Caring for Stepfamilies

Navigating the waters of blended families.

By Rich Atkinson   |  23 September 2013
Caring for Stepfamilies (photo)
Photo courtesy Todd Gangl.

Todd interviews two of his children as they play "Brady Bunch" roles during a blended family seminar.

Todd and Tammy were both single parents. Yet when they got engaged, they didn’t think combining their families together would be too difficult with Todd’s 4 children and Tammy’s 2.

“I really thought we had this whole thing figured out,” says Todd Gangl. “I mean how hard could it be, right?”

“I grew up with a big stepfamily,” says Tammy. “I’m good with kids. I was thinking we had everything right, too.”

A month before their Valentine’s Day wedding, they attended a stepfamily conference near Chattanooga, Tenn., a 2-hour drive from their home in Huntsville, Ala.

At Friday evening’s seminar, Ron Deal, a marriage and family therapist spoke on “wilderness wanderings.” Ron talked about things not to do and steps not to take in the context of stepfamilies. Todd laughed as he recounted the seminar, “We were pretty much taking every step he told us not to take.”

During that weekend Todd and Tammy realized moving the 2 households into Todd’s home and having his kids switch rooms would not work. So that weekend, Todd and Tammy decided to sell both their homes and buy a different one in the next 30 days – oh, and plan a wedding. Yet that’s what they did.

In the first 2 years of marriage, the Gangls attended 4 of Ron’s conferences. In 2012, Ron joined FamilyLife, Cru’s ministry to families. Ron now serves as president of FamilyLife Blended ™.

Now Todd and Tammy hold stepfamily seminars. Their children take an interactive part of their seminars by performing skits and answering questions from parents and children.

The four main issues they discuss that are common with stepfamilies include:

  1. Couples with unrealistic expectations
  2. Couples not willing to set their spouse as priority over children
  3. Bringing their scars and baggage from the first marriage into the second marriage
  4. Treating your own children and your stepchildren differently and unfairly especially when it comes to disciplining them

“Our ministry came from Ron Deal mentoring us and being there for us,” says Todd. “His willingness to share what he knew led to our willingness to be really transparent.

“If it had not been for Ron, we just would have not made it,” Todd adds.

The divorce rate for a first marriage is about 50 percent, but the divorce rate for those who get remarried tops more than 60 percent. “It just wreaks havoc in the lives of the adults and the kids,” Ron says.

Although one out of every three Americans, or 100 million people have a step relationship, many stepfamilies or blended families often feel ignored in the Christian community.

FamilyLife is hosting the first ever conference on stepfamily ministry on September 24 and 25 in Dallas. The conference is about likeminded individuals and ministries meeting together to listen and learn from each other. Their goal is to propel stepfamily ministry forward in the local church.

Ron adds, “Stepfamily ministry is essentially about bringing stability back to the home bringing the family back to the Lord and breaking the generational cycle of divorce.”

Watch Ron’s video about the conference.