Wowing Your Blended Family with What They Need Most: Ron Deal
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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
Could grace, played out in the nitty-gritty, revolutionize your stepfamily? Counselor Ron Deal chats about how to pull undeniable grace into real life.
Wowing Your Blended Family with What They Need Most: Ron Deal
Ron: You don’t owe your stepdad anything, but you can just put on a little kindness like you’ve been given. Let’s just turn around and offer that to somebody who’s in our home now. I think that’s a gentle reminder to give as you have been given.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: Yes, you are, and I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Well, what a week it’s been. All week we’ve been having a conversation with Dane Ortlund about being surprised by the grace of God. It’s been powerful.
Ann: So good. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to that yet, go back and listen, because you will love these three days we did with him.
Dave: We’re going to ask Ron Deal to walk in the studio. He’s going to replace Dane Ortlund. That’s no small task. But Ron, you’ve been listening. Ron directs our Blended Family ministry here at FamilyLife, and we’ve had Ron in here many times. I guess I probably should say, “Welcome to FamilyLife Today.” We’ve said that many times to you, Ron, but welcome in.
Ron: Thank you. It’s always good to be with you guys.
Dave: You’ve been listening to our conversation with Dane talking about grace and forgiveness. It was—it’s hard to describe how Dane can spin a sentence in a beautiful way.
Dave: I’ll start here. What jumped out at you? If we can apply this to blended families, great, but I’m sure some things jumped out as you listened.
Ron: Well, let me tell you, it was a great series of conversations. People really should go back and listen. But let’s just start with this one. Do you remember when he was reflecting on the Gospel of Luke?
Ron: Sort of a central message that Luke seems to have and how he carries the story of Jesus, and how he communicates about it, is that Jesus went around making outsiders to become insiders. That is, people outside the kingdom of God—He’s inviting them in. It didn’t matter what their backstory was, He had an openness to them. He approached them He moved toward them; and He invited them in.
As I stop and think and reflect on blended families, I want you to just think about this for a minute. The same thing with an adoptive family. The big thing going on in an adoption situation, a foster situation, and a blended family is outsiders are being embraced and welcomed by insiders. You have people in a blended-family situation, we call the insiders the biological family members. They have inside jokes, and they have stories that he’s not a part of. They have photo albums and videos—
Ron: —he’s not in. History, a story, a narrative, all kinds of looks that communicate messages that they all understand, that he doesn’t get. He is clearly an outsider, and when those three people, mom and two kids, turn to him, open their heart, put a smile on their face and say, “Hey, I want to get to know you. Hey, you just didn’t get that joke that we just told, because it’s based in some story in the past, but we want to bring you in on that. We want you to be a part of us.”
Think about that. There’s something really incredible going on. There’s a grace being bestowed upon that outsider to say, “Sometimes you probably feel like you don’t belong here. It’s okay, you do. We’re glad that you’re here.” I’ve long thought that that’s what we want our churches to be like.
Ron: That’s what we want our homes to be like, and absolutely blended family homes, over time bringing outsiders in, is a minor miracle.
Ann: Ron, as you talk about that, I’m thinking of the parent who has their bio kids among them, and the new stepparent is there, and the kids don’t want him to be there, or they don’t want her to be there. How do we convince our kids to extend grace when they don’t even like the situation?
Ron: Well, you know, this is one of those good examples of when we reflect on how much we’ve been given, how much grace God’s given us, how much kindness has been bestowed upon us because we’re, for example, in the family of God, and people at church who love on you. What Mom can do is keep reminding those kids they have been given a lot. They have received a lot. I think this is the message of Matthew 18, of what we call the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.
Remember the guy? Jesus tells the story. He’s been given so much, and he owes a big debt, and his master says, “You know what? It’s okay. You’re free to go.” And he turns around and goes to the next guy who owes him a couple of bucks, and he lays into him, and he throws him in jail, and he mistreats him, and he says, “You’re going to pay back every dime.” The master comes to the unforgiving servant and says, “Hey. Did you forget?”
Essentially the message is, “Did you forget what you were given? No wonder you were so hard-hearted towards this servant of yours.” The message for all of us is, “Stop and remember how much you have been forgiven.” This is a little bit of a sermon that Mom can give to her kids, but it’s also something she can demonstrate, where she just says to her boys, “Hey, I realize how much God has done for me. I realize all these family members, extended family, that have been so kind to us over these last few years that we’ve gone through some difficulty in our family journey.”
“When we go to church, you know that guy who works in the student program, and he’s so good to you, and you have a good time hanging out with him? That’s the grace of God being lived out through that man. He doesn’t owe you that. He’s just being kind. Okay, you don’t owe your stepdad anything, but you can just put on a little kindness like you’ve been given. Let’s just turn around and offer that to somebody who’s in our home now.” I think that’s a gentle reminder to give as you have been given.
Ann: That’s so good, Ron, because I was thinking how easy it would be to shame them into that. “Do you know much we’ve given you? Do you know how thankful you should be?”
Ann: That would probably be my tone more, but you’re saying, “No.” You gave them actual illustrations of “Remember that guy?” Not to shame them into “You have to love him.”
Ron: Good. Yes.
Ann: I like that you’re saying we give them grace, like “I know that this isn’t easy. We’re all figuring it out.” But I like that you’re pointing them to remember what Jesus has done for us. Even a smile. I’d be like, “You will do it and fake it.”
Ann: But you’re not saying that. You’re saying, “Oh, Jesus has done so much for us, it’s amazing.” Yes, I like that reminder.
Ron: So that comment you made about “You don’t even have to love him,” I think that’s a nice little piece to add on there. We tell biological parents all the time, “Tell your kids they don’t have to love their stepparent or step siblings on day one.” We’re going to trust that over time they’re going to sort of figure out that territory and they’re going to find their way into some heart affection, and they’ll decide how much they care for that person.
But on day one, don’t try to demand or force love. By the way, isn’t that another grace that God gives us? What kind of lecture could He give us, Ann, like “Look at what I’ve done for you.”
Ron: Like, “Come on, guys. Don’t you think I’m due a little____.” No, He never does that. He is so gentle. He is kind to approach, but not push.”
Ann: He never shames.
Ron: He doesn’t shame us. He doesn’t push us over. He doesn’t demand love. He just waits until it’s an authentic expression of our heart. But in the meantime, He does invite us to respect who He is as God, and begin to walk in ways that we will discover are good for us, right? There’s even benefit to us, so that’s another grace. He gives us, “Hey, here are some guidelines. Here’s a way to live that’s going to bring a smile to your face and more peace to your heart.” And in the process of doing those kinds of things, we fall in love with God.
I think the same thing can happen in a blended family situation. “No, you don’t have to love him. You’re going to treat him decent. You’re going to be kind. You’re going to pass him the salt when he asks for it. You’re not going to throw it at him, because you don’t treat people that way.” So, there are some boundaries and there is some expectation about decency and kindness and basic respect. Within that, I believe a heart connect will develop on its own time, in its own time, in such a way that the child genuinely feels affection then for the stepparent.
Dave: I think there are probably some listeners that are the outsiders, like the stepdad coming into this family, like your scenario, the mom and her three or four kids. I think they can do some things as well. I know that when my dad remarried, my new stepmom brought grace. As I think back, she asked me questions. She didn’t sit there waiting for me to accept her. She reached out to me, asked me about my life, asked me about my last week, asked me what I’m interested in.
Ann: But she didn’t push you.
Dave: No. I was just thinking she was the outsider. We were the insiders, and she initiated.
Dave: She didn’t come in saying, “Hey, I want you to accept me.” She didn’t even bring that up. She just said, “Hey, who are you? Tell me about your life. Your dad has said this about you.” All I know is I felt grace from her before I even thought about giving her any grace, because I was resistant. I was putting up my hand, and she sort of tore down my wall through love and grace.
Ron: Another word for grace is “God’s kindness.”
Ron: Romans 2:4 tells us that it’s the kindness of God that motivates us towards change, towards repentance is the word that’s used there. Just think about that for a minute. Shame may get us there a whole lot faster, right, Ann?
Ron: That’s a parenting strategy that works, and that’s why we should avoid it, because it will get a change of behavior in your child, but it will not last. It will be short-lived, and they will come to resent it later. But kindness is something that over time, that softens their heart.
Dave: Hey, Ron. One of the things Dane talked about and Ann actually in our last program with Dane talked about responding to your child rather than reacting. When you respond there’s a chance for grace to be part of your response. When you react, it’s usually angry, flippant. You just don’t take that moment. Is it harder in a blended family to respond with kindness to a child that’s not my biological child, or is it the same?
Ron: This is a great question, and what I will tell you from listening to parents through the years in all kinds of stepfamily situations and circumstances, I think it cuts both ways, to be honest. Have you ever noticed if you just happen to be around one of your neighbor’s kids and they do something really disrespectful? You can sort of chuckle at it like, “Whew! Wow! Glad that’s not my kid.” You’re a little emotionally detached from it because it is not your child, and therefore you can be more objective and less reactive.
Now a lot of stepparents, they come in and they’re far less reactive than the biological parent is to the child’s misbehavior, because they’re a little detached from it.
But then it can cut the other way. For some stepparents, that disrespect feels like, “Oh, my goodness. There’s no way I’m ever getting in. I’m still an outsider and I’m stuck here because you won’t show me any kindness and you won’t bring me in. Look at that disrespect.” It feels really personal. It feels like a deep rejection when that child misbehaves or has an attitude towards you. So for that person, their reactivity goes up.
So I think it depends on the person, the circumstances. In any case, whether you’re the stepparent, the biological parent, we all want to have more—you said this really well, Ann, in the conversation you guys had with Dane. You talked about how in the past when your kids would misbehave that there was a reactivity in you that you didn’t necessarily like. You were sort of embarrassed by their behavior. You were sort of fearful of what it was going to lead to in them.
Yes. Those are the things that make us kind of get a little loony as parents. I can certainly testify to that. I’m not now leading with a grace-filled heart. I’m not now, as Dane talked about, wrapping my child in this moment in, “I love you. This changes nothing. You’re still my child. Now, let’s talk about your behavior,” separating their worth and their value to you from the actual behavior and the consequences that may have to follow. Those are two different things.
It’s so hard to lead with grace when you’re reactive on the inside, and I think that’s something all of us as parents have to work on a little bit. Do you guys, looking back, have a sense of those moments when you really got reactive as a parent, what was setting you off? Do you know what that was?
Ann: Mine was generally fear, like deep down the deeper issue was fear, as we talk about grace. So if their behavior—let’s say somebody partied, and they went out, and they were drinking, and I found out about it, and my response was not great. I think the first time it happened I was great, like, “Oh, what’s going on? I’m going to give you grace.” I think this is very typical. At first we’re going to give you grace, but if this continues or happens again, well now—now I’m not going to give you grace.
Ron: I can so relate to that. Like now I feel more desperate.
Ron: And the fear—you’re exactly right. The fear is, if we don’t nip this in the bud right now, then this is a lifestyle. You’re moving further away from the Lord. You’re moving into territory that’s unhealthy.
Ann: I’ve already got them in rehab, Ron. That’s where I’ve gone.
Ron: That’s right. In your head you’re already down the road. I totally agree with that. So at that point we are fear-driven parents.
Ron: Not grace driven. That is totally real. I think the other one is embarrassment.
Ann: Oh, yes.
Dave: That’s what I was going to say.
Ron: I’m going to say right now, I’m embarrassed to say what I’m about to say.
Ron: Especially when my kids were young, and they misbehaved in front of other people—
Ann: Oh, yes.
Ron: —I totally took that as a commentary on me and my parenting.
Ron: I made that about me, not about this child, who has a bad attitude right now.
Ann: Because I would judge other parents, that’s why.
Ron: There you go.
Ron: Okay, so we’re getting down to the brass stuff—this is what moves us away from a grace parenting moment. When we’re wrapped up in fear and our own anxiety about ourselves, when we get embarrassed, now all of a sudden I have to shut this down and shut it down fast. This kid’s not going to get away with that. All of a sudden I’m going to take charge and control, and do some—
No, I’m not stopping long enough to go, “Huh, I wonder what’s going on with my kid? I wonder what’s behind this. I know who they are. This is not who they are, but in this moment I don’t like who they are, but I wonder what’s going on?” Okay, next question, Ron. How do you lead with some affirmation here, acknowledging, “You’re still my child. I still love you,” and then comes the ‘but.’ “But we don’t act this way, and let’s talk, and let’s deal with this, and here’s a consequence.”
All of that can come, but if we don’t connect before we correct, then all of a sudden we’re undoing ourselves in the moment and we’re not sending a message of grace. We’re sending a harsh message of judgment.
Ann: And performance. Our kids become performance oriented.
Ron: You’re as good as your performance.
Dave: I know one of our sons who preaches regularly has said—and I’m proud to be able to say, “Hey, I heard this from my son.” He has said, “Any decision made in fear is a bad decision.” Now obviously, if you’re in danger and you’re fearful, you’re going to make decisions that may be good decisions. I’m removing myself—
Ann: Fearful for your life.
Dave: —from a very dangerous—. But if you’re making a fear-based decision as a parent, that’s where you want to stop, not react, and go “Okay, why am I so afraid?” You can flip that to a grace-based decision, and it’s going to be a lot better outcome.
Ron: This is true for all of us, but let’s think about a single parent, for example, or a stepfamily situation where a parent and single parent sees their child misbehave and it’s like, “Oh, no. It’s all on me. I don’t know what to do.”
Ann: Oh, yes.
Ron: Or, like Ann said, “I’ve already responded to this once or twice, and now I’m feeling even more desperate about the situation. I don’t know what to do, so my fear has just shot straight to the sky.”
In a blended family, sometimes that fear takes the form of “If I, as the biological parent, don’t get this under control, my spouse, the stepparent is going to come at me again about my kid,” or “Is going to come at my kid again, and there’s going to be conflict between my child and my spouse, and then our family is not coming together because it’s being pushed apart by conflict.”
So you go from one to a hundred in a nanosecond, and now we’re reacting to a hundred—like you said earlier, Ann—something off into the future that is not even reality yet, but you’re acting as if it is reality. So guess what, when you’re reacting to that, even though it’s not here, you’re really not in charge of you in that moment. I’ve done this a thousand times as a dad. I think we all do it.
I think the reminder here for all of us in this conversation is, okay, if we can find a way to pause, that’s the discipline here. If I can pause my reactivity just enough to slow down and go, “Okay, and this is a weird thought right in this moment, but God has been really patient with me. That’s part of His grace. Super, super longsuffering with Ron. Boy, God has just—and He keeps pursuing me. Alright. Take a deep breath. Calm down. Alright, let me be patient in this moment. Let me try to put on my head again and start thinking, ‘How do I respond?’ instead of just reacting out of fear.”
Ann: You guys, do you remember when he used the word about being invincible? When we understand God’s grace, we walk in His supernatural love, an unconditional love, we become invincible. I remember just sitting on that. We were continuing the interview, but I couldn’t get that out of my head, thinking, “What would that be like to be free, not worried about what other people are thinking, not worried about the future—what’s going to happen—because God’s already in it, He’s already with me, He already loves me.”
That struck me as like, “Oh, there’s such a freedom, even with our kids, our parenting.” Taking that breath and reminding ourselves, “Oh, He loves me. His grace is enough. His love is always for me. He’s always working on my behalf and on the behalf of our family.” That’s reassuring. Wasn’t that good?
Dave: When Dane first used that word “invincible,” it sounds arrogant. “I’m invincible.” It’s like something an athlete would say before he walks into the ring. But it’s not arrogance at all. It’s confidence in Christ. I’m not invincible in me.
Dave: I’m invincible because that Christ lives in me. Again, I don’t walk into a room arrogant. I don’t walk into my marriage or parenting arrogant. I walk in humble, but confident.
Dave: There is a Christ in me that will overflow through me. That’s a confidence we all want to live with.
Dave: It’s amazing to think, “How do we get that confidence?” Through grace.
Dave: There’s no other way. You don’t get it through earning it, working for it. You humbly receive it, and then you walk it out with strength.
Ann: And it is through the gospel. It is the gospel.
Ron: Yes, and receiving that, and embracing it, and resting in it.
Shelby: That’s so good. You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Ron Deal on FamilyLife Today. Ron has one more parenting application here in just a minute, but first, we would love to give you a book called Surprised by Jesus: Subversive Grace in the Four Gospels. It’s by author and pastor Dane Ortlund, who was our guest earlier this week, and he kind of shocked all of us by what he had to say about God’s grace.
We’d love to send you two copies as our thanks when you partner financially with us at FamilyLifeToday.com. That’s one copy for you, and one to give away. You can get your copies when you give at FamilyLifeToday.com, or by calling 800-358-6329. That’s 800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
And if you enjoyed listening to Ron today, you won’t want to miss the 2024 Love Like You Mean It® Marriage Cruise, where he will be one of our speakers. Our biggest sale is happening right now for the cruise. You can join us next February in the Caribbean, with many of your favorite Christian speakers and artists for a romantic week you will not forget.
I’ve been on this cruise before. It’s absolutely incredible, especially if you like ice cream cones whenever you want them. You can learn more at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Alright, here’s Ron with a word of encouragement for moms and dads.
Ron: Let me give you one more parenting application of what you just said, Dave. I’ve said for years self-esteem is a really good concept, kind of nice, you know. You kind of have to have a good opinion of yourself to have good self-esteem. But what is so much better is God-esteem.
Ron: I know who I am because of what God has done in me, through me, because of Christ, for me. That gives me that invincibleness. Now think about parenting. When we, with our kids, come to them in a calm parenting moment, say, “I’m sorry, you can’t act that way. We’re going to have to deal with this. There’s going to be some pretty serious consequence for what you just did. But know this. It doesn’t change an ounce of how much I love you or care for you, and how big you are in my heart.”
“I am your greatest fan, and I will always be your greatest fan. Now come over here. We’re going to have to deal with this.” Now see, that’s parent esteem. That’s God-esteem passed down to our child in a moment of misbehavior, and we make it exceedingly clear that “Who you are to me has nothing to do with what you’ve just done,” because that’s what God gives us and that’s what we can pass on to them.
Ann: Thanks, Ron, for being with us.
Ron: It’s always good to be here.
Shelby: As a spouse, do you ever feel like just nothing is working? Every step you take feels insufficient. Yes, I’ve been there too; I really have. So make sure you join us tomorrow where Dave and Ann are joined by the President of FamilyLife, David Robbins and his wife, Meg, to talk about the grace God gives in our marriages. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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