April 17, 2008

“It’s not you, Jayne,” I said to my daughter. “Your dad’s just dealing with some things."

“Does it have anything to do with you sleeping on the couch?” My son Christopher’s gaze poked at me.

“I was restless,” I said. “I didn’t want to disturb him.”

"Looks like you disturbed him anyway. I heard him cussing in the garage.”

Jayne began to tear her toast into confetti.

“We’re having issues,” I said. “You two don’t need to worry about it.”

“Dad throwing tools isn’t about ‘issues.’ It looks like Mr. Goodwrench went ballistic out there.”

 I nearly scoured the logo off the bottom of the Tupperware container.

“So, yeah, Mom,” Christopher said. “What’s going on?”

“Maybe it’s none of our business,” Jayne said.

“I have a right to know what’s going on when I’m afraid to walk around in my own house.”

Jayne pushed her plate across the counter and slid off the stool.

“Okay, listen,” I said. “I did something to upset your dad so he asked me to sleep downstairs until we can sort it out.”

“Geez, Mom, what did you do?” Christopher said. “Cheat on him?”

I felt the shock register on my face, too late to see from his crooked smile that he was kidding.

He stared at me. “Dude, that’s it, isn’t it? You cheated on Dad.”        

~ from Healing Stones

That scene, from my recently released novel, Healing Stones, was written with psychologist Stephen Arterburn. Though it’s fiction, it rings all too true. Character Demitria Costanas is obviously handling things badly, but are any of us much better when our marriage is crashing against the rocks and our kids are watching?

We can learn from Demitria’s mistakes. Every family is different, so there is no simple step-by-step plan, but five God-shaped guidelines can help you walk your children through a tough time without leaving them unnecessarily scarred.

Your kids come first. No matter how much you’re hurting from that last argument or that devastating discovery, your children are still your top priority. Even adults who suffered through their parents’ divorce years ago will tell you their first reaction was fear that they weren’t going to be taken care of, especially when Mom was basically non-functional and Dad withdrew into his pain. Whether they’re teenagers who know every bitter detail of the strife or little ones who simply sense the tension, reassure your kids that you are there for them, that their needs are going to be met, that they are still the most important thing in your life. If you need alone time to process, make fun arrangements for them to be out of the house for a short time and convince them you’ll be right there when they return.

Keep the fighting private. Your offspring may know you and your spouse are going at it, but they don’t have to be privy to the sniping and the words you’re sure to regret later. Don’t count on their sleeping through a knock-down-drag-out. Make sure they’re out of the house before you discuss your issues.  If that’s impossible, fight fair and with dignity – which you need to do anyway, for the sake of your relationship. Make name-calling, insults, accusations and foul language taboo, whether the kids can hear you or not.