Summary Ronald Deal (2002, 70) uses the analogy of a Crock-Pot to describe the stepfamily. He writes: “It takes time and low heat to make an effective combination of ingredients. When ingredients are thrown together in the same pot, each is left intact, giving affirmation to its unique origin and characteristics. Slowly and with much intentionality, the low-level heat brings the ingredients into contact with one another. As the juices begin to flow together, imperfections are purified, and the beneficial, desirable qualities of each ingredient are added to the taste. The result is a dish of delectable flavor made up of different ingredients that give of themselves to produce a wondrous creation.”
Stepfamilies are “a work in process”! The concept of differentiation helps us put to rest the idea of a blended, bland family. Only when each member is able to contribute his or her distinctiveness will there be a rich flavor to taste. Relationships with stepchildren develop over time. They set a pace that cannot be hurried.
Take it one small step at a time. It takes time for each family member to adjust to new living conditions and new roles, rules, and responsibilities. It takes time to get to know one another, develop trust, and begin a shared history. It takes time to find a sense of belonging, interdependence, and identity as a newly formed family unit. Learning to trust the time factor gives spouses permission to relax, lower expectations, go with the flow, and enjoy the moments of progress. Be patient. Be ready to listen with compassion. Persevere, and remember to use humor, laughter, and play in developing relationships with stepchildren.
All families struggle to rearrange busy schedules to be together, but it takes an even more intentional effort for stepfamilies to make these connections. It requires tremendous openness and flexibility to address the unique needs and desires of each member in the midst of establishing family routines and rituals that bond them together. A highly effective way to formulate a family identity is to create family traditions, rituals, and celebrations around significant holidays. When family members come together for such events, they each bring a unique presence. Be it a birthday
celebration at a special restaurant, a church advent service, or an annual trip to the beach or the mountains, it brings history and harmony to the newly formed family.
Routines, Rituals, Traditions
Invite the children to help create traditions and rituals. Welcome their ideas and follow their suggestions. Give adolescents leadership roles. Allow time for family ties to evolve. Make weekly, monthly, and yearly opportunities for connection.
Learning to apply the concepts and principles discussed throughout this book—empowerment, acceptance, grace, intimacy, and loyalty—will lead to stepfamily growth. Showing empathy and tolerance for one another, putting the best interest of others on a par with one’s own, and giving of oneself out of care and concern for others develops not only character but also closeness.
The rewards are great when the members of the newly formed family can establish meaningful relationships and join in cooperative projects. Finding mutual meaning in spiritual life forges a bond that gives the family a significant purpose beyond itself. See chapter 8, which discusses family spiritual life, for more ideas about this process.
Family Life in Postmodern Society
Any meaningful understanding of the family must integrate analysis at both the micro and macro level. We have focused mainly on microfamily issues— looking inside the family for an understanding of its dynamics. We turn now to an analysis of macrofamily issues—looking outside the family to explore the relationship between the family and the wider social context. Through this exploration, we will see that many microfamily issues are, in reality, a reflection of macrofamily issues.
In chapter 1, we developed a theology of family relationships based on the biblical concept of covenant. Now we move beyond the family to examine the broader social context. The contemporary family lives in a world of urbanization, bureaucracy, and technology—developments that make covenant commitment increasingly difficult. Modernity, first, and then postmodernity have profoundly affected contemporary family life. Rather than replacing modernity, postmodernity exists as a layer upon modernity, as both interact in their effect on the family. Chapter 18 introduces major aspects of modernization (an issue first addressed in the 1950s and 1960s) and their profound negative influence on contemporary family life. Not only has covenant commitment eroded within the family, but the very structures intended to support and maintain this ideal have collapsed. In chapter 19, we discuss postmodernity’s effects on family life and present a biblical response to modernity and postmodern thought. We suggest ways in which broad social structures can, and must, incorporate covenant commitment. Only by recapturing the covenantal meaning of living in community, whether localized or universal, can the family be strong. We need a family-friendly society.
Biblical Family Values in a Modern and Postmodern
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens’s description of revolutionary change in eighteenth-century France aptly characterizes the family in the United States and around the world today. It truly is the best of times and the worst of times. The contemporary family is an institution of contrasts and contradictions. Although the current divorce rate in modern nations is virtually as high as ever, more married couples than in the past report satisfaction in their relationships. At the very time that millions of children are living in broken families, there is also an unprecedented emphasis on love and intimacy in family relationships. And just as some are celebrating the freedom and openness brought about by new family forms, others are horrified at the decline of the family.
Don Browning, M. Christian Green, and John Witte (2006) document how the major world religions are currently wrestling with questions of the purpose and meaning of marriage and family life in modern society. In focusing on the American family, Steven Tipton and John Witte (2005) suggest that the family is indeed in trouble and can be rescued only by reintegration into a just moral order of the larger community and society. They argue that beyond merely upholding traditional family values, we must come to terms with increasing family diversity. However, this poses a challenge as family values do not necessarily integrate into larger community and societal morals.
The successive effects of modernity and postmodernity have also led to contradictions in the family. Our society has traditionally espoused a very optimistic view of the future, based largely on faith in progress. However,
what once was heralded as the path to a utopian future is now being blamed for the decline of the family and the quality of life in our postmodern world. Along with this lament for the family, we must also be cautious when valuing the family too highly. We are challenged to be creative in promoting biblical relational ideals in family life.
Modernity Defined A concept as inclusive and encompassing as modernity is difficult to define. One line of thought ties modernity closely to technological development. Renowned sociologist Peter Berger conceives of modernity as closely linked to technology. His view has been summarized by James Hunter (1983, 6): “Modernization is to be understood . . . as a process of institutional change proceeding from and related to a technologically engendered economic growth. . . . Modernity is the inevitable period in the history of a particular society that is characterized by the institutional and cultural concomitant of a technologically induced economic growth.” As a consequence of modernity and increasing technological advances, Peter Berger (1990) describes how sacred, religious understandings of the natural world are becoming less and less meaningful. The “sacred canopy” of a religious worldview is disappearing as humanity is able to exert increasing control and certainty over the natural world through science and technology.
Other theorists understand modernization as social change in various spheres. Neil Smelser (1973, 748), for example, sees modernization as occurring “(1) in the political sphere, as simple tribal or village authority systems give way to systems of suffrage, political parties, representation, and civil service bureaucracies; (2) in the educational sphere, as the society strives to reduce illiteracy, and increase economically productive skills; (3) in the religious sphere, as secularized belief systems begin to replace traditionalist religions; (4) in the familial sphere, as extended kinship units lose their pervasiveness; (5) in the stratificational sphere, as geographical and social mobility tends to loosen fixed, ascriptive hierarchical systems.”
The sociological concept of modernization reflects both evolutionary theory and structural functionalism. Evolutionary theory assumes that a society advances from a simple to a complex state. This process is usually described as “development,” regarding traditional agrarian communities with minimal technological innovation as undeveloped. Modernization, then, is