Wednesday, November 29, 2006

If Santa Never Showed Up

By Ron L. Deal
President, Successful Stepfamilies

Imagine the disappointment of your child if Santa never showed up at his or her house. I mean, if Santa didn't bring them—or anyone else in your home—anything for Christmas how would your child feel? Left out? Dismissed? Insignificant? Unimportant?

Now imagine a stepparent that intentionally withdrawals from a child over an extended period of time. Day after day the stepparent’s rejection is perceived as a running commentary on the child: insignificant, unimportant, and dismissed.

There is a renewed effort by many Christians throughout the world to encourage couples to adopt a child. Recently a Focus on the Family radio broadcast featuring Stephen Curtis Chapman highlighted the efforts of his organization Shaohannah’s Hope to partner with groups like Focus on the Family and FamilyLife to encourage Christian adoption both within the US and abroad. Our own Natalie Nichols Gillespie (managing editor of my monthly E-Newsletter) has herself adopted a child and has just completed a new book on the subject entitled Successful Adoption: A Guide for Christian Families. The point I’m trying to make is this: all over the world people are encouraging others to adopt children. How ironic that many stepparents have an incredible opportunity to influence the life of a child—to “emotionally adopt” them, if you will—but choose not to.

No, I’m not suggesting that all stepparents should formally adopt their stepchildren. I’m only suggesting that they intentionally utilize the opportunities God has given them to influence their stepchildren. For years most of the feedback I got from frustrated biological parents was that their spouses were too rough on their kids. They came in like a bull in a china closet and caused a lot of conflict in the home. Now, I’m getting more and more feedback from biological parents who wish their spouse (the stepparent) would emotionally engage their children instead of choosing a “complete hands-off” approach. What a waste.

This Christmas season, can you imagine Joseph taking a “he’s your kid, not mine” approach with Mary? Instead of becoming a loving influence to Jesus, can you envision Joseph going fishing or spending all his time with his other biological children (who, of course, came later)? No, I believe that God chose Mary not only because of her character, but Joseph’s as well. The Holy Spirit knew that he would be a vital contributor to Jesus’ childhood and even though we have no account of it, I’m confident he was. Mary’s gift to the world was giving birth to the Savior; Joseph’s gift was loving him as his own.

Please don’t be confused, this is not to call into question what I teach about stepparents being the “baby-sitter” initially with their stepchildren. The purpose of that “hands-off” approach to authority and affection is to give stepparents time to do just what I’m suggesting here: become a loving, trustworthy, influential role model in the lives of their stepchildren.

Don’t miss out on your God-given calling—and if you already have, repent and get in the game! There’s so much you can do to bless a child.

For further reading, check out this online article, also by Ron L. Deal.

Friday, November 24, 2006

All Aboard For Christmas

You made it through Thanksgiving. I hope that there was much thanks given in your celebration.

And now, Christimas is on the way.

When family gets together for the holidays, there is usually some unstructured time that evolves into playing games, taking naps, and talking. Sometimes, however, when (step)family time is uncomfortable, people find ways to avoid contact and connection. The problem is when you have the ,"How fast can I get out of here?" attitude going, then you are missing out on something.

Truth is, everyone has something interesting about them that you don't know. Little known facts often emerge in conversations, if you take the time to conversate.

That's part of being "All Aboard" for Christmas. These kinds of conversations can be part of the "flavors" of each other's lives "blending." When these kind of conversations are avoided, then it just prolongs the unblending that so often happens in stepfamilies.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The discipline of Thanksgiving

Many families will get together this week and celebrate a great American holiday - Thanksgiving. Some will have a fine spread like the one pictured here. Turkey, pie, pumkiny things, and so forth. Thanksgiving is meant to be a time to appreciate God's generous blessings in our lives.

For some people, however, Thanksgiving is a tolerated interruption that requires acting nice, being polite, and being proper in front of people they don't like. For others it means either splitting time or swapping holidays - one with mom and ther other with dad. For some kids it can be so stressful that they can't wait to get back to school.

I encourage you to be thinking now, before the actual day of Thanksgiving, to list that for which you are thankful. Think people and possessions. Think freedom and opportunity. You have much to be thankful for no matter how you feel.

Which leads me to my next point. Some people don't feel any sense of gratitude because the stress of life has weighed on them, they have had some bad experiences, or they believe the bad has outweighed the good. Gratitude is not a feeling, it is a discipline. Giving thanks is not some little extra thing people can do if they feel like it. It is something that should be practiced, like drawing, bowling, or dance. It is something that you need to get good at. Few have a natural gift for being good at gratitude.

The practice of thanksgiving is what will make for a good Thanksgiving. Go ahead, give it a try and see if you are good at it. If you are, don't withhold your ability from people. And if you are lousy at it, then try to develop that skill of Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Myth: The Evil Stepmother

"There are over 900 stories written about evil or wicked stepmothers. They are particularly common in fairy tales, which suggest that stepmothers are comparable to wild animals and supernatural beings that treat children wickedly. In the past, the stepmother's role was to replace the child's biological mother who had died. Many of these bad examples are seen in such stories as "Cinderella" and "Snow White" where children are portrayed as victims who hate their stepmothers."

Click here for more myths.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Stepfamily Myths Debunked

If you want to check out some more stepfamily myths, go here.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Myth: Stepfamilies are broken homes

"Stepfamilies are broken homes." I am sure that you have heard this one on more than one occasion, or at least felt it from people around you. Well, I hope you have a problem with this kind of language. I know that I do.

Let's see, where do I begin?

First, the word "broken" is terribly flawed. It gives the sense of a permanent condition. Once broken always broken. This kind of language is almost elevated to the level of genetic determinsim. Not only is the family broken now, they will forever be broken. That notion is actually the opposite of what stepfamilies really are.

Second, stepfamilies are often mending families, not broken families. Yes, something happened that made a stepfamiliy as stepfamily. Death, divorce, child born out of wedlock, or whatever. And yes, there is almost always loss preceding stepfamily life, but that is a far cry from being permanently broken. Stepfamilies are often the place where healing happens, where people seek to reconcile their past mistakes, seek find a healthy love, and a whole host of other good things. The trajectory of a stepfamily is good, not bad.

Third, this "broken family" myth sets up stepfamilies for discriminination and demeaning pity. Stepfamilies, when viewed as broken, are expected to be be less than adequate, more troubled, and in some cases theologically flawed.

This myth has got to go. Stepfamilies are families - period. They should have all the rights that any other family has and should not be pitied. They should be understood for their unique realities and met where they are at. They should not be expected to act like nuclear families, but should be respected for the unique structure they bring to the table.

There is no need to be ashamed of being a stepfamily. You are not broken. And, if you want to get technical about it, I know of many "normal" families that are a lot more "broken" than many stepfamilies, but don't get me started.