Friday, August 25, 2017

What can a divorced parent say NOW to their children to help them heal?

Hello, Strangers (unless you've been following me on Facebook, and in that case, we know each other better than ever)!!

Things have been pretty crazy since the release of Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak (scroll to the end of this post for info on my upcoming appearances on EWTN), and I can't thank you enough for all your support and encouragement. xoxoxo

Through all the incredible discussion the book has engendered, I realized that there is a question I didn't ask the now-adult children of divorce, and it's an important one:

What could your parents say to you NOW that would help you heal from the legacy of their divorce in your life? 

So, I took the question to several of the book's contributors, and below are their thoughts, in red. Other contributors' responses/reactions to those thoughts are in blue. And, if you are tempted to dismiss the answers as so much whining, please understand that divorce is an injustice to children, yet, they hardly speak of it. Let them speak, even if it hurts to hear it. We do not live in a culture where the children of divorce speak *too much* after all, but too little....

What would I like to hear from my parents? An acknowledgment that they let me down.

^^That is exactly where my head and heart went.


I think I would also stress the spiritual jeopardy that I was placed in by their choice.....we view God the way we are parented......that their actions haven't just hurt earthly relationships, but heavenly ones, as well.

You know, this reminds me that a dad is supposed to fight for his family. The Church needs to do a better job with formation instead of the [weak catechesis] that passes for it......

YES. "We were stupid and selfish. We should have tried harder. We should have valued our family, and the health and well-being of our children more and fought for our family."


They could say: "I loved your mother/father. I am sorry I hurt you. I would try harder if I had the chance to do it again."


What could they say? They could say "we're getting back together."


I was so sad when my dad got remarried and it became apparent that it would never happen. I know I'm not the only kid that held out hope for a reunion.

For me this would be devastating. I would feel like my parents put me through 40 years of garbage for absolutely no reason.


I don't need an apology, just an acknowledgement that it has been incredibly hard for me and that it took things from me I otherwise would have had.


"I'm sorry, I'm listening." (No caveats, such as "I thought I was doing what was best for us, etc.")


Saying, "I'm sorry, I love you," then ask how I feel, listen to me and talk about it. I will say, my mom did write me a letter when I was in college telling me she was sorry that her marriage was not a good example for me. I really appreciated that.


Wow, I'm not sure what to say. I don't think my parents ever said anything like this to me, but I wish they had. My mom acknowledged it to me regarding my sister, because my sister went down the wrong path, got into drugs, went to jail for a time, etc., and my mom acknowledged that the divorce was so hard on her, that it was probably a big part of why she went down the path she did. I would just want them to say, "I'm sorry" and express regret, remorse, and acknowledge that they knows it's harmful and it hurts, and if there's anything they can do to help their children cope, that they will do it. And if the kids need to talk or vent without judgement, they will listen. And then mean it.


How about: "My Child, I am sorry to have caused you all this pain. It was a difficult, painful time, and in my ignorance and blindness, I chose a selfish, sinful path, and your family was broken. I should have tried harder and done the work to fix what was wrong and loved your mom (or dad) the way she (or he) deserved. I should have honored my vows and been a better example to you and your siblings. Please don’t follow in my footsteps! I love you and pray that you can make your marriage last a lifetime, and that your own children never have to go through the pain you have suffered."


Oh my, I love this.

Thank you. This hits all the sore spots!


"I'm so sorry."


I would want the parent to ask me how I feel and what I went through and listen. That's all.


Yep. This. Great answer.

I agree, but I needed to hear their sense of sadness and regret, too.

Would you be able to tell them? I still don't know that I could.

Not to my mother that is for sure. My dad has been open, but I'm not sure how to express the pain. It was awful.


Things that were said to me that helped: "I loved your father very much and wanted to be with him for life. I was very sad about the divorce." And from my father (during a small window where he seemed to get it): "I feel like I messed your childhood up. I'm so sorry. I regret so many things. Please forgive me." Also optimism and confidence that I can lead a great life, and that my parents are proud of me. My mom in particular always approached things with both empathy and a can-do, we're in this together attitude.

Nice. Just about everything I want to hear.


As for what to say, I think a simple recognition of the failure and its subsequent trauma is enough. Don't justify it, don't smooth it over. And for God's sake, don't tell them that it was "meant to happen" (my mother said this to my young daughter).


Don't badmouth each other. Usually, kids love both of their parents. Be grownups. You already messed up by getting a divorce, don't make it worse by making the kids choose sides. And, actually listen to what your kid wants to say without making any excuses.


Here's an unrealistic request: How about a long litany of the events that happened in life and how they could have been. (Birthdays, vacations, concerts, sporting events, conversations needed in high school that didn't happen, etc.) Seriously, an acknowledgement of what should have happened at those important times, even if not a comprehensive list, would go a long way to show that the parent "gets it."


I don't think there is a particular set of words to say; but the acknowledgement to the child that the dysfunctions and divorce were hurtful to the child will go a long way in healing. I am very blessed, in that my dad did ask me, not too many years before before he died, if I were angry with him for divorcing my mother. My dad's acknowledgement that I suffered means a great deal to me.


So much has already been said here. All I would add is how children need to hear that they did nothing to cause the divorce and that they are blameless. 

There was more, but you get the gist of it. Guys, there is a world of hidden hurt out there and it needs to be addressed. 

May God bless all the children of divorce. 



On September 28 at 2:00 pm EST, I am going to be a guest on EWTN's At Home With Jim and Joy! The show will be live, and then it will be repeated a couple of times. I will also be taping an episode of EWTN's Bookmark with Doug Keck! I hope everyone in the Bubble family will tune in!

More info to come as we get closer! 


  1. Someone sent this to me anonymously, to post:

    There is nothing my mother could say to help with healing the two divorces and leaving me fatherless at age 14. It has been 36 years. I wish she would quit saying it was for the better and that it didn't affect us though because she is wrong. I hope one day she understands she is wrong and at least reconciles herself to God. For my own healing, I have forgiven her...and continue to forgive her each time she denies anything adverse happened when she says we were unaffected. Denying the truth because she doesn't want to admit fault. It would be easier if there was at least a nod of wrongdoing.

  2. As a child of divorces (my parents and then my mother's to her second husband) it is hard to think of anything they could say NOW. I recently lost my only brother from my parents marriage (I have many half and step siblings) and I have to say that losing him devastated me. My husband knew that I would be sad but my devastation was a little shocking. I explained to him that once our parents divorced my brother was my only normal up until I was married. Once my brother died I felt like an orphan (even though my parents are still living). My parents put themselves first. Even after the funeral they did their own thing to take care of themselves. I know that they love me, it is just not the way I longed to be loved. As a mother of four, it is not how I chose to love my children. I have realized though that the ONLY way to heal is to have a relationship with my Father...God who loves me perfectly; and that lesson has come through my faith, Catholicism. Their sin wrecked havoc on my childhood and young adult life and in turn I chose sinful behavior as that was my model, but God saved me through the sacraments of my faith...just as a good parent does. I have to forgive them when their divorce effects me (it still causes difficulties in my life 30 plus years later) as God forgives me, so that I can stay whole for my husband and children. But that is what Jesus modeled, to forgive those who hurt you.

    And a message to those parents thinking that divorce solves doesn't. It just causes bigger ones and makes life harder, especially on your children. My parents used to say it was not our fault, but when they moved on, found new spouses, made new families, my brother and I were the ones left out, hurting, watching bitter fights over child support. It isn't long before you think 'it must be my fault because I am the one being punished'. So if you would do anything for your children, love the person they love, your spouse after all you chose them.

    Blessings to all of us!

    1. Sissy Bee, wow! That is very powerful. Thank you so much for baring your heart like that. God bless you and your family (sounds like he really already has).


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