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Stepdad, a.k.a. Unsung Hero: Ron Deal and Gil Stuart

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
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September 19, 2023 5:15 am

Stepdad, a.k.a. Unsung Hero: Ron Deal and Gil Stuart

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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September 19, 2023 5:15 am

Stepdad: It can be a role full of landmines--and at the same time, a role vital and unsung. Author Gil Stuart offers ideas to do it wholeheartedly and all-in within the complexities of your blended family.

Reverse betrayal is the aspect that I have a loyalty to my own children, who I don't get to see as much because of the parenting plan, and in that time, I'm actually connecting with my stepchildren. I'm actually starting to like them, and they're starting to bond with me. In so doing, I actually feel like I'm betraying my own children. -- Gil Stuart

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The Summit on StepFamily Ministry; Find out how you and your church can minister to blended families at

Listen to the full episode here: Unsung Heroes

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Reverse betrayal is the aspect of that I have a loyalty to my own children who I don't get to see as much because of the parenting plan. And in that time I'm actually connecting with my stepchildren and I'm actually starting to like them and they're starting to actually bond with me.

And so doing, I actually feel like I'm betraying my own children. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at or on the Family Life app.

This is Family Life Today. So we just spent a couple of days with a couple of unsung heroes. Yeah, we did. I mean, it's our son, Austin, and his wife, Kendall. And of course, we're a little biased. We think they're heroes. But they're unsung heroes because they adopted two kids that we were with for the weekend. Yeah, and they started out fostering these kids. And I don't think we always give credit to the foster parents, adoptive parents, step parents. All of these people are giving life to children. I mean, they're heroes because they step in and fill a role that they don't have to.

And I'm not kidding. As I looked over at Holden and Ryder, I mean, they're too young to know. But I thought their life is radically different because of these two heroes, their mom and dad, who have taken their life. And today we get to talk a little bit about blended families and people that step in to take care of people that they're a hero to. And today we're going to listen to a portion of the Family Life Blended podcast. Ron Deal was talking with Gil Stewart about stepfathering and ministering to stepdads, which is always a great topic. And by the way, we have the blended family summit coming up October 12th. We'll tell you later how you can sign up, but you don't want to miss that because that's what that's all about.

And the event is also virtual this year, which is great because you can attend anywhere. So we've got Ron Deal with us today. He's the director of our Family Life Blended Ministry, as many of you know, here at Family Life. And we're going to listen to a conversation he had with Gil Stewart, who's a step family educator, coach and counselor. Gil and his wife, Brenda, have authored a book and a curriculum called Restored and Remarried. And they also have a video curriculum for stepfathers called Unsung Heroes. And that's what we're going to be talking about today. And even though this discussion is specifically about stepdads, it has a really broad application for all step parents and also parents as well. OK, Gil, let's shift and talk a little bit about some of the content you've got in this.

Just give guys a bit of a preview. So you've got seven different main topic sessions. The first one is You're Not My Dad. Now, many dads listening are going to go, yeah, I've heard that. Or maybe they haven't heard those words, but they felt that from their stepdad.

What's going on and what do they do about it? Well, in that particular episode, You're Not My Dad, with all of the segments, just to kind of give you a heads up on this. I don't do this in a studio with a green screen.

I actually went out on site and had conversations with the camera about the issue. And so this particular topic, You're Not My Dad, I did it in a garage with a buddy of mine who owns two Camaros. You know, and I'm not a car guy, but we got down to an illustration.

Here's these two Camaros that are, you know, classic cars. They one's orange, one's green. They are the same blah, blah, blah, you know. So like, I know I'm a dad, but I'm not your dad.

And so the perspective here was they may look the same, but they're not. And depending upon whether the child's dad is still around or if they've checked out, what kind of dad are you going to be? There's an opportunity for redeeming the perspective of what is really, truly a dad. You know, maybe the biological dad's doing a great job. Well, super.

If they're not, here's your opportunity. So I'm just trying to make it really clear with the guys, you know, it might look the same, but it's not. And you might know how to handle a kid, but if it's your biological child, yeah, you've got a little more leeway. But with a step kid, you've got to create relationship before you're going to get that respect that you think you deserve.

I like what you put in there. When that moment comes, when that child's looking at you like, Hey, you're not my dad. You got nothing on me. That you suggest a sort of a line or maybe we would call it a posture. You might not even say this to the child, but you sort of carry the posture of, well, I agree. I'm not your dad. That's factually true, but I am your mother's husband.

Yeah. And what does that lend to a stepdad in that moment that he didn't have if he can't lean on his wife and his marriage? Well, it's a posture of humility that this is the role that I am in. And hopefully, hopefully this is where the wives listen in and go, Whoa, I got to have my husband's back because if I don't, he's a hero out in the middle of the battlefield being a dad and he's getting shot up. So no wonder he's a little, uh, I don't know how to say this lightly. No wonder he's a little worked up. This is where it's an appeal to the guy. Stand your ground, but do it gently, firmly and be relentless. That's a heroic stance. And so I am your mother's husband gives me a little bit of a position of authority. But if it's not backed up by mom, I'm a little handcuffed.

You're right. It pulls back to that partnership between husband and wife and how they work together and support each other. The second sessions is what you call reverse betrayal, not getting time with your own kids.

You want to explain that a little bit? Well, reverse betrayal is the aspect of that. I have a loyalty to my own children who I don't get to see as much because of the parenting plan. And in that time, I'm actually connecting with my stepchildren and I'm actually starting to like them and they're starting to actually bond with me. And so doing, I actually feel like I'm betraying my own children.

Yeah. And that is like a major not of how can I do this and do that at the same time and realizing that I am now in somewhat of a situation to where if I start showing love and affection and connection with my stepkids, I'm actually I hate to say it this way, but I'm actually scoring points with my wife and that actually is very endearing to her. But then I kind of insert I don't do a lot of time on it, but I do spend a little bit of time where you're as a father stuck in the middle of what's basically referred to as parent alienation. I spend a little bit of time on things you shouldn't say to a child that's in an alienated position because, you know, here I am in this betrayal position. But now not only on top of that, I'm dealing with an alienation problem where I'm being made out to be the bad guy and I'm not. So there are books and videos and I know you've done some really good work around parent alienation, but it's really just basically, hey, here's some things you shouldn't do if you're in that place while you're even dealing with this internal feeling like you're betraying your children on top of.

So it's a really tough place. Man, I've seen that a bunch and I've just heard from so many men who this is referring to people who are biological dads and stepdads and you just start weighing out the time that you get with your own children versus stepchildren. And I've seen guys go one of two ways. I've seen guys go, you know what, it's easier for me to not deal with that pain to just essentially walk away from my kids in my first marriage and throw myself totally into my stepchildren.

And I exchange one family for the second and then your biological children go neglected as a result of that. But it's sort of a coping mechanism for the guy so he doesn't have to deal with this, you know, feeling guilty thing. And then I've seen guys go the other way where they feel so guilty and spending more time with their stepchildren than they get with their biological children that they start withholding themselves from their stepchildren, you know, even when the opportunity is there. Well, tell us, you've done that. What did it, I mean, talk around how it felt and it seemed like I'm sure that was the only right thing to do. Well, that's why I called it reverse betrayal because I felt like I'm betraying my children, but I want to do this.

And then by doing so, I'm holding myself back. Here's my wife kind of going, their father has left, you know, he's not involved with their life like you could be. What's wrong with you? Yeah, where'd you go? Where did you go? You know, here's all these things that, you know, I knew you as the reason why I said, yes, I'll remarry this man.

Where's the guy that I married who would step up? And that creates internal friction all the more. So, yeah, it's it's a place of going, oh, man, this is what do I do here? And so, yeah, when I was in that place, it was like I was like one foot in and one foot out and it was torturous. But then when I submitted to it, then it was like, yeah, that's where things really began to work. And the beauty of it was, you know, I continued to stay on the battlefield for my kids heart while connecting with my step kids.

And that was the best thing for the marriage. You say in Unsung Heroes, the only way through this internal conflict is through vulnerability. Explain. Well, vulnerability is not a weakness. It's a strength. We need to reframe that perspective because vulnerability basically comes from the Greek foundation. I think it's Latin, which talks about courage. And the concept of is that courage grows strength from a wound.

Let me repeat that. Courage grows strength from a wound. You're wounded. Your children are wounded and somebody has to step up with courage and be vulnerable and call it what it is. Because it's kind of that concept, if you can't name it, you can't change it. And in a way, you may be stating the obvious, but somebody's got to step up and do it.

And until you do, nobody's going to lead. So, for example, this might look like being vulnerable with your wife about this internal conflict and just how you are having this internal debate. I'm not really sure what to do here. I feel this if I do that. I feel this way if I go that way. I just need you to know this is what's going on with me. Is that what it sounds like? That's what it sounds like. And that takes courage.

It does. A lot of courage. Because I don't want to express weakness in that because we're the adults. We're supposed to know what to do. Really?

You ever been a stepdad before? Probably not. Was there a handbook on it? No, there's not.

There's one or two. I'll take that back, Ron. You did a really good job on that a few years ago.

And now your video series is another contribution. The smart stepdad stuff. But it's kind of like, what do I do? Well, be vulnerable. Be open. Because when you do, your wife now becomes your ally rather than a perceived enemy.

You're right. You invite her in to the struggle with you instead of just somebody who's on the outside judging you because of what they see. They don't quite understand what's going on in the inside. And they can't.

They can't also help you explore what could we do so you get more time with your kids or, you know, there might be some practical things that you could talk through at that point. But without the vulnerability, you don't get that. You don't get there. You remain as an I, not a we.

And if you try to take this on by yourself, you'll get shot up. You really will. You're listening to Family Life today, and we're listening to a portion of the Family Life blended podcast with Ron Deal and his guest, Gil Stewart. You know, we love supporting families with a variety of structures, and today is an exciting day because we're focused on blended families.

So keep on listening because at the end, we're going to be talking about how you and your church can support blended families through our Summit on Step Family Ministry. OK, let's jump to another one you talk about in this series, your rules. And you caution people about doing too much too soon.

Yeah. So in that one, we set it up at a playground and I'm talking about pushing a swing and doing under doggies and all that kind of stuff. But really, the simplicity of it is, is if you don't have a respectful relationship with that kid, you could actually be pushing them and demanding too much of their obedience or respect too soon. If you don't have that foundation built, you could actually be demanding something that you probably are do. But if you haven't earned that as the step parent or the step dad, you could actually do damage rather than instilling trust and honesty and transparency.

And actually, you are a trusted entity. And that starts with just be a friend to the kid or that crazy uncle. I say to a lot of my step parent clients when you're in that role, just be the crazy uncle, you know, allow them some extra space. And then when you do get into a disciplinarian issue, that's when the two of you and your spouse, their biological mother, you pull together. And at that point in time, you have each other's backs.

But if you push too soon, too much, the kid's going to come, so to say, flying out of that swing and you're going to do some damage that you may not be able to repair for a long time. As I watched this session, I reflected on a conversation I had with a step dad who came to me at one point said, I'm so frustrated. I'm trying to bond with this young man. I know what he likes. And one of the things you and I have recommended in the past to people, you know, start with building that friendship or find common interests and connect into what the child is interested in. And so he said, I'm trying.

I'm doing that. This kid loves football. You know, he loves sports. I'm inviting him to go throw the football with me in the backyard and he won't do it. And he says, and I know he does that with his father. I know that's something he enjoys.

Here I am making offers. He won't go. Some time went by. He comes back and he goes, I figured it out. I'm asking him to give me something that's very special with his dad. He just can't do it. He just can't give that part of him. Also, to me, he feels guilty about that. I'm like, dude, you nailed it. You had the best of intentions.

You're on track in terms of strategy. Find something the kid likes. But in that particular space, it's poisonous for that child to give that to you. So you're going to find something else you guys have in common and maybe eventually one day he'll come around. He'll start sharing that part of himself with you. But that's got to be his call.

Can't be yours. Yeah. And that could be years down the road because that allegiance between the child and the biological parent is way strong. Even if that biological dad is really messing it up and isn't participating with that kid, that might be your opportunity. But even if they're doing a horrible job and the biological parent backs out, that kid still wants to love that parent. And yeah, I like what your illustration was, because that's something special between the kid and that's the case.

Respect that and honor that because you do want the child to have a good relationship with their parents. To use your analogy, if you press him on that, like he should be giving me that part of himself is equivalent to pushing him out of the swing. It's too much too soon and it's going to damper their relationship.

It'll backfire. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You know, this really kind of brings us to the next point that you talk about, and it's allow the kid to love and don't make them pick sides.

Is this also for biological dads and for step dads? Of course. Yeah. The answer is yes. If I am creating a place to where I am pushing that kid to pick one side or the other, what happens underneath is that I'm actually sitting that kid up to be resentful.

And that is poisonous all the way around. What are some typical ways guys inadvertently push kids to choose? Well, I think, you know, you may have heard it as well as I is where they push kids to say, you're supposed to call me dad or you're supposed to call her mom. And it's not that, you know, so let the kid choose what, you know, I think one of the things we did with within our own family was is when, hey, when we're out in public, how do you want to be introduced and how do you want to introduce me?

Obvious statement, but it doesn't seem so obvious when you're out in public. That's a difference of being in the step family. But if I don't allow that child to recognize me or their biological parent for who they are and that it's OK to love me as much as their other parent, then I'm actually causing them to be in a squeeze to have favoritism one toward the other. And in that case, I'm actually creating a power struggle. Well, who loses?

Everybody loses. And so I think I think there was a session that you had talked years ago, Ron, where where it was and I think it was a stepmother situation to where the child was given permission by the step mom. She did just a brilliant idea of saying, well, Sally, you know, if you need to go over to your mom's house and hate me, then that's OK. But when you're here and you'd actually have we have a good relationship, I'll understand. That mom and a dad in this case has done that child a marvelous favor by taking the pressure off and allowing them to love rather than be stuck between a rock and a hard place, so to say, in a squeeze. The kid may not have the maturity to know how to navigate that.

So don't put him there. That is an unsung hero that woman you just talked about. And I think dads and stepdads are making those decisions day in and day out that in effect is taking the shorter end of the stick. And yes, that's what heroes do. And, you know, it's exactly what they do. And it's so unfair if you step back from it, you know, and you say in the scales of life, that just doesn't seem right.

Yeah, but this child needs us to give them that. And so it's beautiful. Well, we've been listening to a portion of the Family Life blended podcast with Gil Stewart and Ron Deal, who's the host of that podcast, and Ron now joins us in the studio. Let me ask you, as you think about unsung heroes, here's what I thought. 30 plus years in the NFL, the guys I'm working with and their wives, everybody thinks they're our heroes. They're it.

You know, they're at the top of their profession. Even in Detroit, people think they're heroes, you know, where we don't win football games, but they're not really heroes. What you and Gil were talking about are really the heroes of our world.

You're exactly right. It's the people who bless other people's lives by making sacrifices of their own that really are the unsung heroes. And yeah, this conversation is an important one because there are, as you said at the beginning, there are foster parents, there are adoptive parents, and there are step parents who are making sacrifices every single day. Ron, one of the things I really appreciate you is the practicality that you bring into every household.

But let me ask you, as you had this conversation with Gil, was there anything that really stuck out to you? You know, when he talked about what he calls a reverse betrayal, and in particular, I was thinking about a stepfather who is also a biological dad. And as life would have it, just because of the way circumstances are, he is spending a whole lot more time step parenting his stepchildren than he is able to do parenting his own children. So time with step kids versus time with biological kids.

I mean, think about that. Your heart's in both places. And yet at the same time, you really want your children to benefit from you and their life. And maybe there's circumstances that are beyond your control.

You're just not getting much time with them. And by the way, that's an easy, rewarding relationship, right? Our relationship with our kids is we feel good about that.

They feel good about that. But the hard work is happening with the stepchildren and that's less rewarding. But that's where he ends up having to be a good bit of his time. That's a difficulty. And then you feel guilty about that. You feel like you're cheating your own children and there's not much you can do about the circumstances.

So that is really difficult. And that just really captured my heart. And by the way, guys, this is a really good example of one of those unique family dynamics that blended families face that we tried to help leaders in local churches to understand so that they can target these families in the adult education programs and student and small group programs that they offer in their church. And that's what we're going to be talking about at this year's summit on step family ministry.

Our theme this year is merge. In other words, what we're saying to church leaders is you don't have to start an entire new blended family ministry in your church. What you can do that for many folks, the simplest thing to do is to just simply merge some basic principles into the programming that you already have in your church. So, for example, adult education programs, maybe have a marriage course that you offer once, twice a year. Well, just integrating a little bit of principles for the blended family couples that are in that is very simple to do. Student ministry programs can do this.

Children's ministry programs, of course, parenting and marriage ministry, but even senior pastors from the pulpit can just do little things. That's what we're going to be focused on this year. The summit is virtual, so you get the advantage of just staying home.

If you want to watch from home, you can, but if you want to have others join you at your church, you can watch as a group and talk about how you can integrate some of those principles. Very excited. Thursday, October 12th. We'll hope a lot of people will register.

Just go to for all the information. Ron, this has been so good, and I'm really excited about the summit, so we're looking forward to talking to you again tomorrow. I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to a Family Life Blended episode on family life today.

Now, if you want to find the full episode of what we've been listening to, you can search for episode 83 on the Family Life Blended podcast, and you can find that wherever you get your podcasts, or you can get the link in the show notes at Now, I just found out that up to 40% of families in your church and community are blended families. What Ron has been talking about today with Gil Stewart and David Ann Wilson is so important, so you can join the virtual Summit on Step Family ministry event that's happening on October 12th.

Again, the link to that is Tomorrow, Ron Deal is going to be back again with Gil Stewart to talk about the experiences and challenges faced by stepfathers in blended families. That's tomorrow. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of David Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-27 15:36:32 / 2023-10-27 15:46:52 / 10

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