At the beginning of my separation, after my kids and I had moved out and we had started the visitation schedule, I clearly remember one of the first weekends my kids were gone. At the end of the weekend, my then fifteen-year-old daughter walked through the front door of our home and straight into my arms, in tears and sobs.
It had been a very difficult weekend. Lots of arguing and crying and stress, according to her account. And my heart broke into another million pieces, especially as I was still in heartbreak mode myself. We were a fragile household those days. Everything hurt. All pain was magnified.
And in that moment, this is what I wanted to do: I wanted to text something long and inappropriate and unkind, like, “You should be ashamed of yourself,” or “Don’t you ever…again…” or even simply, “Your daughter walked in crying…just thought you should know.” Send.
But I didn’t.
Okay, I did. But I didn’t send those texts to my child’s father. I sent them instead to a friend who would hear my heart and not judge and let me process without getting into anything with my soon-to-be-ex-husband.
But it was so tempting to give out a piece of my mind. The Mama Bear in me was all primed and ready to pounce. But I realized – even in my daughter’s pain…even in my own pain – that doing that would have done no good. Because the moment we separated, I stopped being my former husband’s partner and self-appointed messenger. In fact, at that time I was probably the very last person he wanted advice from.
I have a friend who, a couple years’ post-divorce, still gets texts from the ex-spouse pointing out how he should be parenting better. His ex- hasn’t learned yet that she is no longer his messenger and that she’s actually making matters worse.
So, sweet single mom, is this you? Is your ex-husband failing your child in any way? Does it break your heart? (Of course it does.) Here are a couple thoughts on how to handle it with integrity.
First, and I’ll say it again, do not contact your ex in anger. Do not tell him how to parent. He is a grown man, and odds are, your words will fall on deaf ears.
So what can you do?
Comfort your child when she is hurting. Hold her. Tell her you’re sorry. Wipe her tears away. Help her to calm down. Remind her you love her. Remind her God loves her. Remind her God sees it all.
Listen to her and believe her, and yet (and I say this with all gentleness), remember that you are going to more than likely go off of just her child’s perspective of the story. So keep in mind that sometimes kids can be overdramatic. And yet, exhibit to her that you trust her, so that she will feel comfortable to share with you again if there’s another rough incident.
Empower her. At that time, my fifteen-year-old daughter asked if she could get out of visitation. I honored her request enough to talk with my attorney, then I sat her down and told her the reality of the uphill fight that would be and we decided together not to pursue it. So instead, we talked about ways to deal with difficult people in your life, a skill she will need no matter what situation she finds herself in. And I had her start meeting with my mentor, someone she could talk to who is much wiser than me, and unbiased. I knew her circumstances weren’t going to be changing for a while, so I helped her learn to accept her reality.
If necessary, fight for her. I came to a place of deciding I would not fight my ex-spouse on anything unless it had to do with my children’s safety or them living as normal of a life as they could. But when situations did come up that put my children in harm’s way, you better believe I contacted my lawyer and looked into my options. So if your child is in danger, now is not the time to lay low. You must become the parent that your child is safe with, if sadly, it can’t be both.
Finally, pray for her. I prayed my kids’ out the door before most visitation times, and when they were gone, I would ask God to hold them and protect them and give them wisdom, all things he could do so much better than I ever could.
Parenting is hard enough when there are two parents who get along. What you’re doing – raising your child on your own, let alone with some potential relational obstacles – is monumentally challenging and so very courageous. Even when your child is failed by her other parent, God will help you fill in the gaps by giving you wisdom and strength.
Elisabeth Klein is the author of Unraveling: Hanging Onto Faith Through the End of a Christian Marriage, speaker and a member of Redbud Writers’ Guild. She led a women’s ministry in her church for ten years. She currently leads small groups, writes, and speaks to women surrounding faith, difficult marriage, domestic abuse, divorce and single parenting issues. She lives with her two teenage children in Illinois.
The Life of a Single Mom (TLSM) is a 501c3 nonprofit that exists to serve single parents and those who work with single parents. We are fully accredited through a variety of organizations that include high levels of financial accountability and awards for our premiere financial stewardship, including GuideStar, Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability, Great Nonprofits, Chamber of Commerce, LANO, and others.