Growing Up in a Blended Family

Below is a guest post from my friend Dr. Charles Shoemaker! Enjoy! – Pastor Sean Teis
 
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It was a beautiful spring morning when I awoke to the news that my father had married the woman he had been seeing. In fact, it was my new stepmother who made the announcement as I lay in bed. Her exact words still ring in my mind, “your father and I got married last night.” Those eight words changed my life.

A little of the back story may be helpful. I was born the fourth child, the only male, to my birth mother and father. When I was only four years old my mother died from a surgery that went wrong. My father, a truck driver with a very limited education, was left with four children to care for. My eldest sister was 19 and soon to be married, the remaining three of us ranged from age 15 to 4.

Life without our mother proved difficult, as it would with any family left in similar circumstances. My dad worked hard and long and I was left in the care of my older sisters and a neighbor lady who had a large family of her own.

 

When I heard those eight words on that spring morning, I was excited and happy. While as a young child I did not understand all of the dynamics of family life, I knew that after the death of my mother things were not complete. My hope was that the presence of my new stepmother would make life better. Sadly, that wasn’t to be!

Along with my new mother—whom I called by her first name—came her two children, a son and a daughter. Both were older than I, and they were as eager to have stability and a father as I was desirous of a mother.

It did not take long to determine that blending two families was an enormous challenge! In the first place our house was a modest structure with three bedrooms, comprising just over 1000 square feet, with only one bathroom for seven people. Beyond that, there were many differences in the foods we ate, the churches we attended, and the values we possessed. The reality was, we had just injected three strangers into our family, and as it turned out, I did not like any of them!

One by one my older sisters left the home nest as quickly as possible. When I was 16, I too, moved out, primarily staying with my sister and her husband.

Since I started working when I was in the 8th grade (busing tables at a hotel restaurant near O’Hare airport in Chicago, and later at a Pizza joint), I knew how to work and essentially cared for all of my needs since I was 13 years of age. Life was not easy “being on my own,” but it was far better than the alternative: living as part of our blended family! With the benefit of time (I’m 57) and some element of spiritual maturing, I now can enunciate a few of the reasons why our blended family struggled:

1. We started with unrealistic expectations!

From a personal perspective I was searching for a new mother just like my birth mother—and that did not happen. In fact, every member of the family had their own idea of how this new family was to work. Each of us had a personal agenda or objective. In retrospect, I do not believe any of our personal expectations were truly realized. The dreams we each had vanished over a very brief period of time.

2. We did not know how to communicate!

When differences arose our reactions were, for the most part, unproductive and unbiblical. We never had family meetings to discuss—openly and honestly—our frustrations. My Dad’s reaction to conflict was to become loud, angry, and aggressive. My stepmother’s practice was to “clam up.” For the most part we kids simply went into mental and emotional seclusion. To withdraw was the most convenient strategy. Conflicts were simply ignored, regardless of the hurt and pain that almost always accompanied them.

3. We lacked Biblical guidance!

While my birth mother was a true Christian believer, my father was lost, and with no visible interest in God. My stepmother was a Lutheran, possessing no clear testimony of a personal salvation experience. My birth sisters and I rode the bus to Sunday school at the local Baptist church. Thankfully, one-by-one we were all converted and to this day remain active in church. Our step siblings never joined us on the bus or, to my knowledge, in embracing Christ as Savior.

What we lacked as a family is what all families need in order to succeed—God’s wisdom and help! The Psalmist was correct when he wrote, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1). We were attempting to build a family apart from the very One, the only One, who could help us succeed.

My experience is certainly not typical of all blended families. Through some 37 years of full-time ministry, I have learned that many blended families flourish, with very few serious problems. And while challenges exist in every family, and certain adjustments must be faced, it is a blessing when blended families rise above the obstacles and purpose to live in harmony, under God’s guidance.

One final note. In 1975 I planted a Baptist church in the Chicago area. On a special Sunday in May of 1976, my stepmother was gloriously saved. Her life changed and so did our relationship. In 1990 I was able to lead my Dad to Christ one year before he died. While we did not start right; thankfully, we ended better than we began!

-Dr. Charles Shoemaker

To find out more about Dr. Shoemaker and his ministry visit his website: churchplantingamerica.org

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