Stepmoms and Stepdads
About the Guest
Feeling like stepparenting is just not your thing? Veteran stepmom Laura Petherbridge, and veteran stepdad Gordon Taylor are here to offer hope. Laura and Gordon tell their stories and share their experiences with stepchild discipline, and offer advice for blended families.
Feeling like stepparenting is just not your thing? Laura Petherbridge, and Gordon Taylor are here to offer hope. Laura and Gordon tell their stories and offer advice for blended families.
Bob: If Laura Petherbridge was sitting down with a woman who was about to become a stepmom for the first time, what kind of counsel would she give to her?—here’s Laura.
Laura: You are not going to believe everything I’m going to tell you right now. You’re going to think I’m being very negative if you’re not already in a stepfamily, or you’re not going to think this is going to affect you. This is going to be more complex than you think it is going to be.
Children of divorce and children of death are hurting / they are grieving. Their grief takes longer than adults / it comes out in different ways than adults—so just get some resources / keep educating yourself. You spend thousands of dollars on a wedding—make sure you keep spending that much on a marriage.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, June 1st. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We have some very helpful coaching tips today for stepmoms and stepdads. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.
Dennis: Has anybody told you that you are a great interviewer recently? I wish our listeners could have seen my cohort here, Bob Lepine, in action at the National Religious Broadcasters in Nashville. He emceed and interviewed—he must have had 50 different assignments over a period of four or five days—
Bob: —when you go from interviewing Eric Metaxas one day to interviewing Chuck Norris the next day. [Laughter]
Dennis: I wish you folks could have heard the interview that Bob did right before I spoke. Eric Metaxas was in rare form. He was selling the tar out of his book—and bad-mouthing us that we wouldn’t’ have him on FamilyLife Today—trying to get a fight out of me, as I was getting ready to come up to speak.
Bob: You wouldn’t take the bait.
Dennis: I didn’t go for the bait because I didn’t have the time, in my message, to do it. You’re not going to hear that message today, but you are going to hear a great interview that Bob Lepine did at the Blended and Blessed™ Summit almost a year ago—
Dennis: —in Washington D.C.
Bob: Do you think there’s any dramatic difference between being a biological mom and being a stepmom?—being a biological dad and being a stepdad?
Dennis: [Pause] Yes.
Bob: You had to pause and think about that? [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, I just wanted to make sure I understood the question because it was like, “Oh yes,”—I mean, what a challenge. I have to say honestly—those of you who are listeners right now—and there are a ton of you who are / who are in blended families—I have to tell you—my hat goes off to you as to how you do what you do because it’s a challenge to make a marriage work and a family work, at the same time, in those conditions.
Bob: We were gathered in Washington, D.C., with about 200 people, who are engaged in ministry specifically aimed at blended families/stepfamilies.
We decided to explore the challenges that stepmoms and stepdads face and had the chance to talk to Laura Petherbridge—who’s written the book, The Smart Stepmom—and also Gordon Taylor, who has spent years as a stepdad and has done workshops on the subject.
We should mention to our listeners we have a Blended and Blessed event coming up this fall. It’s going to be November 13th and 14th at Mariners Church in Irvine, California. If our listeners would like more information about the upcoming Blended and Blessed Summit—if you have a heart to work with blended families / if you would like to get engaged in that kind of ministry—go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” and look for the link for the Blended and Blessed Summit.
While you’re doing that, let’s listen together to the conversation we had with Laura Petherbridge and Gordon Taylor.
[Blended and Blessed Summit Interview]
Bob: We want to talk about the challenges that stepmoms and stepdads experience and want to talk about the kind of counsel that you give to them.
Laura let me ask you first to share your own journey as a stepparent. Can you do that?
Laura: Yes. Well, I grew up having two stepmoms—my dad remarried two more times after the divorce from my mom. So, when my husband asked me to marry him, he had two sons, 11 and 13. I figured: “I’ve had two stepmoms. Certainly, that has taught me how to be a stepmom,”—that was just naïve.
We’ve been married almost 29 years. We did survive that, but it was so much more challenging than I thought it was going to be. It just took me by surprise. I truly was ambushed by how complicated—I just wanted to love these kids / I just wanted to tell them about Jesus. I was a child of divorce—so I wanted to bind up their wounds
[Psalm 147:3]. It was just so much more complicated than that.
Bob: Gordon, how about you?
Gordon: Well, my journey started when my first marriage broke up. I was a single parent—stayed at the house / raised three teenage boys.
There are some advantages to being single because, when we dropped a towel, we knew it’d be there three days later. [Laughter] But nobody starved—we kept the four basic food groups: frozen, instant, rotten, and spoiled. [Laughter]
During that time, I was loved out of the church that I had grown up in. Fortunately, God hangs out in a lot of places—I found a singles group / I went through divorce recovery. I led the singles group, as a lay minister.
At the end of nine years, Carri and I met and remarried. That’s when the chaos started—inherited a 14-year-old stepdaughter. During that period of time, she led us on a wild chase, obviously; but during that period of time was real growth orientation for me. Then, during that time, my stepdaughter became pregnant—
—presented us with a granddaughter—so I was thrown—not only into the stepdad role but the stepgrandparent role—raising this child. She just—about two years ago, she left our home, finally. At that point in time, I had been parenting, with kids in the house, for 51 years.
Gordon: Not well, but—
Laura: A special place in heaven for you; right?
Gordon: But all of this—in a word is—we really like the Principle of Inclusiveness: “We want to include everybody.” That has included Carri’s ex, his two ex-wives, her daughter that she adopted out, and her six kids—so the stepfamily just keeps growing.
I had a client, the other day, turn and look at me and said, “Do things ever get better?”
And I said, “No, [Laughter] but you can get stronger.”
Laura: Yes, that’s right.
Gordon: That’s what we’re about—the education and the support that we need from the church but from each other as well.
Bob: Were you as blindsided, as Laura was, by the challenges that being a stepdad brought?
Gordon: The intensity was a surprise. The complexity was a surprise. And the concept of time—this is one thing that I think the stepfamily really misses—we want things to happen instantly, and they’re not.
Gordon: So somebody said, “You grow a pumpkin in two months / an oak tree in twenty years.” So we’re developing and growing our stepfamily tree.
Bob: Laura, do you remember when it first hit you that this was going to be more complex than you imagined?
Laura: About day five.
Bob: Okay; pretty quick. [Laughter]
Laura: Yes, it just—you know—but I can tell you—I’m frequently asked, “When did it sort of turn a corner?” I will say that, for me, the moment the epiphany / the change came when I recognized that—to Steve’s two sons, I am their father’s wife / I am not really related to them.
That doesn’t mean I don’t love them / it doesn’t mean they don’t love me—but to them, I am their father’s wife. When that became okay—when I stopped trying to be something to them other than what they wanted me to be—and that that wasn’t a bad thing. That wasn’t—the church doesn’t get that. If I was in a group of people, who weren’t stepfamily-related, they would think that it was horrible for me to say that. But stepfamilies get what that means—it’s not saying something negative / it is reality, and it is okay. They have a mother—they don’t need another one—so that was the acceptance.
Bob: I had one of you here share with me yesterday—overhead somebody at work—a young woman, 28, never married. She’s about to get married to a guy who’s got two kids. One of you said you went to her and said, “You know, do you think you’re ready?” She said: “Oh, I’m ready. I know I’m going to hear, ‘You’re not my mom.’ I’m ready for that.” Most people go into it, imaging they’re ready / thinking, “I can do this.” Why is it so much more difficult, Gordon, than we imagine it’s going to be?
Gordon: Well, number one—and Carri loves this—she says, “When you’re in love, you are brain dead,”—you are, literally, on a cocaine-high, according to Daniel Amos [uncertain as to spelling]. We literally fake ourselves out—what we want so badly, we are afraid to take the time. We’re big into education/preparation.
Our passion is remarried preparation—not for first marriages but for us that are experiencing remarriage—so that you can actually go into it with some semblance of reality and get your expectations down where we can handle them. The experience gets a chance to meet those expectations.
Bob: So, Laura, if you’re sitting down with that 28-year-old woman about to become a stepmom, and a wife, for the first time—and you’re going to give her just kind of some basic wisdom / you’ve got three minutes—here’s what you are going to tell her / what are you going to tell her?
Laura: “Run, Forrest, run!” [Laughter] Actually, what I would say is: “You are not going to believe everything I’m going to tell you right now. You’re going to think I’m being very negative if you’re not already in a stepfamily, or you’re not going to think this is going to affect you. In a couple of months you’ll go, ‘Okay, now, I know what she was talking about.’”
But I just share with them: “This is going to be more complex than you think it is going to be. Children of divorce and children of death are hurting / they are grieving. Their grief takes longer than adults / it comes out in different ways than adults—so just get some resources / keep educating yourself. You spend thousands of dollars on a wedding—make sure you keep spending that much on a marriage.”
Bob: You know, one of the reasons you get faked out is because, prior to the wedding, those kids, who you describe as grieving, seem like, they are crazy about you coming into the family—they are so excited! So, you think: “This is going to work great because they really want me here.”
Laura: And it’s even adult stepkids—so many people think this is only when they’re little—but adult stepkids—I mean, they will be, outwardly, weeping/wailing during the wedding ceremony. That’s because they realize that, to some degree, they are losing their parent.
The child—adult or little—has to be moved to the backseat to make room for that new spouse. If the biological parent doesn’t move that child to the backseat—now notice, I didn’t say into the trunk but into the backseat—then the marriage will not survive. So, they know they are losing their parent, in some way, to this new marriage. That’s why they’re grieving—the reality hits them: “Holy moly! This was more than I thought was going to happen!”
Gordon: There is literally a book—that title of which is The Wedding Was Great, [But] When Does Chuck [Leave]?—and that’s the reality. My stepdaughter—she helped me make the big sign—“Carri, will you marry me?” She wanted me to marry her mom; but the day of the wedding, we have pictures that show what you’ve just said—
—and the illustration. We encourage people to go home and look at your wedding pictures—but look at the children’s faces because the reality of what you are talking about really sets in.
Bob: Does it just not hit them, until the wedding, what is really happening?
Gordon: I think so. Sometimes, we adults get faked out because, to us, it’s the joining of a partner—it’s: “Oh I’m excited! I’m going to be a couple again and married,”—to the kid—it’s just another readjustment / another displacement that you are describing. All of a sudden, the reality comes in: “Oh boy! Where do I belong?” And the principle is that anytime anybody leaves or enters the stepsystem, then everybody in the system needs to adapt and adjust to that—and the kids—lot of awareness / low coping skills.
Bob: Laura, what did you have to learn; and how long did it take you to learn it for that paradigm shift to happen in your family?
Laura: Well, I was probably remarried maybe eight years when I started working on some of my own issues. The thing that often surprises us when we get remarried is it often triggers our own childhood pain. I had no idea that I had baggage from my own parents’ divorce. I actually had blamed myself for my parents’ divorce. I didn’t know it until I was way into my 30s and 40s and got some counseling—
—and recognized that I had some childhood wounds / some childhood pain that I had never known or dealt with. Being a stepmom, watching grieving kids, triggered that pain. I’ve now found out that’s fairly common.
Laura: But it started coming out in different ways in my life. I got some therapy / I got some counseling and recognized that, until I healed the “daddy wound” / the “mommy wound” in my own soul, I was never going to become a smart stepmom.
Bob: Gordon, what about the turning point in your relationship with your stepdaughter?
Gordon: One big eureka for us was temperament identification—where we found her temperament and my temperament—I was the rule-keeper / she was the rule-breaker—“Well, she was irresponsible,” you know—I had her labeled and everything.
But as we got to know each other—and this is a characteristic of the stepfamily—that you’re living with people that you don’t know and you’re not related to—and yet there’s a tension: “I’m supposed to be loving, and caring, and all of this; but where is that line of caring as a father, but I’m not her father?” So, the idea of learning, and just being open, and humble enough to where I, as a man—maybe you guys can relate to this—I didn’t have to fix everything.
I heard one guy, one time, say that: “If you’re leading and no one’s following, you’re just out for a walk anyway.” [Laughter] Jesus was the servant leader—so that helped to be my model of coming in a sacrificial way and a serving way instead of fixing this crew.
Bob: Gordon, you work with the church.
Bob: If you were to give counsel to pastors, and churches, and denominations about how they handle something like this—I’m thinking of a pastor who has 150/200 people in his church—and he says: “I think we have three or four stepcouples in our church. What do I do?” What would you say to them?
Gordon: Well, first of all, raise your awareness a bit. Your congregation is probably closer to 50 percent stepfamilies. Be open to it—being educated—and above all, and this was my problem that I had to deal with when I first got divorced—the first question I asked was: “Could I be a Christian and be divorced?—let alone remarried?” The theology, hopefully, must wrap around that.
I loved Dave Wilson yesterday—he just hit it right on the nose that the church shoots its own wounded, but we need to incorporate them into the body. When I ran the singles group, our mission was to reintegrate singles and remarrieds back into the church life and the body of the church because there’s so much to give. In the Bible that I read, everyone has come short.
The pastor—and we really encourage the senior pastor to preach it from the pulpit because then you get this tension between God’s ideal—the paradigm of a first marriage—and the reality of where all of us live in stepfamily land.
Bob: Final thought you’d have for pastors / church leaders—who have you seen doing it well and you’d say, “Do something like this”?
Laura: Yes, I have just liked what Pastor Dave said yesterday. I’ve seen churches that do it really well and churches that just refuse. It can become discouraging. My encouragement would be: “You know, when we say divorce or remarriage is bigger than the price Christ paid to forgive us, we are saying that divorce is more powerful than the blood of Christ.” It’s really what we’re saying—that divorce is the only thing that’s more powerful than what Jesus paid to forgive us—we have to get rid of that.
We have to get rid of that because our Facebook® page for stepmoms [http://facebook.com/SisterhoodofStepmoms]—I would say we’re up to 2,000—at least, half are un-churched. It’s an untapped mission field—the church has got to wake up.
Bob: Would you thank these folks? Thank Gordon and Laura for their help. We appreciate you guys. [Applause]
That was a robust conversation, listening back to dialogue we had with Laura Petherbridge and Gordon Taylor at the Blended and Blessed Summit that was held in Washington, D.C., last October. These needs are real.
Dennis: And that was a great reminder, Bob, that: “You know what? We’re all broken / that life is all about redemption. You have to find redemption at the foot of the cross and then begin to experience it, over a lifetime, after you place your faith in Christ to save you from your sins. You’ve got to experience that redemption regardless of what kind of marriage and family that you’re in.”
So, it’s just a good reminder that: “You know what? We just need to embrace the assignment.”
That’s what I like about the Blended and Blessed ministry—it produces hope for people who are outside the faith and really maybe haven’t even come to church because they feel like they may be condemned because they—perhaps they may have failed in a marriage, or they’re in a blended family and just feel like there’s a label to that—that is kind of negative.
I think what we’re trying to do, here at FamilyLife, is produce some hope and apply the Scriptures liberally and some grace to people who are in these situations—who need help, they need hope, and they need training. Ron Deal and this Blended and Blessed Summit that’s going to be in Irvine in November—Bob, I think it’s going to do a great job of doing that.
Bob: Well, I don’t know of anyone else who is really focusing on this issue as clearly as Ron Deal is and as we’re trying to do, here at FamilyLife.
This summit is a great opportunity for folks who have interest, passion, concern/care in this area to find out what resources are available and how we can begin to help folks around us who are in blended families. Or, if you’re in a blended family yourself, how you can help yourself and others have a strong, healthy, thriving marriage and family relationship.
If you’d like to find out more about the Blended and Blessed Summit on stepfamily ministry, it’s going to be taking place November 13th and 14th at Mariners Church in Irvine, California. For more information, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “GO DEEPER,” and look for the link for the Blended and Blessed Summit. You can sign up now to attend. Or maybe you want to forward this information on to someone you know who would be interested in this event. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” and look for information about the Blended and Blessed Summit.
There will also be information on our website about resources available to help stepfamilies, including Laura Petherbridge’s book, The Smart Stepmom, which she wrote, together with Ron Deal. Then there’s Ron’s book, The Smart Stepdad, as well, and the video on the smart stepfamily. Lots of resources we have for you if you’re looking for help in this area in building a strong, healthy stepfamily.
If I had to boil down what our goal is, here at FamilyLife, into a word—the word would be “help.” We exist to provide practical biblical help for marriages and for families. FamilyLife Today is all about effectively developing godly families—that’s our goal / that’s our mission. We are enabled in that mission by folks, like you, who see the value of what we’re doing either because you’ve experienced it personally or because you recognize how important this issue is in our culture today. You have pitched in to help make this radio program and all of the ministry of FamilyLife Today possible.
We’re grateful for your support, whether you make an occasional contribution or you’ve joined with us as one of our Legacy Partners—thank you for the part that you play. If you’re able to help with a donation today, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a pair of books designed to help men and women understand exactly what God has in mind for us, as men and as women. One book is the book, Stepping Up, by Dennis Rainey / the other is True Woman 201: Interior Design book written by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Mary Kassian. These books are our thank-you gift to you when you are able to help with a donation today.
We are asking that that be a donation of at least $50. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I CARE,”—make an online donation. Or you can call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.” Make a donation over the phone and ask for the books for men and women when you do that so we’ll know to send them out to you.
Or you can mail your donation to us at FamilyLife Today, PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223. And again, “Thanks,” in advance, for whatever you’re able to do and for your continued support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
We hope you’ll join us back tomorrow when we’re going to talk to three young people, who grew up in stepfamilies—about the experience of being a part of a blended family. You’ll hear from them tomorrow. 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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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