Churches usually go one of two ways when discussing divorce….they either say it’s wrong in most cases or they accept it as normal in today’s world. The reality is that divorce was something God has allowed with certain provisions, but it was not something He ever wanted for us (Matthew 19:8). Whenever we stray from God’s original plan and His wisdom, there are usually real earthly consequences. The church has avoided discussing many of these for fear of hurting someone’s feelings….or perhaps because they don’t feel understanding the possible consequences is even necessary.
Yet to move people towards strengthening marriages, reconsidering divorce or in some cases understanding the divorce is both scriptural and has better outcomes than the marriage, we need to better understand what really happens to kids when their parents divorce.
Between Two Worlds by Elizabeth Marquardt uses research and the personal stories of the author and others to enlighten readers about the actual impact of divorce on the children. While she obviously has her opinions, the author does a great job of using research to support the ideas she has formed based on her own experience and observations. Her most compelling belief is that adults filter their opinions of divorce through the adult perspective and have done little to examine the short and long term impact on kids. She is also quick to point out that being able to get an education, hold a job and have romantic relationships as an adult aren’t the only ways to measure the impact of divorce on children.
Marquardt is from a Christian background, but actually deals with faith rather generically in the book. She looks at how a divorce impacts kids faith and beliefs and how a church’s response to a parent’s divorce also impacts children. Interestingly, throughout the book, she categorizes children as growing up in homes with “bad” (contentious) divorces, “good” (low conflict) divorces, high conflict marriages and low conflict marriages. As one can imagine, even within divorce and marriage there are nuances that can make the impact children for better or worse.
If you are considering divorce, I highly suggest reading this book. It’s important to understand how it will really impact your kids. If you are divorced – whether it was something you wanted or were heartbroken over – you should read the book to understand what is happening to your kids and to find ways to minimize and/or address the issues. If your marriage is fine, it’s still a great book to read to motivate yourself to keep working to make your marriage better.
One of the basic tenants of Christianity is doing good works. The New Testament Christians weren’t know for just donating a portion of their excess to the poor and others….they shared everything they had – generously. That attitude is easier to have if you were raised in such a way that generosity is part of your identity.
Teaching your kids Bible stories like the Good Samaritan and the Widow’s Mite as well as the many scriptures about giving and serving will give them a strong foundation. There are some habits you can establish as a family that will also encourage your kids to have a generous heart and think of others before themselves.
Seasonal clothing. Kids grow overnight it seems. Often families have a habit of sorting through clothing at the end of every season. Get in the habit of donating the outgrown clothing to others. Have your children help launder and repair items so they are in top condition. Let them choose the ministry or charity to whom they donate. Want to up your game? Work together to earn the money to buy a couple of brand new seasonal items to donate as well.
Toys. Our family for several generations has had the rule that when new toys come into the home on birthdays and Christmas, old ones had to leave. Once again, have your children clean and repair toys. Let them choose the ministry or charity to which they donate the items (Check first as some only take new items.). I’m not a fan of making kids give up all of their birthday presents for charity, as I think it can backfire and cause resentment. There are always one or two gifts that are received that aren’t particularly popular with the recipient. Or they may get too many items. It can be one way to introduce the concept of tithing – giving a percentage of everything received back to God. Choosing one or two new items to donate from their birthday or Christmas “haul” may be a great way to encourage giving while not asking them to sacrifice every single present.
Food. If you’ve ever asked children to participate in a canned food drive, you are well aware you get boxes filled with canned beets and other unpopular foods! Why not encourage food sharing by letting your kids grow food and donate some or all of it? Many places that provide groceries to those who are food insecure don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Even a little will be welcomed. If you don’t have a yard, look into container gardening. You can grow quite a bit of produce in pots.
Time. It is a rare family that intentionally sets aside a certain number of hours that is the minimum time they will spend serving others each week. Doing so, however, can help your kids learn to be observant of the needs of others and encourage them to create margin in their schedules so they have the time to help those who need it. Find different ways to use that service time….sometimes serving your church and other times, the community or on a mission trip. Encourage your kids to suggest ways to use your service time each week….they may just surprise you!
Talents. Your kids may just be discovering and developing the gifts God gave them to serve others. They can still use them now in service – even if it is only helping someone with a similar gift work on a project. If you and your spouse don’t have a similar gift, find an adult in your church who would welcome the extra help and be willing to mentor your child who is similarly gifted by God.
Making these five things family habits that are repeated year after year for your kids’ entire childhood, will make them firmly engrained habits. They will become as much a part of their identity as their last name or your other family traditions. And what better family traditions and legacy to have?!
I don’t know about the weather in your area, but here Spring is full of rapid weather changes. Your kids are changing rapidly, too. You will need to adjust some of your parenting as they change. Here are some challenges from social media to start your reflection process.
Monday: This tree is beautiful, but its blooms stink – even from a distance. Your kids need to understand how God views beauty. While they may be beautiful on the outside, if they are “ugly” on the inside, God won’t be happy. On the other hand, even if the world does not consider their outward appearance to be beautiful, if they are kind, loving, wise, godly…..that inner beauty will also make them look more beautiful outwardly. They need to focus on being the person who God created them to be…inwardly beautiful.
Tuesday: What are your kids reading and watching? Studies show it influences their thinking more than parents would like to believe. A quick glance at some of the content Netflix creates for teens normalizes all sorts of unhealthy, ungodly choices and frankly rather unrealistic jumps from teens making great choices to immediately making questionable and dangerous ones. Don’t assume the normalization of these behaviors doesn’t impact your kids, because over time they can come to believe those things are not only normal, but laudable. It can create a rift they place between themselves and God which some will never want to repair.
Wednesday: Your kids may think you are a couple of hundred years behind the times culturally. You don’t have to participate in or even appreciate what your kids like. You do need to know enough about it though to understand any impact it might have on their attitudes, beliefs, behaviors or health. Who knows? Some of it may actually be great and you can enjoy it together from time to time.
Thursday: This is the Titanic Museum. In the end it’s a story about a company whose pride got in the way of taking safety precautions. Christians always need to take safety precautions against Satan, but your kids need to be taught godly ways to protect themselves from giving in to temptation. They also need to realize that no matter how confident they may be in their faith, Satan can still tempt them…at times using the over confidence that often accompanies pride.
Friday: The last year has been particularly hard on some kids and teens. How do yours feel about everything that has happened? Do they blame God? Have they been resilient, leaning on God to help them through the tough times? Knowing their thoughts can help you know what they need from you to help them process everything. Teaching them to be resilient by leaning on God can help them in the future, too. They need you to teach and show them how to do it though.
Self control is critical for the secular success of kids and teens, but it has an added benefit for Christians. Self control is a fruit of the Spirit and helps Christians avoid sinning when tempted. A child who has no self control is fairly obvious, but how do you know if your kids’ self control is improving? There are five questions you can answer about your kids, or ask them to answer for themselves that can help you evaluate their self control.
Can they make themselves do something they don’t want to do? Self control isn’t always about avoiding an action. Sometimes self control is doing what is best, even when you don’t feel like doing it. It may start with brushing their teeth regularly and grow to doing kind things for their “enemies”.
Can they keep quiet or choose their words carefully when feeling strong emotions? The Bible tells us controlling our tongues is perhaps the most difficult. Staying quiet or choosing words carefully, rather than saying everything that is being thought is a sign your kids have developed self control.
Can they disagree with someone or dislike what they did and still act with love and kindness towards them? True self control is reflecting God’s love towards everyone….even those with whom we are angry. It doesn’t excuse what they did, but it shows amazing self control for your kids to forgive, love and treat kindly someone who has hurt or annoyed them.
Can they deny themselves something they really want? The famous marshmallow test of self control has been questioned recently, but isn’t it similar to avoiding sin when tempted? Satan doesn’t normally tempt us to sin in ways that don’t appeal to us. If your kids can resist temptation, whether it’s to sin or make a questionable choice, they are exhibiting self control.
Can they work patiently towards a big, long term goal? Self control, perseverance and patience often work together. Working towards a huge goal often requires self control. Why? Because sacrifices must usually be made in order to achieve the goal. Those with little self control are unlikely to deny themselves in order to accomplish a long term goal.
Self control can fail to grow or even slip without an awareness of how well it is practiced. Teaching your kids how to evaluate their self control regularly, can help them continue to grow and improve.
One of the keys to a young person’s self control is metacognition – the ability to recognize one’s own thoughts. For Christian young people, this is also a key to recognizing when they are being tempted to sin. Fortunately, metacognition is a skill that can improve with practice. Even better, there are fun ways to give your kids practice in recognizing their own thoughts.
First thought game. This is a game we normally associate with psychology, but we aren’t using it in the same way. Throw out random words and have your kids say the first thing that pops into their minds. You won’t be analyzing their responses at all. What you want them to do is develop an awareness that outside stimuli can trigger thoughts in their minds and that they can become aware of what those thoughts may be.
Jot it down. Throw out a “wild” idea. Example: “What if we went on a year long vacation anywhere in the world?” Instead of giving you a verbal answer, have your kids jot down everything they are thinking. Once again, the answers aren’t important (unless you intend to actually do it). Jotting down words, phrases or ideas will make them more aware of their thought process than merely verbalizing them. Don’t forget them to capture thoughts like, “Is she serious?” “What about school?” and other similar thoughts.
Ask directly. Throw out a controversial topic and ask what they think about the subject. Try to choose one that won’t upset you if you disagree with their responses. To take it to the next level, see if they can tell you why they think the way they do about the topic.
“What if”. Trying to ask kids what they were thinking right before they made a poor choice rarely results in a concrete answer. Although that’s a great goal to have, try focusing on having them be aware of the process of thinking of other options. Encourage them to stop whenever they have a choice to make and ask themselves, “What if I did something other than what I am getting ready to do?” It will take verbally practicing with you first quite a bit before they can do it naturally in real time, but mastering this may help point them towards better options and intentional thinking rather than merely reacting to a choice without awareness of any cognition.
Question hour. Encourage your kids to ask their questions. If you aren’t available when a question comes to mind, train them to jot it down to ask you later. Becoming aware of the questions they have is one part of recognizing their own thoughts. You don’t literally have to spend an hour answering questions, but you should make time regularly for answering them. Remember, there is no shame in having to look up answers you don’t know or have forgotten. It’s a great way to teach them how to find reliable answers for themselves as they grow older.
“Voices” in their thoughts. Ask your kids what “voices” they hear in their heads when they want to do something. Younger children won’t be able to do this, but older ones should be able to tell you they “hear” grandma’s favorite expression or the mean thing a coach said to them. Knowing the “tapes” they have already ingrained can be helpful to you as you parent them away from any unnecessarily toxic thoughts they have allowed others to place in their metacognition collection. It will also let you know if some of the positive “tapes” you have tried to install in their brains have taken root.
Helping your kids with their metacognition skills takes time. It can really help improve their self control and avoiding sin when tempted. It’s worth making the time to help them recognize their own thoughts.