Relational Tension Increases at Christmas
About the Guest
It's challenging enough trying to blend two families in a remarriage, but blending family Christmas traditions takes the "blender" to a higher speed. Bob and Vicki Maday and their respective daughters, Katie and Jonell, talk frankly about the uncomfortable and inevitable tension that exists in the early years of a new blended family.
Bob and Vicki MadayBob and Vicki Maday are a remarried couple. They live in Peachtree City, Georgia and have five adult children, all married, and they are blessed with 14 grandchildren. Bob and Vicki met after the deaths of both their spouses. Bob had a 34-year marriage with his first wife who died after a seven-year battle with breast cancer. Vicki had a 24-year marriage. Her husband died of a heart attack while the family was out on the lake together. The two met and married and began the journey...more
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
Blending family Christmas traditions is very challenging. Bob and Vicki Maday’s respective daughters describe the uncomfortable but inevitable tension that exists in a new blended family’s Christmas traditions.
Relational Tension Increases at Christmas
Bob: Have you stopped to consider for a moment what the holidays are like for kids who are in a freshly-blended family? Here’s author and speaker Ron Deal.
Ron: Kids will have mixed feelings. They will be confused about the new family and happy about it, all at the same time. They will feel disloyal to a parent who has died or a parent that is in another home; and at the same time, they’re still trying to connect. Don’t force them or expect them to feel certain things to make you feel good. You’ve got to meet them where they are.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, December 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What can parents do during the holidays to help children in a blended family have a happy Christmas season? We’re going to talk about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.
I’m just sitting here trying to think of a metaphor. We’ve already talked about photo-shopped photography as a metaphor for a blended family this week; but some other metaphor—give me a second to think about this because there was something else you wanted to talk about at the beginning of today’s program anyway; right?
Dennis: There was, Bob. I was getting off a plane here recently in Denver. A young mom stopped me—she said, “Are you Dennis Rainey?” I said, “I am.” I looked at her. She was pregnant and toting a two-year-old in her arms. She had a three and a four-year-old kind of in line, following her. She said: “I just want to thank you for your ministry. This weekend, my brother-in-law and his wife are going to the Weekend to Remember®. And next weekend, my brother and his wife are going to the Weekend to Remember.” She said: “We just couldn’t do it all without you guys. We really appreciate your ministry!”
She’s a radio listener. You could tell, with all the kids she’s got, under four years / five years of age—
Bob: —she can use some help!
Dennis: —she can use some help. So, as you think about your metaphor for a family, Bob, I think it’s all about growing.
Dennis: It’s about growing kids the way the Bible teaches us to grow them. What FamilyLife Today is—we want to be your trusted advisor/your coach at every age and at every stage of your family’s life. We want to equip you with the practical biblical solutions to the issues your marriage and family are facing in this day and age. There are a lot of them!
To do that, though, Bob, we need some heroes to come alongside FamilyLife and to make this ministry possible to moms like that.
Bob: Well, and we’ve had some friends recently, who have come to us and said that, during the month of December, they want to give us a boost. They have agreed that, when a listener makes a contribution in support of FamilyLife Today this month, they’re going to make a double contribution in response. If a listener comes along and says, “I can give you guys $50,” they’re going to say, “We’ll match that with $100.”
FamilyLife winds up with a $150 donation.
Dennis: And that person becomes a hero because we’re going to turn that $150 into help and hope for people’s marriages and families.
Bob: Now, they’ve agreed to go as high as $2 million on that matching gift. We want to take advantage of every bit of that. To do that, we need listeners to go to FamilyLifeToday.com—make a donation online—or to call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make your donation over the phone and say: “I believe in this ministry. I think what you’re doing is a good thing, and I want to see it continue. I’m glad that my donation is getting matched, two-for-one, here in the month of December.”
Dennis: And if you’ve received help and hope in your marriage, what better place to invest your money than to come alongside FamilyLife at this time of year. Now, I want you to know that your giving needs to begin with your local church. We don’t want to take anything away from that, but we do want to encourage you to stand with us because we’re standing alongside you.
Bob: Once again, the website where you can donate is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make your donation over the phone.
Now, I’ve been working on this metaphor for a messy family—maybe a pile of dirty laundry? Maybe that’s not what we should go with here. [Laughter] Maybe that just conjures up—
Dennis: A pile of dirty laundry?! That’s as good as you can do, Bob?—for a guy who created The Art of Marriage®?!
Bob: Well, it just indicates that there is a lot going on.
Dennis: We’re looking for some real family life.
Bob: That’s right. [Laughter]
Dennis: And we brought Ron Deal back into the studio again.
Bob: Our dirty laundry expert, right here! [Laughter]
Dennis: Ron, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Ron: My wife doesn’t think I’m a dirty laundry expert. [Laughter]
Dennis: Oh, she doesn’t?
Ron: No, she doesn’t.
Dennis: Well, Ron is the Director of our Blended Family ministries, here at FamilyLife. You put together a Board of Advisers for this blended family initiative, Ron. In fact, why don’t you introduce our other guests, here on the broadcast, because—well, I’ll let you share with them what their role is with what you are doing.
Ron: I needed help; alright?
So, we gathered some people / some voices from around the country—that are all blended families, and have different seasons of life, and different expertise in their professional lives and personal lives—and pulled them together. It’s really been a great board and very helpful to me.
Bob and Vicki Maday, who live in Atlanta, Georgia—in the Atlanta area—are part of that advisory group. They are joined with us today by their daughters. Bob’s daughter, Katie, is with us; and Vicki’s daughter, Jonell, is with us—both adults, by the way.
Bob: And let me set the circumstances, just so our listeners get this. Vicki, you were married for how many years before your husband passed away?
Vicki: We were married 24 years.
Bob: And how many kids?
Vicki: Two daughters.
Bob: And then, Bob, you were married for how long before your wife passed?
Bob M: I was married 34 years, and we had three children.
Bob: And then the two of you met, Bob, how long after your wife had passed?
Bob M: I met Vicki about 45 days after my wife had passed, and then we were married a few months later.
Ron: You know, generally speaking, we would advise people to wait a lot longer than 45 days before jumping into another relationship. Timing matters, not only for you, but for your kids. It matters in terms of your well-being and your ability to grieve the loss—and not let that be something that pushes you into another relationship. It helps your kids, if there’s been an amount of time that allows them to grieve, and the family kind of restabilizes.
Dennis: Katie, you’re Bob’s daughter, obviously. We’re talking about how these blended families, which are so complex—I mean, so many issues surrounding these two families coming together. You actually expressed how you were disappointed in some of your expectations around that first Christmas—the differences in how you celebrate. Would you share that with our listening audience?
Katie: Well, yes.
When Dad met Vicki—and we met her, and they started moving forward with their relationship—never guessed that we would have such stress around the holidays—of what we were going to do, and who was going to be there, and were her kids going to be there? It was very, very stressful. We wanted to keep the traditions the same. I just remember praying, “Lord, give me wisdom and maturity with my dad and Vicki.”
When things got really, really rough, one of my mentors looked at me and she said: “Do you love your dad? Do you trust your dad? Then love him and trust him.” That helped me move forward with the differences. I look forward to the holidays with Vicki—she does an amazing job at our house.
Bob: Katie, I asked your dad how he felt when he got to the end of that first Christmas and it was all over. He looked back, and it was kind of yucky. Did you feel like the first Christmas was kind of yucky too?
Katie: It definitely had a black cloud over it—missing Mom / seeing Dad with a new woman. I had small children; but again, I can’t express enough what an amazing job Vicki does. She loves those grandchildren, and she makes it so extremely special. She’s added new traditions that my kids look forward to every year.
Bob: Jonell—let me turn the tables to you because we’ve talked about how Bob and Vicki and Katie felt after that first Christmas. What’s your memory of the holiday season being over, and you looked back, and you thought, “That was okay,” or, “That was lousy.” What did you think?
Jonell: Christmas at my house was always magical because it’s my mom’s favorite holiday—she blows it out. My sister and I always had separate sides of the house. We knew exactly where our stuff was going to be laid out when we walked into the living room.
When we showed up for Christmas that first Sunday, we did not know where to sit. We didn’t know who was supposed to stand up and hand out the gifts. It was just a lot of guessing and just kind of sitting there, looking at one another and not participating in a way that we probably would have in our old home and the way we always did things.
I just remember receiving gifts, and packing them in the car, and standing there, just kind of looking at one another, saying: “Alright, what are we supposed to do now?—because the thing that took over the white space in the room, where no conversations were going on, is over. So, now, what do we do from this point?”
Ron: You obviously felt like a foreigner in an unknown land.
Jonell: Oh, yes.
Ron: It was unknown territory for you. So give us some perspective: “Has anything changed?”
Jonell: Oh, yes! We have a fun time on Christmas.
That first Christmas, I think we got him a gift card. We didn’t even know exactly where to get it from. But now, we’re saying, “Okay, give me specific things that you want for Christmas,” because I want him to have this big smile on his face when he sees that I’ve come up with something that he’s really wanted.
Plus, we have three grandchildren joining our Christmas—my sister has three boys. So, that’s fun because we get to see Bob engage with them. A lot of the excitement is around them as well. So they’ve brought a lot of laughter and joy to our Christmas that was missing that first Christmas.
Dennis: Okay, I’ve got a question for Bob and Vicki. You can both answer it or one of you can take a stab at it. If you had one thing to say to adult children, who are moving into a blended family, as you begin to move toward the holidays, what’s one coaching tip or one thought you’d want to make sure adult children hear and think about as they move toward the holidays?
Bob M: The initial thing that I would say, probably, is to ask the adult children to extend grace. They will eventually get there. [Emotion in voice] Jonell and Katie are prime examples of early adopters that had faith. They extended grace to the relationship—they trusted me / trusted Vicki, trusted our love, trusted the Lord—and we’re moving to a much better spot. The process works!
One of the things Vicki and I have always believed, and that we put front and center in our family—I believe that a healthy marriage draws everything to it—including children, including friends, including people that you lose during a remarriage. [Emotion in voice] Focusing on a healthy marriage brings all things together—it will come to it. So, my counsel to adult children would be, “Extend grace and time.”
Ron: I love that advice. He’s right on! You know, one of the things that is going on there is—adult children, teenagers, even older kids—if they could make that choice to embrace their new expanded family, then it really makes everything easier for everybody. The difficulty is when adults/parents try to force kids to do that. Kids have to do it on their own time.
Dennis: Yes, yes.
Ron: But let’s turn the question to the daughters now. Jonell and Katie, what advice would you give to remarried parents, who are bringing their children, no matter what their age, into a new stepfamily? What advice would you give them about how to manage the holidays?
Jonell: I have two things I would say: “Go slower,” because everything—from starting with meeting each other and getting married—from that point is like a roller-coaster for the children because they are moving at a high pace.
We are not ready or equipped to keep up with them. I know this sounds a little bad sometimes—but have lower expectations because, if you lower your expectations and they exceed that, then you’ll chalk that up as a successful day.
Katie: You know, I just remember that first Christmas. If we could have just focused on the positive—and who was there, and who’s making strides to make the relationships and keep the relationships—rather than focusing on the negative, it wouldn’t have been such a dark cloud that day. Also, just talk to your grown-up kids because they can articulate what they want, and what they want to change, and what they don’t want to change.
Ron: There’s a lot of wisdom in what those two young women had to say—essentially, encouraging parents to focus on what they do have rather than focusing on what they don’t have, as a family.
Then, tie into those old relationships. I really believe that biological parents fall into the trap of neglecting their own children for the sake of trying to build relationship with the stepchildren. That’s understandable because you’re trying to reach across this gap and build a relationship, but don’t—don’t forget to stay close with your own kids. Keep that line of communication open—listen to them, hear them, and don’t be afraid of their negative emotions.
Kids will have mixed feelings. They will be confused about the new family and happy about it all, at the same time. They will feel disloyal to a parent who has died or a parent that is in another home. At the same time, they’re still trying to connect. Don’t force them or expect them to feel certain things to make you feel good. You’ve got to meet them where they are.
Bob: Vicki, I’m just curious—as you think ahead, how will this Christmas be different than the first Christmas was? What have you learned over the years?
What would you do differently if you could go back and redo that first Christmas? How is this going to be a different year?
Vicki: We love our kids more than anything! [Emotion in voice] Bob and I—although we were praying constantly and asking for the Lord’s wisdom—we were just so self-centered in our couple-ness. We could not even see what was going on with our kids. Sitting here—listening to Jonell express that and listening to Katie—I just wish we could go back and have a do-over.
In years to come, we do like to focus on fun. We do something called Santa’s Antics. It’s where we have little competitions and games.
I guess we’re more sentimental now. We’re actually feeling those true feelings of love for one another.
Those grandchildren are my grandchildren, and Katie is like a daughter. We’re just beginning to feel that. We’re in our fifth year. We’re beginning to feel those more loving feelings toward one another. Only God could open our hearts for that. That’s making the Christmas time more anticipated, more exciting for us all, I think. I’m getting a lot more feedback from them on, “Are we going to do this for Christmas?” and a lot more input, and a lot more participation.
Ron: Bob and Dennis, what Vicki is sharing is something that families listening / couples listening, right now, need to hear—that is: “You may have regrets. You may have, ‘I wish we could go back and do it over,’ but you can’t. You’re in process, and there’s hope in that.”
I mean, listen to their stories—as parents and adult children are talking today—they’re sharing this perspective that: “Wow, in the beginning, we didn’t know what to do,” “I felt like a stranger in this home,” “It didn’t feel like home. I was a foreigner,” “We wanted to handle it this way, but we learned that backfired.” Then, year two, and, then, year three—and now, they’re talking about traditions that people are looking forward to. They’re talking about how kids and grandkids are kind of solidifying everybody together, as a family. Do you hear what’s happening? They are becoming family to one another.
That’s an important message for stepfamilies. You’re not just born a family on the day of the wedding / you become a family as you walk it out over time. The holidays—as mixed a bag as they are of emotions, and happiness, and sadness—it’s one of those ways you become family. You develop traditions; and eventually, there are tremendous rewards.
Dennis: I want to ask Katie to address Vicki, and I want to ask Jonell to address Bob.
I’d just like you to express a small tribute, verbally, to both of them for their heroic love for one another and for your family.
Katie: Well, I guess Vicki probably already knows this because we do have such a close relationship; but right after she and Dad got married, I went through some personal stuff. She was there for me in a motherly-way and a friend-way. She talks to me, like a mother. She calls me out, like a mother. She loves me, like a mother; and she is one of my best friends.
The way that she loves my children warms my heart. I am so lucky that my kids have a GiGi and a Big Daddy. The things that she does for us behind the scenes—if you knew this woman—she’s always thinking of somebody else.
I just love her, and I’m so grateful that you make my dad so happy! [Emotion in voice] You were sent to us from God, and I’m just so grateful!
Bob: Jonell, your turn.
Jonell: Well, I think Bob and I have a great relationship, but we’re still working on that father/daughter relationship. [Emotion in voice] Just like Katie said, I love the way he looks at my mom—the way she’s on the forefront of his brain, you know, with every idea and every decision. Their marriage is such an inspiration to my marriage. I can go to them—and just how much wisdom they can give me, just from their marriage and the things that they’ve, technically, have been able to redo in this marriage.
I asked my mom a couple of weeks ago—I said, “If you and Bob met, as your first marriage, do you think you would have the same marriage you have now?”—
—because, in my heart, I feel like they are able to take and learn from their past marriages to make this one a wonderful inspiration to all the other marriages in our families, and in our churches, and in our communities. So, thanks, Bob, for loving Mommy the way you do. You can just see it in his eyes when he looks at her. So, I really thank you for that.
Bob: Ron Deal, blended families can get to a pretty good place; can’t they?
Ron: They really can. I’ve said it many times on this broadcast and I’m going to continue saying it: “Blended families, done right—done with the grace of God—can be homes of redemption. God uses us in all types of family situations. He always has—just read your Old Testament. We can be beacons of light in this world.” This family is good evidence of that.
Dennis: I hear two things there that just scream at me from Bob and Vicki’s relationship with their adult children.
Number one, Jesus Christ is at the center of their relationship. They’re calling out to Him in prayer. Secondly, they’re not afraid to lead. They’re leading out and providing direction, and calling their family / both families to follow them. That’s what, ultimately, has to occur in any family.
Dennis: Make Jesus Christ the builder, and take the initiative to lead, and set a direction for where you’re going, realizing that the race is cross-country—it’s not a sprint.
Bob: Well, and the degree of difficulty in a blended family is higher. The hills get a little steeper in that cross-country race when you’re in a blended family. That’s why to have counsel like we’ve tried to provide today—what the Madays have shared with us / what you’ve shared with us here, Ron—I think all of this is very helpful.
Let me just point you to Ron’s book, The Smart Stepfamily, which we have in our FamilyLifeToday Resource Center.
This book offers very wise, practical counsel on how you make a stepfamily as good as it can be. In addition to that book, Ron has recently written a new booklet for children, called Life in a Blender. This is for kids—from the late elementary years up through high school—to help them understand and put words to some of the emotions that they’re feeling. In fact, it may be good for adult children to read Life in a Blender.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about Ron’s new book, Life in a Blender, and The Smart Stepfamily book, and other resources we have available, here at FamilyLife Today. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call for more information—1-800-FL-TODAY is the number—1-800-358-6329 / that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Quickly, I want to remind you of something Dennis shared at the beginning of today’s program.
FamilyLife Today is, of course, listener-supported. Our hope, during the month of December, is that many of our listeners will consider making a yearend contribution to support the ministry. If you are able to do that today, your donation is going to be matched with a special two-to-one match. If you make a donation of, we’ll say, $50, it gets matched with a donation of $100, meaning that we get to take advantage of a full $150 donation.
The matching gift fund that has been established for FamilyLife this year is at $2 million. We’re trying to take full advantage of that matching gift. So, would you consider going online at FamilyLifeToday.com and making as generous of a donation as you can possibly make?—or call 1-800-FL-TODAY / you can make your donation over the phone. Or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
By the way, if you want to see how close we are to our $2 million match, the information is available on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.
And we hope you can join us back tomorrow when we’re going to talk about something that a lot of people struggle with during the holiday season—that’s the subject of depression. We’ll talk to Pastor Tommy Nelson and his wife. Tommy shares about the extended season of depression that he went through a number of years back. I hope you can tune in for that conversation.
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’ll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today
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