by Ron L. Deal
God’s design for the family begins with marriage laying the foundation for the home. But stepfamilies are at a disadvantage.
Why? Because sometimes at the inception of a stepfamily, married couples find it difficult to establish their relationship as the foundation.
After all, parent-child relationships predate the new marriage and are bonded by blood, history, and family identity. When a husband and wife bring children into their new marriage, they often find their marriage is the secondary relationship. And unless they find a way to make the marriage primary, they will experience distress and instability in the home.
But here’s the hard part. The process of establishing the couple as the foundational relationship of the home can feel to biological parents like the marriage wins while the children lose. But this is not the case. It’s not that a spouse matters more than children, but rather that a strong marriage relationship contributes more significantly to the stability of the home than any other factor—including the children.
Your children will never suffer neglect because you make a strong commitment to your new spouse. You don’t have to choose between your spouse and your children; when you make your marriage your primary priority, you are actually choosing both. Placing your spouse in the front seat of your heart is good for your children, too. A healthy marriage means safety and protection for children.
A Barrier to Overcome
Though this makes sense to biological parents a common barrier that still must be overcome is paralyzing guilt: I can’t do that to my kids. I don’t ever want them to think I love my spouse more than I love them.
Children suffer significantly when a parent dies or their parents divorce. Biological parents plagued by guilt over what has already occurred certainly don’t want their children to additionally feel unloved or displaced.
But what you must remember is that moving your spouse to the front seat does not equal rejection of your children. You will continue to love them both and balance your time and energy with both. Children might feel insecure, especially in the early seasons of your stepfamily, but generally this proves temporary. Loving your spouse eventually provides stability to your home that also blesses your children.
Practical tips to establishing your marriage and the foundation of your stepfamily home:
- Set a regular date night and keep it. Prioritizing time for one another helps your children see the importance you place on your relationship.
- Strive to trust the heart of your spouse. Assume your spouse has goodwill toward your children even if they complain. Strive to give your spouse equal say in parenting decisions; be a team.
- Support your spouse in front of your children. Back up your spouse’s decisions and insist that all the children in the household respect those decisions.
- Affirm your commitment out loud. Verbally expressing love to one another in front of the children, hugging in plain sight, and talking about your future together reinforce the permanency of your marriage.
- Spend one-on-one time with your biological children and remain involved in their activities. This reinforces that they haven’t lost you and paradoxically makes their acceptance of your marriage easier.
- Insist out loud that your spouse spend special time with his or her biological children. This communicates that you are not in competition with them.
- Don’t let your children manipulate you through guilt. It’s natural for children to show signs of stress or anxiety as you move your spouse into the front seat of your heart. Be sympathetic but don’t let them manipulate you into taking their side. Just because children hand you a ticket for a guilt-trip doesn’t mean you have to go for the ride!
- When children challenge the role of the stepparent, respond firmly and with compassion. ”You’re just changing the rule because she wants you to,” is a common complaint. Acknowledge the child’s confusion and move forward. You’re right. Things are different now that Linda and I parent together. And you know if I were you, I’d be upset about this, too. But this is the new rule and I’m in agreement with it, so start abiding by it. Let’s go.
Ron L. Deal is president of Smart Stepfamilies, director of FamilyLife Blended, a popular conference speaker on marriage and family matters, and author/coauthor of a series of DVDs, books, and curriculum for stepfamilies including The Smart Stepfamily, The Smart Stepmom, The Smart Stepdad, Dating and the Single Parent, and the forthcoming book The Smart Stepfamily Marriage. Learn more at FamilyLife.com/blended.
Reposted with permission.