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Smart Stepfamilies

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Syndicated Column and Review by Michael McManus



Syndicated Column, Dec. 11, 2004
by Michael J. McManus

Do you know someone in a stepfamily, or who is considering entering one, or
who is in church ministry?  If so, I think the perfect Christmas gift would
be "The Smart Stepfamily" by Ron Deal. It is by far, the best book ever
written on how to make this family form succeed.

The need for it is acute.  Thirty percent of all marriages in America
involve adults who will be stepparents. And at least 70 percent* of those
remarriages will fail.  If America is to cut the divorce rate, we must learn
how to help these families avoid a second or third divorce.

Fortunately, this book offers answers on how to save four out of five

"Remarriage and stepfamily life can be filled with many blessings, but the
journey probably won't start out that way," Deal writes.  Or, as he stated
in an interview, "There is a honeymoon for remarried couples, but it comes
at the end of the journey, after 7-9 years."

Why is it so difficult?

"God's plan that two single people leave their families of origin and cleave
solely to each other doesn't occur in stepfamilies. The marriage begins with
children who dramatically impact the marriage. Biological families, when
they experience upheaval, can survive riding on the back of the marital
relationship because it preceded the children and hopefully has remained
strong through the transition into parenthood. In stepfamilies, the
parent-child bond predates the couple's relationship, often making marriage
the weakest relationship in the home," he writes.

Integrating two different families "involves combining two unique family
styles, various personalities and preferences, differing traditions, pasts,
loyalties. Yet most people make the decision to bring two families together
without consulting the instructions (God's Word.)"

Deal recalls how Moses lead the Israelites out of slavery. Imagine their
initial joy as the Pharaoh allowed them to walk away. "Yet the joy of being
set free was soon quenched when the Israelites found themselves hemmed in by the Red Sea on one side" and the Egyptian army on the other side.

"Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the
desert to die," they asked Moses.

"Freedom from slavery was what the Israelites pleaded for, and yet
oppression and bondage actually became attractive to them as soon as the
journey became difficult."

Most divorces (75 percent) end in remarriage that begin with joy. The
stepchildren soon make life miserable for the stepparent.  And stepfamilies
will be more complex if they involve "yours, mine, and ours" children, two
or more ex-spouses. The temptation to flee is high.

Deal offers seven stepping stones out of the Wilderness. Most are Biblical.

1. Christlikeness: "Rid yourselves of...anger, rage, malice,
slander...Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness
and patience...Forgive..." Colossians 3

2. Listening: James writes, "Be quick to listen and slow to become angry."
Proverbs 18:13 reminds us, "he who answers before listening ­ that is his
folly and his shame."

3. Understanding: Put yourself in the shoes of another. Make a list of the
losses children  experienced, to understand their fear of bonding with a
stepparent who may also leave.

4. Perseverance: Exodus 15:26 describes the "Lord who heals you." The
implication: if people listen toGod's voice and do what is right in his eyes, he will heal the situation.

5. Commitment: The bedrock commitment is a dedication to your spouse, to the vows "for richer, for poorer; for better, for worse; in sickness and in
health." If either spouse fails to live those vows every day, the stepfamily
will not survive the Wilderness.

6. Humor.  A cartoon depicts a little girl pointing a figure at the boy,
reminding him, "You dad cannot beat up my dad because your dad is now MY dad, remember?"

7. Patience: Research indicates it takes an average stepfamily SEVEN years
to integrate. "How to you cook a stepfamily?" Deal asks. "You can't do it in
a blender. Most stepfamilies don't blend, or someone gets creamed in the
process. Nor can it be done in a microwave that is quick. Relationships in a
stepfamily are more like a crock pot, which is slow, but eventually the
ingredients come together so there is something good to taste."

The last chapter is aimed at the church which is "not serious about
stepfamily enrichment or divorce prevention."  Neglect must be replaced by
help into the Promised Land.

How? I urge churches to create "Stepfamily Support Groups" that begin by
slowly reading this book, and discussing the questions at the end of each


* According to Mavis Heatherington, PhD, personal communication, Dec 10, 2004.


Copyright © 2004 Michael J. McManus.  Used with permission.

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