Holy in the Daily

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How to deal with a son or daughter's divorce

I recently received a note from a subscriber asking me to address a divorce problem concerning her son.

He and his wife of 14 years separated. They share six children, with the youngest under two years old.

You can imagine my friend’s devastation:

    • Sadness, pain, and hopelessness within concerning her son and grandchildren
    • Anger towards her daughter-in-law
    • Confusion over how to cope, show love, communicate, and relate to the in-laws

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

It hurts to watch your kids go through traumatic events that rock their world. Your world starts shaking too.

Been there. Done that. It wasn’t fun.

I’ve walked with two of my six children through crushing divorces. Here’s what I learned when my mama bear claws are activated:

Remember who you are

You are an imager of the God who is love. Therefore, you’ll need lots of time alone with Him to deal with your feelings of anger, confusion, unforgiveness, or bitterness.

These are normal feelings that arise when divorce happens. They alert you to your need to draw close to the Lord, move forward in forgiveness and grace, and see a person through God’s heart of love and reconciliation.

If you don’t use unforgiveness, anger, or bitterness as warning signals, you’ll defile others, as well as your soul.

Be kind to the other half of this divorce, the spouse, and their family. Refuse to listen to blame or give blame. Don’t become part of the crowd casting stones. 

Be the place of refuge where there is always an extra seat at the dinner table, conversations ring with laughter, and stories are told of good things happening in the lives of family and friends.

In the middle of their divorce, a child doesn’t want to be pestered with questions or feel like they have to give you updates. They want to feel normal, and you can help set an atmosphere free of drama for them to feel safe.

So do what your family does best. Eat, play cards, watch TV together, bake, discuss world news, share funny memes from social media, walk the dog, and if your child wants to talk about their life…listen along with the Holy Spirit. 

Be the mom who, at the end of a visit, says, “I love you, and I’m praying for you.

Remember who you are Not!

You are not your adult child, and you are not their partner. You don’t know their life as well as you might think you do. There is a whole lot more going on than what appears on your radar.

Tish Harrison Warren made this comment in Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, and I think, with a few pronoun adjustments, it applies to us moms-of-children-who-divorce:

Most often, what people are arguing about isn't really what they think they are arguing about. What they are actually arguing about is their fears, anxieties, identities, and hopes (italics mine).

Whatever their arguments are about, they probably aren’t about the real issues that divide the marriage. Your child and their spouse may not even know what the foundational issues are. This means the stories you hear, the questions you ask, and the advice you share is limited.

Tread lightly in grace as you relate to the couple who is divorcing.

Define your divorce boundaries

Divorce boundaries

Your son or daughter has to adjust to new boundaries with their partner and with their kids. Whatever those boundaries are will impact you too.

You may not be able to see the grandchildren as often as you would like or even where you would like, such as at your home or theirs. Whatever boundaries are set for you, respect those boundaries.

Separation and divorce call for new boundaries in your life too. Consider adding the following boundaries to your relational tool kit:

I can listen and pray, but I am not open to passing information on to others.

If your child chooses to share their divorce problems with you, be available to listen and pray with them, but don’t discuss their divorce with anyone else. Their separation is their problem, and if you discuss it with others, it is a form of gossip.

Neither are you the divorce messenger, delivering messages back and forth between the couple or other family members. Don’t go there. 

I will not become my child’s therapist.

Share your bits of wisdom if your son or daughter asks for it. Usually, they just need to feel heard and loved.

They also need a professional therapist who won’t carry their offenses or emotional burden and give wise counsel to walk in love.

Be the mom, not the therapist.

I will mind my own business.

If you aren’t a part of the solution or you tend to pick up others’ offenses, don’t listen to a conversation about the separation or divorce regardless of who is sharing with you.

Why give the enemy of souls any fuel to ignite his plans to “divide and conquer?” He wants to kill, steal, and destroy all relationships connected to the separation/divorce, not just those between the couple.

I will not believe everything I hear.

Don’t assume something shared with you is a fact. Most couples in divorce share assumptions as if that assumption is a fact, when usually it is an imagined extension of an action they don’t fully understand.

“He got home at 1:00 in the morning, and I know he was with another woman.” That may or may not be accurate, but I’m guessing that there is more to the story if it is true.

You don’t know the rest of the story… the “why” behind the adverse action, or what internal feeling fueled the activity. And, finally, if it is true, it is not your marriage, so mind your own business.

I will choose loving actions and words in all my connections with my child’s partner, the in-laws, my grandchildren, and other family members.

Walk in love. Check-in on your attitudes and motivations to be sure they reflect God’s love.

If your actions don’t match your “I love you” words, you are not walking in love. Be an imager of the One Who Reconciles, not the Accuser Of the Brethren.

I will always speak highly of both parents when my grandchild needs comfort concerning his parents’ separation or divorce.

You have the honor of providing a safe place for your grandchildren. Comfort them, love them, don’t discuss details of the divorce with them except to encourage them and pray with them. Try saying, “I don’t understand it all, but Jesus does, and He loves your mom and dad very much.”

Be Jesus with skin on to your grandchildren through this confusing and challenging time.

I will minimize my relationship with my child’s spouse and their friends and family if necessary.

Sometimes the other half of the divorce doesn’t share or respect your boundaries. Some people feed on drama or nurse wounds. They say and do things that are not God’s heart. They use their mama bear claws on others instead of the enemy of their souls.

These are unhealthy coping strategies stemming from deep pain and fear, a faulty relationship practice, not knowing the Lord, or neglecting how to learn to be His imager. 

If you consistently run into these unhealthy coping strategies, limit your relationship with those who practice them. Often over time, people find healing, learn new coping skills, and your relationship with them can grow again.

Focus on the big picture

God is very aware of everything that is happening during a divorce. He loves all those involved, and His heart breaks concerning their pain. He stands right in the midst of it all.

He also has a long-term view and is working to bring good out of the situation. He is standing at every turn in the road ahead and waits in each person’s future for them to arrive.

Though He disagrees with some choices individuals have made, His love and grace are greater. Love stands amid sin, ready to forgive and heal.

Now… deactivate the mama bear claws. Put on your shoes of peace and move forward. God’s got you.

Visit my Life Coaching page if you’d like help processing your role in your child’s divorce.

And if you found this post helpful for yourself or someone you know, leave a comment below.

Hugs,

Susan

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Paula Cordero

    Timely post! My son and his wife are navigating through a divorce after 5 years of marriage. They have a 5 year old and 3 year old. I’m doing my best to react and reach out in love and grace to my daughter in law. Some extended family members almost seemed appalled that I refuse to bash her and gossip about facts that I don’t know. I’m doing to best to not let myself get overly involved their personal issues and to let both of them know that I am here if they need someone but encouraging and suppprting them both in seeking professional counsel. At the end of the day they are both still the parents of these kids and I’m still the grandma with a hearts desire to see all of them have a relationship with God.

    1. Susan Gaddis

      That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Your daughter-in-law will always be your grandchildren’s mother and it’s important to try to keep your relationship with her as stable as possible. Since your heart longs to see each in the family have a relationship with the Lord, that will be your beacon moving forward. Good for you, Paula. It isn’t easy when sometimes we feel we are placed in the midst of someone else’s drama without a boat or paddle. You’re doing a great job of navigating those stormy waters. 🙂

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