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Divorce. I have experienced it. I am a father of five—three boys with my first wife and two children with my current wife of almost 19 years. I am also a therapist who has worked with hundreds of parents and children after divorce and can attest to the fact that the way a family “does” divorce determines what longer-lasting effects the divorce will have, especially on the children.

My divorce experience

Looking back, I can best describe my divorce experience with a visual. Imagine being at home with your family. It’s nighttime and everyone is getting ready for bed. You become aware of the threat of severe weather heading your way. You monitor the radar and coverage, but the severe weather still seems a long way off. After taking some precautions, you surmise that it's okay to go to bed. Later, while everyone is asleep, the severe weather strikes with great force and before you have time to react, it’s over. You jump out of bed and rush out the bedroom door to find that your family home is devastated. Your immediate attention goes to your children; they appear to be okay physically, but they are shell-shocked, crying, and visibly upset. You take the time to comfort them, assuring them that everything will be okay. You thank God that nobody was physically hurt. A little while later, you begin assessing the damage and pick up the pieces of what was once your life. It’s emotionally overwhelming, but you push forward. That is how I experienced divorce. It was the most difficult experience that I have had to go through in my life.

Setting aside our hurt is not easy

It took everything I had and more to rise above the devastation, hurt, and sadness of my divorce to ensure that I could minimize the damaging effects it would have on my three children. I prayed to God for strength because with divorce comes emotional baggage that, for a time, can hinder a recently divorced couple's ability to co-parent. However, the need to set aside our hurts is critical to a parent’s ability to co-parent in a way that minimizes emotionality and focuses on what’s best for the child. Both parents need to filter all their words and actions through the question, “How will this impact/affect my child?”

What's best for your child

  1. Keep the children out of the middle! Do not use your child as a messenger in making decisions or plans. Do not use your child to get information about the other parent. Even a simple “How’s your mom/dad doing?” can be emotionally harmful for some children.
  2. Do not disclose any potentially harmful information to your children in an attempt to negatively influence their feelings toward the other parent. It will come back upon you! It is valuable to heed the words of Romans 12:17-18 which instructs, "Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."
  3. Do treat and speak about the other parent respectfully. When possible work together toward compromise, cooperation and flexibility. It’s important that your children see and learn those skills, attributes, and key life lessons from you! Your children need to see that in spite of what happened, mom and dad can still work together and be respectful.
  4. Do include the other parent in decision making and plans. This applies to doctor visits, making major decisions (i.e.braces), and countless other things. I have found this to be a big challenge for many divorced couples. But not including the other parent in these matters builds resentment and animosity, sometimes even leading the couple back to court for an issue that could have been solved on their own.
  5. If possible, when dealing with issues that involve the kids, decide together how you tell the kids and speak to the kids together—it makes a huge difference. Hearing two different viewpoints is confusing and in a sense falls under the category of putting the kids in the middle. Never put them in a position to have to choose sides.
  6. A final do. Pray. It may not be possible to do this together, but do pray. Pray for the strength to do what is right and fair (that was a prayer I prayed constantly). Pray for strength and courage for your children. Pray for your ex-spouse too!

In summary, divorce is traumatic and WILL influence your children in many different ways. Children are resilient and will survive, but the quality of their emotional life will depend greatly on how you as their parent “do” divorce. I am grateful that our adult boys and grandchildren can enjoy life experiences like family gatherings and soccer games with my ex-wife and I both in attendance. Knowing they see the respect, love, and care we can still have for one another, in spite of being divorced, makes all the work it took to get here worthwhile!


 

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