Every time Dave or I sit down to write about Christian parenting, we end up telling about how in many ways we don't resemble the image those words typically evoke. Yes, we are Christians. And, yes, we are parents. But the rest challenges the stereotype. You know, the one that assumes one mom, one dad, a couple of sweet kids, and a dog that knows John 3:16.
For starters (let's not even talk about our dog), our family does not have one mom and dad, but six. Dave and me, Tom (my ex) and his wife, Rachel, Debra (Dave's ex), and her husband, George.
If you were looking down at our family from the sky, you would notice an extraordinary number of meetings of cars halfway across a mountain pass and kids with backpacks flying between time zones.
If you were to look at our phone bills, you would notice a lot of long-distance calls among three homes in two states.
If you listened at our door at night, eventually you'd hear heated discussions about exes, rules, schedule conflicts, and discipline differences.
But if you hung out with us in our home long enough, you might notice something else, too. Evidence of six people trying desperately to cooperate. Three sets of parents all striving, against considerable odds, to put their kids first--and sometimes succeeding. You'd see compromises, concessions, and shared concerns. You'd see forgiveness and healing taking hold over the course of years. You'd see God (who we think must have a great sense of humor) holding us all in his hands.
Somehow, it works. Not perfectly. Not easily. And not without ordinary things like graduations and holidays calling on us to become bigger people than we might otherwise aspire to be.
For example, this June when my oldest son, Noah, graduated from high school, we faced a typical dilemma: Who should sit in the five seats reserved for Noah's family down near the podium? It's a problem that neither Emily Post nor Dr. James Dobson had prepared us for.
In the end, the seating goes, from left to right, me, Dave, my younger son Nathan, then Noah's stepmom and his dad. Three sets of proud grandparents look on from the bleachers. Shortly into the program, the lights dim, the song, "I Will Remember You," begins to play, and the principal announces that each graduate is now going to find his parents in the audience, thank them, and present his mother with a tiger lily.
All around me, mothers get teary in anticipation. We weren't expecting this. Why do they insist on making us cry? Then, as I watch for Noah, I have a moment of panic: Who gets the lily?
The way Dave and I see it, an unexpected benefit of the growing reality of divorce in our society is the decline of the idea that the divorced couple have to be adversaries. If we're fortunate (and try very hard), the questions of right or wrong, of regret and blame, are eventually overshadowed by more pragmatic ones: How do we all get along? How can we co-parent with our exes in a way that doesn't do further harm to our kids?
And so, without ever really saying so or setting out to, the six of us continue to stretch the limits. When my boys want to go to a concert in Portland, Debra's happy to have them bunk at her house. When Tom and Rachel are in town, it's not unusual for them to go out to dinner with us. Some months ago, when Debra and George made out a new will, they asked us to be their daughter's guardians should they die.
Along with the ironies, there is humor. When Dave and I realized that the amount of child support Tom sent to us each month was exactly the amount we were sending to George and Debra, and that they then in turn sent that money on to George's ex, Eunice, we jokingly suggested that Tom should just send his check straight to Eunice and save everybody a lot of paperwork.
Of course, this is not the way it should be, this life of blending and bending, of endless effort and readjusting just to make family happen here. But we do believe in the redemption that's possible when ordinary people let go of irretrievable ideals and ask God to bless every broken piece that's left.
We believe in the fumbling efforts of parents who love being Mom and Dad as much after divorce as before. And in the end, there's something happening here--a passionate commitment to forgiveness; a determined reaching for constancy and safety for those in our care; perhaps even an awkward grace.
When you put it all together, you just might call it Christian parenting.