The door slammed shut as if it were shouting, “Goodbye old house!” I locked the door behind him and then stood in the kitchen with my hands shaking and my heart pounding. “Did I do the right thing?” I heard a noise behind me and turned to see my 5-year-old son looking at me with wide eyes. “Are you okay, buddy? I am so sorry. That was scary, wasn’t it?” He nodded as he climbed into my arms. Within a few minutes I felt a sense of calm and peace wash over me. This was the right choice for our situation, but it came at great cost to me and my little family. This was one of the most difficult days of my life – and my children’s. Our divorce was final several months later.
A few years later I arrived home after driving hundreds of miles across the desert so the kids could stay with their dad for most of the summer. As I walked through the door I immediately saw a note on the whiteboard in the hallway. It was in my son’s handwriting and read, “Goodbye old house…and mom.” It was one of many sweet notes that my kids have secretly left behind over the ensuing eight years since my marriage ended. These treasures are written in child’s scrawl and say things from “love you” to “miss you” to “be home soon” and have been found tacked to walls, left on tables, or written in steam on the bathroom mirror.
Looking at that note from my son I reflected on how difficult divorce is for the parents but it is particularly hard for the children. “Goodbye old house” seemed to play over in my mind as if it were saying something more. It has been said that “family is the building block of society, and marriage is its foundation.” Have you ever noticed how long it takes builders to lay the foundation? It is important for it to be firm and strong because it will need to support the entire home. When a home is first built, everything about it is new and exciting. Over time, minor repairs or adjustments are made in order to maintain the home. Cracks and weaknesses in the foundation must be mended. Additions are made to the home which foster greater commitment and bring increased stress, responsibility, and cost. If we fail to make the necessary effort to keep up with repairs, the home will start to look run down and will be harder to maintain. Small cracks in the foundation turn into irreparable fissures that can no longer bear the weight of the home and the integrity of the structure is compromised. Eventually it falls into disrepair, just as a marriage can. Divorce is the way we say, “Goodbye old house” as we hope for something new and better. Research shows that this may not be what is best for parents and children. Parents whose marriage is filled with cracks and fissures or who have gotten divorced often find it more difficult to provide integral support for their children.
The current divorce rate is much higher than it was at the turn of the 19th century. At that time the divorce rate was only about 5%. Currently, nearly half of all first marriages end in divorce and it is quite common for people to remarry multiple times.
- Nearly 50% of all marriages end in divorce and it is common for people to remarry multiple times. The divorce rate for remarriages is higher at 60-75%
There are many who have shared their concerns about the effects divorce will have on families and on society. The consequences of divorce produce a ripple effect that begins with the family and spreads outward to include society as a whole. Children growing up in single-parent homes are at greater risk for participating in socially deviant behaviors. Not all children will follow this path, but negative effects are still evident. Even after one year, children reported having at least one negative rumination a day in relation to the divorce. The added contention and stress raises children’s cortisol levels as well.
- As of 2011, 60% of all children live with two married biological or adoptive parents. More than a quarter live with only one parent.
Divorce is not usually the start of conflict for the family, but it is the culmination of issues surrounding a deteriorating marriage such as abuse, or escalating or frequent parental arguments that are observed by the children. Stress may initially decrease after a divorce in such cases, but the relief may not last. Divorce often brings a reduced socioeconomic status, changes in family roles and responsibilities, and parental stress. These changes tend to increase stress levels as the effects of divorce set in.
In situations such as mine, all is not lost. There are still things that parents can do. Although it may not be possible to restore a broken home to what it was before the divorce, we can make repairs and shore up the foundation the best we can. Don’t say farewell yet. Dust off your Welcome mat. Like me, many parents are left concerned about how to best help their children. Here is a list of 5 things that will help strengthen your home:
- Never speak negatively about the other parent where your children can hear you.
Your children are ½ you and ½ the other parent. I once had a friend who told me she always felt half dirty when around one side of her family because they could never say anything nice about the other parent.
- “Big mouths should never say what little ears should never hear.”
They may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
- If your children expect you to say something about the other parent and you can’t think of anything nice just smile and say, “You are so lucky to have so many people who love you!”
- Make new traditions and salvage a few old ones that will mean the most to you and the children.
- Always be honest with your children and never be afraid to admit when you are wrong and that you are sorry.
This actually raises your credibility with your children.
Every sunrise brings us the gift of a new day. Yesterday may have been hard. Let’s get ready to turn your house into a home. Your house may not be what you hoped for or wanted it to be – yet. Things are different now because you are building a home – a place that builds and sustains a family. Start with one problem corner. Get it fixed up and cleaned up before moving on to the next. In time your home will shine! Don’t shutter yourself in. Open the windows and let the sunshine of love and laughter in. Open your heart to happiness. Sweep up the dust and cobwebs of pain and regret and place them in the waste bin where they belong. Always remember: You are strong. You are capable. You can do this because you have done hard things before. Gather your family and have everyone grab a tool. It’s “Hammer Time” so bust a move!
Shanci Christensen is a student at BYU-I and will graduate with a degree in Marriage and Family Studies in April 2016. She is the mother of two children who happen to be two of her favorite people in the world. Together they enjoy traveling, reading, exploring, watching funny cat videos, and enjoying all that life has to offer. They especially love their family and their little old house. Life is good.