by Ron L. Deal
I’m going to give you a strange suggestion. I prefer to think of it as a gift, really. But it’s the kind of gift you wish someone wouldn’t ever give you because it represents a truth you don’t like hearing. Are you ready? Learn to endure disharmony in your home.
“Now just wait a minute, Ron.” you quickly object. “I want my family to be a loving, peace-filled place for everyone and you want me to be okay with disharmony?” Yeah, I know, it sounds crazy, but it really is a gift for you and your children. Let me explain.
The crux of becoming a stepfamily is developing a family identity. Biological families are born with it (flowing through the marital union), but stepfamilies have to grow it. Born with different last names and different pasts, stepfamily members have to learn to be family. While this process is occurring (and it can take many years) there will be natural conflict, strife, guilt, and angst in your home. Children may be reserved, moody, and sometimes depressed about what is going on in their life. Stepparents may feel left out and anxious about their relationship with the children. Biological parents may feel guilt over the past and/or bringing their children into a home that doesn’t feel completely safe. There is plenty of reason to experience disharmony.
Now here’s the tough part: disharmony is a must—a necessary evil—to help your stepfamily create a family identity. It is the wilderness that must be traveled in order to reach the Promised Land. But how?
The struggles you face force people to walk together in the midst of conflict and find ways of loving one another, especially when you didn’t choose one another (e.g., stepparents and stepchildren). Rubbing your rough edges against someone else’s rough edges smoothes both and eventually—are you ready for this—gives way to connection. The struggle produces trust, respect, and appreciation for one another. Get it? Disharmony, or perhaps I should say the working-through of disharmony, actually moves you forward as a family. But when you short circuit that process by being a peace-maker or fixer things don’t get better.
Keeping the right perspective about the “trials” your family is facing is a gift, not only for your family, but also for you. Here are four perspective-points to remember:
- When tension comes, remember that you aren’t done cooking as a family (see How to Cook a Stepfamily). The rejection or discouragement of today is not a prediction for tomorrow. The tension of the moment will lessen over time as relationships grow. Don’t panic!
- Disharmony is not a statement of “mistake”. When stress comes many people wonder if they should have never gotten married. In most cases that is ridiculous! You are simply experiencing the normal pains of developing a family identity. Learn from the disharmony, don’t discredit your family.
- Remember that children who do best in life have parents (and stepparents) who don’t make the child’s happiness the source of their own. In other words, your well-being should not be determined by the well-being of your children. If it is, you will undoubtedly smother, control, and hover over your child. This creates a number of problems in and of itself; most notable is giving your child a lot of emotional control over you. Care about your child, but don’t idolize them. This leads to the next point...
- You can’t fix everyone’s emotions. When people are sad, let them be—and cry with them. When angry, listen to find out what emotions lie beneath. Give people permission to feel what they feel and don’t become over-responsible to alleviate all their concerns. You can’t, and it won’t work anyway.
So, how do you endure disharmony? Breath deeply and sooth your heart with these four principles:
- “Let Jesus hold you” means trusting God with what you can’t control. Ask him to sooth your emotions and give you courage. Talk to him moment to moment asking for wisdom.
- Do the right thing. Part of trusting God means acting appropriately even if you feel hurt, angry, or fearful.
- Resist the urge to take control of fixing others. Listen and respond to their anxiety or pain, but keep your boundaries up. /li>
- In all cases, act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). /li>
It takes courage to travel the wilderness of disharmony and discover your family identity. There are no short-cuts. You can do it.
Ron L. Deal is Founder & President of Smart Stepfamilies™ and Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®. He is a bestselling author, highly sought-after speaker, and therapist specializing in marriage enrichment and blended family education. Learn more here.