Here are tips for you and your child on healing after divorce.
Healing after divorce is a lengthy process, and it begins with you. Children can emotionally survive divorce with fewer scars if you stabilize yourself, then your child. Here are some suggestions on how the healing process can unfold for both of you:
Find a support group. The best way for your child to heal is for you to get healthy and strong first. The group should offer encouragement, tools and coping skills. It should also provide the camaraderie you need so your child isn't forced to be your comforter and counselor. A role like that isn't healthy for a child and only compounds his pain. Look for a church that offers a divorce support group for kids, too.
Communicate the truth. Make it clear that your child had nothing to do with the divorce. Explain that this is between you and your former spouse and not his fault. Reassure him that he is loved and wanted by both parents.
In an age-appropriate manner, tell him the truth. If you don't discuss things openly, you will create anxiety for your child and cause him to question your honesty about other issues. If your wife has left the home for another relationship, say something like, "Your mom has decided she doesn't want to live with me anymore. She wants to be with another man, but she still loves you very much."
Most important, communicate that God is your family's protector and provider. Let your child know that God hates divorce and understands his pain.
Make changes slowly. Give your child a chance to adjust to your new family structure. It's difficult enough for a child to be separated from a parent, but if she loses family members, familiar sights and sounds of home, school, friends, church and neighbors, it's even more traumatic. Some of these adjustments might be necessary, but try to prevent as many as possible.
Wait to date. It's best to let at least two years pass before getting involved in another relationship, giving you and your child time to heal from the divorce. At the very least, don't date until the divorce is final. You are still married. Honor God and your marriage vows. This will model personal integrity to your child. Even after the divorce is final, focus on your healing and your child's needs. You are highly vulnerable, and another relationship too soon could cause more hurt and confusion for everyone.
Give God time to mend your heart, restore you and teach you how to forgive yourself and your ex-spouse. Ask God to give you a new vision for your life.
Let your child love the other parent. Don't allow insecurity or hurt to hinder your child's relationship with your former spouse. Help your child pick out birthday cards and gifts when necessary. Your child will be relieved that you are giving her permission to love the other parent.
Never bash the other parent. This may be difficult, but you must refrain from negative talk about your ex-spouse for the sake of your child.
Discipline consistently. Don't let any self-imposed guilt related to your child's loss hinder you from being a diligent parent. Remember, trials and perseverance build character. Consistent discipline, healthy boundaries and chores make a child feel safe.
Let kids be kids. Keep conversations about finances, visitation schedules, family disputes and other difficult issues away from your child. Do not use him to relay information or put him in the center of disputes. Preserve and protect his innocence.
Divorce deals a devastating blow to a child, no matter what the world may say about it. Remain sensitive to your child and make her healing a priority.
Remember, God is sufficient to heal and restore hope to every heart — even your child's. Your job is to provide a safe, stable and godly home. The rest is up to Him.
This article first appeared in the September 2006 issue of the Single-Parent Family edition of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2006 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.