Children who have experienced the loss of a parent, either because of death or divorce, have experienced some level of trauma as a result of that loss. Steve Arterburn says if those kids become a part of a new blended family, they don’t need a new stepdad to be a drill sergeant.
FamilyLife Today® Radio Transcript
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Guests: Steve and Misty Arterburn and Ron Deal
From the series: Blended Family Tips
Bob: Children who have experienced the loss of a parent, either because of death or divorce, have experienced some level of trauma as a result of that loss. Steve Arterburn says if those kids become a part of a new blended family, they don’t need a new stepdad to be a drill sergeant.
Steve: I know all these guys that come in: “These—look, these kids will respect me. I will discipline them. They will obey me.” It’s so much more about trying to build a bond and a connection in the midst of horror that they’ve gone through than getting something from them that they should never have to give, reluctantly.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, April 6th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I’m Bob Lepine. If you’re in a blended family, have you thought strategically about what your stepchildren need from you? We’re going to spend time talking about that today with our guests, Steve and Misty Arterburn, and with Ron Deal.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re talking about one of those challenging areas in life when a couple starts a new marriage, where both of them have been previously married and they bring children into that relationship. That, for a lot of couples, is an unexpected kind of a blindside: “Oh, I didn’t know this was…” “Oh, I didn’t…” “Oh, oh….” You know, it kind of—
Dennis: I do.
Bob: —it’s a wakeup call for a lot of couples.
Dennis: It really is; and joining us in the studio today to give us a perspective about that is Ron Deal. His perspective counts, because he has been in this area for over three decades; right, Ron?
Ron: Am I that old? [Laughter]
Bob: Sorry to break it to you, but yes. [Laughter]
Ron: I guess so.
Dennis: Ron heads up FamilyLife Blended®. He’s also joined by Steve and Misty Arterburn, all the way from Indiana.
Thanks for coming down and visiting us.
Steve: Great to be here.
Dennis: Glad to have you.
Steve: Thank you.
Misty: Thank you.
Bob: Any radio listeners, who think, “Is this New Life Live!?”—no; it’s FamilyLife Today—at least for the next 30 minutes, and then we might get to New Life Live! later on today; okay?
Steve: Thank you.
Dennis: Steve is a pastor at Northview in Carmel, Indiana.
Steve: That’s right.
Dennis: Great ministry at church that has—how many people attending every Sunday?
Steve: I think around 10,000 and 3 campuses are in prisons. We just love ministering to those prisoners.
Bob: That’s great.
Dennis: That’s great. You and Misty have authored several books together.
We want to talk about what Bob was mentioning at the outset about how blended families function, especially, around parenting.
Bob: Yes; it is one thing for a couple, who have met, following—both of you were involved in a divorce / you were both sinned against. Your church got involved—
Bob: —and helped you in the process of all of this. You met a while after you’d had the divorce. You dated for a period of time.
Bob: You fell in love—you said, “We’re going to get married.” You had two kids. Steve, you had a daughter. As you thought about remarriage, were you anticipating this could get tricky with kids?
Steve: We didn’t think it would be tricky. We knew that, if it wasn’t done well and right / if we didn’t prepare before the marriage, it was just going to end up—it had a good chance that the kids would cause another divorce—or the way we were handling those.
I was very impressed with her mothering. I just—it was—I was blown away by the way she mothered. She had these little boys. By the time they were seven, they’d gone through The Chronicles of Narnia, and the whole Bible, and all this stuff. They had a foundation. I was just thrilled that that was the kind of mothering she had done in the wake of divorce.
Bob: Were you worried, Misty, about the blending of families and being parents together?
Misty: I was terrified.
I was terrified. I just don’t take it lightly. Those are my boys, and their well-being was the highest aim. I was trying to make sure that I was healthy and that they could be healthy, and I didn’t want to risk. So, we were—
Dennis: That’s what I wanted to ask you: “Was it hard to trust again?”
Misty: Yes; very, very hard. You go through a train wreck like that, and there’s debris and carnage. You don’t want to experience that again. It was very sobering to go through that; and I tried to keep my eyes very wide open, walking into a new relationship.
Dennis: And you wanted to protect your kids because they trusted too; huh?
Steve: Well, my daughter was kind of everything to me at that point. I was not going to expose her to somebody that would love her for a little while and then we’d break up and it would be over. It was a long time before we got the kids together; but I felt like, if she could mother those boys the way she did, she could sure be a great bonus mother to my daughter.
Ron: Now, we’re going to talk about parenting and step-parenting here in a minute; but to set that up, we have to continue with what you guys have just talked about. To be able to trust one another, as husband and wife—when you’re also holding so tightly to your children and then trying to figure out “How do I merge my heart with another adult and with their kids?”—there is a lot of stuff in that to consider. At the end of the day, if that marital merger doesn’t go well, there’s no way your parenting merger can go well. Talk to us around that journey for you.
Misty: Well, it’s a lot of plates spinning all at once. It’s not linear—it’d be great if we could just address one thing at a time, but there are so many things happening at any given moment.
I just try to take one day at a time—just keep it simple / just do the next right thing. Eventually, all those pieces unfold; and you get presented with the next challenge—
—just a constant state of surrender to God and His ultimate will—and not grasping onto what I think I want and trying to force my life into a certain container so that it will look the way I want—but truly surrendering—to let it unfold over time, and slow down, and the answers come.
Steve: I knew something, as a single man; and I forgot it after we got married. If I didn’t have sex with her—if I wanted her to trust me more than I wanted her to have sex with me, as a single, she would trust me after we got married.
Now, after we got married, I didn’t stick with that. I would—I’d make the goal: “Hey, let’s be intimate together!” It has been a glaring lesson that, even in marriage, the goal is: “Wait, it’s not to be sexually intimate; it is to build that trust so that she wants to be intimate.”
It began in dating and, I think—well, I mean, she said to me many times what that meant to her—that I didn’t want to take from her.
Ron: Now, I know why you guys were attracted to each other; because there is so much character in what you just said. There is so much self-discipline in that—the surrendering to God—not organizing your life and making it work the way you wanted it to restore some fantasy that was lost from the previous relationship or whatever. No, no, no; you took it a day at a time. You listened to God; you made Him the priority; you made choices about purity on behalf of your relationship with God—that’s how you begin to nurture and find clarity.
Bob: Okay; let me jump into year one of the marriage.
Bob: Alright; it’s now Steve and Misty Arterburn and their three kids.
Bob: How did that go?
Misty: All hell broke loose. [Laughter]
Ron: We’ve heard that before on this program. You’re not the only ones—please know that.
Misty: Okay; so—no, truly, it was as if a bomb went off. It was—I think what happens is—you eat the wedding cake—we joke about “Don’t eat the wedding cake because there is something in it.”
All of a sudden, the deal is done. All the fear just skyrockets; because: “Now, we have to make it work” and all of the “What have I just gotten myself into?”—and when the first problems arise—it’s just: “I need the other person to come through.” I think just the intensity of the first year—and you’re scared, and you’re trying to do it, and you’re trying to take care of the kids—and it is all these components all at the same time.
Steve: And I would say that all hell did break loose; but because we had counselors with us, we got it tied back together.
Misty: Oh, yes; yes.
Steve: The thing that we went into—I made sure of—I didn’t ever want to be abandoned again. There were no safety nets—there was no: “Well, you know, if this doesn’t…” or whatever. No; this was going to have—I had to know that she would commit forever.
Dennis: You’re talking about a covenant.
Misty: We did have that.
Steve: —we worked through the hot stuff and got to the other side of it, and that was the blessing.
Dennis: Okay; I want to go back to year one, where Bob had us a few moments ago. In the midst of all hell breaking loose, what I want to know is: “Which one of you had the highest unreal expectations about being parents in a blended family? Who do you think had the higher expectations?”
Misty: I don’t know if it was expectation or just desperation. We desperately—I desperately wanted my boys to have a stable man / father figure in their lives. He desperately wanted me to be able to be a mother to Madeline.
Steve: It was kind of mutual in our desire, but that was one thing that we really kind of got right in the midst of all of the difficulty of getting used to each other. We approached step-parenting in a different way than we’d ever heard about or taught, and we’re so grateful that we did.
Ron: Well, one of the things you talk about is coming in as being a benevolent uncle or aunt—
Ron: —as opposed to instant authority in the kids’ lives.
That had to help, especially, in terms of this desperation you were feeling about the other and what role they would play in your kids’ lives. That had to help when you saw that softness. Talk to me about “benevolent uncle or aunt”: “What does that look like?”
Steve: Well, I just wanted to add to their lives, and I wanted to earn respect. I wanted them to enjoy being with me, and I wanted to do some things that they weren’t expecting me to do.
Misty: One night—I think Carter was probably 11 or 12 and particularly cranky at the—in the kitchen, we were getting ready for dinner; and it was really getting out of hand. My instinct was to say: “Hey, you can go eat dinner in your room. You know, get a plate and head on up,” to my son. Steve chimed in and he said, “Or you could roll a raw egg across the kitchen floor with your nose the full length of the kitchen floor. You get to choose.” [Laughter] Instantly, the climate changed.
My son said, “Alright; I’ll roll an egg across the floor.” We have this unbelievably treasured video of him rolling with his nose.
Ron: Oh, that’s got to be good.
Misty: We were laughing, and it just shifted. There was an instance where I was sort of coming down on top; but Steve so wisely came in and brought playfulness, and love, and laughter into the moment.
Steve: I was not the primary disciplinarian with them—
Steve: —she was.
Misty: That’s right.
Steve: Then, I supported her; and the same with my daughter. I know all these guys that come in: “These—look, these kids will respect me. I will discipline them. They will obey me.” It’s so much more about trying to build a bond and a connection in the midst of the horror that they’ve gone through than getting something from them that they should never have to give, reluctantly.
Bob: One of the principles you’ve talked about is that stepparents need to do a lot more listening than they do talking; right?
Steve: Yes; you’re out there, talking to be known because: “I’m the new kid on the block. I’m the leader here.”
Well, why not—why don’t you listen to know them? Well, then, if you do that, they are going to know you have a heart for them; and they’ll trust you.
Misty: That’s right.
Steve: And to this day, I mean, when I get a text from James, it makes me tear—[Emotion in voice] —you know, he’s asking for my advice. I just think you just—
Dennis: That’s a gift.
Steve: —don’t know what that’s worth—
Dennis: That’s a gift.
Steve: —for a college student to be asking me for advice. It’s just pretty special.
Ron: That’s beautiful. I hope every pastor listening to us, right now, is hearing what you are saying; because often, they are the ones who are guilty of telling a stepparent, “Step in there and be the dad.”
Ron: What you’re saying has so much wisdom in it—you’re saying: “I supported my wife as the parent to her children, and I came alongside her as a benevolent uncle to those children. I listened; I played; and I gained their trust and their respect.
“Eventually, I became the guy they text and ask for advice.” That’s a beautiful picture.
I’ve got to just throw this in there. Steve has spoken at our Summit on Stepfamily Ministry that we sponsor, here, at FamilyLife® every year. That’s one of the things we do there—is educate pastors and lay leaders about how they can minister well to stepfamilies in their church and community.
Dennis: And Steve, just comment on what he said; because you are a pastor—
Dennis: —of a local church—how the church can benefit from being trained in better understanding where stepfamilies are and how they can relate to one another.
Steve: Well, I go back to Jeremiah 6:14—it says, “They treat the deep wounds of my people with superficial treatments.” That is something that every pastor needs to memorize, because the issues of step-parenting and stepfamilies are so intricate. You really do need to not try to throw out these Band-Aid kind of answers, and you really need to look at—
—I mean, Ron has spent a lifetime of delving into this to try to come up with the true truth about this. I just hope and pray that you would take a second look at everything you’ve ever said about step-parenting and stepfamilies and be sure that you are being helpful and not hurtful.
Bob: Sounds like you guys were pretty well prepared for the shared parenting journey that you were stepping into. As you look back, if you could have one do-over in how you began the process of step-parenting, what would your do-over be?
Misty: Yes; there’s a night that I remember. It was—I got offended by Madeline, and I really think that it wasn’t helpful for me to be offended. I think the highest aim is connection, and correction must submit to connection—that’s the first thing. Then, once there is a connection and safety, the correction is welcome and effective.
Bob: Hang on. Ron’s writing that down.
Ron: Oh, yes. We’ve got to unpack that, because that is beautiful. It’s absolutely on target, but we’ve got to flesh that out for people because that’s so hard. We want obedience now; right?—we want good behavior. We want everybody, who is watching us in the store with our kids, to go, “Oh, you must be a fabulous parent; because look at how your child is behaving.” When obedience is the priority, then you stop being able to connect, in particular as a stepparent.
So how do you slow yourself down, as a stepmom? How did you slow yourself down to go: “You know what? Connection is the priority here”?
Misty: Well, I think it started with the healing processes that we went through—that we fall short of the glory of God, and here are these children—they are trying to make sense of their lives. They are trying to grow up—they don’t know everything / they don’t have everything—maybe, they had too much sugar today, and it has nothing to do with defiance and rebellion.
Maybe, they didn’t get enough sleep last night. Maybe, it’s a very basic need: “Do I have compassion or not?” If my child is misbehaving or doing things that aren’t pleasing to me: “Well, what’s it about? What’s the underlying issue?”
Steve: Now, I just have to say this—as she talks about breaking connection and being more interested in correction, one of the things that we talk about in bonus parenting is: “Don’t be the stepparent that’s always right. Be the bonus parent who humbly and willingly admits mistakes and makes amends.”
Last night, when I’m telling Madeline we’re going to come talk about this experience, I said, “So what is it that Misty did so well with you?” She says, “Connection and communication.” Now, why did she say that all these years later?—because Misty didn’t stay there; she made amends. She came after her, from a humble perspective, after realizing, “That didn’t go too well.”
Steve: That’s what the stepparent is so afraid to do—that they’re never going to be viewed as a great person.
Well, actually, you’re going to be viewed as a very great person when you’re humble.
Misty: And we make things mean something about us when, really, it’s about this child—
Ron: That’s right.
Misty: —and what they’re—there is some skill that they don’t have to cope with their situation. My job and privilege, as the mother, is to help them figure out what skill they need to handle that situation.
Ron: I’ve just got to add one more thought to this. Just this morning, we were recording another FamilyLife Blended radio feature. I was talking about putting on thick skin. It’s a hard thing to say: “But sometimes, stepparents, you’ve just got to put on your thick skin.”
As you said, not everything is about you. Sometimes, it’s about sugar; you know? Sometimes, it is about the past. Kids do have hurts and wounds on their heart, and they act out just like the rest of us do. It still doesn’t mean that it’s a rejection of you. It doesn’t mean that your life is over. Let that bullet bounce a little bit. Ask God to give you the strength and courage to bear up under it. Find a way to put on compassion in that moment.
You’ll probably find that the kid softens, and you soften, and you move past it.
Bob: I want to find out about a do-over for you, Steve. If you could go back to the first year or two and have a do-over, can you think of something?
Steve: Well, I think it was being gone too much and travelling too much versus saying: “You know what? I need to carve out this time and spend more time with them.” I think that would have been really valuable.
Bob: Blending takes—
Bob: —time, and intentionality, and effort. You can’t just think, “Oh, this will happen”; right?
Steve: No; that’s right. It’s not easy, but the rewards later—I thought that these boys were an obligation that I had to fulfill to be married to Misty. They are two of the greatest blessings in my life.
Dennis: Sometimes, it’s good to go out to the end of a matter and just be reminded of the big picture. That’s what the Book of 1 Peter does—in Chapter 4, it says this:
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore, be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
Steve: There you are.
Dennis: Now, that’s true of a blended family and—
Bob: —true at our house!
Dennis: —my house as well!
Misty: I sure need it.
Dennis: I’m just telling you—some listeners today need to be reminded, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” I think Misty demonstrated the attitude, repeatedly, this week on the broadcast, talking about humbling down—
Dennis: —bending your will toward the God of the universe and say, “God, I was wrong,” and then stepping back up—not wallowing in your mistake, and reliving it, and blaming and shaming yourself, but instead, go: “You know what? I’m going to use that as a tool toward learning and growing as a follower of Christ.
“I’m going to step back up, and I’m going to love because God first loved me.”
Misty: That’s right.
Dennis: Misty/Steve, thanks for modeling these—not perfectly—
Dennis: —I’m not going to set you up for failure there—but thank you for being open and honest and sharing your love for Christ but also your love for one another.
I just have to say to you Misty—the listener doesn’t know it; but occasionally, we’ll have a guest come in, Bob, who says, “Now, this is not really my thing.” I wish—I just wish our listeners could have seen Misty. She was reaching over, grasping Steve’s arm, saying, “Stop talking so I can start talking.” [Laughter]
Bob: “I’ve got something to say here. Step aside, husband.”
Dennis: “I’ve got more.” [Laughter] Thanks for being on the broadcast, Misty. Steve, we may invite you back again. [Laughter]
Steve: Thank you. [Laughter]
Bob: I’m thinking folks may get a chance to see this dynamic, live, when you guys are a part of the upcoming Blended & Blessed® one-day livestream event that’s going to be happening on Saturday, April 21st—
—that’s just a couple of weeks away.
Hopefully, our listeners are already planning to do this in their local church; or they are inviting friends over to watch the livestream in their living room; or if you live in Charlotte, maybe, you are planning to come out to where the event is going to be hosted, live. Ron Deal, Dr. Rick Rigsby, Michele Cushatt, Bill Butterworth, and Steve and Misty Arterburn are going to be speaking that day. It’s going to be available, worldwide, on the internet.
You can find out more about how you can host one of these events in your local church or where a local church is already hosting one of these in your community so you can attend; or you can have the livestream in your home and invite others in to watch it with you. Find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, we’re talking about the 2018 Blended & Blessed one-day livestream event, Saturday, April 21st.
Find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com and plan to join us for that day. We think this is going to be a great equipping day for couples who are in a blended marriage / a blended family and want that relationship to be solid and one that honors the Lord.
Now, this weekend, we’ve got couples in eight cities across the country, who are going to be joining us for a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. We hope you’ll pray for these couples. We’ve got getaways happening in Indianapolis; Jacksonville, Florida; Lake Tahoe; Little Rock; Newport, Rhode Island; Omaha, Nebraska; Seattle, Washington—actually out in Bellevue—and in Washington, DC. There will be thousands of couples taking part in a getaway this weekend—including pastors and their spouses who will be attending, and they’ll be attending as our guests.
We’ve covered the registration costs for these pastors. Actually, you’ve covered the registration costs because those of you who are donors to FamilyLife Today—
—you have helped us fill up a scholarship fund so that we can provide scholarships for pastors and spouses. You may want to let your pastor know about that and urge him to take a weekend away with his wife and pour into his marriage.
If you’d like to make sure pastors and spouses can continue to attend a getaway, you can help make that happen. Our scholarship fund is starting to deplete. We’re asking listeners to make a contribution to the FamilyLife Pastors Scholarship Fund. You can contribute, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. If you designate your giving, it will all go to the Pastors Scholarship Fund; or if you’d like to leave your gift undesignated, it will go to help support the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program. Thanks for your partnership with this ministry; and on behalf of pastors and their spouses, thank you for making it possible for them to attend a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
And we hope you have a great weekend. In fact, we hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend in your local church; and we hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to be talking about the unique relationship that exists between mothers and sons and how moms need to learn that what their sons need more than love is respect. Emerson Eggerichs will be here to help us understand that. I hope you can tune in as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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