It was with great sadness that we learned our boy and his wife are considering divorce. I know there have been highs and lows and everything in-betweens, and that sometimes, sometimes relationships don’t work and the only solution is to step away.
As a woman and a mother who survived divorce, it is with the heaviest of hearts that I think about how things will move along. I know about the stress, the uncertainty, and the loneliness.
There are children, two little ones, in the middle. Yes, little guy is technically hers but still, it was our son who stepped in and fathered for the past four years.
He’s the one who taught him how to tie his shoes and build forts, to ride his bike without the training wheels and to not be afraid of thunder. And then there’s the wee one, baby MJ who came from this union. In her world, there has always been Mommy and Daddy and brother A. I cannot tell you how much my heart breaks when I think about those two innocent bystanders watching wide-eyed as their world shifts.
These are the lessons I learned when I traversed the ugly world of divorce and these are the ones I hope to share with both him and her:
1. Kids always think that your divorce is their fault. If only they were tidier, went to bed on time, didn’t talk so much, you name it, kids will think they caused this. What can you do? Make sure they know how much they’re loved and that there’s nothing they could ever do to change how you feel about them. You can’t do this by buying them stuff or just showing up on occasion, you do this one way and one way only: spending T-I-M-E with them, listening, cuddling, laughing, playing, loving.
2. They will feel unsteady. It’s important to keep their world small and constant – day care, friends, bed-time, snacks, routine, structure should stay the same as much as possible. And they will need boundaries now more than ever. Why? Because boundaries let them know someone cares enough to reel them in.
Hubbs was a child of divorce and one of the saddest stories he ever told me was the longing he felt as neighborhood kids were called in at suppertime .. because no one was home at his house, and no one called for him. The look on his face when he told that story, 30 some years later, haunts me.
Don’t fool yourself that you can just buy kids stuff they don’t need, cause they’ll see right through that: they don’t want “quality time,” they want ALL of your time.
3. They will look to you for guidance. Even when you’re scared, lonely or frustrated, (and you will be) you still must do what’s best for them. Show them that you can get through this. When they see you getting through, they will, too. Let them know what to expect ahead of time and then do it: when you say you’re coming to get them at 6:00 be there early and not a minute later. I missed one school party – one – as a single parent when my oldest boy was 5. He doesn’t remember it but I’ve never forgotten it.
4. Let them be kids. They are not your counselors or your dates, they are kids and their shoulders are too little to carry your burdens. If you need support, and you will, join a support group and find other like-minded adults you can lean on.
5. Never criticize or undermine the other parent. Your children are half of you, but they are half of that other parent, too. Remember: when you attack the parent, you attack the child. Even though my ex gave me plenty to be frustrated over (no child support, frequently unemployed, never showed up for birthdays, holidays or most visitations), I had to bite my tongue and reassure my boy that he was loved and that we were going to have fun anyways. When you call the other parent names, your children will take this to mean that part of them isn’t good, either. What a terrible thing to do to a child! As hard as someone makes it on you, you did love them enough once to create these little people: love the littlest ones enough to keep the snarkiness to yourself.
6. Two homes not a broken one. Decide that your child is not coming from a broken home but instead, two homes. Being sad and clingy when children leave for visitation does nothing but instill anxiety in them. It is not their job to worry about you, it’s yours. Grit your teeth, smile, hug them hard and let them go. And, on the flip side, make your new home as “homey” as you can. It doesn’t have to big, grand or luxurious. It just has to be home: familiar routine, toys and some space with you in it. Trust me on this.
7. Both sides are right. When I hear “You are wrong and I am right,” I know that somewhere in the middle lives the truth.
Maybe it’s better to separate; maybe then the bickering and the keeping-track will stop.
Maybe there will be peace.
“But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.” 1 Corinthians 7:15
Have you lived through a child’s divorce? How did you cope with the heartache?