Karen was like many biological mothers—she wanted her son and her new husband to have a quality relationship. They were cordial enough, but there was no real connection between them. She wrote:
I am looking for information on how to improve communication in stepfamilies. I was a single mom from the time my son was 3 years old until he was 15. My son and husband have a difficult time communicating. They don’t have a bad relationship, but it’s shallow.
My son just turned 18 and will be going off to college this fall and would like to have a deeper relationship with his stepfather. They both feel like the other isn’t interested in them and expect the other to take the initiative to improve the relationship; they both seem to have their walls up.
I was so sure when we got married that our family would be able to do great things for God, but instead of it feeling like a family, it’s like we all just live in a house together. It’s me and my relationship with my son and me and my relationship with my husband. It feels like a broken triangle.
Karen’s desire that her husband and son bond and communicate at a deeper level is a hope that most biological parents feel, especially in the early years of a blended family. They find themselves emotionally connected with children and a spouse who don’t feel particularly close to one another. But there are some things she can do to change the status quo between her husband and son and help them to forge a new level of connection.
Relationships forged through struggling together
Before I explain, let me tell you about a two-week mission trip to Ghana, West Africa, where my wife and I, in conjunction with the nonprofit organization Touch a Life Foundation, built a therapeutic art center for rescued trafficked children. As a result of our trip, the Connor Creative Art Center—which looks like a giant Lego—is a place of healing, restoration, and creative learning for children living in a care facility.
The designers for this project included five former designers from ABC’s Extreme Makeover Home Edition TV program and two professional carpenters. Before the trip I had never met any of them face to face. For two weeks, we worked side by side completing the interior of the art center. We worked 15 hours a day, slept little, drank water out of bags, and lost weight in the hot African sun.
And we forged a relationship that bonded us for life. I barely know those people, but today I would do anything I could for them.
What does my Ghana trip have to do with your stepfamily? The point is that sometimes relationships are forged through a common struggle, even when the people involved are total strangers. I worked hard to accomplish a goal with people I just met, and after two weeks, I feel like those guys are as close as brothers.
Radical road trip
But these opportunities don’t come around every day for stepfamilies. You have to create an event, like a road trip. It has to be something radical that takes you out of everyday comforts and normal routines. A day trip to feed the ducks or spend time on the lake probably won’t cut it. What is needed is an extreme experience, something to break through the barriers, a kick in the pants to move your family beyond the status quo.
There are many ways you can form an experience like this. Visit an unfamiliar city; go on a multiday hike, bike trip, or mountain climb; learn a new skill together; go on a work-camp experience; or better still, participate in a mission trip that takes you to a remote part of the world.
The benefits, of course, are many. First, an extreme adventure teaches a multitude of spiritual lessons that cannot be learned in church. For example, a mission trip where you serve those less fortunate and see how another part of the world lives has its own wisdom and teaches gratitude, thoughtfulness, and respect for others.
Second, the intensity of the journey—we hope—will push through any artificial barriers that exists between stepfamily members and move them to a place of trust, cooperation, and mutual respect. Nothing pushes people together like facing a “crisis” together.
In the beginning, there may be some frustration and conflict, and you all may be wondering why you ever agreed to do this. But by the end of that time together, once that final goal is accomplished, there will be a shared sense of pride and accomplishment and memories made that will last a lifetime.
Creating opportunities for bonding
There is, of course, no guarantee that a trip like this will suddenly make everyone a close-knit family. If it happens, it will take time. But trips like these provide the building blocks to create those bonds. They won’t just happen on their own. You have to plan them.
So, get out the calendar and find something radical to do … and don’t forget the camera to capture all the fun!
Learn more about the Connor Creative Art Center, and the other art centers around the world it has inspired, at touchalifekids.org.
Copyright © 2018 by Ron Deal. Used with permission.