Do you remember The Brady Bunch, the popular 70s sitcom featuring six well-adjusted children blending into one happy, new home following the marriage of their picture-perfect parents? The series depicted the lives of one of TVs first “blended families” even before the term was widely used.

For many, “blend” conjures images of the handy kitchen appliance. Pop in your ingredients, flip the switch and—presto!—your smooth creation is ready to serve.

If only blending a family was that easy. Today, more than 40% of American adults have at least one step-relative in their family—a step-parent, sibling or child.[i] Despite a desire to “blend” quickly, it typically takes four to seven years before a family begins to function and feel like … “family.” Meanwhile, living life as a blended family can be highly frustrating, which described Carolyn perfectly when she called me on Hope In The Night, seeking help two years after her marriage to Ron created a tribe of five.

“We’re like two different families living under the same roof,” Carolyn confided. “There’s a lot of tension with the kids. I’ve tried talking to Ron about it, but he gets very defensive if I say anything about his daughter. So I started keeping everything inside. But now I’m so depressed and stressed that I’m having anxiety attacks. June, I haven’t told Ron, but I’m thinking of separating.”

Bitter struggles within blended families can blindside couples after remarriage—couples so in love, so eager to experience the tender closeness and joyful laughter of family life. But in reality, children of divorce often don’t share in the enthusiasm. Devastated by their first family’s fracture, they feel safe only when they wall off their wounded hearts. A hostile or ambivalent message from one of their birth parents only complicates the situation. And that’s before the new couple begins wrestling with the many pitfalls of step-parenting. Based on Carolyn’s story, it appeared Ron had succumbed to one of these messages.

Racked with guilt over the repercussions of his divorce from Brittany’s mother, Ron had become what I call a “Disneyland Dad”—indulging his daughter’s every whim in a misguided effort to make up for the pain she’d suffered during the divorce … and the attempt to prevent Brittany from wanting to live with her birth mom. For Ron, the family budget was of little consequence when Brittany expressed a desire for something—anything—new! Boundaries for Brittany that were once observed now were viewed as potentially hurtful, in view of Brittany’s “sensitive” feelings. Nothing, it seemed, was too much to ask when it came to pampering Ron’s pouty little princess.

Jealousy soon followed, of course, as Carolyn’s 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter observed that they weren’t being similarly indulged. And to complicate matters, Ron wasn’t the only one feeling guilty.

“Children, themselves, often feel guilty if they experience any loving affection or emotional draw toward their new step-parent,” I explained. “They feel they’re betraying their own birth parent.”

“Exactly!” Carolyn chimed in. “Ron will ask my boys to do something—even something simple, like take out the trash—and they’ll say, “You’re not my real dad—I don’t have to do what you say!”

Fortunately for Ron and Carolyn, the tensions they faced as new step-parents weren’t new … or insurmountable. I explained to Carolyn that step-families typically undergo three stages of development: fantasy, factual, and fruitful. Here’s a glimpse of what to expect in each stage:

Fantasy Stage … unrealistic expectations

  • The dream of gaining happiness and wholeness through a new marriage[ii]
  • The dream that I won’t make the same mistakes I made in my first marriage[iii]
  • The dream of marrying a model parent who will love my children[iv]
  • The dream that I will love my spouse’s children as my own[v]
  • The dream that our love is enough to conquer all problems[vi]

Notice how Psalm 10 focuses on unrealistic expectations: “They think, ‘Nothing bad will ever happen to us! We will be free of trouble forever!’” (Psalm 10:6 NLT).

Factual Stage … reality sets in

  • The dream of a unified family life is not reality.[vii]
  • The guilt, jealousy, and anger from former relationships are damaging to the new relationships.[viii]
  • The children are mourning their lost parent and are not accepting the step-parent.[ix]
  • The transition to a new family becomes more difficult than expected.
  • The problems seem too difficult, accompanied by a strong temptation to give up.

“But now trouble comes to you, and you are discouraged; it strikes you, and you are dismayed” (Job 4:5).

Fruitful Stage … growth and maturity

  • The realization that a blended family is not ideal; there will always be a unique set of family problems
  • The realization that mistakes will be made, but God uses mistakes to build character and to strengthen the family unit
  • The realization that it is going to take the cooperation of both partners to overcome difficulties and make the marriage work
  • The realization that it takes time, and it may be years before signs appear of unity or smooth relationships
  • The realization that God will use this blended family as a source of spiritual growth, as a means of healing the past, and as a demonstration of His unconditional love

“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4).

As Carolyn and I talked into the night, we explored principles from God’s Word to help move her family successfully through each stage. And this month, I’d like to share with you many of the tips we discussed. Our Quick Reference Guide titled Blended Family: God’s Recipe for Success contains strategies to prepare children for their parent’s remarriage, to maintain boundaries, to discipline within a blended family, to nurture your children’s nuclear family relationships, and much more. This handy guide comes with permission to make 10 copies, so that you can share it with family and friends.

Equipping you and those you have a heart to help is why our ministry exists. I hope that you will take time to make a difference in someone’s life by sharing with them the resources and teaching you have discovered at Hope For The Heart. Too often I hear the words, “If I had only known about your ministry sooner!” It grieves my heart to think that there are so many more we could be helping … if they only knew how to find us.

I’d like to ask for something just as important as your financial gifts and prayer support…. I’d like to ask you to “Introduce Someone to Hope.” You are surrounded by a circle of friends and people you help to influence. Have you shared with them about a time in your own life when you felt you were “drifting” or even hopeless and how God brought you through that trial? Have you shared with them where they can find practical, biblical solutions for their own struggles?

Most sincerely I thank you for your wonderful friendship with our ministry—your partnership to help people experience changed lives. Your prayers, gifts, and words of encouragement—and your willingness to share Hope with others—are such a great encouragement.


[i] –
[ii] – Michelle Cresse, Jigsaw Families: Solving the Puzzle of Remarriage (Lynnwood, WA: Aglow, 1989), 20

[iii] – Cresse, Jigsaw Families, 20.

[iv] – Cresse, Jigsaw Families, 22-23.

[v] – Frydenger and Frydenger, Resolving Conflict in the Blended Family, 32.

[vi] – Angela Elwell Hunt, Loving Someone Else’s Child (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1992), 55.

[vii] – Frydenger and Frydenger, Resolving Conflict in the Blended Family, 34.

[viii] – Hunt, Loving Someone Else’s Child, 25.

[ix] – Frydenger and Frydenger, The Blended Family, 59.
[x] – For this section see Frydenger and Frydenger, Resolving Conflict in the Blended Family, 107-11.
Names have been changed to ensure anonymity.