Let's face it, God’s design for the family is for one man and one woman to be married first, then have children, raise those children, and then enjoy the fruits of that labor as grandparents. Things like divorce, children born out of wedlock, and custody battles are not a part of His perfect design for the home. However, that doesn’t make them any less of a reality.
These things get complicated. When the primary parent (the parent who is raising the child in the home) is legally required to allow their son or daughter to spend time with the other parent for a weekend or even a couple of weeks there is a tendency for this little bit of time away to shake things up in the primary home.
Often multiple things are going on between the two sets of parents in these situations. Typically there will be a stepmom and stepdad. In many cases, there will be other half-siblings in each home. And, sad to say, quite often there will be contrasting mindsets and worldviews abiding in the two homes.
All of these factors combine to make the perfect storm in the life of a young person. So what is the primary parent to do when these waters become turbulent? Below are a few thoughts that can be helpful in trying to navigate these difficult situations.
First, if one or both of the families are followers of Jesus Christ, then put what you know about Him and what He wants for you into practice. Follow His teaching on vices like jealousy, anger, hatred, your speech, and attitude. This situation is going to be hard enough without those who should be mature in the situation acting in immature ways. Guard against jealousy. Don’t let this sinful passion grip your heart and cause you to act in ways that you know are dishonorable to Christ. If the Christian parent allows himself to act sinfully towards the other set of parents, then there will be war. You can rest assured that this will not turn out well. Also, realize that if you allow jealousy to consume you then it is not likely that you will act or speak to your child in the right manner. Be careful here, you can cause more damage yourself in these situations than the other parent who doesn’t hold to your views of Christ and the Bible. Don’t make it unnecessarily difficult for your child. Help your husband or wife to guard against these sinful feelings and attitudes as well. Reassure your spouse that you love them and that they don’t have to be jealous of your ex. Make it clear to them that you belong to them in Christ and that you don’t have any desire for your child’s other parent. Reassure them that they are your child’s parent and support them in functioning in that way. Realize that this shared custody situation is probably not going to be easy, so the last thing that the Christian parent needs to do is make it even more difficult by functioning in sin themselves. Developing a healthy marriage relationship in your home with your spouse is one of the best things that you can do to help your children. They need to know that daddy loves mommy. And daddy and mommy need to know that as well. A Christ-centered, healthy marriage relationship will go a long way in preventing insanity in your home.
Secondly, it will be necessary for the primary parents to determine how they are going to raise the child in the home. Notice I said they. Though one of the parents is a step-parent, they should be viewed as the mom or dad in the home and be given the authority that is due to that position. They should have the primary say-so in the life of the child. This matter can be settled by the birth parent who is given the responsibility and opportunity to raise their child. It will need to be established that the step-parent in the primary home is the parent. The child will need to understand this. And the primary parent will need to ensure that he always deals with the child under the umbrella of this arrangement. The primary couple cannot allow the child to drive a wedge between them. They need to come to a place where they can operate as a team. They need to think together and come to an agreement to raise the child based upon the teachings of Scripture no matter what the other parent's ideas are. I truly believe, that if the primary parents establish a biblical marriage and Christian home the child will grow to appreciate the atmosphere and love that is present there. A word of warning here. If steps are not taken to establish this type of home, and for the primary parents to operate on the same page, then the result will be that the other parent who doesn’t possess the authority or the opportunity to raise the child will begin to dictate at a distance what takes place in your home. This cannot be allowed to take place. If the primary couple will determine how they are going to go about raising their child and then work to establish what they have determined in their home, it will remove the opportunity for an outsider to cause such turmoil and ruckus in the home. It will be necessary to establish a biblical view of child-rearing. Study the Scriptures. See what God has directed the Christian family to do. Read Christian books on the subject. This will allow you to glean from the scriptural learning of others. Several great resources are out there to help. Shepherding A Child’s Heart is one that I give to all the parents in my church. Baby Wise, Toddler Wise, Child Wise are all great books to use in developing good practices in the home. However, none of these will substitute for knowing what the Bible clearly teaches about children and the home. Knowing what you want to do (your goal) and how you want to do it (your process) will prevent the other parent from constantly invading your home and causing turmoil.
Thirdly, both of you have to love your child in the primary home and be actively involved in his training. Establishing the proper atmosphere in a home takes a lot of work. As stated above, if both parents can get on the same page it is much easier. If he knows that he is loved, it will make it easier to correct unacceptable ideas and actions that may come from the other parent.
Fourthly, realize that children are children. They are immature. They don’t possess the mental or spiritual ability to navigate all of this. That’s why they need you. But to be of help to them you have to be stable and settled on where you are going. They need your help. In many cases, the two homes are operating on completely different wavelengths. Shoot, in some instances they are from different worlds. Because this is true, the child will need a reasonable, loving, voice to give them clear direction. If they do not find this upon returning from the other parent's house, where they likely showered them with gifts and privileges that they wouldn’t normally enjoy, the result for them will likely be confusion and resentment.
Fifthly, be patient with your child. Most likely the other parent has not done things with him as you would have. And because this is the case, depending on how long they were with them, it may require that there be a time of reprogramming. Do this hard work patiently. Show them extra grace. Remember, it's not their fault that this has happened. They didn’t choose to be in this situation. Be sure that it is clear to them that where you stand in your home has not changed. But realize that it may take them a little time to readapt. Love them and carefully redirect them back to where they need to be. A few days with super parent (not really but that may be how it looks to an 8-year-old) cannot erase everything you have taught them. You will just have to carefully get them back on track. Family devotions, prayer time, and reasonable expectations will help get everything going again.
Sixthly it might be helpful to communicate with the other parent if it is realized that something that is being done in the other home during their stay is causing excessive issues with the child once he returns home. Nothing will be accomplished here in a heated argument. And if that’s how you are going to address it then you can just keep it to yourself. But if you are willing to pray with your spouse about the issue, and they are willing to kindly and reasonably point it out to the other parent, then they may hear you out on the matter and not let it happen again when the child returns to their house for a stay. Remember, they probably love him too. They don’t want to hurt him. So if you can carefully bring the issue to their attention they actually might help you.
The seventh thing to consider is if the other parent is lost it would be a good practice to pray for them. Enlist your child to pray for them as well. This will make it so that they will want to influence their parent for Christ.
The eighth thing you may want to realize is that the older the child gets the more complex the issues that arise may become. Because this is the case, be sure to begin as soon as possible taking these steps to establish precedence now. It will help then.
This situation is not ideal. And there is going to be friction. However, having the mind of Christ and acting in a way that honors Him will make it so that He can be glorified and your child can survive the situation.