I have been thinking a lot lately about divorce.
Not because my marriage is falling apart and I am contemplating divorce. On the contrary, I feel blessed to be married to my best friend. Divorce is not on my mind because I want one.
So, if I am not wanting a divorce, then why am I thinking about divorce?
I am thinking about divorce because I am a child of divorce and I am at an age where I am starting to hear of more friends and acquaintances who are getting divorced.
I think I have reached that stage of life. The stage where people have been married long enough that they are realizing that things are not going as they had originally hoped when they said, “I do.”
I experienced divorce as an eight-year old child when my mom and dad divorced, and then again as an adult when my dad and stepmom divorced. Now, I am seeing divorce in a new way. I am watching friends, and their families, go through the pain of divorce. And painful it is. Very.
I mean, who wants to go through a divorce? Nobody walks down the aisle thinking, “I hope this ends with me signing some papers. I can’t wait for that day to come!” No way. Some people may have doubts when they walk down the aisle, but they still walk down with hope. Hope that things will get better. Nobody hopes to have their marriage end in divorce. But it happens. All of the time. It happens.
And even though I have personally never gone through a divorce, here are some things that I think when it does happen……
1. All parties involved need time to grieve.
I feel like sometimes there is the “I can’t really grieve because I chose this” mentality or the “they were so horrible to their spouse, what did they expect would happen?” mentality. I think regardless of the circumstances leading up to the divorce, and regardless if you were the person who asked for the divorce, or it was a mutual decision, it is still a devastating loss and everyone involved needs timed to grieve.
I believe marriage to be the number one relationship outside of a person’s relationship with God. It is a big deal when this relationship ends.
And, when I say all parties, I mean all parties. If there are children involved, the children need time and space to grieve as well.
I can remember vividly when each of my parents were remarried. On both of their wedding days I was very upset. I remember crying on the day of their weddings, and even refusing to smile in some of the pictures.
I also remember being scolded for my selfishness. Why couldn’t I just be happy for them? This was a very important day in their lives (no question about that) and all of my sulking was ruining their special moment (I am sure it wasn’t helping anything.)
But you see, although I really liked my future stepmom and future stepdad, I was still hurting deeply from the fact that my parents were no longer together. At that age, I wasn’t able to move past my own pain to rejoice with them in their happiness. I did not have the emotional maturity to behave as they wanted me to behave. It had been a couple of years since my parents divorced and it still hurt.
For some reason when my parents remarried it was like adding salt to the wound. I had so many fears like: Now that they are remarried, what does this mean? One thing I did know was that now there was no chance that my parents would get back together. It was crazy to think that they ever would have, but when you are a kid you think some crazy things. I also thought things like: How do I fit into this new marriage? Would they have more children? Would they still love me as much? If I was going from house to house and they were building new families, was I just drifting between families and not really belonging anywhere?
I knew I was supposed to be happy for my parents on their wedding days, but all of those questions (and the sadness that came with them) is what I felt more than anything. Even though I knew how I was supposed to be behaving, I just couldn’t do it.
And, there should not be a time limit on grief. I don’t think that somebody should wallow in their grief. I do believe that there are healthy and unhealthy ways to grieve. I also think that grief comes and goes in waves and can hit us at the most unlikely times.
I do not think that someone should be told, “It has been long enough. It is time to move on.” Maybe they have just uncovered a new pain that they need to work through. Maybe a memory has been triggered that needs to be processed, and maybe with that memory comes a little sadness. So, let them grieve. Don’t tell them how long they are allowed to grieve, and definitely don’t expect children to have the emotional maturity of an adult.
2. Being a stepparent must, at times, be very difficult.
Like on your wedding day when the soon-to-be stepchild is having a breakdown. Seriously. Like I said, for me it was a very hard day. But for them, it is supposed to be one of the happiest days of their lives. You find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, and this person does not come unattached. On the contrary, they are a parent. Again, probably not what was dreamed of when lying in bed as a child thinking of the big “I do” moment. ” I —– now take you —–, and all of your children, to have and to hold…” It cannot be easy.
Being a parent is one of the most wonderful things that I have ever had the privilege of doing in my life. It is also, at times, one of the most challenging. I cannot imagine stepping into this role when someone is in their preteen years. This is what both of my stepparents had to do with me. They put up with some serious attitude from me. While they were supposed to be in their honeymoon phase, I was in my starting-to-deal-with-all-of-these-new-hormones phase. I could not imagine returning from my honeymoon to a hormonal preteen girl who is mad that her parent just got remarried. Yikes!
Plus, as a stepparent, you have to figure out what the biological parents are wanting and try to operate within their parenting boundaries. You are a parenting figure in the child’s life, but not the actual parent. Seems complicated.
Not to mention the fact that you are now doing all of these things for a child who may, or may not be, constantly reminding you that you are indeed not their real parent.
When you are a parent, you are always doing things for your child. You make lunches, drive them to and from practices, do their laundry, help with homework…just to name a few. As a stepparent, you may suddenly find yourself doing all of these things for your stepchild. If the stepchild is anything like I was as a child, then they just expect you to do those things. I was grateful to my parents for the things that they did. Don’t get me wrong. But, if we are being honest, how many kids are thanking their parents profusely for doing laundry or taking them to practice? As a child, you just know that your parents are supposed to take care of you. That’s what they do. That’s how it works.
But, what if you are the stepparent? What if you went from having no kids to suddenly driving these kids all over town? I can remember having a conversation once with my stepmom and she was telling me about how she would have to drive across town to pick me up or drop me off because my dad was working. I can see now as an adult what a sacrafice this was and I am very grateful that she went out of her way to do this for my sister and I, but at the time when she told me I remember thinking, “Ok? What’s the big deal?” In my mind, that’s just what parents do. It was part of the deal. My parents were divorced. She married a man with kids. I couldn’t drive. Someone had to drive me across town. She married my dad, so she had to do the parent thing. I didn’t get what the big deal was. Again, a child thinks much differently then an adult does.
But, God can take this complicated family and turn it into something beautiful. I have wonderful relationships with my stepparents and God has used them to teach me many things. I am grateful that they pursued a relationship with me when I was not all that lovable. They showed me grace at a time in my life when I really needed it. They could have easily thrown their hands in the air and said, “She isn’t my child. I’m not dealing with this!”, but they didn’t do that. Instead, they pursued me time and time again when I really did not always deserve it and now I call them “mom” and “dad” just like I do my parents and I cannot imagine my life without them.
3. There is no need to wear the Scarlet ‘D.’
I have always been very fond of the book, The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. In this book, Hester Prynne, is forced to wear a scarlet letter ‘A’ on her chest as a punishment for her sin of adultery. She wears this letter on her chest her entire life. I wonder how often we are like Hester? How often do we feel burdened by the sins of our past? How often do we hold on to guilt and shame and let that define us? And how often are we like the townspeople in that book, not allowing people to move past the sins of their past?
God offers grace and mercy and does not want us to be bogged down with guilt and shame. There is freedom in Christ. As it says in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
Grace. Grace. Grace. That is what we all long for in life. Divorce does not define a person. it is a part of their life, but not the definition of their life. There is no need to walk around feeling shame because a marriage did not work out. Sadness, yes. Shame, no. Relationships are complicated and marriage can be very hard. Marriage is two imperfect people living out all of the good and bad that comes with life together and that is not always easy. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. I am not in my friend’s marriages. I have no idea what is going on behind closed doors, and I have no right to judge. It is hard enough picking up the pieces after a divorce. The last thing that people need is to feel shame for what has happened in their marriage. Our job is to share God’s love, not to reign down judgment.
4. Remember, if you have kids, they never asked for this.
One of the hardest parts about being a child of divorce is that it never really goes away. It follows you around for the rest of your life. It may remain quiet for awhile and then BAM! It rears its ugly head.
Hear are my words of wisdom (that I realize nobody has asked for, but I am sharing anyways)…..
If your child has moved out of the home and comes back to visit, he or she will more than likely stay at one, or maybe both, of their parents’ houses. If that child is at one house more it does not mean that they love that parent more. They are not trying to hurt you. Maybe they have friends on that side of town that they want to see. Or, maybe they are grown now and have kids of their own and one house offers more space for all of their children. Whatever the reason may be, it is not a personal attack of any kind. Don’t try to make them feel bad for spending time with their parent. I know you may miss them and the feelings you have are because you want to spend more time with them, but they are doing the best that they can with a complicated situation.
If you have children, then you will have to see your ex again, a lot, and for a long time. At special events like graduations, bridal showers, weddings, baby showers. You get the drift. It is important to remember what you are there for and to try to make it as pleasant of an experience as you can for that child. Remember, they never asked for this and there is no need to add drama to this special occasion that is being celebrated. Save the drama for girls-night out or the next poker game with your buddies.
Your kids do not want to hear you trash your ex. They are your ex and they may have done some really horrible things, but they are still your child’s parent. Kids love their parents. Unconditionally. If they still want to hang out with that person that caused you so much pain, it is not because they don’t care about you. It is because that person that caused you pain is their parent, and the relationship that they have with them is very different than the marriage relationship that you had. The fact that they love this person that caused you pain doesn’t mean that they don’t care. They just love their parent. As they should. And, the more that a person talks negatively about their ex, the more that may cause their children to withdraw from them. It actually has a reverse effect. Instead of pushing them away from the parent that they are bad-mouthing, it pushes the child away from them.
Here is another one. Just because you are ready to date, doesn’t mean that your kids are ready to meet the new man or woman in your life. I believe this to be especially true if the divorce has just happened. As I said earlier, people need space to grieve and this is true for children as well.
You may have checked out of your marriage a long time ago, but your children did not check out of a house with both mom and dad residing there a long time ago.
Maybe you have moved on, but they probably have not. They are trying to deal with this new reality and that can bring up a lot of raw, new, and somewhat scary emotions. If you bring someone into the relationship when they are still dealing with this, just be prepared to deal with their emotions and try to help them through these feelings as they are going through them. Don’t expect them to be happy for you, just because you are happy.
And, if they seem overly excited about this new person my guess is they probably are not. Not to say it isn’t possible for a child to share in your happiness, but if it is a fresh divorce then I think that it is probably rare for them to be super excited to meet your new “friend.” I think that kids that act super excited about all of the change are probably in denial, and maybe a little scared. Their entire world has just been ripped apart. Things seem very fragile to a child after a divorce. I think when kids are super excited it really means, “I’m scared. If I don’t act like I am happy about everything, then what will happen next? Is this new person going to take my place?” I believe that there is a lot of insecurity after a divorce and if a child hasn’t had time to deal with these emotions before meeting their parent’s new possible love interest then there is a good chance that those insecurities, jealousies and difficult emotions will rear their ugly heads.
Even as an adult, after my dad and stepmom divorced, my dad quickly started dating someone and I had to say time and time again that I just wasn’t ready for this. It wasn’t that I didn’t like her. I was just dealing with the emotions from my dad and stepmom’s marriage ending. I wasn’t ready to start embracing his new relationship. I was in my 30s and still needed space and time. At that specific period of time, fresh off their divorce, I just wasn’t ready to embrace a new person. I needed time to heal. Little kids often don’t know how to express these emotions, so they come out in different ways.
With all of that said, if you have met someone and you love them then I think that is wonderful and I think that it is possible to work through all of these emotions. An overly emotional child isn’t doomsday for a relationship. I think that couples that have to work through hard times have the potential to come out stronger than ever in the end. I am just saying, be prepared that it may be a little rocky at times and that is to be expected. Just help the child work through it and try to see it from their eyes. They aren’t out to destroy your future happiness. They are just hurting.
And, lastly, if your child is expecting you to pick them up for a night, or the weekend, then by golly pick them up. I personally did not experience this. My parents were very good about getting me when they said that they would. I do have some friends who have gone through this though and it majorly stinks for the child. It can lead to all kinds of feelings of abandonment and rejection that can be carried all of the way until adulthood. Don’t leave your child with their bags packed anxiously waiting for you to show up, only to be left with extreme disappointment. Divorce is hard enough without that being added to the mix.
5. There is life after divorce.
And life abundantly. God can turn ashes to beauty. He restores what is broken and makes it new. I can see now all of the blessings that have come from the brokenness. I cannot imagine my life any other way now.
Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
As I said, I have not been thinking about divorce because I want one, but I pray for those who do. I pray for those who have gone through divorce, or who are in the process of divorce. I pray for their children. I pray that they will feel God’s love cover them and that they will be showered with love and grace as they are going through a difficult time.
Thank you God for your promises. Thank you for taking what is broken and making it new. Thank you that there is life after divorce.