Updated: Jan 10, 2020
Proverbs 4:23 NIV: "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it."
These are probably the most useful words of wisdom to practically apply to all parts of your blended family life. If you think about it, most of us tend to be reactionary; we operate out of retort instead of reflection. Our hearts overflow with emotion and before we know it, we find ourselves spinning out of control doing and saying things that pull our loved ones down in the undertow of our feelings. This is no way to run a family or exist in one.
Every family dynamic creates a well of emotions within each person. It’s natural to want to drink from said well to feel satisfied, but that is only self-serving. When you make choices based on something so individual as your own heart, you are denying the family as whole the consideration it needs to thrive. No one gets it more than me, the need to be heard, the need to be understood, the need to be stood up for, the need to be protected, the need to be loved the way I need to be loved. And while all that is important (in marriage where two people each give 100% to make the other feel fulfilled in all the ways), the family is so much bigger than just one person.
A blended family is bigger than any one person in it. It can be very tempting to submit to the strongest willed person, because it saves everyone frustration and heart ache (quite frankly this is often the easy way out because it’s a lot less “work”), but again one person’s interests can overshadow and overstep everyone else’s. Kids often get away with this; right here is the very reason children get a bad rap for coming between marriages and thus splitting up blended families. The kicker though, is that it is the adults who allow the children to have the power to come between relationships inside the family by making decisions for the family based on one child’s desires instead of the whole of family values. Adults who disregard boundaries to please a child only feeds that child’s ego, teaches them to be self-focused (creating a monster), and fails to teach them to value others. A family who doesn’t value one another is a family that is based on selfishness and is a family that will be full of dissatisfaction, dysfunction and destruction.
Another key place to guard your heart in a blended family is in that of step parenting. If there were ever an emotional well to be filled, it would be this one in abundance. With a stepchild whom you have no real control or say over, to an ex who shares equal power and a forever bond with your spouse, you are a third party to all of it. You are a support, not the star of the show. It can be extremely easy to allow yourself to operate out of a place of pure feelings simply because in this case, they can overwhelm you. Stop it. Letting your feelings rule this part of your life will only set you up for a world of disappointment and hurt. Retraining your brain to choose guarding your heart over giving into your emotions will make you a much more rational and reasonable member of your blended family, which will only be in the best interest of everyone (including yourself). If you want to feel less pain, you must learn to not open yourself up to being hurt. You’re not a useful member of your blended family if you are walking around hurt and upset each day. Step parenting can be a very hurtful job to have when you allow yourself to be in a position that can be devalued and disrespected. Stay above all that by not attaching yourself in a way that makes it impossible to detach yourself from situations you have zero control over. Once again, I suggest knowing and accepting your place as a support. Do not throw yourself into losing battles, because you will just waste your heart in the process. Keep a foot out so you can easily step back and step aside when necessary (it will be necessary from time-to-time).
How do you retrain your brain from giving into your emotions to guarding your heart you ask!? Well, when you start “feeling” some sort of way, you recognize the feeling and then begin to self-reflect. Ask yourself the following: Why am I really feeling this way? Is this useful to the situation and to my family? Am I being irrational and/or unreasonable? Is my stepchild going to benefit from my feeling this way and from the outcome of spreading this throughout the family? It is okay to feel, but it is not okay to project your feelings onto everyone else if it will be harmful to the family dynamic. The reality is that the biological parents do have to co-parent. The reality is that you are not the bio parent as a stepparent , and have no legal rights (unless court ordered) to the child(ren). The reality is that unless your spouse agrees with you, you have no real power in your stepchild’s life to enforce anything that you feel is righteous and good. You will save yourself and your family a lot of strife if you can learn to guard your heart and respect the role you actually play in your blended family. (I know each blended family is different, and each person’s role may look different from family, to family. Nevertheless, it is very important to take the time to clearly define roles in your blended family so that each person can respect expectations and guard their hearts accordingly.)
It’s also important that you understand that hurtful consequences and reactions can come from situations where you are made to do well. Therefore, it is also important to guard your heart against your desires to “do good” if it means overstepping. I think grandparents often fall into this example quite often as part of the extended family of a blended family. They have a heart to do “right” by their grandchildren, to give to their grandchildren, that they often make decisions without considering the family dynamic as a whole. In blended families, where your biological grandchildren are no longer the only children in the family anymore, this can be a tough lesson because it takes reassessing the posturing you may have had prior to the creation of the blended family. It can be hard to defer from your former reality. However, loving and respecting your child and the family they have newly created, means rethinking how you’ve operated up to this point regarding the grandchildren (and even towards your own child). It is unfair and wrong to disregard boundaries simply because you don’t like them (it is not your immediate family after all, and better to stay in good graces to have as much access to the kids as possible). If there's something you disagree with, live your own life according to your values without disrupting your child's blended family. If you are extended family, just like a stepparent, you must also know your place and respect your child’s decisions for their own family first and foremost (unless there’s abuse or something such as that which should not be tolerated or ignored).
In the end I really think that guarding your heart means considering others before yourself. It means considering the consequences of your feelings before you act on them. Knowing your place in each family dynamic you are a part of and operating from there rather than overstepping to fulfill a selfish desire, will protect both yourself and the family from unnecessary drama. As a caveat, I'd also like to point out that there will be times your feelings will be righteous, and it will be okay to let them guide your actions, but only if it is in the family’s best interest.