A watched pot never boils

The last idea (in our series on stepfamily integration styles) refers to mini-family activities. Early in a stepfamily’s integration process it can be helpful to maintain separate family traditions and rituals by giving parents permission to spend time with their children without the step relations present. Stepparents need to give their new spouse and stepchildren time to be alone, without intrusion. The biological parent can play games with her children, while the stepparent enjoys a personal hobby or goes shopping with his children. Such a mini-family activity helps children get uninterrupted time with their biological parent and siblings, honoring their need for attention from the ones they love most. It also affirms to children that they have not completely lost access to their parent.

Troy and Meredith called me with a typical integration struggle–what to do with free time on Saturday afternoons. Prior to the remarriage, Troy and his children–Josh, eleven, and Emily, nine, enjoyed spending their Saturdays together. Whether miniature golfing, playing softball with friends, or riding bikes in the park; their priority was doing something together. Meredith and her sons–Terry, thirteen, and Joe, eight, had a different preference for free time. They valued independent time away from each other so each could pursue his or her particular interests. Meredith considered it her “down time” to relax and read a good book, Terry enjoyed playing with friends, while Joe mastered his latest computer game.

At the time they called, Troy and Meredith had tried everything they could to create a “blended family.” They challenged one another and the kids to take turns spending their Saturdays doing activities together or apart. One week they would all go miniature golfing only to discover that Meredith’s kids complained they were missing out on their fun. Joe would then pester Emily when he got bored, quickly turning the outings into arguments. First the kids would whine and complain, and then Troy would suggest to Meredith that she needed to better control her son. She would feel attacked and defensive about her parenting and resent Troy’s “controlling” behavior.

The next week they would try to let everyone experience the joys of “doing your own thing.” But inevitably one of Troy’s children would try to join Meredith’s children in some activity, resulting in arguments and slamming doors.

“We’ve tried everything,” they insisted.

“No,” I responded, “you’ve just tried many cooking styles, hoping to create a biological family that does everything together.

What you need to do is back off, and honour one another’s past by spending time with your kids doing what you like most.


“You mean he should go golfing with his kids while the boys and I do separate things? That wouldn’t be a family afternoon at all,” Meredith challenged.

My response was sobering. “Yes it would. It would be a stepfamily afternoon.” I went on to explain that pressuring the various ingredients to blend was blowing the lid off the pot. Troy and Meredith needed to accept their family as different so they could discover a creative solution. Mini-family activities might not feel like a good solution because they were trying to steer their family as they would a biological family. Accepting their stepfamily as one in the integration process would help them to see that for now, this was the best solution. After cooking a little longer–giving the family time to come together–another solution might become more appropriate.

Unrealistic expectations often set couples up to overcook their stepfamily. Trying to force, pressure, or quickly cook the ingredients of  a home will likely result in a spoiled dish. But stepping down expectations and giving stepfamilies time to cook slowly will make integration more likely in the long run.

Read More From This Series Here:

How to Cook A Stepfamily: Part 1
How to Cook A Stepfamily: Part 2

Adapted from The Smart Stepfamily by Ron L. Deal, Bethany House Publishers. Used with permission.

Written by Ron Deal

Ron Deal

Ron L. Deal is president of Smart Stepfamilies™, director of FamilyLife Blended™ (a ministry of FamilyLife®), a popular conference speaker, and author/coauthor of a series of DVD’s, books, and curriculum for stepfamilies including The Smart Stepfamily, The Smart Stepmom, The Smart Stepdad, Dating and the Single Parent, and the book The Smart Stepfamily Marriage. His one-minute radio feature FamilyLife Blended can be heard daily on radio stations throughout North America and online. © [2016] by Ron L. Deal. All rights reserved.
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