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
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
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
Sleep in heavenly peace…sleep in heavenly peace.1
When I hear adults with divorced parents describe Christmas and families, heavenly peace rarely tops the list. Hassle, aggravating, sad, confusing, disappointing, draining, and annoying all make the list, however.
A popular phrase is, “Well, we have to go here, then we have to go there, then we have to go there...,” and it’s always preceded by a heavy sigh. Christmas brings to the forefront all of our divorce-related losses.
But if we’re not careful, the pain of loss becomes a dark secret I’ve heard multiple times—I hate Christmas. Maybe we don’t say it out loud, but it floats around our mind. Unfortunately, our real heart’s cry is for a peaceful holiday. If parents could just get along…
So if you’re secretly waiting for Christmas to be over, I encourage you to revisit the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of the Prince of Peace.
The one who brings true peace
1) Peace was in Jesus’ character description before he was born.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”2
2) When Jesus was born, peace was in the good news the angels proclaimed:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”3
3) Jesus is peace and desires to give us peace.
Jesus said, “”I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”4
Is peace really possible?
Regardless of how frustrating things may get with spouses, parents, stepparents, in-laws, ex-in-laws, siblings, ex-siblings and the extended family, Jesus offers His peace in the craziness. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”5
God wants to give you the gift of peace—peace in your heart, peace in your mind, peace in your spirit—not the peace the world gives, but true peace that only God can give through His son Jesus.
Click here to learn how you can accept the gift of heavenly peace God offers. It may not make the infighting, choosing sides, unforgiveness, and other fractured-family dynamics go away, but you will have supernatural peace amidst it all.
My prayer for you is you’ll receive the wonderful gift of peace from Jesus; not just for Christmas, but for all of the new year!
“May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way.”6
1Silent Night, Franz Xaver, Joseph Mohr
2Isaiah 9:6. ESV
3Luke 2:14 ESV
4John 14:27 NLT
5John 16:33. NIV
6 2 Thessalonians 3:16 ESV
Start of Bethlehem Nativity by Garrett W
Peace Ornament by John Attebury
Many adult children of divorce (and their spouses) are networked into a stepfamily. Stepfamilies can add layers of complications to relationships and holiday dynamics.
Doing better than “surviving the holidays” begins with understanding what’s really going on. This requires separating fact from fiction. Terry Clark-Jones just posted a strong article titled “Dispel Stepfamily Myths.” She lists ten common stepfamily myths and corresponding truths.
Another organization that offers excellent information about stepfamily dynamics and how to incorporate them successfully is Ron Deals’ Smart Stepfamily ministry. His book and ministry offer solid, truthful, real, and biblical help for all those who are trying to make the stepfamily thing work.
Deep down, our desire is for a family that has “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.”1 Seem impossible? “With God all things are possible.”2 Committing your ways to God and reviewing these resources can be a strong step toward enjoying the holiday season this year!
1Galatians 5:22-23, NLT
2Matthew 19:26, NIV
Stepfamily Cartoon by Dorthy B. Torres from stepfamilyrochester.org
Have you ever experienced something like this?
“I can’t believe you told them. That was a private conversation!” You’re furious because you voiced some concerns about your boss to a coworker and thanks to their loose lips, everyone, including your boss, know what you said.
Though many have experienced trust violations, one major casualty of coming from a broken home is a fear of trusting people. So it’s natural to flinch when thinking about sharing our parental-divorce related stuff. However, as I mentioned in the last blog, sharing is very important if we don’t want the anxiety, anger, and frustrations we experience to taint our relationships and marriage.
- has your best interest at heart—by using biblical truth to judge what’s best for you
- encourages and affirms your willingness to share your burden
- maintains confidentiality, but doesn’t condone immoral or illegal activities
- serves as a sounding board—mostly listening, asking a few questions, and offering biblical advice
- remains objective—sees through any bias caused by your closeness to the situation
- exhibits sensitivity, but doesn’t choose sides
- challenges you to dig past the surface issues to the deeper emotions
- is not a person of the opposite sex (unless it is your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend)
- should only be a family member if they meet the criteria above
Does this type of person exist? Yes!!!! Hopefully it is your spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend, but if not, your confidant is out there if you keep searching.
The Bible says, “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.”1 Seek God in prayer and write down some potential confidants. Pray over your list and approach the person you believe God is leading you to. Explain to them what you’re looking for and why. Gauge their interest and meet with them a couple of times as a test.
A good confidant is invaluable. Speaking with someone you trust greatly increases your ability to deal with family drama and situations that will come up this holiday season. Take a step of faith and reach out for that special friend today.
1Psalm 37:5, NKJV
Bible with Cross Shadow by David Campbell