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February 8

Effects of Divorce on Children and The Family

Whether you yourself have been through a divorce or know someone who has, divorce is something most of us have experienced in some capacity, and something the church doesn’t always speak to. We want to bring you perspective, guidance, and most of all hope in a situation that often makes us feel estranged, rejected, and lonely. We’ll be exploring the issues both parents and teens face in divorce. This post will share the real story of a mother we met through the Parenting Pivot Challenge, a woman with abounding love for her children who is empowered by the strength of the Lord. We at Axis hope you find encouragement in her words.

Tara’s divorce story

“Your significant other is supposed to be your partner, your helper,” said Tara about her ex-husband, who she divorced four years ago. “You’re supposed to be on the same page, united, doing this together.” Unfortunately, Tara felt like a single mother long before her divorce. “Even my family could see…They would often call me a single mom even when I was married because he would just sit there and be on his laptop, present but not fully present while I was running around, hosting everyone, taking care of the kids.”

For Tara, this is a narrative she was already accustomed to. As someone who grew up in a broken home herself, she worried what effect her divorce would have on her children: “My mom had two failed marriages before she married my now stepdad. So, I was just so scared of doing that to them.”

Though the decision to separate from her ex-husband was difficult, today she strives to give her children the best chance at a stable life in their home of Nashville, Tennessee. Her oldest is Madison, 13, a bubbly young girl with Williams Syndrome who loves making friends. Abigail, 12, is the ringleader of the group and often takes on the role of the eldest sibling. And Nathan, 7, is the youngest of the bunch who’d probably play video games all day if he could.

A painful decision

Tara had been with her ex-husband for 20 years before they divorced. After suffering through abuse and then discovering that he’d been having an emotional affair, Tara knew it was time to let go of that relationship. “This was not a situation of my doing. It was something that I chose, but I couldn’t stay,” she said. “It was almost like God opening a door, knowing that I wasn’t going to leave until it got so bad that it was unbearable and realizing I wasn’t going to grow in that environment.”

Oftentimes a parent may stay in an unhealthy marriage because they fear they’ll crack under the pressure of parenting alone. “I stayed because I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to do it all by myself. He makes quite a bit more money than me so I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to fill that financial back, that I wouldn’t be able to raise three children alone.”

For Tara, realizing that she wasn’t actually alone was a major turning point: “[God] will meet the need that your [spouse] chose not to meet. I think really leaning in hard to Him—more than anything—that has helped me.”

The effects of divorce on children and the family

Though Tara’s ex-husband is still in her kids’ lives, she wonders what impact he’s really having on them. As the kids grew, he withdrew; as the years of separation continued, he pushed his kids away; and as Tara’s faith grew stronger, his was placed on a shelf. About a year ago, her daughter, Abigail, expressed her wish to stop going to her dad’s house on weekends. He rarely listened to her when she tried to express herself and was usually harsh. As Tara puts it,  “You can’t force a relationship. The more he pushed, the more she pulled back.”

When one parent pulls away and becomes disengaged, the other may wonder, is it better to have a parent who’s still physically there but not engaging with the kids, or to not have that parent in the picture at all? What effect does this have on the kids involved? Ultimately, it’s not always our decision whether or not our kids maintain a relationship with the other parent; instead, often it’s up to that parent’s initiative, and our kids to decide whether the relationship is life-giving or not. There is always space for God to move in the heart of a disengaged parent or child, but we can’t force relationship.

Though we can’t claim to know anyone’s exact spiritual status, we do understand the heart of the parent who’s forced to parent alone, whether divorced or in a marriage in which a partner has checked out. “A lot of stuff that’s out there is honestly super discouraging when you hear about how much men are needed in the home to lead and how kids are more successful…when there’s a man in the home. And the man in my home is just gonna have to be God.”

When faced with the odds she’d been given, Tara felt discouraged: “A lot of times I’ve been brought to tears just seeing the statistics [about kids from single-parent homes]. It’s like this feeling of being defeated before I even begin, Like, why bother? Then I’m like ‘No, I’m not just gonna lay down the most important thing, the most important job I’ve ever been given in my life and just lay down in defeat and just give up.’”

The statistics can be scary, but if you’re a mother or father dealing with the aftermath of divorce, loss, or a checked-out parent, we want you to know that you’re not alone. You and your children are not statistics, you’re the beloved children of a Father who will never leave you.

“I have to constantly remind myself, if a man in his home can have such an impact on children,” Tara says, “How much more would happen if God were in our homes?”

Bringing God into the center of the home

Life is unpredictable. Sometimes our kids fall into unhealthy patterns or friend groups, sometimes we lose sight of our purpose on the earth, and sometimes marriages fall apart. But one thing is certain: There’s not a valley God hasn’t seen you through, and He won’t stop now. Bringing God into the center of our homes means inviting Him into our parenting, our pain points, our laughter and joys, our everything.

Today, Tara is working on doing just that. Her kids aren’t terribly interested in going to church, and parenting with someone who doesn’t uphold Christian values certainly complicates things. Nonetheless, she’s kept her focus on bringing God into her home and building a strong community of believers to support her. Though she’s gotten some pushback from her kids on going to church, Tara’s used those moments as opportunities to share her desire for a stronger, more connected family in Christ. When talking about initiating change with her kids, this is how she put it to them: “There’s a lot of things even we adults don’t like, but I’m realizing that I’ve gotta change some of my things too. So that’s why I’m doing this with you guys. I’m not doing it to you, I’m doing it with you.”

If you’ve ever been in this place before (like so many have!), hopefully, you’ll feel a little less alone in your fight to make God the focal point of your family. Especially when divorced parents are not on the same page spiritually, it can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle. But be encouraged, none of us is doing this perfectly, and even kids who are raised in the ideal nuclear family will one day be faced with the decision to make their faith truly their own, and it’s our place to simply raise them in the Word and bring the gospel to them every chance we get. At the end of the day, your child’s faith is between them and God, and even a perfect family can’t guarantee lifelong faith.

“I’ve come to a place where I have to ask [God to come into my home] every day. Like ‘I need You in my house, I need You in our hearts, I need You leading me because I don’t know what I’m doing sometimes.’” 

God heals broken families 

In a life with God, there’s always beauty that comes from suffering. Even our lowest lows can bring us chances for growth, something Tara has been grateful for.

“It was a sacrifice that had to be made, but I definitely don’t regret any of it. I felt a lot of emotional freedom in not having to deal with the triggers or the pain he had caused… all of these mental torments that I don’t have to deal with anymore. Then, of course, realizing that I could do this by myself. Aside from childbirth this may be the most amazing thing that I’ve ever experienced.”

What an incredible testament to the power of God’s redeeming grace and purpose. Of course, He doesn’t desire divorce, but He does desire our full hearts, our full trust in Him, no matter the circumstance. If you are divorced, we hope you’ll find strength in Tara’s story to know that divorce is not the end. There is no end to God’s amazing plan for you. As Tara put it, “Really, really lean into God…He is not only our Father and our friend, but He is like a [spouse] to us.”

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