Many adult children of divorce (and their spouses) are networked into a stepfamily. Stepfamilies can add layers of complications to relationships and holiday dynamics.
Doing better than “surviving the holidays” begins with understanding what’s really going on. This requires separating fact from fiction. Terry Clark-Jones just posted a strong article titled “Dispel Stepfamily Myths.” She lists ten common stepfamily myths and corresponding truths.
Another organization that offers excellent information about stepfamily dynamics and how to incorporate them successfully is Ron Deals’ Smart Stepfamily ministry. His book and ministry offer solid, truthful, real, and biblical help for all those who are trying to make the stepfamily thing work.
Deep down, our desire is for a family that has “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.”1 Seem impossible? “With God all things are possible.”2 Committing your ways to God and reviewing these resources can be a strong step toward enjoying the holiday season this year!
1Galatians 5:22-23, NLT
2Matthew 19:26, NIV
Stepfamily Cartoon by Dorthy B. Torres from stepfamilyrochester.org
It’s not uncommon for a divorced parent to tell me they wish their daughter or son would get over their divorce and move on. The motivation is usually loving concern. However, there are also those who wish their adult children would get over it so they can get on with their own life—guilt free. After all, is that too much to ask?
On the other side, a chief complaint of many adult children of divorce (ACOD) is they can’t get their mom, dad, and step-parent in the same room without the fear or World War III breaking out. Why can’t everyone behave for just one hour? Is that too much to ask?
It might be too much to ask
Part of the healing process for ACOD’s is accepting that their parents don’t (and some won’t) understand what we experienced regarding their divorce. Surprisingly, this includes parents who are ACOD’s. To overcome this, some therapists suggest a time of sharing and asking parents questions about the divorce can help with this. We’ll look at that idea in the future, but for now we must realize that our parents’ lack the knowledge and/or the incentive to understand us may not change.
But just as important to the healing process is understanding our parents’ point of view. While this may seem sacrilegious, grasping their perspective can help us avoid unrealistic (and possibly even unfair) expectations. I remember how annoyed I was with my mother when she was crotchety with my dad and stepmoms. I was well into my adult years before I pondered how I’d be if my wife left me and remarried.
Would it be like high school or college when you broke up and your ex started dating someone else? Did you want to be chummy with their new squeeze? Imagine facing them all the time—like at every family event.
Yes, Mom was clueless to the divorce’s impact on us. But only in the last few years have I appreciated the sacrifice and strength it took her to just “be crotchety” while breaking bread with the enemy instead of hitting them with a brick.
The answer lies with us
So is it too much to ask for us for a little more grace with our parents’ humanness? It’s not easy—I know. But it’s not our job to change hearts. That’s God’s job. It’s our job to submit to Him so He can do a healing work in our hearts. Also when we submit to God, His love can flow through us and touch our parents—which also does a healing work in our hearts.
Being misunderstood can be painful for both sides. God knows that: the biggest misunderstanding in history killed His Son. The Bible also tells us that “love covers a multitude of sins.”1 I encourage you to push through the hurt of misunderstanding and allow God’s love to bring healing to you and your parents. That is not too much to ask.
11 Peter 3:8. NLT
When kids become endangered species by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig cartoon
Freedom by John Moore
Bible with Cross Shadow by David Campbell
Who joins you for the celebration and who gets first dibs on the grandchildren? Or whose house do you go to—your dad’s, your mom’s, your stepdad’s, your wife’s step-mom’s? The combinations are endless and can make the “most wonderful time of the year”1 feel far from it.
So what should we do?
- Before you grab that cup of coffee, give thanks to God for the coffee.
- Before you brush your teeth, give thanks to God that you have teeth (real or otherwise.)
- Before you kiss your loved one (and I encourage you to kiss your loved one today) give thanks to God for two positive qualities they have.
- Before you go out to family dinner, thank God for the car, gas in the car, money for gas in the car, things you bring, clothes you wear, and health you have to go.
- Before relatives come over, give thanks to God that you have a place that is wind and rain shielding, climate controlled, food containing, bed holding, TV(s) occupying, food possessing, and_________(you fill in the blank.)
Giving thanks to God is a powerful antidote for the bitterness that can steal the joy from our holiday season.
An attitude of Thank-God-First
Relationships, often mixed with hurt, unforgiveness, anger, resentment, and fears, can act like a cloud that blocks the sunshine and warmth this season can bring. But if we intentionally thank-God-first, our attitudes can change because instead of focusing on what we don’t have or wish we had, we are celebrating God’s great love and provision for us.
The Bible says to “Give thanks in all circumstances.”2 When we intentionally look, we’ll see that we have many things (and people) to be thankful for. And this attitude of thank-God-first can help us to see just how good God has been to us—in spite of the annual fight over the giblets.
1”It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, Wyle/Pola; Demi Music Group.
21 Thessalonians 5:18, ESV
Thanksgiving Day in the USA by Life Pilgrim
Thankful by ndbutter
Prayer a Powerful Weapon by abcdz2000
Before you send “hate” mail for me asking this question, may I advise you that Constance Ahrons, therapist and author of “The Good Divorce,” described divorce-related anger between our parents as, “an extreme rage, vindictiveness, and overpowering bitterness that is felt when a love relationship is ending.”1 I’d say that qualifies as hate among spouses.
Also Valerie Bertinelli2 and Gwyneth Paltrow3 were both quoted using the word “hate” about their exes. So is it ok for parents to hate, but not ok for us to hate the new parents?
Ron Deal, author of The Smart Stepparent, observes that in the original marriage the kids want their parents to succeed. However, when the new marriage occurs, the kids are ambivalent at best and antagonistic at worst—the brunt of the animosity being aimed at the stepparent. But what happens when the children grow up?