GOAL: To have a healthy relationship and visitation with your ex-husband so that you both can co-parent and raise your children into high character and well-functioning adults. – Author: Bobbi Reed
Going through a divorce from a partner is a very difficult journey. It is very painful and can take some time before things will seem manageable. During that process and beyond, it can be worse for the children. There are major adjustments and emotional challenges that need to be addressed. Some children feel that the divorce is their fault, helping them to understand it is not, will be an ongoing endeavor.
In the throes of the divorce, as a mom, you will be very upset and stressed. It is very important that you not “take it out” on your children. They are going through many emotions too, along with the big change of now having to live in 2 residences. It is advisable that not only you receive counseling, but that your children do too. They need help processing the pain, the adjustment and the losses. You can try to help them through, but you will be working through your own grief and loss.
As the time goes on, it will be necessary to keep your home life as stable and consistent as possible. A schedule will help with this. Have some flexibility of course, but try to keep some things scheduled at the same time. The structure will help them to feel safe and secure.
While going through the process of divorce, try to keep things as peaceful as possible at your home. No matter what drama is going on with you and your ex, it should not come into the home. It will be very difficult to co-parent during this time. Every time you see the other parent it will be difficult to keep your feelings from coming to the surface. You will be grieving and feeling a lot of pain. It will take everything in you to maintain a respectful, quiet persona during the times of the exchanges of the children.
A conversation should be had with your ex, if it possible, to lay down some guidelines as you work through all of this. What would be most beneficial for the children should always be at the forefront. Many times the children are used as pawns to get back at the other parent. This should never happen. It is difficult to not allow emotions to get the best of us and for us not to lose our heads a bit. That never helps the situation and makes your children more upset. They are many times not emotionally mature enough to understand what is really happening.
It is very important that you do not discuss or have fights in front of the children. They will feel very out of control and their behavior could change for the worse if you allow that to happen. There are many things that you cannot control when going through a divorce. Hand those things over to God to work out, while continuing to pray for resolution over time. The children are like sponges and internalize all negativity and anger they feel and see. It is very difficult, but necessary to keep things even-keeled, respectful and peaceful. There will be many times the children will be so upset, where just holding them will be the only thing that calms them down. Sometimes, talking it through will work for that particular time. Find out what activities calm them or distract them in a healthy way and use those.
Visitation and financial provisions can be very difficult to work out amicably and many times will be the crux of your disagreements. These are opportunities to cause more pain than what is already there. The partnership for you and your ex are over along with
working through finances together. Financial provision such as alimony/spousal support and/or child support are areas that cause much strife. This is why most divorces need lawyers. It can be a process that can take up to at least a year. During this time it will be crucial to keep things as even-keeled in front of the children as possible.
It is important also, not to bad-mouth the other parent. Children should never be in the middle of “grown people’s business”. They are children which don’t have the same maturity or understanding that grown adults do. This is very difficult to accomplish, but it will be very harmful for the children if you bad-mouth their other parent to them. It makes them very uncomfortable and can cause some real depression and non-coping issues. They are already dealing with so much already, so please try to refrain from any of this.
Communication is going to be key to a good and healthy co-parenting relationship. It will lay the groundwork for the years to come. Always be very open to suggestions and guidelines as to what will work best for the children. It is always going to be what is best for them, not for one of the parents. In the beginning it will be very difficult because of grief and emotions. Lay some groundwork in the beginning and build from there. The children will be watching closely to see how the two of you interact with each other. They will model after the two of you so always remain patient and cordial.
At some point either of you will find a new partner. This can be a difficult transition, adding another parent (bonus mom, bonus dad) into the picture. If your ex is still very angry, has not gotten over you and/or forgiveness has not happened, it can move over to the new partner. He will talk a lot about his hurt, anger and lack of forgiveness. The new partner will most likely take his “side” in that and now you have two adults that are experiencing these emotions. This is not healthy for the children. I have seen many cases such as this and almost always the children end up in the middle. This is not healthy for the children. Once this starts, it is very difficult to stop. It just gets worse. It is truly sad that parents like this put this heavy burden on their children that are not emotionally mature to handle it. This can cause a whole myriad of unhealthy relationships and emotional damage to your children. You are modeling to your children how they are to treat others, so don’t let your emotions dictate how you treat your ex. Model good behavior, even if you have to “fake it till you make it”!
Blending families is a journey, riddled with low valleys which seem as if we are defeated, and high valleys of victories. It takes time, prayer, and willingness to work towards these goals. You must keep your heart open, even when it is hurting like crazy. Taking the time to put the energy into good, healthy relationships with both sets of parents will pay off for the children in the end. You can grow closer to God with your children, develop more heartfelt relationships with each other, while developing a oneness that will strengthen your family.
To acquire these types of relationships, you will need to be intentional in your actions. Your children have been given to you and the other parent by God. Children know by our behaviors whether we are fully invested in them. If you become a parent of children that are not biologically yours, you still need to embrace them as if they are. They can tell if you do not want to be invested in them. That being said, don’t go overboard trying to compete with their real mom. That is unhealthy and the children will strongly feel that they are being put into the middle of the adults business. It can take time for children to embrace a new co-parent, so take it slowly and be loving. Show them patience, kindness, respect and grace.
There are additional external influences in blended families. This is on top of the already inherent challenges of growing up, and trying to blend a family. There is going to be more opportunity to generate conflict. Some of the outside influences can be relationships from earlier in a partner’s life. These relationships can help or hinder a new blended family. There are other things that can affect the blended family such as the children’s ages, gender and stage of life. All of this will affect how well or not so well the family blends. Keep in mind it is a journey and things won’t happen overnight. Take things slowly with love, patience and lots of grace. Remain prayerful and in God’s Word to help you and to help the family grow closer in time.
It is important from the very beginning to decide what we want our children experience in both homes to look like. Take the negative emotions that come with divorce, and new partners out of it. Set boundaries based on these desires and vision. Do whatever it takes in a positive and loving way to guard these boundaries, so that you can set the atmosphere for this to happen. Be willing to assess these boundaries on a regular basis to see if they need to change in any way to accomplish your goals.
Forgiveness is going to play a huge part in whether you can have these healthy boundaries and goals for your children. It is very difficult and may take a bit of time, but very necessary. We will have to open our hearts and ask God to come into those hurt places. Hurt people hurt others so we need to get to the point of forgiveness as quick as we can. We must identify the negative weight we are carrying that is affecting us and our children. This hinders us from fully embracing in a healthy way “our new reality”. We have to release “old baggage” so that we don”t bring it into our new families and relationships. We can accomplish this through prayer, God’s direction, good counseling and being open to change. This will affect how we love, interact and accept things in our lives.
One thing that I want to talk about are the roles we have in our families. When you become a blended family or your ex does, there are additional roles that happen. This can cause us to feel pulled in many directions. Time management is going to be very important because you can’t do everything. You will also have to set priorities and identify which of those priorities are more important. Things have to flow well and time will be short. One role that will be of key importance is that of a spouse. Yes, we know that the children can be all-encompassing. That is a given. Many times we put them first and our spouse role gets lost in the shuffle. First, the Lord is to be the top priority in your home Second is the role of a spouse. No matter how long you were a single parent, our children will have to learn they are no longer in spot #2. They have moved down to spot #3. This is difficult for US to understand also, but in marriage we are to become one with our spouses. That relationship is something we should constantly be working on as the demands of children and life try to make it secondary.
Our most important role as a parent is to be a Godly example in our homes. We need to allow God’s love, forgiveness to be constantly shown through us. We are teaching our children how to have a relationship with the Lord through our relationship with them. We are models for how we want them to act and behave. This is powerful and has to be remembered always.
Tensions can arise in blended families because we don’t consider all of the practical things that need to be adjusted. There is a new family dynamic and things like schedules, activities and boundaries have to be adjusted. Discipline needs to be handled in a way that is comfortable for both spouses. Conversations around personal expectations on how to react to a child’s behavior need to be had. As much as possible, behavioral issues in both houses need to be treated equally. If there are different consequences for the same misbehavior in the two different homes, that can cause confusion for the children. The same consequences should be discussed and enforced. We use discipline not to punish but to disciple our children. We pursue the root of the child’s behavior; why it took place, what is the lesson to be learned, and what do we need to do to change it. We will not hopefully react in the moment but seek God on how to respond to the whole situation. This may take some reprogramming in our minds because many times we are set in believing discipline is punishment. Our goal is to raise Godly children into Godly adults.
Remember, put God first. Prayerfully, if you have remarried or your ex has, you have found yourself a partner that will put God at the head of your home. God has to come first to you, your partner and your children. Make sure that you are also making time for alone time for the two of you. A date night and many conversations between the two of you to talk about your day while connecting. Be a great listener to your spouse and your children. Communication is key to working out all things, keeping your relationship on track and constantly reassessing priorities, needs, and changes. Keep the children first with no parent alienation between the adults. It is very difficult when it happens in your ex’s family, but do not reciprocate. Eventually children figure out who truly loves them, wants the best for them and are keeping negative emotions out of it. It will take time, but once they figure it out, they will realize the true hearts of their parents. Along with that, we answer to God on how we are raising the gifts that he entrusted us with – our children.
- Are we keeping our hurt, pain and grief out of our decisions for our children?
- Is the Lord and our relationship with Him the number one priority in our lives?
- If we remarried, is our spouse our #2 priority after the Lord?
- Are we guilty of parent alienation; talking badly about our ex in front of the children?
- Have the children had counseling to positively deal with their emotions and adjustments after the divorce?
- What are your priorities for your home and your children?
- How are you adjusting these as you go along to make sure you are reaching your goals for your home?
- How would you rate your communication with your ex? Can it be improved? How?
- Are you truly putting the needs and well-being of your children first?
- What are the guidelines/boundaries that are in your home to assure things run smoothly? Do they need adjusting?
- Do your children have a period of “adjustment” that happens when they come from your ex’s home? If so, can anything be done to minimize this?
- Have you forgiven the people that have hurt you in your life? If not, why not?
- If you have not forgiven your ex, how can you work towards that?
- If your current priorities in your home are skewed, redo them and list ways to keep them in order.
- Talk with your children; see if they feel they are a priority after the Lord and your spouse.
- Assess what your children are demonstrating that are important to them in their lives. If this does not line up for your goals as a family, revise the goals and list how your can achieve them.
- If you are holding onto any hurtful mindsets from your childhood, past relationships, or current relationships, and are hindering your family, work on those with prayer, counseling and be open to positive, healthy change.
1 Corinthians 13:3-7
1 Peter 4:7-11