Let your kids be kids (Article)

by Stephanie Wood as told to Elsa Kok Colopy

“Children of divorce lose their childhood at the age their parents divorce.” I don’t remember where I first heard that quote, but it always stuck with me. My children, Gabrielle and Nicholas, were 3 years old and 6 months old when their father and I divorced. A fierce determination rose in my heart. Not my children, I thought. My children will live their childhood.

I made up my mind not to let the reality of divorce change our family traditions. Every year of my married life, we had eagerly trudged through the woods in search of the perfect Christmas tree. As a single mom, I determined to keep that ritual alive. So one day in December, I headed to a tree farm with one child on my back and the other clinging to my hand. We found a tree, chopped it down and brought it home.

The following summer, we went on our usual family vacation. My mom was horrified when I packed the kids into the car and drove from Missouri to Orlando, Fla. We visited Walt Disney World and spent a couple of days at the beach. When the kids were a few years older and we didn’t have the money for a vacation, we all did odd jobs to pay for a few days away.

I wish protecting my children’s childhood was as easy as that—just doing fun traditions and vacationing together—but it took some tough work, too. I knew I had to get healing from the divorce; I didn’t want to expose my kids to the hurt I was feeling. So I found a DivorceCare group, which helped me wrestle with my anger and move toward forgiveness.

Allowing myself to forgive changed everything: I could once again look at my former spouse as the father of my children; I could speak of the happy years we spent together before things went bad, and that meant the world to my kids. They asked me questions about our marriage and wanted to hear special stories from our life together. To share those with a smile meant I had to let go of my bitter feelings. But it was worth it. Gabrielle and Nicholas needed me to say positive things about their daddy. In doing that, I was preserving something beautiful about their childlike love for him.

Remaining active in our local church was also a vital part of my family’s healing. I’d seen some people withdraw from church after their divorce, but I knew my kids needed our church and the routine of being involved in kids’ programs like Awana or children’s choir. I figured that since I was at my weakest point, the influence of strong, godly adults in their lives was essential.

I haven’t done everything well. I know I’ve stumbled along the way, but God has been faithful. He has protected Gabrielle and Nicholas. He has protected their childhood and protected our family life. And as my kids sit on the cusp of their teenage years, my prayer remains that they will not lose their childhood to divorce, but to the natural maturing process, learning even more as teens and heading out into the world as well-adjusted, godly adults.

Single Parent Tool Kit

Here are a few more ideas about how you can help your kids remain kids:

Guard against making your child a surrogate spouse
Avoid phrases like, “You’re now the man of the house,” or “Dad doesn’t know what he would do without your help.” Kids will naturally try to help you and may take on too much responsibility in the process. If you affirm that tendency, they will leave their childhood behind and take on grown-up responsibilities.

Play with your kids
Swing in the park, throw a ball around, bake some cookies. While it’s important that your children contribute to household chores, they also need to laugh with you, be silly and know it’s OK to make mud pies or roll down a grassy hillside.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2010 by Stephanie Wood. ThrivingFamily.com.

Hope for kids of single parents (Article)

by Angela Thomas

Just as I was beginning my experience as a single mom, a well-meaning person asked, “What about the children?” Honestly, the guilt I was already facing as I processed my recent divorce seemed unbearable, so to have someone ask me such a difficult question just about put me through the floor. It seemed like she was asking, “Aren’t the children now doomed to fail in life and become petty criminals?”

Of all my single-parent struggles, what I hated most was the suffering my children would face, as the four of them became “kids from a broken home.”

Not really knowing how to respond, and feeling the embarrassment of my family’s brokenness, I looked at the lady and said, “I don’t know. But here’s the only thing I do know — my children are covered by the blood of Jesus.”

She wasn’t alone. Others quoted discouraging statistics for kids of divorce and recommended books about the failures of adult children who come from broken homes. But in my heart, I kept reminding myself, God has to be bigger than the world’s statistics. I am certain He is the God who holds our futures, and He must be able to heal the brokenness in my children.

It has now been 10 years, and I have lived almost eight of them as a single mom. This is what I can tell you about my children: They are still covered by the blood of Jesus, and they are becoming really great people who love and serve God.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned about keeping my single-parent home focused on Jesus and His love for us:

Children follow. It was my job as their parent to lead; I had to lead them on a journey of forgiveness and healing. I learned that my kids followed the example of my attitudes and choices, so I had to lead with integrity, laying down any inclination toward bitterness, learning to live with love and a positive outlook.

Children need. My kids needed me to parent them from my fullness, not from a bitter emptiness. But there were so many empty and lonely days when I felt paralyzed by pain and insecurity. I realized that I had a responsibility to my kids to pursue spiritual and emotional healing for myself.

Children heal. In the years since my divorce, my four children have suffered many wounds — from the labels they’ve worn, the words they’ve heard and the painful events that have transpired. Not one of them has been immune to heartache. But God has come with healing for each child, and what’s been broken is being put back together.

Children believe. I learned quickly that my kids believed what I told them about our future. When I told them we were going to be OK because we belonged to God and then lived like that, they believed me. God gave me the privilege of teaching them to trust in His faithfulness. I would pray for our needs and point out every blessing. The kids began to see God at work in their lives.
When my 12-year-old son, William, came home from school and told me that his friend’s parents were getting a divorce, I asked, “How’s he doing?”

“OK, I guess. He seems afraid,” William answered.

“Baby, you are the best friend God could send to him right now. You’ve walked where he’s walking. You could tell him about God taking care of us and give him a lot of hope. …”

“Mom,” he interrupted, “I’m already doing that. He says it really helps to be my friend.”

What a joy to know my son is giving to others what God has given to him.

Now when I think back to the question, “What about the children?” I wish I could go back and tell that lady, “God keeps His promises! He has been our rescuer, healer, protector, redeemer and friend. I know my children’s future is decided by God, not by the world’s statistics.”

Angela Thomas is the best-selling author of My Single Mom Life. She lives in North Carolina with her family.

This article first appeared in the March/April, 2011 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was originally titled “What About the Children?” Copyright © 2011 by Angela Thomas. ThrivingFamily.com.

Focus on your home

by Gary Sprague

Judy, a single mom, has a tough time sending her kids to their father’s for the weekend. She is angry about the divorce and does everything she can to sabotage the visitation arrangements.

She makes the kids call her every night they are with him and gets frustrated if they forget. When they return, she interrogates them about their visits. She wants to know what they ate, whom they met and details about every activity.

Her motive? She wants to build a case to stop, or at least limit, the time the kids have with their dad.

Judy is driven by emotion. Though she doesn’t realize the damage she is inflicting, the kids suffer. They feel uncomfortable with her questioning, don’t understand her anxiety and often feel pulled in two directions.

The use of time

While it’s normal to worry about what influences the children, don’t spend all your time trying to shelter your children from the other parent — a person who has every right to be a part of their lives.

We’re not talking about the children’s safety. Protection from harm is a different matter. This is about allowing your former spouse to be a parent, even when you have different values and parenting styles.

Making it count

Be intentional in the time you spend with your children. Don’t waste time and energy trying to prevent things you cannot control. If you already have a full plate with your job and basic household responsibilities, use the rest of your day wisely.

Love and disciple your children. Eat a meal with them. Play games and allow yourself to laugh with abandon. Cheer your kids in their sports activities and close their day with prayer, drawing them to the One who can protect them best.

Giving up control

Letting go of what is happening in the other home is not easy. Ultimately, you have to trust that God is bigger than your former spouse’s influence. Remind yourself that God watches over your children 24/7.

This article first appeared in the July 2005 issue of the Single-Parent Family edition of the Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2005 by Gary Sprague.

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Teen dating in a digital world (Article)

by Ginger Kolbaba

My daughter dates by spending hours texting with a guy,” my friend told me the other day. “I’ve never met him, and I don’t know what they do online, but it makes me uncomfortable.” This friend expressed the same confusion and concern that many parents experience about the teen dating scene.

Today, dating means something completely different from a girl waiting by the phone for a boy to call and ask her out. A mom told me, “I was stunned to learn that dating for my daughter meant Facebook chatting with a guy in her class and changing her status to ‘in a relationship.’ ”

However teens define it, more than half of U.S. teens date regularly (casual, nonexclusive) and a third have a steady (exclusive) dating relationship. Their dating landscape has changed from those of previous generations because of the inclusion of social media and texting and the influence of a young-adult hook-up culture that fast-forwards to casual sex.

So how do we help guide our teens toward healthy, God-honoring relationships? By combining the best of modern and traditional approaches.

Make use of today’s customs

Not all modern dating trends are unhealthy. Thanks to a modern tribal mentality, teens are more comfortable getting to know each other in group settings — and often dating in groups. This makes it easier for a love interest to be vetted by friends and for teens to hold each other accountable. Obviously, peer pressure can go in a negative direction, but this lessens when we get to know the individuals in their group. As our teens become attracted to someone, we can ask their friends to help be a gauge for whether our teens are remaining true to who they are or changing their personality to fit with their love interest.

Discuss social media

For those teens allowed to use age-appropriate social media, parents and teens can quickly learn about people’s character and values based on what they post on their social media. These searches can be used to start discussions about the qualities of a future mate and what teens are looking for in a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Monitor texts

Texting, though not the ideal form of social communication, has a positive side. It allows teens to spend time getting to know each other apart from the physical side of a relationship. Although unmonitored technology could lead to sexting and compromising selfies, parents shouldn’t fear this form of communication if they’re willing to set boundaries.

Some parents have the rule that if they ask for a teen’s phone at any time, the teen must hand it over for texts to be read. If the phone isn’t easily handed over, texting privileges are lost for a time. Other parents allow only a certain number of texts, thus requiring teens to be more careful with their words.

Don’t forget the past

As strict and “old fashioned” as previous generations may seem, their culture upheld clear moral standards. For instance, an unmarried girl could never be alone with a boy in her bedroom (or anywhere in the house), and teens had curfews. They needed to let their parents know where they were going and what they were doing — and with whom. These boundaries were set up to protect teens from temptation, undue harm and shame. The same boundaries can help keep modern teens’ actions in check and safeguard their hearts, minds and bodies from regret and hurt.

Put it all together

Parents really can harness the best of today’s and yesteryear’s customs. We can encourage group activities, but also require that we meet each “friend” face to face. As we establish reasonable curfews, we can require them to tell us where they are and help them set personal boundaries. We also need to extend those boundaries into any social media and texting we allow them to have.

Setting boundaries, though, isn’t a one-time deal. It’s important that we keep the dialogue open so we can help our teens understand the why behind every rule and patiently work through their concerns with them.

Our teens aren’t really that much different from teens of past generations. Just like we once were, they’re apt to be confused about how to deal with the opposite sex. Parents Bryan and Hayley have helped their teens by creating a “safe zone” during the dinner hour. They have open discussions with their three teens about sex, relationships and the importance of giving and receiving respect and honor. This safe zone, where anything can be talked about, helps teens navigate their changing world.

Teens need someone to listen to them, love them and walk with them through the process of establishing healthy relationships. What a wonderful lifelong gift we give our teens when we become that someone for them.

Ginger Kolbaba is the author of The Old Fashioned Way.

This article appeared in the February/March 2015 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was titled “Dating in a Digital World.” Copyright © 2015 by Ginger Kolbaba. ThrivingFamily.com.

Start with respect

by Kathi Lipp

I thought it would be easy: I would be nice, and my stepkids would like me. I would make their favorite meals and agonize over their Christmas gifts.

I did nice.

It didn’t work.

The problem? The harder I tried, the more I was ignored. Then I went to my stepson Jeremy’s hockey game in my true stepmom-of-the-year form, and cheered him on. When I shouted, “Great game!” he completely ignored me.

I cried and sulked. Then I asked a friend for advice. She said, “Like comes later. First, earn their respect.”

The next day, I spoke with Jeremy, “Hey, Jer, I love cheering for you at your games, but I don’t like being ignored. So I’m not going to go to your games anymore until you tell me you’d like me to come.”

Jer shrugged, “OK with me. I don’t want anyone there who doesn’t want to be there.”

“That’s the problem; I do want to be there. But I can’t stand being disrespected, and I can’t watch it happen to your dad.”

That conversation changed our relationship — for the better.

For over a month, I didn’t go to the rink — until one day I drove Jeremy to a game. “Are you going to watch?” Jeremy asked as he got his gear out of the minivan.

Afterward, I said, “Good game.”

Jer simply said, “Thanks.”

As much as I wanted my stepkids to like me, I needed — and they needed — to know that we respected each other. Once I established respect, I could finally develop a relationship with them. Not just as the woman who married their dad, but as someone who was on their side, who was supporting them.

Years later, I’ve gotten more than I hoped for — not only do they respect me, but they also love me. I just had to get over not being liked.

Kathi Lipp is the co-author of The Cure for the Perfect Life: 12 ways to stop trying harder and start living braver.

This article appeared in the February/March 2015 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2015 by Kathi Lipp. ThrivingFamily.com.

Couple giving two young children piggyback rides smiling

Maximising everyday moments (Article)

by Dr. Greg Smalley

It takes time together to keep a relationship strong and vibrant. We all “get” that marriage doesn’t have cruise control or an autopilot setting. The problem with most marriages isn’t that we don’t know we should spend time together; the problem is that we’re too busy.

Fortunately, the solution is simple. Instead of waiting for long, uninterrupted blocks of time to strengthen your marriage, take advantage of key moments that happen every day. I call this “maximizing everyday relationship moments.” Let me describe a couple of these potential moments:

Saying goodbye and hello
. On a typical day, one or both of you will leave the house in the morning. How you say goodbye to your spouse can strengthen your marriage. The key is to kiss your spouse before he or she leaves the house. I’m not talking about a pathetic kiss where you lean forward and barely graze your spouse’s lips. I’m talking about a real, five-second kiss! You’re not adding anything new to your busy plate; you’re just taking advantage of a moment that will happen anyway.

How do you greet your spouse when he or she arrives home at the end of the day? The key to maximizing this moment is to use attention, excitement and affection. Walk over, give your spouse a kiss and say, “Welcome home. I’m glad you’re back.” This sets a positive tone for the rest of your evening together.

Saying good night. There are at least two unique opportunities to strengthen your marriage when you say good night. The first is to express gratitude. Thank your spouse for something specific: “Thanks for being a great provider” or “Thanks for washing the dishes.” The other opportunity is to pray together. Imagine how strong your marriage could be if the last thing your spouse heard before falling asleep was you praying for him or her.

For more on strengthening your marriage, read Take the Date Night Challenge: 52 creative ideas to make your marriage fun.

This article appeared in the February/March 2015 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was titled “Maximizing Everyday Moments.” Copyright © 2015 Focus on the Family. ThrivingFamily.com.

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Disciplining as a single parent (Article)

by Dr. David and Lisa Frisbie

When a tag-team wrestler wearies in the fight, he works his way to the corner of the ring. Tired and worn out, he reaches to tag his partner — who then replaces him on the mat. Weary single parents often wish they could ease over to the corner of the ring, tag a partner and take a break. But that rarely happens.

Raising children alone means that, for the most part, you don’t have a partner ready to jump in and help. Whether you are well-rested or worn-out, whether you are physically healthy or coping with illness, you’re still on duty. As a single parent, you have a nonstop assignment that can feel like a never-ending wrestling match.

As we work with parents at The Center for Marriage & Family Studies, one of our goals is to help single moms and dads gain control of their households and manage the daily challenges with authority and composure. Single parents feel healthiest when they know that their kids respect and obey them.

But exercising parental authority does not come naturally for single dads who fear losing their kids’ affections or single moms who are too tired after work to play enforcer. Even though it takes effort, discipline is essential to a healthy family. As your kids learn to obey, your own stress level drops, and peace more frequently fills your home.

One aspect of managing kids well is teaching them that you mean what you say. Tired of all the arguing and whining, single parents often resort to making vague threats, repeating earlier comments or raising their voices in frustration and anger. As the situation escalates, single moms or dads may descend into name-calling, badgering, insulting or inappropriate physical discipline. All of these unintended consequences flow from a lack of control.

To avoid this kind of escalation, help your kids understand that you say what you mean and you mean what you say. The following principles will offer you guidance as you train your children to obey.

Clearly define the pathway to reward. “When you have eaten everything on your plate, we’ll have ice cream.” This statement sets up a clear reward — ice cream. It also clearly defines the pathway to and timing of that reward—”when you have eaten everything on your plate.” With this fact established, your children are now responsible for whether they choose the pathway to reward.

Trust their word, but verify their work. “When you and I have looked at your homework together, and when I see that it’s complete, I’ll get out the Wii and you can play until bedtime.” The advantage of this rule is that you eliminate the temptation to lie. Children know they can’t avoid doing homework by declaring, “But I already finished it!” because you will check the homework for yourself.

Don’t cave. As you establish firm boundaries and give clear instruction to your kids, expect to be tested. Make it obvious from the start that you will not be swayed. Help your children understand that you are simply announcing the decision that has already been made; you are not inviting a debate. This new style of parental communication will take effort on your part, but the rewards reaped in your home life will be well worth the perseverance.

As we often tell single parents, good parenting is not limited to those who have a built-in tag team. By learning to say what you mean and mean what you say, you build credibility with your children and train them to respect both you and your authority. Your kids will gain life skills, and you will gain a sense of calm control as you cope with the challenges of each new day.

Dr. David and Lisa Frisbie are Christian family counselors and the authors of Raising Great Kids on Your Own: A Guide and Companion for Every Single Parent.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was originally titled “Mean It Like You Say It.” Copyright © 2011 by Dr. David and Lisa Frisbie.

Cultivating character in your pre-schooler

Chances are, if you have a preschooler, you’re well-acquainted with stress. Author Lorilee Craker takes you inside the mind of a preschooler and helps you explain new concepts to your children in a way they’ll understand.


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Practical ideas for connecting with your kids

…is three weeks enough time to make an impact on your kids? Author Kathi Lipp says “yes, absolutely”! With an upbeat sense of humor she shares how you can strengthen the bond with your child, no matter how busy you are.


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kidcentered

The kid centered home (Audio)

You feel like a cook, maid and taxi driver. Your kids sleep in your bed more than you do. And your idea of a date night is watching your kids run around a fast food playground. You have a kid-centered home. Pastor Ted Cunningham shares how you can restore balance to your home by concentrating on your marriage.