Part 7 in the Honoring God During Divorce series.
Forty-one percent of first marriages end in divorce, 60% of second marriages, and 73% of third, leaving “26.5% of children below 21 years old have a parent living in a different home” (Gilbert, 2021), which means that co-parenting is now the norm for many parents.
How you conduct yourself during the divorce process sets the tone for your co-parenting relationship. Tread lightly. You do not want to create a dynamic in which the children feel pressured to choose one parent over the other. Parental alienation is abuse and is indescribably damaging. To paraphrase a friend of mine, do not hate your ex-spouse more than you love your children.
Why Co-Parenting Is Important
Co-parenting, as defined by Nunes-Costa et al., is “the joint and reciprocal involvement of both parents in the education, background, and decision-making about their children’s lives” (as quoted by Visser et al., 2017). Studies demonstrate that cooperative co-parenting benefits children’s mental and emotional stability, social adjustment, and wellbeing.
Transgression is an inherent component of divorce. “Forgiveness is one of the strongest predictors of the quality of co-parenting over time” (Visser et al., 2017). Not only is forgiveness part of a healthy Christian walk (Matt. 6:12), it has been empirically validated to reduce depression (Chung, 2016) and repair functionality in interpersonal communication. (For more on forgiveness, see How to Forgive Others.) “The most important factor influencing children’s post-divorce adjustment is parents’ communication. In fact, interparental conflict is often more important than divorce in predicting children’s physical and mental health” (Afifi et al., 2013).
In short, your marriage may be over, but your parental responsibility is not. Forgiving one another is essential to setting aside conflict and working together as a team to raise your children. Place the needs of your children above your own.
The only commandment attached to a promise is to honor your father and mother (Ex. 20:12, Eph. 6:2-3). Do not make it difficult for your children to keep this commandment and rob them of its promise (Eph. 6:4).
Practical Steps to Help Your Children Honor Their Father and Mother
(and to help heal your pain in the process)
Just as your child will always be your “baby” – even when they’re 80, you and your former spouse will always be their father and mother. Children never reach an age where it is appropriate to share all the gory details of your divorce. They are your children, not your friends; do not lean on them as your emotional support system.
Never speak ill of your ex-spouse (a.k.a. their other parent) (Pro. 10:12). Your target may be your ex, but it’s the hearts of your children that are pierced. The more you rehearse the pain of your divorce, the longer your recovery time – especially when you involve your children in the rehearsals. You then must deal with your own pain and the compounded pain and confusion you have caused your children by oversharing.
Pray for your children’s relationship with both parents (you and your ex) to be preserved and protected.
Never speak ill of their new stepparent. You are irreplaceable. Your position in your children’s lives is not threatened because there is another person to love them. Pray for them to develop a healthy, nurturing relationship with their stepparent. This person is in their lives; it is best for your children if they have a good relationship.
"You’re just like your father/mother” should ALWAYS be followed by a compliment. The adage, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” applies here. However, you will bless your children and demonstrate how to honor their father and mother if you can compliment your children by affirming the positive traits of their other parent. For example, “I bet you can fix it. You’re mechanically inclined just like your dad.”
Refrain from using finances as a weapon.
Don’t complain about having to pay too much (or receiving too little) in child support. Your children should always feel like they take priority over money.
Don’t withhold financial blessing from your child if your ex-spouse cannot meet you halfway. In other words, if your son or daughter has a passion for an activity or sport that both parents agree is safe and worthwhile, and you can afford it, but your ex cannot don’t rob your child of the blessing by withholding it or gloating that the gift comes from you alone. To the other parent in this scenario, do not withhold the blessing from your children by refusing to allow them to participate when they are with you. Remember, this is about your children. Regardless of who foots the bill, both parents should facilitate the pursuit of giftedness, talent, and passion.
When logistically possible, both parents should attend events that are important to their children. As uncomfortable as it may be for you, put love into practice, i.e., put away childish impulses (I Cor. 13:11), be kind and gracious, exercising your self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).
Your family looks different now. However, you are still the person God chose to be the father/mother to your children. Stepparents are a bonus but no replacement for you. Stay in the game; be an active participant in the lives of your children.
You may not be married to your children’s father/mother anymore, but you are on the same team regarding raising your children. Teach your children God’s Word, train them in holiness, and model how to honor their father and mother so it will go well for them all the days of their lives (Eph. 6: 2-3).
Angela W. Startz, MAHSC, CCLC
Afifi, T. D., Granger, D. A., Joseph, A., Denes, A., & Aldeis, D. (2013). The influence of divorce and parents’ communication skills on adolescents’ and young adults stress reactivity and recovery. Communication Research, 42(7), 1009-1042. DOI 10.1177/0093650213509665
Chung., M. S. (2016). Relation between lack of forgiveness and depression: the moderating effect of self-compassion. Psychological Reports, 119 (3), 573-585. DOI 10.1177/0033294116663520
Gilbert, N. (2021). 106 Divorce Statistics You Can’t Ignore: 2021 Divorce Rates and Impact on Children. Financesonline.com
Visser, M., Finkanauer, C., Schoemaker, K., Kluwer, E., van der Rijken, R., van Lawick, J., Bom, H., & de Schipper, J. C. (2017, June 15). I’ll never forgive you: High conflict divorce, social network, and co-parenting conflicts. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26, 3055-3066. DOI 10.1007/s10826-017-0821-6