(Lead photo credit: Benjamin Manley via Unsplash)
In the northern hemisphere, winter is giving way to spring. With more light and warmth, new life is emerging, ushering in a new season of life and growth. At times we find ourselves in transitions from one season of life to another. A young mother and father welcome a first child into their hearts and home, and with that tiny new life, a new season begins. Some changes in family life seasons are expected and anticipated, like first days of school, graduations, and adult children leaving home to start families of their own. Others are unexpected and even unwelcome. The death of a loved one and divorce both bring new seasons of grief, change, and identity transition.
As I have navigated my own divorce this past year, I have learned that even amidst these difficult emotions and situations, I can still choose to foster traditions that support growth and well being. Just like additional light and warmth provide what plants need to begin growing, I can choose to focus on those things that will provide light and warmth, even through difficult times. Focusing on the simple, daily life activities helps me focus on strength and thriving instead of just surviving.
For us, this transition after the divorce included one pre-teen child still at home. Pediatrician Heather Sever, DO, says that divorce and separation can impact children at any age. “When parents are going through difficult times, children perceive that, regardless of their age. So while kids may express their stresses in different ways at different ages, it’s important for parents to be as open and honest as possible, even with difficult situations,” she says. Experts at the Cleveland Clinic encourage prioritizing time together: “Make sure your child knows how much you love them. Make time in your schedule to do fun activities or spend quality one-on-one time.”
Research shows that eating meals together has a strengthening effect on families and individual family members. For me, this intentional mealtime also supports healthier eating habits (though I have to admit, there certainly have been times when dinner was the rest of the peanut M&Ms). My son and I often play a game together at dinner time as well, feeding the emotional need of fun times together as well as the physical need of nutrition. We had to invest in some two-player games, since most of the games we had before the divorce were multiplayer. Though this seemed like an inconvenience at first, the intentional choice to research games that we could play together reinforced that the dinner time tradition was important to us.
We also had to redefine what new evening and morning routines looked like, another area of focus that can smooth the post-divorce transition for children and adults. A new school, new school schedule, and single parenting responsibilities meant earlier mornings for us both. We approached it as a team, with each of us doing different parts of getting the necessary tasks done. When it comes to brain science, it really is just as easy to get in the habit of doing something positive as it is to get in the habit of being grumpy about routines. Every family is different, and it’s not as important how it looks as that it is intentional and everybody contributes as part of something bigger than themselves.
I love the saying, “Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow.” This reminds me that it is the small and simple routines that can teach responsibility, character, and connection.
Each evening before bedtime we read a single verse of scripture together. Yes, one single verse. And then we discuss it and ask questions about how it applies to our lives, the experiences we are having, and the things we are learning. A few times these discussions have led to hugs and tears as we connect with the humanness in the spiritual text. Setting simple and realistic expectations for myself and my son set us up for success and less stress, even on long, hard days. Then the evening ends with either rowdy tickles or calm snuggles. We alternate nights because he prefers one and I prefer the other. It’s a silly little way to validate that though our needs are different, both are important and can have a space in our new routines.
The divorce and move also meant attending church with a new congregation where we didn’t know anyone at first. This felt like such an uprooting of my heart at first. I went alone and sat in the back for more than a month. I was feeling emotionally weary and struggled to feel motivation to invest in new social relationships, especially while figuring out my new identity as a single mom in a family-centered church. At the same time, I knew that there were many social, emotional, and spiritual needs that faith communities can uniquely support. When it came time to attend together, my son and I accepted the invitation from a new friend to join her family on the third row, right in the center. Though we would have chosen a back corner, it opened us both to be more involved and connected. The friendships and belongingness that have grown because of that choice have been a great gift in a difficult season.
“This can be a time of discovery,” says clinical social worker specialist Karen Tucker, “You have changed and will continue to change. It’s important to allow this change to happen.” Just as seasons change, so do our lives. This year of transition has been a year of intentional choices to foster growth. It hasn’t taken away the grief and sadness that we have needed to navigate through. Yet, I have found that focusing on enjoying meal times, establishing meaningful morning and night time routines, and connecting with a faith community have strengthened me and made this a season of growth more than grief.
Cleveland Clinic, How to Help Your Child After a Breakup or Divorce
Cleveland Clinic, Life After Divorce: How You Can Start Again