"'I hate divorce', says the LORD God of Israel" (Malachi 2:16). God hates divorce but loves those who have experienced divorce. It is not surprising that God hates divorce because of all the pain and suffering that divorcees and their families experience. The effects of divorce cause psychological problems on both parents and children for years. With the high rate of divorce and fragmentation, families are faced with complex and difficult systems with which to work. Some of the more common units are single parents and blended families.
Single-parent homes are not necessarily dysfunctional. The authority lines already described in the dysfunctional, disengaged, and functional system are the same except there is only one parent instead of two. The single-parent home can be functional when the communication lines are open with the children. As in two-parent homes, the single parent is encouraged to make the final decision in regard to the children's well-being. Sometimes the single parent is helped in a desire for a functional family by children who notice a mom's or dad's hard work in caring for the family.
Although single-parent families can function in an effective way, the challenges can be enormous. Lack of financial resources causes pressure, and the lack of community often causes such families to feel isolated. These pressures can be very discouraging to single-parent families and can be the cause for depression. The local church should be the extended family for the single-parent home. Married couples need to include single parents in their social and ministry activities in the local church.
About 80 percent of the people who divorce from their first spouse will remarry. A blended family is a family with at least one child in the household from a previous marriage. There are several factors that will need to be addressed in a blended family, some of which are to redefine the meaning of father and mother, boundaries, the children's uncertainties toward their role, and their relationship with the absent birth parent.
Dr. Raymond T. Brock in his work, Parenting the Elementary Child, has done extensive work in the area of "blended families." He states that "it is difficult to call two men 'father' or two women 'mother,' when this involves the comparison between a birth parent and a stepparent. . . . The child should be given a choice in selecting the name he or she will call the new parent" (58). The child should not be forced to call the new parent mom or dad. The new parent will need to earn the trust of the child or children. This takes time. The goal is not to replace the biological parent.
When a blended family comes together, clear boundaries should be established. Respect for each person in the family should be taught and modeled by the parents. "Rules must be clearly established for contact as well as distance regarding sexuality, conflict, and territory" (Brock, 59). Each person needs his or her own space. Respect for each family member's space and property should be clearly defined and upheld. As children from a previous marriage enter into a blended family, they face the ambiguity of their role in the new family. This uncertainty of their role will usually bring anxiety, questions, and sometimes fear, particularly if the children have not been prepared. For example, in the previous marriage a child may have been the oldest in the family, but in the blended family he is the middle or even the youngest child. Each child will need time to adjust to their new role as it relates to birth order. Dr. Brock states that "responsibilities and privileges should be linked in a hierarchy that is constantly communicated" (Brock, 59).
Perhaps one of the most difficult and often uncomfortable challenges is the relationship with the absent birth parent. In the case of a divorce, there may have been strained and even bitter negotiations regarding the divorce settlement which placed the children in a difficult position. This is a state that no child deserves, but unfortunately, it happens all the time. In this case, both parents need to focus on the well-being of the child while trying to make the proceedings as painless as possible. "Children need to be taught that to give love to a new stepparent does not subtract love from the absent parent. It is not a matter of loss or disloyalty, it is a matter of enlargement of the heart" (Brock, 58).
Children should be taught they are accountable to God for their actions as the parents are responsible to be a godly covering for them. Solomon writes in Proverbs 1:8: "Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching." Children should be made aware of God's law of authority even though we live in a society that is unbalanced in its declaration of rights and responsibilities. Much emphasis is placed on personal rights but very little is said about being responsible for our own actions. Paul writes in Romans 13:1: "Everyone must submit himself to governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established."
If children refuse to walk under their parental covering (authority), they should be taught there will always be another authority in line. However, the next first line of authority under God may not be as kind and caring as their parents. For example, if Johnny refuses to obey his godly (parental) covering and decides to use drugs, his authority may become a judge, prison, or hospital system.
Having a functional family system does not guarantee that children will never go astray. Children have choices to make also, and it is not right to always pin the blame on parents. Youth are instructed in Proverbs 4 to guard their hearts against the wicked. If children rebel, parents should keep the lines of communication open but hold their loved one accountable for his or her actions.
Paul warns fathers against the abuse and neglect of the children. "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). The functional family is characterized by loving parents who serve as role models. Moses writes: "Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to the children after them" (Deuteronomy 4:9).
With the decline in role models in various walks of life including sports, religion, and politics, children desperately need to have parents who are good role models. "Don't do as I do, do as I say" is poor logic. Children will learn to pattern their behaviors based on what they see from their parents. Children in functional families will learn more from the values modeled by their parents versus those taught but not practiced.
Boundaries for children are established by the parents in the functional family. "Stay always within the boundaries where God's love can reach and bless you" (Jude 21 TLB). Young people will have more respect for established rules if there are open communications between the parents and children. If the boundaries are broken, then the youth should be held accountable for their actions.
Young people want boundaries. As they become older, young people often resent their parents for not providing these boundaries. These boundaries help to provide a "safety zone" for children. Sometimes the boundaries give them a good reason to say no when they may otherwise give in to negative peer pressure. I heard a seventeen-year-old high school student say, "I wish my father would ask me not to drink." After receiving help, another student who was chemically dependent thanked his parents for intervening in his addiction.
In the functional family, parents will know where their teenagers are and with whom they associate. They will find out the answers to such questions as, "Is alcohol served in the home where the teenager has been invited to attend a party?" "Will there be adult supervision?" "What time does the party end?" The parents will have a curfew and insist on its observance.
Children need help in dealing with negative peer pressure. Paul writes: "Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good character'" (1 Corinthians 15:33). Peer pressure not only affects young people, but it can also influence parents. They may try to "keep up with the Joneses" or spend too much time with their peers and not enough quality time with their teenagers. The lack of attention from parents can cause children to turn to their own friends for their values, acceptance, and self-esteem. In the functional family, the parents are the first line of defense for the children against negative peer pressure. Recognizing the need for open communication with their children, the parents do not expect the local church, youth group, or high school to take on this primary responsibility. An effective church youth group can be tremendous support for teens during their formative years, but it does not take the place of parents in a functional system. Helpers working with families affected by a member's life-controlling problem should encourage parents to stand together in guarding against coalitions. When a single parent makes a decision to stand firm or a husband and wife stand together in helping their son or daughter, it is not uncommon for the child to try to start a coalition with a grandparent or a friend close to the family.
The helper should remember that each person is not an island. Each person is a part of a family system. Although dysfunctional patterns may have developed over a period of years, helpers can encourage family members to restore proper relationships.
A Final Thought
You may have read this chapter and thought about all the wrong things you have done in your family life. Maybe some are in a marriage where one partner wants to follow God's plan for the marriage and the family wholeheartedly while the other partner prefers to do his or her "own thing." Whether you read this chapter while considering following Christ as Savior, having just recently received Christ as Savior, or having been a Christian for several years, you may now have an important question on your mind. "My family is in a mess; I've been a poor parent. My kids are messed up on drugs, and I am in my third marriage. My third spouse is about to leave me, and my youngest son is going to prison. What should I do?" In 2 Samuel 24, David sinned greatly against the Lord by his disobedience. God instructed Gad to "Go and tell David, 'This is what the LORD says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you' "(v11). None of the options were good.
David gave Gad his decision. "I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall in the hands of men" (v14). Although God held David responsible for his actions, David preferred to "fall in the hands of the LORD." Then what shall we do with our failed marriage and family relationships? First, fall into the hands of God. Second, do all you can to follow God's principles in all your marriage and family relationships. And finally, leave the consequences to God.
Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
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