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QUESTION: Trouble with Kids from a Former Marriage

Dear ______,

Thank you for your Question: My cousin and I are over a marriage ministry within our church and we are facing problems with women having trouble dealing with their spouses’ kids from a previous marriage. What are biblical principles for raising children from a previous marriage?

You have come up against one of the reasons the LORD hates divorce (see Malachi 2:16). The harm done to children is incalculable, and people of our generation will have to give account to God for sins against their children.

You mention specifically women dealing with their husbands’ children from previous marriages. I presume that these children’s mothers are the primary custodians of the children. By that, I mean the children normally live with their mothers. Such children naturally view the current wife of their father as an interloper, which in some instances she may well be. It will be very difficult for the women with whom you are working to gain acceptance by these children. This is especially true if their fathers do not support her completely.

It may not be possible for these women ever to be able to function as “house-moms” during the time the children are visiting with their father. A “truce” between the step-mother and the child may be all that is possible. I can remember a divorced father saying to me in a moment of candor that he realized he was with his children only for “fun” times and that his former wife had to be “the heavy” with them. He also felt, though, that his former wife poisoned their children against him. She may, or may not, have done this – but the children’s attitude toward him caused him to believe she did. So ask yourself, if they have a bad attitude toward their father, how do you expect them to feel toward their father’s new wife?

Unfortunately, the Scriptures do not address this problem directly. Perhaps the closest we can find to this in the Bible are the children of polygamous marriages in the Old Testament days. While not all inter-family rivalry springs from polygamy, much of it did. Jacob and Esau did not come from a polygamous family. But think of Isaac and Ishmael, of the twelve sons of Jacob, of the sons of David and Solomon. There is enough said about the results of such marriages to let us know that polygamy is not good for children (or for wives and husbands, either!). The natural competition between siblings is multiplied many times when there are multiple “family groupings” within the greater family.

In the absence of specific instruction or example, we must rely on general principles. The first principle might well be that the children’s father will have to take the lead in the discipline of his offspring. The second principle is that he must do this in a way that does not provoke them to wrath. See Ephesians 6:4 for a statement of both of these principles in the context of the traditional marriage, not a blended one. In fact, raising children from a previous marriage must be approached much as raising your own children is – except with a great deal more difficulty that demands a great deal of tact and cooperation between the natural and the step-parent. Without that cooperation, I do not see how the step-parent alone can manage to cope – though I am also sure that some have done so successfully.

These are not easy principles even in the most perfect marriage. Children have a great knack for working one parent against the other. Their opportunities to do this multiply when divorce and remarriages have given them step-parents.

There are many secular books available on the “Blended Family,” but I am not familiar enough with the literature to comment on it. There are also books available written from a Christian perspective. James Dobson of Focus on the Family has some available. Again, I am not specifically familiar with his writing in this area, though I have valued some of his earlier books on parenting in general.

I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful, but this is the best I am able to do at this time. I just hope that some of these thoughts may be of some assistance to you in going forward. The best solution is to avoid the situation – but saying that is like urging someone to lock the barn after the horse has already run away.


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