By Kent Darcie
Divorced parents desire assurance that their divorce isn’t negatively affecting their kids. Unfortunately, articles that address the effects of divorce on children tend to combine facts and wishful thinking. Truly minimizing the effect of the split on your offspring requires viewing your divorce’s aftermath realistically. To this end, here are ten ways to realistically minimize the effect of the divorce on your kids.
- Pray for strength to learn and apply the truth. As you dig deeper into this area you’ll find that the truth hurts sometimes. Pray that God will give you the courage to accept how things are and do what’s best for your kids—and your adult children if you divorced later in life.
- See the divorce from your child’s perspective. The major oversight in assessing the effect of divorce on kids is we approach the question through an adult lens. However, the majority of us experienced the breakup as kids and saw and felt things very differently. If your parent’s didn’t divorce, take a moment and think about how your childhood and life would be different had they broken up. If your folks did split, reflect on how you felt about the divorce then. (Not how you feel about it now with 20/20 hindsight.)
- Don’t buy into the divorce myths. One of the most popular misconceptions purports that if you and your ex do everything right (i.e. the good divorce), the kids will have few if any issues. This sounds good, but taking the spin off it reveals some important flaws.
- The kids will always have to choose between time with you and your ex. Children want both simultaneously.
- Homes, holidays, vacations, and familiar routines will always be separate. Kids don’t like that either.
- Life events—weddings, funerals, childbirths, graduations, etc.—will always be different because their mom and dad aren’t mom & dad. Step-parents are also an unwelcome addition to the mix. No parent bashing is intended here, but this is reality.
Another major myth is the assumption that divorced parents aren’t human beings. This trend of thought is identifiable by the word “if”. If the parents don’t argue, if they don’t put their kids in the middle, if they act civilly with each other… if. These “if’s“ obscure the fact that, second only to the death of a spouse, no other family event rips the heart open like divorce. To presume that both of these hurting people will act rationally defies most research and the experience we’ve all had with divorce either personally or vicariously. Human-being-parents hurt. And wounded people lash out, seek revenge, and, in general, don’t act ideally. This isn’t because they’re evil; they’re just flesh and blood. To presume otherwise is wishful thinking.
- Heal from your own pain. Divorce creates a substantial emotional drain for weeks, months, and even years. A divorce recovery group can be a life-changing tool. DivorceCare is one option, but there are others. Just confirm the group is committed to healing and not complaining.
- Allow your kids to enjoy being with your ex., and their new love, without guilt or retribution. Children are fiercely loyal to their parents. That doesn’t end when Mom and Dad get different addresses. Kids don’t want to hurt you, or face your interrogation. So their brains deduce that they can’t enjoy themselves at your ex’s, or it if they do, they have to lie about . They also can’t share any fondness they have for your ex’s new squeeze. While these assumptions may be true or false, living this way puts tremendous pressure on them. Consequently, you must give your children permission (verbally and nonverbally) to enjoy themselves with your enemy. If you can’t, reread steps two and four.
- Admit to them that things are never going to be the same…and you’re sorry. You’ve probably thought this, but left the words unspoken. Showing a contrite heart demonstrates your acknowledgement that they’ve paid a price for your divorce. Not that you can change it, but you are sorry for their pain.
- Learn about how they are feeling. Jen Abbas and others have written excellent books on what adult children of divorce experience. Check our resource and media pages for helps in this area.
- Don’t assume they are doing ok just because they aren’t acting up. This should be in the myth step, because research indicates that the deeper impact of the divorce often doesn’t surface until the kids become young adults. This is illustrated in Karen Klein’s Broken Circle Project. Her work gives a powerful look into the minds of college-age children of divorce. The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce by Judith Wallerstein also has invaluable information on this topic.
- Learn the truth about Step-parenting. Before you start dating, browse through step-parent websites like Ron Deal’s Smart Stepfamilies or Laura Petherbridge’s Building Bridges of Hope. Realize that as much as you want a new start and fresh relationship, your kids don’t want change or your new companion. Ron and Laura’s wisdom will help you through those turbulent waters.
- Encourage your kids to talk about it with someone. A consistent issue among adult children of divorce is their unwillingness to speak with anyone about their parents’ divorce. Try to get someone in their path who they can talk with.
Applying these ten steps will peel off the divorce façade and allow true healing to begin. None of these steps are easy, but with God’s help, healing is possible for everyone involved.