Divorce hurts the kids in ways you can’t see
It’s a myth: the children of divorce do NOT come out unscathed and they do NOT always bounce back beautifully. Parents should find a way to make it—any way short of serious abuse—at least for the sake of the innocent victims. While this is not always possible, many people divorce without exhausting every possible solution for staying together.
No matter their age, children of divorce can have wounds that go deep and last for years. Without specific help, many can stay partially emotionally “stuck” at the age of the trauma. Despite any of their intellectual understanding that divorce may not have been unavoidable, or was even necessary, emotionally they will usually always long for their parents to be together—even after decades. They often suffer from deep levels of fear of abandonment, fear of commitment, lack of trust, lack of commitment, inability to attach in a healthy way, and so much more. Their relationships, health, careers, marriages, and own children can suffer.
That’s the really bad news. Is there any hope? Of course there is, and his name is Jesus Christ.
Jesus still heals
If you are a divorced parent and cringe at the thought of what you or the other parent have done to the kids, it’s not too late. If you are one of the adult children of divorce, it is not too late for you, either.
Everyone in the family is hurt by divorce—there is no escape. But two thousand years ago, Christ came to heal the blind, lame, deaf, dumb, crippled, and diseased. He even raised people from the dead and he still is in the business of miracles. Life is plagued with injustices, traumas, and even horror—including divorce—none of which should ever be minimized. But if we also fail to offer hope and a solution, we leave others in a state of despair . . . or worse.
Moms and Dads, God love you, maybe you did not want the divorce, fought it with all you had, or had no other choice than divorce for the safety or sanity of your family. Regardless—and even if some relief came from the divorce—everyone was adversely affected in some way. If you have not done so, you need to admit it as that is the first step to real healing for you and everyone. This is not about blame since that is for your confessor; this is about the promise of our faith of healing for all.
How do adult children of divorce heal?
Just as their parents do, through a slow, careful, and consistently Catholic path. The following list is not meant to be a quick fix and it will probably take years for the layers of hurt to be brought to the Light. But this path to healing works, as many can attest.
For all family members:
1 – Admit you need help and ask God to help you find it.
2 – Draw close to him daily and cling tightly to him, taking a day at a time.
3 – Begin to deepen your prayer life, even with baby steps.
4 – Be honest about your emotions and struggles. Especially with God. He can take it.
5 – Start talking with a trusted friend or in a support group about what has been kept hidden and secret and taboo—maybe since you were a child.
6 – Make a list of all your fears; work on it for a few weeks. Take it to prayer. And a good spiritual director.
7 – Seek professional Catholic counseling in uncovering the residual anger, rage, bitterness, genuine guilt, false guilt, or unaddressed grief.
8 – Learn about what forgiveness is… and is not. Ask God to help you both find it and offer it to others. More on forgiveness HERE.
9 – Learn to fully grieve. (More difficult for some than it seems)
10 – Learn how to love another person even when you can’t trust him or her.
11 – Go to confession and unload anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, and other such sins. You don’t have to be friend with or trust any person who hurt or keeps hurting or using you.
12 – Learn about setting and (the hard part…) enforcing healthy boundaries.
15 – Pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which include fortitude.
16 – At some point, get out and offer help in this area to others who need it.
17 – Pray for your whole family every day, that they open their hearts to God and do his will, not necessarily yours. Be patient and merciful.
18- Pray that God will keep his promise, to bring good from evil and beauty from ashes. And he will.
Some extra help for parents
Parents, if you have not done so before, take these extra steps:
1 – Just listen. Listening with your heart often means keeping your mouth shut.
2 – Stop justifying, defending, and explaining. There is another time for that.
3 – Stop criticizing their other parent. Just stop it all, right now, forever.
4 – Give your child time and space—even if it takes years—to stop any frantic pursuit or wounded isolation. Be patient.
5 – Decide to take the high road. Open your own heart wider to God.
6 – Stop immoral living; it’s never too late to model holiness to your family.
7 – Forgive the other parent. Get rid of all bitterness.
8 – If you have not already, seek forgiveness from the other parent if possible.
9 – Try to come to some level of reconciliation or civility and kindness with the other parent. This takes two and may not be possible but try.
10 – Don’t stay stuck in shame or regret. Ask God for the freedom to receive his joy.
11 – Keep your focus on Our Lord and continue to pray for your whole family.
12 – Pray that God will bring great good from your children’s wounds. Be patient and merciful.
Lots more can be said for each point. There are endless layers to healing such deep wounds, but do not let shame or regret overwhelm you. Take a day at a time, stay on your knees, and be thankful for all things.
Those who were poor in spirit and starving for love, purpose, security, and answers sought Jesus out. Some hobbled, others walked, and some even raced to Jesus for help. He is here, run to him now.
Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place our trust in thee.