Lent: Repentance, Divorce and Your Children

Lent begins this Wednesday.

It’s difficult in our over-scheduled world to reflect. On anything. It is doubly difficult to reflect on something as unpleasant as our own sins.

However, unless the statistics and the evening news are entirely bogus, we have a lot to repent of this Lent, a lot to change.

Most of us, me included, tend to focus on the entirely personal nature of our sins that pertains only to us. We don’t often consider how our personal sins affect others. We almost never think about  how our personal behavior either contributes to the common good or diminishes it.

We’ve had quite a few discussions on Public Catholic about marriage and family. A lot of this discussing has focused on the question of whether or not our society should change the legal definition of marriage. The question is, should we redefine marriage  to something that does not focus on marriage’s institutional purpose of creating, nurturing and equipping future generations of people to become stable and productive adults?

I think the primary reason we have come to the point where we can seriously consider such a thing is that we have become a divorce culture. Divorce and our easy acceptance of it as a solution for almost any spousal grivance has destroyed marriage as a nest for many millions of our young people. So, destroying it absolutely through a redefinition of the law just seems like the next step for many people. We’ve abused marriage so much that we’ve forgotten what marriage is.

One of the questions I’d like all of us to ponder during this Lent is how we treat our own families. In this post, I’m going to focus on divorced parents.

Divorce does not end your obligation as a parent. It complicates it and makes it more difficult to live out, but it certainly does not end it. Your children are still your children.

I see a lot of finger-pointing between divorced spouses. He claims that she won’t let him see the kids. She tells stories of fathers who make dates to see the children who wait eagerly by the door for hours for their Daddy who never shows up. Some divorced spouses move hundreds of miles away from their children and then only see them once or twice a year.

This is going to make a lot of people angry, but I’m going to say it. If you are only seeing your kids once or twice a year, you are not functioning as a parent in their lives. You are functioning, at best, as a kindly uncle or aunt.

Parents are there. Parents put their children first, ahead of their anger and resentment toward their former spouses, and yes, their careers and their new spouses.

I know all the stories about jobs and second marriages and all the other “necessary” reasons people move far away from their children. But, to be honest, I don’t buy it. Your children should come first. I once knew a divorced dad from England who had followed his divorced wife to Oklahoma so he could be near his kids. That’s a father.

The mother who moved her children so far away from their father on the other hand … not so much. I don’t think divorced dads should move away from their kids. I also don’t think divorced moms should move the kids away from their father.

I can hear the anger now over that statement. After all, isn’t divorce about starting over?

In truth, I don’t know what divorce is. I do know what being a parent is. Among other things, being a parent means you put your kids’ needs ahead of your own. So, no, divorce is not about “starting over” and having a “new life.” You are a parent first, foremost and for life. There are no excuses for forgetting that.

If you have kids, you need to put them ahead of yourself. You need to do what it takes to be their mother or father. Your career, your desire to remarry, your “needs” are all second to that.

Too often, divorced parents use the children to punish their former spouses. Also too often, they remarry and put their new spouses and their new children ahead of their “old” kids. After all, babies are always cuter, cuddlier and simpler than your older children with their knobby knees, braces on their teeth and the emotional damage you’ve done to them with your custody fights, attacks on their mother or father and indifference to their needs.

It must seem to children of divorce like their parents stop loving them. Unfortunately, in far too many instances, this is not entirely an illusion.

Divorce is a wrecking ball we take to our lives. It is a ripping apart of that “one flesh” that marriage is. It violates the trust of family, destroys the peace and safety of home.

Divorce hurts people to the core. It inflicts wounds on them that will not heal.

Whatever harm divorce does to the adults who commit it can be raised by powers of ten for their children. Divorce wounds adults. It maims children.

I know there are many experts who will tell you that this is not true. But look at the generations of young people we are producing. They appear to be increasingly unable to form families and nurture their own young. That is a profound, civilization-destroying failure of child-rearng and family that rests on the heads of their parents.

It speaks directly to our excesses and abuses of our marriages and children. Unfortunately, we are not getting the message. Instead of repenting of our societal excesses that have led to this destruction of our homes and families, we are attempting to complete the process by redefining marriage as a social contract in which fidelity, children and stability play no part.

We want to base our understanding of marriage on things like job benefits and inheritance laws (all of which can be changed without touching marriage) rather than its essential function as a cradle for creating and raising our children. It is as if we have fallen in love with our own cultural/societal suicide.

Lent begins Wednesday. Lent is a time when we are supposed to examine our lives, repent of our sins and do penance for those sins. I’m going to suggest that you take a look at how you treat your family. For this post, I am going to focus specifically on divorced parents.

Are you doing your best to be a good parent to your children? How high are your children on your list of priorities? Do they rank somewhere below your job, your dating life, your grief/bitterness/rage over the divorce and your desire to “put it behind me” and get on with a new life?

Do you even care about what your behavior does to them? Are you concerned about the fact that you are shaping people? Have you forgotten that they are your own flesh and blood?

For today, I want to ask divorced parents to consider examining their own lives and how they can do a better job of overcoming the many deficits divorce inflicts on their ability to properly nurture, guide and shelter their children. Think of ways you can be an effective father or mother to the children you have brought into this world. Consider them, and not you.

They are, after all, your children. Nothing else you do in life matters if you don’t take care of them.

  • http://jessicahof.wordpress.com/ Jessica Hoff

    Thank you for these words and the spirit that inspires them, Rebecca.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Jessica.

  • Victo

    I’m going to sound really stupid but : I don’t know how to do Lent.
    This year will be the first time I do Lent. I absolutely want and desire to do it and have a deeper, stronger, better relationship with God. This is the perfect occasion! I’m really motivated, but…I have no idea what to do! Cutting caffeine and sugar treats? Ok ! Praying more, surely ! Working harder, yep ! I’m not a parent, but I could take more care of my little sister. Any advices ?

    • Gregory McKinney

      As you “absolutely want and desire to… have a deeper, stronger, better relationship with God”, then actually you already do know how to do Lent, far better than many who simply pay it lip service. Talk to your father confessor for his guidance for the season, but yep and surely, pray more, go to services more, give more alms while you deny yourself an indulgence, forgive more, inconvenience yourself more for the sake of another. To me, Lent is not a set of seasonal changes to my behavior that I put on on Ash Wednesday and take off the Monday after Easter. I recognize those things and I don’t dismiss them. But I see Lent as a a time to try to develop one or two Godly habits or work on a blind spot my confessor suggests to me, things I hope to carry forward the rest of my life.

  • http://www.bede.org Stefanie

    Victo — more than ‘take more care of’ your little sister — why not have adventures together? It could be anything from a walk in the neighborhood to building blanket forts in the living room to reading books together by flashlight to climbing trees. I had four younger siblings and this is what I did with them…and my youngest sibling is 16 years younger than myself .

    Rebecca — solid post — thanks so much! Divorce — the elephant in the room for Catholics (and others). A Church annulments do more harm than good for a child — I’ve not seen child yet that hasn’t had a rough go of it after a Church annulment, inspite of the ex-spouses being able to marry again. The child often feels that the Church betrayed them, too.

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  • Bill S

    For Lent, I am going to stop posting comments from my iPhone and only use it for incoming calls. Right.

    The reason that I feel compelled to comment on this article is – even though I don’t believe in the supernatural, something brought me together with my wife and has kept me with her. That something is missing from many marriages today.

    If I were to strip God of all of his Judeo-Christian characteristics, I would credit him with creation and some sort of intervention in peoples lives. It is the lack of or insensitivity to that intervention that is causing so many problems in the world today.

    My cousin’s wife cheated on him and they divorced. She raised their son alone and he ended up in organized crime. This was despite my cousin’s efforts to spend as much time with him as he could.

    I am glad that my wife and I stayed together to raise two wonderful sons. We got along better when we started to go to church again. I have seen the damage that divorce can do to children firsthand.

  • Peg

    I fully support the Church’s teaching on marriage and don’t disagree with any thoughts in this post but will weigh in as a divorced person.

    The reasons for my divorce were pretty serious and I wasn’t back in the church at the time. I did everything I could to make things as best for my kids as possible– every sacrifice to give them the next best thing. Their father is fully present in their life on a daily basis and we still do things as a family unit–but with a peaceful home environment. People are frequently amazed how well we divorced and wonder why we did. Those serious reasons are private and still there but as tempered as I could help for our kids. I have never dated but I do now have the annulment papers. I will let God through the church tell me if mine was sacramental or not and I will abide by that.

    What I won’t do is allow anyone in the church– at parish level– to treat myself or my kids as second class Catholics because of divorce or that they go to public school. They are being raised in the faith by me to know they are wonderfully and uniquely made by God and through faith can find the strength to overcome anything.

    So I agree with this post and the sanctity of marriage and absolutely that the children must always come first but I also hope we can help not judge anyone who has failed whether it’s through marriage or any other moral failing and know that through Christ all can be healed. Thanks

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Peg. These are great comments.

    • Bill S

      “… but I also hope we can help not judge anyone who has failed whether it’s through marriage or any other moral failing..”

      Yes, Peg. I agree. Great comments.

  • http://www.nevadadivorce.org/ John @ Nevada Divorce

    If only everyone could lead their life like you Rebecca, divorces can so often be so messy and unproductive for anything or anyone at all. I guess it’s a road some marriage must take, however. It’s more healthy to divorce than to remain within a broken marriage.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Just for the record: You appear to be affiliated with Conexa, a Nevada web site which advertises: “Nevada Divorce in 1-2 Weeks by Attorney. Get Live-Personal-Attention Now!!!”

  • Joan Price

    Divorce is so tough. When I was younger, I was part of a group for divorced kids. It helped more than I would have thought. There’s a program right now that is starting a curriculum for helping out divorced children which Halsey Minor helped get off the ground. It’s called Kids Turn. I hope it goes well and can help kids trying to learn how to juggle both parents.

  • MD

    I’m living the nightmare now, with seperation. And it’s a pain I could NEVER ever have imagined, because it doesn’t involve just me and my life, but that of my children. And it destroys everything. You can’t get away from the horrible reality that is now your life. I agree with what you’ve said, but with all due respect, it is impossible for you to know what it really feels like (obviously so) So it’s a little hard to read what makes a good parent in a situation like this, when you don’t really know, even if you are a parent yourself. I can say this because I can remember my own assumptions I had before my family was ripped apart. But now I actually KNOW. And those assumptions are no where near what I have been forced to deal with. Such evil and darkness that is involved in having a marriage and family destroyed. And so, being a good parent may involve moving away for example. But maybe not. It is horrible and utterly incomprehensible to me still after 2 years, that I have to be thinking about such things. But some people do have to think about horrible things and there’s nothing they can do. I am glad you wrote the article and shared some excellent points.

    • hamiltonr

      I’m not sure what to say except that you are right. Evil things are forced on us in this life. You are also right in that I have not experienced divorce. This is not due to any great wisdom on my part. I married a good man; a far better man than I knew when I married him. Keep coming back MD. At least you can talk about these things here. Thank you for bringing them up. I want to think about the whole of the situation. That is the only way we ill ever do better.

  • clairet61

    Although your thoughts are well intentioned, some of your conclusions are uninformed— as uninformed as mine were pre-divorce. I can say that having been married for 28 years, I understand commitment, sacrifice and “staying married for the children”— I have 4. Keep in mind, divorces, like marriages, are not created equal; they’re as varied as the people involved in them. The reasons for divorce and the outcomes are endless. Any parent worth their pound in salt, puts their child(ren) first— that should go without say. And, yes, there are shallow people out there who put themselves first. I caution you and others not to judge too quickly— no one knows what goes on behind closed doors, or the parameters in which decisions are being made. You may think you do, but that’s a slippery slope. You may not know the private financial aspects or the promises that are made and broken that have the potential to propel people in one direction or another. Lastly, divorce can be worse than a death— minus the outpouring of support.
    How about posting something about Gods infinite love— even the love of those who are divorced.

    “I think this is the moment for mercy” – Pope Francis


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