Mission of Manhood: An Interview With John Croyle

john_croyleThe world has many definitions for manhood. John Croyle founded The Big Oak Boys’ Ranch in 1974 so he could raise boys who only knew one. PT sat down with the former University of Alabama football star to talk true manhood, absentee daddies, and the challenge of raising godly men.

PT:  How would you say our culture defines “manhood”?

John: Our culture defines manhood as soft, not focused, floating along, generic. The social media has weakened, I feel, the strength of our young boys becoming men. You gage your strength by how many hits you got on your Facebook, or Twitter, or website, or whatever. And that’s not manhood.

And I think too, all of us, everybody who is gonna read this piece, we’ve all messed up, but there’s that point where you draw a line in the sand of your life and you just say “enough.” I now need to stand up and be the man, husband, father I’m supposed to be—or the mom, wife, woman I’m supposed to be. There just comes that time, and when you decide you want to be a great parent then you can override whatever society is saying. We are raising a generation of boys that kind of limp along and are all kind of hunched over. Our girls don’t know what to look for in a real man. And that’s why we did [The Two-Minute Drill for Manhood]. At the end of the book my children, Reagan and Brodie, are interviewed. And Reagan says, “I hurt for the ranch girls because they’ve never had a man in their life that was willing to die for them. My whole life, I knew my daddy would die for me. When my brother was born he trained my brother to be the same way. I’m now married to my husband who I know would die for me.” And she said, “Just think there are three men on this earth who would lay down their life for me and not even ask a question.”

PT: How does the Bible speak to godly manhood?

John: I think the best example of manhood that I know of is in Chronicles when David was putting together his army. And it says God brought him men, men of valor, men trained for battle. They could handle a spear, a shield, a sword. They could, with a sling shot, shoot with either hand. But here’s what they described: it said “their faces were that of a lion and they were swift as a gazelle” (1 Chron. 12:8).

I think every man that I’ve ever met, I’m talking about real men, they’ve all got that face of a lion. We’ve got a lot of posers that are posing to be real men. Hey, there have been times in my life when I’ve posed to be this, that, or the other thing and I wasn’t. But there comes a time where you are posing and regret gives way to being the real deal. It’s never too late, and I hope anybody reading this article hears that it’s never too late to be a great parent until one of you is in the grave. That’s the only time it’s too late.

PT: In what ways have you seen biblical manhood missing in the current generation of men?

John: I call it absentee daddies living at home—when a dad comes home and he’s physically there, but mentally, emotionally, spiritually he’s not there. The kids know it. “Dad, dad, watch.” “Daddy, watch.” A little boy or little girl asks daddy to watch five times while they do their first somersault, or their first cartwheel, or their first climbing of a big tree. The kids know if you are paying attention. They know if they are important or not. I’m not talking about the importance of “well, my son plays football” or “my daughter plays basketball.” I’m talking about the importance of your 10-year-old little girl saying, “Daddy watch me dive, daddy watch me dive.” She’ll ask about five times and then she’ll quit asking. And once they cross over to quit asking, you start to lose ground.

If you don’t know your children’s five best friends, you are too busy. Because next to you and your mate, the greatest influence on your children will be those five friends. You better choose wisely.

PT: What do you think has led to this?

John: Money. Power. Misplaced priorities. Too busy. Focusing on the wrong things. Choosing poorly. Choices create circumstances; decisions determine your future. And we, regrettably, for years have seen the fruit of parents who chose poorly.

PT: What men have you had in your life that have served as good examples of manhood?

John: First and foremost, my grandfather. Man’s man. Never heard him raise his voice, never saw him angry. I never heard him say an ugly word about another human being. He loved me. I didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time with him, but when I was in college, he passed away. And it was like a hole.

What I’ve learned is there are three kinds of men: there are men that will impress you, men that will impact you, and then there are men that will inspire you. We’ve got so many men worried about the impressing part, which doesn’t last very long, versus the inspiring part. Inspiring your son, inspiring your daughter to be a cut above, to be different, to stand out, to not be crippled, to not be hunched over. And through the years there have been men come alongside me for a season and when I needed level 2 fixing, I had a level 2 fixer. When I had a level 4 issue, I had a level 4 fixer. God always, always will bring the answer. You may not even like it. But He will always bring the answer.

PT: What can parents of teenage boys do to emphasize biblical manhood in their parenting? How did you instill this in the life of your son, Brodie? 

John: I think clarity. We just need to be clear what we value as important. Think about it, you cannot blow smoke at your kids. They know. They figure you out. They know you are full of it when you tell them A, B, and C and nothing you’re saying is true. They know that you pick up the offering at church then they saw you watch an inappropriate show on TV. Or they heard you tell a filthy joke or they watched you as an attractive lady walked by. Now every guy fights this battle, but our sons are watching us and also our daughters are watching to see how we are treat their mommas. They will pick based on what they saw.

Children listen with their eyes. It says in Luke 6:40, “When fully taught, the student will be like the teacher.” I got a perfect example.  A man called me and he said, “You know we had your son [Brodie] with us on a hunting trip. After dinner, your son looked at all of us and said ‘Y’all through?’ and got up and picked up all the dishes and carried them in the kitchen and started washing them. And we said now here’s the NFL quarterback, University of Alabama, and he’s washing our dishes.” So where’d he learn that? Well, he learned it from me. Where’d I learn it? From my dad. I watched my dad whenever we had any party or anything at our house, my dad would help my mom. People joke now that my wife’s got me trained, and she says no, he came trained. And that’s a tribute to my dad.

There’s that ripple effect. There is always a ripple effect. And when your children, your sons, see you choose other things that water down your manhood then they think that’s normal.

Every one of us is on the road of life, on the interstate. Every one of us at times has gotten off on the wrong exit. Maturity is getting back on the interstate and not taking that exit again. Very simply, it’s staying on true north. True north can be defined by three questions: 1. What’s God called you to do? 2. Are you doing it? and 3. What is the fruit of questions 1 and 2?  ✤

 

John Croyle rose to recognition as an All-American defensive end at the University of Alabama during head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s legendary tenure. Faced with the decision to play professional football or to start a home for abused and neglected children, John established Big Oak Boys’ Ranch in 1974. Today the outreach has grown to three branches with the addition of a girls ranch and a Christian school. John, his wife Tee, and the Big Oak organization have raised more than 1,800 kids to date. His book, The Two-Minute Drill to Manhood (B&H 2013), is out now.

 

Five Tips for a Peaceful Stepfamily Holiday

77886595The holidays descended upon us quickly after my husband and I married mid-October and began our new life together. My expectations of a joyous holiday season faded as the reality of combining two households with different traditions and outside family members settled on us. I wasn’t prepared for the chaos and heartache that accompanied our first Christmas together.

Blending four young children, managing a harried schedule with two ex-spouses, and competing with the “other households” for time together and adequate gift exchange ignited a simmering blaze that burned throughout the season, leaving behind a trail of hurt feelings and unmet expectations.

I learned some valuable lessons that season on negotiating with others and compromising on details that didn’t have to go my way. I also resolved to take proactive steps in the future to help relieve some of the turmoil and division that occurred among family members. Here are a few suggestions for more peaceful stepfamily holidays that will enable your family to enjoy one another and create lasting memories instead of simply surviving another holiday season.

Set aside unrealistic expectations. Accept that there will be unhappy moments during the holiday period. Children experience fluctuating emotions as they cope with the loss of their nuclear family and accept their new stepfamily. They may act out or withdraw during periods of grief. When my stepchildren lost their mother, holidays became especially difficult for them. Memories of past holidays sometimes prevent them from enjoying our family celebrations today. However, a difficult day or period of unhappiness doesn’t have to ruin the entire holiday season.

Be proactive. Start planning your schedule early. Have a family meeting and talk about the logistics of the season – when to decorate, what to eat for holiday meals, how to do gift exchange (draw names, include grandparents, etc.), and what special programs need to be put on the calendar. Ask each family member to take part in the planning and decision-making. Begin negotiating the visitation schedule early to allow time for discussion among parties.

Be flexible and agreeable with other family members, when possible. Be willing to make sacrifices to fit everyone’s schedule. Offer alternatives when negotiating schedules and recognize that Thanksgiving and Christmas can be celebrated on a day other than the official holiday and still be a special day.  We have altered our Christmas gift exchange many years to allow everyone to be together. Try to be fair to all parties involved and commit to do your part toward peaceful interaction with your ex-spouse. Separate old marital issues from parenting issues and examine your heart for resentment or bitterness that might be preventing you from friendly communication.

Consider your children’s needs. Children don’t choose to join a stepfamily and they don’t deserve to be pulled between family members. Allow them the freedom to love their other parent and go to the other home without a guilt trip. Help your children buy gifts for other family members. And don’t set a lot of rules about where gifts are kept or played with. If your child receives a gift he’s asked for all year and leaves for Dad’s house that afternoon, it’s likely he will want to take the gift with him.                            

Start new traditions together and continue to celebrate old ones that fit. Traditions offer a sense of belonging to family members and cement relationships as they’re carried out together. Talk to your children about what traditions are important to them and brainstorm ideas of new traditions to start together. Soon after we married, we started a tradition of reading the Christmas story to our children on Christmas Eve to remind them of the reason we celebrate Christmas. Our family also takes time to attend special church services and enjoy a light show together. We also like to decorate the house and bake special goodies for those we love. Traditions are a great way for stepfamilies to create bonds with one another that are strengthened every year as you come together for an established purpose.

With the right attitude and proactive steps, holidays can be enjoyable and memorable as a stepfamily. There may be bumps along the way, but don’t give up on a joyous holiday season.

Gayla Grace is a freelance writer and a wife and mom to five children in her blended family. She works hard to create a peaceful stepfamily holiday. 

No Hollywood Ending: The Real Life Story Behind Grace Unplugged

hollywoodThere are two days every parent looks forward to in his child’s life: the day that beautiful child enters the world, and the day that beautiful child brings a wad of debt (though some people call it the wedding day).

Christian parents, however, look forward to a third day: the day that child makes a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. There is such great joy on this day: all your parenting has been focused on raising your child to fear and love Jesus.

We were no different with our five children. Our goal was to see our children come to a knowledge of truth, repent of their sins, and put their trust in Christ alone. Along the journey of parenting we had our missteps; we knew they were looking at our lives first and foremost for their example of what a Christian looks like, and we learned early on to seek our children’s forgiveness when we blew it. We were not always perfect, but we tried to not live hypocritically in our home. As 3 John 1:4 says, “I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

We also knew that the Scriptures teach that God is sovereign in salvation, and that we could not save our children. Our job was to be as faithful as possible to instill in our home that we loved and feared our Lord. It is pretty easy to do this when children are young and not really in a position to make choices on their own. But as they grow into their teen years, the heart comes out more freely and shows what is really hidden there. Sometimes it was in attitude and sometimes in actions.

Each of our children made professions of faith when they were young. Their desire for the Lord was intense for a week, a month, sometimes even months, but over time it would inevitably wane and we would be right back to where we started with them. This is common with many teenagers, and we always encouraged them to pursue Christ even during those waning times.

A profession of faith can be a joyous moment. We understood from Scripture that just because you say something with your mouth does not necessarily mean it is genuine faith (Matthew 7). We also understood that true saving faith is validated with fruit. As our children grew into their teen years they would become more independent and question what they had been taught, just as all teens do. These were lively times in our home of learning to shepherd our children more as adults and less as kids.

My daughter was always very strong-willed and opinionated. There was a chaffing at my authority, specifically in our family dynamic.

She is the third of five children and the first girl in our family. Her rebellion was usually in attitude rather than action but as she continued into her teen years she grew more bold in it.

Finally, when she was 16, we got that day we longed for, that day every Christian parent looks forward to. She made a profession of faith, was baptized, and for a time seemed to show fruit that evidenced true salvation.

As we had seen before, this lasted for a while before eventually she began to go back into the same pattern of rebellion. We were unaware that during this time she was leading a double life—one in front of us and another in her private life that we did not see.

She had just turned 18 and was finally at a point where she could openly rebel against our authority. And one night, in the middle of the night, she left home, never to return.

The Hope in Grace

When Brad Silverman and I started working on the story that would eventually become Grace Unplugged, we wanted to do a film that would challenge parents and young people to really examine their relationships with each other, and, more importantly their relationships with God.

You may be doing everything right to raise your child to fear and love God, but you can never change her heart. That is only something that God can do. What you can do is be a faithful example of Christ’s transforming work in your life and your marriage.

I would cry like a baby as we worked through what a father feels and how there is such a helplessness that comes with knowing you can do nothing to get your child back when something like this happens. It was very hard to finally turn it all over to the Lord and just continue to be faithful and trust in God’s sovereignty.

But my daughter’s story is not over with, because there is hope—hope not based on our wishful thinking, but in the fact that we know God saves sinners. It does not mean that He has an obligation or has promised us to save our daughter, but that rather our hope is in Him and His plan, which is always best.

As my wife and I have been transparent about our daughter to others, we’ve been surprised to find that many children who profess faith as a child walk away from that faith in their teen years. We weren’t alone.

This is not an often-discussed subject in church, and parents can feel shame in it. It has been about six years since our daughter has left. At this point she will not have any contact with us, though we still try to reach out through social media and will continue to show her Christ’s love as we are given the opportunity. Let us give you encouragement that you shouldn’t be ashamed if your child has left his or her faith. It’s important to remember that God has a plan for all things, and we need to come along our fellow parents in this situation and show them the love of Christ, caring for them as a nurse would care for the wounds of a patient.

The bottom line is we are frail sheep that need the care of the Shepherd Jesus Christ and the love of the body of Christ. Hopefully as you have taken the time to read this you have thought of others to whom you can reach out to let them know that our hope remains in the Lord. That is where my wife and I find our comfort, and we rejoice in God’s goodness to us even in the midst of our pain.

Petition the throne of Christ for your child, but rest as Jesus Christ did at the Garden of Gethsemane—in the Father’s will to be done. ✤

Russ Rice is the founder and president of Coram Deo Studios and producer of Grace Unplugged. He and his wife, Carina, live in the Los Angeles area and have five children, four of whom now work for dad.

Grace Unplugged (Coram Deo Studios) stars Amanda “AJ” Michalka as 18-year-old Christian singer/songwriter Grace Rose Trey, who plays guitar and leads worship with her dad Johnny (James Denton), a former rock star who has left his secular career behind and is now a worship leader at their Alabama church. Grace is restless for her own shot at pop stardom and seizes on an opportunity to go to L.A. against the wishes of her family. Cutting off contact with her parents, Grace seems prepared to walk away from her Christian faith to achieve her Hollywood dream, forcing her to face reconciliation—in both her faith and her family. Rated PG. Opens in theaters THIS WEEKEND!

 

Finding Back to School Success When Kids Move Between Homes

ID-100103396The back and forth routine that accompanies many children with a mom and dad in different homes often brings exhaustion. During the school year, it can create confusion, anxiety, and turmoil for them.

Our children need a stable home environment, free of tension and chaos, to succeed in school. One of the biggest ways to promote success, as parents and stepparents, is to commit to do your part in maintaining a friendly relationship with the other home. That doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with your ex-husband, or your stepson’s mom, but you do have to commit to working at a cordial relationship.

I will be the first to admit this didn’t come naturally for me. I maintained a contentious relationship with my ex-husband for too long after our divorce. Although I tried hard to not speak badly of him to my girls, I’m sure they could sense my disapproval of his lifestyle and critical spirit toward him when we negotiated visitation. It’s important to remember that our children are half of their other parent and when we speak badly of that parent, they turn the negative remarks inward.

As your children move between homes, help them learn responsibility by reminding them to stop and think about what they need to pack when they leave one home and move to the other. As a stepfamily coach, I often hear stepparents complain about their stepkids making multiple trips to their house on the “off” week because they left school supplies they need, or a school project they started there, or part of their school uniform. Don’t enable irresponsibility by allowing them to return multiple times to the other home for items they forgot.

As a stepparent, recognize the adjustment your stepchildren go through when they travel between homes. Allow extra time on transition days for kids to settle in, focus, and adjust to the routine of your home. Give them space if you sense they’re struggling emotionally.

Don’t maintain an overly ambitious schedule on weeks your stepchildren are there. Allow time to help with homework, run kids to ball practice, or sit down for a home-cooked meal. Stepfamily relationships are strengthened as family members spend time together in a relaxed environment.

Also, consider what it feels like to a biological parent to have someone else take part in raising their child. And be sensitive to how your stepchildren feel toward you and whether they want you at every back to school function or whether you should bow out and let the biological parents take the lead.

As a mom and stepmom to five children, I understand the challenges that accompany kids moving between homes. My husband and I spent years negotiating schedules and seeking to provide a safe environment in which our kids could thrive throughout the school year.

But my stepchildren have now completed school and two of my biological children have exited the nest also. Back to school challenges, other than with our 12-year-old son my husband and I had together, are non-existent.

Some days I think about what I would do differently if all our kids were at home again. I think I would offer a softer side toward my stepchildren when they’ve had a bad day at school. I’d be more understanding on transition days when they’ve just come back from their mom’s house and need some time alone. I’d extend grace more freely when my own kids didn’t do their chores to my satisfaction. And I would insist on fewer extra-curricular activities to allow more time at home for relationships to grow and bond.

Our child-rearing season passes quickly and we’re left with fond memories of back to school days. Seek to enjoy your back to school hassles! Step back, take a deep breath, and snap a few pictures of your growing child as you head to meet-the-teacher night. Then consider what you can do to sow peace with those around you as you and your children start a new school year. Will you commit to take the high road as often as possible? Will you do your part to live in harmony with those around you?

Your children and stepchildren deserve a fresh beginning at school, with minimal conflict at home. Yes, it’s hard when kids move between homes, but it’s not impossible to find peace by offering grace and understanding to those around you.

 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

Gayla Grace trudged through her single parenting years with two young daughters. She later remarried and is now a mom/stepmom to five children, ages 12-28 and ministers to stepfamilies at her website, stepparentingwithgrace.com.

 

For Dads: Speaking Louder than Words

Father making teenage son do houseworkSticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. If only that children’s rhyme were true.

Anger often results in wounds that go unseen but never heal. There is something about your words that has a lasting impact on your children. Make sure your words bring healing and not harm.

Living in a state of anger will impact your family. A 2012 study from Harvard University found that nearly 1 in 12 teens has an anger disorder. Study leader Ronald Kessler called it “one of the most common mental health disorders in adolescents.” Dad, your emotional state will have a direct impact on your teenager’s emotional state.

So how do you break the cycle of anger in your household? Four principles can help you develop the foundation for a relationship that can calm the gusts of anger that arise during life’s storms.

1. Learn. Your teen is changing every day. No longer can you look at your teenager and see him as the cute 2-year-old bouncing on your knee! You have to see him and love him for who he is today. Try to find out his taste in clothes, music, and television.

Relationships are built on conversation. Ask yourself: “Would I pursue a relationship with this person if he wasn’t my child living in my house?” If the only thing you have in common with your teen is your last name, then you have some work to do.

2. Listen. Your teenager has so much to say. He might just use a few words to say it. Make sure when he is actually engaging you in conversation that you focus on what he is saying and nothing else. Don’t feel like you have to have the answers. In fact, sometimes you are better off having more questions than answers. Allow your mind and soul to soak in what your teen is saying and what he is feeling.

Try and put yourself in his shoes. You were a teenager once (probably a long time ago). Understand that he is  desperately learning how to communicate and wants to be understood by someone. Be the person that understands him, or at least try.

3. Love. Be the source of unconditional love in your son or daughter’s life. No matter what he does that results in success or failure, let him know that you love him, you are thankful for him, and you are proud of him. Your teen needs to know that you can be her safe place. When she is walking through a valley she needs to know that as long as she has an earthly father, she will never have to walk it alone.

4. Laugh. Have fun with your teen. He needs to see you smile and laugh. He needs to smile and laugh with you. It is important that he sees you at your best with your wife and with him.

A successful businessman and author told me he was convicted when his daughter asked him, “Why do you treat your clients better than you treat us?” You need to find your greatest joy in the relationships you have with your family. Someday you will be replaced in the work force, but you are the only husband and dad they will ever have. God gave you a family as a blessing. Treat that blessing as such and enjoy it!

Jason Ellerbrook is the Men’s Ministry Specialist for LifeWay Men. He is a regular contributor for the Stand Firm devotional for men and Home Life magazine’s “Men of Honor” section.

 

Going Beyond 140 Characters

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On the surface, it may appear that your teen’s life is more fractured because of technology. But for them, this way of life is the only thing they’ve ever known. For you as a parent, it seems that the world has changed quickly. Not many of us had home computers or car phones as teens. In contrast, your child has never experienced life without them. However, the sheer quantity of technology in a teen’s life can strain communication between you and them, and it can cause their lives to become unbalanced. That tension requires you to adjust how you communicate with each other, and it requires your teen to be accountable to having good boundaries with technology.

Today’s teen lives in a culture that expects them to be always “on” and available. The average texting teenager now loses one hour of sleep at night because he can’t turn off his phone. Teens feel pressure to be connected. This pressure can cause them to become self-focused. To counteract the pressure, they may need you to help them find times for quietness and rest. As a safeguard, perhaps you could put away tech devices while at the dinner table. Ask your son or daughter to turn off screens when the two of you are talking. Have him leave his phone charging in the kitchen at night. These steps can help him shut down for a period of time.

Secondly, there is a loss of privacy happening in teen culture. Even if your teen doesn’t share every snapshot of his life online, chances are he has friends who have uploaded plenty of pictures of your child. The casual sharing of information has led to an expectation that your teen should share all of who he is with complete strangers.

This is greatly reshaping how teenagers see their sexual identity. Twenty-two percent of girls have posted or texted nude or seminude photos of themselves. Likewise, 40 percent of boys have sent sexually suggestive messages to someone else. The rapid-fire methods of texting, posting, and tweeting give teens little time to consider long-term consequences of their communication habits.

You have an opportunity to shape and influence your teenager in the world of technology and communication. The goal is not to fight against texting, posting, and tweeting. These devices are going to be the primary means of communication in your teenager’s life for the foreseeable future. Instead, you get to help teach moderation, discernment, and propriety in what your teen posts.

Ask your teenager to take one minute to reread a post or tweet before hitting submit. Explain to her that everything she does online is creating a “digital resume” of herself for others to read. Have her consider the way she communicates in light of Romans 12:1-2. How might it look for a Christian teenager to use all of the technology that is available to her, yet still remain holy and “set apart”?

Using technology for good

Overall, technology doesn’t have to be a wedge between you and your teen. On the contrary, it can be a great tool to improve communication between the two of you and to show your teen that you can adapt to his world. Here are a few simple ideas for you to connect with your teen.

1. Send an encouraging text on “big event” days. Your words of encouragement can serve as a reminder that you care (without being blatant or nagging) as they prepare for their major test, class presentation, or team tryout.

2. An occasional “out of the blue” text or post can bring a smile. Text a quote, picture, or Bible verse that reminds you of them. No need to send an explanation or long message. Short and sweet makes the point.

3. Be courteous of time changes. If you are going to be late or away from home when you normally would be there, give your teen a call. You expect the same of her.

4. Let your teen use you as her “out” in a socially or morally awkward situation. You can check in on your daughter if it’s a first date, school dance, sleepover, etc. A quick, “Everything OK?” is all it takes. If your teen feels uncomfortable being there, she can then say, “My dad just sent me a text; he needs me to come home.”

5. Let your child teach you a thing or two. Ask your teen to show you how to work your latest app or how to post something on a site like Instagram. They’ll love the opportunity to be the one in control.

The means by which you communicate as a parent may never again be exactly the same as your teenager. Regardless if their “normal” makes sense to you or not, you still have an opportunity to model love, acceptance, and Christlikeness to them in a way that a tweet or post never can. They don’t just get love from you in 140 characters. They get it for life.

Start the conversation at home. 

Brainstorm places you can go to get your teen away from his or her phone—a baseball game, a run through the park—and talk through how your teen has seen communication change in his world:

• Are any of your friends tech addicted?

• How have phones and social media negatively affected someone you know?

• Is there anything you’ve seen me too involved in, even if it isn’t related to technology?

 

Brian Housman is a writer and speaker who focuses on youth culture. A resident of Memphis, Tenn., he is the author of Engaging Your Teen’s World and Tech-Savvy Parenting. Visit Brian online at awaketolife.org.

 

 

The Myth of the Perfect Stepfather

UnknownIn honor of Father’s Day, I began reflecting on the role my husband Randy has played as a stepdad.  Randy has been a stepfather to my two daughters for 17 years. He will be the first to tell you he has done a lot of things wrong. But his stepdaughters love him dearly.

It hasn’t always been that way.

My youngest daughter, Jodi, was almost three when we married and Jamie was five. Randy had a difficult time with Jamie from the beginning. She didn’t want another dad in her life, and she made that clear to him.

He overheard a conversation between the two girls one night in the bathtub during our first year of marriage. “I hate him too, I can’t believe Mom married him,” Jamie told Jodi. There was little love, or even like, between Randy and the girls in the beginning.

During our second year of marriage, Randy left the house one evening and called from a nearby hotel. “I’m not coming home tonight. I’m not sure I’m coming home again. I can’t cope with the ongoing conflict between me and you and the kids.”

It was a tough season. Randy brought two children to the marriage also and attempting to blend our four children, ages 3-10, while learning how to stepparent and parent together proved harder than we anticipated. But neither of us wanted to endure another divorce.  Randy and I began counseling that year to work through the bumps.

During her teen-age years, Jamie challenged us on every turn. If Randy punished her in the slightest, she threatened to call Child Protective Services. She ran away more times than I can remember (but thankfully never went far). After one particularly aggravating day with defiant behavior, Randy took Jamie’s cell phone and threw it to the ground. As it busted into several pieces, Jamie began yelling at us both. The night didn’t end well. And I wasn’t sure the sun would come up the next day.

But it did. And Randy didn’t give up on his stepparenting journey with Jamie.

When she came into driving age, Randy wanted to teach her to drive. She tested every ounce of his patience. They would come in from a driving session hardly talking to one another–Jamie’s anger brewing over. But the next day, they were at it again.

During her high school years, Jamie participated in competitive cheerleading. Randy would jokingly say, “Do you call cheerleading a sport?” The ongoing drama with other cheerleaders, out-of-town competitions, and continuous suction cup to his wallet threw Randy into stress overdrive. His grumpiness overshadowed his joy at times. But he didn’t quit supporting Jamie and the things that made her tick.

Do you have to be a perfect stepfather to have a meaningful relationship with your stepchildren? NO!

Randy’s stepdaughters, Jodi, now 20, and Jamie, now 22, love their imperfect stepdad.

Why? How did that happen?

Randy never quit. He got up when he fell down. He sought help when he needed answers. He cried. He prayed. He struggled. He fought. He apologized. He forgave. He smiled with gritted teeth. But he never quit.

Is it a cycle? Yes. You take one step forward and two steps backward. You celebrate a season of growth and then start a season of despair. You gain the insider status one day and feel like an outcast the next.

Does that mean you failed?

No.

Stepparenting is tough. Mistakes are made. Misunderstandings happen. And variables outside our control influence stepfamily relationships. But there are new tomorrows. A fresh start to work through differences. Hope for harmony.

As a stepfather, you’ve been given an opportunity to influence a young child’s life like no one else can. In an imperfect way.

Are you up for the challenge? I hope so.

Because my husband will tell you: there are rewards to your efforts as a stepfather, even when you’re not perfect…but oftentimes they’re at the end of the journey.

Gayla Grace has been a stepmom to her stepson and stepdaughter for 18 years. She writes the blended family column every other month for Parenting Teens and supports stepparents through her website and blog at  www.stepparentingwithgrace.com.

 

12 Ways to Break the Silence With Your Teen

UnknownMark Twain once said, “When your child turns 13, stick him in a barrel, place a lid on top, and feed him through the knothole. When he turns 16, seal up the knothole.”

What is it about teenagers? Why do they get such a bum rap? Are they bent on rebellion or just in need of direction? is it possible to have normal conversations where your teen opens up to you become the norm rather than the exception?

Enough with the questions, let’s look for some answers. From the outset, be careful not to confuse your teen taking steps toward independence with that of willful rebellion. One is a natural progression, while the other is in direct opposition to your authority. From the day he was born your teen was moving toward independence–that’s the way God set it up.

That’s why communication is key while you still have your teenager at home. You will have to be intentional if you want to be able to talk with each other. Be forewarned, while their hormones are surging, at times they may clam up, lash out, or talk up a storm. So, here’s a 12-step program to open up those lines of communication.

1. Take your teen on a day excursion or overnight trip with you.

2. Limit their use of technology.

3. Occasionally allow them to have a classmate or neighborhood friend join you for dinner.

4. Express interest in them and teach them to be interested in others.

5. Be perceptive when they don’t want to talk.

6. Enlist their help on things they are wiser at doing.

7. Encourage positive communication in the home.

8. Be respectful when they don’t want to talk about some personal issue.

9. Pray with your teens before they go to sleep.

10. Serve together.

11. Support them in their pursuits.

12. Pray.

I wholeheartedly agree with the apostle John when he writes, “I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4). Nothing is better than that.

This excerpt was taken from June’s PT article “12 Ways to Break the Silence With Your Teen” by Dave Stone. Dave is a husband to one, father to three, and Papa D. to one. he is Senior Pastor at the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky. Dave is the author of How to Raise Selfless Kids in a Self-Centered World. It’s a third book in Thomas Nelson’s Faithful Families series. When he’s not preaching or writing, he can be found sitting in the rain, cheering for his son. 

To read the complete article, order your copy of PT here.

“Help Me In My Unbelief”: A Prodigal Son Story

UnknownIn this month’s issue of PT, Dr. Allen Jackson, Professor of Youth Ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and founder and director of the Youth Ministry Institute, shares how he had to trust God’s sovereignty with his son. Here’s an excerpt:

“My wife and I are the parents of a prodigal. Our son made a series of poor decisions in his late high school and college days and we wondered what we had done wrong. The hardest conversation a father can have with a son is the one I had with him when I told him his option was a faith-based treatment program called Teen Challenge or to pack one duffel bag and tell me where to drop him off. I had already sold his car and liquidated any savings he had in order to pay legal bills. He chose Teen Challenge. He chose life.

During those dark times, I wondered about the sovereignty of God. Why couldn’t he ‘make’ my son choose wisely concerning friends, lifestyle choices, and faith? I would beat myself up and replay every trip that took me out of town and away from my role as a dad. I would wonder what I could have, would have, and should have done differently. I came to the realization that God was no less sovereign because my son made poor choices. He was no less in control because I tried to ‘fix’ things, and in so doing I became anxious rather than restful in my faith. I know that God was and is sovereign because of what He taught me.

The thing that was most poignant to me was the realization that I loved my son no matter what. I never gave up, never believed he was lost, and when I had to send him away I cried more in those weeks than I had cried in my entire life. Even more poignant was the realization of the parallel between my love for my son and God’s love for me. The point of the prodigal is not the son, but the father who waited. I realized that in spite of all of my sin, failing, and imperfections, that ‘God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ In my son’s wandering, I discovered the fidelity of the Heavenly Father.”

To see more of this story, order your May issue of Parenting Teens here.

Sage advice on discipline

“If you can get by without it, don’t ground your kids for very long. Then they’ll be home all the time and they’ll drive you nuts.”

Interesting advice I received from my mother as my three children moved into adolescence.

I was a little offended at first by the implication of my sweet teenage self (below) actually being able to drive one of my own parents nuts. Seriously, do I look like I could do anything remotely wrong?

Then I grounded one of my teenagers . . . for a long time. It turns out my mom was right about her advice. I learned some things in the process:

 1. Stop and think before laying down a judgment
Grounding a teenager in the heat of the moment can actually end up grounding you as the parent, too. For example, if you immediately take away your teen’s car, then you will become a taxi driver again. Make sure you are actually willing to carry out what you lay down on them.

2. Consider some creative alternatives
I caught my son smoking in our garage once. Rather than grounding him, I had him watch gruesome videos from the American Lung Association. Afterwards, we visited a woman who had lost a portion of her face and her voice box due to cigarette smoking. This accomplished much more than hanging out around our house ever could.

3. Let the time fit the crime
If grounding is called for, be reasonable with the amount of time. Remember, most teens are living in the moment.  Even one month can feel like an eternity to them—and may eventually to you, too.

 4. Give time off for good behavior
If I had to ground one of my kids, I always let her (or him) know that with good behavior and no similar violations of the rules during the specified time, she just might earn an early pardon.  This prospect was a good motivator for them and gave me the opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.

____________________

Today’s guest blog comes from Carol Sallee, a speaker and writer from Oklahoma. She is a proud survivor of the teenage years of her three grown children: Julie, Jill, and Josh. The three Sallee kids love to tell stories about when their mom “totally freaked out.” One incident involved the collection of all the house and cell phones; the other involved her response to the use of too many towels in one week. Carol’s response?  “Of this, we do not speak.”