Helping Kids Handle Divorce

I can remember the smallest details of my life before the separation. I recall the gray swirled wallpaper in my bedroom, and the green and white gingham dress that my Aunt Dorothy gave to me for my birthday. I

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Reality TV shows like it have pushed the topic of kids and divorce to the forefront of the news. When I was 8 years old, my parents divorced. I have no memory of the day we moved away, and the following nine months are a blur. I don’t remember the drive to another city, moving in with relatives, starting school, or my new teacher. I have one vague recollection of a teacher praising my schoolwork, but she has no name or face.

Sad looking siblings with their arguing parents behind them

In contrast, I can remember the smallest details of my life before the separation. I recall the gray swirled wallpaper in my bedroom, and the green and white gingham dress that my Aunt Dorothy gave to me for my birthday. I have a vivid recollection of my brother’s crib complete with teeth marks, and my treasured chalkboard where I would “teach” my dolls. The Tide® Box was stored on the bathroom windowsill, and our brown sofa was plaid. And a small, white radio that sat on top of the refrigerator entertained me as I washed dishes.

Twenty-three years later, I found myself in a pastor’s office weeping. I had just quit a high-stress job with a boss who was impossible to please. Instead of experiencing relief, I was overwhelmed with despair. When the pastor questioned the reason for my anxiety, I replied, “I don’t know. All I know is that I’m eight years old again, and I can’t do one thing right.” I was as perplexed as he was to hear those words come out of my mouth.

As the conversation continued, it became painfully clear that this little girl, with a memory loss, believed she was the reason for her parents’ divorce. The torture of that conviction was too burdensome for my tiny mind to endure. So I forgot. Thirty-one years later, sitting in that office, the truth unfolded. The shame and trauma of my parents’ divorce haunted my life and influenced my decisions. And I never even knew it.

Twenty years in divorce recovery ministry, that childhood experience, plus the pain of my own divorce, now serves a higher calling. I am featured as an expert on the DivorceCare DVDs, which has equipped more than 12,000 churches worldwide. Plus, I lead workshops and seminars that help people heal during and after a divorce.

Kids and divorce is a complex subject and there are no easy answers. However, it’s imperative for parents to learn that they play a pivotal role in minimizing the trauma kids experience.

A few tips that will help:

  • Most kids will initially go into a form of denial when their parents separate.They think, “This is temporary, my parents will get back together.” Even years later, many kids still dream about their parents reuniting, which is usually one reason why they resist a parent’s remarriage.
  • Allow children time to grieve. Kids are unable to communicate grief in the same manner as adults. Therefore, they may be sad, angry, frustrated, or depressed, but cannot express it.
  • Do not uproot or make too many unnecessary changes. This includes moving into a new home, starting a new school, changing churches, or new friends, etc.
  • Don’t make your kids spy on your ex for you. It emotionally harms children when parents use them as spies, mediators, or informants. They feel trapped in the middle of a no-win situation.
  • Allow your child to love the other parent and extended family. They didn’t get divorced from their mother or father—you did.
  • Do not lie. In an age-appropriate manner, and without gory details, tell the truth. The number one reason kids blame themselves for their parent’s divorce is because they were not told the truth.
  • Don’t belittle the other parent. When a parent bashes or criticizes the other parent it can emotionally destroy a child’s self-worth. “If dad is a no-good loser, I must be one too.” “If mom is a tramp, that’s what I’ll become.”
  • Allow your ex to see your kids. The children who do the best after a divorce are those who have a strong relationship with both biological parents. Therefore, do not withhold visitation unless the child is being neglected or in danger.
  • Refrain from entering a new relationship. Kids do not view your new love interest as a welcome addition to the family. Instead he/she is seen as the person taking their parent away. This is why stress over stepchildren is a key reason second marriages fail.
  • Take your children to a divorce recovery program for kids (www.dc4k.org), while you attend the adult program, www.DivorceCare.org.

Divorce is a death. With time to grieve, the proper help, and Jesus Christ, children from divorced homes can eventually become whole again. What they need is a godly, stable single parent who is willing to slow down, listen to instruction, and take the steps necessary to heal.

Copyright © 2009 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.


Laura Petherbridge

Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on relationships, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is the author of When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t” — Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, and a featured expert on the DivorceCare DVD series. Her newest book, The Smart Stepmom, will be released in September of 2009. For more info, go to www.laurapetherbridge.com.

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Laura Petherbridge serves couples and single adults with topics on spiritual growth, relationships, stepfamilies, co-parenting, single parenting, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is an international speaker and author of four books including, When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, and The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with stepfamily expert Ron Deal and endorsed by Gary Chapman (Five Love Languages), 101Tips for The Smart Stepmom—Expert Advice from One Stepmom to Another and Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul-a devotional. Laura has spoken at the Billy Graham Training Center, and for Lifeway, Family Life, Hearts at Home, and Iron Sharpens Iron conferences. She has spoken in Australia and South Africa. Her various TV and radio broadcasts include: Family Talk with Dr. James Dobson Focus on the Family with Jim Daly Family Life Today with Dennis Rainey Moody Broadcasting (Midday Connection and Chris Fabry Live) 100 Huntley Street (Canada) HomeWord with Jim Burns In addition to her books, she has been published in and writes for: Focus on the Family Magazine Today’s Christian Woman Christianity Today’s Marriage Partnership Crosswalk.com and Christian Broadcasting Network (cbn.com) Proverbs 31 Woman (Lisa Terkuerst) Lifeway’s Mature Living ibelieve.com idisciple.com Growthtrac.com 1Corinthians13Parenting.com Laura is a featured expert on the DivorceCare DVD series, which has equipped more than 14,000 churches worldwide. Laura is a contributor to the following books: The Twenty-Third Psalm for the Brokenhearted by Carmen Leal When God Steps In by Bonnie Bruno Tending the Soul–90 Days of Spiritual Nourishment by Neff, Schmidt and Anita B Lustrea (Moody) The Art Of Helping—What to Say And Do When Someone is Hurting by Lauren Littauer Briggs Face-to-Face with Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah: Pleading with God Bible study by Janet Thompson Laura and her husband of 30 years, Steve, reside in Florida. Laura's Statement of Faith I believe in the trinity. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. I believe that the Bible is God’s perfect, inerrant, inspired word. I believe that we are saved by the grace of God alone and that we obtain that grace freely by confessing our sins and surrendering our will to Christ as Savior and Lord of our lives. I believe that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God, that He was born of a virgin, that He died on a cross, was buried and resurrected and now sits at the right hand of God. I believe that Christ’s gift of salvation, by dying on the cross for our sins, assures His followers of eternal life with him in Heaven. This life begins the moment they confess His name as their salvation. Disclaimer Laura Petherbridge is a life coach, speaker and an author; she is not presenting herself as a professional therapist. She provides no diagnosis, therapy, counseling, treatment or mental care services. No promises regarding the outcome of life or relationships is given or implied. All decisions belong to the client. Those who visit her site, attend her events, or use her services, to the fullest extent permitted by law, release, indemnify, and hold harmless Laura Petherbridge, from any and all claims, obligations, demands, damages, judgments, costs, expense or liabilities of any nature, which may have or may ever have against her, arising out of the programs and services provided by Laura Petherbridge, including, without limitation, all liability with respect to injury, disability, death or loss of damage to personal property.