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The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family

By Ron Deal
(Bethany House Publishers)

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When Your Child's Other Home is Leading Them Away From Christ

By Ron L. Deal, M.MFT.
Successful Stepfamilies "I really want my two children to love the Lord and have a relationship with their father. But when they spend time with their dad and stepmom, they are exposed to a lifestyle that goes against what the Bible teaches. What can we do? I'm tempted to discourage them from going to see their dad."

Judy's question is one I hear repeated around the country. All Christian parents want their children to grow in faith. But what can you do when the other household is leading the sheep away from the Shepherd?

Before I offer some ideas about faith training, let me address Judy's temptation to limit the contact between her children and their father. While the desire to protect the faith of her children is understandable, becoming a barrier between the other biological parent and their children is not recommended. When this happens children grow to resent the parent who blocks parental access. In addition, the ex-spouse often feels cheated and may retaliate, exposing children to more conflict. You must find other ways of influencing your children. Here are some suggestions.

1. First and foremost, admit that you cannot control what is taught or demonstrated in the other home. Too many people are still trying to change their ex-spouse, even after they've been divorced for years. (If you couldn't change them in your marriage, what makes you think you can change them in your divorce?) Letting go of control forces you to 1) let God be in control of what you can't change; and 2) make the most of your time with your children.

2. Influence your children toward the Lord, while in your home. All parents need to model the Christian walk and impress on their children the decrees of God (Duet. 6:4-9). But you will also have to inoculate them. Medical inoculations are controlled injections of a virus; this allows the body to develop anti-bodies that can combat a live virus, if ever encountered. Spiritual inoculations present viewpoints that oppose the word of God and then teach Biblical concepts that help children combat them. For example, discussing a TV program that glorifies greed and then showing children a spiritual view of money and stewardship.

Children who have one parent not living a Christian life will need inoculations to help them deal with an environment that is hostile to their growing faith. It is critical, however, that you remain neutral about the other parent; the inoculation cannot be a personal attack. A comment like, "Your father shouldn't be lying to his boss-he's so self-centered," pulls on children's loyalties and burden's them with your hostility. Ironically, it also diminishes your influence as they react defensively against your negativity. A more appropriate response is, "Some people believe lying is fine when it serves a purpose. But God is truth and wants us to be honest, as well. Let's talk about that..."

3. You may have to endure years of prodigal living as your children try out the values of the other home. This is a truth that many parents fear. Children may experiment with the "easier, less demanding" lifestyle of the other home, especially during the teen years when they are deciding whether the faith they've been handed ("inherited faith") will become their own ("owned faith"). Lovingly admonish them toward the Lord (not "away" from the other parent), and be close enough to reach when they repent.

4. Pray daily for the strength to walk in the light and introduce your children to Jesus at each and every opportunity. Your model is a powerful bridge to their personal commitment to Christ. Do all that you can to take your kids by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master (Eph. 6:4).

A Moment with Scripture
"...we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord..." (Ps. 78:4 NIV)

Children have a natural inclination to listen to stories. Be sure to tell your children and stepchildren your faith story, including how you came to know Christ, your faith peaks and valleys, and the influence of other people in your life. Let them see and hear how God has worked in your life.

Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).


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Ron L. Deal is President of Successful Stepfamilies, author of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family, and serves as stepfamily educational consultant to Focus on the Family. He has appeared on numerous broadcasts, including Focus on the Family, and conducts stepfamily conferences and ministry training around the country. He and his wife, Nan, live with their three boys in Arkansas. Article reprinted with permission.


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