When the stinging threat of divorce becomes a harsh reality, the sacred terrain of marriage can freeze over into an icy battleground of pain and confusion.
Everything dedicated, worked for and believed in stares back with little to no recognition. Untold truths spill out, stripping away every illusion and expose an ugliness which cannot be unseen. The torrent of emotions which deluge mind and soul can sometimes feel like suffocation.
For the child who must cope with this crisis, divorce is worse than death. When goodbyes are said at the grave, he or she lives with the memory of someone who can no longer engage in the physical realm of our lives. But in the crossfires of divorce, while mom and dad are saying farewell to matrimony, the child’s greatest need is to keep it alive. The two most important people in the world must continue to live, love and nurture the fruit of that union and sustain a familial bond. There are no goodbyes.
I remember how divorce tore at the heart of my little guy so many years ago. He would sit by the window looking down the street for hours waiting with tears for his father to show up. This went on week after week for years, etching a storyline in his psyche that haunts to this day.
The divorce had left him shattered, desperately longing for his parents to bond with him and each other. My inability to meet that need left a scar which only time could hope to heal. Eventually, we all managed to recover, but not without emotional reminders of that difficult season of life.
Finding the emotional girth to release a marriage and yet remain present for the child of that union is no small task. It requires maturity and selflessness which most struggle to muster during this fragile period. However, even in a state of rawness and vulnerability, it is still possible to safeguard the wellbeing of the parent/child bond.
With the child of divorce in view, let us consider how to navigate the ropes of love and divorce:
Keep it simple. Every day is an opportunity to teach a simple truth about life and love. The primary means in which a child learns about negotiating relationships is through your words and actions. Be careful to reflect a positive attitude through your gestures. For example, when a little one asks if you’re okay, it’s helpful to give a little smile, a big hug, and say, “It’s all going to be okay.” No need for long explanations, derogatory statements, or promises you may not be able to keep. A child learns best from simple ideas expressed with tenderness.
Respect the position. The role of mother and father is a sacred one. No other job carries as much weight or influence. When a parent acts in ways that disappoint, it is easy to lose respect. However, when you cannot respect the behavior, at least respect the role which your ex plays in the life of a child. For instance, when an ex-spouse garners cooperation from the child by screaming, a gentle instructive to your little one such as “Tommy, what just happened was wrong, but try to respond with respect” is valiant. Your directive calls out the wrongdoing without condoning disrespect of a parent.
Maintain your boundaries. Relationships require limits to stay healthy. Regardless of the violations which have occurred between spouses, the family still needs to pursue a structure of limits. Establishing healthy boundaries which protect privacy, dignity, and time are all steps which preserve the tie. When a child sees boundaries being respected and abided by, a sense of honor can begin to set the stage for more of the same. A child learns about healthy boundaries in relationship by observing how you establish them in yours.
When a child is in the picture, the marital bond cannot completely dissolve simply because the courts have decreed a divorce. In spite of the estrangement which accompanies the dissolution, a child needs to see that love and divorce are possible. A positive disposition in the day to day, respect in the face of adversity, and a diligent effort to maintain boundaries all serve a family well through this difficult season. Time will pass and hearts will heal. Children need to see that family bonds are still possible after divorce. Their future wellbeing depends upon it, and so do ours.