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The Smart Stepdad: Steps to Help You Succeed

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Overview

While resources abound for stepmothers, stepfathers are often left to travel a difficult road without clear directions. Ron Deal offers advice for men navigating the stepfamily minefield, including how to connect with stepchildren, being a godly role model, how to discipline, dealing with the biological dad, and keeping the bond strong with one's new spouse. He gives perspective on what the kids are going through and why things don't work the same as in a biological family. "The Smart Stepdad" provides essential guidelines to help stepfathers not only survive but succeed as both dad and husband.

Details

  • SKU: 9781441214645
  • SKU10: 144121464X
  • Title: The Smart Stepdad: Steps to Help You Succeed
  • Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
  • Release Date: Apr 01, 2011
  • Pages: 192
  • Category: FAMILY CONCERNS
  • Subject: Parenting - Stepparenting
NOTE: Related content on this page may not be applicable to all formats of this product.

Excerpt

"The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them."
—EXODUS 2:23b–25

PART ONE

Headed for the Promised Land!

Can you imagine what freedom must have been like to the Israelites? For some four hundred years they had been oppressed by the Egyptians, held in bondage against their will, and forced to live as slaves. For years the Lord had heard their cries, and now the time had finally come for freedom. It's hard to imagine the joy, relief, and utter exuberance the Israelites must have felt. They were going home! But where, exactly, was home?

Moses, a rather unsung hero at the time, through God's power had become their leader. A pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night made it obvious that God was leading his people to the Promised Land. Yet the joy and celebration of being set free was soon quenched when the Israelites found themselves hemmed in by the Red Sea on one side and an angry Pharaoh, who had changed his mind about letting them go, on the other. In their terror the Israelites cried out, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? . It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!" (Exodus 14:11–12).

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. Indeed, this wasn't the only occasion about which the Israelites complained and pleaded to return to Egypt. The security of slavery was often more inviting than the insecurity of traveling an unmarked road to an unknown destination. They just hadn't learned how to trust God to give purpose and provision in unfamiliar territory.

Many stepfamilies walk this same journey.

ONE

Through

Wilderness Wanderings

"Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? . It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!" Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today"

(Exodus 14:11–13).

It is nearly a universal experience for the adults in stepfamilies, and it occurs soon after remarriage. I'm referring to disillusionment. Believing that remarriage will release them from the bondage of divorce, loss, loneliness, and painful emotions, couples pick up their children and possessions and launch into the wilderness toward the Promised Land. The wedding seems to mark a release from oppression. At last, they think, I am loved and important again. And my children will have the benefit of a two-parent family. This is going to be great! But eventually the realities of stepfamily life trip over unrealistic fantasies, and disillusionment sets in.

Remarriage for most adults seems to be their second (or third) chance on life. Life hasn't worked out the way they planned, and the trip has been painful. But things are looking up—they've fallen in love again and the dream of a normal family life has returned. A new journey of hope has begun. The journey, however, almost always takes some unexpected turns. For example, your spouse's dedication to his or her children was noble before the wedding, but now seems to be a challenge to the marriage; a teenager living in one of the other homes decides to live with you; parenting styles differ more than you expected, and conflict erupts frequently. The trip is filled with uncertainty, and parents realize they feel lost much of the time. The daily grind continues, but progress is slow in coming. Life seems to go in circles. It's easy to get lost in the wilderness.

DON'T LOOK NOW; WE'RE BEING PURSUED!

Just as the Israelites quickly found themselves caught between the Red Sea and Pharaoh's army, so stepfamilies shortly after remarriage find themselves caught between the future and the past. Behind them, debilitating pain and loss from the days of bondage are quickly pursuing. Anger, resentment, rejection, and guilt siphons the energy from people's emotional tanks, while losses too numerous to count (especially for children) make for cautious emotional investments in new stepfamilies. Indeed, the pain of the past makes for a tremendous fear of the future. Consider these statements from the Thomas family:

Biological mother, Judy:

"I'm afraid it's not going to work, and we'll get divorced. And then three times I've failed. I'm afraid Frank's [her new husband] going to get aggravated with his stepchildren—my kids—and he's going to walk, ‘cause there's only so much he can take. I'm afraid my kids are going to turn against me because they didn't want Frank as their stepfather. It would just be another failure."

Older son, John (age seventeen):

"I'm afraid of getting close to anyone. I'm not very trusting. With all I've had to live through, I keep waiting for it to happen all over again: the constant blaming and getting stuck in the middle. And I won't let it ever happen again."

Middle daughter, Susan (age fifteen):

"I ain't afraid of nothing. I'm not scared of anything. I mean, if you broke up, it wouldn't be the first time. I might be a little worried where we'd go or something like that. But as far as you breaking up, I mean, two times gets you ready for it to happen at any moment."

Younger son, Randy (age fourteen):

"I try to get closer sometimes but then the fear happens and I hide out from doing things with Frank and keep farther apart from him than I should be I want to get close, but not too close, for fear of something that might happen in the future."

Stepfather, Frank:

[regarding his marriage] "I'm afraid to be in another relationship where I'm nobody and have no say about what's going on in the house. [Regarding the stepchildren] I'm afraid that if we don't change things right away, they're going to grow up and we'll never have a relationship. They'll just be stepkids who come and visit at holidays. I don't want it to be that way."

The pain of their collective past is driving their fears of the future, which, in turn, is leading them to be guarded and untrusting in the present. If these heartaches and losses are not successfully resolved for this family and yours, the result will be a tired, disillusioned couple unable to draw close to each other, let alone meet the emotional needs of their children. Painful emotions from the past must be resolved in order for you and your children to move on.

FACING A SEA OF OPPOSITION

Looking to the future is difficult when the fear of further loss looms before you. Yet that is just the beginning. A sea of opposition and challenges lie ahead for most stepfamilies. Common uncharted waters include:

  • achieving marital intimacy after being hurt;

  • parenting and stepparenting roles and rules;

  • questions of spiritual integrity and church involvement;

  • how to integrate the members of a stepfamily over time;

  • dealing with ex-spouses and co-parenting issues;

  • helping children emotionally and spiritually;

  • handling sexual pressures between unrelated persons;

  • issues of money management and financial autonomy.

    Stepfamily life can be overwhelming and intimidating. It's not uncommon for persons to start wondering, much like the Israelites did, if maybe they should return to the bondage of divorce or single-parent living. Sure, it was miserable and unfulfilling, but at least they knew what they had. Disillusionment quickly gives birth to grumbling, complaining, and conflict. Emotions run high and problems escalate. The stepparent, who from an outsider's position can more clearly see and feel the disharmony in the home, often voices this disillusionment first. The biological parent who is still blinded by the fog of new love frequently discounts requests for change. Slowly but surely, this builds distance in the couple's relationship at a time when they can't afford to be out of touch.

    The temptation to return to bondage continues: "What have I done? Maybe I shouldn't have left being single. Besides, it appears that the God I prayed to for so long has abandoned me (I'm sure I deserve it) and condemned me to flounder on my own." Wrong! While I doubt that the God of the universe will reveal a path to you with a cloud of fire, he most certainly will provide strength and direction for your journey, even when the path seems dismal.

    If there is one message that stepfamilies need to hear, it's this: There is a stepfamily Promised Land of marital intimacy, interpersonal connectedness, and spiritual redemption! God has not abandoned you, even though you may have lived a life of sin and shame, or even though you doubt his presence in your life. If you will listen, trust, and continue walking by faith, you will hear him confirming your journey, offering guidance, healing, and providing a path on dry ground. But you must trust him. Don't be like most remarried couples who end their journey in divorce within the first three years; they quit before ever crossing the Red Sea. God beckons you to remain persistent and see your family through to the Promised Land. There is a reward to be gained. But you must hold God's hand and walk through your sea of oppositions.

    IS THE JOURNEY DIFFICULT FOR ALL STEPFAMILIES?

    Stepfamilies vary greatly. Some have children from just one spouse and involve only one household if, for example, the death of a parent ended the first biological family. (This is not to imply that the death of a parent makes stepfamily living easy.) Other stepfamilies are much more complex with "yours, mine, and ours" children, two or more ex-spouses, and plenty of stepparents and stepgrandparents. These factors plus the different levels of involvement children have with parents and stepparents make it hard to predict how much a family will struggle. I've worked with stepfamily adults who had horrible first family experiences and find stepfamily life easy. Others assume they will have an easy transition because they have an amicable relationship with their ex-spouse, and the children appear (before remarriage) to like their future stepparent. However, they later discover many complications that challenge their marital strength and faith in God.

    Not all stepfamilies have a difficult journey, but most will experience unexpected challenges. Some will face a great many barriers. It is important to remember that the number of barriers you face comments neither on you nor on whether or not you should have married. Once you say, "I do," your original wisdom, or lack thereof, in creating this family is irrelevant. When encountering opposition, too many people convince themselves that it wasn't a good idea to marry in the first place. They then begin looking for a way out.

    When stepfamily life gets tough, remaining dedicated to your commitment is a day-to-day decision. A man once drove six hours to talk with me about his stepchildren and marriage. He hoped that once I heard him describe the sea of oppositions he was facing, I would give him "permission" to leave the marriage. I did not (and he was terribly annoyed). What I did do was agree with him that the marriage, in its present condition, was not something anyone should keep, nor was God honored by an angry, resentful relationship. I suggested that with guided help he could choose to work on his marriage and remain open to how the God of the impossible might intervene on their behalf. Furthermore, avoiding divorce by tolerating a miserable marriage, I suggested, does not honor God. Commitment requires that you strive for a better life together, even when you don't feel like putting forth your best effort or have convinced yourself the marriage should have never happened in the first place.

    SO YOU'RE CONSIDERING REMARRIAGE .

    To those of you who are perhaps engaged or considering remarriage, I am so glad you are reading this book now. I can't tell you how many couples attending my Building a Successful Stepfamily seminar have said, "Why didn't anyone ever tell us these things before we married? We could have saved ourselves a lot of grief if we would have only known." So by all means, keep reading with these intentions:

    • Use this book to enlighten yourself to the possible struggles you may face in your stepfamily journey.

    • Equip yourself and your relationship with practical strategies to meet the challenges.

    • Use the stories and information here to help you make an informed decision about remarriage.

      Remarriage and stepfamily life can be filled with many blessings, but the journey probably won't start out that way. You'll have to work diligently to reach the Promised Land. To that end, have you truly considered the costs? Do you know what the costs are? This book will help you identify them. In addition, I recommend that you find a group of stepfamilies or an individual stepfamily in your congregation and ask them some questions:

      • What do they wish they had known before they remarried?

      • What are their three greatest challenges?

      • How could they have better prepared themselves for stepfamily living?

      • What painful emotions from the past did they not resolve well enough prior to remarriage?

      • Where are they in the journey, and what still lies ahead?

      • What blessings have they experienced and at what price?

        The lure of marriage is tremendous. Finally, you think, someone to take care of me. I just feel so good when I'm with him. But stepfamily life is so much more than just your marriage. 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 precedes the children and hopefully has remained strong through the transition to parenthood. In stepfamilies, the parent-child bonds predate the couple's relationship, often making the marriage the weakest relationship in the home. And it's tough to strengthen your marriage when parenting issues constantly push marital closeness to the back burner. Being in love with someone who "makes me feel good again" is just the beginning of what it takes to survive. So, please, do yourself and your children a favor—find out everything you can and count the cost before deciding to remarry. Date the person for at least two years, giving yourself plenty of time to develop an understanding of your intended and his or her children. Too many couples date while the children are with the baby-sitter; the dating partner can easily be shielded from a real life, day-to-day experience with the future stepchildren. You need to know what you're getting into on every level. If after much prayer and courting you do remarry, give it everything you've got, and trust God to lead you through.

        THE GOD WHO HEALS

        Shortly after delivering Moses and the Israelites from Pharaoh's army, the Israelites journeyed through the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled, and the only water they found was bitter and not fit for consumption. Again the people complained, and again God provided for his people. God had Moses throw a piece of wood into the unpalatable water, turning it sweet. In reference to the miracle, God then refers to himself as Jehovah-Rophe, the "Lord who heals you" (Exodus 15:26). In so doing, God declares a promise. If his people will listen to his voice and do what is right in his eyes, he will heal—he will make the bitter waters of their life sweet again. That same promise is available to stepfamilies. I believe that our God is just waiting for a chance to heal your past hurts and to alleviate all that pursues you. But that's not all he offers. To those who are faithful, he will provide strength to keep their stepfamily commitments, and he will provide wisdom to overcome the obstacles that lie ahead. He wants you to be successful. But you can't rely on yourself. Depend on him and he will clear a path.

        FOOD FOR THE JOURNEY

        Water was not all that God provided for the Israelites. He also caused manna and quail to rain down upon the people. Similarly, I suggest two types of food to help nourish your journey: practical information and support from fellow travelers. This book will provide the practical stepfamily information. After laying down some key stepping-stones for the stepfamily journey, I will discuss common challenges to the Christian stepfamily and provide practical guidance.

        But don't stop there. I highly recommend you find another couple or a group of couples and meet together on a regular basis. I have been involved in support and therapy groups for a number of years, and stepfamily groups are among the most dynamic I've seen. The common stories that are shared and the pressures and crises that are experienced together create an incredible bond among group members. That's why you'll find a study guide intended for group use at the end of each chapter. A recommended group format is to read each chapter and come together to discuss the questions. This helps you process the information, internalize it, and apply it to your home. When you've finished this book, read another and continue the process. Then, once your family has reached smoother waters, start inviting other couples to join you. You or another couple may "lead" the group, but the format can remain a self-responsible discussion group. If you have a minister or stepfamily educator who will help support the group, ask them to join you. Lives will be touched, including your own.

        IS IT ALL WORTH IT?

        Tim was remarried, but after three years he was just beginning to understand how difficult the journey was going to be. His life experience had shown him that the stepfamily journey can be tough, and now he was hearing me confirm that in a live seminar. During one of the breaks, this thirty-eight-year-old upright man asked an honest question: "I'm just not sure it's worth all the work. I mean, I'm beginning to think the payoff can't be worth all this hard work. It feels like I'm married to my wife, and she's still married to her kids. That makes it very hard for me to work at liking and accepting them. If you don't know what you'll have in a few years, is it worth the effort?"

        He spoke for many people who silently wonder if they're heading down a dead-end street. My answer to such doubt is, it's not a dead-end street. It is worth the effort. The Israelites discovered the Promised Land to be everything they dreamed. Not all stepfamilies have all their expectations realized, but with hard work and commitment, the rewards are worth striving for.

        PROMISED LAND REWARDS

        "The change from being a single divorced family to a stepfamily has been very challenging . don't expect a miracle overnight God is always faithful in every situation and with Him as the central part of all your decisions you can make it through. It is a day to day process and only putting your faith and trust in God will make things better. Having a stepfamily is very rewarding and it is worth working on!" Theresa, reflecting on her family's journey through the wilderness, contributed these thoughts to my Web site recently (www.SuccessfulStepfamilies.com) and she is right on target.

        At the heart of the stepfamily journey is the search for family identity. Knowing how to relate to one another, what to expect from yourself and the roles of others in the family—even how to introduce each other in public—are basic questions stepfamilies ask themselves repeatedly throughout their journey. And as stressful as this journey of family identity formation is, there are some rewards along the way, including:

        • High Quality Marital Relationships

        • A New Marital Heritage to Celebrate

        • A Healthy Family Means Healthier Kids

        • Cooperation Between Homes Results in Well Disciplined Children

        • Respect and Care Between Stepparents and Stepchildren

        • Multigenerational Blessings in Second-Half Stepfamilies

        • Experiencing Love, Experiencing Grace

          High Quality Marital Relationships

          There is a honeymoon for couples in stepfamilies, it just comes at the end of the journey and not at the beginning. Ongoing research of couples in stepfamilies—conducted by internationally recognized marriage and family researcher Dr. David Olson, president of Life Innovations, and me—confirms that couples in stepfamilies can create high quality marital relationships. In a book we're writing on our findings we detail the qualities of successful stepfamily marriages and reveal how couples can deepen their intimacy. In sum, as with all marriages—whether a first or fifth—qualities like effective communication, the ability to resolve conflict well, a relational style that is flexible and adaptable, enjoying leisure activities together, and couple spirituality prove to be very predictive of a high quality marital relationship.

          In other words, couples can create mutually satisfying, intimate, God-honoring marriages within stepfamilies. Undoubtedly there are a number of unique barriers to overcome (see chapter 5), but remarriages can be healthy relationships. Furthermore, I've observed that couples that endure the adversity of the journey frequently have a bond that is powerful enough to withstand anything. There is strength and a sense of victory after surviving what for some is a difficult journey.

          And how long does it take for couples to find an increase of satisfaction? E. Mavis Hetherington reports, in her highly scientific book For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered,1 that it takes most couples five to seven years to get through the tensions of stepfamily life, such that their stress level declines to match that of a husband and wife in a first marriage. Furthermore, surviving their tumultuous early years seems to give couples a staying power that keeps them going . and growing.

          Marital satisfaction is a process. Keep pursuing it.

          A New Marital Heritage to Celebrate

          A strong remarriage is critical for the relational development of the children. Stepfamily children, especially those who have lived through a parental divorce, need to witness and learn from a healthy marital relationship. This counteracts the negative and destructive patterns of interaction they witnessed in their parent's previous marriage (and since the divorce). Instead of arguments filled with yelling and personal agendas, they watch two people who maintain a win-win attitude negotiate the best solution for their family. Instead of a distant relationship between two people living parallel lives, they witness two people giving time and attention to their relationship. Instead of an unbalanced relationship, where one spouse is constantly chasing an ever-distancing, never available spouse, children see a husband and wife who continually seek to sacrifice for the other out of love. On the other hand, if children witness repeated marital breakups, the net effect is a weakening of the child's sense of permanency to marriage and an increased lack of trust in the people they love.2

          It's worth mentioning that many children do not welcome their parent's remarriage, especially in the beginning. They may even fight the stepparent's efforts to join the family, and be antagonistic. This is normal, as children hold on to the dream that their biological parents will remarry. Despite the children's resistance, a strong stepfamily couple will have positive benefits for them over time. The key is to remember that during the early integration years, children may resent the stepparent's presence in the home. Maintain a long-term perspective and live as if a healthy marriage is just what the kids desire. Someday they may come to appreciate, even celebrate, your marital commitment.

          Some time ago a woman sent me an anniversary card she received from her stepdaughter. Debbie had kept the card because it meant so much to her. It made her realize just how much her stepdaughter was watching and learning from her marriage. Nearly a decade into her remarriage, Debbie received the card, which read, "Glad to see you two still haven't lost the magic. Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad!" The hand-written note inside the card was even more encouraging: "Happy Anniversary! I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful Christian example of how a marriage should work. The way you solve conflict with humor is fun to watch. When the time comes for the Lord to bless me with a mate, I hope I am as lucky as the two of you are! I love you both, Kara."

          Now, that's what I call a Promised Land Reward!

          A Healthy Family Means Healthier Kids

          In 1998 James Bray published research culminating the first ten-year longitudinal study of stepfamilies in America. His research revealed that a loving, well-functioning stepfamily over time can negate many of the detrimental psychological impacts of divorce on children. While not all of the negative effects can be reversed, it is certainly a message of hope for parents and children. It seems that with time, healthy stepfamilies can have benefits that counteract the negative costs of divorce.

          In addition, Bray says a "strong, stable stepfamily is as capable of nurturing healthy development as a nuclear family. It can imbue values, affirm limits and boundaries, and provide a structure in which rules for living a moral and productive life are made, transmitted, tested, rebelled against, and ultimately affirmed."3 The key here is a "strong, stable stepfamily." This isn't created overnight, but affirms that dedication to healthy stepfamily integration has significant rewards for children. If that's not a reason to endure the journey to the Promised Land, I don't know what is.

          Cooperation Between Homes Results in Well Disciplined Children

          When children grow up in a stable stepfamily home, they benefit tremendously. When co-parents (birth parents) cooperate, the benefits are even more profound. Increased co-parent cooperation results in increased disciplined behavior in children and a greater respect for boundaries. It doesn't happen often, but some co-parents, like Jason and Leigh, have learned not to let their marital differences and past conflicts keep them from checking up on their children. When Samuel, age nine, and Wesley, age six, figured out that they couldn't play one parent off the other, their misbehavior at school diminished significantly. Gaining this level of cooperation is not easy for most, but seeing the rewards in well disciplined children makes it worth the effort.

          Respect and Care Between Stepparents and Stepchildren

          I met Gail at a stepfamily conference; she shared with me her journey to acceptance by her stepchildren. As we'll see in chapter 7, the pace of the stepparent-stepchild relationship is determined by the child; you can't force kids to embrace or love a stepparent. At the beginning of her marriage to John, who had three children, Gail, full of expectation and hope, assumed that the children would hug and kiss her each night just as they did their father. The children and their dad had a very affectionate relationship, and Gail, understandably, wanted to be welcomed into their nightly ritual of hugs and kisses before bed. However, for many years all John's children would offer her was a passing "Good-night, Gail," before going to bed. Just a few days before attending my conference, that changed. Gail reported that for the first time in four years, her oldest stepson had—for no apparent reason—blessed her with a side-hug before going off to bed. "It wasn't a full-on bear hug like he gives his father," she said, "but it sure was nice."

          Over time, stepparents and stepchildren can develop a tremendous bond with one another. The pace of this developing relationship varies (see chapter 7), and some will never be more than just respectful friends (especially if the children are adults at the time of the remarriage). But for most, a basic sense of mutual respect and care for one another is genuinely attained. If you aren't there yet, don't give up. The journey isn't over yet.

          Multigenerational Blessings in Second-Half Stepfamilies

          Many couples marrying later in life mistakenly assume that because their children are adults that their transition to a stable intergenerational stepfamily will be smooth. Most of the time, it is anything but smooth. As with younger stepfamilies, a remarriage in the second-half of life4 brings many emotional transitions for adult stepchildren. Initial fears that grandchildren will not be prioritized, feelings of abandonment, renewed grief over a changing family heritage, and concerns with family inheritances and finances can eventually give way to feelings of bondedness, connection, and multigenerational blessing when a stepgrandparent also begins to spoil the grandchildren. Experiencing these rewards in the intergenerational family is, too, a journey. But it is well worth it.

          Experiencing Love, Experiencing Grace

          Learning to love again after being hurt is a fearful, risky endeavor—very risky. Extending grace is part of that risk. Without it we cannot give and receive love. God taught us this. Romans 8:12–24 reminds us that God through Christ's sacrifice has adopted believers as His children. Despite our sinfulness, His grace casts out of us a spirit of fear and replaces it with a spirit of hope. He chose to love us; He chose to extend grace to us. In so doing, He made it possible for us to experience love and grace in deeply profound ways.

          I have seen this process replicated many times in stepfamilies. Adults who extend to ex-spouses the grace that God has given them and stepparents who choose to love stepchildren who are cold to their presence have both brought about profound changes to these relationships. The warmth of their heart eventually softens the anger of the other. I've watched children once empty due to the abandonment of their mother or father begin to bloom under the loving care of a stepparent. I've been inspired when a non-custodial mother speaks well of her children's stepmother and insists that they respect her. Despite personal fear and risk, people in stepfamilies choosing love and grace gently invite others to respond with the same. Yes, when grace is shared, amazing things happen. People are blessed and rewards received. And God is brought a little closer to us all.

          NOTICING WHAT GOD HAS DONE

          The Israelites experienced many periods of doubt; perhaps you do too. But undoubtedly, when they stopped to look back, they could see the hand of God and how many times he had acted on their behalf. Perhaps you haven't looked back recently. Perhaps the barriers that stand in front of you now are fueling your doubt and pessimism. Stop for a few moments. What has God done to help you navigate your journey? In what ways has his Word provided insight for decisions and encouragement for patience? How has trusting in his truths about marital fidelity, kindness toward your enemies (perhaps your ex-spouse or stepchildren), and having a servant's heart helped you and your family to overcome obstacles along the way?

          Is there a Promised Land for stepfamilies who don't quit, who faithfully follow their Lord, and who learn all they can about navigating the journey? Absolutely. And it's well worth the effort!

          Questions for Discussion

          Work through the following questions on your own before sharing them with your spouse. Some of the questions are appropriate for children as well. Before talking with your children or stepchildren, take into consideration their ages and your overall relationship with them. In addition to discussing these questions with your spouse (or dating partner) and children, share your answers with your discussion group.

          FOR ALL COUPLES

          1. What aspects of your past did you hope remarriage would "cure"?

          2. Which of the following emotions have you felt in the past? Which still haunt you from time to time? Anger. Bitterness. Depression. Sadness. Longing. Hurt. Resentment. Guilt. Fear. Pain. Rejection.

          3. In what ways did you experience disillusionment, and at what point did you realize things weren't working out like you expected? How have you adjusted your expectations?

          4. In what ways was your remarriage another loss for your children? How can you be sensitive to that loss without being guilt-ridden (or easily manipulated because you feel guilty)?

          5. Look again at the list of uncharted waters on page 19. Which of these represent areas of growth for you or your stepfamily? What areas do you consider to be the priority growth areas right now?

          6. In what ways have you or your stepfamily members experienced God's leading or his healing hand? Be sure to share with your stepfamily how you see him at work in your lives.

          7. What Scriptures have been helpful or inspiring to you recently? If you haven't been reading the Bible much lately, how can you begin to do so again?

          8. Share a time with your spouse when you weren't sure the work was worth the effort. If that time is now, what do you need to help you stay determined? If you trusted God to bring you through, what would you be doing differently than you are now to work in that direction?

          9. Which, if any, of the Promised Land Payoffs have you experienced to some degree already?

          CASE STUDY IN STEPFAMILY FEARS

          Read again the fears from the Thomas family on pages 18 and 19, and then answer the following questions. Remember that when fears are left to govern your behavior, you will find yourself limited in your range of responses. An integrating stepfamily cannot afford to be controlled by fear.

          1. Which fears of the biological and/or stepparent can you relate to and why?

          2. What are you doing to prevent these fears from becoming a reality?

          3. Think through your previous losses and painful family experiences (either family of origin or first marriage). How do your current fears connect with those experiences? How have they sensitized you to avoiding more pain in current relationships?

          4. If you weren't hamstrung by the past, how would you be different in the present?

          5. Consider the fears mentioned by the children. Which might your children also feel?

          FOR PRE-REMARITAL COUPLES

          1. In what ways do you feel intimidated and frightened after reading this chapter?

          2. What challenges are you beginning to see that you had not thought about before?

          3. Think of a stepfamily couple that you can interview. Ask them the following questions. If possible, start attending a stepfamily support group to help you make a more informed decision about remarriage.

          • What do you wish you had known before you remarried?

          • What are your three greatest challenges?

          • How could you have better prepared yourselves for stepfamily living?

          • What painful emotions from the past did you not resolve prior to remarriage?

          • How long have you been traveling this journey?

          • What blessings have you experienced and at what price?

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