Typically, when a man and a woman get married, there are only two lives that are being joined together in holy matrimony. It is a challenging and daunting task to weave two separate lives intimately into one, but it is rewarding as a couple begins to learn and grow together.
The Bible says, Genesis 2:20b-24, “But, for Adam no suitable helper was found. So, the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
It is after there has been a time of getting to know each other and how to navigate life as a couple that children are conceived and brought into the family. Transitioning to parents from newlyweds is not an easy adjustment.
But, when a man and a woman get married and bring their own children into the holy union, it is even more complicated. Not only must the husband and wife learn how to become one as a couple, but they must learn their new roles as stepparents and co-parents. Many times, along with those new relationships comes a new home, possibly in a new state. Not only is the marriage new, but parenting is brand new in an unfamiliar place. This exciting time in the newlyweds’ lives can become overwhelming, stressful and uncertain. Thankfully, God’s hand is always in His plans and He can bring peace and blessings in the chaos.
I once read in Reader’s Digest that there are ten occurrences in your life that can cause overwhelming stress - death of a family member, marriage, pregnancy, illness, job change, incarceration, new home, strained friendships, success, and moving – and they recommend to avoid having more than two happen in a year’s time. I wish I read that when I was younger. Within five months, I got married, quit my job as a teacher to become a stay at home mom and moved into a new home 1300 miles away from the only place I had ever lived in 27 years. And 12 months later, I was pregnant. Talk about stress. I was in the stress Olympics!
When Rick and I met online in 1999, it wasn’t as popular as it is today to meet strangers on the internet. The unknown of chatrooms and IM-ing was a bit scary. But, living 1300 miles away from each other, being single parents with jobs and responsibilities and only having email, IM-ing and phone calls to communicate allowed us to get to know each other more intimately. We sent pictures and cards but did not get to see each other until seven months after we first met online. Rick hadn’t planned on proposing that whirlwind weekend we spent in Maryland and Texas meeting each other’s families and friends, but we got engaged and were married five months later. For two 20-somethings, it was an amazingly crazy and exciting time. For our children, it was amazing, crazy, exciting and life changing.
My son prayed daily for nine years for a Daddy and siblings. He desperately wanted a family. When I spoke to him about Rick after we had been talking for three months, he was excited. He loved talking to him about football and Texas. He was thrilled about the idea of being a big brother to Rick’s daughter and son. Before Rick proposed, he spoke with my son to get his permission to marry me and permission was given gladly. He asked if he could call Rick “Dad” once we were married and could not wait to move to Texas.
Rick’s daughter and son had gone through the divorce better than most nine and five-year olds. They adjusted well to moving in with his parents while he adjusted to being a single parent and seeing their mother two weekends a month and during the summer. They both expressed the desire to have a family again and were cautiously happy when we were introduced. They were eager to have another sibling, a new house and a mother who lived with them full time. Requests to call me “Mom” came after our engagement was announced and we started writing letters and talking on the weekends they were home.
When we all got to see each other in person, it was like being back home, with family, not like being in the same place for the first time. It only took a few minutes for the children to be in the back seat of the car together before they started bickering like siblings, falling asleep on each other on the hour ride from the airport. They giggled in the bedroom as they fell asleep and spent the next two days playing and enjoying getting to know each other.
But, after the wedding, honeymoon and four-day road trip moving our lives from Maryland to Texas, it was evident that navigating this new life together was going to be messy, complicated and hard. Each of us had a new place to fit into that didn’t always make sense or feel right.
I was trying to figure out how to be the perfect wife and mother. It was a big adjustment to go from single mom of one to married mom of three. Having a husband was wonderful, but after taking care of the children all day, I found myself exhausted and struggled finding time to spend with Rick before heading to bed. We were a busy family with school, sports, church and family gatherings. Rick was busy with a new promotion, but was at every practice and dance event, helped lead the children’s ministry at church and co-hosted many family get togethers. There was also the dynamic of being so far away from my family and my son’s biological father while trying to figure out how to include Rick’s ex wife and her family into the children’s lives.
It was a delicate balance that we did not always get right. If we didn’t have his children for the weekend and Rick was working, I made sure I spent extra time with my son who was adjusting to a huge move and a different family dynamic. If Rick wasn’t working, we would spend time with my son, but also carve out time for a date night. During Christmas break and the summertime while the children were spending time with their other parents, we made sure to take trips and do things to strengthen our relationship as husband and wife. It was challenging to do that when we were with the children 24/7, so we enjoyed the breaks.
We also experienced challenges in parenting since our children were 9, 9 and 5 when we got married. We had different parenting styles and it was very evident as we tried to figure out how to discipline and train children who already had established ways that they best reacted to discipline and training. We thought we talked a lot about how we would raise them and any future children, but we found ourselves disagreeing especially when it came to our own children. I had way more grace for my son than for my stepchildren. My son rebelled if disciplined in public, responding better to quiet and private rebuking. All Rick had to do was raise his voice to his daughter and she was repentant. The 5-year-old just needed a swat to get back in line. But as we disciplined them differently, we received flak from family members and the exes. It was difficult to establish rules for our home when those rules were not the same at their other houses or when with other family. Rick and I started to look at each other as enemies instead of partners and it was easy to be resentful or frustrated.
We had to have hard conversations about what our motives were in our discipline for each of the children. We spent hours in prayer and in counseling with our pastor. We searched God’s Word during our devotional times as a couple and privately. We apologized when we got it wrong and rejoiced when we got things right. We were a united front when questioned by family members and biological parents. And we modeled Biblical parenting to the children.
God was gracious in our growing pains. As we followed godly principles in child rearing and our marriage, we had peace in our home and in our marriage. Even though there is great wisdom behind God’s design for marriage to come first then children, His mercy and guidance allowed us to become a family. And as we added more children, we continue to seek God as we parent two unique children who are growing into incredible, responsible, creative young adults.