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Local event aims to strengthen 'blended families'

Gaston Gazette - 4/15/2018

April 15--Navigating family life can be challenging enough for children and two parents in a first marriage.

But when the situation involves a blended family, factoring in ex-spouses and children who may be bouncing between homes from week to week, the potential pitfalls to domestic tranquility quickly multiply.

"We know that 'blended families' don't necessarily want to wear that moniker," said Mark Gilming, executive pastor of Bethlehem Church in Gastonia. "But that doesn't mean all the trouble that comes with it isn't there. From ex-spouses on the other side, to children coming into a new family, the struggles of those stepfamilies can be just huge."

The acknowledgement of how much more common blended families are becoming in American society inspired Bethlehem Church to get involved in an upcoming event aimed at helping to navigate obstacles associated with it. It will be led by Family Life, a nonprofit ministry dedicated to strengthening marriages.

On Saturday, April 21, the sanctuary will host an all-day gathering titled "Blended and Blessed." From 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., it will aim to bring together stepfamilies, single parents, dating couples with children, and those who care about blended families, for a conference to talk about how to make those relationships succeed. The cost will be $15 per person, which includes lunch and a digital pass to the conference.

Proactive assistance

Beyond the audience that attends at the church, the event will also be 'livestreamed' online to thousands of other viewers in all 50 states and 16 different countries. National experts and speakers Michele Cushatt, Rick Rigsby, Bill Buttersorth, and Steve and Misty Arterburn will share their experiences with others and encourage participants to think about how they can strive to make their blended families succeed in life.

"This is the only conference in America geared toward blended families," said Bethlehem Church Senior Pastor Dickie Spargo. "Like everything else in life, these families have a lot of obstacles and challenges. But the bedrock of our society is our families, and if our families fall apart, our society is going to fall apart.

"So we want to give those families the tools they need to navigate those waters."

Gilming said Bethlehem Church's interest in the topic has taken root gradually. With the divorce rate in America climbing as high as 40 to 50 percent, the number of people beginning new relationships with people who are divorced or who have children from a previous relationship has also skyrocketed.

"I think we have always been concerned with the probably 40 percent of our congregation that is made up of blended families," said Gilming. "It's a huge part of our church. When we realized Family Life -- which has a huge national audience -- had this seminar they were doing and simulcasting around the world, we reached out to them and asked if we could be the hub for it."

Going the extra mile

One of the biggest challenges blended families face is dealing with a mixture of parenting styles, Gilming said.

"You may have children in your house for five days, and they then go to the home of an ex-spouse who has a completely different state of styles and philosophical beliefs," he said. "How do you do that when your ex may be a good person, but diametrically opposed to the way you parent your children?"

Then there are the challenges that come from lingering bitterness among ex-spouses, which is often passed along in one form or another to children from that relationship. Rather than seeing the importance of raising children in an atmosphere of positivity, some ex-spouses find ways to use their children as a weapon, and voice their negative feelings and hostilities in a potentially damaging way.

"Some parents may be fractured, and you may have a parent who is openly hostile toward their ex in front of the children, who tells them a new spouse or stepparent is a terrible person," said Gilming. "That stepparent may be the greatest person in the world, but a kid doesn't have the ability to see through what he or she is being told, because they're getting stories from people they love very much."

Speakers during the April 21 conference will share the importance of using biblical principles, such as going the extra mile to make things better.

"So it's maybe about not being an agitator in a situation, and knowing that God can work things out even if it seems like a pretty tough circumstance," said Gilming.

For more information about participating in the conference or learning about the April 21 schedule of events, log on to blendedandblessed.com/charlotte, or call 704-823-1600.

You can reach Michael Barrett at 704-869-1826 or on Twitter @GazetteMike.

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(c)2018 Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C.

Visit Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C. at www.gastongazette.com

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