Mike and Mary Ann were married for 12 years. They had two daughters: Ashley, 8, and Jenna, 5. The marriage ended in divorce after Mike committed adultery. Although he said he wanted to reconcile, Mary Ann felt she couldn’t trust him.
Three years following the divorce, Mary Ann met and married Brad. While Ashley and Jenna were respectful to Brad, they were angry at Mary Ann for refusing reconciliation with their father. The girls accused their mom of hating them and blamed her for divorcing their dad. Mary Ann, hurt and upset, lashed out at them verbally. A chasm filled with hurt feelings and misunderstood motives developed between mother and daughters.
Divorce is difficult for children, who are usually torn by their desire to love both parents. Confusion and hurt can often lead to resentment and emotional separation between kids and parents. But parents can work at reconciliation with their children and encourage healing in the relationship.
Communication lines must remain open.
Once a week, take your kids to dinner without your new spouse. If they refuse to talk with you, do not force the conversation. You can sit in silence while you eat; that’s acceptable. By doing so, your children will realize that you refuse to give up because your relationship with them is invaluable. During the week, write letters or texts to your children to keep your end of communication open. Your presence and interest in them shows that you are relentless in the pursuit of having a relationship with them. But be genuine. Kids know when parents attempt to resolve a situation for selfish reasons and when they are genuinely interested in what their children are experiencing.
Accept responsibility for your part in the conflict, and ask for forgiveness.
Mary Ann’s reactions to her young daughters’ initial anger played a role in causing the relational rift. Reflect on past interactions with your children, and — with the help of a counselor who can be completely frank with you — talk through how your words and actions might have been perceived. Then admit your mistakes to your kids. When you show humility and respect toward your kids, you pave the way for them to be open and vulnerable with you.
Don’t take your children’s anger or hurtful behavior personally.
Your children may be terrified of losing you as a parent. Fear is often masked by anger. If your child is old enough to refuse counseling, go alone to learn how to constructively deal with the situation. Let the positive changes in the relationship begin with you.
Assure your children that God cares for them even more than you do.
Divorce and remarriage can cause children to feel lost. As they ponder why God allowed their circumstances, many children begin to wonder if God really cares about them. Listen to their questions and concerns, but assure them of God’s compassion and presence in every situation.
Hold your children accountable, and model acceptable behavior.
Do not allow disrespect for your position as a parent. Let your children know that their feelings are important and you are fully present and willing to listen to their feelings and thoughts about the divorce. Respond without personalizing or internalizing what is said. If a boundary is crossed, stop the conversation for a period of time and tell your child you are taking a timeout so later you can listen with more clarity.
Shannon Perry is a conference speaker, TV show host and national recording artist. She has written three books, including Stand: Staying balanced with answers for real teen life.