Hi, we’re the Fialas—John and Cindy. We have three grown kids, six grand-littles, a great marriage that takes lots of work and intentionality, and we have the privilege to serve the church in significant ways. From the outside, when people meet us, there are some assumptions that are made: Perfect family, got it made, never hit any major bumps, long-thriving marriage.

The reality is, we’ve only been married 18 years, and our kids are in their thirties Yep, we’re a beautiful second chance, mercy-in-living-color couple. We literally thank God every day for unconditional love, the reality of radical redemption and the opportunity to show our kids and grandkids what a healthy, God-centered marriage looks like.

There are some hard hills to climb when you get a second chance. While consistently working on our relationship as a couple, one of the biggest struggles in our marriage have come through our parenting journey.

Here are some of the lessons we learned along the way. If this is part of your story, we hope these help. And if this isn’t your story, we hope it will help you as you live in community with families that are blending.

The other parent matters.

You are not parenting alone. Embrace it. Don’t fight it. If you are a blending family, the truth is there’s a likelihood that you are now co-parenting with at least one other person who doesn’t live in your house, and who you’ve got some interesting history with. Whatever differences may be between you and the ex-spouse are between the two of you and not your kids. Your kids will always love and want to be loyal to both of their parents; it’s important to champion their relationship with their other parent.

This takes an incredible amount of emotional health and requires you to rise above your own hurt. (There are situations that require strong boundaries and protection, these are not the situations I’m talking about.) Here are a few tips to consider when dealing with the other parent in your kid’s life.

  • You can’t control the parenting style of the other parent.
  • Resist complaining or griping about what their other parent does or doesn’t do in front of your kids. This actually only hurts your relationship with your children.
  • Fight the instinct to be Daddy Warbucks or The Fairy Godmother. You should never try to one-up the other parent.
  • Pray for your child’s other parent(s). Pray that you will be able to rise above your history and show love for them love the way that God loves them. Because God loves them as much as you.

Decisions are best made together.

Make decisions as a couple regarding family activities, discipline and values. In leadership and family, unity trumps everything. Decide on discipline together as a couple, but we think it’s best for the biological parent to be the one actually instructing the discipline.

We all know that kids are awesome, fun and adventurous, but they can also be manipulative little creatures who will pit parents against each other. This is especially true in blending families, where kids are working through their own insecurities, questions and feelings of grief and loss.

You can always learn more about your kids.

Be a student of your new children. Be pro-active to learn about the phase your child and your new children or teens are in. This will require empathy on your part to put yourself in the shoes of everyone in your new family, They will need a lot of tender-loving care, they need to know that this new “family” is safe, for them. Depending on the phase each of your children are in, this will look different.

It starts with you.

Do your own work to learn, grow and be healthy so that you can lead and spiritually influence your kids in the best way possible. Your personal growth—spiritually and emotionally—will always be a direct influence on those around you, especially your children.  Don’t be afraid to get counseling. We are strong believers in counseling and gaining perspective from wise people. And pray constantly.

It takes time.

Blending a family takes time. It will be one of the hardest things you do. But if you give it time, stay the course and imagine the end, it will be one of the most fulfilling and life-giving things you’ll ever experience.

Our journey has been filled with so many rich and incredible moments and memories. It’s also come with some major “white-water” that we had to navigate as a family. We’re so thankful  those rough times didn’t flip us overboard and drown us.

Imagining the end keeps you focused.

At times, we literally had to keep our eyes focused on the bigger picture, on parenting with the end-in-mind, knowing that 1) we were in this marriage for life and 2) our kids needed us to make the wise choices for the sake of their future marriages and relationships with Jesus.

It won’t be perfect.

We’re not perfect, and I’m thankful we’re not. We’re a beautiful second chance couple who work hard at marriage and parenting every day and are stupid in love with “our” kids and grandkids. We are overwhelmingly grateful for second chances.