Ron L. Deal
There is a powerful and sometimes ominous dynamic at play in blended families. Desiring connection and security within family relationships is normal and expected. But when relationships are undefined and fragile, and one person wants connection with someone more than does the other person(s), the dance of want can drive them a part.
Do you remember having a crush on someone but didn’t know if they were also interested in you? That was the dance of want. Even before a first conversation individuals can find themselves anxiously wondering whether the other person shares an interest in them. Girls will ask their friends, “Do you think he likes me?” and guys will ponder, “What if I ask her out and she says ‘Get away loser!’?” No one wants to want more than they are wanted.
But even after a first—or many dates—this dynamic continues. One person may find themselves dreaming of marriage, only to become insecure wondering if the other is equally interested in life-long love. The nerves men feel before asking a woman to marry them is in part about the dance of want. “What if she says, ‘No’?” And well into marriage the dance continues as the ebb and flow of life leaves people wondering, “Why hasn’t she spoken to me as much lately?” and “Why is it that I initiate sex most of the time?”
Stepparents and Children
In the early season of a blended family when stepparents find themselves “chasing” the want, respect, and acceptance of a child, they are at an inherent disadvantage. For example, being parental (e.g., setting boundaries) gives the child more reason not to want them in their life and the stepparent knows it. This tempts stepparents to “go easy” on the child for the sake of preserving what is a fragile relationship. Biological parents usually don’t deal with this because both parent and child have an unending devotion to one another. There’s nothing fragile about their relationship so parents can afford to make their kids mad because they aren’t going anywhere. Stepparents, on the other hand, often feel like they’re walking on egg shells. This gives the child dramatically more power and on occasion they’ll use it to their advantage.
Hoping to achieve peace and harmony in the home blended family couples obviously want the kids to accept their marriage and family. All kids have to do to spoil the whole thing is to not want, that is, to not embrace the new family identity. This leaves adults feeling hurt, rejected, guilty, and confused, which in turn leads some adults to pile on guilt or become manipulative in order to move kids toward “want.”
Clearly, you can’t will someone to want (just ask God).
The Battle for Want
The dance of want sets up a battle for want. When the person who wants more closeness or bonding tries to convince the other to want more than they do, a battle of control ensues. In blended families, typically it is the adults who want more want from the kids. They entice the kids to their house with fun and games; they whine to their children about how they should appreciate the stepparent for all they do; and when kids (young or adult) express discontent about the family or a family member, they attempt to argue them into changing their feelings—and, therefore, their level of want. But the battle for want has two paradoxical outcomes parents must understand:
- the more parents demand want from children, the less likely they are to get it.
- the more parents demand want, the more dependent they become on the children resulting in less parental influence and increasing feelings of frustration and anger.
None of this fosters family connection and bonding and it makes emotionally fragile adults unworthy of respect.
The Jesus Response
On many occasions Jesus disappointed people; he didn’t chase their acceptance, approval, applause, or want. On one occasion he turned away from a gathering of people seeking healing (Mark 1:35-39). On another he told an enthusiastic would-be follower to count the cost carefully because he might not have a place to sleep if he followed (Luke 9:57-62). Jesus didn’t manipulate want from others; he didn’t “need” it. Rather, he softly invited it by leaning out over the edge of rejection with his love. Therein lies the key.
When fear makes you insecure because you’re unsure of the other’s want for you, lead from a position of strength. When you are tempted to manipulate, cajol, or press for want, instead boldly state your desire for the other, press through the risk of not having this reciprocated, and act accordingly. Many won’t sacrifice or give to another without first being assured of their want; these people drown in fear. But those who lead with their want (which inspires actions of mercy and grace) often find the other willing to do likewise.
Ron L. Deal is president of Smart Stepfamilies™, director of blended family ministries for FamilyLife®, a popular conference speaker on marriage and family matters, and author/coauthor of a series of DVD’s and books for stepfamilies including The Smart Stepmom, The Smart Stepdad, and Dating and the Single Parent. Learn more at www.smartstepfamilies.com.