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Natalie Nichols Gillespie, Author of The Stepfamily Survival Guide (Fleming Revell)

April 15th is fast approaching, and not only is it the day that federal income taxes are due (Yuck!), but also it is the deadline day for many stepfamilies to announce their summer visitation and vacation plans to the “other” household.

While the task may not be easy or pleasant, there are a few basic biblical rules of conduct that should always govern your actions and your decisions:

  • Exodus 20:12 and Ephesians 6:1 —Your kids are called biblically to honor and obey their mother and their father. No matter whose house seems more fun or is taking the better vacation, your kids (especially teens) should be encouraged to honor and spend time with both parents. The Bible does not say that parents should be honored if they are good parents, Christian parents, or parents that deserve to be honored. It simply says that children are to honor and obey them. Period. The best thing you can do for your kids is to encourage them to be in right relationship with God by honoring their mom and dad.
  • Matthew 7:12 —Remember the Golden Rule? Jesus said it: “Do for others what you would have them do for you.” (New Living Translation). Notice that it doesn’t say to treat others the way they do treat you but rather the way you wish they would treat you. If giving in to your former spouse on specific dates that you really wanted is the way you would want to be treated in reverse, do anything you can to change your dates. Not because you will get what you want, but because you will be doing the right thing.
  • Romans 12:18 —This verse says that it is each of our job to, “Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible.” Tall order, isn’t it? Yet it’s right there in the New Testament and can’t be ignored. So how do you do that in practical terms? Try this example: If contacting your former spouse to talk about visitation in person or by phone is going to result in a knock-down, drag-out, dig-your-heels-in argument, don’t make the call. Send your summer options in a letter, certified mail, return receipt (so you know it gets there). Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope and ask your former spouse to “check” whichever option works best and mail it back. If that doesn’t work, consider mediation, meeting with a family counselor, or at least talking to each other only when none of the kids is present (or in the background, if by phone!).
  • James 3:1-10 —This chapter focuses on our tongues, and the way we can poison our lives and others with our harsh words. Should lips that praise God turn around and curse an ex-spouse? Of course not! Yet it is so easy to do. When you feel yourself getting frustrated, take a break. Tell your former spouse you’ll call them back, count to 10, take deep breaths, walk away, or do whatever it takes to keep your tongue under control. No matter what the “other guy” is doing or saying, it is your job before God to hold your tongue and do what would be pleasing to Him. We do not accept bad behavior from our children because someone else was doing it first! We should accept no less from ourselves.

When negotiating summer visitation, keep the above reminders handy. Post them on the refrigerator, if necessary, and cover yourself with prayer before negotiations begin. Practice your responses to your former spouse beforehand, if that will keep you from reacting with anger. Keep your kids off the frontlines, and remember that it is not about winning but about doing the right thing.

Finally, remember to focus your efforts on loving your kids every day that you do have them instead of wasting one precious moment of their lives arguing over the days that you don’t.

Natalie Nichols Gillespie is author of The Stepfamily Survival Guide and a freelance writer. She serves as managing editor for the Smart Stepfamilies bi-monthly E-Newsletter. For more practical advice for stepfamilies, check out her website The Stepfamily Survival Guide.