Growing Up as a Stepchild
About the Guest
Are you wondering just what is going on in your stepchild's mind? Some stepchildren "from the trenches" are here to tell you about their blended experience. Josh and Emily Gangl were kids when their families combined. Newlywed Jenifer Thigpen was deeply affected when her parents split up, and when her mom re-married.
Are you wondering what is going on in your stepchild’s mind? Some stepchildren are here to tell you about their blended experience. Josh and Emily Gangl and Jenifer Thigpen tell their stories.
Bob: When Josh Gangl’s dad started dating again after his divorce, Josh was excited.
Josh: It was really fun, at first. We got to go over to Tammy’s house, and we—
Emily: —real food. [Laughter]
Josh: Yes, we got to eat. [Laughter] She had tacos—she made tacos and milkshakes. It was the best thing in the world. My dad used to cook with a crockpot. He found this site called “Five Ingredients or Less,” and that’s what he used—five ingredients or less. [Laughter] So, we met Tammy. We were like: “Hey, she can cook! This is awesome!” We loved it, and the girls went off and did their own thing. Then they actually got married; and we actually became a family. We figured out very quickly that: “Hey, these people are a lot different than us.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, June 2nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll hear today from young people—teenagers and young adults—about what life in a blended family can be like for them. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. Most of the time, when we’re talking to or talking about blended families, we’re talking about moms and dads—talking to the grown-ups in the relationship because they’re the ones who have the most control over how the family blends.
Bob: Yes, that’s true.
Dennis: You know, they don’t feel a lot in control, however; but one of the things that we’re trying to do, here at FamilyLife, is also speak to the children who are in blended families because they need help and hope as well.
Bob: Yes. We recently got together with about 200 people from all over the country—who are engaged in stepfamily/blended family ministry.
This was our second gathering together with these leaders to talk about: “What can churches and what can ministries be doing more effectively to help blended families thrive and help them go the distance in their marriage relationship?”
At this most recent event, Ron Deal—who gives leadership to the blended family ministry, here at FamilyLife, called FamilyLife Blended™—Ron sat down with two young women and a young man—all three of them having grown up in a blended family. He talked with them, in front of the audience, about the realities that kids in blended families face. It was fascinating—
Dennis: It was.
Bob: —as they shared the emotion and shared some of the practical issues that kids in these families face.
Dennis: I want us to listen to that interview in just a moment, Bob; but I want our listeners to know we’re getting ready to have our third annual Blended and Blessed™ Summit in Irvine, California, in November. Make sure you stay tuned all the way to the end to get information about that.
Bob: We should also say: “Those folks who help support FamilyLife—this is a part of what you’re helping to support.
“You make these kinds of events possible through your financial support of this ministry, and we’re grateful for you.”
Dennis: I want to give a shout-out to Legacy Partners—these are monthly donors to FamilyLife. You are, indeed, helping us pioneer in some areas that are really very important; but they’re pioneering areas—we need folks to stand with us to do them. Thank you for giving, and thank you for your faithfulness to us over the years.
Bob: Alright, let’s listen now as Ron Deal sits down with Emily Gangl, Josh Gangl, and Jenifer Thigpen to talk about growing up in a blended family.
[Blended and Blessed Interview]
Ron: One of the most compelling statistics that I ever ran across was research that showed that children need more time to adjust to a parent’s remarriage than they do time to adjust to a parental divorce. Now, just absorb that for a minute. The adults are happy / they’re gaining—they’re on a trajectory towards passion planet. They’re moving on, and the kids are on a different rocket—going to maybe moon.
Right?—not so sure about this: “I’m trying to figure this out as we go.” So you’re not traveling the same trajectory, at the same pace, in the same direction. You’re traveling two different trajectories, at a different pace, and a different [direction]. It’s just complicated to try to begin to figure it out and bridge that gap. So, we wanted to hear from some people to just share with us what it’s like to be a stepkid.
The first person I’d like to introduce is Jenifer Thigpen. Jenifer, would you come on up? [Applause] Thank you. Just come on up and have a seat. You were how old when your parents divorced?
Ron: And then one of your parents remarried when you were how old?
Ron: Okay. Was that dad or mom that remarried?
Jenifer: My mom.
Ron: Okay, so she represents kind of the adult stepchild experience. She’s going to be sharing with us from that worldview.
To introduce the next two, I want to just pause and back up for a second.
Those of you that ever—not many of you have a hard-back copy of The Smart Stepfamily / the first edition that came out in 2002—had in it something that I called “The Stepparents’ Serenity Prayer.” I don’t know if anybody ever saw that—you’d have to have that edition to have seen that. It goes something like this—“The Stepparents’ Serenity Prayer: Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, the wisdom to make my mate’s ex-spouse vanish into thin air, and the power to force my stepchildren to love and honor me so that my mate and I will live happily ever after.” Does that work? [Laughter] Yes; yes—we got an “Amen,” out of that.
I thought about this—and I was reflecting on this interview—and I thought: “You know what? Maybe it’s time for The Stepchild’s Serenity Prayer.” So, Emily and Josh Gangl are going to join us here in just a minute. I sent them that “Stepparents’ Serenity Prayer”; and I invited them to write for us—to be revealed for the first time ever in the history of mankind today—The Stepchild’s Serenity Prayer.
Let’s read Emily’s first. “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, the power to send my stepsiblings home from this extended sleepover, and the wisdom to know which house I’m living at this week so that I may make it to adulthood sane.” [Laughter] Would you welcome Emily Gangl? [Applause]
Now, her brother, Josh, took a crack at it too. Here’s his: “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the power to endure their cooking so that I might make it out of this house alive.” [Laughter] Welcome Josh Gangl—come on up. [Applause]
Let me just kind of start with you, Jenifer. Can you maybe share a story with us that kind of represents maybe what it felt like to go through the transitions and the changes?—
—the divorce / single-parent years when mom and dad weren’t together again. You were an adult / you’re on your own, and then somebody new comes into Mom’s life; right?—Mom remarried? Kind of walk us through that.
Jenifer: My parents separated when I was about 23. They were separated for about two years. One year of that, they were working very hard to try to make it work / get back together. I got married, and my mom and dad officially divorced two weeks later.
So, at my wedding, it was a little bit odd and strange because things were very tense between my mom and dad on what was to be the happiest day of my life—and it was—but that was a strange element that was going on behind the scenes—my mom actually had met her husband and started dating him pretty quickly after my parents got divorced. I think it was two years later she got remarried.
That process was a little strange because it was so quickly—of being over—and then this new person comes into the picture.
Ron: Yes—it’s strange.
Jenifer: Yes! So, I, even as an adult—when you were talking about how it takes the children longer—they actually can accept the divorce easier than they can a new person in the whole scenario because, even as an adult, I had all those emotions and then some.
Ron: Absolutely; absolutely. So what was it like to meet that person for the first time? —to just kind of wrap your head around the idea: “Mom’s going to be married to somebody different”?
Jenifer: Very strange and very hard for me to accept. I would like to say that, even as a grown adult, I handled it maturely; but I didn’t.
I had many immature moments in that whole process. Thankfully, he’s like the most wonderful man and loves my mom to death. He’s such a great, godly person that cherishes her—so for that, I’m so thankful—but yes, it was just still very strange.
Ron: Emily/Josh, can you think of a story that kind of characterizes what it was like for you to go through the divorce?—and then life after and new people entering into your world?
Emily: I think the craziest thing I went through was—it’s not like a specific story—but it is kind of an outlook. I had a younger sister, Megan; and then Tammy had Kylie—that was her daughter. So, when our parents started dating and then they decided to marry, we all thought: “Hey, it’s going to be a big sleepover,” you know. “I’m going to have Kylie—I’m going to have an older / I’m going to have a little sister. We’re all going to stay in the same room—it’s going to be great!”
Well, come to find out, Kylie doesn’t go to bed until like ten o’clock; but at eight years old, that’s one in the morning; you know? So, for a week we were having fun—I don’t even think it lasted a week. There were a few days we were like, “This is great”; and then that fourth day, I was like, “I’m not getting any sleep anymore.” I was like, “I can’t do this!” It kind of hit home then that we were going to be going through a lot. It was going to really conflict—like the different ways we had been raised, even though we’re only eight years old, conflicted so much because we had gotten so used to that. I guess that was kind of like the wake-up moment for us.
Ron: Okay; yes. It’s definitely like, “Okay, the fantasy is not necessarily what reality is.”
Ron: Yes. Josh, how about you?
Josh: I’d probably say—while [they] were going through the divorce, I tended to blame myself for it. I was thinking: “Was there anything I could have done to possibly have made this work? Was there anything that I did wrong?—or anything like that?”
Being the oldest, that’s kind of like what I just automatically took upon myself to think: “It was my fault,” or something like that.
I remember my dad got this book—I don’t even remember the name of it—but it was some little children’s story. It was all about this kid who goes through a divorce, or whatever, and how he blames himself, and that sort of thing. It just answers a whole bunch of different questions that kids normally go through with divorce. I remember reading through that story with my dad. He kind of sat all of us down in the living room and read this story to us. We kind of talked about it afterwards. I remember that very vividly, while going through the divorce, and that sort of thing.
Ron: How old were you at the time?
Josh: Around seven or eight—give or take.
Ron: Seven or eight. So, did reading that story—looking back, was that helpful?
Josh: Yes. Very helpful because, after reading that story and after thinking about it for awhile by myself—it still took a couple of years to finally accept the fact—but it solidified in my mind that it wasn’t my fault.
Ron: Yes. It’s a really important message for kids to be able to hear.
So, what was it like when Tammy came into the picture?—“Dad’s dating somebody now!”
Josh: It was really fun, at first. I mean, we got to go over to Tammy’s house, and—
Emily: —real food. [Laughter]
Josh: Yes, we got to eat. [Laughter] She had tacos—she made tacos and milkshakes. It was the best thing in the world. My dad used to cook with a crockpot. He found this site called “Five Ingredients or Less,” and that’s what he used—five ingredients or less. [Laughter] So, we met Tammy. We were like: “Hey, she can cook! This is awesome!” We loved spending time with Aaron because he had video games and different stuff—we loved it—and the girls went off and did their own thing. Then they actually got married; and we actually became a family. We figured out very quickly that: “Hey, these people are a lot different than us. They like to stay up a lot later. They enjoy just kind of doing things on their own or whatever.”
Ron: So, what did that feel like?
You’re caught between those two cultures—right?—and now, you’re figuring out: “Okay, this is not as easy—it’s not necessarily a fun sleepover. It’s hard.”
Emily: The Gangls would go over to their mom’s house every other weekend. The Wheeleses never really saw their dad. I vividly remember—whenever I would come home from my mom’s house, I would get really, really uncomfortable and really annoyed. It was like over really nothing—Kylie wouldn’t have done anything. She could have just come up and talked to me, and I would just get really annoyed. I think it was coming to terms with the fact that everything’s so different. You know, at eight years old, you don’t really know how to cope with that—I would get frustrated.
I talked to Tammy and my dad about it. I was telling them because they noticed I would get frustrated. I think it was the fact that you’re changing roles—you are having to blend the two families, so your parents are changing their parenting type. The only way I could deal with all that, and take it all in, was I would get annoyed.
I found out that, when I came back from my mom’s house, I would have to be by myself for an hour or two and kind of like switch gears back to: “Okay, our life isn’t the same anymore,” and that kind of thing. That kind of helped me cope with it, but a lot of talking with the parents helped too.
Ron: That’s great / that’s wonderful. I think that’s really insightful—the idea that you needed an adjustment period—some grace space.
Ron: So, you kind of figured that out.
Ron: So what do you guys think?—let me just ask this open question: “What do you wish stepparents understood about being you?”
Josh: I would probably say—one thing that I really would like stepparents to understand is—it’s kind of a gain for you; but it’s a loss for the kids because—for all of us, up until the time where you get remarried—we still have this fantasy / this dream of: “Maybe my parents will get back together.” Regardless of whether the parent is still alive or not, that fantasy still exists because you’re still the dad or mom, and they are still the dad or mom, or whatever. It’s a loss for the kids.
You’re going to come across times where they just aren’t going to accept you or whatever for probably several years. You’re just going to have to be okay with it because there’s really nothing that you can do until they accept you. You have to be open and be willing to be whatever they need you to be until that time comes where you can become what they need. It’s really just kind of a loss—period.
Ron: So, essentially, I hear you saying to the stepparents: “Be patient with us.
Ron: “We’re trying to figure it out, and we’re trying to get there. Sorry, but it just takes us awhile.”
Jenifer: Yes, I would totally agree. I would say: “Just give us a minute. Don’t take it personally.” I mean, you just heard me describe my mom’s husband—I give him the utmost praise of who he is, as a person; but just the idea of him was what I had to—“Just give me a minute.”
Ron: Wow. Distinguish between the idea of him versus who he is—it’s not necessarily personal. Yes—it’s adjusting to the whole concept / the idea.
Was there anything about becoming a stepchild or even your life now—after some period of time—that is easy for you?
Jenifer: I’ll speak to that. I was an only child. My mom’s husband had two children. He had actually been divorced a lot longer than my mom had been—he’d been divorced for 11 years before he met my mom. His two children were very—more into the idea of it all and just kind of used to life / the new normal that they had—but when I met them, it was just strange to think—for a long time, my husband would tease me and say, “Your brother and your sister…” I would always get mad because I was like: “I don’t have a brother or sister! I’m an only child—uuhh!” [Laughter] There’s the immaturity! [Laughter]
So, now, it’s been ten years; and I love them so much. I’m proud to call them my brother and sister. Now that I have a son and they have kids, it’s so fun for me that my son has an aunt, and an uncle, and cousins. [Applause] I love—I get so excited on holidays because I know that we’re all going to be together. I look so forward to spending time with all of them. So it’s made this new element of family—that I never had, growing up—which was sharing holidays with brothers, and sisters, and cousins, and all of the extended family that you have. I love that for my son—that he now has that element to his life as well—that he would not have had before.
Emily: I completely agree with you. My stepsister, Kylie—I could not imagine life without her right now. Through high school, she was my support—
—I could always go to her. At the beginning, it was really rough / for a few years, it was really rough—but literally, after that seven-year mark, we all started to kind of just mesh together—and we all found our little spaces in the family. It really is a beautiful thing now.
You had asked a question about “behind closed doors.” Well, literally, we are the craziest people behind closed doors—we goof off all the time—it is great. When the parents go upstairs, all the kids—stepsisters/stepbrothers—we all mesh well together, and we crack each other up. It’s really, really nice now that we’ve gone through all this; and we’ve had all that to relate together to. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Ron: That’s what I would call promised-land payoffs; right?
Emily: Yes. [Applause]
Ron: Thank you guys for joining us. Thanks for being here. [Applause] Would you please thank them for coming up / their courage? [Applause]
Bob: Well, again, what we’ve been listening to was a conversation between Ron Deal and three young adults, all of whom grew up in blended families.
There’s hope for those folks who are in the middle of a blended family right now—and the kids aren’t getting along, and they’re not happy with the circumstances, and they’re—whatever they’re processing emotionally—there is hope. God can do a work in the midst of that.
Dennis: He can; and in fact, that’s what Jesus Christ is all about. He is about redeeming broken people. Certainly, those who are in blended families, whether children or whether adults, are not exempt from needing redemption as well.
Bob, this year, at the Blended and Blessed Summit—the third annual summit like this that we’ve held—it’s going to be in southern California—we’re going to feature a certain portion of the content and the time there talking to churches and church leaders about how they can minister to the youth that are growing up in blended families.
Bob: Yes. We’re hoping that, alongside folks who have a primary interest in blended families, there will be a lot of youth pastors and student ministry leaders who will join us for this event because a lot of the young people, who are showing up in youth groups all across the country, are young people like the young man and the young women we’ve heard from today—they’re in the midst of this / they’re dealing with loss, and with fear, and with guilt, and confusion, and sadness. For you to know how you can apply the gospel in their lives—knowing what they’re going through—we think it will be really beneficial.
The event’s taking place at Mariner’s Church in Irvine, California, November 13th and 14th. There’ll be folks traveling from all across the country to be a part of the Blended and Blessed Summit. You can get more information about how you can attend by going to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” Look for the link for the Blended and Blessed 2015 Summit on Stepfamily Ministry.
Or call if you have any questions: 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Let me also mention that Ron Deal—who heads FamilyLife Blended™ and who we heard from today—has written a small book for teenagers called Life in a Blender, where he addresses what he calls “The Big Five”—the challenges that children in blended families often experience. You can order a copy of Life in a Blender, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information. That’s 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
You know— one of the things we have come to recognize, here at FamilyLife, is that marriage and family is an international language—
—it’s something that doesn’t matter where you live, it doesn’t matter how you grew up, it doesn’t matter the cultural differences that may exist between you and your neighbor. Relationships all have some common elements. There are some common challenges that face husbands and wives, moms and dads, folks in a first-time marriage, folks who are in a blended marriage relationship.
At FamilyLife, our goal is to offer help. We believe that the Bible speaks to the issue of relationships—talks first about our relationship with God and then, second, about our relationships with one another, flowing out of a healthy relationship with God. That’s our focus here—is to provide practical biblical help for marriages and families. Whatever the situation you’re in, we want to be a source for that kind of help. We trust that that’s what we’re providing each day on this radio program. Those of you who are visit our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, we trust that you’re finding the help you need there—the articles / the resources we have. Those of you who order materials from us, we trust that you’re finding those helpful as well.
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We’re going to send you Dennis Rainey’s book, Stepping Up, the hardback, and we’re also going to send you the True Woman 201: Interior Design book from Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss. And I should add—this is not about the interior design of your home—it’s about the interior design of your heart, as a woman. So there’s a book for guys, and there’s a book for ladies. They’re our gift to you when you make a donation today to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today
We’d ask that it be a donation of at least $50 or more. You can make your donation, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I CARE.” Make your online donation, and request the resources. Or ask for the two books when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY—make a donation over the phone.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to take you into a recent FamilyLife staff meeting. We got our whole team together and had a chance to visit with singer and songwriter, Jeremy Camp. We’ll hear a part of his story on tomorrow’s program. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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