by Stephanie Wood as told to Elsa Kok Colopy
“Children of divorce lose their childhood at the age their parents divorce.” I don’t remember where I first heard that quote, but it always stuck with me. My children, Gabrielle and Nicholas, were 3 years old and 6 months old when their father and I divorced. A fierce determination rose in my heart. Not my children, I thought. My children will live their childhood.
I made up my mind not to let the reality of divorce change our family traditions. Every year of my married life, we had eagerly trudged through the woods in search of the perfect Christmas tree. As a single mom, I determined to keep that ritual alive. So one day in December, I headed to a tree farm with one child on my back and the other clinging to my hand. We found a tree, chopped it down and brought it home.
The following summer, we went on our usual family vacation. My mom was horrified when I packed the kids into the car and drove from Missouri to Orlando, Fla. We visited Walt Disney World and spent a couple of days at the beach. When the kids were a few years older and we didn’t have the money for a vacation, we all did odd jobs to pay for a few days away.
I wish protecting my children’s childhood was as easy as that—just doing fun traditions and vacationing together—but it took some tough work, too. I knew I had to get healing from the divorce; I didn’t want to expose my kids to the hurt I was feeling. So I found a DivorceCare group, which helped me wrestle with my anger and move toward forgiveness.
Allowing myself to forgive changed everything: I could once again look at my former spouse as the father of my children; I could speak of the happy years we spent together before things went bad, and that meant the world to my kids. They asked me questions about our marriage and wanted to hear special stories from our life together. To share those with a smile meant I had to let go of my bitter feelings. But it was worth it. Gabrielle and Nicholas needed me to say positive things about their daddy. In doing that, I was preserving something beautiful about their childlike love for him.
Remaining active in our local church was also a vital part of my family’s healing. I’d seen some people withdraw from church after their divorce, but I knew my kids needed our church and the routine of being involved in kids’ programs like Awana or children’s choir. I figured that since I was at my weakest point, the influence of strong, godly adults in their lives was essential.
I haven’t done everything well. I know I’ve stumbled along the way, but God has been faithful. He has protected Gabrielle and Nicholas. He has protected their childhood and protected our family life. And as my kids sit on the cusp of their teenage years, my prayer remains that they will not lose their childhood to divorce, but to the natural maturing process, learning even more as teens and heading out into the world as well-adjusted, godly adults.
Single Parent Tool Kit
Here are a few more ideas about how you can help your kids remain kids:
Guard against making your child a surrogate spouse
Avoid phrases like, “You’re now the man of the house,” or “Dad doesn’t know what he would do without your help.” Kids will naturally try to help you and may take on too much responsibility in the process. If you affirm that tendency, they will leave their childhood behind and take on grown-up responsibilities.
Play with your kids
Swing in the park, throw a ball around, bake some cookies. While it’s important that your children contribute to household chores, they also need to laugh with you, be silly and know it’s OK to make mud pies or roll down a grassy hillside.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2010 by Stephanie Wood. ThrivingFamily.com.