Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. – Job 2:13, NLT
Adultery effects more than just the couple.
So does divorce.
After preaching, I was pulled aside and asked about resources for parents of divorced children. To be honest, I realized–like many–I did not have much on the subject. We focus on the couple and kids plus maybe their friends.
So, I am writing to address that gap here today.
It’s worse than losing my own father and mother.
That was what my father told me about how he felt regarding my ex-wife’s cheating on me and divorcing me. (It was prompted by my ex-wife’s bizarre questioning of how my parents were doing–prior to her finalizing our divorce and before she admitted to committing adultery).
It’s a statement of grief.
My father expressed how being orphaned by elderly parents did not even come close to the grief and pain he experienced engaging with his son’s pain and losing a daughter-in-law he had welcomed as family via adultery and divorce.
This sort of grief is rarely–if ever–acknowledged in regards to divorce or the trauma of adultery.
It is disenfranchised grief.
A grief the bearer does not feel he or she is allowed to grieve. It was his son’s marriage. Not his.
My encouragement to a parent struggling with such disenfranchised grief is to acknowledge it. Name the losses. You may be surprised at how many there are!
-What does my child’s divorce mean about my social standing at church?
-Am I permitted to grieve the loss of my son/daughter-in-law?
-Does this mean I won’t get to see my grandchildren?
-What does my child’s divorce say about my identity as a father, mother, and/or Christian?
And this is complicated grief.
The losses may be complicated by some particularly horrific behavior by the divorcing spouse–i.e. cheating on one’s own flesh and blood like mine did. This makes it more difficult to permit yourself to grieve the loss of the daughter or son-in-law.
Am I being disloyal to my own blood to grieve the loss of someone who hurt him/her so much?
On the other side, you may have a child who cheated on or walked away from his/her spouse and family. Complicated grief issues here might strike over identity and how does one relate to this child after such behavior.
Am I failure as a parent that they did this? It can attack a parent’s identity.
Remember that each person’s actions–including a grown child’s–are theirs to own (2 Corinthians 5:10). You are not responsible for your child’s sin. Your former daughter or son-in-law is not responsible for their former spouse’s sin. The sin of your child is not yours to own. But do not out source it in your grief onto the rejected spouse.
The parental desire to protect our children is present as well. My parents struggled with this piece. My dad did not see this one coming, and I could tell he felt bad about that. To be fair to him, none of us saw it coming when I was getting married.
You–likely–will have to forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for not being able to protect your child from this awful pain. Accept that sometimes we do not have that power. It is the cost of living in a world of sinful people with free will. We only control ourselves.
More can be said, but that is a start.
Be kind to yourself.
You are allowed to grieve. This is a divorce that you experience(d) as well.
To divorced faithful spouses:
It is helpful to remember that your parents–assuming they are still alive–are grieving many losses, too.
This was really driven home to me when my folks voiced how they were struggling with me starting to date again. They “weren’t sure if they were ready” for me to date again. Recognizing they were grieving–my chaplain residency supervisor pointed this out to me–gave me the ability to hear it with empathy and grace.
Recognizing their hesitancy over my dating was about their grief helped me to see it as less about them trying to control me and more about them trying to care for their own wounded hearts. They were struggling to be ready to reopen their hearts to another (even potential) daughter-in-law. They were expressing their grief and where they were in their own healing process.