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Christians Surviving Divorce, Part 3: Parent Guidance

Posted by Axis on November 14, 2020

This is the last part of our three-part series on divorce. If you haven’t already, we encourage you to read part 1 and part 2 for more context before wrapping up the series! As we dive into parent guidance with divorce, we want to help you evaluate your divorce, understand where you are now, and give you hope for the future. 

Note: With this post, we hope to give encouragement for divorced Christians of all situations, but our advice is not meant to substitute for professional help, especially in situations of trauma or abuse.  

How to face the reality of divorce

“Divorce happened to me. It didn’t matter that I didn’t want it. It happened and I call that experience shattering into reality.”—Christian Family, Real Talk about Divorce

Divorce is never a part of the plan, but it happens. And when it happens, it has a way of shattering us into reality, shaping our lives into something we never anticipated. Before we know it, we’re going through painful court meetings, moving things out of our homes, and facing life as a single parent. 

According to Jennifer Meyer, a professional counselor and leading expert in divorce coaching and recovery, there are six stages of divorce: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and rebuilding. The beginning stages look extremely discouraging. In fact, going through a divorce means we have to push through grief over our lost marriage. We need to wrestle through these emotions of loss in order to heal, make peace with the past, and move forward. This by no means is an easy task; it can take years of counseling, praying, and living life to finally feel free. But be encouraged because grief won’t last forever. Lean into Christ, focus on your community and family, and you will get through this. 

Don’t shy away from the process of healing. Yes, it’s important to stay strong for your kids, but strength comes from working through hard situations, not by neglecting them. If you take the time to care for yourself, you’ll be giving your kids a healthier, more dependable version of yourself. And when you feel as if you’ve failed to be strong for your kids, give yourself some grace. It’s an impossible standard to be the perfect parent all the time. 

While we don’t have all the answers to dealing with divorce anxiety, we do have practical guidance that can help you and your kids work through the pain you’ve experienced as a family. (And remember, we have guidelines and divorce advice specifically to help your teen through this, so be sure to check that out here.) 

1. Write a letter to your ex-spouse.

This is your chance to vent all of your emotions, no holds barred. Say things that you never had the chance to, and express the emotions you might have been holding back. This letter isn’t meant for anyone else but you. You can send it, keep it in a drawer, or even destroy the evidence—one freeing option is to make a small bonfire, literally burn the message, and pray for God’s continued guidance and comfort as you give it up to Him. If you find this exercise helpful, consider keeping a journal to document your emotions on a regular basis.

2. Reestablish your individuality.

Close your eyes and picture yourself at your absolute best. What would you do when you first wake up? What would your relationship with your kids look like? Where would your career be? What would you do in your free time? Now, think of some practical ways you can make this fantasy a reality. Divorce gives us the choice to remain who we were in marriage or reestablish our own individuality through God’s strength and guidance. Take the time to really explore who you are, and you who want to be. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the time for it? This might be your chance. Taking on new hobbies and interests you didn’t have in your past relationship can help strengthen your sense of individuality. And you can use it as a way to reconnect with your kids. Find something new you can all enjoy, and spend quality time with each other while embracing something new.

3. Regularly check in with your kids.

Now is a great time to focus on your relationship with your kids. Ask them if they’re okay, be honest with your own struggles, and make sure they know they can come to you for anything. They may not always open up to you, but letting them know that you’re there is the first step to creating a safe space that encourages vulnerability and open communication. Divorce is hard, but one thing that can come out of this situation is a strengthened relationship with your kid. Focus on that relationship, be there for them, and deepen that connection.

4. Find a counselor or friend to confide in.

It’s hard to be alone when you’re accustomed to married life. And we’re not meant to walk through life alone, especially in our hardships. Find a friend, therapist, or pastor who can help you process through your concerns, fears, and struggles. But most importantly, don’t forget God’s unlimited availability to you. Even if you’ve found the best counselor in the world, God wants you to confide in Him in everything you do. And as we discussed in part two of this series, be careful not to turn your teen into your confidant. Do your best to support your teen in what they’re going through, and try to process your own heavier feelings with other support systems.

5. Find a community/support group.

In addition to finding a close friend or therapist to confide in, we encourage you to look for a strong community to support you in this transition. You might join a group of single parents who understand your situation because they’ve been through it too. Or you can find community through church, sports, shared hobbies—anything! Wherever you land, take time to establish people in your life who understand you, encourage you, and uplift you.

6. Address any guilt you may have.

This study found that parents who divorce often suffer from guilt toward their children. “Although it is difficult to assess in an individual case whether one’s child suffers as a result of the divorce, if the child has problems after divorce, parents may still feel some responsibility for these problems.” Do you feel responsible for your child’s mental health issues, performance in school, or other problems? You’re not alone. The study points out that parents’ guilt is often derived from the notion of being a “good parent.” Divorce is out of the “norm” or standard “moral code” of society. In addition, Christians feel an extra burden of guilt because they feel they’re acting in rebellion against what the Bible teaches about marriage. They may even have been scorned, rejected, or judged by others in the Christian community. As a result, parents often feel they’ve failed after a divorce. But as Christopher Yuan reminds us, “perfect parenting does not guarantee perfect children.” Though your kids will be affected by divorce, not even a perfect nuclear home could guarantee a “perfect” child. You can’t control how your kid feels or reacts to this situation, but you can control how you respond to their changes in behavior. Remove the burden of guilt from yourself, and instead, focus on building a relationship with your kid and responding to their needs. None of us is perfect, and God wants to use us anyways. So, let Him use you in this situation.

7. Take care of yourself.

Especially when children are involved, we tend to focus on things outside of ourselves in the process of divorce and divorce recovery. You have to make sure the kids are ok, create a new working schedule with your ex-spouse, check in with your kids’ school, clubs, or sports teams, and make sure everyone else knows you’ve got this handled. But the truth is, you might not always have it “handled.” Sometimes, all we can do is get out of bed, say a quick prayer, get the kids out the door, and begin our day. When was the last time you took care of yourself physically, emotionally, or spiritually? Yes, we need to take care of our children, but we must not forget our own well-being in the process. Remember, we can best take care of our kids when we’re at our best. So, eat well, exercise if you can (maybe even just a short walk a day), and spend time with the Lord in solitude whenever you can find the time. If you’ve forgotten yourself in the process of divorce, remember that we can only offer others (like our kids) what we have in ourselves.

Life after divorce

Even after you feel like you’ve found peace and stability, there will be times where you’ll wonder “When does the pain of divorce stop hurting?” Sometimes the pain only lasts a few days. Other times, several months. And that’s okay. Marriage makes two people one flesh and when that flesh is separated, it’s painful. So, no matter what feelings surface—anger, frustration, sadness—give yourself the space to process your emotions without chastising yourself. Be kind to yourself, give yourself a lot of grace, and give it to God. You’ve been through a lot.

“[Divorce] isn’t something God wants for you, and I absolutely believe he will fill the gap there. That he will meet the need that your [spouse] chose not to meet. I think really leaning in hard to Him—more than anything—that has helped me.” —Tara, “Christians Surviving Divorce, Part 1: Tara's Story”   

Parenting alone doesn’t have to be as solitary as it sounds. Not only are there people around you that can help you through this, but God is too. Take time regularly to dive into His Word, seek His instruction, and know that He will always be there to guide you. Let God usher you through the guilt and shame as a divorced parent and start building a new lifestyle with your kids. Remember, God is not a God of condemnation, shame, and rejection. He’s a God of freedom and redemption. When fear and guilt overcome you, lean into your heavenly Father for support. 

Hope after divorce 

“Divorce was the result, but the opportunity was the ability and the chance to have a family.” Christian Family, Real Talk about Divorce

This is where the steps of acceptance and rebuilding really come into play. We need to accept how life is now and take it by the horns. By focusing on the opportunities that you have for the future, moving forward as a survivor of divorce can look less daunting. Use these opportunities to embrace life as a single parent, and to grow in your relationship with your kids. Even though marriage can be a wonderful source of joy it doesn’t make us whole, or ensure the best life for our kids. God is the ultimate piece to our puzzle and true fulfillment comes only through Him—for you and your children. Realizing and reflecting this truth is not easy, but when you do, new doors will open.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” —Jeremiah 29:11 

Yes, divorce is outside of God’s intended plan for us. But if there’s anything we know about our sinful nature, it’s that God can use us even in our brokenness. Just because you’re a divorced parent doesn't mean life’s all downhill from here. You were made to live a full life of purpose as a parent and follower of Christ. Rest in the knowledge that God doesn’t expect you or your family to be perfect. Our imperfections make the cross worthwhile, and that’s a pretty incredible story to be a part of. So, embrace your new family dynamic, difficult as it may be, and lean into the life of fullness and joy that awaits you and your teen.

Reflection questions 

  1. Are you experiencing any of the different stages of divorce now? If so, which ones? 
  2. How has God shown up through your divorce? 
  3. What steps can you take to heal from the divorce? 
  4. What are some ways you can strengthen your relationship with your kids as a single parent?
  5. What is something you’re looking forward to in the future?

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