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Finding Hope for Single Parent and Blended Families

From the series House or Home - Parenting Edition

From his series House or Home Parenting: God's Blueprint for Biblical Parenting, Chip co-teaches this message with his wife Theresa. Theresa was a single-parent with twin boys for four years before she and Chip were married. They share, from first-hand experience, what they've learned to be God's blueprint for successfully parenting single and blended families.

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Only one out of four families in America, currently, are what you would call a traditional family. A mom and dad with the same biological children. Less than one in four. About twenty-three percent. About forty-two percent of all babies that are born are born out of wedlock so they have a single-parent mom.

We know with what’s happening in the military there’s functionally a lot of single moms and single dads as people get deployed.

You know that there’s widows and widowers. What we know for sure is that if a child born today over the next eighteen years, about seventy to eighty percent of them will have some window of their life where they’ll live with only one parent.

So all I’m saying is this is huge. I mean, being a single parent isn’t some little group over here. It’s huge.

Second thing we know is a single parent cannot provide the same quality of care, and the quantity of time, as a two parent home. I mean, we just need to get that on the table. You can’t work and be at home at the same.

Your energy, your bandwidth, you can’t give to your kids and work and take care of all the issues financially, the emotional support and strength that you need.

A single parent has their own personal needs to get met and often those don’t get met so you have less to give to your kids, both in time and energy.

The third is that with God nothing is impossible. Remember Mary’s response in Luke chapter 1 when the angel said, “You’re a virgin and you’re going to have a child.” “How can this be?” The angel said, “What do you mean, ‘How can this be?’ With God nothing is impossible.”

If you’re a single parent, if you’re in a blended family, God’s Word to you is with Him nothing is impossible. And you say, “Well, but I made a lot of mistakes and, you know, this may happen because I did this, and this, and this.”

With God nothing is impossible.

You couldn’t make almost more mistakes. It’s hard to read one chapter of the Bible, like Ruth chapter 1, and see a man, his wife, and his sons that disobeyed God and did more things wrong, going backwards.

And then to see God in His grace. The moment she turned to God, turned to His people, wanted to obey, was broken. “Oh, God, help.” He delivers.

Now, is there pain and consequences? Of course.

Jeremiah 32:17 is one of those verses probably worth memorizing where the prophet, in the midst of a horrendous situation, and someone looks at it and he says, “Was the arm of the Lord too short? Is anything too difficult for God?”

And the answer, overwhelmingly, is no.

So that’s what you know. Well let me, let’s, what can you do as a single parent? And a lot of these are just laying out, hey, here’s what you need to do. And there’s whole books written about how to do them.

But number one, make God your number one priority. I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s the key.

No matter what, get up, spend time with God. Make His Word, make His people, make your heart the number one priority.

Number two, get connected with a strong, godly, same-sex support group for encouragement and accountability. You gotta get connected. If you’re a single parent, don’t go it alone. You will not make it, you will not do it well, you’ll make very bad decisions in your moments of weakness, and loneliness, and exhaustion, you will get involved in relationships to try and take care of things that you will just add gasoline onto the fire of your suffering.

Third, accept this season of your life and set realistic expectations for you and your children.

I mean, at some point in time, you know, I see single parents that, they just keep going up against this wall and they just think things are going to get perfect, and nice, and easy. Just accept: this is the season.

And you know what? For many times it’s the next ten years because their kids are eight or nine, ten years old. Or the next twelve years and the next fifteen years. Just accept.

It doesn’t mean that it’s a bad season. But you just accept this is the season that I have. I need God’s grace. And it really resets and recalibrates your expectations.

Number four, remember God can make up for what you can’t give your kids. I’ve watched this over, and over, and over, and over again, like I’ve said, for many, many years being a pastor.

I watched kids coming out of single homes and you scratch your head and you say, “You know what? How does that happen? Those are the best, most godly, amazing kids I’ve ever met.”

And often they see the desperation of their mom or their dad clinging to God and they don’t have enough money and they don’t, there’s pressure and there’s all these things and those kids realize, because there’s great need, they cling to God.

God can make up. He can do for your kids what you can’t do.

Number five, refuse to become a victim, a martyr, or a super-parent. Those are the temptations. As a single parent, “Oh, woe is me. Everyone take care of me.”

I mean, I don’t mean to diminish things but you just have to accept, you know, don’t be a victim. Don’t be a martyr. The same power that raised Christ from the dead dwells in you. His promises are true.

And the other is don’t be a super-parent. Boy, I’ve watched single parents just try to do it all, be it all, I mean, rise at four in the morning, go to bed at one at night, I’m going to do this for my kids, I’m going to…

Just accept it’s a tough season. God will be adequate. Walk with Him. Get help. Love Him. Accept help.

Number six, don’t compromise your spiritual and moral standard. Don’t settle for second best in an effort to find a mate, or a father, or a mother. Boy, it’s a big temptation.

You start praying and praying, “Oh, God, you know, give these little kids, or not so little kids, a dad or a mom.” And don’t compromise, “Well, you know, maybe he’ll come to Christ later, or he says he believes in God, or she says she believes in God, and of course they haven’t walked with God, they don’t read their Bible, they don’t seem to have any spiritual interest but…if I pass on this one, another one might never come.” Errrrmmmmmm!

You know, that’s the buzzer of the Holy Spirit going, “Stop thinking that way.” Don’t compromise. All you’ll do is compound your children’s problems.

And then, finally, number seven, sometimes it’s best to hear the reality and the power of God than it is to just talk about it. And so my wife has been a single parent and I asked Theresa to come and share her story and just take a few minutes to say how do those things that we shared really work out?

[Theresa]: Well, I was reading the book of Ruth and I had seen parallels to my own life as I read that and one was when Naomi returned back to Bethlehem and she made this statement about herself.

She said, “The Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full but the Lord has brought me back empty.”

And I realized that at one time in my life that’s exactly how I felt. I felt very empty, and I felt bitter, and felt like my life was just a mess.

And it was at that time that, as a young wife and mother, my husband abandoned me and we were, I thought, doing well and I had all my hopes and all my dreams built around this, my husband, and our life and family, and found out that while I was pregnant he was involved with another woman.

And then shortly after our children were born, we had twin boys, he left me and was, never became a part of my children’s life.

And so it was a very devastating time for me. And I was just distraught, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it and I was that bitter woman. I was that one that just felt so empty and so, so at loss with my life and, you know, what am I going to do now?

And it was just, life didn’t seem like it had any meaning anymore.

But God reached in to my life at that time and I was working on a college campus, and the man that I worked with, the director of admissions there, was a very godly man. And he began to share with me about the love of Christ.

And as he shared with me and I had this longing in my heart it was through his witness, and his wife, that I came to know Jesus as my Savior.

And was at that time that my life began to change. And God really began to teach me who He was and that He was a God, I remember, my friend telling me about the love of God and telling me verses like that He’s near to the brokenhearted. And He helps those that are crushed in spirit.

And that’s exactly where I was and he told me about a God who has an everlasting love. That His love would never end. That it would never grow cold for me.

And that it would, He would be with me all the time. That He wanted to care for me, and He wanted to care for my children, and He wanted to help me through the difficult times in my life.

And so as I listened to that, God just became more and more real and I began to grow spiritually.

And so God, in an amazing way, at the most difficult time, reached into my life and God, at that time, started making my life look a little bit differently and as I read through the book of Ruth, then I saw myself in another passage there.

Because He took my bitter life, and He began to fill me up with Himself.  And Boaz, who married Ruth, said to Ruth, he said, “May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully.”

And I realized that’s exactly what I had done. That I had come to take refuge under the wings of my Heavenly Father. Under the wings of the Almighty God, the only one who could really help me, and the only who could give me purpose. The only one who could restore the hope that I had lost in my life.

And so I began to spend time with God on a regular basis and get to know, who is this God that I’m learning to serve and I’m learning to walk with?

And as we talked about what sustained me during those years of being a single mom and I had, they were infants when my husband left and he left me with no income. I wasn’t working. He didn’t provide any support. He pretty much disappeared.

But there were, as I thought about that, there were four things that really sustained my hope during those years. And the first one was, is that God’s Word, His Word in my life is what continually sustained me and there’s a passage in the Psalms that says, “If God’s Word had not been my delight I would have perished in my affliction.”

And I truly would have perished in my affliction. But it was in His Word and I learned to, with the help of my friends teaching me, to get up in the morning before I, you know, I had to go back to work. And so I had very little time to myself but I would get up early in the morning before getting my boys up and, well, they may have already been up but, when they were that little.

But making that time because I needed it so desperately. I needed God so desperately is to open up His Word and just to take in what He had to say to me.

And I remember thinking of His Word, this is just His love letter to me. But it was through His promises and holding on to His truth that sustained the hope for me.

The second one is running to my prayer closet every day and I usually did this after work because by that time of the day I was just spent. And picking up the little ones, and getting their dinner, and by the time I got them in bed I was just totally exhausted.

And I was lonely. I was so lonely. And I didn’t want to be a single mom. I didn’t like where I was. And I would run into my prayer closet. It was just a closet where my clothes were. But I got down on my knees. It just became such a spiritual place for me and I don’t know I went in there. I didn’t have to because I was alone anyway.

But it was just a special place for me where I just felt close to God and, you know, I just felt His presence. And He was near to me there.

And God says, He promises us that as we draw near to Him that He will draw near to us. And I would just pour out my heart, and my fears, and my prayers for my children and our, just our life.

And God met me and He would just give me strength. It was a supernatural strength. I cannot explain it. But He helped me, and He lifted me up, and He gave me peace, and He gave me hope.

And He placed joy in my heart in the midst of a difficult situation.

And then the third thing He does is, we mentioned too, is just that community God gave me. A community of, they were mostly, friends.

But of Christian friends who supported me, who kept me on focus, who would help me keep my eyes upon the Lord when I was starting to drift a little bit, and who kept me accountable, and prayed for me, and sometimes brought food and just met physical needs that we had.

And so that community was very, very important to me. I don’t know what I would have done without them because I didn’t have a Christian family to support me in that way and so my Christian friends, the community of the church, was my family.

That was a very, very significant and important in my life.

And the last thing I think and made a great difference was I learned how to surrender to the Lord very early on in my Christian life.

And a verse that God used in a great way for me is II Timothy 1:12. And it says, “I know in whom I believe and I am convinced that He will guard what I had entrusted to Him until the day of His return.”

You see, I’m confident in my Savior, I know who I believe, and I know the kind of God He is because I’ve been in His Word, and I know that He gives me power, and that He answers prayer because I’ve prayed and I’ve asked, and I know the kind of God I believe in. And I know that He loves me and He cares for me.

And so I can entrust my children to Him. I can entrust my finances to Him. I can entrust my marriage, whether I would have it or not. I could entrust my life and my future, everything to Him to a place where it’s safe.

You see, it’s not safe if I hold on to it. And I’ll really mess it up if I make those decisions but if I entrust it to Him and allow Him to work, He will give me back… He will fill me up like He did Naomi and Ruth.

And he did. He filled up my emptiness with Himself and then He gave me a lot of amazing things in addition to that. He gave me an amazing husband that I just, I could never even dreamed of having and two more little kids.

And He made us a family and Chip was able to adopt my boys and God has been very, very faithful to His promises that He gave me as a young, abandoned, single mom.

There’s a quote that I love because I always felt like it just says what God taught me. And it’s kind of a prayer. It says, “Lord, I crawled across the barrenness to You with my empty cup uncertain of asking for any small drop of refreshment. If only I had known You better I would have come running with a bucket.”

And you know what? We need to come running with a bucket because He has so much that He wants to fill us up with. And that’s my prayer for me and for you.
Well, when you marry someone who is a single parent you become a blended family.

And Theresa will tell you it took me a long time to pray through whether this is the right thing for me because I was scared to death. And I would just say a word to, maybe, ladies at this point.

As I got to know Theresa and I had all the flashing, warning signs of, when I met her I thought, “Oh, I would really like to get to know her.” And then she came over to, I was a basketball coach at the time and we did a, what we called a rally in the living room of a… did a campus ministry.

And she came with these two little boys, you know, and the feet in the pajamas and the little blue jammies and I thought, “Oh, she’s babysitting.”

And so, well I thought, you know, great, because I had met her a couple times and then I found out that they were her kids and so I just said, “You know, I’m not sure I’m ready for a relationship but I know I’m not ready to be a dad.”

And so it was about a two, two and a half year journey and I will tell you the thing that made the difference. It was her walk with God. I mean, I certainly had dated other people and other people were pretty too, etcetera.

But there was a depth and a quality when she talked about God it was like He was in the next room. And I came from a different background and had a lot more of the Bible and sort of things memorized.

But she knew God’s heart like I didn’t. And I realized God gave me the courage to take that step and He gave me a love for those kids and then, of course, just blessed beyond my wildest dreams.

But I will say now let’s talk about a blended family because I’d like to say we got married and the kids shortly after, it was a just a few months, they jumped in my arms. We didn’t have any problems. I became a wonderful father. I knew what I was doing. The kids, within weeks, just said, “Hey, Dad! It’s so good to be with you.” And they loved me and hugged me.

And none of that is true.

In fact, I will just, as a preview before I tell you, you know, sort of the principles and practice for a blended family what I will tell you, I can remember about five years into it, and I have a mentor who is still a mentor and really a father figure to me.

And it was about five years into it and it and we still didn’t have this connection with the boys. I mean, I don’t think they felt like anything was wrong, they never knew their biological father.

But there’s something in your soul that this connection that it still feels like they’re her kids and, you know, I’m the dad but whatever this thing is where you’re the dad, I didn’t have it.

And I remember driving out in the country where he lived and talking to him and really struggling. And I remember him saying, “You know what, Chip? Just don’t rush it. Bonds form over time. You weren’t there when they were early. Just don’t rush it. You know, in due time, you know, God will work.”

And then he said something that was a real perspective giver. It was, “You know, you need to accept,” because I think I can tell you when it was. I think it was shortly after the birth of our first son. Because there was a something special bond I had with my biological son. And it was seeing the distance.

And I remember he looked at me and he said, “You’ll be a great dad but you might not ever have exactly the same relationship. Doesn’t mean you’ll love them less. Doesn’t mean you’ll be less committed. But there may be a difference and you need to recognize that might be a part of your future.”

Because I was feeling guilty. And I was feeling bad about… and then I was longing for that connection.

Let me give you some things that we know and then I’ll get very pragmatic of what we can do.

Number one, blended families rarely, if ever, blend. It’s a misnomer. One author, Dennis Rainey, he actually forces people to talk about being a stepfather or a stepmother because he says the idea of blending sets these expectations.

They’re complex, you’re not going to be the Brady Bunch. It’s not yours, mine, and ours. It’s not like putting all of these people in a blender. Brrrrrrrrrrrr! And then you pour out this spiritual, wonderful, emotional smoothie. You know?

The fact of the matter is is that there’s all kind of issues. And it doesn’t mean it can’t be good. It doesn’t mean it can’t be wonderful. It doesn’t mean God won’t really work.

But if you go into it thinking, “We’re a blended family! We’re going to get in the Holy Spirit mixer and we’re going to be this happy family.”

Because part of it when you’re longing for that person, if you have kids or if you both have kids and you’re longing, and God draws you together then it’s like, “Oh! It’s going to be wonderful!”

And as high as those expectations are when it’s not so wonderful then you think it’s worse than it really is. So, blended families rarely ever really, fully blend.

Second, every family is a relational system and when one part of a relational component of the system changes it has a domino effect. And this, we don’t get this.

So, in other words, let’s take it, I’m a man and I have kids and I get married and, praise God, this woman comes into my life and I think this is wonderful.

And let’s say my kids are eight or nine and I have a daughter who is thirteen. And they’ve even been praying with me and we’ve been going to church together and I’m this single father and this woman comes in and they’re excited.

Well then we get married – yeah, yeah, rah, rah. You know, my daughter is even in the wedding and then we all move in together. And then the first month my daughter realizes that special place I had with my dad is gone. It got filled.

My boys are happy for this new woman but she’s kind of different at home than when they were dating. And all of a sudden some of that, “My dad needed me, he doesn’t need me in the same way.”

That sets off a chain reaction of dominos in the hearts of those kids.

Are you getting it? You got a whole new family system that’s operating and often blended families are super naïve and they super-spiritualize, “Well God will make it happen. You know? Holy Spirit dust. Everything is going to be okay.”

Everything is going to be okay with a lot of hard work, a lot of intentionality, a lot of dependency, and a lot of recognition that this is going to be very, very tough. And you need to get inside your kids’ skin and know what’s going on.

And so, honestly, it rarely, I’m just giving you the facts. This is what we know. It rarely works well or easily. And a significant, high percentage of blended families fail.

Success requires, underline the word, “extreme.” Extreme effort, time, intentionality. And then circle the phrase, “outside help.”

Chances are you try and do this without some good outside help and whether that’s a pastor, mature friends, or a quality Christian counselor, the probability that you, because you can’t be objective. You can’t know what you don’t know. And so it requires that.

So what must you do?

Number one, count the cost thoroughly. For some that’s a little bit late. For others thinking about, you’re dating someone, count the cost thoroughly.

That mentor that I spoke of, wife died very suddenly and very young and after nine years he remarried. And he remarried someone that was not way, way younger but significantly younger that had a couple kids.

And, you know, one was going into college and the other was, like, in junior high. Well, guess what? I mean, the relationship here is great. He realized, and they’re currently related. The biological father who left her and had an affair and then married the person he had the affair, I mean, this is kind of normal life, right?

Well he, like, works now. Well, you know, the younger son really accepted him. The older son, I mean, it was, like, three years before there was the beginning of a connection.

And he realized, “I can’t play the dad role. There’s a different role here. I can’t play the dad of a seventeen year old young man who connects with his dad.”

So I just want you to hear: count the cost.

Second, get premarital counseling from a mutually trusted and biblical, and wise resource and I would add - post marital. Get premarital and post marital counseling.

And notice the adjectives: from a “mutually trusted…” It needs to be someone that you both agree is going to help you. And you need to work through expectations, which are usually way off. You need to work through specific finances. That’s a point of real tension.

You need to talk through the impact on each child. Kids aren’t, like, this group – your kids, my kids – this little group. Everyone of those kids has specific responses in different seasons of their life.

You need to agree on parenting goals, discipline, and have a common front with the kids. This is really difficult. We’ll talk in just a second about the priority. If your kids know that they can pressure you all to get their parent, biological, to stand against your new mate, you’re done. You’re done.

I mean, and kids are smart and they’re selfish little critters. Cute as can be, selfish little critters. And they will try and wedge in between you and your new mate, and you will feel this overwhelming guilt because the fact is is depending on the age, you then had eight years with this child and five months with this man.

Or sixteen years with this child and two years with this man, and now it’s a big issue and where’s your allegiance and where’s your loyalty? It really matters and it matters that you leave, cleave, and become one flesh, and part of that leaving that’s painful is you gotta leave those kids.

They become number two. A very important number two for their health.

And then not on your notes but establish appropriate roles based on age of kids, and involvement or lack of it, by the biological parents.

So you gotta ask yourself, “What’s my role as the new person in this family going to be, based on age, their connection with their biological family, how close they are, how often they relate, whether it’s a positive relationship, or a negative relationship?”

Then we get real specific. Make your mate your new, unequivocal, number one relationship, ahead of your children. And put a star by this one.

Blended families don’t work because this doesn’t happen. You leave, you cleave, you two matter more than you and your kids and, man, that is hard. That is super hard.

But your kids will never be secure unless that’s true. And your marriage will never be the glue that God wants it unless that’s true.

Develop a weekly communication tool and mechanism to wrestle family conflicts, schedules, and miscommunication to the ground in a non-threatening, grace-filled way.

If there’s anything that’s going to make it not only difficult but impossible for this to be successful it’s all the lack of communication. And so this is where you get outside help.

I know Theresa and I, one of the reasons we needed marriage counseling early, we didn’t know how to communicate, we didn’t know about our past, we didn’t know about backgrounds.

We got a communication tool called a conference. Three little questions. Two or three times a week early in our marriage we sat down for anywhere from twenty minutes to forty-five or an hour. “What are you concerned about? What do you wish? What are you willing to do?”

What are you concerned about? What do you wish? What are you willing to do? One person asks the question the other person can’t talk.

And we got all that stuff out without attacking each other and we got to talk about things when we weren’t, you know, hurt, or rejected, or arguing about them.

Because you know what happens with that little conference? Without attacking one another you hear your mate’s biggest burdens, you hear their greatest dreams, and then the last little question: what are you willing to do?

You don’t, the rule is you don’t have to do anything. But if you want to, after hearing all the things that are weighing them down and all the things that put wind in their sails you can reach over and say, “I’m willing to take that burden off you.” Or, “I’m willing to…”

And you don’t have to. But we started to communicate. And you gotta have a weekly communication tool.

Number six: make the spiritual development of your marriage and family the utmost priority. Only God and supernatural love can make this work.

You don’t have that apart from your vital union with Christ in the context of a strong, loving, biblical community. So the spiritual development, I don’t mean just your kids go to church. I don’t mean they just get off to youth group.

I mean the spiritual development of your marriage and the spiritual development of your family. Everything that we’ve talked about in this series.

Whether that’s time in the Scriptures, whether that’s fun, whether that’s building relationships that bond, whether that’s saying, “Here’s, we’re going to have a clear-cut goal.”

Whether that’s sending… love and limits. But I mean, whether that’s praying together as a couple. But, I mean, the spiritual development of your kids has to be.

If you can get that priority, I’ll tell you, all the other dominos of the relationships. And here’s the deal, sometimes it’ll take a few years.

But if you have a short fuse, if you think this is happening overnight, if you think that God’s going to, you know, sprinkle that Holy Spirit dust and it’s going to be great, easy, and early you’ll probably bail out.

Number seven, remember it will take time, it will be harder than you thought, and it can be a glorious testimony of God’s restoration and redemption.

Now, if you’ve had the sense that, boy, he’s really talking about how hard this is, it’s really hard.

But what if the arm of the Lord isn’t too short? What if you don’t bail out? What if you don’t cave in? What if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other? What if you take your vows absolutely seriously?

What if you learned, supernaturally, to love a kid that, down deep in your heart, and you can’t say this to your mate, you think that’s the most evil little punk you’ve ever seen in your life and what you’d really like to do is strangle them instead of be their dad or their mother.

Now those feelings and emotions come. Okay, that’s reality. I mean, that is a reality. And so what you have to do you have to forgive them. You have to give them what they don’t deserve. You gotta bless those who curse you.

You have to say, “Jesus,” what, “Father forgive them they know not what they do.” And you trust that the Word of God, and the power of God, is going to reshape that life.

And God will work. But you’re signing up for one of the most difficult tasks on the face of the earth. But the testimony, the glory of God that can be revealed, and He will make you more like Christ than you ever wanted to be.

Okay? Because that’s what suffering does. That’s what loving people, who don’t love you back, do. That’s what, this is not what I signed up for but this is what I got. And by the way, once you say, “I do,” don’t go down that, “I don’t think this was the right person.”

When you said, “I do,” she became, he became the right person instantaneously. It is the will of God and he’ll give you all you need. So don’t start buying that, “I don’t think I should have married this person.”

That line of thinking will take you very, very bad, ungodly places.

I want you to know He promises in James 1:2 to 4 to “…consider it all joy when you encounter various trials knowing the testing of your faith will produce endurance and let endurance have it’s perfecting or maturing result that you might be lacking in nothing.”

And what He’ll do is, He will reward and bring results beyond your wildest estimation.

My blended family verse, I’ve used this for more than one thing but again it’s Hebrews 10:36: “For you have need of endurance so that once you’ve done the will of God you might receive what is promised.”

Endurance. The Greek word is hupomeno. Hupo, to be under. Meno, pressure or stress. And under pressure or stress, some of you guys and gals work out, and you actually take pressure and stress, about three times a week, and you put it on your back on purpose.

And you start out with some light weights and what it does is it actually tears the muscle fibers. And then when they heal they heal back bigger. And what those are called are strength. And just how God does that with our physical bodies, when you endure, hupomeno. Attitudes, difficulty, problems, expectations – what happens is you wake up five years later, ten years later a stronger, more godly person than you’d ever dream.