Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. —Colossians 3:21
It can be frustrating as a single parent to use your limited resources to provide for your child’s needs—only to have certain items go over to the other parent’s house and possibly not be returned. Where do you draw the line without causing your child to feel the pressures of living in two homes? How do you guard their heart and establish boundaries in protecting what you buy them? Let’s take a little deeper look together.
What the child sees
Don’t forget—I have a divided heart now. I live between two completely different houses, rules, traditions and attitudes. Be patient with me when I forget things or need some time to adjust from house to house. Please buy me enough stuff that I don’t have to live out of a suitcase my whole life. If you want me to feel “at home” in both places, please set up a full home for me, even if I am only there a few days a month. Things like tooth brushes, shoes, clothes, my favorite cereal, and having cool décor in my room—these all help me feel welcomed and at home in both homes. Don’t compete or argue about these things, just help me not have to feel like a visitor when I am with either parent. Make it as easy on ME as possible! –Top 10 Things Kids Wished They Could Say to Their Divorced Parents, Tammy Daughtry, Co-Parenting International
I think the above paragraph sums it up quite well. Unfortunately, our children do feel torn at times—a one-home lifestyle isn’t their norm any more. With all the division already, is it fair for us to restrict anything that may make them feel a bit more stable? Maybe that stuffed animal or favorite shirt is one thing that helps keep their emotions in check—offering a bit of normalcy in their life. Let’s be sure to keep this in mind before the next time they ask to take something to the other home and before we say no.
What we see
Jesus tells a parable in Luke 18:10-14 about a Pharisee and tax collector. He describes the tax collector’s repentant heart and the Pharisee’s self-centeredness…the Pharisee using the word “I” 5 times! If we are not careful, we can fall into the same trap—putting all the focus on our own needs rather than our children’s.
Bitterness can cause blindness—at least it did for me. I was always caught up with what my daughter already had at her mother’s house, why did she need to take my stuff over there too? I mean, I was using my limited funds to buy stuff that I wanted to keep at my house and I wasn’t happy that my daughter wanted to take what I bought her out of the home that I pay for… (Get it?).
To be honest, I was worried about not having enough nice clothes or decent toys/activities at my home—which is a legitimate concern, but also needs to be handled delicately. One wrong word or action from a parent can really sink a child’s spirit for many years to come.
What you can do
Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution, here are a few quick suggestions to help avoid conflict and keep your child’s heart guarded:
1. Ask the other parent to provide clothes for your child to go home in. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just something that already belongs in the other home that your son or daughter can wear back, thus keeping your clothes at your house.
2. Give the other parent the benefit of the doubt. If something of yours goes home with your child, simply ask for it to be returned next time around. Use language such as, “I’m letting ____________ bring her pillow over, she wanted to hold on to it this week. Can you please ask her to bring it back next time I see her?” The point is to use wording that emphasizes it is for the child’s sake, not yours.
3. Set boundaries in your home and use age-appropriate language. In love, explain to your child that certain items need to stay at your home and tell them why. Take ownership of the situation and reassure them that though they live in two homes, they are equally loved.
4. Be prepared to lose a few things. It happens and it’s not the end of the world. We all lose possessions at times. Though it stinks when this happens, just remember: the most important things in life aren’t things. A parent’s top priority is investing in their child’s heart. Choose how you will react ahead of time if something does get lost and will you be more concerned about a lost item—or your child’s well-being?
5. Trust God will provide. The Bible says that the sun shines and the rain falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). Even if you try to do what is right and end up getting burnt in doing so, have faith that God sees your heart and obedience and that He will sustain all you need to be the best parent you can be.
As my friend Tammy Daughtry also says, “Think T.E.A.M.M.: The End Adult Matters Most!” In other words, our actions and words today will shape our children for tomorrow. What sort of adult do you want to influence your son or daughter to be? Twenty years from now, will they remember constant bickering over petty things—or a loving home where selfishness was replaced by selflessness, and they are that much better off because of it?
Matt Haviland is the founder and director of A Father’s Walk single dad ministry. For more information on starting a single dad group in your area, please visit www.afatherswalk.org.