Real Life Solutions: Divorce and the Holidays

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We are proud to have Dr. Linda Mintle in ParentLife each month answering questions submitted from readers. To submit a question for Dr. Mintle, e-mail it to parentlife@lifeway.com and include “? for Dr. Mintle” on the subject line. This month we have an extra Q&A from Dr. Mintle we wanted to share.

 

 

Q: My husband and I are divorced. Last Christmas was our first year apart, and the holidays were a nightmare. This year, we want to minimize the stress on our two young children during the holidays. What can we do to help them and have less fighting this year?

A: Both of you need to be respectful to each other at all times and stay calm and relaxed so as not to pass along stress to your children. Children can feel parental stress, but they don’t know how to cope with it. Whatever issues you fought about last year, talk about them ahead of time and try to come to agreement on those issues. Next, make sure the children see both parents during the holiday time. Work out a schedule before the season begins and stick to your plans. It helps to post a calendar for the children to see the plans on paper.

If your children are going to both homes on Christmas Eve and Day, stick to the pick-up and drop off times. Tell them to have a great time as you drop them off; sometimes kids need permission to have fun with the other parent. Encourage them to give you a few highlights of time with the other parent, but don’t prod for information.

Finally, build in some down time. Kids need rest and time to enjoy their new gifts. Take the time and make every effort to drop unimportant issues during this time of year. If you and your ex approach the holidays with a positive attitude, this will be passed on to your children.

How do you deal with holidays if you are divorced or separated?

Blending Families

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Dr. Linda Mintle answers your questions each month in the "Real Life Solutions" department of ParentLife magazine. This month Dr. Linda answers questions about losing baby weight and minimizing frustration due to the "terrible 2s." Each month we post an extra question on the blog. In this month’s extra questions, Dr. Mintle gives some advice about blending families.

Q: I am a divorced single mom of a 4- and 6-year old, but I am about to remarry. Right now, my children are stable and I am worried about blending two families. My fiancé has a 9- and 10-year old. What do I need to know in order to make a smooth transition for all the kids?

A: Blending families is a complex process and takes time. Your concern is good considering divorce destabilizes children and requires a new adjustment. When you remarry, your children will be destabilized once again. The following list covers the big issues involved.

Blending families is easier in the following situations.

  • There is a reasonable interval between marriages, allowing children and you to grieve losses. People do not always give themselves enough time to grieve losses before moving on to new relationships. Do not be in a hurry to remarry if enough time has not passed.
  • Custody changes at the time of remarriage. If you can work out custody issues before the remarriage, it helps minimize the number of changes the children must undergo.
  • Both extended families approve of the remarriage. The more buy in from your extended families, the more support, encouragement, and help they will offer.
  • Children have access to biological parents. Make sure your children know they will still see their biological father.
  • Ex-spouse conflict over children is minimal. The more you can problem-solve with an ex-spouse and develop a system that works, the better.
  • Your children are younger than teens. The older the child, the harder it is to adjust to a new family.
  • You allow an adjustment time of two to four years. This may sound like forever, but it takes time for adjustments to stabilize.
  • The immediate goal is mutual courtesy versus mutual love. Remember you picked a new family, your children did not. Children must behave and be polite, but do not force their love or immediate acceptance. When they miss Daddy, acknowledge their loss. Do not say: “You have another daddy now.” Rather: “I know you do.”

Many newly blended families hope for instant acceptance and intimacy, however it takes time for family members to feel a sense of belonging. Talk about the changes to come, allow time for feelings to be acknowledged and discussed, work with extended families on the upcoming changes, and keep God the center of your family life.

Send us your questions for Dr. Mintle! Leave a comment or e-mail us at parentlife@lifeway.com.

Faith Differences

What if only one parent is a Christian and the other parent has very different beliefs? ParentLife has a monthly department "Single Parent Life" that addresses the needs of single parents. This month ParentLife writer, Tammy Bennentt, asked this question about parents with different beliefs. See her practical helps below that will help any family dealing with faith differences.

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This question is common, not just after divorce, but in traditional families as well. Many times a mom and dad have been raised with different belief systems, or they may have a change of belief later in life. One parent who used to attend church and confess to be a Christian then decides this is no longer true for him. With divorce, there is a high level of frustration that happens to Christians who, unfortunately, may feel judged or isolated by their church because outsiders do not understand or agree with the reasons for the divorce. And there is the all-too common concern of a believer who may become angry or distant toward God because he wanted God to save his marriage and it ended anyway. There are many reasons a person might decide to turn his back on God after divorce — or even before divorce. If you are coparenting with someone who finds himself frustrated and confused about his beliefs, here are a few suggestions.

Remember the most important impact you have. What your child sees in your daily living will speak louder to him than anything. You cannot control what the other parent believes or what happens related to church when your child is with the other parent. What you can do is be the Christian example you want for your child to become. This does not mean being a perfect person or a perfect parent; it simply means letting your whole life radiate Christ and His love and life lived out through you! Years and years of this example will stand strong as a foundation to the faith being built in your child.

Pray for the other parent. Sincerely and fervently pray for the other parent but do not confuse prayer with control. It is not your job to fix or change the other parent. It was not your job when you were married and it certainly is not your job now. The power of a praying parent can reap invisible but valuable rewards — for your child and for the other parent.

Do not openly criticize the other parent. There is a big difference between criticizing the other parent’s beliefs and having neutral conversation with your child about lifestyles, belief systems, and faith. Always be available to listen to your child’s thoughts and be prepared for these “deep talks” at the most unexpected times. If you badmouth the other parent with hopes of getting your child to “side with” you, it will probably backfire! Not only will he feel the need to protect the other parent and stand up for him, he will likely begin to resent you (silently) and a wedge will build between you and your child.

Be respectful. The words your child hears you speak about the other parent will be life or death to his soul. Choose words of life so your child can live find other details (besides religion) that you can point out that are good and positive about his other parent and say them aloud to your child.

Find an appropriate support system. Find an outlet to talk to another adult or counselor about these concerns and problems, but do not process these with your child. Be the parent and let him be the kid.

Enlist a leader at your church. Depending on the age of your child, enlist the leader for his age group and have an honest dialogue with that leader about your concerns. Encourage your child to spend time with that leader, outside of regular church activity time, to develop the friendship. Many times the extra outside voices you help cultivate with your child can be the best influence ever! It also can allow your child to have someone objective to bounce ideas off, ask questions, and to talk about the differences they see between his parents’ beliefs without the worry of hurting feelings or making a parent angry.

No matter the other parents’ beliefs, be the example your kids can follow!

Tammy G. Bennett, The Coparenting Coach, is the founder of Christian CoParenting. She and her daughter, Angelia, live in Nashville, Tennessee. For free e-newletters and resources, see www.ChristianCoParenting.com.

Recommended Reading: Spiritually Single Moms: Raising Godly Kids When Dad Doesn’t Believe by Nancy Sebastian Meyer (Navpress, 2007)

Expert Advice

Sometimes the ParentLife staff gets questions from readers that we do not feel qualified to answer. But we are blessed to work with many experts who are very qualified to answer difficult questions. One of those experts is Dr. Linda Mintle, our monthly columnist for "Real Life Solutions" (pp. 44-45).

Not long ago we recieved the following question from a reader:

"My husband and I have a dilemma we want help with. We have been married for almost 10 years. He has two beautiful girls from a previous marriage. They are 12 and 10. We have many issues with his ex-wife and would like some advice."

We were able to forward this reader’s letter and specific questions to Dr. Mintle. Maybe her suggestions will help you with a difficult stepparenting situation you are in.

Dear Reader,

55.Divorced.parents.gifYou are experiencing the type of issues many do when a divorce occurs with children in the picture. The two households often clash in their values and ideas about raising children. You really have three options.
 

  1. Set up a time to meet with your husband’s ex and explain your concerns. See if you can negotiate some of these issues on a case by case basis. Divorce doesn’t mean discussion with the biological parent ends. In fact, it often takes more time to work through issues because of the divorce. If you approach her in a nondefensive way, she might work with you.
  2. If she seems uncooperative, you can go to family counseling and try to get her involved or get help with how to respond to her. Now you are engaging a third party who can lend weight to your concerns.
  3. You can pursue legal intervention, documenting your concerns for the children and challenging custody. Some states have Parent Coordinators who come along side families and work through these issues without involving the court.

All these options require some cooperation on her part which doesn’t always happen. Regardless, you should talk to your children about your concerns. Your voice will be important as they grow up regardless of what she does. If at any time you think the girls are being harmed, seek legal counsel or call your local mental health line. 

The fallout of divorce is usually on the children, and parents spend years trying to deal with these difficult issues either directly with the ex or using therapy and legal services. I wish there was an easier way. But God is with you and will give you guidance as well. Prayer goes a long way and people can come into the lives of your children that also can influence for the better. Keep praying that God gives your children those opportunities. Pray your husband’s ex that her heart will return for the things of God she once knew.

- Dr. Linda Mintle

Do you have parenting issues or questions you need help with? We would be happy to help you get the answers you need from one of our parenting experts. E-mail your question to parentlife@lifeway.com.