In the first part of this healing series, I shared some tips on how to grieve so you can recover from divorce and heal. But as a divorced single mama, you know that the effect of divorce on children is huge. Focus on the family has a really good article about how divorce affects children. The truth is that your children also need to heal from the trauma of your divorce. So, let’s talk about how you can help your children heal, recover and thrive after your divorce.
Children can become innocent casualties of divorce.
This is the sad truth. And as a fellow mama, I know it breaks your heart like mine to watch your kids suffer because of your divorce. Like me, you’ve also probably heard all kinds of statistics about children of divorce and the negative, life-altering effect of divorce on children. I heard some of this as well during my divorce and feared that my children could become another digit in the statistics.
but…….Thank God for the hope we have in Him!!
As I began to deal with the rubble left behind by my divorce, I sought God’s wisdom for how to help my children, especially my son who was 6 years old when his dad left, and so really felt the impact of the change in our family dynamics.
Thank God for His grace and the hope we have in him! He’s still able to take the mess of this sinful world and bring something beautiful out of our broken lives.
I love this scripture because it gives me so much hope!
Yes!! let this truth sink into your soul.
Six ways to reduce the effect of divorce on children
As I’ve prayerfully watched my children, I’ve learned some things about the effect of divorce on children and how to help them cope. I’m not an expert, but I would like to share some ideas about how you can make the transition to the “new normal” easier for your children.
1) Be honest with your children
Your children are also confused about what happened. Like you, they have lots of questions and not providing answers will lead to feelings of being shut-out and even greater confusion and sadness.
My son had lots of questions after my divorce. I quickly found that providing him with truthful, age-appropriate answers about what was going on comforted him and helped to reduce his fears.
One particular occasion that hit home for me was when he was about 8 years old. As is our practice, we were praying at night time and reading a verse of scripture. That night’s verse happened to be about keeping vows. After I read it, my son said “mummy, you know this is about you, right? You got divorced and you didn’t keep your vows”.
Without going into details or speaking negatively about anyone, I told him the simple facts of what happened. I also made it clear to him that the divorce had nothing to do with him or his sister, that they didn’t do anything to cause dad to leave and I reminded him as I often do that he is loved.
Children can smell a lie from a mile away. I want my child to trust me so that he can share openly with me. Therefore I answer his questions about this and everything else as simply and honestly as I can.
2) Do not speak badly about your ex
I think if we’re honest, most of us will admit that we’ve failed in this area. Depending on what stage you’re in with respect to your healing journey, this can be really hard! But to manage the effect of divorce on children, you must resist the urge to speak negatively about your ex in front of them.
A friend once told me that she felt betrayed that her kids still loved a man who had hurt her so deeply. I understand that sentiment. However, divorce happens between two adults, not between parent and child. What happened is between you and your ex. Like it or not, he’s their dad and they love him. Also, you want to model godliness to your children, and speaking negatively about others doesn’t serve that purpose.
Do not use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” Ephesians 4:29 (New Living translation bible)
I know that particularly in the early stages of the divorce process when emotions are high, it’s tempting to talk about your ex to everyone who asks and share the dirty details even in front of the kids. They don’t need to know! Don’t go there. Your children are already dealing with enough as it is, please, don’t add to the mess by causing confusion in their hearts about someone they love.
Choose a few close friends that you can share openly with and remember that what happens in prayer stays in prayer!. You can vent freely to your heavenly father, no filters needed.
3) Allow your ex-spouse to remain active in the lives of your children
If your ex is abusive, that’s an entirely different situation; you must put the right barriers in place to protect your kids. However, if this is not the case, don’t try to keep your kids away from the other parent. This only aggravates the effect of divorce on children and they will resent you for it when they’re older. Remember that he was a daily part of their lives before the divorce. As long as he desires to be in their lives, let him.
For your healing and because you are now head of your own separate household, I’m a firm believer in setting appropriate boundaries for the relationship with your ex. These boundaries should include the terms of custody (visitation agreement, parenting plan etc).
I find that for some women, it’s convenient to have a flexible arrangement with their ex regarding custody. For others, it’s more suitable to simply adhere to the legal agreement regarding visitation/custody. Do what’s best for your situation but within the appropriate boundaries, make sure to allow your ex to remain active in the children’s lives if he desires to do so.
I recognize that your former spouse may have abandoned his children and have no contact with them. I’m sorry that you have to watch your kids suffer. But remember that you cannot control your ex! Your role is to be a loving, godly parent. Leave the rest to God.
4) Try to maintain a stable social structure for the kids
To minimize the effect of divorce on children, try to keep some stability in their social life. Your divorce may mean that you and the kids had to move to a new home, kids had to change school, maybe you moved to a different church as well.
All these changes can cause significant upheaval in the life of a child. Think about what you can do to help your children maintain some of their friendships. Can you plan regular play dates with the parents of their friends? Enroll them in the same weekend soccer or swim club as their old friends? Stay in contact so that they still get invited to birthday parties?
It’s been painful to watch my son suffer losses in his close relationships due to the divorce. Thankfully, he has an easy time making friends and so has been able to build new relationships. But I still see the toll that the divorce has taken on him. If it’s possible, make changes gradually. The effect of divorce on children isn’t always immediately apparent but it is there. Try to keep things as stable as possible.
5) Maintain order and discipline in your home
You’re still mom!! Not bestie, BFF, friend….MOM!! It’s tempting to try to lessen the effect of divorce on children by letting things slide and not wanting to be the “tough parent “. But I have found that maintaining order and discipline at home has helped my kids feel like we are still solid as a family.
Bedtime, homework, play time, TV restrictions etc, all the things that you have put in place as a parent to raise disciplined kids need to stay in place! Don’t give in to feelings of guilt or try to get into competition with the other parent by spoiling the kids. Your children still need you to be the parent!
6) Love your children fiercely!!
It’s weird, but I feel like I’m even a better mama now that I’m divorced. I’m more deliberate about being present when I’m spending time with my kids and just loving them. Love your kids! Be there and spend quality time with them.
My son doesn’t speak often about gifts that he’s received but he remembers trips from several years ago. I love traveling with my kids and I’m blessed with 2 kids that enjoy traveling. I spend quality time with them and I try to remind them often how much I love them. Your kids need your love, affirmation, and affection. But remember that love also includes discipline..make sure to balance appropriate discipline and correction with tons of love and affirmation.
The truth is that divorce is hard and it has costly effects on children and everyone involved. Relationships suffer. Todays’ culture often flaunts divorce as the quick fix to all marital problems, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
However, we can rest in Christ, hold on tight to Him and let Him heal both ourselves and our kids! And just hang tight because…
“ We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” Romans 8:28 (New Living Translation Bible).
P.S. Share your experience below. What has worked for you? What are you doing to help your kids heal? Questions are also welcome!