Recently, we bought a new “older” home that had more space for our family. With four children from ages 7 to 17, space is no longer a luxury, but a necessity! The floor plan is very open. There is a bar opening into the kitchen area from the great room and another longer breakfast bar opening from the kitchen into the dining room. This has changed meal times around our house. We are able to be somewhat spread out, while still connecting, conversing, and enjoying one another during meals. Of course, this has redefined the term, “Could someone please pass the salt.” This simple statement is no longer a courtesy, but a necessity.
It reminds me of how our family interacts now that I’ve remarried. My husband, Paul, and I could have never known all the obstacles we were going to face on the front end of our marriage. I had four children from a previous marriage, and Paul had never been married and never been a father. Honestly, I’m not sure we would have ever gotten married if we had known the trials that awaited us. Let’s face it; marriage is hard in the best of circumstances. It’s especially hard when there is an instant family, but God can bring together a family, even when no one else could see the potential. For us, God saw and knew He had everything needed to blend a family —a lot of love, a bunch of forgiveness, the base of friendship, tons of hope, barrels of faith and laughter, and the daily request to please pass the grace.
Here are just a few things Paul and I have learned in our journey of being a stepfamily.
Your spouse needs time to adapt. My husband had never been married and did not have any children. So when we married, Paul was instantly the father of four. It has been quite a challenge for him to adapt to a family this size. At the same time, I see the blessings of God on him as he seeks to humble himself and be a servant leader. The children and I have learned that we need to be patient with him, and he has learned the same with us. All of this has taken grace in our lives and home, and ultimately, all of this spiritual seasoning only draws us closer in our walk with God and likeness to His son, Jesus.
If both you and your spouse come from previous marriages and have children, you also need an adjustment period. When there are two sets of children to bring together and both have ex-spouses to contend with, I can only imagine the difficulty from day to day. The best encouragement I can give you is to be united in your marriage. Be careful that you do not take things out on one another. Remember the enemy’s goal is to divide and conquer. If he can get in between you in your marriage, the family unit will begin to break down. So stay united! Jesus tells us in Luke 11:17, “A house divided cannot stand.”
The children also have major adjustments. At first, my children loved Paul, but it only took a few months for the honeymoon stage to be over and the preteen hormones of the second daughter, Melanie, to kick in. All of the sudden it seemed her basic goal was to make Paul’s life miserable. Mouthing off to him was like a sport she decided to try. This was one of many “children challenges” we have had to endure and work through.
We continued to pray and trust that God would change Melanie’s heart toward Paul. Well, God orchestrated life so that Melanie was assigned to Paul’s sixth grade Sunday school class. At first, she was not thrilled. After some time, though, the experience seemed to bond them in a special relationship, and she changed her attitude toward her stepfather. I can’t tell you the difference it has made in our home.
These children were mine for years before they ever knew Paul, and it takes time for them to adjust and accept him into their lives as an authority. Sometimes our expectations of our children are too high. We think that because we understand, they should immediately understand and adjust accordingly. True changes in a family, big changes such as this, take time, grace, and patience, and lots of it!
What about you? Are your expectations of your children too high? Evaluate yourself and if you find that your expectations are not realistic, why not pass your children a little grace?
Life is filled with daily challenges. If only we could live on a deserted island, where there is no traffic, no annoyances, no barrels on the side of the freeway, and no responsibility. Maybe then we would not have to grow, adjust, and be flexible to the unexpected stresses of life.
Recently, we decided to move at the same time school was starting. In addition, I went back to work as a substitute teacher on a six-day assignment. For me, that was too much activity going on all at once. I felt like a walking time bomb. Everywhere I went I seemed to be in a traffic jam behind a dump truck. You name it —one thing after the other was stress!
However, I realized I could choose to become embittered to these stresses of life or seek out the grace of God to help me deal with them in the right spirit. I found that laughing was a great response, and I think I’ll try it more often.
What does this have to do with family? These stresses are the little foxes that spoil the vine (Song of Solomon 2:15). The way we handle stress is very key in our everyday lives, because in the world we live in there is a lot of it. Unfortunately, oftentimes we take out our frustrations on the people we love the most and are closest to us. But we must learn to stop and pray and ask God for more grace and patience. How else are we going to forgive and love the way God has called us to?
People are not perfect. I am not, my husband is not, nor are my children, or the person next to me in that traffic jam. We are all in the same boat. Let’s learn to do as the word of God says —pray for one another, love one another, bear with one another, showing grace to one another even as we have been shown these things (Colossians 3:12-14).
Stepfamilies have other unique challenges. Those of us who have been in previous marriages often have past hurts and wounds that are not completely healed. If you are not careful, you’ll take out your bitterness for your ex-spouse on your present spouse. You may also see in your own actions repeated patterns from your past marriage that may even have contributed in some way to your divorce. In either case, it’s important to allow God to cleanse us of all bitterness and forgive those who have hurt us in the past (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Even though dealing with past hurts is difficult, both of these situations can actually be a blessing because they enable us to look back on our previous marriage honestly and examine ourselves. No divorce is one sided. Each person always contributes. I have learned so much by looking at the past responses I had that were wrong to my previous marriage. The Lord has allowed these views of myself to help me to grow, change, and not repeat those same sins.
As we learn to receive and experience the grace and forgiveness of God for ourselves, then we are able to extend this same grace to those around us. Take a look at your previous marriage. What changes do you need to make in your new marriage and where do you need to allow grace to cover the mistakes you’ve made in the past?
Be encouraged God is good and He is in control! Ultimately, keep in mind we are here for His purpose and Kingdom. That is the best way to keep the right perspective. My marriage and family are not intended just to make me happy or bring some kind of personal fulfillment. But rather everything in life is here to glorify God. Even my experiences of the past both good and bad are all His to use. According to Romans 8:28, God works all things together for good.
In families of all shapes and sizes, we all need to give each other space to grow. At the same time, staying intentionally connected and growing in relationship with one another. Whether this one another means a mom and son, or a step-dad and step-daughter, we all need to pass a little grace to one another.
Why don’t you take the next few moments to lift your eyes toward our loving heavenly Father and ask, “Could you please pour out your grace on me and my stepfamily?”
Christy Burcham, who is married to Paul, and is the mother of four, wrote this article, to which we are very thankful (because of the excellent points she brings to light). Christy has been a member of the American Christian Writers and has published devotionals for the former web site, Inspired Mom. She has a passion to see people of all ages come to know Jesus Christ in a life-changing encounter and follow Him with unhindered devotion.
This article was originally featured on the forum of Gates of Heaven, which used to have a web site (which posted this article) on the Internet. And then it was featured on another web site, which is also no longer on the Internet.