‘I Hate You’

  Pastor Dick Dunn of Roswell, Georgia, didn't pay much attention when a couple in his church asked for help in dealing with hostile stepchildren. After all, the husband and wife were strong Christians. Surely, he thought, they could work out their problems with their two kids. But then Dunn recalled how his own teenage daughter nearly blew apart his second marriage—and began a program to help stepfamilies stay together. Dunn's story is recounted in a book called Marriage Savers, written by my friend Michael McManus. McManus says that stepparents often feel as if they're sitting on a keg of dynamite. And who lights the fuse? It's usually the stepchildren. They often scream at the stepparent: "I hate you! You can't tell me what to do!" No wonder some 65 percent of marriages involving stepchildren end up in divorce court. In his book Marriage Savers, McManus explains why stepfamilies have such a hard time blending—and how they can decrease their chances of splitting up. The fact that they're having conflicts at all often takes newlyweds by surprise. That's because during the couple's courtship, their children often get along well with both the prospective stepparent and stepsiblings. In fact, it's not unusual for children to encourage their divorced or widowed parents to remarry. But that initial friendliness often disappears the moment the rice is thrown. Kids know how to drive the stepparent up the wall, and they often do it without the natural parent catching on. Sometimes, the stepparent lacks the skills to deal effectively with the new spouse's children. Before the newlyweds know it, their lovely new family has turned into The Brady Bunch from Hell. And they have no idea how to cope with the crisis. It's for couples like these that Dick Dunn created the Stepfamily Support Group. The group matches embattled newlyweds with couples who have lived through the very same problems. These older couples teach the bride and groom that volatile conflicts are normal in stepfamilies. After all, the established routines, traditions, and loyalties of two families are shaken to their foundations as the new family begins to take form. The experienced couples share their own stepfamily war stories. They teach the newlyweds how to set rules with children. Perhaps most important of all, the younger couples are taught how important it is to set aside "couple time" for nurturing their own relationship. Do stepfamily support groups make a difference? At Roswell United Methodist Church, some 400 couples have taken part in the church's Stepfamily Support Group over the past dozen years. Of this number, fewer than 80 have suffered divorce. That's a 20-percent divorce rate compared with a 65-percent divorce rate among stepfamilies nationwide. You and I ought to be working to duplicate programs like these in our own churches. You can learn more details about Dick Dunn's Stepfamily Support Group by reading Marriage Savers. You'll learn how to help turn snarling stepparents and stepchildren into loving families.


Chuck Colson


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