Marriage offers many benefits, but primarily a healthy marriage provides balance. Since spenders wed savers, risk-takers bond to safety-lovers, chocoholics find physical trainers, and spastics unite with steady-rudders, balance is maintained because they keep each other in check.
But divorce severs that tether allowing natural tendencies and desires to go unleashed. So, basking in post-marriage freedom, drinkers can drink more, couch potatoes couch more, spenders spend more, and philanderers play the field. However, we get entangled in all this.
Wanting to scream
How do you greet Mom’s 12th boyfriend? Are you responsible to keep your father from eating Cheetos and Red Bull chasers for dinner? Does Mom really think she looks good in that outfit made for women 25 years younger? Tired of explaining to your kids how “til death do us part” fits into grandpa’s fourth wedding? Frustrated because your parents don’t get why you’re upset with their life choices? Perhaps a look at prodigals may help.
Perspective on Prodigals
The word “prodigal” comes from a story Jesus told about a young man who left the blessings of his home and “wasted all his money in wild living.”1 The son eventually realizes he messed up and plans to return home groveling. But the father sees the son returning and runs to greet him. Instead of condemnation, kisses and hugs are showered on the son. Then the father throws a my-rebellious-son-who-I-dearly-love-has-returned party. Jesus’ point is we are the prodigal and God is the father. As such, we should respond to our prodigals as the father in this story—but we usually don’t.
How we deal with our prodigals
Our response to prodigal parents is often:
1) We brood over how things should be, could have been, or how we wish our parents should act.
2) We harbor bitterness and unforgiveness, and withhold grace because we focus on our parent’s prodigal ways (and the hurt it causes) forgetting we, too, are prodigals in God’s eyes.
3) We dabble in their behaviors because we’ve secretly wanted to do it anyway and if a parent can do something it’s justified for us…even if we know it’s wrong.
How does God deal with prodigals?
He loves them. And we need to follow God’s example, but how do we do that?
1) Pray for them – prayer may change them, but often changes our attitude toward them.
2) No badmouthing. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”2 It’s tempting to talk them down, but find the positives and talk them up—particularly in front of your kids.
3) Maintain boundaries – Often their decisions impact us because we allow them to. Our desire for their love, or fear of losing it, can cause us to comingle in their dysfunction instead of maintaining healthy boundaries in love3.
While prodigal parents can challenge us, they can also stimulate spiritual and character growth. We just need to remember their actions are their choice. Our response is our choice.
1Luke 15:13, NLT
2Ephesians 4:29, NLT
3Henry Cloud, John Townsend, Boundaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.)
The Parables of Our Lord – The Prodigal Son by John Everett Millais by Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Talk to the hand by Matt Foster
Bible with Cross Shadow by David Campbell
Your high school graduation was long ago. Okay, not that long ago, but back then having parents (who could barely speak to each other) smiling together in graduation pictures was bizarre. But you were young (or numb) and treated it as an annoyance, not life changing.
However, twenty-five years have passed, and now your child’s graduation is coming. Planning for the big event goes well until the Ghost of Graduations Past shows up.
A slideshow of memories flash through your mind. There’s the embarrassment when your boyfriend’s parents met your dad, mom, and her husband. They’re all smiles, but the awkwardness felt like a steel ball in your stomach. Of course, their smiles later melted into glacial stares resulting in social courtesy so strained, it sent you scurrying from your party to somewhere less tense. It was “no big deal” at the time, but now anger brews over the unfairness you feel being forced into a position like that.
The specter’s next memory is of “the call”. The one responsible for the tepid relationship between you and your dad. The conversation announcing how, because you were 18 and new priorities had arisen, no college money was coming. The Ghost’s work is done now. All you can think about is how hard it was to get through college and how unfair it felt.
Now it’s happening again!
No need for the Ghost of Graduations Future to show you how your child’s event is going to play out. Dad with wife number two, Mom with current boyfriend, and step dad number one have accepted the invitation your child sent them. You know what’s going to happen, because it’s happened already. The question is, are you upset because of your discomfort today, or triggers from 25 years ago?
Triggers remind us of past events, but create an emotional response in the present. The frustration of our graduation creates “rose colored glasses” through which we see our child’s graduation. We project our experience onto their event. This can hide the real reasons we’re more quick-tempered as the event approaches.
Many of us deny we’re angry about events in the past, but words like “frustrated”, and “annoyed” are close cousins to anger. So, what can we do if graduation triggers are producing anger in our lives?
- Acknowledge this graduation is reminding you of your own. Stop pretending it’s something else.
- Identify specific issues you were upset about then, but didn’t share with anyone. Write them down if possible.
- Pray about them with God. The Psalmist wrote, “I pour out my complaint before Him.” (Psalm 142:2, NLT)
- Share them with your spouse or a close friend.
- Enjoy your child’s graduation. Regardless of how everyone acts, try to look at the graduation festivities through your child’s eyes. They’re probably oblivious to the drama.
- Meet with someone after the graduation and share your thoughts and emotions. Talking about it is a powerful way to avoid building up anger and anxiety.
Do you have more than one mother this day? How about a note of appreciation to all of them. Here’s mine.
To my Mom,
Thank you for loving me in spite of the grief I put you through because of the divorce. I was an angry young man, but you never stopped loving me. I miss you. Please say hi to Jesus for me!
To my step-mother,
Thank you for loving me and praying for me and my family–even after the divorce from my dad. I’m glad we were finally able to talk about how crazy step-parenting was for both of us. You were a lady of class and grace. I miss you too.
To my current step-mother? (Sorry, Emily Post doesn’t have guidance for this title),
Thank you for your sweet spirit of love and reconciliation. You are a wonderful person who loves my dad and us too. You are a blessing to my family as well as your own.
To my incredible wife and mother of our three children,
Each year my appreciation for the years of investment you poured into our children grows as I see them blossom in adulthood. Also, words can’t describe my thankfulness for your patience as God brought healing to various areas of my life that were affected by my parents’ divorce. You are the Proverbs 31 woman. I’m incredibly blessed to be the man you chose to spend your life with, and our children are doubly blessed!
Happy Mother’s Day ladies! I love you all! May God bless you all with His loving touch today.
image: Happy Mother’s Day~Fuzzy Flwrs, byArt4TheGlryOfGod by Sharon’s photostream.
Think about that for a moment. Research shows many adults with divorced parents secretly blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. However, we often skip the step of looking at how we tried to prevent the ship from sinking.
Were you the parent pleaser? You worked to keep the peace at all costs so they’d stay together. Unfortunately, trying to keep your brothers and sisters peaceful was like herding kittens.
Was being the problem kid your solution? Surely if they saw how badly you needed them, they’d stay together.
Maybe perfection was your answer. Be the perfect kid—good grades, clean room, no problems, and they wouldn’t split.
Dr. Judith Siegel writes, “Children are acutely sensitive to the unresolved conflicts between their parents and learn that by acting in a certain way they can prevent a conflict from surfacing and threatening the family as a whole.”1 Consequently, many of us tried to do something, but their divorce happened anyway. So why talk about this now?
Why do we need to know what we did?
Three primary reasons:
First, it’s likely that how you tried to save your parents’ marriage is how you’re trying to “save” your marriage or relationships today. Being the peacemaker, people pleasing, moping, getting into trouble, or trying to earn their love by being perfect is still how you approach situations. The problem is, it didn’t work then, and it’s probably not working now. In fact, it’s likely making things worse. (I.e. the “harder” you try, the more frustrated your mate gets.)
Second, we are putting our happiness in the hands of other people. We were crushed when our efforts to save our parents’ marriage failed. We respond in a similar way today. When our efforts to mend, heal or fix a relationship problem fail, we’re crushed. And we also fear the result we saw back then will repeat now—the demise of a cherished relationship.
Third, we believe a series of lies like:
- We have control over how others respond.
- When we fail it’s because we are inadequate or inferior.
- Failure is final.
- Our worth is dependent on how others react to us.
1. We learn from Adam and Eve that God created man with the freedom to choose. Thus, regardless of how perfect we feel we behave, people can still choose to respond negatively.
2. Failing is part of the human condition. The wisest man ever, King Solomon, wrote, “the righteous falls seven times and rises again.”2 However, though we fail, God says we are not failures, we are precious3.
3. We always have worth because we’re created by God. God also confirmed our worth by sending Jesus here to die for us (Romans 5:8).
Whether from divorced families or not, we tend to respond the way we learned to respond as kids. This can be problematic for adults with divorced parents, but, thankfully, God’s truth can trounce the lies that mislead us.
1Siegel, Judith P. What Children Learn from Their Parents’ Marriage: It May Be Your Marriage, but It’s Your Child’s Blueprint for Intimacy. Harper Collins, 2010.
2 Proverbs 24:16, ESV.
3 Psalm 139:17
Divorce by Tony Guyton
Bible with Cross Shadow by David Campbell
I am excited to announce that I will be co-leading a support group for adults with divorced parents starting in May. Please contact Sycamore Counseling Services for more information.
Here is a video with a brief description of who this group is for.
These words appear in a Washington Post story by Crystal Ponti. The article was mostly tongue-in-cheek about how divorce might make parenting easier, but one quote caught my eye:
“Research also shows that divorce is not all that devastating for most children. Sure, it comes with some consequences and a huge adjustment period, but overall, kids bounce back.”1
Because this mindset is so prevalent today, let’s take a closer look at what comes before the “kids bounce back.”
Not all that devastating
The definition of devastating (and its root devastate) includes, to render desolate, overwhelm, to lay waste, and destruction.” 2 So, if totally devastating (on a 1 – 10 scale) is a ten, is a devastation level of six okay? of four? And would any level of devastating behavior be acceptable in an intact home?
For most children
More than 51% are not totally devastated. This is good news?
For those with tears in your eyes from laughter, pull yourself together. For those with tears from painful unbelief, please know that even though this is the dominant view—including the belief of many parents, it’s normally not due to ill-will. Non children of divorce simply don’t get it.
Elizabeth Marquardt illustrates this well in her book, Between Two Worlds. There she reveals the double standard children of divorce face with a series of questions.
- “How often do married [intact] parents send their child away from home for days, weeks, months, or years at time?
- How often do married parents put their children on airplanes by themselves?
- How often do married parents divide their financial responsibilities for their children down to the penny?
- How often do married parents sleep with someone besides the child’s parent in the home when the child is present?”3
ACOD’s know this is the tip of the iceberg, but Marquardt goes on to say, “the needs of children of married parents and children of divorced parents are the same. So why are children of divorce considered so resilient? Because the adults need them to be that way.”3
Huge adjustment period
Truest statement in the quote, but most parents and experts doubt its validity. Divorce is a bump in the road and kids are resilient is their mantra.
This is the crux of the “good divorce” argument. Overall, since most children of divorce don’t become ax-murders or burdens on society, divorce is not bad for them.
The devastating truth
I had no idea that fears of inferiority, fears of inadequacy, a fear of doom, fear of marriage, unforgiveness, and a host of other issues clung to me like leeches well into my adulthood. ACOD are usually unaware of these repercussions. But though we may look normal on the outside, these issues act like termites in our relationships.
A hopeful future
Parental divorce doesn’t have to be devastating. However, healing doesn’t come with denial, but working through the issues. Fortunately, there are resources here that can break your divorce-related chains. Review these and pray for God to heal your heart and your relationships.
2Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1994, dilithium Press, Ltd.
3 Elizabeth Marquardt, Between Two Worlds, (NY,NY: Crown Publishers, 2005), 181.
Couple- Photo by Scott Stewart for splitsville.com
Divorce Sucks! by Addie Williams
It’s all about love by Candida.Performa