When my husband and I got married, we each had a 10-year-old and a 13-year old. We were a regular “Brady Bunch”—only not so much. Real life is never like a sappy TV series.
We knew that raising four children under the same roof was going to be quite an undertaking, so we read everything we could get our hands on regarding stepfamilies. (We highly recommend The Smart Stepfamily by Ron Deal.)
Even though we established our new family with our eyes wide open, there were days (weeks, months) when it was a struggle. Here are some of the basic principles that helped us keep it together.
First and foremost, my husband and I were a united front. We could not allow our kids to divide and conquer, so we talked daily about any family issues or concerns. Then, if one of the kids needed to be spoken to, the biological parent did the talking. We came up with a decision together, but the child’s parent, not stepparent, delivered the news.
We prayed with and for our family regularly. Sometimes all we could do is encourage each other and say, “With God’s help, we’re going to get through this.” We were committed to each other, to making our marriage and family work, and knew that giving up was not an option.
We held family meetings where the kids could air their grievances—usually during our weekly pizza and movie night. Weekly chore lists were distributed, which gave the kids something to commiserate about together. We tried to eat dinner together every night, even if it meant eating at 4:30 pm so we could run kids to sports practices and music lessons afterward. Every Sunday we went to church together (the later service, because, you know, teenagers).
We created new memories together—visiting grandparents who lived out of state, going to amusement parks, making a corn maze part of our autumn tradition, going horseback riding, making Christmas cookies, etc. We respected the traditions that were already in place and made compromises (like two Christmas trees for all of those ornaments, not just one). All of this became part of our new family history.
We learned to decipher (for the most part) what was a stepfamily issue versus what was a teenager issue. (“I don’t know, do you think that slammed bedroom door is because she hates being in a stepfamily or because she’s a 15-year-old or both?”)
My kids had regular contact with their father throughout their teen years, while my husband’s kids did not have much contact with their mother. Regardless, we never bashed our exes in front of our children—that person is a part of who they are.
The struggle was real, but we were willing to put in the time it takes to build a new family. It took years, but the kids learned that neither of us was going anywhere. And it’s so worth it when you hear that first “I love you” from a stepchild, have one introduce you as their parent, receive a heart-felt card, or see all four of them laughing and enjoying spending time together.
Seventeen years later, our kids are all adults now. They still speak to us and come around for family get-togethers, so maybe we did something right. All we can say is that we did the best we could, with God’s help.