Although you may be thinking of a different word, this one has an equal chance of leaving a bad taste in your mouth… I’m talking about submission, of the Biblical variety. Before we go any further, I need to call out the fact that there will be women reading this post for whom that word is a trigger. Women who have been, or are being abused in the name of submission – and I want to make it very clear that this is not God’s vision for marriage or relationships, and it’s certainly not Biblical. God didn’t create His daughters to be doormats, but unfortunately, somewhere along the way in Christian history, 1 Peter 3 got twisted for the purposes of men rather than the blessings of God.
Although I could (happily) dive into some serious theology at this point, I believe that hearing about my experience as a stepmom would have more impact. My mama raised me as a strong, independent Southern woman, just like her. Looking back now, I can see how she leaned on my dad as her protector and provider, but at the time I got married, submission wasn’t a concept I subscribed to outside of church walls. My husband had been a single dad for almost a decade by the time I joined the family, and you can imagine he had some pretty strong opinions about raising his kids. One of my biggest struggles early in our marriage was figuring out how to co-parent with him. My mentor at the time finally looked at me and said not-so-gently, “Brandi, they’re his kids. Help him parent them.”
My mentor was right: I needed to submit to my husband’s authority over his children in our home. Although it may seem backwards, it actually made me feel more empowered to discipline and expect respect from my stepkids! I frequently write about the importance of having a united front with our husbands. When I came up with rules that he didn’t agree with, or he didn’t discipline the kids according to my rules, that united front became broken. Case in point: when my stepson was around ten years old, he loved to climb trees. I was afraid that he was going to fall one day and seriously hurt himself, so I convinced my husband that he shouldn’t be allowed to anymore. One afternoon, I came home early from work and found my stepson in one of our trees – and learned that it was “Brandi’s rules” when I was home, and “Dad’s rules” when I wasn’t. Refusing to submit to my husband’s authority left me feeling betrayed and my stepson thinking I was an ogre.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” – Ephesians 5:21-22
I realized that I also had a trust issue: not only was I not trusting my husband with his kids, I wasn’t trusting God with my husband. You see, in Ephesians, God is asking wives to submit to our husbands like we submit to Christ. If you take that logic to the bank, that means when we submit to our husbands’ authority, we are also submitting to God’s authority over our husbands. I have to trust that my husband answers to God. You may ask, but what if my husband isn’t submitted to God in an area of his life? As John Piper so eloquently puts it, “Submission does not mean leaving your brain at the altar.” When it comes to parenting (or any other area for that matter), if it’s illegal or immoral, speak up! When it came to my stepson climbing trees, however, it was neither of those things. I learned to quite literally give it up to God when it came to parenting, and you know what? It did wonders for my relationship with both my husband and stepkiddos.
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the Word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. – 1 Peter 3:1-2
For Halloween that year, my stepson dressed up as a comic book character complete with a long black cape, and went next door to play with a friend while I handed out candy. About an hour later, my neighbor showed up at the front door carrying my stepson, who had a deep rug burn around his neck! You guessed it: my stepson had decided to climb the tree between our houses, and when he slipped and started to fall, his cape caught on a branch and literally hung him from the tree. I bet that’s not how you expected this story to end, is it? That I submitted to my husband’s rule, and my stepson got hurt? In the moment, it would have been easy to say, “I told you so,” to shift blame and use it as an excuse not to submit. Thankfully, God spoke straight to my heart and reminded me that my husband and I are on the same team: we’re not always going to get it right individually, but we can make it right together.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave up his life for her. – Ephesians 5:25
I don’t want to gloss over the fact that submitting to our spouses is a very personal decision, and one that you have to make for your own marriage. Remember, submission is given, not taken – and it’s mutual. In the same passage where wives are called to honor and respect their husbands, husbands are called to love their wives to the point of death. If you and your husband are struggling to coparent, a little honor goes a long way towards finding common ground: “They’re your kids, and you have been doing this parenting thing for years – how do you think we should handle this?” Coparenting can be an equally huge adjustment for dads who have been used to making family decisions solo, but getting to a safe place and having hard conversations requires both of you to get vulnerable. No matter where you stand on submission, I encourage you to focus on coparenting within your home as much as you do outside of it.