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Blended families are tough.

I have had the pleasure of working with various couples for more than a decade, and many of them were involving blended family struggles. Their kids were a combination of theirs, mine, and ours and as I listened intently to the couple describing the family tree, I frequently had to grab my notepad so I could draw myself a visual.

What did I draw? A big, giant family tree, of course! Yes, blended families are complicated.

One of the biggest challenges in blended families is acknowledging that relationships and feelings of endearment take time to build and that there will be times that your spouse’s child or children will cost you something. If we look at the family of Jesus, I think we can learn a few important strategies for managing blended families.

One of the best blended family examples I can think of is the Holy Family!

Don’t forget, Jesus came from a blended family too.

There are many steps you can take to help transition your blended family, but I’m going to give you 3 right now.

3 Steps for a more successful blended family

Step 1

Acknowledge and Accept that the children or teens in your family have another biological parent that may or may not be involved.

On a side note, if the other biological parent isn’t involved in the child’s life, don’t fall into the trap of thinking they are irrelevant to your situation. Whether or not a biological parent is involved in your life, or whether or not they are a good parent, it still plays a part in our ideas, perceptions, and identity at some point in our lives. You know how difficult it is to manage your emotions and feelings as an adult,  then imagine how much more difficult it is for a child or teen that hasn’t fully matured.

The difference between households (and even between your spouse and you), plays out in the way discipline and grace are handled, the way relationships are nurtured (or not nurtured), and how the family unit and roles are viewed from one person to the next. You may have one idea about what your role is, but your step-child or spouse may have an entirely different thought. Have you ever heard, “You’re not my real mom!” thrown around? Yeah, there’s a different perspective for you.

I think about the story in Luke 2, when Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. As they left Jerusalem, they didn’t realize that Jesus had stayed behind until they had traveled for a full day! Mary and Joseph traveled back to Jerusalem so they could look for him for 3 days! Could you imagine looking for your 12-year-old son for 3 days in a city that you don’t even live in? After anxiously searching, they finally found him in the temple, and Mary asks Jesus, (Luke 2:48) How could you do this to us? We’ve been searching for you for 3 days!

Jesus responded to them, (Luke 2:49) “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

The story concludes by saying that Mary and Joseph didn’t understand what he was saying to them, but that Jesus went with them and was obedient. It also says in Luke 2:51, that “…Mary treasured all these things in her heart.” It sounds a lot like they both gave Jesus a lot of patience, grace and love following this experience because in Luke 2:52, is says “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”

This tells me that Joseph didn’t allow this experience to come between them all, which would have been so easy to do.

Pray that the Lord will guide you through forgiveness and mercy. You can’t control what anyone else does, but you can control how you respond.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. ~Romans 12:18 (NIV)

Step 2

Acknowledge and Accept that the relationship you have with your step-son or step-daughter may look different than you expect it to.

Kids need time to adjust to new people in their lives. Recent research says it takes 7-10 years to blend a family! That’s a long time! They need time to understand that you aren’t trying to fill the place of their mother or father. They need time to adjust before you start disciplining them. In the early years, your role is more like that of a school teacher. A school teacher cares about his or her students, but there are respected boundaries around that relationship.

We know that Joseph was in Jesus’ life from birth. His relationship was built over time and Jesus was raised as Joseph’s son. He loved him and taught him through the years. We know that Jesus became a carpenter, just like Joseph. Could you imagine the time and effort Joseph put into teaching him all the skills he needed? I’m sure they spent many hours in the shop working together.

His bond with Jesus developed over time. He invested himself, his resources, and his time in Jesus, all the while acknowledging that Jesus was not his biological son.

Have a conversation with your spouse about expectations in this area. It’s important that you have a clear plan in place for how to handle discipline, relationship building, and communication.

Step 3

Acknowledge and Accept the costs and sacrifices associated with your blended family.

Costs? Yes. I’m not only talking about financial costs either.

Thinking back on the story in Luke 2, Jesus staying back in Jerusalem had to have cost Joseph. Think about it for a minute. When we plan a trip or vacation, it’s for a specific period of time, and then we have to go back to work.

Mary and Joseph had to travel far away because it says that had traveled a day before they realized that Jesus wasn’t with them. It was 3 days before they found him, and then they still had to travel home! It cost him time and quite possibly, financial resources. I think it’s safe to assume, they had to have a place to sleep and food for those days too. Yep, financial resources were probably impacted.

Sacrifice likely involved time away from work, coping with the inconvenience of retracing their steps back to Jerusalem, a search, extending grace and managing the emotional toll of not knowing where Jesus was, and the list goes on.

The difficult truth is that Joseph took a back seat to Jesus’ biological Father at this moment even though it cost him.

When Mary and Joseph found Jesus, Joseph took a step back and allowed Mary to do the talking. Of course, we don’t know if he was just too frustrated to speak, if this was just their parenting style, or Mary just anxiously rushed in and began talking to Jesus. But… what we do know is that Mary was the one that spoke to Jesus at that moment and not Joseph.

As parents, we sacrifice. Our needs go on the back burner, and we try to do whatever is best for our kids. It’s just what we do. Just know that even if your sacrifices go unacknowledged, your creating a lifetime of experiences that teach your kids who you are as a person. You are modeling the behavior that you want them to have one day.

Even though we may try to put our kid’s needs above our own, there are times that pride gets in the way. Sometimes our own upbringing gets in the way. And sometimes, our own hurt and fear get in the way of doing what is best for our kids. Often times, when this happens, we don’t realize it’s happening.

Ask the Lord to reveal to you, an area where you could sacrifice. Consider what it means to you when someone else sacrifices for your sake. Does that gain your respect for them? Does it endear you to them? Personal sacrifice is an important part of the relationship, with kids and spouses. Didn’t God give us the perfect example of His sacrificial gift in Jesus?

One final thought…

A lot of times we enter relationships with high hopes, unspoken (and sometimes unrealized) expectations, and we put on our rose-colored glasses. We think that hiccups along the way will eventually resolve themselves and in time, life will be incredible because we are together. It kind of sounds like one of a million movie scripts.

God created us for a relationship with Him and with others. Our struggle is an opportunity to seek more of Him in our lives, and it has the greatest opportunity to glorify God if we walk where He leads us.

One thing to remember about relationships is that they cause me to look at me. I learn that I can adjust in ways that I never knew I could. And yes, it’s another opportunity to grow and mature. Blended families are no exception.

Relationships are well worth the struggle. Don’t give up. There are always adjustments you can make, even when you think you have tried everything. What is the challenge you are facing in your blended family right now?

If this is a challenge for you, I would love to work with you. I can help you come up with a plan to get to your goals. Check out Truly Resilient for more information on how I can help you.

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