By Virginia Perry
With better than one in two marriages ending in divorce and with a growing number of people choosing not to get married, it is important to consider practical ways and means of co-parenting your children without residing in the same household. Your attitudes and actions can bake a big difference in how your children cope with separation and divorce. To the degree that you can, keep an open channel of communication with your children. Reassure them by word and deed that you love them and will be there for them.
Do not expect or encourage the children to take sides or to choose where they want to live. Although older children’s preferences should be considered in making the decision as to where and with whom they will live, it is an abdication of parental responsibility to place the burden of such a decision on the children. The two of you as parents should think about what is best for your children and try to reach an agreement on custody and visitation and on parenting issues, as well.
Take time to communicate with your children. Explain to them briefly and honestly in terms understandable to the individual child what is taking place. Reassure your children that they are not to blame for the separation. Avoid blaming another person for the separation. That means don’t blame another person for what is happening, not even your spouse. Moreover, reassure the children that both parents love them.
Use Your Support Mechanisms
As you approach these decisions for your children, pray for wisdom and discernment. God will not abandon you. He gave you stewardship of your children and He will equip you to be a good steward. Give mature consideration to minimizing the changes in the lives of the children to the degree possible for the sake of continuity and stability. For example, maintain the same school, friends, and activities.
Encourage the children to talk about their feelings with God and with you. Pray for your children and, sometimes, let them hear you praying for them. Pray together with them, as directed by the Holy Spirit. Hopefully, you have already established relationship with another adult for your child, such as a pastor, teacher, or youth leader with whom he/she may discuss his/her feelings and secure godly advice and guidance. This is especially important if the child is feeling torn between parents and does not feel liberty to communicate with you because of these feelings of conflict.
Practical Suggestions for Christian Parents Living Apart
Walk in forgiveness: Forgive the other parent for their wrongs against you. Holding a grudge not only hurts you but your children, as well. Forgiveness is not an option, it is a commandment that your prayers be not hindered.
Pray for your children and for the authority figures in their lives. This includes praying for the other parent and for the step parent, as well as teachers, guidance counselors, church workers, day care workers and others.
Refrain from voicing criticism of the other parent or in-laws. Your children do not need to hear this and you are not called to judge the other parent or in-laws. If there is a problem, talk to God about it when you are alone.
Share positive memories of the other parent with your children.
Maintain consistent discipline, control and direction for your children, along with nurture. If possible try to maintain a united and coordinated parenting style and policy with the other parent. If this is not possible, do the best you can in maintaining consistency in discipline, control and direction of your children. Children need consistency and stability. Contrary to some prevailing philosophies, discipline comforts a child. Remember Psalm 23, “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” The rod is discipline. The staff is nurture.
Keep the visitation schedule and be courteous about it; give notice in the event you need a temporary change in the schedule and work with the other parent when they need an adjustment in the schedule.
Remember your children need both parents and both parents have something to contribute to their lives. God chose to bless the two of you with a child for His plan and purpose in your generation. Keep that foremost in your mind and be as inclusive of the other parent as circumstances allow.
Spending time with your children is more important than buying them things or expensive outings.
Responsible Parents are Godly Parents
Being separated or divorced does not terminate your rights as parents, nor does it terminate your responsibilities before God. Study the scripture to show yourself approved, a parent who need not be ashamed, but who rightly divides the word of God. Learn what God’s word says to parents and to children. Apply these things in your life and in that of your children. Teach these things to your children. If possible, take them with you to church. If not, it does not mean you cannot teach your children about God and about His ways.
Seek support and counsel from your pastor, home care group leader, and, if necessary, from professionals, such as lawyers, social workers and psychologists. In the abundance of counselors is wisdom.
If you can remember that children are a gift and inheritance from God and that the conception of your children involved two parents each of whom have a contribution to make to the lives of your children, it will help you make the right choices in parenting your children.
Virginia Perry, JD is a licensed Virginia attorney and has been actively engaged in the general practice of law with an emphasis on family law and trials for over 30 years.