Under the best of circumstances, parenting is hard work. For families of divorce it can be even more difficult. Now that my daughters are older, I sometimes look back at situations and revisit circumstances wondering if I did the right thing—maybe I should have done this or that differently. Second-guessing is never a good idea. The fact is that I have raised two daughters who are empathetic and kind; honest and hard-working. But most of all, my daughters love their faith—they take themselves to confession without a fight and willingly rearrange weekend plans to make sure to fit in Mass.
When you are in a divorced situation you and your former spouse may not be able to be that team that meets parenting battles head on. If you have to stake out your position with your children on your own, here are some strategies that I found to be particularly helpful.
1. Set up boundaries in your home. I am very clear with my daughters about the type of behavior that is unacceptable in my home. I state directly: “This is our home and it is a place of peace. We work out our differences using our words.” If I was challenged with a statement that began, “But at Dad’s…” my response would be, “I understand that thing’s at your Father’s are done differently. When you are here you will follow my house rules.” I think it is important to our children to acknowledge that each parent has a certain level of authority in their position. We can’t usurp that authority but we can show our children that people have different rules and expectations.
2. Look for patterns of behavior in your children. After some time, I was able to distinguish a regular challenge to my authority from the kind of anxiety that the girls would exhibit if faced with a stressful situation. My daughters would have difficulties with large parties and other gatherings where they felt people would be watching and judging them. This anxiety would surface days before the event. Talk about these situations and let them know that, for the most part, others are just concerned with their well-being. Often, those people have a hard time communicating those concerns to children directly. This will help the kids to have a different perspective on others and make them see that people are not trying to be hurtful on purpose.
3. Pray with your children. It is especially beneficial to share times of prayer with your children. This was a particularly difficult situation for us—not because we had trouble praying, but because my former spouse had made choices which went against God’s commandments. We would speak openly about our hope that God would use our prayers to reach out to their father and that he would begin to recognize the work that God was doing in his life and change his behavior.
4. Talk to your pastor. Lastly, it helped me tremendously to find a good priest or two for the girls to speak with. It is a difficult thing for children to understand the great mercy of God and how that mercy will extend to a wayward parent. But it is one of the truths that can give such peace to children of divorce. I found it necessary to call in the big guns on that discussion! Additionally, one important piece of advice a priest gave me was to always be honest with my children. No matter how difficult the question, find an age appropriate way to respond. Children need to know that they have an ally who will tell them the truth under any circumstance.
If you are divorced and facing parenting challenges with your children, what things have you found to be helpful for you and your kids in this difficult situation?