Helping Children of Divorce
Ten years ago my husband and I ended our marriage. Our
small son, Jared, suffered through our bitter quarrels and our inability
to avert the disaster that lay ahead. Neither of us had the Lord
to help us, and two non-Christian counselors recommended separation
because of “irreconcilable differences.” Jared became
the innocent victim.
A year after our divorce, my ex-husband moved to Oregon, 1,500 miles
away. Five-year-old Jared cried in my arms, “Why did Daddy
I took my son to a counselor. During the counseling session, he
turned all the sandbox figures face-down in the sand as the counselor
urged him to talk about the divorce. He drew a picture of our family
with his father and me on one side, our pets in the center and himself
on the far edge. He was dressed in black and had a confused look
on his face. When the counselor tried to talk to him, Jared hung
his head over the end of the couch upside down and giggled. A hurt
little boy was crying for help.
We have a big job as parents, but as divorced parents, our job grows
even bigger. Jared’s healing would take a lot of time. In her
book Helping Children Cope With Separation and Loss (The Harvard
Common Press), Claudia Jewett says healing from major loss takes
a minimum of two years but usually between three and five. How much
time Jared’s healing took would largely depend on my own healing
and my willingness to let go of anger. I watch my son heal more every
day, and I have learned much in the process about how divorced parents
can help their kids.
- Pray. Prayer is the greatest tool we have in helping our children
heal. Pray in private for the pains you see your child go through.
Pray out loud, letting her see you verbalize her needs to God.
Pray consistently. Then teach her how to pray on her own. Prayer
our children to express their sad feelings and give them to Someone
who can make a difference.
- Listen. Parents should lay aside their own hurts
while listening to the pains of their children. Jared “talked” about
his pain through the pictures he drew and the figures he placed in
the sand. I listened and helped him put words to the pain he expressed
through his actions. “You’re really sad, aren’t
you? When do you feel that way the most?”
A parent can pick
up a young child and hold him. With an older child, we can encourage
conversation by listening, validating,
and giving feedback. We should guard against interrupting,
putting words in his mouth, or talking him out of his pain.
The biggest roadblock
to attentive listening is our fear of our children’s pain.
It can make us unable to hear what they are saying. Look him
in the eyes. Touch him. Let him know that you really
When Jared says he misses his father, I know it’s time to
listen. I usually feel threatened that he misses his dad. Through
practice, however, I’ve learned to quiet those inner voices
and listen to the pain my son expresses. I say, “I’m
sure you miss him. I’m sorry.” Quiet tears fall from
a little boy becoming a man, still filled with the pain of a divorce
that tore his parents apart. These tears say, “I am powerless.
I miss my daddy. Why can’t you make it okay?” And I listen
and stroke his 14-year-old head as I did his 12-year-old head, his
7-year-old head and his 4-year-old head. And I say, “I’m
- Set boundaries. Jared threw temper tantrums until
age 10. These reactions kept me intimidated and off-balance. But
son was asking for
was a boundary for the out-of-control feelings he was experiencing.
Because I was trying to compensate for his loss and because my
own feelings were out of control, I was unable to provide the boundaries
As I dealt with my pain, I was able to help him with
his. I provided clear boundaries that helped him get his emotions
When Jared was older, a counselor assisted me in shedding my anger
and helping my son to do the same. Both my son and I learned that
anger held us in bondage and created bitterness. As we both learned
more, stronger boundaries grew.
- Tell the truth. When Jared was 8, I took him
to an eight-week divorce-recovery group sponsored by a local church.
The children attended classes
upstairs while the parents met downstairs. Each week leaders
led the children through a series of games and exercises to help
understand their feelings about the divorce. One exercise involved
making “rose-colored glasses.”
The children made cardboard frames and pink-plastic lenses.
Then they talked with the children about “seeing life through rose-colored
glasses,” especially their desire to see their parents back
together again. In fact, their parents weren’t going
to reconcile, and the leaders helped the children come to terms
Jared did. The pain didn’t go away, but he felt
free from false expectations and crushed dreams. Upstairs,
the parents learned
how to reinforce the message that was being taught to their children.
Each session opened the door to more truth, understanding and healing.
- Repent. When Jared was 11, I realized that I
had never asked his forgiveness for the stupid, hurtful things
I had done. One day
we sat down, and I shared those areas that I needed to ask his
forgiveness. I had already asked his forgiveness for the divorce.
also times that I had yelled at him or lost control. I asked
for his forgiveness for those things. A huge weight lifted from
shoulders when I said, “Will you forgive me?” I did not say, “If
I hurt you, I’m sorry.” Saying “I’m sorry” didn’t
say “I seek your forgiveness,” nor did saying “If
I hurt you” acknowledge the fact that I knew I had.
This took courage, but Jared respected me for doing it. After
I had asked forgiveness for the big stuff and acknowledged, “Yes,
I did that to you,” it became easier to ask forgiveness
for the day-to-day things like misplaced anger, an insensitive
or impatience with his behavior.
As a result, it has become easier
for Jared to ask for forgiveness for his own shortcomings. He
is growing into an adult who is able
to acknowledge his own unwholeness and seek healing and forgiveness
in his life — in spite of what he has been through.
is never an enjoyable road to travel. But with perseverance, it is
possible to help guide our children through these rough places.
Jared and I are doing it, and so can you.
Prayer and help from God is very important in healing from a divorce.
For more reading on a true relationship with God, the article "A
New Relationship With Jesus" might help answer some of your
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