew to get to Carri I had to go through my stepdaughter, so I really included her in our courtship and making a sign, “Will you marry me?”, decorating, the whole nine yards. It still went south afterward because she realized then that this was permanent, that I was moving in and that I was going to be around. That’s when the reaction took place.
Carri: It had a history because of her father that was not present a lot at all. He married right away after our divorce, so she was going through a divorce and remarriage back to back. That left a lot of wounds. It took some time.
I think when they’re young, they look at love in a bucket. A person only has so much love to give, so now that all these people are taking love away from Mom and away from Dad, there’s nothing going to be left for me. Basically, that’s about what she told me when I sat her down and we had a discussion.
But she pulled through that and because of Gordon’s investment in her over the years, when she got married, she had Gordon walk her down the aisle and her father was an invited guest. But then I got blamed for that.
Gordon: Yes. But the realization, and I think this is what a lot of remarried couples miss, is time—it just takes time. From the start of Carri and I getting married to the time that we’re talking about, her getting married and me walking her down the aisle, was something like five or six years.
Gordon: It just takes Perseverance, Commitment, Investment, and those are all in capital letters, by the way.
Ron: Yes, exactly. Now I don’t think we’ve gotten through all the resume, because—Okay, when you married you had four kids between the two of you—
Ron: —but then at some point you acquired a grandchild.
Carri: Right. My daughter became an international model and went over to Europe, and then brought back a present she wasn’t expecting through no serious relationship at all. She was pregnant.
Her industry wanted her to have an abortion, but she went by that and came up with an adoption plan, which I thought was good. She’d even met the parents. I had gone with her and everything was set. She was in counseling. I thought that was great, grieving the loss of the child.
Then she took us to a counseling session with her and said, “What would you do if I kept my baby?” So, you know, reroute.
We said, “We’ll help you get on your feet as a single parent.” We did that for a year. Then she gave up modeling, but she got another offer to go over to Asia, and I saw the writing on the wall. Through a series of conversations and understanding, she agreed to a legal guardianship because it can be reversed—we were all expecting that to happen—but ended up keeping Megan.
She came back to the states and was very busy in her career modeling and then acting and TV and stunts. Now she has a wonderful business in Beverly Hills. It just seemed like every time we’d think about changing the guardianship something would happen. It was like the Lord was saying, “Megan needs to stay with you.”
She did and we signed up for the 18 years legally. But she is 29, and she’s still like our daughter, although she’s lived a lot of years now overseas, traveling and teaching and doing web design and all kinds of creative things. We don’t see her much anymore.
Gordon: Right. Just as an add on—that in my counseling practice I’m dealing more and more with this grandparents-as-parents syndrome. If I estimated, I would say there are probably eight to ten million minimum grandparents raising children now that they didn’t expect to.
Ron: Yes. Okay, I want to come back to that, Gordon, because that’s an important perspective. But again, I’m just still trying to make sure our listener has got your story. You guys started with four, you then acquired a grandchild that essentially became a child. How old was she when she really came under your care full time?
Carri: When she was born, they both moved into our house. My daughter was with us for a year, so she was with us since birth. But we were parents. I was like 45 at the time.
Gordon: [Laughter] That puts me in my 50’s, yes.
Ron: Yes, starting over again.
Gordon: Really. That’s right. But the good news was that our granddaughter never lived anyplace else until she moved out, except our home, so she had stability and commitment which we hope and believe that gave her a grounding and it gave her the opportunity to get an education, choose what she was going to do and all of the things that we want for our kids.
Carri: But it was interesting because here we are, the next generation—she was in a private school, but all the events and sporting events, here we are showing up as grandparents, mingling with other parents that are our kids’ age. There were some things to overcome at that point.
We lost a few friends. They didn’t want a toddler running around. [Laughter] But we also seemed to gain younger friends that didn’t care and were very helpful when we were traveling. They’d be like a second home for her and make sure she was taken care of.
Ron: I can just imagine the timing, because Gordon’s kids were older. They were in their 20’s when you guys were married. Now you have this grandchild you’re raising as a child, Carri’s teenage daughter, and then you start acquiring grandchildren the old-fashioned way. Your kids started having kids, so how many grandchildren do you have at this point?
Carri: There’s another daughter we haven’t talked about, and it’ll be brief. But I was an unwed mother. I walked away from a marriage when I was 20 because of a serious accident that my fiancé was in and the relationship dwindled. I had no peace about marrying him. That was back in 1966. You either married then, had a backdoor abortion or went away and had a child.
But God so gave me the confidence that He was going to work this out. I ended up going away and having the baby, private adoption. Through His interesting round of events, we have met. I’ve known her for like 28 years now. She has six children, so that gives us a total of 10 grandchildren. That oldest grandson from her is married and has a child who is now two years old, so we are great grandparents as well.
Gordon: Right. Let me go back to my kids. When we got married my three sons were adult. One of the adjustments that they had to make was seeing me as actually a better parent, parenting a grandchild, than I had been for them. There was some jealousy that they had to work through. One of them even said, “They got the better parent,” over the period of time.
Secondly, when you have a grandchild in your home, it really takes the energy away from being a regular grandparent to other grandchildren that came into play. There were quite a few adjustments that were sort of subtle and below the surface that we had to make.
Ron: Okay, I just want to pause just for a second; make sure our listener has caught up. You have been grandparents and parents and been doing this kid thing in multiple forms and fashions and lots of scenarios for a very long time so you certainly have the perspective about it. Of course, you’ve worked with tons of stepfamilies over the last what, 40 years? I’m not sure. You’ve seen it from a lot of different perspectives.
I want us to just spend a little time talking through this and learning a few things and sharing some life lessons with our listener. But I want to start, now that we’ve got your grandparenting resume, I want to start with this. Carri, long ago, far away—I’m sure you don’t remember—you wrote an article for me. We’ll put a copy of this in the show notes so people can take a look at it. You wrote an article that is on SmartStepfamilies.com, in which you reflected on your former mother-in-law—
Carri: Oh, yes.
Ron: —and how she taught you some things about being inclusive, about the attitude that she had about being inclusive with extended family. You witnessed that, you saw that. Then as your life got more complex, it was a point of inspiration for you. Do you mind sharing what you saw in her?
Carri: Yes. My first husband was the middle son of three boys. The oldest and the youngest had been divorced and remarried, had girlfriends and multiple relationships. I watched my mother-in-law. It didn’t matter when they broke up, how they broke up, she always included everyone. At first, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to that. I just saw that everybody got along. I didn’t look at it as weird because it worked.
As I watched this and became a stepfamily member, it was like, “Wow, I see what she’s doing. She’s including everybody because it gives her access to her grandkids and it keeps the family together, in a weird way, but it keeps it together.” She even invited Gordon, myself, my daughter and my granddaughter to spend a weekend with her after our granddaughter was born. We had a wonderful time. But again, she wasn’t holding any grudges about any divorces or any hard feelings at all.
That really got my attention.
Gordon: Right. From that, we adopted this ability to be inclusive. We took the Scripture where God says, “As much as is within you, live at peace with all men.” [Paraphrased] Now when I use that with stepfamilies, I’ll also add, “There are some people that don’t want to live at peace with you but that doesn’t relieve you or me from being inclusive and offering the invitation because that really goes a long way. Now we’ve got many, many examples of where that has really paid off in our life relationally.”
Carri: When my husband’s second wife and he were having trouble, she ended up calling me and was afraid to call me because of all the things she’d heard about me negatively. But she called me and I ended up walking her through her divorce from him, and we became very good friends. We would meet regularly. Unfortunately, about three years ago, she died of cancer. He now has wife number three, who also I am friends with.
Now my ex-husband passed away about a month ago, so I’ve been in touch with his widow and talking with her.
Gordon: It takes a special person with maturity, self-worth, knowing who they are, and as a Christian, particularly knowing who you are in Christ, in order to be able to do that, because you’re stepping in some pretty slippery slopes sometimes when you reach out into areas and you don’t know what the response or reaction’s going to be.
Ron: I was just going to say that very thing, Gordon. If you’re listening to this right now and you’re going, “She was in touch with her former mother-in-law. She had lunch? I would never do that.” Why would you never do that? What does that reveal in you? I realize it’s far-fetched. I realize there are circumstances that you don’t get to control that would be a good reason why you would not want to necessarily hold them so close.
However, if it’s resentment, if it’s bitterness, if it’s pain, that is something you do manage; that is something you in your—as Gordon just said so well—in knowing who you are in Christ and wanting to emulate Him, that is something you can do something about. The whole point of moving toward this heart of openness and inclusion is, as Carri noted, keeping people together and as a grandparent in particular, being able to have access to these children that you have an opportunity to influence.
Carri: Right. There’s another story that is worth noting here. That is Gordon’s oldest boy, man actually now—there was one Christmas that I think stepfamilies can hit where nobody comes. I had a little attitude about, “Fine. Then we’ll just put their presents away in the closet, and they can come get them next year if they want.”
But during the year God worked on me, and I ended up inviting everybody that Christmas, including the boys. They had girlfriends. They had parents. His mother was still alive, and he had an aunt and an uncle, and just said, “Hey, you’re all welcome,” not knowing if his ex would come or not.
She did, and we could not stop the boys from thanking us that day for including everybody. We had a great time. Even in our DVD, his oldest son said, “There were two watershed points in my life, the divorce and that Christmas.” Now he is—how old was he the last July he came to visit us?
Gordon: Oh, about 54, 56, something like that.
Carri: —something like that. He was in my kitchen crying, saying again, thanking me for that Christmas that had changed his life. He’s the one that sends me stuff regularly, presents, and just honors me, which, just a little thing like that—maybe it’s a big thing to a lot of people, inviting the ex for Christmas.
Gordon: Yes, sometimes I think he’s got a closer relationship with Carri than he does with me anymore. He’s just—it’s a very, very special relationship, which is encouraging that over time, this emotional connection—there’s no biology, obviously—but the emotional connection can be very, very strong and very rich.
Ron: Okay, I just wanted that principle to get out there as we go on with our conversation. I just think that it’s a prevailing principle—a heart and an attitude of inclusion and wondering what you can do to live at peace, as you guys said, with everyone else.
When you’re talking about stepfamilies, you’re talking about tall and wide. Tall, as in multiple generations, and wide, as in often blended families have multiple households that are involved. It’s the tall that we’re looking at today, talking about grandparenting and step-grandparenting.
That attitude of inclusion is something that builds bridges across those generations that makes it more likely that you do have access at the end of the day to those grandchildren.
Okay, let me just pull back. With that in place, let’s just continue our conversation.
You guys have worked as counselors, coaches, mentors. Gordon, you’re a therapist. You guys have been in a lot of different capacities, ministries, leading small groups, etc. What do you think is one of the most surprising aspects of blended family living that grandparents, step-grandparents run into? What catches them off guard?
Carri: What I’ve witnessed is many times the biological grandparents will not acknowledge the step-grandchildren. That creates quite a chasm.
We even were speaking one time in California and the pastor that had invited us in to speak said, “That’s the situation I’m in. My daughter is in a stepfamily and I don’t recognize her stepchildren. I don’t consider them mine at all.” He said, “You have brought me to a new truth here, that it’s important to incorporate them.”
But it’s difficult. A funny story is, very good friends of ours that were divorced, the whole family got together, including her ex, and one of her grandchildren came up to her and said, “Grandma, Grandma, I want you to meet one of my grandparents,” and she took her over and introduced her to her ex-husband. [Laughter]
Ron: But that story—actually both of those stories, let me digest those. The first one, the pastor was like, “No, I didn’t see them as part of my family.” But then from this child’s point of view, the second story, they did see all of those people as part of their family, which again just shows you the beauty of the innocence of some children. They don’t need to draw those lines of distinction that block people out. They’re inclusive in many ways from the get-go.
Carri: One thing I’ve also—and we do say this when we teach—is if the grandchildren were already there and then you become step-grandparents and grandparents, it’s going to be more difficult. But if you’re there, and then the grandkids are born after you’re already married, they kind of just naturally assume you’re part of the family.
Gordon: One of the difficult things, particularly dealing with older people such as grandparents, they get into a hardening of the attitudes that, “This is the way it has to be, supposed to be.” Intact families are normal; stepfamilies, grandparents as parents, are not normal. That really locks people in, but it also locks people out.
That’s one thing that I run into a lot, is helping people to be a little more flexible, a little more open to change and realize, like you said, that the children, the small children, they have not experienced life like the older people have and are not locked into, “We open Christmas presents on Christmas morning, period!”-type of rigidity.
Ron: Okay, so let’s go with that, rigidity in defining who’s in the family. I heard Carri talk about that. Rigidity in terms of how things should be: structure, traditions, holidays, etc.
That makes it really difficult for the blended family, the middle generation and their children and the step-grandchildren. It makes it difficult for them to fit into those rigid structures because their life is, they’ve got four homes to hit at Christmas, so they may not be able to hit it exactly when you want them there.
Talk around that for a minute. Why the rigidity? Why do you think sometimes it’s harder for older people to be flexible in their definitions of who’s in the family and how things get done?
Carri: I’ve heard many people say, “I liked his first wife, but I don’t like his second wife.”
Ron: Ahhh, hmm. Just a harsh judgment there about who the people are.
Carri: Yes, yes. I hear that, or I’ll even hear it from the stepmom. “She still likes the first wife and won’t have anything to do with me.”
Gordon: Sometimes we get into—I use this example: that family and familiar came from the same root word. In family, these familiar patterns get ingrained and we—if you want to use the term—we get into a rut of how we celebrate, what we celebrate, who‘s included. I remember one guy saying, “If you’re in a rut, that’s just a coffin with both ends knocked out.” [Laughter] It’s not a real comfortable place to be in. It sure isn’t flexible or lends itself to change.
Ron: Yes. But what I hear you saying is that it’s just the familiar is hard to break out of.
Gordon: It is.
Ron: You get stuck in those ruts. Don’t you think there’s something to that; like there’s something inside you that says, “I want this to be what it’s supposed to be, so that I feel like we’ve done our job, so I feel like we’re successful, so I feel like the kids and the grandkids are in the right place in this world and in life,” and “It just gives me a sense of security.”
Gordon: Yes. Here’s what I hear when you talk like that, that is, “It’s my value as an individual, as a mother, a father, a grandparent, it’s my value that’s at stake,” and “If you like me, I’m valuable. If you don’t, I’m not valuable. If you do it this way, I’m valuable.”
But anytime we give anything or anybody outside of ourselves in our environment the power to make us valuable, we also give them the power to make us not valuable. That’s why I keep going back to maturity and knowing you are.
Sometimes when I deal with non-believers as clients, it’s really tough because God is our guide. God is our source of strength. God should be our source of identity and value internally, so that we can reach out in a more mature and caring way rather than go into a relationship expecting something from somebody that we may or may not get—
Carri: Hey, that sounds like marriage. [Laughter]
Gordon: Yes, right.
Ron: Exactly right.
Carri: —especially with step couples that run into marriage and get no training, no idea of what they’ve fallen into. Even in my stepmoms group, there are those women who have gone through our training. They’ve said, “Oh, yeah, yeah, we heard it all, but it wasn’t going to happen to us that way, but it did.”
Ron: Yes, that’s more often the case, isn’t it?
Ron: You said something, Carri, that I caught a little while ago, we’re going to come back to, “The back story of how you become a step grandparent really matters.” It makes a difference in the trajectory of that for you. We’re going to come back to that. But before we do that, let’s just wonder out loud. What are some of the concerns that each person is feeling as it relates to the step grandparent?
Let’s start with the step grandchild. Let’s say you’re 14. You’ve now got a step grandparent. What are the kinds of things that that child is wondering about or perhaps concerned about?
Gordon: What I’m hearing is you’re trying to get into it from the child’s point of view. I think many times grandparents in stepfamilies, there’s so much chaos and so much disconnects and instability, I think the child is looking for acceptance—could be in the form of fun—but being loved as unconditionally as they can be because, “Dad’s here. Mom’s over there. Dad’s remarried, and I’ve got a step mom. Mom’s remarried and I’ve got a stepdad. I have stepbrothers, sisters,” whatever the configuration might be.
So many children get lost in the adjustment, lost in the developmental cycle, just lost period. I think they’re looking for that connection that they may or may not have in their family itself.
Ron: Gordon, what I’m hearing you say is that they are looking for some stability, somebody who can come alongside them and provide a safety net or a warm hug, or—I’m not sure how to say it—but something that is filling the gaps that have been going on in their life.
Gordon: Right, and it’s interesting because the last two or three weeks I’ve dealt with some younger clients I see. Everybody’s young to me—but in their 20’s, early 30’s, and they were grieving the loss of a relative. Inevitably it’s been a grandparent, a grandmother, a grandfather, and it’s almost—and I’m not discounting parenting, of course—but the loss they felt for losing a grandparent was just really, really deep, which tells me that that grandparent really had a place in their life.
This also brings up that stepchildren, children of divorce and children that have been parented by grandparents, face death sooner than the normal development cycle. We could tell you about our granddaughter, but she’s lost four or five people in her life before she was finished being a teenager. That’s one thing that they’re probably going to have to face being raised by a grandparent is death and the loss.
Carri: Right. You can’t even talk about Gordon dying. She just falls apart, just totally falls apart.
Gordon: But I’m not above manipulation, so if I want something from her I’ll say, [Coughing] “I’m not feeling too . . . ,” and sometimes I get my way, sometimes not. [Laughter]
Ron: That’s a good lesson. I’m going to take that to heart. [Laughter]
Carri: I think another problem is the step-couple does not realize what the kid’s going through. I see that constantly. “They’re just misbehaving. They’re doing this. They’re doing that. We’re taking them to a counselor.” They’re getting medication, doing all these things.
Our whole theory is everybody behaves out of need, even we do as adults. When they are misbehaving, which we just call behaving, there is a need behind that. They need to be listened to. You need to find out where the hurt and the pain is.
We run into remarriage thinking everybody’s going to be happy, and that’s not the truth. Many people are grieving this new marriage. But we’re expecting the kids just to come along and feel like we do. That just doesn’t happen.
Ron: I’m hearing a big opportunity here for grandparents and step-grandparents to be a stabilizer in the life of the grandchild, to come alongside and fill a couple of gaps, and then to listen. To listen beneath their behavior, whatever you see on the outside that may be worrisome or troublesome, but hear that there’s a message under there. There’s a need. “What’s the need and how can I chase that?”
Carri: I did this. At 16, we’d gone through quite a bit with my daughter. It was difficult. At one point, I went to her and I said, “I need to ask your forgiveness.” She kind of looked at me like I was, “Whaatt?” I said, “Yes, I assume that I know you, but I don’t know you. I know a lot about you, but I don’t know what it’s like to have a mom like me. I don’t know what it’s like to have a dad like yours. I don’t know what it’s like to be thrown in a stepfamily with Gordon. I don’t know what it’s like to be in a dancer’s body.”
She was at the L.A. County High School for the Arts at the time. I said, “Tell me about you,” and I quit talking. She kind of looked at me with her arms folded. I said, “Go ahead.” She would slowly open up and start saying things.
All I did was summarize, “So when that was happening, you were thinking …. Tell me more.” And she’d go a little more. “Keep talking….Oh, so that’s what you were thinking. You thought that ….” —whatever.
I never talked. I never rebutted, because I needed to get into her world. When we had talked for a while, her body language had totally unwrapped, and I said, “Thank you,” and left the room.
Several years later I said, “Do you remember when . . .?” and she said, “Mom, that’s one of the most significant things you’ve done in my life.
What I did was, I made myself safe. She could come, she could talk. I wasn’t going to tell her, “No, it wasn’t that way. Oh, you shouldn’t have done that.” She knew I would just listen. Today, if we have a conversation and I don’t do that, she puts me back in my place real quick. “Mom, you’re supposed to be listening.”
Gordon: To emphasize the importance of what Carri just shared with you, that the adaptation of the kids always lags behind the adults. Many times the adults are out in front. They’re developing their own adult-to-adult relationship, and they forget that the children are playing catchup. That’s really, really important.
Ron: That’s a great segue, Gordon, to my next question. Because one of the things I’ve heard many times with people that I’ve worked with in the past is—later-life adults who perhaps get married later in life and become a step-grandparent at that point in time and see the reactions that ripple through the different generations—one of the things that I’ve heard many times is, “I thought our kids or my husband or wife’s kids, would be more adult about us getting married and now having a grandparent and step grandparent in their children’s lives. But they’re not adult.”
What’s going on with that middle generation, the biological parent and stepparent that makes them not very adult?
Carri: If you think about it, the time they have spent with their parents—it’s like you just cut—wherever the divorce is, you just cut the string of their life, so the younger, it’s easier to bond and grow through that. They don’t have all the history. The longer history they have with their parents, and something happens, the harder it is.
We know of stories where they will break up that relationship so the marriage doesn’t take place. Then the older kids say, “What about our inheritance? Are you going to leave it all to your new wife? What about us? We’re just your kids.” There’s all kinds—the older they are, they have better means to break the relationship up.
Gordon: I’m sure you’ve read the book on adult stepfamilies. Well, that really plays in here when you get, let’s say, grandparents as parents and the transition of the child from the parents to the grandparent sets the parents and the parents of the child in conflict with each other. Unfortunately, many times the grandparents have to fight for their grandkids, and it’s usually against their own children that they’re having the conflict.
But as Carri said, the older the person, the more history they bring with them and the more they have to work through in this change. Of course, parents generally, if their children don’t turn out right, take it pretty personally. Then if your own parents are raising your child, then there’s going to be some kind of heavy adjustment, let alone competition, that is going to go on here.
Ron: Yes. I keep thinking of another reason the middle generation struggles. They’re having a loss of identity too. It doesn’t matter that they’re an adult. We think the ten-year-old loses their identity when their parent marries again, new last names, new dynamic in the home, stepsiblings, whatever.
But so does a 35-year-old. It’s, “I can’t go to mom’s house anymore without him being there. It’s just weird. They come to my birthday, and I don’t really want him there or his children,” or “Now I have stepbrothers and sisters I don’t even know.”
There is this huge adjustment that is demanded of them, even at age 35 or 40 or however old that they are. Some people just don’t take well to that. It’s another change on top of all the other things that they’ve had to deal with. It shows up as not being inclusive.
Gordon: Yes, there you go.
Ron: This bridges right into the conversation about the back story and how you got there. Because if you’re what we call a later-life couple, adult step-families, Gordon, as you said a minute ago, you’re getting married later in life and becoming a step-grandparent. That means that the middle generation and the grandchildren generation, none of them chose you.
Ron: You just walked in on the scene. You made a choice to marry their grandparent. Therefore, you’re now their step-grandparent. They may or may not have a need for you in their world and in their life.
That middle generation, they are the gatekeepers, as we implied a minute ago. If they don’t want to give you access to the grandchildren, you’re not going to get it. All of which is getting to, if you’re one of those later-life couples listening right now and you’re going, “I’m connecting the dots. No wonder we have such a hard time getting to the grandchildren.” Do you have any words of wisdom for that couple?
Carri: Patience; understanding stepfamilies and how they work. They need education too, because it is—it’s very different.
It’s that whole apple-orange thing. We call first marriages “apples” and subsequent marriages “oranges.” Now they’re both fruit, but the apple is solid and together. The orange has many pieces and it’s pretty darn messy. Once you can get that in your head and embrace that this is going to be different—but you’ve got to change your belief system. You’ve got to be open. You’ve got to be open to new knowledge and trying new things. That takes a certain kind of an individual.
Gordon: To add to what Carri has said, education is just absolutely mandatory for a good chance at success, but very few people bother. I mean, even when we started many years ago, and I’m talking back in the 80’s and even the late 70’s, there was information out there, not much from the Christian community, but it was out there. But you really had to dig for it.
Now, it’s out there, but nobody cares. Then when you factor in living together, cohabitation, and if you do with children, they call that the pseudo-stepfamily. That just throws another adjustment in, because there’s no stability, there’s no commitment, and that’s what the kids need most.
Ron: Yes. The people listening right now, you have such an opportunity. This is a unique resource in and of itself, just as Gordon said. There is lots of information available. That’s what we do here at FamilyLife Blended. We make lots of content available to people.
You could share this with somebody. Think of somebody right now, maybe not in your family or extended family, but a friend, somebody you worship with, a neighbor. Think of somebody you could share this podcast with. That could really make a big impact on them.
Let’s talk about a little bit different step grandparent situation. That’s when you are the ones inheriting. The one we were just talking about is where the grandkids and the middle generation inherit, if you will, a step grandparent who has now married their parent later in life.
But what if it’s a little different? What if you’ve been a grandparent for many years, raised your kids, they have kids, and now one of your children is divorced or widowed and now is getting married. They’ve made a choice to marry somebody and become a stepparent. That makes you a step grandparent. That’s a different scenario. You didn’t make the choice to step into this role. Yet there’s some expectation for you. What words of wisdom would you offer that person?
Carri: Just be ready for the surprise. [Laughter]
Gordon: I will tell couples that are remarried or thinking of remarriage—I’d say, “Come up with the most bizarre thing that you think could happen and how would you deal with it?” They look at me funny. Then I’ll tell some stories sometimes. Everybody in the system—there’s no guarantee who’s going to connect or if they’re going to connect or how or how long. If you’re not educated and flexible and mature and committed and all of those good things, it’s just going to make it that much harder.
Carri: One of the couples we love dearly that came to us as clients and then they became very good friends and had stepfamily ministry themselves, he would say, “I know I’m ready for the surprises. I know there will be surprises, so I’m not going to be surprised.” [Laughter]
Ron: Trying to be open to that. What are the traps? I can imagine one trap being, “Oh, okay, so I’m a step grandparent. I don’t know these kids.” Trying too hard and not trying enough? Driving off either side of the road is a trap. How do people stay in the middle?
Carri: You know, that’s up to the child. They will determine when you’re safe. I still remember the first Christmas after we were married, my daughter says to me, “Are we going to do that stocking thing?”
I said, “What stocking thing?” [Laughter]
“You know, where just you and I exchange stockings.”
I said, “Oh, sure. Hey, Gordon, you’re out.”
Then time passed a little and she said, “Well, what if Gordon takes pictures of us doing our stocking thing?”
“That’s a great idea! Gordon, you’re getting closer.”
Then finally one Christmas she said, “Aren’t we buying a stocking for Gordon?”
I said, “What a great idea. I’m so glad you thought about that. You’re in!” [Laughter]
We’ve emphasize this. The child is the one that’s going to say when it’s okay. Now that doesn’t mean that you’re not doing anything. But I like your example of the stepparent when we say, “Find something that your stepchild or your step great-grandchild or your step-grandchild likes to do and join in or take them there or visit them or play a game, read a book, whatever it is.”
Then you had a response from a stepdad that said—
Gordon: —“Well I don’t like anything that he does.” After, I gave him my new intervention which was a slap up the side of the head to get their attention, I said, “You’re the adult.” [Laughter] I always go for the adult, for the parents, and give them the responsibility to initiate, to reach out to the child or the young person, and either find something you can be interested in or create something. It’s just really important.
Carri: But it’s up to the kids. They will determine when you’re safe.
Ron: Staying in the middle of the road, not trying too hard or not trying too little, is about measuring where the child is and responding to them and tracking with them. I love that.
Gordon, I want to swing back to, “I don’t like anything that they do.” I’ve heard that more than once. I want to say this out loud on the record. I think most stepparents and step grandparents have incredible good will towards their stepchildren. They desperately want to treat them right, to have a good relationship with them, to be a positive influence and role model in their life.
The whole wicked stepmother, abusive stepfather, that whole stereotype is not 99.999 percent of people out there in the world. Now, having said that, there is a .01 percent who don’t want to try. “I’m sorry, I’m a step grandfather now. I didn’t ask for that, and it’s not my responsibility. I’m not even going to invest myself.”
To that .01 percent, please see you have such an opportunity here. No, it was not your plan, but it’s in front of you. Do something with it.
Gordon: What I see is wrapped up in the word futility. They come in with the greatest of intention, the greatest expectation. They have zero skill—communication, conflict-resolution, empathy—that type of thing. It’s like trying to dig a hole in solid rock with your bare fingers. The education part then, is skill-building.
Carri faces this virtually every day when she works with her communication clients. I think it’s encouraging if you can get across the message that this is a skill. If you want to ski, you learn how to ski, play baseball, football, whatever. Same thing in relationship. The hardest one is the—let’s pick on the alcoholic family or the drug-related family, which is a non-relational family with the best of intentions and they love the kids to death, but they have no skill. They just wallow around and get frustrated.
That skill building is really important.
Ron: Alright, let’s get real practical. As we come to the end of this podcast let’s talk about some practical skills that grandparents and step grandparents need to work on or work toward that will help them in their place in the family and their role with their step grandchildren. What are two or three that just pop to the surface for you?
Carri: The first one that comes to my mind is listening. We think we listen. We don’t. Everybody waits to talk. If you don’t take a pause, I just may interrupt you so I can talk. When we think we’re listening, we’re thinking about, “What am I going to say back?” I’m judging it or “I’ve got to match my story with yours.”
People do not know how to put themselves aside and listen and allow that person to have the floor. That person is on stage. That person has the ball. I am there to help them tell their story. But like I gave the example with my daughter, I’m there to make sure I’m hearing them correctly before I open my mouth.
One thing I say to my clients that I live by in this communication thing is, “Be ready to be wrong.” Our brain—we take in information and process it so fast and come to these conclusions so fast that maybe we don’t have all the information. I live ready to be wrong. “What have I missed? What have I missed? Have I really heard you?” and the only way I’m going to know that I’ve really heard you is you’re going to let me know I did.
That is a difficult skill for people to learn, because nobody taught us what listening really means. The Bible is full of wonderful Scriptures about communication and listening.
Gordon: Another thing that I see a lot is the need to control. Particularly in men, they come in, they want to lead these troops out of the wilderness. They take on the drill sergeant role. But I tell them, “The higher the need for control, the higher the level of insecurity.”
That’s where we go, and that’s where this talking and listening effectively but really knowing who you are and being comfortable with yourself, relaxing so you can let—and this sounds peculiar, maybe—but let the kid tell you where they are. As we know, and I’m sure you’ve run into this, the growth of the kids is the barometer that tells you how the stepfamily is connecting or not. That’s what we’re after here.
Ron: Good. Got any other suggestions?
Gordon: One of the hardest questions I ask my clients, stepfamily, but this is across the board is, “How would you answer the question, ‘Who am I?’” That’s where the identity comes in. Knowing who you are is important in life, but it’s even more important in stepfamilies, grandparents as parents, is being at peace with yourself so you don’t have to use other people to make you okay.
This is one of the greatest gifts that a couple can give to each other, is having found out who they are and having the peace of being able to bring an individual that is solid and contributing to the relationship. That’s true with parenting probably even more.
Ron: You’ve been listening to my conversation with Gordon and Carri Taylor. I’m Ron Deal and this is FamilyLife Blended.
Of course, we can know who we are as long as we remain rooted in the Great I Am, the God who created us in His image. That’s where true peace comes from.
We’ll hear Carri’s response to that question about skills in just a minute.
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You know, Gordon and Carri said something that got me thinking. There’s more to that verse that we were talking about, Proverbs 17:6, that says, “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.”
Grandchildren do seem to be a crowning achievement, the joy that follows all the hard work of parenting. When fathers and mothers are genuinely connected to their children, when we love our kids with God’s grace and truth, we become their pride. They are blessed by our love and presence.
This verse is a comment, I think, on the circle of family life. All of the parts are connected. Each blesses and is blessed by the other. Each provides for and is proud of the other. We don’t always get every part of this family journey right. When a parent doesn’t fulfill their role, for example, grandparents sometimes have to step in, and the rest of us ought to support and celebrate them for doing so.
But whatever the circumstances, I think the takeaway here is family matters. The people God puts in our life are important, and we should strive to care for them the way God cares for us.
If you’d like more information about my guests, you can find it in the show notes, or you can just check it out on the FamilyLife Blended podcast page, FamilyLife.com/blendedpodcast. Carrie’s article that I referenced will be in the show notes, as well as the small group resources that I mentioned at the beginning of the podcast.
And here’s one more resource I’ll recommend, The Legacy Coalition. It’s an organization that encourages grandparents in their role and helps the church tap into the kingdom resource that is found in grandparents. Check that out in the show notes as well.
You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts, and you can listen on YouTube as well. Just go the FamilyLife Blended channel. And remember to look in the show notes for those links to additional resources and different things that we’ve mentioned.
If you’re not familiar with us, FamilyLife Blended is the leading resource ministry for stepfamilies around the world. Go to the show notes for links to learn more about us. We have all kinds of free content online, as well as books and resources for purchase. And we have a ministry map that you can find a ministry in your area or post information about your ministry so others can find you. That’s one of the things we like to do, is catalyze ministry; help others do this well.
Every year we have an event called the Summit on Stepfamily Ministry. Our next event is going to be October 1 and 2, 2020. This year it’s going to be a livestream event only, which is good news, so wherever you are, you can participate in this event. Let me encourage you to think about that, perhaps share this information with a ministry leader, a counselor or somebody who might be interested in attending themselves.
Now, before we’re done, let’s get Carri’s final thoughts about skills for grandparents and step grandparents.
Carri: The skills are going to come from learning. Again, I have to be open to learning in my life and then actually doing what I’ve learned. People can listen and learn a lot, and then they don’t do anything about it.
A little while ago I was thinking about God and stepfamilies. God is full of surprises as we walk with Him. I don’t care if we’re single, married, happy, sad, in a stepfamily, being a widow. It doesn’t matter. God is full of surprises in our life. We have a wonderful opportunity to work with Him in a stepfamily because it’s definitely going to be full of surprises.
Ron: Next time, I’m talking with Jessica Patterson about the all-too-common battle between Mom and Stepmom.
Jessica: In human nature, we tend to blame. But it’s not the other person that’s your problem. It’s your reactivity to that person that’s the problem. It’s your perception of the event.
Ron: That’s Jessica Patterson, next time on FamilyLife Blended.
I’m Ron Deal. Thanks for listening. Thanks to our FamilyLife Legacy Partners for making this podcast possible.
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