Updated: Apr 23
The Smart Stepfamily Conference held on January 24th - 25th was a huge success! Ron Deal, Laura & Steve Petherbridge, and Kim Giles shared enormously valuable insights on the dynamics that exist within blended families and countless tips on how to best handle the common and inevitable challenges that stepfamilies face. There was laughter, tears, collaboration of ideas with those sitting near you, and role playing as the messages were delivered and absorbed by the attendees. We know our lives were touched by the many new connections we made at the event, and we hope yours were too! Below is a summary of some of the inspiring messages that were shared at the conference.
Laura Petherbridge - The Smart Stepmom - Author, International Speaker, Life Coach
Stepfamilies are different, and more complicated than biological families, and one of the many reasons this is a reality is because all stepfamilies are born from loss. There is loss due to either divorce or death in the biological family and both scenarios carry with them heartache and pain. Many people don’t take the time to heal properly from the grief and loss associated with the first marriage thus they bring their emotional pain with them into a second or third marriage and hope that their new partner can ‘fix’ it. It’s extremely important to take time to heal from that loss in order to enter a new relationship from a place of peace, wholeness, and love.
A common mistake that stepparents make is not putting their marital relationship first. This is a must in blended families! When a marriage comes to an end, single parents and their children bond in ways that differ from a typical parent-child relationship. Often the children become “equals” with the single parent and together they navigate their new family life and struggle through the pain and loss they feel at the breakup of their family. Single parents may relax rules and consequences because they are just trying to make it through each day and they don’t want to have more conflict with their children who are also trying to heal and adjust to their new life.
When these single parents, with their children who are used to coming first, blend their families, it is paramount that the marriage takes the front seat and the children move to the back. Children will resist this ‘demotion’ and parents feel guilty by not prioritizing their children, but if the marriage takes second place to the children, the marriage is doomed. Couples must unite and have a unified front in order for the stepfamily to succeed and ultimately thrive.
In a biological family when the parents are happy the children are also usually happy. This is not necessarily true in stepfamilies. In stepfamilies a strong marital relationship is often seen as a threat to the parent-child relationship by the children. They feel they have ‘lost’ their parent to the new spouse and they have already suffered so much loss that they will resist this new relationship. Statistics show that is takes, on average, seven years to blend a family. Don’t try to rush things. If you keep your marital relationship your first priority, and together you work to parent the children in the home, in time they will accept it and maybe come to love the new family they were brought into, sometimes against their will.
Ron Deal - Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, Bestselling Author, Blended Family Expert
The challenges and complexities of blended families causes stress and stress thickens blood. This is one of the reasons second and third marriage fail. When family life gets difficult, which it will, parents and biological children tend to cling to one another, thus causing a rift or divide within the family unit. This is also why putting the marital relationship first is immensely important. If the couple is not clinging to one another, everything else will eventually crumble.
The key to successfully blending families is to bring everyone together and give the family time! A lot of time! Don’t put pressure on anyone to love each other, let that develop on its own, and in its own timing. Let go of whatever expectations you have about what the family should look like and how soon. Find some middle ground instead of forcing things to be a certain way with all the children involved. Ron calls this “cooking a stepfamily” as if in a crockpot. You cannot make food cook faster than it cooks, and you cannot force families to blend faster that they blend.
Ron explained why it is important to love without fear. Fear breeds more fear. If you are leaning ‘out’ from the relationship, you need to find out why you are? Couples need to lean ‘into’ the marital relationship when challenges arise, not pull away. Blended family dynamics will trigger your biggest fears and past traumas. The only way to successfully navigate through these difficult situations is by becoming closer to your spouse and working through each of your fears and triggers. This involves putting yourself at risk, being vulnerable to another person, but without risk there is no reward. Retreating when times are hard does not create the strength we need to face those hard times. Allow the love that brought you together to be stronger than your fears and focus on that love.
Kim Giles - Master Coach, Professional Speaker, Corporate Trainer, Author
All of us have two core fears: the fear of failure and the fear of loss. Fear of failure centers on not feeling good enough, feeling less than, being afraid to put yourself out there in various capacities, not wanting to look stupid or wrong, etc. Fear of loss means not feeling safe, feeling scared of what could be taken away or changes that life brings, wanting to protect yourself and putting walls or guards up that keep you separate from others, etc.
To manage feelings of failure one must accept that your core value as a human being does not change. Ever. You are not better than others or less than other people. Your job, your financial situation, your family situation, your body, or feeling that others who have ‘more than’ you are inherently better--none of these things impacts your value and worth. When you can wholeheartedly accept that all people have the same intrinsic value, then you cannot fail because failing at a task does not change your value. You can learn from failure, but you come to accept that you are not a failure and when you know that, the fear lessens.
Overcoming a fear of loss is conquered when you can accept that there is order in the universe and that everything happens for a reason. Things don’t happen TO you, they happen FOR you. Even things that appear to be ‘bad’ events can be looked at through the lens of “how is this helping me to see myself more clearly and how can I make changes to improve?” We get to choose our perspective about life and the world around us. We can choose to believe that there is meaning and purpose in all circumstances. When things or people are removed from our life we can often look back and see that things happened for our highest good and growth.