I got divorced from my children’s mother five years ago. I have the children because she claimed that the money I provided wasn’t enough to care for them. For the past three years she has been, as I see it, a very bad influence on the children. They have become money lovers. And she speaks badly of my girlfriend to them. My ex-wife is married again, and I feel like her communication with my children has caused my new relationship to deteriorate…. I need you to guide me as to how to handle this.

Dear Friend,

Divorce is never easy for children. They almost always have the belief that there is only one right relationship for Mom and Dad, and that is with each other. As the child of divorced parents myself, I remember very well what it felt like. I could not accept the fact that my parents were apart, and I tried to manipulate every situation so that they would get back together. It wasn’t logical from an adult perspective, but it made sense to me at the time.

Divorce takes away the stability that is crucial for the healthy development of a child. Statistics have shown that, on average, the children of divorce have more problems in school and more behavior problems.(1) And they are more likely to use alcohol or illegal drugs while still in their teens.(2) They feel abandoned by both parents, especially when the parents pursue new romantic relationships.

A long-term study of the effects of divorce showed that even twenty-five years after their parents were divorced, the adult children continued to experience greater-than-average fear of failure, fear of loss, fear of change, and fear of conflict, leading them to make poor choices.(3) In my case, I had the strong influence of relatives and friends who were followers of Christ. And my abandonment issues and confusion were lessened because of my decision to begin my own personal relationship with Christ. He gave me the strength to turn most of the negative effects into positives, and I avoided most of the long-term consequences of divorce. But today, fifty years after my parents’ divorce, I still have to consciously work to keep my fear of conflict from driving my decisions.

You ask for my advice, but you probably will not like it. I believe that research shows that your children will fare much better now, and in the future, if you decide to abandon your own romantic desires for now and concentrate instead on their needs. No matter what negative behaviors your children have, make a determination that you will put all of your efforts into making sure that they don’t feel abandoned by you. And make sure that they are surrounded by people that are followers of Christ who can help them avoid some of the long-term consequences of your divorce.

We wish you the best,

1 Nan Marie Astone and Sara S. McLanahan, “Family Structure, Parental Practices, and High School Completion,” American Sociological Review 56 (1991): 309-320.
2 Robert L. Flewelling and Karl E. Bauman, “Family Structure as a Predictor of Initial Substance Use and Sexual Intercourse in Early Adolescence,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 52 (1990): 171-181.
3 Wallerstein, et al., 2000, pp. xxvii-xxix; Catherine E. Ross and John Mirowsky. “Parental Divorce, Life-Course Disruption, and Adult Depression,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 61 (1999): 1034-1035.