Let your kids be kids (Article)

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.

Hope for kids of single parents (Article)

by Angela Thomas

Just as I was beginning my experience as a single mom, a well-meaning person asked, “What about the children?” Honestly, the guilt I was already facing as I processed my recent divorce seemed unbearable, so to have someone ask me such a difficult question just about put me through the floor. It seemed like she was asking, “Aren’t the children now doomed to fail in life and become petty criminals?”

Of all my single-parent struggles, what I hated most was the suffering my children would face, as the four of them became “kids from a broken home.”

Not really knowing how to respond, and feeling the embarrassment of my family’s brokenness, I looked at the lady and said, “I don’t know. But here’s the only thing I do know — my children are covered by the blood of Jesus.”

She wasn’t alone. Others quoted discouraging statistics for kids of divorce and recommended books about the failures of adult children who come from broken homes. But in my heart, I kept reminding myself, God has to be bigger than the world’s statistics. I am certain He is the God who holds our futures, and He must be able to heal the brokenness in my children.

It has now been 10 years, and I have lived almost eight of them as a single mom. This is what I can tell you about my children: They are still covered by the blood of Jesus, and they are becoming really great people who love and serve God.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned about keeping my single-parent home focused on Jesus and His love for us:

Children follow. It was my job as their parent to lead; I had to lead them on a journey of forgiveness and healing. I learned that my kids followed the example of my attitudes and choices, so I had to lead with integrity, laying down any inclination toward bitterness, learning to live with love and a positive outlook.

Children need. My kids needed me to parent them from my fullness, not from a bitter emptiness. But there were so many empty and lonely days when I felt paralyzed by pain and insecurity. I realized that I had a responsibility to my kids to pursue spiritual and emotional healing for myself.

Children heal. In the years since my divorce, my four children have suffered many wounds — from the labels they’ve worn, the words they’ve heard and the painful events that have transpired. Not one of them has been immune to heartache. But God has come with healing for each child, and what’s been broken is being put back together.

Children believe. I learned quickly that my kids believed what I told them about our future. When I told them we were going to be OK because we belonged to God and then lived like that, they believed me. God gave me the privilege of teaching them to trust in His faithfulness. I would pray for our needs and point out every blessing. The kids began to see God at work in their lives.
When my 12-year-old son, William, came home from school and told me that his friend’s parents were getting a divorce, I asked, “How’s he doing?”

“OK, I guess. He seems afraid,” William answered.

“Baby, you are the best friend God could send to him right now. You’ve walked where he’s walking. You could tell him about God taking care of us and give him a lot of hope. …”

“Mom,” he interrupted, “I’m already doing that. He says it really helps to be my friend.”

What a joy to know my son is giving to others what God has given to him.

Now when I think back to the question, “What about the children?” I wish I could go back and tell that lady, “God keeps His promises! He has been our rescuer, healer, protector, redeemer and friend. I know my children’s future is decided by God, not by the world’s statistics.”

Angela Thomas is the best-selling author of My Single Mom Life. She lives in North Carolina with her family.

This article first appeared in the March/April, 2011 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was originally titled “What About the Children?” Copyright © 2011 by Angela Thomas. ThrivingFamily.com.

Focus on your home

by Gary Sprague

Judy, a single mom, has a tough time sending her kids to their father’s for the weekend. She is angry about the divorce and does everything she can to sabotage the visitation arrangements.

She makes the kids call her every night they are with him and gets frustrated if they forget. When they return, she interrogates them about their visits. She wants to know what they ate, whom they met and details about every activity.

Her motive? She wants to build a case to stop, or at least limit, the time the kids have with their dad.

Judy is driven by emotion. Though she doesn’t realize the damage she is inflicting, the kids suffer. They feel uncomfortable with her questioning, don’t understand her anxiety and often feel pulled in two directions.

The use of time

While it’s normal to worry about what influences the children, don’t spend all your time trying to shelter your children from the other parent — a person who has every right to be a part of their lives.

We’re not talking about the children’s safety. Protection from harm is a different matter. This is about allowing your former spouse to be a parent, even when you have different values and parenting styles.

Making it count

Be intentional in the time you spend with your children. Don’t waste time and energy trying to prevent things you cannot control. If you already have a full plate with your job and basic household responsibilities, use the rest of your day wisely.

Love and disciple your children. Eat a meal with them. Play games and allow yourself to laugh with abandon. Cheer your kids in their sports activities and close their day with prayer, drawing them to the One who can protect them best.

Giving up control

Letting go of what is happening in the other home is not easy. Ultimately, you have to trust that God is bigger than your former spouse’s influence. Remind yourself that God watches over your children 24/7.

This article first appeared in the July 2005 issue of the Single-Parent Family edition of the Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2005 by Gary Sprague.