Surviving in a Split Home

Living in a split home often creates situations that defy anyone to survive, much less thrive and flourish. Step moms, step dads, step siblings, new personalities, separate houses, different rules, divided loyalties – these are some of the unique challenges that many children face today as a result of desertion, divorce, death, or even the incarceration of a parent. How is it possible to successfully navigate the minefield of a home that seems, just as you figure out how to get through the field without setting off any explosives, the pattern of the mines gets shifted around on you and BOOM! you’re lying on your back wondering what happened this time?

It’s not possible to guide you step-by-step around each mine, but maybe we can look at a principle or two and a few practical tips that will help you figure out where the explosives are buried and help you avoid setting them off. Wouldn’t it be great if you were a SURVIVOR of a split home, and not just another wounded casualty who couldn’t make it through?!

Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out.

“Hey! Wait a minute! Don’t put pressure on ME to succeed! I didn’t create the minefield. It’s not my fault this happened.” I hear you…and you’re right. You didn’t wish for the home situation you are in, but you ARE in it. There’s no sense in denying your reality or fantasizing to escape your reality. The only rational approach to survival is to face your situation and deal with it as it is, not as you wish it would be. You’ve got to get over the self-pity attitude that will trap you in the prison of failure and unhappiness. (And by the way, anger is just an aggressive form of self-pity, so don’t think you’ve risen above feeling sorry for yourself if you are angry at your situation.)

The facts are what they are. If you are in a split home, then you must make the most of it if you want to survive. Stop wishing things could be like they were or like you want them to be. God will walk you through your situation, and bring you through with grace and joy if you will (A) acknowledge your reality, and (B) acknowledge Him. (Proverbs 3:5-6) What a fantastic promise from God that “He will direct your paths…” even through the minefield of a split home.

Dealing with divided parents:

Ok, if you’re still reading, I’m assuming you are mature enough, or at least curious enough, to want to know how to survive in a split home. Let’s look at how we should relate to the authority in the home first. Depending on your situation, you may be dealing with a single parent, divided parents, or step-parents. Whatever your specific situation, don’t forget the very first principle we discussed: “Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out.” Working to make the best of your situation always brings a better result and smoother relationships than whining and complaining and pouting about it.

Single Parent

If life has left you in a single-parent home, you face some challenges that, if overcome, will cause you to grow and mature quickly in many areas. Parenting can be a stressful job in the best of situations, but one parent trying to fill both roles could stress even the wisest and most patient human who ever lived. Try to understand that they are carrying a load that you cannot even begin to understand. I understand that you also are carrying a heavy burden, but you are going to have to grow up, get over yourself, and cut your mom or dad some slack!

A single parent faces financial uncertainty, emotional stress, peer pressure, and the constant feelings of being inadequate to fill two roles. It would be in your best interest NOT to be another source of stress for your parent. They are carrying a double load. It’s time for you to grow up and step up and start helping to carry some of that load instead of complaining that they are not doing it well enough! Help remove some of the stress by repeating these words as often as you are asked to do something – “Yes, Ma’am” or “Yes Sir.” Look for ways to ease the burden instead of adding to the burden. Sacrifice some of your own rights and pick up some more of the responsibility that has to be carried. If you will defuse the stress of any one person carrying too much of the load, you can avoid the destruction that could come from a “pressure” explosion.

Divided Parents

Whether you live with one parent and occasionally see your other parent, or you have some form of split living arrangement, interacting with both parents separately provides some unique challenges. Divided loyalty is a very common pitfall you will need to avoid. Choosing a favorite parent and measuring the other parent against that standard is unfair and ungodly. Most often, the favorite parent is the one who lets the children do as they please without setting any boundaries. Keep in mind that good pet owners don’t let their dogs roam free, and good parents don’t let their children walk through life without any restraint. Regardless of the reason, don’t play one parent off the other, and don’t mistreat one parent to punish them. Obey Bible principles in both houses, and you will strengthen your relationship with God and your ability to stand for right.

It is not necessary to have a favorite parent in this situation. You may feel that one of your parents is the reason for the split – don’t fall into the trap of judging what you are not wise enough to discern. Love both of your parents equally and treat them with equal respect. The beauty of love is that you can give all the love you have to one parent, then still have more than enough love to give to the other parent. Follow these steps and you will avoid the explosion of hurt feelings and resentment.

Step Parents

A step parent brings another set of unique challenges to face. It is very easy to take out your anger, your hurt, your sadness, your bitterness, or even your guilt on a step parent. They are an easy target simply because they are going to make enough mistakes trying to find their place in the home and in your life, that you will have no end to the list of reasons you can use to justify using them as a target for your negative feelings. Let me give you several quick helps for dealing with a step parent:

  • Give them time to get to know you.
  • Move toward them — show some interest in getting to know them and letting them get to know you. Don’t make them work to love you, make it easy.
  • Don’t be easily hurt or offended by them. Step parents are in a tough spot—trying to be your friend while having to be your boss, while you often want them to be neither. Understand that they are doing the best they can, and are probably not intentionally trying to ruin your life or make you hate them.
  • Be happy that your other parent is happy. Don’t resent that they have filled an empty spot in their life, while your emptiness remains unfilled. Be happy for them. Hey, go ahead and live unselfishly for a change – it’ll do you good!
  • Submit to both of the authorities in the home as if they have been placed in your life by God – they were! Submitting to a step parent that you don’t feel you should have to obey is just like submitting to God. Refusing to submit to a step parent is the same as refusing to submit to God. (Tough, but true.)
  • Be a peacemaker in the home. There will be plenty of natural conflict in a step-parent situation. Look for ways to sow peace.

Dealing with step parents requires you to look past your own feelings and behave in a mature, selfless manner – much like Jesus must have done. If you learn to do that well, you will avoid the constant explosions that selfish living brings about.

Step siblings

Many of the tips for dealing with step parents also apply to dealing with step siblings. Here are a few others that may help you:

  • Do not be jealous of them.
  • Have an open mind when they join your family (or you join theirs).
  • Be friendly. If you want a good relationship, a little friendliness and good manners go a long way.
  • Be kind.
  • Don’t make it a competition in any way. Find your place in the home, accept it, and make the most of it. You are an important part of the family. Don’t feel either inferior or superior.

Your feelings

If you are in a split home, then you are probably struggling with several emotions that you cannot seem to control sometimes or simply cannot make sense of. Anger, resentment, guilt, depression, uncertainty, abandonment, jealousy, and any number of other emotions may burden you down. Let me encourage you to do two things to help you with your emotions.

First, talk to God about them. No one can comfort and strengthen like God can.

Next, talk to a wise, godly counselor about them. Your mom or dad would be a great person to go to for advice. If for some reason, you don’t feel you can go to them, go to a wise, godly counselor who can help you navigate your feelings.

One principle to help you in this area is “never let your feelings control you; YOU control your feelings.” I understand that your feelings may be overwhelming you right now, but your goal should be to get to the point where your feelings do not have power over you. That is not only possible, but it is necessary in order for you to not just survive, but to thrive, in a split home.  What an opportunity you have for God to prove that He can help you through any situation! Other people have flourished and succeeded in the same situation you are in…will YOU?

Tim Forgy
Youth Pastor
Longview Baptist Temple
Longview, TX

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