By Dugan P. Kelley and Andrew W. Christman

“The trouble is not that I am single and likely to stay single, but that I am lonely and likely to stay lonely.” – Charlotte Bronte.  Loneliness, sadness, depression, and suffering can sum up the feelings you might have now that you are divorced with kids and must deal with your ex-spouse.  Coupling those feelings with the weighty responsibility of caring for children when you are newly single can easily further complicate an already fragile situation and relationship with your ex-spouse.  Those feelings bottled up will eventually need an outlet, and this is often where parental alienation is born.

Tragically, the statistics about divorce are not encouraging.  There seem to be more and more people going through the crisis of divorce and coming out the other side single again.  These newly single parents now have to deal with the harsh reality of coping with being single, raising children after divorce without the daily help and support of their spouse, and learning how to communicate with an ex-spouse concerning visitation periods, pick-ups and drop-offs, and those now difficult holidays.

When You are Divorced with Kids, There’s a Danger Of Allowing Parental Alienation To Exist In Your Relationship With Your Ex-Spouse:

Parental alienation is the psychological manipulation of a child to instill unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility towards the other parent and/or other family members.  We have written on the topic of  parental alienation HERE.  If you are divorced, single, and caring for your child, you need to guard your heart and tongue against parental alienation.  There are a litany of warning signs that parental alienation may be seeping into your relationship with your ex-spouse, and here are few major ones:

Temptation to claim you are the “good” parent and your ex-spouse is not good;

Repetitive negative comments about your ex-spouse;

A pattern of inflexibility in visitation schedules;

Interruptions and constant phone calls to the child while the child is with your ex-spouse;

Loaded comments and negative stories about your ex-spouse;

Prohibiting gifts, mail, e-mails, or other communication with your ex-spouse; and

Using religious, racial, cultural, political, or other differences to discourage the relationship between the child and your ex-spouse.

Scripture warns us about our tongues and speech.  James 3:5-12 describes the power of your speech perfectly: “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

When a child is subjected to this poison, it can have a severe and sometimes permanent impact on their emotional growth, psyche, and spiritual growth.  Parental Alienation can also adversely impact the parents in the same way.  Parental Alienation is sin.  As all sin does, it eats away at your relationship with the Lord and it manifests itself negatively in your emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.

Aside from the negative impacts on your child, yourself, and your relationship with your ex-spouse, the Family Courts that perceive the influence of Parental Alienation will take control of your relationship with your child.  If the problem is systemic, the parent engaged in the alienation may receive more restrictive custody and will probably be ordered to parenting courses and/or psychological treatment on their own dime.

Struggle Well In Your Singleness Rather Than Dwell In Alienation:

So, if we recognize that being divorced with kids will almost certainly be painful and that we will be tempted to influence our child or children against our ex-spouses, we can begin to pray that the Lord would guard our tongues and our hearts.  Divorce is often the greatest betrayal of a person’s life, and preserving loyalty from the child often motivates the betrayed person to influence the child away from the betraying parent.

Dealing with our ex-spouse, his or her emotional baggage, potential new romantic partners, and our natural emotional concerns will likely trigger strong emotions.  Recognition is key.  You will struggle.  You will despair.  You will endure pain, sadness, and/or a panoply of other negative emotions.  Ecclesiastes 3:4.  However, remember that this is likely only a season, and your recognition of your vulnerability will help to cope with the season of suffering and with finding a new and healthy normal.

Second, guard your tongue when you are communicating with your ex-spouse.   Your tongue is the most powerful part of your body.  It has the power to build-up your relationship with your ex-spouse or destroy it.  When in doubt, offer constructive comments; do not engage in a verbal battle with your ex-spouse.  Proverbs 15:1 gives us the simple answer to any difficult conversation with our ex-spouse — “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Finally, you can and should learn to cooperate with and compliment your ex-spouse!  Secular wisdom tells you to focus on your happiness, your passions, your desires, and your circumstances.  However, focusing exclusively on what feels right in the moment will ultimately betray you and cause more pain and harm.  Focus instead on returning a soft answer for a harsh one.  Do not jab at your ex-spouse just because he or she jabbed at you.  Do not return evil for evil.  Become an expert in your ex-spouse’s strengths, instead of his or her weaknesses.  Speak well of him or her as often as you can—not mere flattery, but sincere encouragement and praise.  You will be surprised how often this will stop the erosion of goodwill and begin the process of healing.

James 1:19-20 provides us with the key to any difficulties with our ex-spouses.  “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”  It is very likely that your ex-spouse does not like to admit fault, nor will he or she respond well when criticized, humiliated, or shamed.  In order to have a productive long-lasting positive relationship with your ex-spouse, practicing James 1:19-20 is essential.

Practical Resources To Help You With Your Communication:

Struggling with loneliness, being single, and divorced with kids is tough.  It is not in your imagination, and very few people can “white-knuckle” it through this season.  Here are some practical resources for you to help you through this season in life:

  • Biblical community. If you haven’t joined a church, it’s time!  Simply going to church anonymously is not what we are talking about.  Instead, it is time for you to get plugged into the church, a home group, recovery group, or seek counseling from the church staff.  Many churches are equipped, welcoming, and expecting to care for people who are exactly in your season of life, divorced with kids, and needing help.  Don’t delay, get plugged in.
  • Independent Christian counseling. Your city likely has a number of Christian organizations that will provide deep, meaningful, Gospel-centered counseling that you can take advantage of.  Counselors with specialized training, expertise, and focused on your problems can be a huge help in overcoming this difficult season of life.  If you need a referral, please call Kelley Clarke PC today.  Our phone number is 972-253-4440.  We have many connections with counselors who will care for you.
  • Accountability group. Begin (or continue) to develop close meaningful friendships.  Friends who you can be totally transparent and vulnerable with are essential to your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.  Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  So, be selective in those friends who genuinely care for you and are wise.  They will be a great resource to you in this difficult season.

You don’t have to struggle alone.  There is a giant community of other people who are divorced with kids and single parents out there that know exactly why you are struggling.  My prayer for each of you is that you Struggle Well and you find God’s Grace in this difficult season of life.

Read about sharing custody of children during Holidays!!