If Your Child or Sibling is Getting a Divorce…

Artwork by Sandy Welch

Often times, Danny and I have been able to speak with dear families who have a son or daughter or a sibling who is going through a divorce. We know how painful and sad this time can be.

My #1 advice to family members:

Do not spew toxicity.

I share this with you not from something I read or made up, but because I experienced it firsthand.  My parents did not breed or spread any amount of toxicity associated with my divorce and it was one of the greatest gifts of my life. I don’t know how they did it.

The ugliness of divorce can just about do a person in. It can be so full of anger, unfairness, disappointment, fear, betrayal, disgust, shame, deceit, blame, hatred. Certainly the person going through the divorce is usually the most vulnerable. It can be near impossible to not feel broken, weighed down, even paralyzed by something toxic during that time. At times I literally could barely breathe.

And yet, my parents took it upon themselves to not dwell in or add to the toxicity themselves. My phone calls with them were never about my former husband or my unfortunate situation. Their words were always uplifting and they were always about me…

“We believe in you. You are wonderful. You will be better than ever because of this experience.”

“You have so much to offer. We’re so happy to be your parents. We think you’re doing just awesome.”

“We’re so proud of you and all that you are.”

“We know that you have a good and beautiful life ahead.”

“See this experience as an investment in your PEACE.”

I cannot even tell you how THANKFUL I was that my parents took that path. It was the greatest thing they could have done for me in my lowest moments. They so easily could have expressed hatred, disappointment, fear, anger, etc….but they did not.

Instead, they put their joint efforts into instilling confidence in ME and building me up over and over and over again.

To this day, I am so grateful and amazed that they did that for me.

Sending love to anyone out there who is facing something difficult in their family right now.


Have you experienced a divorce in your family? What worked and what didn’t as you all were healing?

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  1. Anonymous January 29, 2015 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    Great advice, Mara! I wish everyone could have parents who have that reaction.

    Also, now I want that gorgeous painting featured in the post, which I most certainly cannot afford. Darn it! 🙂

  2. ApRiL January 29, 2015 at 1:28 pm - Reply

    Mara, I too experienced this from my sister while going through my divorce almost 10 years ago. It got me through the most difficult times and I am forever grateful for her loving support. Thank you for sharing! So wonderful to have you back to blogging!

  3. Anonymous January 29, 2015 at 1:28 pm - Reply

    Thanks for these words. Great reminder, even with our 16 year old daughter who has ins and outs with friends.

    Great reminder in general for encouraging a spouse.

    So easy…but yet….so hard to do sometimes.

    Thanks for the time in writing your column.


    • DanandEmily January 29, 2015 at 2:16 pm - Reply

      I love this perspective! I have a 17 year old sister who is having a "break up" from one of her friends…instead of encouraging gossip or anger I am going to share love and peace!

    • Jessica Brown January 29, 2015 at 4:44 pm - Reply

      Not divorced – but my biological dad left before I was born and never looked back. For the past 40 years! my mom has only said the nicest things about him – he was athletic, he was a great musician etc. I'm sure she thinks less kind things in her head, and rightly so. But her mission for me was that I felt confident that my dad was a good guy.

    • mara January 29, 2015 at 5:16 pm - Reply

      wow, Jessica. That is pretty incredible. I'd say your mom has a lot of wisdom and strength. Thanks for sharing that.

  4. Lisa | Happy By January 29, 2015 at 2:04 pm - Reply

    This is often an overlooked part of a divorce, or any breaking up process. I am so glad you chose to talk about this issue Mara, mostly because I am relieved to see that divorce is not a light issue even for "western" societies.

    I come from a country that has inherited a strong loyalty to "old fashion" values (such as respecting the family's honor above all and not leaving a relationship because it will be nearly impossible to build your life again, especially if you have children – referring to women). All these values are hard to give up by older generations, mostly in rural areas, but you can find extreme cases even in the biggest cities, where families don't support a divorced woman and she has to raise her children alone.

    Stories of women staying in abusive and destructive engagements and marriages, only for the sake of their children, or not being able to support themselves if divorced (they are not educated enough for a well paying job, as they weren't allowed to attend university – or even high school after marriage) are very common sadly.

    So not only it's important for family, friends and relatives to be supportive of one's decision to walk out of a relationship, but sadly it's often crucial into determining one's future, depending on where that person lives.

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience once again 🙂

  5. Stephanie Abdon January 29, 2015 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    THANK YOU! I just went through a divorce where my family blamed me completely and supported my ex for dragging me through the mud. Once he got what he needed, he dumped them and now they are suing for visitation of my child. It is awful. I didn't need them to agree with me on everything, but some support would be nice. They actually offered support but only if I agreed to do things their way, which was to allow them to basically raise my child and not date until he was 18 (he's 5). Crazy. Thank goodness for my friends, but it is still awful 🙁

  6. Anonymous January 29, 2015 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this post. I'm currently almost a year out from my divorce, and the most difficult part has most definitely been my parent's judgement, expectations, and disappointments. Hopefully one day things will improve.

  7. Anonymous January 29, 2015 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    Shouldn't this always be the way? I certainly hope that I'm this way with my daughters in almost any situation! I remember when I was planning to divorce, I felt the need to justify my actions and my mom reminded me that I knew all the negatives about my husband/marriage before I married him. She was dying to say "I told you so" !

  8. Anonymous January 29, 2015 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    This is so good, thank you as always for sharing. I have a question. What advice would you give to someone who is really struggling in a relationship for lack of respect and commitment from the spouse? Self-worth is not really an issue, but a constant breaking of trust. I understand that even with huge amounts of love and applying the principles you teach on the blog, at some point, you had to draw a line because the constant trying and failing on the other end (let's say compulsive liar) would make it impossible to have a relationship. I guess the question is, if self-worth is not the issue, what else can you do? and when do you call it good? Thank you for any insight you can provide.

    • danny January 29, 2015 at 10:05 pm - Reply

      There certainly are boundaries that can and should be set. I had to set some boundaries in my former marriage that were pretty reasonable if one was going to continue a marriage in good faith. Those boundaries were stepped over time and again for a year. In my case, my ex wife wasn't hiding it or lying about it, because of other principles discussed in this blog we had achieved the ability to speak to each other with a great amount of respect and kindness even when the boundaries were repeatedly crossed. I'll always thank her for that.

      But there came a point where a lifestyle was so fully embraced that was the opposite of a committed marriage and a healthy foundation, that changes needed to be made. That's when we started talking about divorce.

      I guess there really is no way I or anyone else could really tell you when enough is enough. It is so unique to every situation and to every human being (on both sides of the relationship)…that really the best you can hope for is that you're not making the decision for the wrong reasons. The wrong reasons could lead you to break something up too soon when more patience and work would have not only salvaged something, but created something beautiful. The wrong reasons could also lead you to hang around too long waiting for change that's not going to come, and could lead to extended exposure to varying kinds of abuse (verbal, physical, emotional, mental, etc).

      I guess the point is, boundaries that are reasonable can and should be drawn. If or when they are crossed, it need not cause one to turn to hatred or bitterness or vengeance. Kindness can still be displayed, compassion can still guide you….even as you are walking out the door. But when to do that is something only you can know.

      Good luck my friend, I hope you find the strength to handle it all with grace and wisdom.

  9. Anonymous January 30, 2015 at 4:56 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for your response, Danny. It gave me a lot of comfort. I could go on and on expressing my gratitude but please know that this is exactly what I needed to hear. I am not ready to go anywhere, yet. But I think I needed reassurance that by setting boundaries I'm not being unreasonable or uncharitable. Patience is what I should continue to work on 😉 and thank you again for all the good and love you put on this space.

    • danny January 31, 2015 at 12:07 am - Reply

      I'm really grateful to have seen this response Anon. I'm glad you feel strengthened in and reassured about that path of setting reasonable boundaries. In truth, today's follow up post was also in part inspired by the exchange you prompted in this comment. In fact, I started composing it just after I responded to you here 🙂 So thank you for asking me to think about it.

      I really do wish you well in what is most certainly a challenging situation. It will remain challenging, and it will force you to become more and more aware of your ego and how it frames all these interactions with a spouse and all of the betrayals.

      You said in the earlier comment that self-worth is not an issue. And it might be true that you don't have a low opinion of yourself, your accomplishments, your contributions to the marriage, etc. But I think anyone who digs deep in moments of conflict will realize that self-worth is always an issue. It is the perception that your worth is being affected by the actions of your spouse (or another) that creates your own internal dysfunctional responses, which although connected to his actions, are also entirely separate from them and entirely up to you.

      For example, a lack of patience can signify that you currently have your worth too wrapped up in the identity of wife…and when your spouse compulsively lies to you the image of what you thought marriage and wife would be are coming into conflict with the actual situation. If you have too highly valued the title of "wife" and all the expectations that come with that title being respected, then when that identity is challenged you will feel the kind of disappointment that results in impatience, anger, betrayal, etc.

      The answer to this, in terms of self-worth, is to realize dig deeper and not seek fulfillment in the realization of some role or expectation. One needs to dig until they are basing their worth on something inherent and internal. For some that will be their connection to and belief in God. For others will focus on inherent value or a connection to Love.

      The point is, until we learn to find worth entirely from within (which don't get me wrong, is a LIFELONG process), we will find these lesser identities being threatened, and when they are threatened our ego responds with all of the unkindness and darkness it is accustomed to.

      Sorry if this comment is a little jumbled, it's one of those things where WAY MORE could and should be said about it to do it justice.

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