Your Stepfamily, Standing Strong (Part 1) - Ron Deal

Regardless of the circumstances, you may find yourself in a Brady Bunch of your own today, one that looks different than the TV family looked. Here is Ron Deal.

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The Myth of the Ideal Stepfamily
 
Guest:                         Ron Deal                   
From the series:       Your Stepfamily:  Standing Strong
 
Bob:   Regardless of the circumstances, you may find yourself in a Brady Bunch of your own today, one that looks different than the TV family looked.  Here is Ron Deal.
 
Ron:   "Blended family" is the most popular term, but the point we like to make about that is that most stepfamilies don't blend.  If they do, somebody usually gets creamed in the process.  It's really a misnomer to use the term "blended family".  To me, it doesn't matter so much what families call themselves.  What they need to do is recognize that they have a different kind of family.  Learning how it operates, and how it works, and how they can make their family successful—that's what's really important.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 23rd.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.   If your special family is facing some special challenges, we’ve got some help for you today. Stay tuned.
 
And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  A few years ago, I took my three boys—Mary Ann and I—took the boys.  We went to LEGOLAND®.  Now, you haven't been to LEGOLAND—

Dennis:  No, but I remember when you went.  You were really impressed.

Bob:  We were excited to go to LEGOLAND because our boys really are into—they love Legos®.  Well, the most exciting ride at LEGOLAND, which, by the way, when we were there, it was all geared for kids 12 and under.  

Dennis:  People are wondering where LEGOLAND is, Bob.

Bob:  Oh, LEGOLAND is in—it’s just north of San Diego.  It's geared for kids who are 12 and under.  There aren't a whole lot of scary thrill rides.  There is one rollercoaster, and it's moderately exciting as rollercoasters go.  My son, John, wasn't sure he wanted to ride on the rollercoaster.  We coaxed him and said, "Come on!  You'll have fun.  You'll like it.  It's not that scary."  

We all got on the rollercoaster.  We got all done; and Jimmy, who is a little older than John, said, "That was cool!  Let's do it again."  John said, "I am not doing that again."  He didn't ride the rollercoaster the rest of the day.

Now, I tell that story because, for a lot of couples, Dennis, who have gone on a marriage rollercoaster and have wound up apart—there's been a divorce—they look at the marital rollercoaster a second time; and they go, "That's scary.  Can we really make this thing work better the second time than we did the first time?"  A lot of them aren't sure they want to head on that ride again.  Then, those who get on it wonder, "How are we going to fix the problems when they come up this time?"

Dennis:  That's right.  Not everybody, Bob, who ends up on that stepfamily rollercoaster ends up there because of divorce.  Some end up there because of the death of a spouse.  They now find themselves strapped into a seat with all the turns, and ups, and downs, and they're wondering, "How do you build a successful stepfamily?"  

I want you to know, as a listener, we listen to you, too.  We listen to you on the internet, when you go to FamilyLife.com, and you tell us what you'd like to hear us talk about, here on the broadcast.  We also listen to you when you call into our 800 number.  We take notes.  One of the areas you've been asking us to do some work in is in the area of stepfamilies.

I want you to know that we have searched across the country; and in our own backyard in Jonesboro, Arkansas—which, yes, it is in the United States—but in Jonesboro, Arkansas, we uncovered a great resource that we want to share with you over the next few days, here on the broadcast.  His name is Ron Deal.  Ron, I want to welcome you to LEGOLAND and the rollercoaster ride of stepfamilies.  Welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Ron:  Thank you.  It is a great honor to be here.

Dennis:  He is on the Advisory Council of the Stepfamily Association of America, and he does seminars all across the country called "Building a Successful Stepfamily".  I've got to tell this story on Ron, as I introduce him.  I am in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.  Ron comes up to me, and introduces himself, and gives me his card.  I ask him to send me some of his stuff because he told me he was working in the area of blended families or stepfamilies.  

I said, "Man!  There is a tremendous need there.  Send it on."  He sent it.  We've been in dialog, over the past few years, talking about this material and how we can bring it to our listeners.  I'm excited to feature Ron this week and talk about how we can equip stepfamilies, not only in helping them make their marriage go the distance, but also be successful as parents.

Now, when we come to the subject of stepfamilies, Ron, I think maybe the majority of us, who are married, underestimate the number of people who presently are in stepfamily relationships.  How prevalent is it?

Ron:  The numbers are really pretty staggering, especially to people that are unfamiliar with how many stepfamilies are out there.  Currently, every day in America, there are 1,300 new stepfamilies.  By the way, these statistics that I'm about to give you are anywhere from five to ten years old.  We don't have any real recent statistics.  So, we've got to keep that in mind.  In other words, there are probably more than even what we're saying now.  

One out of three Americans right now, in the United States, is either a stepparent, a stepchild, a step-sibling, or somehow related to a stepfamily—one out of three.  With the life projections as they seem to be, it looks like one out of two of us will have a step-relationship at some point in our lifetime.

Dennis:  You know, we've done a good bit of research at our FamilyLife Marriage Conferences.  Bob, you know, you speak at the conferences.  Up to 30 percent of those who attend our conferences are in stepfamilies.  I think we assume that stepfamilies have the same life expectancy as a regular family.  That's not so; is it, Ron?

Ron:  No, it's not.  In fact, the divorce rate for remarriage is 60 percent.  There are some numbers that indicate that it's more than that.  By the way, I need to kind of qualify that statistic.  We don't have a statistic that tells us what the divorce rate is for stepfamily couples.  We only have a rate for remarriage.  Now, some remarriages don't involve children.  Obviously, the bulk of remarriages do involve children and qualify as stepfamilies, but the numbers are really high.

Dennis:  Let me just add—although these statistics are not stepfamily statistics, they are those involving second, third, and fourth marriages from Gary Richman's book, The Divorce Decision.  He says that second marriages—now, get this—second marriages have a 24 percent success rate within five years.  Third marriages only succeed          13 percent of the time, and fourth marriages succeed just seven percent of the time.

Bob:  If you thought the rollercoaster ride was thrilling and exciting the first time around, the danger increases the second, and the third, and the fourth.  It's like it gets to be a wilder ride.

Ron:   And the thing is this—people have a set of expectations when they come into that remarriage.  What they don't anticipate are the stepfamily dynamics that are going to play a role in their marriage.  They just don't know about them on the frontend, at least not until now.  Because they're uninformed, and they go in, and they assume things are going to be better, and, “I've learned a few lessons from the last time.  We're going to make this marriage better.”  What they don't understand is the complexity of their home and how that's going to impact their marriage.  Then, when it blindsides them, they're at six months, two years, or three years down the road.  Most of those divorces, by the way, occur within the first three years.  They never get beyond the tough work to any of the rewards.

Dennis:  Ron, I want to talk about the needs of stepfamilies, here in just a moment; but I want to ask you to do something pretty tough.  You travel.  You speak all across the country, in your seminars, in churches.  How would you grade the church in terms of addressing the needs of stepfamilies?  On an A, B, C, D, F, how would you grade the church?

Ron:  I'll be benevolent and say a D minus.  We're really doing very poorly.  Think about where we were with divorce recovery programs 25, 30 years ago.  We kind of had this feeling there were a lot of people that were finding themselves in divorce situations for one reason or another.  The church needed to respond; but we were bashful, at the frontend.  We weren't sure what to do and how to help these people, but we knew we kind of needed to do something.  

Well, that's where we are with stepfamilies.  They are so prevalent in our society, and yet the church is doing little or nothing.

Bob:  Well, and you know why?  As we try to uphold God's standard for marriage—

Ron:  Right, it kind of feels like we're abandoning, somehow, God's ideal.  That's why I say right on the frontend, “My ministry has nothing to do with God's ideal.”  The church has got to continue to preach and to teach one man, one woman, for life.  That's got to be—we've got to uphold God's ideal. 

But what we're trying to do in stepfamily ministry is—we're trying to keep the peculiar stepfamily dynamics and complexities from holding people back from serving their Lord.  You just can't be actively involved in a local church—you can't be serving God the way you need to be if you're constantly fighting in your marriage.  

You just can't be influencing your kids towards Christ if you're not sure what your role is supposed to be as an adult in the household with stepchildren.  It just ties you up.  The way I like to say it is, “Satan gets us distracted, discouraged, and defeated.  Then, we can’t be for God what we need to be.”

Dennis:  You know, Ron, one of the things that you've written about is wilderness wanderings.  I so enjoyed a piece that you wrote called "Guiding Stepfamilies Through Wilderness Wanderings"—that—Bob, we've decided to make it available on our website.  People can go there and download it or just go and read it.

Bob:  Our web address is FamilyLife.com.  If you'll click where it says, "Today's Broadcast", there will be a link to the article.

Dennis:  What do you mean, Ron, by wilderness wanderings?

Ron:  Let me tell you a story.  It's about Moses and the Israelites.  They had been in bondage for over 400 years.  They desperately wanted to be released from that.  They prayed, and they prayed, and they asked God to deliver them.  One day, He decides, in His timing, to act.  Ten plagues later, Pharaoh says, "You can go."  

They embark on this journey.  If you just stop and think about it for a minute, can you imagine their excitement?  They have finally been released.  "Honey, grab the kids!  Grab everything that we own!  Let's jump in line.  We're out of here."  "Where are we going?"  "We're going to the Promised Land."  "How long is it going to take to get there?"  "I have no idea, but let's go."

So, they embark on this journey.  They set out.  A little while down the road, somebody says, "Hey, you got the map?"  "No, I don't have the map.  I was kind of hoping you had the map."  "Well, Moses seems to be leading.  God's leading him.  So, we'll just keep going." 

Well, they come to this point in time where they take a break by the Red Sea.  They turn around and look behind them.  Lo and behold, who's there?  Pharaoh has sent his army.  He wants them back.  In fact, he wants them dead.  The people, at that point in time, turn.  They look at Moses; and they say, "Were there not enough graves in Egypt that you brought us out here to die?"  

Now, Dennis, the story I hear from stepfamilies goes a little something like this, “God, you know, being a single parent is really tough.  My kids need a father.”  “My kids need a mother.”  “They need somebody else in the household to kind of bring a sense of wholeness to their life.  I'm doing it all by myself.  Would you please deliver me from the bondage of being a single parent?"  

Somebody comes into your life.  They make you smile again, and you feel good, and you begin to have a hope for the future.  All of a sudden, you get this wild idea that there is a Promised Land, just around the corner, of a happy family.  So, “Let's go!  Let's grab the kids!  I'm sure there will be some adjustment issues, but it's going to be okay.”

They embark on this journey, only to discover that just a little ways down the road, is this sea of opposition.  There are all these issues they really don't know how to face, they really don't know how to confront, and they just keep butting their head over and over again up against this sea of opposition.  

Then, they turn around and look behind them.  They're being pursued by a past that they thought they'd left behind.  It's pursuing them in the form of very difficult emotions, like anger and jealousy and loss—that they thought they'd gotten rid of—but, lo and behold, it's come with them.  Their children's loss issues are staying with them, as well.

The other thing that's pursuing them is the old relationships.  They're still dealing with an ex-spouse as the children move back and forth between homes.  They're still arguing and fighting with that person.  All of a sudden, the children look to this adult and they say, "Mom, we really were doing a whole lot better back there when it was just you and us.  Why did you bring us out into this stepfamily to die?"

Then parents begin to feel guilty.  They begin to feel that there is no hope for the future.  The message that I have for stepfamilies is, “There is a wilderness wandering.  It is almost a universal experience that stepfamilies get to a point where they say, ‘Maybe we should go back.’”  Sixty percent of couples will go back to that bondage of divorce.  

What I say is, "No, you've got to trust God.  Hold His hand."—just like Moses called the Israelites to trust God.  He led them through that Red Sea.  God can lead stepfamilies through their seas of opposition, but they've got to do the tough work.  They've got to stick it out.  There is a Promised Land on the other side; but if they quit and go back to Egypt, they never get the rewards.

Dennis:  Ron, what I have experienced with stepfamilies is that when they finally realize that a stepfamily, which has been caused either by death or by divorce, and have two different family units coming together to forge a new, different unit—when they realize that that new family is not going to be the ideal—this perfect ideal of a Christian family—I've found that many times their shoulders, all of a sudden, are relaxed.  

It is like, "Oh, that's what we've been struggling with.  We've been trying to achieve what we know to be the ideal; and yet, we're living in this stepfamily, which isn't ideal."

Ron:  That's right.  It's a different kind of family.  They're trying to be The Brady BunchThe Brady Bunch taught us that you can take a stepfamily and make it just like a biological family.  It doesn't work that way.  Anybody, with any Christian maturity to them, in a second, third, or fourth marriage will tell you that remarriage is not God's ideal.  They have a different kind of family, and they can make it a good and great family.

Bob:  And, you know, the passage from Philippians 3, that I come back to all the time here, is where Paul, after he recounts his own sinful background as it relates to his involvement with the church, says, "I used to stone Christians.  I don't deserve to be here, even, writing this letter to you." 

Then he says, "But this one thing I do."  He said, "Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ."  Wherever you find yourself in a marriage relationship today, first time, second time—you can look back; and you can say, "I have blown it."

Ron:  "And from this day forward, I dedicate my life, my marriage, my children, my stepchildren, to the service of God and His Kingdom."  There is absolutely a message of redemption and hope.

Dennis:  And that hope can be realized no matter how dire the circumstances may be.  I mean, God has always worked His plan and purpose out through broken, dysfunctional people.

Ron:  Back to the Israelites—think about them, in the middle of their journey.  They come to a place where they have no water.  They're grumbling; and they're complaining, “Are we ever going to get to the Promised Land?”  They come across some water, and it's bitter.  They can't drink it.  God tells Moses, "Throw a stick in there."  

He turns the bitter water sweet.  At that point, God, in Exodus 15, defines Himself—says, "I have a name.  One of my names is I AM The God Who Heals You.  I AM Jehovah Rapha.  I AM the God who turns the bitter waters of life sweet again."  That's exactly what God wants to do for stepfamilies—for people in situations that seem less than ideal.

Dennis:  Ron, is what we've been talking about here the greatest need of stepfamilies?

Ron:  It is because they feel so unworthy.  It's amazing to me.  It's difficult to get people to turn out for seminars.  It's difficult to get stepfamilies to acknowledge their presence in churches.  I call them "closet stepfamilies”.  They're there, but they don't want anybody to know they're there because they're afraid of the social judgment.  They're afraid of isolation.  They're afraid of somebody looking at them saying, "Oh, you're one of those kinds of families," or, "You're less than ideal."

There is not a person in any church in America who is an ideal.  There's no such thing as a second-rate family or a second-rate Christian because there's no such thing as a first-rate Christian.  We're just all people in need of a cross.

Dennis:  You know, it occurs to me, that stepfamilies, who are listening to our broadcast today, just need to know this, “We love you.”  These broadcasts, over the next few days, are because we want to equip you, encourage you, and bring hope to you—that you might run the race.  

The verse that has just been echoing in my heart is 1 Peter, Chapter 4, verse 8.  It says, "Above all else, keep fervent in your love for one another because love covers a multitude of sins."  The word "fervent" there means "stretched out".  Certainly, those who are in stepfamilies know what it means to be stretched out.

Ron:  When you feel trapped between that sea of opposition and a past you can't shake, that's the time you trust God because God will provide a way through that sea of opposition that you cannot see.  He will do it.  He will be there, and He will lead, and He will guide.  He will help equip you with tools through people, through FamilyLife, through organizations that can help you get to the Promised Land.

Bob:   Most of us begin the assignment of marriage with no skill development for relationships.  It's just what we picked up in our family of origin, which may have been dysfunctional.  It may have had its own set of challenges.  We've had no formal training.  We are now yoked together with somebody who brought in their informal background of skill development.  Oftentimes, in those situations, when we reach an impasse, we go, "I don't know how to fix this."  If you just would pull back and learn some basic skills, it can orient you in a new direction. 

Now, ultimately, those skills have got to be worked out through the power of the Holy Spirit because, in your flesh, you'll never be able to maintain God's perspective on what a marriage ought to be.  But even a godly Christian needs to understand what communication looks like and what conflict resolution looks like—what the Bible teaches about those kinds of things.

Ron:  When I’m talking to couples who are thinking about entering into a stepfamily situation or I’m doing pre-remarriage counseling training for ministers—what I tell them is, “All of those things you taught couples the first time they got married you have to teach remarried couples, plus you have to teach them how to deal with the parenting and step-parenting issues, how to deal with their ex-spouses, how they’re going to handle their ghosts from the marriage past.  You have to do everything plus more to get them equipped.”

Dennis:  And all this week we are going to—well, we're going to turn this into a classroom of skill building for stepfamilies.  I'd like to encourage you to call a friend and encourage them because I've got to tell you something—some of the most hopeless people are those that you think are The Brady Bunch.  They are struggling at the very core of their marriage and family.  It's all around what Bob was talking about.  They do not possess the biblical skills to know how to go about creating a godly stepfamily, and that can be done.

Bob:  Ron has produced a number of resources to help families who are in stepfamily situations, starting with The Smart Stepfamily, which is available both as a book or as a small group resource.  There is a DVD so that if a small group wants to get together and go through this material they can do that.

In fact, getting together with other folks who are in a stepfamily and going through this material may be the best way to go through it, if you can, because it just helps to hear the experience of other families—“What’s worked for them?  What are the challenges they are facing?”  There’s the book; there’s the small group study.  Then, Ron has written a book called The Smart Stepdad—co-wrote a book called The Smart Stepmom.  There are additional resources that he’s written and produced over the years.

We have all of these resources in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.  In fact, we haven’t really mentioned this; but Ron has recently joined us here at FamilyLife, as a member of our team.  His ministry, The Smart Stepfamily, is something that we are making a part of what we’re doing, here at FamilyLife.  

We want to help families.  We want to help couples, in whatever situation you find yourself in today, for whatever reason.  We want to help your marriage and your family be the strongest it can be.  To have Ron, here as a part of the team, we’re talking now about the new resources we can be developing and new strategies we can employ to help strengthen folks who are in blended or stepfamily situations.

If you’d like more information on the resources that Ron has produced and that are available, go to our website. FamilyLifeToday.com is the website—FamilyLifeToday.com, or call us toll-free at 1-800-FL-TODAY.  Again, there is more information online; or if you have any questions, call us and we’ll see if we can answer them for you.  The web is FamilyLifeToday.com, and our toll-free number is 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
 
Let me say a quick word of thanks to those of you who have, in the past, helped support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  Because we are listener-supported, we depend on donations from folks like you to be able to continue the ministry, here at FamilyLife.  In fact, more than 65 percent of our annual revenue comes from donations from folks like you.  You make it possible for this program to be produced, and syndicated, and distributed through radio and on the web worldwide.  We appreciate that partnership.  
 
This week, if you can make a donation to help support us, we’d like to send you a brand-new resource by Dennis Rainey.  In fact, we talked about this last week.  It’s a book called Aggressive Girls, Clueless Boys.  It deals with the challenges facing a lot of teenage boys today, who have young ladies who are becoming romantically-aggressive with them.
 
In addition to the brand-new book from Dennis, we’d also like to send you a copy of Dennis’ book, Interviewing Your Daughter’s Date.  Those two resources are our thank-you gift to you, this week, when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation.  You can do that online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800 “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”, and make a donation over the phone.
 
If you do that, just ask for the books we were talking about on the radio.  We’ll know what you’re talking about and be happy to send those to you.  Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com.  Click the button that says, “I Care”, to make a donation online; or call 1-800 “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
 
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue our conversation about stepfamilies.  Ron Deal is going to be back with us, and we’re going to talk about children and how they can actually keep a family from blending well.  We’ll talk about that tomorrow.  Hope you can be here for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.  
 
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