What do you do when your efforts to pass on your faith are sabotaged by the other home? Parents can and should try to safeguard their children from the influence of the world, but when the "world" is the other household, parents face a difficult challenge. It's one thing to say, "Don't listen to the world"; it's another to say, "Don't listen to your mom."
One stepmom, Jamie, called my stepfamily ministry to get some advice. "My husband, Brad, and I are devout Christians," she started, "but my stepchildren's mother is not. She has turned away from her faith. She is living with a man, they don't attend church, and they don't support the values we are trying to teach the children. At her house, the kids are allowed to watch movies we would never let them see, they hear words we would never speak, and they experience lifestyles that are — well — worldly. What can we do?"
While these problematic behaviors are obvious to Jamie and Brad, children are naturally loyal to their biological parents and more easily tolerate a parent's sinful behavior. Children often emulate their parents, so the worldly influence can take root. However, if Jamie and Brad's fears provoke them to prevent contact between the children and their mother, there will likely be legal and emotional consequences.
Children who feel they are prevented from spending time with their mom or dad usually grow resentful and reject the blocking parent's value system. In addition, when an ex-spouse feels cheated out of time with his or her children, the parent may retaliate, exposing the children to more conflict. Since prohibiting contact is not a viable solution, here are other ways to protect and positively influence your children.
Recognize what you cannot control. As hard as this is, biological parents must admit their lack of control over what is taught or demonstrated in the other home. Failure to accept this reality usually results in control battles between the two homes that continue for years. Stop trying to change your ex-spouse, and let God manage what you cannot alter.
Address the values of the other home. It's critical to remain neutral about the other parent. Don't launch a personal attack. A comment like "Your father shouldn't be lying to his boss — he is so self-centered" attempts to speak to the issue of lying, but it also pits the kids against their father and burdens them with your judgment. A more appropriate response is "Some people believe lying is fine when it serves their purpose. But God is always honest with us and wants us to be honest as well. Let's talk about how you can practice that in your life."
Lead your children by example. Pray daily, and introduce your children to Jesus at every opportunity. Your model is a powerful bridge to their personal commitment to Christ. Impress on your children the decrees of God (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
One useful strategy is discussing viewpoints that oppose the Word of God and then teaching biblical concepts that help children combat them. For example, parents can discuss with their children a TV program that glorifies greed then share with them a more godly view of money management and stewardship.
Be patient during prodigal seasons. Your children may try out the "easier, more free" standards of the other home, especially during the teen years when they are deciding whether the faith they've experienced growing up will become their own. Lovingly admonish them toward the Lord (not away from the other parent), and carefully maintain contact so you can retain some influence in their life. And if they reject their faith, be close enough that they can reach you when they return to the wisdom of your values, as many teens and young adults do.
While you may have no control over what happens in your kids' other home, you can maximize the time you have with them in yours. Create a positive, welcoming home where open communication is encouraged. Develop strong relationships with your kids, and leave the rest to God.
Ron Deal is the founder of Smart Stepfamilies and director of FamilyLife Blended for Family Life. He is also a licensed marriage and family therapist, a popular conference speaker, and author. Ron and his wife Nan reside in Little Rock, Ark., and are the parents of three sons. This article appeared in the October/November 2011 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2011 by Ron L. Deal. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
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