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Stepparents & Single Parents

Elisabeth Elliot: I couldn't have had a dearer, more delightful stepdaughter than Catherine. But I discovered what I suppose every stepmother discovers-that different mothers raise their children differently, and it had never occurred to me to raise my daughter any other way than the way my mother raised me.

Lisa Barry: Parenting is hard enough when there is only one standard that's expected. But when a family is blended for whatever reason, suddenly there are two standards, maybe more. So, how can a stepparent or a single parent make sense and order out of the challenges they face? That's the subject Elisabeth Elliot is talking about today. So I hope you can stay with us for fifteen minutes we call Gateway To Joy.

Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says. "And underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend Elisabeth Elliot, talking today about two subjects, sort of related. One is stepparents and the other is single mothers.

I get letters from stepparents and I get letters from single mothers. And since I have been both, I want to say a few things about that-about both of those-and first of all, stepparents. A letter says, "If I can make a suggestion, I would like to hear you speak on a program or two about stepparents and coping with that new relationship. My wife and I are both Christians and are raising children in a God-first home. I appreciate your advice and counsel.

There are many times I am struggling with my decisions about my wife working. She has a degree, but we are under financial strains. It never fails that when my wife and I talk about her going back to work, we pray and talk, and without fail there is reference in your program about working mothers. We know the Lord wants her to stay home and manage the house and raise our children. It really does make a difference in the tone and attitude of the house."

Well, I've talked quite a bit in recent weeks about working mothers, so I don't think I am going to say anything else about that, since they both feel pretty strongly that God wants her to stay home, even though they are under financial pressures.

But the new relationship of stepparents. I married my second husband when I was 42, and he was 60. He had three daughters. Two of them were married; one of them was a senior in college when we married. So that one, whose name was Catherine, spent only one summer with my husband and me in our home, the summer between her junior and senior years. And when she graduated, she was married immediately after graduation; so my only experience of actually living with a stepchild was that one summer.

But there were a couple of eye-openers for me in that brief time. I couldn't have had a dearer, more delightful stepdaughter than Catherine. She was a brilliant girl. She graduated first in a class of 460 some, from Muskegon College. And she was extremely cooperative and humble and sweet. But I discovered what I suppose every stepmother discovers-that different mothers raise their children differently, and it had never occurred to me to raise my daughter any other way than the way my mother raised me.

Oh, there were a few exceptions, I have to say. My mother insisted that we clean our plates, and I decided that that's a good principle, but I made one slight exception to that. If I gave Valerie very small portions, and if she didn't finish that, then she didn't get any dessert, nor could she have anything to eat before the next meal. That was my rule. If she couldn't eat what was on her plate, then obviously she couldn't eat her dessert, and she didn't need anything else until the next meal.

But in the case of my stepdaughter, Catherine, she came home from college I think maybe a week or two after my daughter Valerie's summer vacation had begun. Catherine was 20; Valerie was 13. We had just moved into a new house in Massachusetts. My husband and I had been married six months, and so I began thinking through our summer schedule, including these two girls in the plans. Because we had just moved into a new house, I had managed to get parts of it cleaned that were absolutely essential, like our bedroom and bathroom and the kitchen. There was still a lot of cleaning to do when these two girls came home.

So I assigned certain rooms to Valerie, and I thought that I had better start kind of easy with Catherine, so I gave her a bathroom to clean. Catherine was in that bathroom-I don't think I am exaggerating-almost eight hours. Now I could not imagine what Catherine was doing in there. What I didn't know was that Catherine had never in her life been asked to clean a bathroom.

Now this was a pretty dirty one. The people who had had that house before had certainly not left it in the condition that one would want to leave a house, so there was a lot of scrubbing. There was a lot of tile, the fixtures were rather old, the kind that don't respond very readily to scrubbing. So she must have gone through the grout with a toothpick and gone into every corner with a Q-tip. I don't know what she did, but she did a very good job.

And then I discovered that when the two girls were asked to clean the downstairs, that Valerie did her half much faster, even though, as I said, she was 13 and Catherine was 20. Finally, it began gradually to dawn on me that Catherine's mother had not required this kind of housework from her.

Although she had three daughters, she herself had done almost all the housework. Occasionally, she would ask her daughters to do something special, and then she would pay them for it. If she had guests for dinner and asked the girls to help fix the meal and to set the table or to wash the dishes, they would be paid for that. And that was her principle. That was not mine, and it was really an eye-opener to me to realize how differently people do things.

I think poor Catherine was a little bit insulted when she realized that I expected this of her. It helped that she had a 13-year-old stepsister who was not insulted. I think they sort of helped each other. But that was a real eye-opener. It meant that my husband and I had to sit down and talk about these things.

When I discovered, of course, that I was doing things so differently from his first wife, then I realized that maybe I am insulting him. Maybe he is insulted by my making his daughter work in a way in which she has never worked before. So we had to talk about those things, and I had to try to be sensitive to his own feelings about this. And we did manage to work them out. He was amenable to my suggestions.

Then I remember another suggestion. Catherine got a job that summer, and she was saving up money for her own marriage because she was engaged at the time and she was going back for her senior year in school. She wanted money to buy clothes and whatnot. But I raised the question with my husband as to whether a 20-year old who is working ought not to pay something toward the household?

Well, he really was taken back. "But she's my daughter. She is my baby. She is my little girl." She was his baby; she was the youngest. "You expect me to charge her?" And I said, "Well, wait a minute now. This is a principle here. She is an adult. She is making money. If she weren't living at home, she would have to be paying rent and buying her own groceries, wouldn't she?" "Yes."

But my husband, of course, wanted her to be able to save the money that she needed to save. My husband finally agreed that this was a good principle, and we would charge her a nominal sum, certainly not what board and room would normally cost. But just, I don't know, five dollars a week or something out of her much bigger paycheck.

But I discovered, after a few weeks had gone by, that although he told her that she had to pay us, when she came with the money, he didn't take it. Now I disagreed with that. I thought that if you are going to charge somebody something, go ahead and charge them. I would have preferred to give her a check at the end of the summer covering the money that she paid to us, so it wouldn't have cost her anything in the end, but the principle of the thing would have taught her a lesson.

Am I too tough a stepmother? Am I the wicked, cruel stepmother? Well, maybe I am. But I am telling you this was the process that we went through in having to learn some things.

And people always asked me about being a single mother. I had to realize that God had allowed my husband to be taken away. My daughter was 10 months old at the time. She had no recollection of ever having a father. I had to be a mother to her. I could not be a mother and a father.

I didn't have the problem of having to choose to go to work because my daughter could be with me in my work. I was a missionary. And I was in an ideal situation for a single woman or a single mother, because your work is your home. Your home is your work. You bring the people into your home, you go out to their home. Wherever I went, Valerie went. So that was not a problem.

But the question that comes in my mail is, "What about unmarried mothers who have been saved out of a life of promiscuity and drugs, who spend their lives in loneliness as a result of their poor choices? They seem to be unable to find solace, complete forgiveness and joy in the love of Christ."

I think this is where the Church needs to step in and really minister to these people. The Church is there to offer fellowship, solace, the declaration of forgiveness, or absolution as it would be called in some churches, and joy in the love of Christ. The Church ought to do all it can to convince all sinners to come to the cross.

"What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus." The Church is there to lift high the cross, to fling out that banner, and that is my answer. That's the only answer I can give, except that individual Christians, too, ought to be reaching out.

And if there are older women in the Church, those older women are, scripturally speaking, responsible to reach out to the younger women, to teach them, to be spiritual mothers to them. The elders of a church should be spiritual fathers. The pastor is a pastor. He tries to shepherd the sheep, but he can't do it all.

How about you older men and older women considering those younger, needy ones in your church, reaching out to them and fathering them, mothering them for the sake of Jesus Christ?

Lisa Barry: I've grown to appreciate the wisdom of my elders so much in the last few years. They've seen it all and can testify to what Solomon said when he stated, "There is nothing new under the sun." Oh, the names may change and the ideologies may be packaged in a new way, but very little has really changed. I want to be the kind of person that my children seek out for advice when they get older. That's why my decision to stay home full-time is so important. I'm praying that by investing them the best I can now, that we'll all reap the benefits in years to come.

For that reason, I highly recommend the book, THE STAY-AT-HOME MOM written by Donna Otto. It'll answer most of your questions in an honest and practical way. The cost is $12.

You can send that, along with your request, to Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68501. Or you can call our toll-free number, which is 1-800-759-4JOY. Today's program has been a production of Back to the Bible.

Join us again next week as we begin celebrating Gateway To Joy's 10th anniversary. You'll hear some classics from the past and we'll have some special materials to offer as our thank-you to you. So join us Monday right here on Gateway To Joy.

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