God will not demand more from you as a parent than what He will help you do.

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Children of Divorce

Kristine Steakley

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Excerpt from the Introduction to Child of Divorce, Child of God: A Journey of Hope and Healing

Recently I was chatting with a casual acquaintance about growing up in a family with divorce. Her husband's parents are divorced, and yet (oddly, to my mind) they are still very intertwined in each other's lives. The complexities of families-the unique combinations of passions, personalities, values, intellects and a dozen other factors that somehow knit us together into clans as distinct as handmade afghans-defy convention or the expectations or experiences of others. I could no more relate to the separate-involved-together-apart kind of life of this other family than I could envision living marooned on an island of zebras. Both would be unfathomably difficult to navigate or reconcile. We had a good long chat, and I recommended several books for her and her husband.

Then I said, as innocently as pre-apple Eve, "I can't ever remember my mom and dad being in the same room together." I might as well have grown a second head for the astonished look she gave me. It had not seemed an odd thing to say, just a simple statement of truth.

"Wow, their divorce must have been really acrimonious," she said.

"No, I don't think it was," I responded. "But afterward, they never really had a need to be in the same place." It was simple enough. My mom and I no longer lived in the same town as my dad. When I visited him, my grandparents-who were self-employed and had more flexibility in their schedule-would pick me up at my mom's and bring me back a few days later. After I finished first grade, my mom, my new stepfather and I moved to another state, and from then on I traveled alone by airplane between my two families.

To be honest, I am not sure how I would handle a collision of those two worlds. My friend Karen used to hate the idea of casseroles, with their bits of peas and chicken and potatoes and sauce all mixing together with total abandon. I have always liked casseroles, but the idea of my mom and my dad in the same room is just too weird-like eating butterscotch pudding and scalloped potatoes together. Sure, they are both creamy and tasty and good enough on their own, but they aren't meant to go together.

Of course, my mom and dad were together at one point. I have pictures of the two of them or the three of us, a family. But I am used to us as separate courses, like appetizer and dessert, requiring separate plates and flatware. The oddity of this total separateness had not fully occurred to me until that conversation with my friend.

Having divorced parents permanently alters the reality of our world. We form our views of ourselves, of relationships, of family, even of God based on the example of our parents. One child of divorced parents said, "It's basically losing the structure and understanding of your life as you know it. It's like a lot of emotions at once. It changes your life permanently and that is a hard thing to deal with at a young age or at any age." Little wonder, then, that the trauma of a family shattered by divorce lingers on in the broken hearts of those children as they grow into adults.

Not long ago, popular psychology held that children recover from divorce with the same resiliency they display when they bounce back from a broken arm or a knock on the head. One book, originally published in 1989, cheerfully assured parents, "Hopefully it will only take a year for children to come to terms with their basic feelings of loss of the original family and any rejection or desertion by a parent, although some anger and sadness may still persist."

When Judith Wallerstein's book The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce came on the scene, Oprah and the rest of the American public uttered a collective gasp and shook their heads in disbelief and well-intended pity for these children of divorce and the ugly, hidden scar tissue they carry. As it turns out, we did not bounce back from the divorce of our parents like brand-new rubber bands. The hurt that was supposed to have been all about our parents somehow left gaping wounds in our own souls, wounds that often festered and turned gangrenous or healed but left deep scars.

Even today there is a happy-go-lucky crowd singing the merry party line of "divorce won't hurt the children if you do it right." Not surprisingly, the proponents of this theory are parents who have divorced. I have yet to meet or hear of a child of divorce who has bought into it-we know better. There is not a "right way" to do divorce so that no one gets hurt. It may be a nice idea, but the reality simply does not work that way. Our actions have consequences, and one of the consequences of divorce is the battered hearts of children whose homes are broken when marriage vows are abandoned.

This book is not intended to be a pity party for children of divorce. It is not a forum to whine about how tragic our lives have been, and it certainly is not a tell-all that airs the dirty laundry of my own family. This is not a sob story about how hard it is to have divorced parents. Rather, it is a story about hope and healing. Coming from a broken home is difficult, but it is not insurmountable. But if all we have are the world's answers to the hurt we experience, then we are in big trouble. It doesn't take long to figure out that the world's answers do not work! There is not enough beer, sex, drugs, perfection, academia, counseling-in short, not enough of anything-to dull the pain, much less heal it.

But there is an answer. God provides a firm foundation for healing our broken hearts.

Finding this foundation became my passion after I was asked to help lead a Sunday school class for children whose parents were divorced or divorcing. At the time, there were no Christian curricula for children of divorce (thankfully that is no longer true), so we used a series of lessons that applied Christian thought to the available secular curricula.

I have no doubt that our lessons made an impact in those children's lives, but when we finished I felt we had let them down. Yes, we had given them some tools and some help, but it simply was not enough. We had used the world's answers with a few supporting Bible verses thrown in for good measure. We had given them a Band-Aid when they needed major surgery. It wasn't that we were not equipped for the major surgery-after all, our God is the Great Physician. We had the answer to the hurt and confusion and anger these children were experiencing. We know the God of the universe, the loving, almighty, awesome God. He is the answer for all our hurts-for the children in that Sunday school class, and for you. He is the answer to every question, the solution to every problem, the end of every quest.

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