Challenges for Divorced Parents


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?



  1. Ronique-499294 February 16, 2016 Reply

    my children and I had this conversation over the Christmas holidays. Though they understand, in some ways, why their mom and dad don’t celebrate anniversaries (as an example), they also expressed that they do not remember a time when they were around mom & dad and dad was happy. I try to listen and reassure them that both of their parents love them.

  2. Annette-1047775 March 1, 2014 Reply

    Thank you for your article. My ex-husband who is Catholic, is directing our children not to believe in God. My son has serious issues at age 13 and he doesn’t want to be Catholic. Mass is hard because my son refuses to sit, stand kneel and pray. He wants to be like his dad. After all, dad has the easier life.

    I want to have perspective over the situation. I continue to pray for my family every day.

    • Heather-294940 March 4, 2014 Reply

      Hi Annette, I will add your family to my prayers. I am sure you must be suffering greatly. I encourage you to seek out the intercession of St. Monica and not to lose hope. St. Catherine of Siena reminds us that God wants always to keep souls close to himself and he gives us many opportunities to make that happen. No one goes without a fight! Be assured of my prayers.

      With prayers for peace in Christ,

  3. Heather-294940 March 1, 2014 Reply

    Hello Christopher,

    I believe Holy Mother Church has a process in place for examining the validity of marriage that is not hasty and does not come by these decisions lightly; one reason why there is a tribunal. The process is long and somewhat arduous. I believe that the problem begins with improper preparation for marriage on the front end which is why annulment may seem fairly common. I don’t know facts and figures, but I know people who did not have their annulments granted, so I can’t say I agree with your assessment that annulment is easy.

    In regards to the children, it is always a sad thing when marriages end and when a parent or sibling leaves the faith. The best I can say about that is to encourage your children to own their faith. It is in fact, separate from what any other person (parent or sibling) chooses to do. In the end the best thing we can do is to pray for our children and for any family member(s) affected by these types of situations. We can not force children or family members to remain faithful. We can however, pray to God unceasingly that he fortify the faith of our children/family member. And then we just need to trust in the Holy Spirit and do our part to continue to pray.

    With prayers peace in Christ,

  4. Christopher-1062995 February 28, 2014 Reply

    What are the children supposed to do when the parents break up, leave the Church, who allows the nullification for small cause? What do they do when all the younger siblings leave religion altogether due to bad example from the parents?

    Divorce is not supposed to be allowed in the Church in the first place, and nullification only where marriage is impossible (usually from some outside “relationship” or there was clearly no consent). As a sacrament, it’s even more important to uphold as a matter of justice than equity court reversals because the standard is supposed to be “possible,” not “fair or desired.” The harshness divorce by easy annulment presents on the children presents an element of especial injustice.

    There ought to be a requirement of the bishops to meet the parties and first question any divorce as a matter of authority under pain of sin, since mortal sin can explode from this one as a matter of unbound human preferences.

    • Maria-846192 March 2, 2014 Reply

      Dear Christopher,

      I hope that you are blessed with a long lasting marriage, and never have to suffer the pain of divorce, especially one that you never wanted. The Church does not make the annulment process easy, which is a good thing. The Church has not changed it’s view on marriage, but it has with broadened it’s view (with the assistance of social sciences and psychology, just to name a couple) of the complexity of nature of the human person and how this affects the nature of marriage. The Church (its people) have undergone profound changes over the decades, and while marriage must be kept sacred, the Church must find pastoral ways of supporting its broken people.

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