Life in a Blended Family
About the Guest
Blended family expert Ron Deal notes that the surprises of blended marriages are numerous. Robbie and Sabrina McDonald join Ron and talk about the good and bad surprises they experienced as they were establishing their blended family.
Robbie and Sabrina McDonaldRobbie and Sabrina McDonald were both widowed when they married and blended their families in 2013. Together they have three children at home and a grown son and daughter-in-law. Robbie is a full-time non-commissioned officer for the Army National Guard, a deacon, and a member of The Gideons International. Sabrina is a stay-at-home mom and author of two books, "Open the Widows of Heaven," a devotional for women, and "The Blessings of Loneliness."
Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
Robbie and Sabrina McDonald join Ron Deal and talk about the good and bad surprises they experienced as they were establishing their blended family.
Life in a Blended Family
Bob: Robbie McDonald and Sabrina Beasley had both lost their spouses. When they met and fell in love with each other, Sabrina not only said “Yes,” to Robbie’s proposal—she said, “Let’s marry quickly.”
Sabrina: I thought I was doing the right thing by speeding up our marriage for the children’s sake because they were so young. I thought: “How am I going to get them from going to calling my friend, Robbie, to Daddy? How is that going to work in two years, if we wait that long?” So, time-wise/circumstantially, it seemed to be the best time; but it wasn’t enough time for everyone else to really get used to the idea. It was too fast for them.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, May 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Anytime two families merge and form a stepfamily/a blended family, there are a lot of people’s emotions that need to be taken into consideration.
We’ll explore that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, our friend, Ron Deal, who is joining us in the studio this week, has often talked about blended family relationships as kind of this interconnected web of all kinds of extended relationships. We’ve seen him diagram this—well, in fact, if our listeners are interested in kind of getting a visual image of this—
Bob: —they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click where it says, “GO DEEPER.” There is about a three-minute video you can watch that illustrates what all these tangled web of relationships looks like. I think we’re getting a little clearer understanding, this week, of just exactly how that plays out in a marriage and in a blended family.
Dennis: No question about it. I’d like to add my voice to yours, Bob, in saying to our listeners, “Go watch that video clip.” Ron has masterfully put together a visual illustration of how complex blended families are. You’ve been giving leadership to this area, Ron, for coming up on three decades. You’ve been speaking into the lives of blended folks, and you’ve recently rereleased a book. It’s called The Smart Stepfamily Marriage. I’m excited about this book, and I’m also excited about our guests today.
Ron: I’m excited too. You know, that video does portray well the complexity of stepfamilies; but one of the messages we’re giving today is that it’s manageable and, the more you know, the better you do.
Dennis: There is hope.
Ron: There is hope—absolutely. That’s why we are talking about it. And to help us understand that hope and how that works, we’re joined again by Robbie and Sabrina McDonald.
Welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Sabrina: Thank you.
Robbie: Thank you.
Ron: Robbie and Sabrina have been married just over a year. They have four kids between them—so, they are a stepfamily couple.
Bob: It’s a two plus two; right? You have a 25-year-old and a 15-year-old son, Robbie. And Sabrina, you have a—
Sabrina: A four-year-old and a six-year-old.
Bob: —four- and a six-year-old.
Ron: We’ve got more than two decades between the oldest and the youngest in terms of their age frames, which creates some challenges, in and of itself.
Bob: And I want to pick up on something, if I can, Ron—I hate to just interrupt. Sabrina said something already this week that just resonated with me. Sabrina, you were talking about the fact that one of the challenges you’ve experienced in this first year of a blended marriage is recognizing that Robbie’s first wife, Carrie, who died of cancer a few years ago, is a significant part of your blended family and that your husband, David, who died in a car crash is a significant part of your blended family.
In your case—for both of you—we’re talking about strong marriages / godly spouses. There was not conflict that led to the dissolution of your marriage. There was tragedy that led to the dissolution of your marriage. When you get married and the first marriage was really good for both of you—that can create its own set of issues; can’t it?
Ron: Yes, it can because every marriage is going to be different. What was good in a first marriage might create a set of expectations about how things are going to be in your next marriage. You’re both shaking your heads.
Sabrina: Yes, definitely. That was one of the challenges, for me, when I was looking for a spouse—is that I—Robbie refers to it as having a David-sized hole in my heart. I wanted to find someone that would fit into what I had lost.
It almost felt like nothing that anybody else could do would measure up to that because it wasn’t David. On the other hand, you don’t want to marry someone because they remind you of someone else. I don’t want to be married—I don’t want Robbie to marry me because I remind him of Carrie.
Bob: You don’t want to be the imitation Carrie.
Sabrina: I want him to love me for me.
Sabrina: In the same way, he wants to be loved for who he is; but it took some time to get there and to realize that they don’t have to be like that person. They can be who they are, in and of themselves. My first husband, David, had a quote that he said one time: “A soul mate isn’t someone you find. It’s someone you intentionally and prayerfully become.”
So, when you are in a relationship with a Christian—and that person is loving God with all their heart and you’re loving God with all your heart—then, you know that you’re going to come together. Even though you have to learn to live a completely different way, you have to have that time to hang on.
At first, that is not going to fit together because you are too busy remembering the way things were; but when you put your faith and your cornerstone in Christ, that’s the key. You know that it’s going to work out when you’re both doing that.
Dennis: I just have to ask both of you—you’ve been married a little over a year: “Would both of you just share with our listeners the biggest surprise or the biggest adjustment that you’ve experienced as you’ve forged this new family?”
Sabrina: I think what surprised me the most about our relationship is how well it has gone. I think that’s attributed to the grace of God. I think that in our family—both sides of our extended family—truly want the best possible situation for us. They really want to have a good, happy family. Everyone is seeking the best for all of us.
When I say, “all of us,” I mean his in-laws / my in-laws. Everyone has just accepted me with open arms. My family has accepted Robbie, and we get along really well.
Bob: I want to ask you here—I hear you saying—going into marriage, you thought, “Okay, I know this is going to be hard at some level.” I hear you saying, “It’s not been as hard as I thought it was going to be.”
Sabrina: That’s right. And I think it’s because we did come into it with information, and we came into it with open hearts, and we came into it with a heart that was seeking God.
Sabrina: To me, this situation was very strange. I had some expectations of it really going sour in a lot of ways. But just the prayer that’s been put into it, and seeking after the will of God, and both of us being gracious to one another—that grace is key in a blended family.
Bob: Robbie, has this been easier than you thought it was going to be?
Robbie: As far as the extended family relationships, most definitely easier.
I cannot say how great it’s been—the way I’ve been accepted by her family, and how they tell me they love me, and they are so happy that I’m here, and they want me to be here for the children and for Sabrina.
Bob: But how about with the five of you at home? Has that been easier than you thought it was going to be?
Robbie: For the most part, yes. We have been through our little difficulties with certain relationships in the family, like I said earlier, with me and Benjamin; but that has gone so much better because now we want that relationship to grow, and we want to extend grace to the other person, and we want to love each other.
Bob: Okay, Ron Deal, I’m thinking this is the opposite of what we would hear from most blended couples.
Ron: There are a lot of things that have gone right for this couple—
Ron: —and, therefore, the family blend has gone more smoothly than it does with most.
And one of the beautiful things here is the extended family has been so welcoming / so open to receiving each of you, as new son and daughter-in-laws, when they’ve lost a son or a daughter—just the attitudes of being open towards one another.
Bob, here is my observation about that. Notice—Robbie and Sabrina don’t get to control that. For a lot of stepfamily couples, they walk into a situation, where they love each other deeply, but the people around them are challenging their relationship or not quite as open and not quite as welcoming. What a difference it makes.
I’m thinking of the step-grandparent, who is listening to us right now. I want to say to you: “You have the ability to heavily influence, in a positive direction, this new couple and family just by being filled with grace—by being open, and welcoming, and adjusting how you can to their new family scenario.” That makes a huge difference.
Dennis: And we all acknowledge, around the table here, that there is a lot of different ways blended families get formed.
Dennis: And sometimes, it’s not out of tragedy—it’s out of some tough choices—
Dennis: —that some families / some extended family members may not agree with, necessarily.
I want to ask you, Robbie—back to the question: “What was the biggest surprise / biggest adjustment that has occurred in this new blended family?”
Robbie: I guess the biggest adjustment that I’ve seen is having to—me having to deal with the children—and the way they act and the way it’s different from the way my children acted, when they were younger. I had expectations of the children acting like my children acted.
Dennis: Now wait. You’re in the Army. So, did you run—did you run a pretty, you know—“Okay, this battalion is going to be in step. We’re going to do it…” Sabrina is smiling!
You don’t even have to answer, Robbie. [Laughter]
Robbie: Oh, definitely! I have—
Bob: You don’t have a whistle to call the kids when—
Robbie: I do not have a whistle—
Robbie: —but when I do call the kids, I expect them to come. [Laughter] But yes, and I expected things to be a little more orderly, and people to do what they’re told when they are told. I say: “Obedience is doing what you’re told, when you’re told, with a good attitude.”
Ron: So, this parenting thing—it’s an ongoing process; isn’t it?—for the two of you.
Robbie: It’s a learning experience. The things that you have to do to make adjustments to each child, and not take it for granted that all children are the same, and treat each child as the individual they are.
Ron: I want to point out another strength in this couple—that’s helped their adjustment go better than most—and that is flexibility. Listen to what he just said—
Robbie just said: “I’m willing to learn how to treat her children differently and how to have different expectations. I’m willing to do that.”
Sometimes, people get stuck. They say: “Nope, it should be this way. Like it or not, your kids better shape up or ship out.” That sort of rigidity creates even more conflict in stepfamilies. So, there is another strength that’s helped the process of adjusting over time.
Sabrina: It’s also going back to the web picture. In a blended family, you have to realize that it’s individual relationships. It’s taking time for that individual relationship and understanding the relationship.
Part of the deal that we learned with Robbie and Benjamin was that they have real similar personalities. So, we had to figure that out; and “How do you deal with a child that has the type of personality that Ben has?” Ben’s personality is a little more rigid and high strung than Seth and Katherine. So, we have to deal with him differently.
You know—the getting in his face and harsh discipline doesn’t work as well with him as positive rewards.
Dennis: Are you saying that Ben may be an officer in the Army—
Sabrina: Yes. [Laughter] I tell—
Dennis: —and has butted heads with another officer?
Sabrina: That’s what he thinks! [Laughter]
Ron: Okay, I want to go around the horn a little bit. Let’s ask about other people in your expanded stepfamily system; alright? Then, we’re going to start with somebody who doesn’t live in your home.
Each of you has former mother-in-law and father-in-laws. Your first spouse passed away. What have you seen in them? What have they done that’s been helpful? What would you share, with our listeners, about how to adjust together, even in including those people as a part of your new family?
Sabrina: First of all, Robbie’s in-laws—Carrie’s mother and father—have been the most wonderful people to me. They have really loved me and embraced me—
—I mean, we go to church together. We have lunch every Sunday. They treat my children like they are their own grandchildren. To hear Carrie’s father put his arm around me and tell me that he loves me and that he truly appreciates me—that’s the grace of God in them coming out toward me—priceless! I mean, that makes me feel accepted into this family. The way they have treated me has been absolutely key in making me feel a part of who they are.
Ron: Listen to what she is saying about her in-laws—grace connects / possessiveness divides. They are not being possessive; and they are not holding on, even in spite of their pain. And I, as somebody who has lost a child, know how challenging that is. In spite of that, they have a grace to welcome you.
That’s absolutely—as you said—it is the grace of God. It makes all the difference for the family.
Bob: Robbie, tell us about the first time you met David’s parents—Sabrina’s former husband—when you met his parents. Was it before you got married?
Robbie: It was before we got married. And the first time—I think it was Benjamin’s birthday party, and David’s mom was there. And the first thing, she put her arm around me. That’s welcoming and very loving—she’s just happy that we’re together. I think that goes back to her not ever remarrying and knowing that those kids need a father. That, right there, just helped me become part of the family. It’s the love of God and God’s grace—and a tiny amount of grace goes a long way.
Ron: Amen. Amen. So, let’s keep going around the horn.
Tell us about your relationship with your new in-laws and what kinds of adjustments have taken place there.
Sabrina: Again, they are godly people. What’s interesting about Robbie’s father is that Robbie’s mother died, and he remarried. He remarried an absolutely wonderful Christian woman, and they just love me. I mean, they know the pain of losing someone; and they just accept it for what it is. So, they’re easy to get along with. And my parents love Robbie.
Robbie: Yes, they accepted from the beginning—just happy that I’m part of the family.
Ron: I just can’t overstate how that openness just makes a difference for couples—in blended families, in particular.
How about friends and your social network? How have they adjusted to your new relationship / your new family, and what role have they played in helping you move forward?
Sabrina: I will say that one of the things that I regret—if we want to talk about on the negative end—is that I don’t think we waited long enough for everyone to grieve their losses.
In our situation, I think everyone wanted us to be happy, and they had a desire to see a happy ending to the story.
But it took some grieving for me—the first few months of our marriage—to realize that marriage is over / that one is gone. I wish that I had taken more time in our engagement so that people could get to know Robbie for who he is, and get over comparing him to David, and learn to love him the way he is and the way we are together. I didn’t—I don’t think I gave them enough time to do that.
I thought I was doing the right thing by speeding up our marriage for the children’s sake because they were so young. I thought: “How am I going to get them from going to calling my friend, Robbie, to Daddy? How was that going to work in two years if we wait that long?” And then, Seth was going into high school, and we were going to move him to a new high school—he was in ninth grade.
So, I wanted to get married before he went into the ninth grade to transition into the high school.
So, time-wise/circumstantially, it seemed to be the best time; but it wasn’t enough time for everyone else in our extended family and our friends to really get used to the idea. It was too fast for them. And I wish that I had waited a little bit longer on that.
Robbie: My best friend—his wife was my wife’s best friend—so, it’s kind of been difficult for her. It takes time for people to heal from the loss and move on to another relationship.
Ron: At the same time, you guys, I know, have made some new relationships in a blended family class at your church; is that right?
Robbie: Yes, sir.
Ron: Tell us about how that’s been supportive to you and how that’s served you.
Robbie: Seeing people go through their problems and seeing people try to
make their marriages work—in a class where there are multiple families and multiple scenarios that you get to listen to—and sometimes, you realize how good you actually have it. And then, you sometimes see they are having the same problems that we are having.
Ron: And we’re not alone.
Robbie: And we’re not alone.
Dennis: Ron, give a challenge to those who have listened to this story this week—just about maybe doing something like what Robbie’s talking about here—maybe, leading a blended family class in their church. That’s really the place where couples—well, it ought to be the safe place where couples could get real honest and maybe see the grace of God in their own lives.
Ron: I’m absolutely convinced, Dennis, that being in a community of believers—who are going to love you and support you, and you can love and support them, and together you can share some good information about stepfamily living—
—some of the resources we produce, here at FamilyLife Blended, including The Smart Stepfamily small group DVD / this new study: The Smart Stepfamily Marriage has material that goes along with that to support that in a group environment. All of that brings people together, who are likeminded / who are living similar types of experiences—supporting each other—that’s what the church is.
You may not have that at your church—we want to help you create that at your church. If you are already doing something, we want to help encourage and bless your ministry. We have a map, online, where churches can post information about their local ministry so that couples in your area can find you. We’re doing a lot, here at FamilyLife Blended, to try to support the local church really being an encouragement to families.
Bob: Well, in fact, our listeners can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” They’ll find out a lot of what we’re doing, here at FamilyLife. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com.
One of the things they’ll find there is your new book, The Smart Stepfamily Marriage, where you and David Olson have looked at the critical success factors in blending a marriage and in blending a family. This is a book that really explores what is necessary for a family to blend successfully. I really like the way you help couples do a personal inventory and say: “How are we doing in this area? What are the strengths we can build on, and what are the weaknesses that we can shore up?” In fact, I think this is a good book for couples who are thinking about getting married—starting a blended family. I think it’s a good book for those who are already in one. We’ve got copies of it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center—the new book from Ron Deal and David Olson, The Smart Stepfamily Marriage. You can order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order.
Let me also mention that Ron is giving leadership to an event that’s going to be taking place in Southern California in November.
It’s the 2015 Blended and Blessed™ Summit on stepfamily ministry. This is a two-day event that’s designed for those who are already engaged in ministering to stepfamilies in a community or in a local church. Or if you have an interest in starting a blended or stepfamily ministry in your local church, we want you to encourage you to come to the two-day Blended and Blessed Summit at the Mariners Church in Irvine, California, November 13 through the 14th. If you’d like more information or you’d like to register, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” and look for information on the Blended and Blessed Summit.
Now, I have not had the opportunity to check in recent days; but I know we have been hearing from some of our FamilyLife Today listeners this month who have called, or gone online, or have mailed a donation to us. They heard about the matching-gift opportunity that some friends put together for us, here at Family Life.
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And with that, we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. I hope you can tune back in on Monday when we’re going to find out about a group of guys who decided to step up—it was a pretty interesting group. These are guys who are living in a shelter for homeless folks. They went through the Stepping Up® video series recently, and we’ll hear the story on Monday’s program. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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