Excerpt from I’m Not Your Kid: A Christian’s Guide to a Healthy Stepfamily
Sarah and Jack just went through a difficult breakup. After years of jealousy, mistrust, blaming each other, and “trying again,” they finally agree, “It isn’t good for the kids to see us fighting all the time. Things between us will never change. We’ve got to think of the kids.”
Sarah and Jack split up, believing that the kids were now less at risk of being hurt. What Sarah and Jack could not foresee is that their anger, disappointments, and frustrations will likely find another way to surface that will be equally as damaging to their children, if not more so.
About half of former spouses fall into the general description of “difficult,” and there are several ways to be a difficult former spouse. For example:
· “Trespassers” do not acknowledge the autonomy of their former spouse’s new home and constantly make the other home jump through hoops—you have to do it their way, or you won’t get it at all.
· “Saboteurs” resent the perceived happiness of the former spouse, and work to damage that happiness by competing for the child’s love, or planting divisive seeds.
· “Ghosts” are faithful to keep legal commitments, but emotionally detach from children.
· “Junkies” hurt others by abusive behaviors—getting revenge by becoming chemically dependent, or lashing out emotionally or physically.
Imagine being a child of divorce, needing stability, needing to feel loved, supported, and protected by both parents, yet one or both perpetuate the tug-of-war they started when the family was together.
But now, it’s worse. Mom is always making dad change his plan in order to see you. Or maybe Dad criticizes Mom to his new wife, in front of you, and clearly he wants you to side with him. Or maybe mom is always offering to buy you things, which would be great, except you can tell she does it just so you’ll want to be with her instead of Dad. Or maybe Dad shows up on time, and he’s glad to see you, but all you do together during visitations is watch sports on T.V. Or, Mom is still so angry at Dad, that sometimes she screams, “You’re a selfish brat, just like your father!”
There is another way.
Seven “Be” Attitudes for Co-parenting
In Matthew 5, Jesus taught nine beatitudes for blessed living. The Amplified Bible translates the word “blessed” as ‘happy, fortunate, to be envied.’ Several of the nine “Blessed are” statements contradict our typical ideas of things that lead to happiness, such as “blessed are the poor in spirit,” or “blessed are those who mourn,” or “blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.”
The paradox of the Christian life is that often what we least want in our lives can work for our ultimate well-being. With that in mind, consider these seven “Be” attitudes to produce healthier kids. Be healed, be dependable, be the adult, be respectful, be perceptive, be near, and be a team.
Jer. 17:14 Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed;save me and I will be saved,for you are the one I praise.
James 5:16 Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.
According to researchers, divorce recovery can take between two and five years, but might never take place if the person does not exert effort to recover. If you will be healed, consider taking some of the following steps:
· Read, read, read. Learn about the effects of divorce on adults and children and how to overcome the hurts of the past.
· Write. Journal your own ups and downs.
· Don’t dwell on the past; plan for the future.
· When in the dumps over your own unmet emotional needs, meet someone else’s emotional need.
· Learn to forgive. Seek support through counseling or a group such as Divorce Recovery.
· Pray. Honestly confess your ugliest feelings to God(He can handle it!). Seek His comfort, and His perspective.
Be the Adult
1 Cor. 13:10-11 “When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I did away with childish things.”
In other words, “when I grew up, I began to speak as an adult, think as an adult, and reason as an adult.” Divorcees frequently resort to childish ways of dealing with each other. So the first tip for being the adult is to learn to communicate with the other parent in an adult manner.
Do Away With Childish Speaking.
Healthy communication takes time and practice to achieve. A good book on healthy communication is a must! But here are some tips:
· Begin conversations by affirming “We’re here for the sake of the kids.”
· Make your goal to understand, rather than to persuade.
· Choose your issues carefully. Is it really about the child, or about your need for vengeance?
· Ask sincere questions: “What do you think we should do?” “How do you feel about this?”
· Give your full attention to the other person. Don’t plan your response, interrupt, blame or accuse the other person.
· Communicate like an adult both verbally and nonverbally, even if the other person doesn’t. (80% of communication takes place non-verbally!)
· If communicating with the former spouse is particularly difficult, consider mediation.
· Pray before the meeting, and pray afterward.
Do away with childish thinking and reasoning.
· Take every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:5). Feelings of stress or anxiety might indicate some runaway-thoughts that need to be reined in.
· Express emotional thoughts to God before expressing them to someone else.
· Confess your thoughts to a trusted and objective friend.
· When negative thoughts consume you, redirect. Choose to think on things that are pure, true, beautiful, and righteous (Philippians 4:8).
Children need equal effort from both parents in providing authoritative, mature guidance for their lives. Support each other in speaking, thinking, and co-parenting like adults.
1 Cor. 4:2 “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”
Parents are stewards of the children God has given them, and God holds each steward accountable for their care. To be a dependable parent:
· Fulfill obligations—legal and otherwise—in a timely way, without hassle, and without using them to manipulate the other parent.
· Respect the court ordered purpose of the support. Offer to give a periodic account to the other parent of how the funds are used to care for the children.
· Plan regular meetings by phone or in person, so that both parents stay informed of issues concerning the child.
Phil. 2:4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Walk into most any public school classroom, and one of the rules posted for the class and the teachers to follow will be “Respect each other, and respect yourself.” In other words, value others and value yourself.
After a divorce, valuing the former spouse is often the farthest thought from our minds. But it is something we need to do, because we value our children, because of the long-term relationship we still will have with their other parent, and because every person has value and worth in God’s eyes.
· Respect the need of the children to have the other parent in their lives
· Respect the other parent’s right to be involved in decisions and events concerning the children.
· Respect the fact that parenting is a difficult job no matter the circumstances. All parents make mistakes.
Exod. 2:4-8 Moses’ sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. Then Moses’ sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” “Yes, go,” she answered. And the girl went and got the baby’s mother.
Isn’t it ironic that God allowed Moses to be entrusted to the custody of his enemy? Moses’ family had the presence of mind not only to remove their baby from imminent danger, but to watch and wait and take further action for his welfare. Then they trusted God for the rest.
How difficult it is during a personal crisis to think calmly, clearly, and to place focus on those who are most at risk. Our children of divorce are at risk. Parents can come to the rescue simply by being perceptive.
· Stop. During the aftermath of divorce, it takes a very deliberate effort to stop focusing on self and start focusing on the children. Wallerstein states:
One of the many myths of our culture is that divorce automatically rescues children from an unhappy marriage . . . . However, when one looks at the thousands of children that my colleagues and I have interviewed at our center since 1980, most of whom were from moderately unhappy marriages that ended in divorce, one message is clear: the children do not say they are happier. Rather, they say flatly, “The day my parents divorced is the day my childhood ended.[i]
Stop that gigantic snowball of myths and self-protective emotions and take notice of the realities
created by divorce.
· Look. Children (including teenagers) do not possess adult skills to understand their emotions, much less to find the words to express them. Parents must learn to pay close attention to behavior.
· Listen. Then listen to the response, uncritically, unemotionally, and courageously. Children, like all of us, cannot help the feelings they have. Knowing what goes on in a child’s mind is over half the battle.
Ruth 1:16-18 But Ruth replied, Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”
Ruth had the right idea when it came to family commitment and loyalty. She considered her mother-in-law to be her only family, and promised to always be near her, physically, spiritually and emotionally.
If we could do it all over, one thing I wish my husband and I had done differently would be to have lived closer to his daughters. We only lived fifty miles apart. But even that small distance put additional stresses on the relationships. Had we been physically near, it would have been easier to be emotionally and spiritually near as well.
Be a Team
Eccles. 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!. . . Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Team: two or more draft animals harnessed to the same vehicle or implement.[ii]
What an image for co-parenting! Yet what it takes for divorced couples to see themselves as a team for the purpose of parenting can only be described as a miracle. And, as any coach will avow, “Attitude is everything!”
· Have an agreed upon goal. The goal might be very broad, like “we will raise our children to know that they are loved by two parents.” A team without a common goal cannot begin to play the game.
· Make a game plan. What roles will each parent play? What roles do they want the stepparents to play? How can they help each other? How will they ensure that children do not play them against each other? What strategies can be negotiated to facilitate the most desires of each parent for the kids?
· Communicate. A football team planning to run a two-point conversion play needs to tell the field goal kicker. A parent who wants to break a child of the new habit of lying will communicate the problem and the strategy to the other parent.
· Pull your weight. The more both parents take part in parenting tasks, the more the child will feel connected to each as a parent.
It would take a real miracle to accomplish all of these things in your co-parenting. They are not one-time changes, but day-to-day, incremental decisions. Be encouraged that every effort made will improve the family life of your child.
Be healed. Be unified. Be there. Blessed are those . . .
Taken from I’m Not Your Kid: A Christian’s Guide to a Healthy Stepfamily by Kay Adkins. Used by permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright © 2004. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group. Baker Books.