The Modern Family: Hope for Blended, Mixed, Nontraditional, & Stepfamilies, Part 2
Throughout 2021, in our non-pulpit discipleship efforts, we have endeavored to tackle a host of difficult subjects in Christian culture. We talked about Christian life habits that appeared to have suffered in the lives of many throughout 2020, in addition to infertility, abortion, and a host of other things. One of the other hot button subjects that we touched upon was blended and nontraditional families, including some of the specific challenges and encouragements related to them. I was genuinely shocked at the sheer volume of response I received to this blog from not just our church and community, but from around the world! And the theme was the same with each response: “This is not discussed nearly enough;” “there are more of us than you know in the church;” and “we need more resources and encouragement like this.”
This resonated with my heart. There are many unspoken needs in the blended, mixed, nontraditional, and stepfamilies in the global church that barely get mentioned, if not entirely unaddressed. As such, it seems right to serve our brothers and sisters in these sometimes difficult and nontraditional settings, and partner with them in Christ-centered encouragement with tools that engage them where they are at.
The following thoughts, then, are reflective of counseling I have done, books/articles I have read, and a bit of general “best practice” that I think would be helpful in blended, mixed, nontraditional, and stepfamily contexts. The focus of these will primarily be on blended parenting. In a future submission, I will unpack some specifics to subsequent marriage and nontraditional families.
In what is now considered part 1 of this series on blended, mixed, nontraditional, and stepfamilies, I talked a bit about how in (all) families where there is both a husband and wife/dad and mom, the marriage is always primary. This is because in God’s design, the marriage relationship is to reflect his relationship with humankind (Ephesians 5:21-32). No other relationship can usurp its place, not even those between biological parents and their biological children. When you covenant in marriage, your spouse becomes your primary neighbor (Mark 12:30-31). And together, you focus on the children.
This means that blended/nontraditional moms and dads need to pursue and present a unified front on all things. They need to be unified in how they talk to and about their children—both to each other and in front of the children. They need to be critically thinking through how the stepparent is going to respond in the absence of the biological parents. Unity demands these things are considered in advance, and not in the moment.
Here are a few key principles to consider in helping with this:
Avoid Pulling Rank
In the blended, mixed, nontraditional, or stepfamily context, pulling rank—unless absolutely necessary—is unwise. Relationships are time-tested, built on trust, and require a bit of communication finesse. Trying to rush into an authoritative role is likely a recipe for relationship breakdown, broken trust, miscommunication, and the potential of great conflict between you and your spouse, regarding their children (not to mention conflict between you and the children). As such, there is a lot of growth into the role of “stepmom” or “stepdad” that is required.
How does one avoid pulling rank and instead, grow into their blended, mixed, or step role?
Regardless of the reason for the existence of the blended, mixed, step, or nontraditional family, there should be an expectation that emotions will run high, especially in the early days. What are some of the primary emotions that you should expect?
Obviously, this is just a summary of some of the emotional reactions that are likely to occur. But the most significant bit of counsel I can offer is to communicate and process through the emotion to find its root cause. From there, solutions and encouragement can be cultivated.
Pray Together as a Family
Parenting is a discipleship effort. One of the single most significant things blended, mixed, nontraditional, or stepparents can do is pray with their family. Pattern that God is at the head of both the marriage and the family, and practice praise, confession, and making requests together. This is perhaps the single most significant way your nontraditional family becomes a gospel initiative, and points to the Ephesians 5 picture of what God intends, regardless of how your family unit came to be.
As I come to the end of part two of this series, I am aware that there is so much more that could and likely will be said on these sensitive subjects in the future. In closing, however, I would note this is something of a helpful summary statement:
Communication is key.
If you want to have the healthiest blended, mixed, nontraditional, or stepfamily, it will only come through communication. Moms and dads need to communicate and be on the same page about all areas of their new family. Kids need their blended parents to communicate with them, and set appropriate boundaries and expectations, so they know how to operate and find their place within the new family unit. Rules, expectations, chores, all need to be assigned, not for the purpose of getting things done or having a clean house, but for the purpose of family unity and camaraderie. All of these things require communication.
So I plead with you…talk. Invest. Lean into relationship and away from rank. Treat each member of your family as a fellow image-bearer of Jesus and pray hard that God blesses each of your efforts to their fullest extent.