Ron Deal: Well-Blended: Stepfamilies, Loss, and Healing Together
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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
Stepfamilies can’t happen without loss. Author and counselor Ron Deal talks about how to engage kids in blended families and start healing together.
Ron Deal: Well-Blended: Stepfamilies, Loss, and Healing Together
Ann: You were six when your parents got divorced.
Dave: Oh, you want to go back there?
Ann: Yes, I do.
Ann: Then, you were 13—
Ann: —when your dad got remarried, and you entered into a blended family. What were some of your first memories of that?
Dave: Well, I’ve shared it here before. My first memory was I met my stepmom on a trip to Europe with my dad and my stepmom. He was an airline pilot—it was sort of cool—we could fly free around the world. We went to Europe and Italy, and I did not know it until years later; it was their honeymoon.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife—
I did not know it until years later; it was their honeymoon. So the first night, they give me a hotel room across the hall from them. You know, we are in another country—I’m 13 years old—I’m scared to death. I go over, and knock on the door, and sleep on their floor in their bedroom; because I was so scared,—
Ann: —on their honeymoon, you mean.
Dave: —not knowing this is their honeymoon night.
I mean, can you imagine? I mean, they never said anything, like, “You can’t do this.” It was just like, “Oh, yes; come on in”; but that is my first memory. I didn’t even know it at the time: I am stepping into a whole new reality. I had no idea—I don’t think any of us did—I don’t think my dad did or my stepmom.
Ann: I don’t/I’m sure most people are [unaware]; it’s new.
Dave: Yes; it’s like: “We are now in a new reality,” and “How do we navigate that?” Every family is that way—we were that way when we got married—but if you think about a blended family or a stepfamily, man oh man—
Ann: —it just gets a little more complicated.
Dave: —it’s complicated; so they need help.
We’ve got help in the studio with us today. We’ve got Ron Deal, who directs our blended ministry, here at FamilyLife. Welcome back to FamilyLife Today, Ron.
Ron: Hey, thanks, guys.
Dave: Talk about: “How do you help families who are blended?” It’s a new reality. What does that look like?
Ron: Yes; well, let’s talk about that. I also want to let people know—like you said—we do have so many resources now. I’m so proud of FamilyLife. For the last ten years that I’ve been here, we’ve been creating all kinds of resources. We’ve got podcasts—the FamilyLife Blended® podcast—we’ve got ten or twelve books that are available, just through our ministry; we’ve got video series—we’ve got eight small group series now—and we’re talking today about this new online course, offered by FamilyLife, along with a number of other courses we have.
The one we are talking about is Well-Blended. It’s a collection we’ve kind of pulled from events that we’ve done, and podcasts that we’ve produced, and different things; and we put it all together in a very structured way. Through your computer, sitting at home at your pace and your convenience, you can move through this course. It’s just really been fun putting this together and making it available.
Dave: Well, let’s talk a little bit about what is in the course. I know, yesterday, we talked about—you know, you took my Beatles song [singing], All You Need Is Love—and you said, “Nope! You need more than that; you need faithfulness and trust.”
Dave: What else is loaded in this course?
Ron: One of the things we talk about in Well-Blended is the journey of finding family unity—connecting relationships/building those—and some of the challenges that happen along the way.
Our listeners may know that, every year in the spring, we put on a live event that is also a livestream event. It’s sent all over the world, and you can participate from wherever you live. It’s called Blended & Blessed®. Each one of those, over the last five years, has been collected and is available online, as well, as a small group study/something you can go through as a couple. Then we do a new event, with new speakers and a new theme, every year.
Well, in 2018, our Blended & Blessed event, we had a panel discussion. We’re going to hear a couple of clips today that are in the Well-Blended online course that came out of that panel discussion. The first couple you are going to hear is Andy and Heather. They are talking about some of the challenges that they faced building family unity. Let’s listen.
[Audio from Well-Blended Online Course]
Heather: Andy and I—we’ve been married almost 11 years—and we were blessed to have a stepfamily ministry at the church we were attending at the time. We went through the class, and we read Ron’s book. We thought that was going to be our map; but as we would leave class, we would talk. We would be like: “Those poor suckers! We love each other, and we love God. We are not going to have problems like those people,”—right?—“Our kids get along; we go to the park. This is going to be great.”
Andy’s ex-wife—when she left him, she left the family—so they’re/his girls haven’t seen their mom in over 13 years. I’ve never met her. I considered myself a good mom/a good single mom. I thought, “Wow! I am going to go in; I am going to love these girls. I am going to be their mom, and this is going to be great.” I grew up watching The Brady Bunch. I naively thought,—
Ron: “That’s going to be us!”
Heather: —“That’s going to be us!”
Then, we got married; and everything changed. I tried to force the dream in my head—because the dream in my head was a good dream—it was kids getting along; it was a husband and wife, walking with God and serving God. But I forgot about the loss. A couple years in—it dawned on me that a stepfamily is founded on loss—a stepfamily cannot occur without a death, divorce, or un-partnering occurring.
While remarrying and meeting Andy—the first godly man in my life—was a second chance at love. I felt like God was giving me what I deserved; because I forgave my ex-husband, I was walking with Him. I was getting what I deserved. But I forgot that, even though the remarriage is a second chance at love for him and I, it’s a permanent reminder to our kids that their mom and dad will never be together again. What was started in love was a reminder of loss.
Andy: Things can be moving along well—and it will catch you by surprise—because it’s been going in a good direction. I think, at times, the marriage actually cements the reality of the situation for people; that’s when it really starts to set in. I think it was said earlier today, too: when you move in, you’re sharing a house and a bathroom now with, maybe, somebody you don’t like; right?
Andy: So for us, the reality—coming back from the honeymoon; right?—you come back; you find out: “Okay, the six kids have been fighting,” “The step-dog has peed on the rug,”—[Laughter]—you know, the whole deal; right?—it’s like—
Ron: That’s a metaphor!
Andy: —the sky is falling. I’m glad we had those 48 hours together. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes, I’ve actually never thought about the step-dog. [Laughter]
Ann: Honestly, I—what they talked about is so wise—because I wouldn’t think about, as a stepmom coming in, the loss. The kids are experiencing incredible loss. It’s important to be there, and sit there, and to really realize what they have gone through. That would be hard, as a stepparent coming in, when you are super-excited.
Ron: Exactly. Ann, just imagine—you are excited to spend time with Dave, hold his hand, and kiss him on the cheek, or smack him on the lips, or whatever—and in that moment, when you are giving him a big old kiss, it sort of dawns on you: “Oh, wait a minute! His kids are watching; my kids are watching. This is evidence that Mom and Dad are never going to get back together again.”
Ron: How divided would you feel in that moment? Like there is a part of you that wants to move toward your husband and enjoy that; but at the same time, you’re maybe feeling a little guilty about it. How odd is that dynamic? That’s one of those push/pull dynamics that is fairly common in blended families, especially in the early years. It makes people just sort of think twice: “Do I kiss him?” “Do I hold his hand?” “Do I show that affection in front of the children; or is that, somehow, creating some angst for them?”
Dave: Honestly, I never even thought about it—as a stepson to my stepmom—she probably was thinking that: “Is this going to be a trigger?”—for your son, stepson, or daughter.
Ann: —especially when you’re so loyal to your mom.
Ron: So Dave, I would kind of kick it back to you. It may not have been your experience—but I’m curious—when you saw affection between your dad and your stepmom, did you ever feel a little strange about that?
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Ron Deal on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear Ron’s response in just a sec; but first, let’s face it: blending a family can be kind of complicated; but a little help can really go a long way. That’s why I’m so glad we’ve got Ron’s new online course, Well-Blended. It’s available now at FamilyLifeToday.com.
FamilyLife Blended® is an incredible ministry, and they’ve been guiding stepfamilies for years. So now, they’ve pulled practical biblical solutions for blending a family and a marriage into a five-session online course for couples in blended families. If that’s for you, or you know a couple who would benefit from that, be sure to check out Well-Blended by going to FamilyLifeToday.com.
Alright; now, back to Dave, and what it felt like, as a kid, when his dad and stepmom showed affection for each other.
Dave: I can see it right now in my mind’s eye—I mean, this is 50 years ago on a boat on a lake, with my dad and my stepmom, and seeing them kiss as I was getting on the skis behind the boat—I mean, that’s how, you know, real the visual is in my mind—and thinking, “That is so weird.” I don’t remember seeing my mom and dad kiss; I do remember seeing my stepmom and dad kiss.
Ann: What did you feel?
Dave: It felt funny at first: “Oh, they like each other.” They have a romance in their life that I don’t think my mom and dad—at least, I didn’t see that—because I was seeing the loss/the end of—
Dave: —something that now has been rebirthed in a new relationship. It felt a little weird to me, like: “Am I supposed to celebrate this?” or “Am I mad about this?”
Ron: So you can imagine, if your dad and stepmom happened to catch your face in that moment,—
Ron: —instead of a big smile: “Mom and Dad love each other,”—it was maybe a question mark—
Ron: —on your face/sort of a: “Huh? I’m not sure where to put this. How do I think about this?” That’s that push/pull moment, where we have different levels of motivation towards being family. You, as a child even, have a different level of motivation towards the happiness of their marriage.
Ron: It’s just an odd little circumstance.
Now, for somebody listening right now, who is in a blended family, they are thinking: “Great! What do we do about that? How do we fix how our kids feel about us being in love with each other?”
Well, obviously, you don’t fix that on your timing; but what you can do is be sensitive to it/be aware of it. I can imagine somebody even turning, where they catch a child’s reaction, and just saying it out loud: “You know, right then, I was kissing your mom. I kind of think maybe you felt a little strange about that. You know what? It’s okay. Kids in blended families often experience that. I’m just curious: ‘What were you feeling?’”
Then, you open the door to a conversation that is—perhaps about loss; perhaps about: “Oh, I don’t know. I just sort of feel weird. I’m not sure what to do with this. I like you…”—you can have those sort of candid conversations with somebody. You’re creating avenues for trust to be built. You are showing yourself to be someone, who is not freaked out or skittish by a kid’s reaction to you kissing your partner, and the child and you can talk about this.
Ann: I love that, Ron; because I’m imagining many stepparents, coming in, could feel rejection. When they feel rejection from the children, then they pull away.
Ron: —take it personally.
Ann: Yes, they take it personally; and then there is strain in the relationships.
So just having that conversation—and if the kids are making a face or they are not happy about it—you can say to yourself: “This isn’t necessarily about [me]. They are struggling with their own things.” I think that’s really good, though, to bring it out in the open and to talk about it.
Dave: Now, is that something you sort of cover in the online course to help?
Ron: It is, as a matter of fact. In fact, we got another clip, Dave: perfect lead in. So in this Well-Blended course—in this panel discussion with Andy and Heather—we also had another couple, Stanley and Myrna. Let’s listen to them talk about/because they felt that push/pull in their family too.
[Audio from Well-Blended Online Course]
Stanley: Well, I think one of the things that you maybe kind of eluded to is you have to be persistent, and consistent, and intentional in trying to bring together. Because we came together because we fell in love; the kids kind of came along as part of the package deal. You know, they did not really have a big voice in that: “So what do you do to, along the way, bring everybody together?”
One of the things we did in our family is to really be intentional; because our kids were older, you know, so it wasn’t—some families/what they’ll do is they will go on family vacations together. When they are small, you can bring the kids along; but when they are older and on their own, they don’t initially have to follow your lead there.
Ron: Good point.
Stanley: But one of the things we do is have a family dinner every—once a month there—so intentional way for us to bring together. Sometimes, everybody shows up; sometimes, maybe one or two of the kids show up there. It’s just a time for relaxing and bonding and, basically, trying to build those connection points.
Ron: I’m hearing there—we call those rituals/points of connection—“We’re going to keep doing this. This is part of the new us. We’re just going to keep doing that.” I’m also hearing, “once a month.” That’s not very often; it’s hard to make progress, I would think; yes?
Ron: So was it slow going, and how did you be okay with it being slow going?
Stanley: Like I said, when the kids are older like that, you have to kind of—not try to force anything—you want to be intentional but also not force anything. So therefore, you want to make it available, and try to make it so that they can come. Because you try to do something once a week, and they are off living their own life; it is going to be really tough for them to do that.
Ron: How about you guys?—Hetchlers—do you guys have any rituals that you built along the way, even if by accident, that have been helpful?
Heather: You know, it’s interesting; because I came in with a lot of rituals and traditions with my kids, and Andy did not. My kids were protective; they didn’t really want to share some of those rituals with their step-siblings. So we ended up—I think that’s one of the things that we really tried to be flexible and intentional—so we’ve kind of created a lot of different traditions in our family.
The one thing that we’ve had to let go of is that holidays are when you are together, not just a date on the calendar. So for Thanksgiving, we don’t have the kids most Thanksgivings; so we do turkey bowling. Now, we go—we know during just the week/of that last week in Thanksgiving—we pick a day; and we go bowling with the kids. The first couple of years, they complained; and they didn’t want to go. Now: “Are we going?” “What day are we going? I want to make sure I schedule it.” They look forward to it.
We do some things for their birthdays that are special. We’ve just tried to learn—holidays are just difficult, especially when you have a child, who is missing another parent, whether they are deceased or they are just not in their life—so we’re very sensitive.
We invented this thing called Daughter’s Day for Mother’s Day, because my kids wanted to celebrate me; but my stepdaughters have a really hard time every Mother’s Day, because their mom is not there. I never want to force them to celebrate me as their mom; but now, ten years in, they do recognize me; but we just celebrate all the women in our house. So Mother’s Day, Andy celebrates all the women in the house. We just do the flip on Father’s Day: we do Son’s Day, so we celebrate all of our sons. We make it more about the people than the role; we’ve just learned to have to be flexible on that.
Dave: Wow; as I hear that, I’m triggered.
Ann: Really?! In what way?
Dave: It was weird. I had a couple thoughts—one was—and you know this, Ann—I would get on a plane on Christmas morning every year to fly from Ohio, where my mom and I live, to see my dad; it was a ritual. Again, I could fly free. I remember, back in those days—we’re talking the ‘60s—nobody is on the plane; there is nobody flying. It was me and some flight attendants. They took care of me, because they felt sorry for me. I remember I really hated it, because I went from a white Christmas in Ohio to palm trees. I didn’t like palm trees for Christmas.
But I do also—Ron, when I was listening to that—I also remember, when I would go down at 14 and 15 years old—now, I had a stepmom; and she understood what I was going through. She made it good. I remember she—
Ann: Did she create new traditions?
Dave: Yes, she was full of joy. She had Christmas presents for me. We never talked about it; but I know now that she saw, “Man, this poor kid—it’s Christmas Day—and he has to travel from his mom to his stepmom and his dad. I’m going to make it a good memory.”
It became a good memory; but again, so many families don’t even know how to navigate that whole thing. That is what this is—this is what you’re talking about—right?
Ann: Well, I thought, Dave, too, it was really helpful to listen to the panel, just to get ideas, like, “Oh, that’s a good idea!”
Ron: Yes; I love the creativity that they came up with—and love that your stepmom, Dave, did the same thing—she found a way. She saw the need; she had some compassion for this transition that you were forced into making on Christmas Day, of all days!
Dave: Yes; even as I was listening to her, Ron, I’m thinking, “There are blended families who have never had this conversation until right now.” They just heard it on this broadcast. They are going to get the online course; and it is going to force them to go: “Hey, there is something we need to talk about—
Dave: —“that we have never talked about.” How valuable this can be for a blended family.
Ron: I love to think about building little points of connection for people. Sometimes, when the people hear it—somebody is listening to us right now—and they are realizing: “Oh, we have a tradition; I just never thought of it in that way, and it happens every Sunday night,”—blah, blah, blah; whatever it is—“It happens every Thursday when we pick up the kids from school,” or “Maybe, it is every other week, when the kids come back from the other house, we always go get ice cream.”
Yes, those are important points of connection. They begin to help children switch from one home to the next; and it’s a reminder that: “Okay, I’m with these people; and this is how life works in this home,” and “These people care for me.” Yes, don’t underestimate the power of those little moments to help further your family.
Now, a couple of things that I just had to comment on, based on what we just heard—remember Heather’s comment—“The kids complained at first”? “We held onto some of our old traditions that were single-parent home traditions; and then we had to begin to create some new ones, and the kids complained at first.” They just kept going, kind of gentle persistence—right?—and then they started asking, “When are we going to do that thing?” Alright; now, you know, this has meaning; it has become a tradition. It’s helpful for people, and it’s a part of our new us.
Okay, listen to that, guys: “That’s how you develop a new family identity. You’ve got to have something that is us.” It’s all those little things put together, of course, over time; but when it crystalizes, and becomes something we expect from one another—we hope for/we look forward to—“Okay; alright; now, I know where I belong and with whom I belong.” That’s a really good moment in the life of a blended family.
Dave: Yes; again, I guess I’m/you’re taking me back, Ron. [Laughter]
Ann: He always does this; it’s his counseling ways.
Dave: Yes, that is what Ron is doing. He’s putting me on the couch right now.
No, listening to these families talk on this online course is reminding me of two things: one, what I lost; but also what I did gain in my stepmom and dad. Again, they are gone now; and my mom is gone.
I’m thinking of the new families in this current reality that have something I never was offered—an online course; like you said earlier: conferences, books, podcasts—you name it—are available. Just listening to this course, I thought, “Man, what a blessing this is going to be for families.”
I mean, I’m just one guy; but I’ve lived it as the son in a blended family. I would just say: “You don’t want to miss this opportunity. This is going to spark some conversations that are literally going to change the future for your family.”
Ann: Ron, once again, thank you for all you’re doing. You are impacting so many.
Ron: Thank you.
Shelby: That is Dave and Ann Wilson with Ron Deal on FamilyLife Today. The new online course is called Well-Blended. You can find out more and enroll today at FamilyLifeToday.com.
If you know anyone who needs to hear conversations like the one you heard today, we’d love it if you would tell them about this station. You can share today’s specific conversation from wherever you get your podcasts. While you are there, it would really help us out if you would rate and review us.
Well, we have FamilyLife’s president David Robbins with us today. We, at FamilyLife, are trying to make every home a godly home. That very much includes blended families; isn’t that right, David?
David: Yes, Meg and I were having lunch today with a couple who really, through FamilyLife, realized, “You know, we both have been impacted by being part of blended families; and we had no clue that is what we were bringing into our marriage.” They’ve been totally transformed. They are some of the biggest cheerleaders of what Ron Deal and what the FamilyLife Blended team [do]; because it was so transformative in their lives, and in their hearts, and in their families.
What I love about the FamilyLife Blended team is that they relentlessly pursued new ways of helping blended families. There is this new blended course called Well-Blended that the team has put together. It’s engaging videos from different experts on blended families, and there are all sorts of things packed in the online course. There are innovative activities to do with your family. There are thoughtful articles and audio segments to have little snippets for you to discuss and process. There are couple’s devotions to bring you closer, and there are even recommended resources to help you dig deeper.
If you are prompted by listening today—saying, “I want some more,”—well, this is a great resource for you.
Shelby: Yes, it really is. Again, you can get Well-Blended at FamilyLifeToday.com to find out more and enroll.
There are a number of Weekend to Remember® events happening this weekend in Austin and Houston, Texas, as well as, Orlando, Florida. We’d love it if you would take a second and join us in prayer for those couples who will be attending.
Next week, we’ll get to hear the story of how Kim Anthony, a former world-class gymnast, dealt with a secret world, filled with drugs, violence, and financial strain. Dave and Ann Wilson are also going to be talking with recording artist and author, Andrew Peterson, about cultivating creativity and curiosity in our kids.
We hope you get to worship in your local church this Sunday.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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