When Stepkids Cause Conflict

Dick Dunn is a pastor who knows that snarling stepchildren can destroy even the happiest of relationships when couples remarry. So he's formed a ministry that helps stepparents and stepchildren learn to get along. Dunn is pastor of the United Methodist Church in Roswell, Georgia. A while ago a couple in his church asked Dunn for help in dealing with hostile stepchildren. Because he knew the husband and wife were devout Christians, he thought they might be able to handle their problems. But quickly he recalled that his own teenage daughter had almost torn apart his second marriage. Dunn's story is recounted in the new edition of Marriage Savers. This is a book by my friend Michael McManus that was recently featured in a Time magazine report about efforts to strengthen the American family. And helping new families that include stepchildren is central to sustaining many marriages today. The statistics tell the sad story: 65 percent of marriages that involve stepchildren end in divorce. As McManus points out, that figure can be lowered—dramatically. McManus begins at the beginning. He emphasizes that couples with stepchildren often are surprised when their kids cause conflicts. That's because their respective children seemed to enjoy each other when their parents were merely courting. In fact, it's not unusual for children to encourage their divorced or widowed parents to remarry. And then the troubles can begin. You see, stepchildren somehow know the vulnerabilities of their parent's new husband or wife. Somehow they intuit that their stepparent's authority is shaky and uncertain. And they can exploit that vulnerability with a vengeance. In the middle, of course, is the biological parent. And sometimes he or she hasn't "caught on" to his or her child's manipulations until it's too late—when the new family resembles The Brady Bunch from Hell. This is exactly the situation Pastor Dunn tries to prevent, or at least to resolve. His ministry is called "Stepfamily Support Group." Embattled newlyweds who have stepchildren are introduced to other stepparents whose marriages have survived similar problems. And one of the most important lessons everyone learns is that volatile conflicts are normal in families with stepchildren. That is because the established routines, traditions, and loyalties of two families are suddenly shaken to their foundations when a new family begins to take form. Volatile conflicts are normal in families with stepchildren. In Marriage Savers McManus reports that Dunn's ministry teaches biological parents how to elevate the importance of their husband or wife in the eyes of their children. And both parents are reminded to preserve private time for nurturing their own love and fidelity. Dunn's ministry is effective. As McManus reports, more than 200 couples have taken part in the Rosewell church's Stepfamily Support Group over a nine-year period. Of this number, only 20 have suffered divorce. That 10-percent divorce rate compares with the 65-percent divorce rate among stepfamilies nationwide. Further details about Dunn's remarkable ministry are described in Marriage Savers. Call us here at "BreakPoint," and order your own copy of Mike McManus's important book. You, too, can learn how to form a loving new family among stepparents and stepchildren.


Chuck Colson


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