Updated: Jan 31, 2020
Half of all children in the United States will witness the ending of a parent’s marriage. Of this half, close to 50% will also see the breakup of a parent’s second marriage. Studies show that the effects of a broken home on children are serious, ranging from depression and lower grades in school to indulging in self-harm and substance abuse. If you're like me, that makes you tremble.
My three little ones are living a life I did not ever anticipate them living. Coming from a home with parents who have been married almost 40 years to date, I've been completely clueless as to how to help children understand what they shouldn't have to understand when I don't understand it myself. If you are in a similar boat and struggle in helping your children and reaching their hearts when the home has been splintered, below are five practical tips that are helping me and my kiddos as we walk this journey.
1. Prioritize safety. Expect long days and nights of nightmares and random outbursts of anger and crying. Expect clingy, expect lots of insecurity and everything else in between. In light of this, make your home a safe haven. Make it a priority to build a nontoxic environment that is open and peaceful. Build a relationship with your children that assures them that they are heard, validated and loved unconditionally and individually. Let them share their deepest fears and let them reminisce and process the grief. Make sure they see that you are with them and that every single thing that hurts them matters to you. Establish a routine and prioritize the safety of their hearts.
2. Be transparent.
Children can sniff out deception. Be real and vulnerable with your children. Don't overload them with information they have no business knowing about and don't weigh them down with your fears and burdens, but do cry with them. Do laugh with them. Do show them that it is painful for you also and that God weeps too. You can show your children the truth in a healthy, age appropriate way without sharing adult issues with little ones. Showing them that you are needy for God's help and you are hurting with them goes a long way in not only pointing them to Christ as our Source, but bonding with you as well.
3. Let them be creative.
In therapy, I watched the counselor use everyday things in a way that soothed and helped my kids. Take balloons and blow all your frustrations and feelings into the balloon. Take crayons and paper and make a feelings book. Put glitter in a bottle and shake it and give your child the amount of time to vent while the glitter settles. I made a feelings house for my son, took a cutout of a boy and we would put the paper boy in whatever "room" he currently felt he was in (sad, scared, angry, happy, etc.). Spend time showing your children you care about their healing by not only helping them in creative ways, but making it fun too.
4. Get outside.
Nature therapy is a thing we pursue regularly. Take your kids outside and teach them how to ground themselves in God's creation. Point out the birds and squirrels. Have them stop and close their eyes and feel the wind and listen to the leaves blowing across the ground. Have them climb rocks and trees and feel the grass. Go outside and let them run the pain out and climb the heartache out. When a home breaks, children often feel trapped in an invisible prison. Getting outside and allowing them to feel wild and free does wonders for the body, the mind and the soul.
5. Have special things. We have special books, special songs, special routines and special blankets/toys. Find the song that best soothes their little hearts. Find a book you can read over and over. Keep their special blanket or stuffed animal or toy close by and maintain a solid routine so they can feel secure. When a family has been splintered, they need as many things as possible to feel comforted. So watch them closely and pick out special things that make them smile and soothes their anxiety.
Keep in mind that useful tools are a blessing but ultimately the Healer is where healing is found. The Comforter is where we find comfort. The One who never changes is where we find our security and solace. Do all you can (pray, love, study, work) and then leave the rest in the sufficient hands of our God. You and your children are safe under His wing.