Ideas for blending two families into one
By Geoff and Lori Taylor
Twelve years ago our two families—Geoff and his two girls and Lori and her son and daughter—became one. We married in 1998 while our children were in elementary school, and now all four kids are in college.
Our stepfamily’s journey has been exciting and tumultuous, filled with unexpected pleasures and pain. It is a story shared by many families in our churches. Some, like Geoff, have a blended family because of the death of a spouse, while others, like Lori, start over because of divorce.
When I married my high school sweetheart in 1987 I thought I knew everything there was to know about living “happily ever after.” Although my parents and mentors at church saw red flags in our relationship, I felt confident that we could overcome them.
We lived our married life with one foot in the church, the other in the world. When I became pregnant with our son in 1989, I realized I had to make a choice. I chose Christ and began to devote time and attention to reading the Word and seeking peer/mentor groups at my church. Sadly, my husband did not.
Our daughter followed in 1992. As I stayed home with our two young children, my husband struggled with the growing pressure he felt to be a father and to provide financially for our family. It’s a long, heartbreaking story, but suffice it to say that his alcohol abuse escalated to the point of self-destruction. Our divorce was finalized in 1995. He passed away last year at the age of 47.
Although I was devastated by my divorce and felt safe in my relationship with God, I prayed that God would lead me to the right man if God wanted me to remarry. I met Geoff on a blind date and soon felt confident that he was the man I had been praying for.
My first wife, Elisabeth, and I married in 1986, and our first daughter was born in 1989. We bought a small home after our second daughter was born in 1992, and Elisabeth stayed home with the girls during their preschool years.
Elisabeth was born with heart deformities; her first heart surgery was as a preschooler. Rheumatic fever in her teens led to Mitral Stenosis in adult life. No one was prepared for the trauma of her death in August 1997 during mitral valve replacement surgery. I became a widower at 35 with two young children.
My new life consisted of work, laundry, dishes, homework and loneliness. The pressure was intense. Ironically, one of the things God used to change my perspective was the movie Titanic. Watching innocent people suffer loss helped me to accept the fact that I was not alone on my journey—other people suffer too. And God began to heal my brokenness.
Soon a neighbor introduced me to Lori. After hearing her story, I felt she would be a great wife and mom. I realized a remarriage with stepchildren would be a challenge, but she was willing to join me in this venture. In October 1998, we had a beautiful outdoor wedding with our four young children participating.
When we remarried, we were not ready for what lay ahead. No one is prepared for the new levels of complexity that arise in remarriage, many of which come from outside the new marriage. We spent time and energy helping other family members understand that we were all a family now, encouraging them to embrace all four children and not only their biological children. We also spent years in court with Lori’s ex-husband, which took a tremendous emotional and financial toll.
We struggled to find others in our church that could help us but realized remarriage ministry was not widely accepted. We felt very alone and isolated from others who did not understand our step-issues.
Although we moved forward confidently in God’s love for our new family, we had much to learn. We were encouraged by the hope found in Colossians 1:17: “In him all things hold together.” We held tight to the knowledge that Jesus was and is with us every step of the way. We reached out to other stepfamilies in our church and started a blended family Sunday school class. Sharing with other people who were in similar situations brought great comfort. We took advantage of the many great books and Web sites available to help us grow in Christ and to grow in our family.
If your new family is a complicated web of relationships, we feel your pain. If your children are hurt and have lost hope, we have been there and grieve with you. Reflecting on our experiences and those of other families, we offer these encouragements.
1. Focus on the marriage. When joining two families with separate cultures, histories and traditions, much energy is spent finding a “new normal.” When custody, ex-relationship and financial issues dominate the home environment, the marriage tends to weaken under this stress. Marriage is not necessarily easier the second time. Marriage is like algebra. Remarriage is like calculus! The children’s security comes from knowing your marriage is stable—even if it’s not what they had hoped for.
2. Recognize and accept loss. Remarriage cannot repair the damage that brought you here. The best response is to offer forgiveness and repentance to all involved. In our case, Geoff even had to forgive God. It is important to model forgiveness and reconciliation to your children. Children carry a lot of pain from whatever circumstances caused them to be in this stepfamily, something they never asked for.
3. Practice the spirit of adoption. Practice adoptive love toward your stepchildren, and free them from false expectations. Rather than trying to replace their natural parent, offer love, support and encouragement as though you adopted them into your life. Be sensitive when discussing their “other family.”
4. Do not compare your new family to original families. Our family struggled with normal developmental issues as well as step issues. It’s easy to feel like you’re failing your spouse, children or yourself. Find other stepfamilies and encourage each other.
5. Create new traditions. Find compromise through new ideas with birthdays, holidays and vacations. As time goes by, new traditions will build on each other and over the years you will have many great memories. No child or family member will return to the innocent state of your previous life, but you can help them adjust to their new world. Listen to their feelings.
6. Enforce equality and protectiveness. Treat each child in the family with the same standards. Do not divide your family with favoritism. Write down and apply chores, disciplines and rewards equally as appropriate across the board. Your home needs to be protected from other family members who refuse to exercise equality. “Good intentions” will split your marriage along the step line. Everything that comes to the kids from outside relationships should be filtered through your marriage first.
We are a nation of remarried people, and our children are largely being raised in remarried or non-married families. While it’s sad that the church is not exempt from this, we Christians have something in our lives that other families are missing: the presence of God and the encouragement of one another.
If we as a people of God come together in prayer and mutual support, God can heal the wounds of our past and bring hope for family restoration. God strengthened and supported us in our remarried journey, and he will do the same for you if you choose to put him first.
Geoff and Lori Taylor have lived in Bakersfield, Calif., for 10 years and attend Heritage Bible Church. They have three children in college and one recent graduate. They share a passion in offering hope to marriages and families, especially stepfamilies.