Question: Handling Divorced Parents

I hate to treat you like a therapist and abuse your ask like this, but would you happen to have any advice for a born-again Christian struggling with the effects of parental divorce? Earlier this year, after my parent’s divorce, I rededicated (rather, actually dedicated) my life to Christ. Six months later I am again feeling the resentment. I am mainly conflicted about my mother’s new beau. I treat him with a cold shoulder when I know I need to be turning the other cheek. Any advice? Shalom! -M

Hey first — you’re not at all “abusing my ask” or anything close.  I live to serve my God and my church, and I consider the blogosphere my second church-home.  Even when I don’t answer every question that comes through my box, I’m still throwing prayers.

I also want to say: I have tons of love for you, dear friend.  I’m sorry about all that has happened, and while I can’t give perfect clean-cut advice on this, I can say that I completely understand the hurt and the hard choices.

To share a bit: My parents divorced when I was thirteen, and it was probably one of the most painful, dramatic, tumultuous times I’ve ever been through.  It was an ugly divorce, full of affairs and custody battles and money haggling and trash-talking.  At one point my dad sat me down and read the divorce papers from beginning to end, pointing out where my mom went wrong.  He shut my mom out of my life for at least three years.  To this day, it still kills me a little.

My brother and I ended up with my dad.  He quickly remarried to a woman who, to be fair, did try — but my dad and her were a terrible fit.  They brought out the worst in each other.  She was often aggressive, overbearing, drunk, violent, and negative.  My dad was passive and a poor husband and constantly talked bad about my mom, and later I found out he only remarried for the money.  I ran away when I was 16.  I came back only to start drinking and going to strip clubs every week.  It took me seven years to finish college, after I had dropped out and lost my scholarship.

All that to say: Forgiving anyone who has hurt you is going to be a lifelong daily process.  You’ll feel the resentment pop up at random.  It is not who you are, but when external things hurt us, our heart is provoked to react in the worst ways.  It only becomes our fault when we carry these emotions into excuses for destructive tendencies (like I did for a long time). But you’re not there yet.

So if you do feel resentment, it’s a natural part of the process that we handle a day at a time.  Forgiveness is a choice we make everyday, not just a one-time epiphany.  There are days when I begin to grind my teeth at how my dad handled everything: and I need to forgive him almost hourly.  That’s okay.  God understands that our hearts can be messy, stumbling, moving in fits and starts.  He has grace for you.

I must add: When my parents divorced, I thought it was the end of the world.  I really believed I was broken forever.  Especially in the Asian community, you are seen as beyond repair if your parents are divorced.  There is a suspicion, a shame.  But this is a lie straight out of the devil’s mouth.  You are not what has happened to you.

Looking back, as painful as it was, I realized it was a season.  It was an event outside my control and there was nothing I could’ve done to prevent it.  For too long, I let it control me and tell me who I was, and sometimes I used it as permission to “act out.” In the end though: you are much more than this part of your life, and you can still make that choice to make it right where your parents couldn’t.  I know that these words alone won’t suddenly make it all better and that it will still hurt, but no one expects perfection out of such a tough situation.  What you can expect is God’s grace for when you fail and His grace for you to move forward.

As for your mom’s new boyfriend: That’s a really tough awkward situation, and I don’t have any easy answers.  On one hand, it’s right to respect him as both a person and for your mother too.  But on the other hand, you want to protect your mom if you feel any potential danger.

This really will require you to be balanced and thoughtful in your approach as you seek God’s wisdom in how to be the person who helps the situation.  In other words: If he’s a good guy (and he won’t be perfect), then try to be supportive, even if it’s just for your mother’s sake.  If he’s a bad guy (and I don’t mean evil, but a bad fit for your mom), then let your mom know exactly how you feel and take steps to protect her. You can be your mom’s best counsel right now.

I do think there needs to be some give-and-take here.  If your mom’s boyfriend has really been trying hard to be part of the family: then he doesn’t need to be your close buddy-friend nor your second dad, but it would be gracious of you to respect him.  If he isn’t trying at all, then who is this guy to even be with your mom anyway?

Please remember: Your mom needs love too. We subconsciously tend to think of family as vehicles for our own growth, and while this is partially true, our parents are their own human beings who still have hopes, dreams, needs, and insecurities.  She will probably be with someone sooner or later, so it’s a matter of her finding the best person.  She is a grown adult who can make her own choices and her own mistakes, and you can either help or hinder that.  None of this will be an easy process, but you can choose to be mature, responsible, caring, and like Christ even in the hardest of times.

I got love for you and I’m throwing you prayers.  Feel free to message me any time.

— J.S.

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