Raising Kids in a Divorced Home
“For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel (Malachi 2:16)
And I can see why…
I was 35 at the time, with two kids aged 8 and 3. The separation and filing feel like a dark valley, but the real pain arrives when the final papers are signed and the realization hits home that you are now in the category of ‘divorced’.
The end of a marriage is enough of a challenge for any person to work through, but when you add a co-parenting responsibility with an ex-spouse who has a different philosophy of raising children; it can feel like an impossible road.
But it isn’t.
My children are now 20 and 17, and though the race is not completed, I can see the finish line. It probably comes as no surprise to you that these were some of the toughest years of my life, but graduating from the school of hard knocks is a valuable journey.
If you are in a similar situation, I have some encouraging news for you. Even if your co-parenting feels more like a full scale war because of the differing rules and discipline, there is hope if you consistently apply a few principles to your life.
1. Let go of the need to manage your ex-spouse’s home. You can try, but most often our children pick up on the power struggle and it opens the door for them to pit you and your ex against each other. Your style of raising your children may truly be more effective, but trust me, the harder you try to change your ex, the more entrenched he/she will probably become in his/her style. Pray for your ex for sure, but remember that you only have power in your own home.
2. Create a culture of boundaries and accountability. Make the boundaries specific and consistent (i.e. curfew, meal times, respect for each other, grades, amount of time with friends, etc.), and communicate consequences when they are broken. It’s important that your children are convinced that they won’t be able to manipulate you into bending the rules by complaining or comparing styles. Don’t criticize your ex, and remember, just because your child opens the door for you to step into an argument, you don’t have to take that step.
I learned this lesson the hard way when my then 13 year old daughter started to listen to music I not only felt was inappropriate, but also that she was illegally copying it. My first ploy was to preach the gospel of honesty and hope the guilt would cause an integrity revival in her mom’s house. All that did was allow my daughter to paint me as the Bible thumping guy and alienate her further from me. So I decided to learn about the artists and music she enjoyed and talk to her in a conversational way about what drew her to that genre. I also shared why I felt the artists she liked were being hurt by copying the cd’s in their profession. From those conversations I was able to set a reasonable boundary that didn’t allow the inappropriate music in my home, but I would also help her legally purchase the artists that fit my standard. When I shifted the emphasis from a black and white standard to boundaries and accountability, it built a relational bridge for me to cross into her world.
3. Be sure and pick your battles well. Don’t make a fight over things that are already set, but don’t make everything into a win/lose situation. Simply respond with “I’m sorry that this frustrates you, but here’s why this boundary is a part of the way I’ve chosen to raise you.” Co-parenting in a conflictual situation absolutely requires that you go beyond simply administering consequences for behavior to becoming very skilled in coaching your child and helping them to learn good problem solving skills.
Not long ago I found a cup by my son’s bed that had the remains of a chewing tobacco session intact. There were also Copenhagen grounds that didn’t leave the toilet bowl despite his best efforts. My first impression was grounding and an immediate stoppage of his allowance. But I remembered that his mom smokes and allows him full freedom at the other house, and I realized this was a good time to define the battle lines. I took my son out to coffee and simply asked if he had started chewing tobacco and why. He talked about the freedom he has at my ex’s house and how it really isn’t a big deal in today’s teen culture. I then had the opportunity to talk about the health risks, negative role modeling for his younger brothers, and the poor stewardship aspect of supporting an industry that is partially responsible for the diseased physical condition of thousands of people.
By the end of the conversation, he decided to quit and actually asked me to hold him accountable to abstaining from this habit. I truly feel that if I had taken a different route, he would still be chewing tobacco and our relationship wouldn’t be as open.
4. Keep the communication lines open so you can resolve conflict in the shortest amount of time needed. This means that you’ll be practicing forgiveness often, and your sense of patience will need to be at the forefront of many conversations you have. Frankly, it’s this principle of “communication” that allows the rest of the principles above to function. Your house should be an arena where your kids feel safe to tell the truth. Does this mean no rules? Not even. It just means that anything is up for discussion. Open communication paves the pathways to deeper relationships.
Yes God hates divorce, but that doesn’t mean that He abandons the divorced. Trust in Him with all your heart, and don’t try to figure everything out from your limited perspective. Even when the co-parenting road seems crooked, God can make the path straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).