Whatever your divorce situation, it’s up to you to shield your children, represent their best interests, and create stability for them.
If you’re currently going through or have gone through a divorce, you have the responsibility of ensuring that your child’s needs are fully met in spite of the turmoil between you and your ex-spouse. Parents are called to become an advocate during a divorce, but the legal forum can be intimidating and emotionally overwhelming. It’s important to navigate through the process well, because the quality of your child’s life is affected by your decisions and actions.
Are you sensitive to your child’s needs? Can you speak up on her behalf? Are you afraid of a former spouse? Do you trust your attorney? All these concerns need to be resolved if you are going to effectively advocate for your child.
Nine years ago, Lisa became a single parent to her five children. “I remember the day my 8-year-old son sat on the sofa sobbing, saying the whole time, ‘I want my dad.’ It broke my heart,” Lisa says. “There was nothing I could do to comfort him. I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to survive. I just knew I was the only one the kids had left to depend on.
“Life became about them—not about me. To create a good place for my kids I couldn’t be a wreck in front of them. I screened my words so nothing negative about [their] dad could be overheard. As often as I could manage it, I put on a happy face.”
Maintaining the emotional stability of her family was more important than any anger Lisa felt toward her ex-husband.
When there’s been abuse, gather your courage, and find your voice. Speak up and report the abuse. Child protective services, child advocacy centers, teachers, pastors, doctors, counsellors, police and lawyers can direct you to the resources you need. Never trade silence for safety.
Eight years ago, Amy made a brave move. She took her infant daughter and got out of a physically, verbally and mentally abusive marriage. Amy used legal safeguards such as keeping records, supervised visitation, meeting in public places and recording conversations with her former spouse (by permission) to guarantee her daughter’s safety.
“I was afraid [my ex-husband] was going to steal our daughter if he thought I was causing him any problems,” Amy says. “In an abusive situation it is very hard to . . . become strong. I pushed back fear and shared what was happening with people who could help.
“When my ex first started seeing our daughter, she was 2 years old. He was a stranger to her. I insisted we meet at a McDonald’s playground where it was safe for her. I never went alone. The two of them were never out of my sight. I wrote down everything that happened between me and my ex and between my little girl and her dad.”
Most people use an attorney to negotiate with a former spouse, because they need the assurance that they are legally protected and their child’s needs continue to be met.
• Legal counsel. To find good legal counsel, ask friends for attorneys they trust, contact your state bar association, or do research on the Internet. A good attorney is sympathetic to your situation. He will devise a plan that includes custody arrangements, visitation, child support, distribution of assets and provision for future needs.
• Classes. Effective communication—especially with difficult people—is a learned skill. Classes can be found through state and local agencies. Amy enrolled in leadership and assertiveness classes offered by the county. The state paid for her to take the classes at a local college.
Because of past abuse, Amy had her lawyer write the divorce document in a way that required both parents to take parenting classes before the divorce was final. The decision gave them added protection and increased her ex-husband’s accountability to the court.
• Counselling services. A counsellor is often needed to help you and your child sort through feelings. Amy couldn’t afford a counsellor, so she made arrangements to get one through the court.
Support. Don’t live in isolation. “When I was alone in bed, I would fall apart,” Lisa says. “In those painful hours, I phoned a friend who refused to take sides. When I didn’t believe I could make it one more day, she did. She prayed for me and with me and assured me over and over that Jesus loved me and my children.”
Home repairs. Money was another need for Lisa’s family. “I was embarrassed to let people know I was needy. When I told my problems to my church and co-workers, miracles began to happen. Men from church built a carport and put a new roof on our home. Friends directed me to a programme the electric company had to help families like mine, and [the electric company] put in a new heating system. All our needs were met.”
Being a single parent is a challenge, but Jesus promises to never leave you or forsake you. Lean on Him. You will find the wisdom to be a courageous advocate for your child.
Maxine Marsolini is an author and a life coach. She lives in Portland, Ore.
Anxiety in children of divorce
Anxiety is common among children of divorce, even though they may not show it openly. Children may regress to an early childhood behaviour, such as bedwetting, or develop a nervous habit—such as nail biting. Here are a few reasons why divorce generates anxiety:
• Abandonment. The young child feels that the parent who moved away has abandoned him. If the parent does become absent from the child’s life, the child can develop an exaggerated need for that parent and suffer from separation anxiety.
• Unstable environment. When a steady and loving home is threatened, it generates trauma in a child.
• Fear. Children fear the unknown and do not have the resources to deal with uncertainty. Where will I live? Will we be poor? Do we have to move? Will I get a new daddy? Where will I go to school? These questions flood a child’s thoughts.
Talk and pray with your child, and be a good listener. Re-assure him that you will never leave, and give him more time and attention. As best as you can, provide your child with a stable, unchanging home environment.