FamilyLife Blog

How to Deal With a Destructive Parent

by | Mar 4, 2020 | Parenting, Stepfamily

Sarah called my office with a question I have heard a thousand times. “My husband’s ex-wife is a very unhealthy person. She attacks us frequently in front of the kids and manipulates them constantly. How do we deal with this?”

Without question, one of the most menacing dynamics in a stepfamily is a destructive parent in the other home. A parent, for example, with a personality disorder or an addiction is exceedingly difficult to deal with. So, too, is someone who is just plain unreasonable, irresponsible, and selfish. The temptation, of course, is to get drawn into the emotional game-playing and try to “out-fox the fox.” But God’s Word, the Bible, suggests a better way.

Responding to evil with good

In His infinite wisdom, I believe God gives us specific instructions in the latter section of Romans (a book in the Bible) chapter 12 on how to love a difficult person. A prescription for overcoming evil is directly addressed: overcome evil with good (verse 21). The goal, then, in spite of the hurt we experience at the hands of others, is to offer ourselves and repay evil with good.

But what about revenge? Isn’t that justified? 

Romans 12:19 makes it clear that revenge is not in keeping with the mercies God has shown us. God is the only one who should seek vengeance. He is the only one who is pure and holy, with no ulterior motives. He always desires our higher good. If a parent in the other home chooses evil, it is God’s job to handle the situation. Not ours. 

Then what do we do?

So what is our role in the meantime?  Are we supposed to sit around and passively wait for more persecution? No, the answer is to become aggressive with good.

When harmful behaviour is running rampant, the behaviour feels like it’s in control. However, the Bible tells us that good is more powerful than evil. God does not say that doing good to others will help us only tolerate their evil; He says that we can overcome the harm.

Romans 12:21 tells us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” 

What happens when we do this?  

  • Light overwhelms darkness. 
  • Hope triumphs over discouragement. 
  • Love casts out fear.

So then, it is up to us, in the face of evil, to offer good.

 © 2011 by Ron L. Deal. All rights reserved.