94: The Honeymoon: Blended Families: 10 Years and Beyond
About the Guest
Are you in the early years of blending a family and you wonder if life will ever get easier? Listen to Ron Deal & Gayla Grace talk about the honeymoon season that follows hard relationship-building years and the rewards that come as familyness begins.
94: The Honeymoon: Blended Families: 10 Years and Beyond
Gil Stuart: For stepfamilies who are becoming seasoned, you're getting old and so are they. What do I say to those couples? Keep doing what you were doing. Don't stop. And if you back off and think, “Oh, I'm done,” you're going to miss their hearts at very critical times in their young adulthood, as well as the early parenting years of their own families.
Ron: This is FamilyLife Blended and I'm Ron Deal.
This is a donor supported podcast that helps blended families, and those who love them, pursue the relationships that matter most.
This episode is number 94 and we've called it The Honeymoon: Blended Families: 10 Years and Beyond.
Did you know, more and more virtual classes are popping up? Lisa wrote to us recently and said, “I'm looking for a virtual class. Can you point me in the right direction?” Why yes, we can, Lisa. We can do that. We have a searchable map that lets you post your small group event for free, by the way, and you can search for something in your community.
If you're looking for something and this searchable map includes virtual classes that you can tap into from anywhere. Now you might have to scan the entire list to find the virtual classes, but they are there. And by all means, if you start a virtual group, let us know about it. We'd love to have you post it as well on the map. There are directions on the map. It's pretty easy to do; just click the link in the show notes and you're there. I hope you find something.
You know, if you’ve read my book, The Smart Stepfamily, or you listen to this podcast pretty regularly, you’ve probably heard me talk about the integration process that blended families go through.
On average, it takes somewhere between five to seven years according to research. Some families take a little longer, some a little less, but what happens after the integration years are over? You know, after a decade of stepfamily living, for example, what can you expect? Well, that's the subject of this episode of FamilyLife Blended.
Gayla Grace is joining me in the studio again. She serves on staff with us here at FamilyLife®. She's a writer and a speaker and is the author of Stepparenting with Grace. She and her husband, Randy have a “his, hers, and ours” blended family since 1995.
Now, Gayla and I are going to be reacting to some comments, some recorded comments, wisdom from our previous guests that we've had on this podcast.
So let's just jump in.
Gayla, for years I've said that blended family couples have a honeymoon. It just comes at the end of the journey and not at the beginning. Can you relate to that? Has that happened for you and your family?
Gayla: Absolutely. Because when you marry, you have kids in your home already, so that doesn't feel like a honeymoon when you have kids there.
Ron: No honeymoon there. That's right.
Gayla: So it's almost like when you hit empty nest and the kids go away: “Oh, we can have a honeymoon now.” [Laughter]
Ron: Yes; yes. I'm empty nest. Nan and I are just on the cusp of the empty nest.
Gayla: It's great.
Ron: Just trying to scoot that last one just right out; it'll be okay.
For those of you that are listening that your kids are really young right now and you're going, “Boy, it's going to be a long time,” there's still a reward season that comes when the work of merging/of blending, if I could say it that way, it's more over than—you know, you're just beginning and then when you make some progress, that's when the rewards come for blended families.
Ron: Gayla, one of the reasons we talk about that and point that out for people is because it does feel like a lot of stress, a lot of work in the beginning. And I like to call those the integration years. Like this is where you're doing the emotional work of building familyness. And once you sort of top that crest, then there's lots of rewards, feels more like family, life gets a lot easier, you've got routines and rituals in place, and you sort of hit the plateau/the smoother parts of stepfamily living, right?
Gayla: Sometimes; but now, also remember it depends on what age your kids were when you entered. Because then they could be entering teenage years or young adult years and that comes with its own set of challenges also.
Ron: Good point. And so, you know, there's a message here. Nobody ever arrives. Like we're going to just keep moving forward and sometimes you loop back and sometimes stress comes back up and—
Ron: Yes. It's not just this straight line. It's more of a zigzag curve, [Laughter] two steps forward, one step back sort of a thing. But what we're saying here is that it gets easier after the first 10 years, let's say.
Gayla: It does.
Ron: When all the hard work has been done; for most families it gets easier.
Gayla: I agree.
Ron: So we're going to dedicate this episode to talking about the middle years, let's call it. You know, after the hard work is over/the integration is over; that's the point of this podcast. The middle years and beyond. Sorry, my inner Buzz Lightyear just took over right there.
So, here's what we've been doing all season. We've been asking our guests on our podcast to give us some bonus thoughts on the middle years, right. And specifically, the question I asked them was for those married eight years or longer, “What advice or perspective would you offer regarding the middle years, if you will, of stepfamily living? And we asked people who had been in a blended family for at least that amount of time or longer. We’re going to spend some time listening to their comments and then reacting to them.
Okay. Sound good?
Gayla: Sounds great.
Ron: Alright; let's jump in. Clip number one. This is Lauren Reitsema from Episode number 84, Relationship Essentials: Tools for Healthier Relationships. Lots of good practical ideas in that episode about just doing relationships/all kinds of tools for relationships. Let's listen to what Lauren had to say.
Lauren Reitsema: If you find yourself in those middle years—this season of where do we go? Where have we been?—I just would encourage you, this is not a linear process. It is not a step one, step two, step three process, but rather it's an experience of the human condition of connection. When you allow yourself the freedom to live in a more circular experience where you're maybe reliving some of those grief moments from early years in your blend, or maybe as a child, you're reflecting in one of your future milestones and wishing that your bio, mom and dad were actually there, that's okay.
When you can think about what's been in the past and where you are now, the missing link is the future, and you don't know that. But what we do know is that the future is certain to be full of hope and joy and restoration and redemption if we allow it to be. So keep your eyes fixed on future thinking but allow yourself the freedom to think back and to think present and to be okay with where you are at that very moment.
Ron: Gayla, it seems to me that we kind of hit on that just a few minutes ago. Like you were saying, well, sometimes your kids hit the teenage years and you feel like you're going backwards in your family progress. That's what Lauren's talking about here. It's not just a linear journey. It's circular and things are going to come back up, but that's okay.
Gayla: Right. Don't be afraid to reflect on the past and how the events of the past have impacted you as a family. And honestly, how those hard times have created family for you because of experiences/vacations that maybe weren't perfect, but that is part of your family legacy and reality, and part of what makes you a family. We definitely have had experiences like that in our own family.
Ron: Well, when you're going through those hard times, they're not fun.
Ron: But I totally agree with you. When you get past them, and with some passage of time, you can look back at those things—sometimes you can even laugh about it because you've come so far—and so that hard memory becomes almost, you know, something that speaks to who you are now. Like there's something good in it. I've said for years to my audiences when I do my Building a Successful Stepfamily seminar, you actually need the hard stuff because it is what helps to forge your identity as a family unit.
It's really hard in the moment to appreciate what this is doing for you, because it's just so difficult. But it really is a good thing because you discover who you can't be. You discover the wrong way to go about doing some things so that you can eventually discover the right way to go about doing certain things. And all of that is building memory and building family identity.
Gayla: And also, I think it helps you to realize “Man, we have invested so much in this family.” And almost you can just pat yourself on the back and say, “And look where we are today. Yay us. And yay God for how He has brought us out of maybe a wilderness season and shown Himself in ways that we would not have seen otherwise”.
And I do know that we have experienced that in our own family and can give credit to God for things that He did, relationships that He redeemed, that we can now celebrate.
Ron: Yes, that's really good stuff. You know, this reminds me, I was listening back to one of our episodes, number 56 on Adult Stepfamilies; that is when the children are young adults or you know, maybe nearing adulthood when the couple gets married. It was really cool at the end of that episode Carol Moss—I was interviewing Terry and Carol Moss and two of their adult children. Nina is Carol's daughter and Brandon was Terry's son.
All four of us were reflecting on their journey as a blended family. Okay. What did the kids think as adults? And what did the parents think? And towards the end of the episode, Carol made the observation, she said, “You know, this conversation that we're having to create this podcast is making us talk about some things we haven't talked about in 14 years.”
Ron: Terry and Carol have been married for 14 years and Nina asked a question about/to her stepbrother, Brandon, “How did you feel at the wedding? Like you weren't there; physically you weren't there. You couldn't attend. You didn't boycott it; you just couldn't attend. I've always wondered what that meant for you.” So, 14 years later, she's asking her stepbrother “What did this all mean to you?” And he had an opportunity to reflect on that and give it his answer and say, “This is what was going on.”
She's been walking around with this question kind of over her head, not knowing what the answer was. Our point in what Lauren is saying is that sometimes don't be afraid to revisit the past, to go back to it and say, “What was that about? Help me, take me inside your world at this moment in our past.” That's going to help shed some light on who you are and who we are. And, you know, maybe we can answer a few questions for one another, which helps us take another step as a family.
Gayla: Right? Exactly.
Let's listen to another one. Okay, so clip number two is Jere and Laurie Short. They were on Episode number 60: Grace-filled Stepparenting, and lots of good things in this one. Let's take a listen.
Jere Short: I think some of the rhythms that we have in our relationship that have really carried us is to keep doing them. I mean, we're doing things now that we did when he was six years old and we're still doing them at seventeen.
We still bring him in to our bedroom when everybody's going to bed and we all three lay there and I say prayers. We actually started this one little ritual of at the end of the prayer Jordan says, “Yes,” Laurie says “we,” and I say “do,” and then we all go “Yahoo.” And it/Jordan came up with this years ago and we still do it. Seventeen, almost eighteen years old, he's laying in our bed saying “Wahoo.” So just keep the traditions.
Laurie Short: He says it like that, exactly like that. “Wahoo.”
Jere Short: Yes, wahoo. It changed over the years. It used to be “Wahoo;” not so much anymore.
Laurie Short: We got that out of The Storybook Bible because amen is yes, yes, yes. And so, we changed it to, “Yes, we do” and all three of us would take a role and it just stuck.
Jere Short: To the point where when Laurie's out of town and Jordan and I would pray, he would say ‘Yes.” We would both look at each other and say “we,” and then I would say “do, wahoo.” [Laughter]
Laurie Short: And there's one other thing that we have that we've been doing ever since he was the littlest little, and that is a Disneyland bowl that at this point has been glued together. It's his plastic bowl, and he eats fruit from it every night. He still will bring it to me to wash it. He goes, “I'm taking this to college. I just want you to know.”
And that is the beauty about traditions is that you don't even know what they're doing to the child. I know that these things that we do that are so silly are living in his heart.
Ron: Gayla, I imagine if somebody peered in on some of the rituals that we do at our house, they would think they're pretty silly. [Laughter] Every one of us is probably going, “Yes. We got this one weird thing that we do, but it is so meaningful to us,” and that's the point. Traditions tell you in part who you are,—
Ron: —who you belong to, and what meaning you have in their life and what meaning they have in yours. This is not about a bowl. This is not about a “what you say at the end of the prayer.” It's about something we have developed together that has meaning for us. It's part of our familyness, and those things really matter.
Gayla: Right; and it's that sense of belonging, which I think we all are looking for, but particularly in blended families. Where do we belong here? What's our place? And traditions is what gosh, in this story certainly gave their son opportunity to feel that this provides belonging for me. And so, they've continued it.
The other thing I would add is, it's never too late to develop new traditions. I know this is confusing for blended families sometimes when you come together and you're trying to figure out, “Well, do I keep all these traditions that they did in their previous family?” That can be awkward.
So it's always helpful, even eight years in or longer as the kids get older and maybe they begin to feel that some of these traditions don't fit anymore, then you can develop new ones. When my girls really got interested in baking, then we started at the holidays baking holiday goodies together. And so that was one that just developed later in our married life.
So always looking for opportunities of new ways you can do traditions.
Ron: Okay, let's move on to another clip. This is Gil Stuart. I interviewed him for Episode number 83 called Unsung Heroes. And I'll just add, great, great episode about a new video series that Gil has produced specifically for stepdads. So for the men out there, that's really a good one. Okay, let's hear what he had to say about the middle years.
Gil Stuart: For stepfamilies who are becoming seasoned— [Laughter] Seasoned stepfamilies actually are on an accelerated basis because those first two years, they/they're tough. And even if you're doing all the right things, you might find bonding and connection in those first four to six to seven years. That's statistically, what it takes is the first seven years are integration.
And even if you're doing everything right, it can still have a lot of bumps. Let's say you've made it past that time and the kids now, maybe they were fairly young, or they were preteen or teenagers, and now they're moving into their teens and twenties and thirties, you're getting old and so are they. What do I say to those couples?
Keep doing what you were doing. Don't stop. Because not only—maybe now you are an empty nester. Those children are now entering into their, you know, early adulthood and maybe beginning to raise their own families. There are going to be experiences that they are going to bump up against that's going to bump the wounds they got when their parents broke up.
They are in maybe not the red zone, but there's some things that may trigger in their heart of like, “Oh, wow. What was this like when my parents were at this age? This was a critical age, and I was this age when, ‘Oh’” and it sets stuff off in them. And if you're still doing the same thing of integration, now, you're not doing integration. You're actually basically reinforcing their bonds/their ability to trust in their own lives because they've matured. They're in a different perspective.
We hope they've matured and have a different perspective and grown. Some of them haven't because they maybe got emotionally frozen and if you quit and back off, you're going to miss their hearts at very critical times in their young adulthood, as well as the early parenting years of their own families.
Or maybe they remain single. And if they remain single, your opportunity to continue to parent an adult child is still there; it's just different. And if you back off and think, “Oh, I'm done,” think again. Because you're a parent till the day you die and your influence is different, but it still has/it has power. Don't forget that love has a lot of power and the more experience you gain, pass it on.
I think that's the thought that I would say to parents that are in the blended family world, that when you're at year 10, you know, 15—I'm coming up on 20. I'm still pursuing my kids and my step kid’s hearts; it's just different. And you know, I'm not giving advice that I'm not asked for.
I think the last little thing I'll throw in here and then land the plane as I call it, is this. You know, unasked for advice is not a good thing with adult children. And so, Brenda and I have a little code word between the two of us if we start to kind of go into that, “Hey, I've some advice to give you which has not been solicited or asked for.” We look at each other and kind of wink and go, “Hey, do you need some rhubarb pie?” Which means shut up and shut up now because that kid didn't ask you for any advice.
But when they ask, be there. Because you can say things that they need to hear at age appropriate as they now are parents and they're bumping into things that they will remember from their childhood, because everything that took place in their childhood is still within them. You still can parent and answer questions to them now that they didn't even know they needed to ask. You are loving well all the way through.
Gayla: There is so much truth in what he was saying. Especially the part about their wounds can get bumped as adults. As they enter new places, as they mature, they want to go back and process things that happened to them in younger years that they didn't have the emotional capability to process.
Then they begin to ask questions that we can answer at a deeper level. And also, where he said our influence has power in these later years because they trust us at a deeper level after we've been through eight or ten years together as a family. And we can have more influence during that timeframe.
Ron: Hmm, man. I totally agree with you. I think all of us as parents get a little less dumb as our children age. [Laughter] In other words, their perspective about us changes and they begin to see, “Wow, they did the best they could,” and “Oh, life is hard. Here I am trying to make it on my own and do life myself and start my own family.” Or whatever that is, you know, we get a little less dumb.
I think as parents, we want to hang around for that. We want to be close enough to laugh at our children. [Laughter] No, I mean, to support them in those moments. That's what I meant to say, Gayla; support them in those moments because they still need us. It's absolutely right.
Gayla: —at a different way. You know, that's what Gil says. We parent differently. We don't do the same thing as they get older, but they still need our influence and our wisdom that comes with all of our years of life that we have.
Ron: Yes. I think what is fundamentally different is, for stepparents in particular, in the beginning, you are earning your respect. You're earning whatever level of trust that the child will give to you. You are finding your place in their heart and it's all ambiguous. It's all uncertain for you and for them, and it's delicate territory. You walk it the best you can. You step on and crack a few eggs, but you live and learn, and you get a little better at it and eventually you bond and form a relationship, most of the time with most children.
Ron: By the time you get to the middle years, you've got the trust/you've earned that respect. Now, when you speak/now, when you show care, concern, or raise a question, there’s much more of an immediate openness to what you're trying to say. So you're not trying to, you know, figure out how to walk into their life. The door is open because you've done all the hard work. By all means, take advantage of that opportunity and continue to be an influence.
Gayla: Right. And as you said, I think for stepparents in particular, there are some great rewards that come after those integration years, after you've done all that hard work, and you've earned their trust and you can have a relationship at a level that you just didn't have before.
Okay; our last clip, number four, Charlene Roberts. We interviewed her on Episode 80, From Toxic Competitors to Business Partners, which is a great episode. She has some good things to say in this next clip.
Charlene Roberts: We were slow learners. We were slow learners. I would say, you know, not for lack of trying, but we were trying to educate ourselves in ways/traditional ways. I think when you're in a blended family situation and dynamic, it is not the same. And we really lack the education and the understanding to what a stepfamily truly was. When we started finally reading some of your books, Ron. We/I let/I read—The Smart Stepmom was the first book that I read, and I was just baffled to see and understand that I was not alone.
I felt so alone as a stepmom in my stepmom journey and in my stepfamily dynamic. It was painful sometimes to just feel that loneliness and isolation. And when I was able to start reading these books, it just opened my world to such a better—I felt so loved and so understood that I was not alone. I always, always advise to couples and families that are in stepfamily dynamics to educate yourself, read some books, get with a coach, someone that really understands stepfamily dynamics. It will change your world.
Gayla: You know what I hear her saying, Ron, was something that Randy has said about us often is that we were remedial blenders. So in other words, it took us longer than average for our relationships to blend. What I hear Charlene saying is we were slow learners. We/our integration process might have taken longer but that's okay. Don't blame yourself for it; just embrace where you're at today and keep moving forward. And I love that; her transparency on that.
Ron: Yes, really good. You know, as she was talking, I was thinking I've heard so many times through the years, “Ron, where were you 10 years ago when we started our family?” —"25 years ago?” I heard it just this past week. Somebody said, “Where were you 30 years ago when we were just getting started? Well, you know, hey, I recognize you just didn't know stuff was there and available and that happens to all of us about life. You didn't know what you didn't know.
And of course, you did as well as you could have given what you did know. So you have a little regret. Okay. The Lord's brought you here; start learning now. Don't feel so bad about the past or whatever that you get frozen in it; you know, just say, “Okay, but here's where we are.”
Ron: And His grace is here and we're going to take full advantage of the opportunities that we have available to us and we're just going to continue to go forward. Now, you might need to go back and ask for forgiveness or grant some forgiveness to someone because of what you didn't know, what they didn't know. But right now, today, trust God to rebuild and restore and redeem.
I got one last thought. Okay. Redeem in part, I think is about taking what God has given us and moving it forward, expanding the kingdom out. Charlene, oddly enough, is doing that now. She felt like they got a slow start. but today she and her husband have started The Stepfamily Network, which is an online portal where people can get training and help and hope, and they're paying it forward. They're expanding the kingdom through their efforts.
So no matter where you are in your personal journey, there's somebody else in your world who's a little behind you—
Ron: —and you have the opportunity to influence them in a positive way.
Gayla: Absolutely. Even if you didn't do everything perfectly, that's what transparency does. It allows other people to understand, “Oh, maybe I am normal. Gosh, listen to what Gayla's telling me that they've walked through.” It can have huge impacts for people.
Ron: Okay, so we started this episode with me asking you about, you know, the honeymoon at the end of the journey, and you guys have experienced. We've listened to some clips. Do you have any other thoughts that you would share with our listeners today about the middle years?
Gayla: Yes. You know, the other thing I would say is, I don't think we ever want to get complacent in relationship building. Yes, it does get easier, and we might tend to get a little lazy in our relationship skills, but I don't think we ever want to stop growing and stop pursuing a stronger relationship with one another, and with the Lord. Because as our spiritual life grows, it can impact our family relationships in huge ways, in more positive ways. So, you know, we never want to just hit the cruise control and think that “Oh, we've made it,” because you don't know what's around the corner.
Ron: Hmm, that is so, so good. And I think the only thing I would add to the conversation is, you know, what are we called to do? What does Micah say? Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. I just want to encourage people no matter what season of life you're in let that be a focal point. Keep walking humbly with God, because here's the thing. He promises to provide wisdom. And sometimes that wisdom comes from big mistakes, right? Live and learn.
Sometimes that wisdom just comes through the Spirit who gives you the right answer when you needed it. And it helps you move forward in life. All relationships are helping to teach us and train us and help us to love more completely like Jesus has loved us.
So walking with God is about that continued journey. And when you do that in front of your kids—kind of back to what Gil Stuart was saying—they're still watching; we still have influence; they're still learning.
I know in, in our personal life, Nan and I have tried to live our growth and what God is teaching us in life, in front of our children. And in sharing that and in displaying that in ways even if it often means me having to talk out loud about something that I'm struggling with/something that's a part of me that is unbecoming of a follower of Christ—and I'm working on those things in front of my kids and I'm watching them as adults absorb it—I know it has influence in their life. I know that when they see me outward in my focus about my relationship with God and wanting to improve that, it invites them to do the same.
So it's genuine and authentic on my part. I'm not trying to manipulate them indirectly. I just know it will have influence in their life. It will continue to help them adult—
Ron: —grow up.
Ron: I'm growing up. And so, I just want to do that with them no matter where we are in our family journey.
Gayla: I agree. Really, I think you just echoed what I had said also, and just gave an example of, of exactly how you're doing that, Ron, and how beneficial that can be for our kids. They are constantly still watching us, and even more so as adults, as they're trying to figure out how to adult themselves.
Ron: You've been listening to FamilyLife Blended. I'm Ron Deal. I sure hope this podcast has been helpful for you. And if it has, let me remind you that this podcast is donor supported. And if you want to join many of our listeners who show their gratitude by making a one-time or monthly donation to FamilyLife Blended, you certainly can.
Let me just tell you, you have a great opportunity. This is the best time to do that because we are actually under a matching gift deadline that ends very soon on September 16th. That is National Stepfamily Day and it's the close of our matching gift from a generous donor. For every dollar you give, they will double it up to the matching limit. Five dollars becomes ten; fifty dollars becomes a hundred. It's still a lot cheaper than therapy, folks, bottom line. This is the best time to give. Look in the show notes. It will tell you how.
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We've got books for blended families. Like the book, The Smart Stepfamily Guide to Financial Planning and Building Love Together in Blended Families. Check us out; the show notes will tell you how. While you're there, you might notice that our two-day in-person equipping event called the Summit on Stepfamily Ministry is coming up next month. Now, this is for leaders and pastors and counselors, but it's also for couples who just want to help other blended family couples in their church or community. It really is the premier ministry training event for blended families.
We're going to be in the Phoenix area this year, October 13 and 14, 2022. Now, let me just remind you this is an in-person event only. It is not live streamed, so you’ve got to show up. We'd love to see you. Go to SummitonStepfamilies.com for all the details.
Next time, we're going to hear from Ginger Hubbard about what good parenting looks like.
That's Ginger Hubbard next time on FamilyLife Blended.
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