Parenting is tough. There isn’t an instruction manual given with each child at birth, so we either parent as our parents did, or we disagree with how we were raised and do something totally different. For instance, when I was little and asked how babies were born, my parents didn’t tell me; they bought me a four-volume encyclopedia set on the human life cycle. That was a little overwhelming; I was only about 7 or 8! So when I had children, I decided to be very open and honest with them, being able to talk about anything with them. It has been a good and rewarding change, but with good there is always the bad. I had some really ugly areas that needed change.
After my first husband died, I was trying to have my life and my home under complete control. So when things were out of control – which was often since I had an eight- and five-year-old – I would lose my temper and the kids bore the brunt of that. I would just go into a rage over the dumbest things. There would be a toy out of place or cookie crumbs on the floor, and I would go ballistic. After several months of this, I was sitting quietly one evening after the kids had gone to bed, and I started replaying my every conversation and every interaction I had had with my kids throughout that day. It broke my heart. As I relived each moment, I felt like a monster. I also felt God telling me that my kids didn’t deserve this; they had already lost one parent, the one who played with them and just loved being with them. I needed to give up my need for a perfect house and being in control, and just let them be children. I needed to be a loving, playful parent. Yes, discipline still needed to be there, but the raging and ranting like a banshee had to stop. I decided then that I would have the right to discipline only if I took the responsibility to love, nurture, and play with my kids. I will say that this mom changed some things. I chose to ignore some of the crumbs and let a toy be left out occasionally. I started playing with them, just spending time with them and being together without chores and my need to control my universe. Things became better; the kids responded easier and I was so much more relaxed. Then I became a stepmom and that “monster” showed up again. I was in a place where I saw only negative; I only criticized and I only found fault. Again, God had to show me that until Dan’s children saw my love and trusted in that love, they would not accept or understand my discipline.
As the new wife and stepmom in your family, I encourage you to build your relationships on love, trust, play, and fun. At some point, you will need to step in and discipline his kiddos, but make sure you and your husband have decided how this should look. Next, choose your battles; not every offense needs a scolding. Many times, Dan and I would both be there to discuss the child’s offense and the consequence. Little did I know that this action would actually bring about respect from the kids for our marriage. So I guess we did something right!
Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, don’t exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of The Lord.” If God had not grabbed hold of me after my first husband died, my children would soon have become exasperated. I would have pushed them away, and they would have run to the first set of open arms they came to – which can be very dangerous in today’s world. God had to get my attention again – with Dan’s children. I’m glad I listened because I now have relationships that are in a good place. That is priceless! Please take the time this evening to replay how you have talked with your kids and how you have interacted with them today. Brace yourself for some harsh reality and ask God where you need to change. Ask Him to help you set aside the demands and worries of the day so that you can focus on your precious children and have a tremendous impact on them that will carry them throughout their lives. Lastly, remember that without the responsibility of love, there is no right to discipline.