Blended Family Boot Camp
About the Guest
Take advantage of world class blended family coaching on day two of this blended family boot camp. Counselor Ron Deal breaks down the most common and vexing issues facing remarried couples, as he provides real solutions and keen insights into the complexities of remarriage.
Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
Counselor Ron Deal breaks down the most common and vexing issues facing remarried couples, as he provides real solutions and keen insights into the complexities of remarriage.
Blended Family Boot Camp
Bob: If somebody offered you a bowl of beef stew and you had your choice of stew that had been cooked in a crockpot or stew that had been prepared in a blender, which would you pick? Ron Deal says, when it comes to blending families, the crockpot may be the better way to go; but there will still be some challenges.
Ron: Lots of stepfamilies have a carrot. Everything else is softening very nicely. Everything else is beginning to come together; but you have a carrot who says, “I don’t think so!” It is what it is, and you can’t fool food. You can’t rush it / you can’t force it. You can’t demand it because as soon as you go back into blendering—high heat—it tends to work against you. Trust the crockpot! Don’t cook a stepfamily with a blender. Cook it with a crockpot.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, August 11th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
If blending your family has been challenging, maybe you need a new device or a new recipe. We’ll hear more from Ron Deal about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. Back for another day of the Ron Deal cooking program, as we’re hearing about putting away the blender and getting out the crockpot if you’re trying to cook a blended family. I mean, the whole point here is that a blender just chops everything to pieces. If you want it to work, you need something that’s going to involve a slow process of everything coming together.
Dennis: And realize it’s not going to happen immediately—that a blended family, because of how it was formed—and there’s—what’d we say? / 67 different ways it’s formed? Because of how it’s formed, it’s just going to take a lot of time, and prayer, and, I think, growth, spiritually, in both the husband and the wife.
That’s what Ron really challenges couples to do.
Bob: Well, here he is with Part Two of his workshop for blended families, recorded not long ago, in front of an audience of blended couples. Here’s Ron Deal.
Ron: Don’t cook a stepfamily with a blender / cook it with a crock pot. What’s different about crockpots? They’re slow! Do you ever come home, at the end of a workday, and go, “Let’s make something in the crockpot!”? No, you don’t! [Laughter] If you didn’t do it before you left for work, you ain’t having crockpot that night. You know what I’m saying?
It’s slow, and it works on low heat—a very different cooking method than anything else—very different than a blender, for sure—than an oven and a microwave—they are fast and high heat. This is slow and low heat. Low heat is: “Be intentional about building togetherness / about becoming family. Be intentional about it.” That’s low heat. You have to have some heat or it doesn’t cook; right? But the difference is it is low, as opposed to high-pressure heat that’s on my time / in my way.
That’s low heat—time is just time.
Patricia Papernow, in her research on stepfamilies, suggests it takes the average stepfamily between five and seven years to begin to answer the question, “Who are we to one another?” to find their family-ness, to find that sense of identity and define their relationships. That’s normal! If you just heard that, some of you just went: “Dear God! What does that mean [crying]?” At the same time, there’s some hope in that because, for some of you—you, who are going: “Man, I don’t know why it’s not going faster. I don’t know why it’s not working. Why are we still struggling with some of this stuff? Why do we still have this stress? Why does that kid not like…? Why do we do…? How come you and I…?” Part of it is—you’re still cooking, for crying out loud. You’re not supposed to be there yet. You’re more normal than you thought!
That’s the good news! But it does mean you have to continue to be intentional and be intentional in a smart way—not necessarily just in this chaotic, kind of push- it-all-together way.
So what are a couple of tools to help you be smart—that low-heat stuff? Patricia Papernow, again—really good stuff here—she talks about two ideas—compartmentalization and middle ground. Now, these are not the only two ideas; but they are pretty significant cooking strategies, I think.
Middle ground is: “What do you have in common? What do you like? What naturally brings you together?” Middle ground can be CSI on Thursday nights. Middle ground can be football on Sunday afternoons. Middle ground can be going to church, as a family unit. That’s a spiritual-thing, and you’re investing in that; but it’s also a family-ness cooking strategy. Whatever that natural connecting point is, you get really smart about doing it because that’s part of your low heat. Find your middle ground and be intentional to keep doing it. Trust the clock because you can’t rush the clock.
Compartmentalization is where you just admit: “Hey, ‘A’ and ‘B’ are not really coming together nicely. We’re not going to push them together anymore. We’re going to allow them their space.
“On occasion, I might go out with child ‘A’ because I’m trying to develop a relationship with him; but I’m not going to spend 24/7 with him because that’s too much, too high heat. I’m just going to be low heat. We’re going to spend a little time together, and then we’re going to back off. We’re going to compartmentalize. We’re going to give permission to our separateness.”
“But Ron, that means we’re not a family! [Sounding emotional] If we’re not a family, then I’m feeling guilty.” Yes; okay. You can wrestle with that guilt—just don’t let it control you because, if it controls you, then it’s going to push you back into blendering and then you’re blundering—you with me? Okay! But relax a little bit. That is the strangest prescription anybody—a lot of people go: “Oh! That just sounds so strange to me. We’re trying to come together and you’re telling us to relax.”
That’s exactly right. If you cook with a crockpot, you have to relax a little bit. It’s doing its thing—it’s just not fast. Do you trust the process? Let’s think about it. Let’s cook some stew. I want you guys to help me. What kind of ingredients are you throwing in your stew? [Audience response]
Tomatoes—onions—carrots—celery—potatoes—we got that? Beef, thank you very much—onions, and carrots, and potatoes, and beef, and broth, and pepper. We have to kick it up a notch. So you’re with me; right? We’re going to take these ingredients and put them in our crockpot. When you cook in a crockpot you just kind of dump it in; right? That’s called a wedding! [Laughter]
What you’ve done—is you have dropped them. As they happen to fall into the crockpot, on the day of the wedding—the beef, and the broth, and the carrots are all on one side because they are all biologically-connected to one another—they’re all insiders—they’re all tight. They have the same last name, the same blood line, the same DNA. Then, over here, on this side of the crockpot, we have celery and we’ve got—what’d I miss?—the pepper and the potatoes over here. They have the same DNA and same last name. They have the same bloodline, and history, and loss story, and everything that ties them together.
There they are. You put the lid on, you turn it on, and you walk away—it’s called a wedding. And here we begin to cook.
As it would be, those ingredients begin to soften over time. It usually takes a whole lot of time for that to even get some heat going. Then, you get a little momentum; and then, the ingredients begin to soften. Here’s the really strange thing about this—they soften on their own time. Carrots soften at a different pace than the potatoes, and the beef at a different pace than the broth. Everything is on its own time.
I was doing a seminar one time, and a couple came up to me at the break. She said: “You know what? I was talking to my husband. He’s a chef; and he was saying, ‘Ron’s exactly right about that crockpot thing. You can’t fool food.’” I looked at her and I said, “What does that mean? I have no idea what you’re talking about.” And she said, “You can’t make something cook faster than it’s going to cook.”
Well, as I like to call it, lots of stepfamilies have a carrot. Everything else is softening very nicely. Everything else—the couple has started this thing, and everything else is beginning to come together. But you have a carrot, who says, “I don’t think so!”
That carrot sometimes is an ex-spouse, who is just a thorn in your family flesh. Sometimes, that carrot is a teenager—just because. Sometimes, that carrot is a part-time child, who you get very little time with—they’re in for a weekend and then they’re gone. Time doesn’t really accumulate—you kind of start, and stop, and start, and stop, and start over. It’s a functional carrot—it’s not an attitude—it’s just time. It’s not working. You have a carrot.
Maybe, two or three different ingredients might be softening at a different pace. That can be frustrating because you’re going, “Look, we’ve got lots going here; but we’ve just got that thing there.” Yes, and it is what it is. You can’t fool food! You can’t rush it / you can’t force it. You can’t demand it because, as soon as you go back into blendering—high heat—it tends to work against you. Trust the crockpot!
Now, in that environment of crockpotting, there are still some barriers.
If we were to just kind of chart this, let’s talk about bonding in a stepfamily. In a first marriage situation, you have an individual who marries another individual; and they become a couple. Then, they have kids; and they become parents. They develop a relationship with those children.
Now, let’s just push “Pause” for a minute because this little equation here—number one, it is God’s design—and there’s a reason why it works best for adults and for kids. The first thing is—the individuals come together, and they form the foundation to the home—that is their couple-ness. That couple-ness precedes the children. So, the whole time the kids are growing up, there is this natural order to things—that kids just know mom and dad came first.
That does a whole lot to orient their world, as kids need. Number one, it says to them, “The world doesn’t revolve around you.” Every kid in the world needs to know that because, if they don’t know that, then, they feel like they should be the center, and they should be able to make demands, and everybody should be able to follow them.
The other thing this does for kids is it teaches them their place in the world: “You’re not the center. We’re the authority.” It sets up parenting to be successful. It’s just the natural order. The other thing I would point out about this is that, naturally, kids are just as invested in their parents’ marriage as the parents are. If you split up in this situation, the kids are fighting to get it back together again—that’s their world. Their security and safety is tied to that unity. So, they’re equally invested in the success of the marriage.
But what happens, after death or divorce, is that we’ve essentially lost couple-ness. The foundation has kind of been pulled away. I think the first thing we have to do is just be honest and admit that there has been a trauma to the family system—to the stability of the home. The foundation is gone. It’s not cracked—it’s gone! Now, the whole unit has to kind of reorganize around something.
First of all, that tragedy is hard—there’s a loss there. There’s just a sadness that runs deep.
If you’ve been there, you’ve experienced that. It runs deep in the kids. It’s a part of life, from here on forward. It’s a part of the story. So, there’s that—there’s that sorrow and grief to deal with. But then, there’s that reorienting around the relationships that are left. Usually, that reorients around the parent and the children; right? Kids, essentially, get promoted, in some ways, to being in a place of being more central in the family.
Now, let’s hang on to that because what happens, in the next season of life, is that we now add couple-ness on to the end of the equation. Immediately, you can begin to see how this begins to undercut a few things: Parenting—“Hey, you weren’t here. You ain’t my dad.” “You’re not my mom.” “I don’t have to do what you say. I was here first! As best as I can tell, my parent is more dedicated to me than they are to you—so get over yourself.”
Any time a kid has that sort of an argument in their hip pocket—Wow! Are you in a tight spot, as a stepparent; right?
It undercuts parenting. It also creates a difficulty for the biological parent—who has, obviously, fallen in love with somebody; and they’re bringing this person into their inner world. They are kind of saying to the family: “Look, they’re the foundation with me. They’re my partner.”
But to do that means that they have to change their relationship again with their children. What do you do if the kids push back? What do you do with that feeling of guilt? What do you do with that feeling of, “Ahh, man, I’m making life hard for them again,” and, “I didn’t want them to have a tough life”? You know how stressful it was for them to adjust to the death or the divorce; right? It takes kids longer to adjust to a new marriage than it did to the divorce. Let me say that again. It takes kids longer to adjust to their parent’s new marriage than it did to their parent’s divorce.
You see that and you want to keep peace and harmony and good things going in their life—not bad things, not stressful things, not the guilt-induced stuff—so there’s this great tug-of-war on you, biological parents, to bring your spouse into status and, at the same time, attend to your kids.
It makes this last thing a real challenge—and that is putting the couple relationship back where it’s supposed to be—putting it back into a place of priority so that you, as a couple, can lead, and guide, and direct the home. Now, this makes sense when we say it out loud; but the practicality of that is where the rubber meets the road. That’s where it really gets stressful. That’s where you bio parents feel that pinch.
I’m thinking of the guy who was sitting in a conference, just like this—raised his hand about now—and said, “Boy, I really don’t like what you’re saying.” I say: “Okay; great. Talk to me.” He goes: “No, no, no—I like what you’re saying. It’s just not my life, but I wish it was.” I said, “What do you mean?”
He said: “Okay. I’d never been married before. I didn’t have any kids when I met my wife. She was one of those large and in-charge moms, like you’ve been talking about.” He said, “She had three children.
“Boy, she had it going on—schedules/routines—she just kept it all going all the way through the single-parent years. She handled it masterfully. And here, we come together. Man! I just knew not to mess with Mom’s routine; right?—the style / the way she ran things.”
He said, “As a matter of fact, when they would get in a car, when she was a single-parent, she had this very elaborate system of determining who gets to ride in the front seat with Mom when they get in the car. It depended on whose turn it was, how far they were going, when was going to be the next go-round.” He said, “I was smart enough to know not to mess with that. So, I got in the back seat; and we went on with life.” [Laughter] Then, he looks at me and he says, “We’ve been married two-and-a-half years, and I still ride in the back seat of the car.”
Alright; so let’s talk through that for a minute; right? Something’s wrong in this scenario. We have to try to figure out how to elevate his status to a place of priority; right? And let’s just play it out a little bit. It’s Monday morning. They’re all riding in one car. They’re going to drop off at school, and work, and on, and on, and on. They walk out into the driveway, and stepdad—he is sick and tired of getting slapped in the face.
Stepdad says, “Hey, dude—backseat.” Now, my guess is any grown man can get a 10-year-old to ride in the backseat once because we all know where it’s going from here; don’t we?
I mean, let’s just play it out a little bit. What is Johnny going to do when he says, “Get in the backseat”? Little Johnny’s going to look at his stepdad and go, “Mommmmy!” He’s going to come up with some GASS; right?—G-A-S-S—guilt trip, anger, silent treatment, or sadness. These are the tools that kids use against us. His GASS is going to be about a three or a four [Whining sounds].
About that time, he spots Mom, walking out the front door. Immediately: “Mommmm!”—Here’s my savior. She’ll look after me. I know where I fit in this diagram—“Mom [whining sounds]!” Now, if Mom just happens to be one of those paralyzed biological parents, who is easily overcome by the guilt, then she’s probably going to go: “What, backseat? [Emotion in voice] Oh, my baby,” and look at her husband and say, “Okay, you’re the adult,” you know? “It is his turn—just one more time?”
Guys, talk to me! How’s the husband going to feel, in that moment, if that’s the answer he gets? [Audience response] Disrespected—what else? Belittled, angry, belittled, angry, disrespected. Is this helping their marital combination? So, the parental issue quickly becomes / always becomes a marital combination and thickens blood.
Okay; but let’s play it out. What if she’s not paralyzed? What if she’s going to embolden herself, as Mom, knowing that in this scenario—this is going to be heartbreak for her little Johnny. It’s not just heartbreak for Johnny—we’re changing the rules, for crying out loud. This is all they’ve ever known. Of course, he’s going to have GASS because he wants to ride in the front seat. That’s what kids do—shouldn’t be surprised by that.
But this is a rule change. This is a shifting of authority in the family. This is significant!
So, what’s going to happen if she finds the courage to go: “Ahhh, Dude! I’m sorry. It is your turn. Get in the back”? [Laughter] What’s going to happen? The GASS scale—the three just went to a nine point nine. He’s going to pull out his little trump card, “Dad wouldn’t make me do this!” The GASS goes up. He throws a fit, [sound effects] gets in the car, slams the door. And he gets out, at school, and he slams the door, and he stomps in.
What’s Mom’s heart feeling? Guilt, and sadness, and sorrow for this kid because she realizes this is another change he didn’t ask for. He didn’t ask for this! He didn’t ask for all those other changes—we back up / down the loss story—there’s been a whole lot of stuff he didn’t ask for. It’s another thing! She can feel sorry for him, but she cannot afford to be paralyzed by that sorrow.
What I would want her to do is look at Johnny and go, “Ahh,”—okay? I want her to do two things—compassion—and I want her to, then, set the behavioral limit.
Compassion: “You’re right. It’s your turn / it is your turn. I get it. I understand. However, I think it’s time we changed this rule. You need to ride in the back. He’s going to ride in the front. I’m thinking about letting him drive, but I don’t know—[Laughter] —one thing at a time.”
One of my favorite little hooks to give you, as a parent, when these change moments come is: “I get it. This is hard for you. If I were you, I wouldn’t like it either.” Say that to your kids—honestly, sincerely—compassion—“This is hard.” And by the way, all you stepparents, who are sitting over here going: “That shouldn’t be hard. You should just tell them, and they should just be happy to obey.” [Laughter] Come on! You’re not helping with that attitude. Be their companion in this change / not their critic.
But functionally—what it does is—it moves your relationship to the right place—to a powerful place that systematically, in the crockpot, then puts the stepparent into a place where they can actually be part of the parenting team; and your marriage strengthens the whole family. If you don’t do this—biological parents—if you don’t find that courage in those moments—it is the equivalent of unplugging the crockpot—no more heat / no more cooking. It’s hard! It’s risky! But there are rewards there.
Bob: We’ve been listening today to Part Two of a message from Ron Deal, talking about the successful strategies couples can employ to blend a family. It is hard, and it is risky; but blended families, who come together, find there is great joy there.
Dennis: And I was listening to Ron—and Bob, I just wanted to pound the table because I am so glad that God brought Ron to FamilyLife and allows us the privilege of helping to address a huge number of marriages and families, across this nation, that are really hungry to know: “How you make this thing called a blended family go the distance?” The blended family may have been caused by a death / may have been caused by divorce. The bottom line is the people who establish a new marriage and family don’t get married to fail.
Dennis: They get married to succeed, and they want to know how.
Bob: Well, that’s what Ron has been writing about and trying to help folks with for more than two decades. The books that he’s written / the resources he’s created are all designed to help couples in a blended family be successful. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and see some of the books Ron has written. He has a DVD series on The Smart Stepfamily / has a book by that same name—other resources that are available.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information. If you know couples in your church, who would benefit from a book like this, or somebody at work that you could pass this book along to—you might want to get this for them as a gift. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and look for information about The Smart Stepfamily from Ron Deal.
If this is something you have a heart for—helping blended families thrive—whether you’re a counselor, or a pastor, or just a lay couple who really want to see blended marriages and families succeed, we want to invite you to join us September 29 and 30 in Colorado Springs. We’re going to be on the campus of Focus on the Family®, together with our friends from Focus, hosting the 2016 Summit on Stepfamily Ministry™.
Ron Deal’s going to be there / Dennis and I will be there. Greg Smalley is there, representing Focus on the Family. We have other speakers coming in, and we’d love to have you join us. This is our fourth annual event. It’s already the biggest of these events that we’ve ever hosted—
—we have more people signed up to come than ever before. We’d love to have you be a part of the event. I should let you know that the special pricing that is currently available will be gone at the end of August. If you want to join us in Colorado Springs, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and look for information on The Summit on Stepfamily Ministry; or call with any questions you have at 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, congratulations are in order today for our friends, Chris and Mary Herndon. The Herndons are celebrating their 26th wedding anniversary. They got married on this day in 1990. Chris is one of the vice presidents, here at FamilyLife. Mary has helped give leadership to a number of events that we have hosted over the years. We appreciate the Herndons a lot.
We’re grateful that they have come to be a part of what God is doing here at the ministry.
Like the rest of us, they think anniversaries matter. We all believe that anniversaries are important. We think they are to be celebrated, and we want to thank those of you who join with us to help us provide the kind of practical biblical help and hope that FamilyLife seeks to provide every day so that more marriages will go the distance, more marriages will thrive, and more couples will celebrate more anniversaries. That’s what it’s all about.
If you’d like to help support this ministry, it’s easy to do. You can make a donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make your donation over the phone. Or mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223. If you’re able to help today with a donation of $100 or more, we’d be happy to send you, as a thank-you gift, a set of three Bible studies from our Art of Marriage® Connect Series that you can use with a small group or just use together as a couple.
Again, thanks for your support of this ministry, and be sure to ask for those Bible studies when you make your donation.
And we hope you can join us back tomorrow when we’re going to talk about the need for revival in our country. All revival begins in the same place—when God’s people pray. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth will be with us tomorrow. Hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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