How do I help a single dad whose kids live with their emotionally unhealthy mother?


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This article stems from an email I got several months ago. Here is that email.

I have been divorced for three years. My ex-wife no longer practices the morals and/or values in which I believe. In short, my ex-wife is an expert at covert manipulation (toward the kids) and causing problems. She’s like a pyromaniac setting a house on fire then going to a safe distance to watch it burn. It has caused the children to not do well in school and has totally drained me emotionally and stressed me to the point that it has affected my health. I tell people what is happening but I know it is very hard for them to see. My question is, what can someone do in my predicament? What would you suggest?

Tough question.

There are many variables to consider. What if the mom isn’t actually emotionally unhealthy? Or perhaps the dad is angry about the divorce and he is lashing out at the mom. Maybe the dad wants more visitations. Maybe the mom really is leading the kids down a path of moral decay. Whatever questions loom in your mind, the point is the dad is coming to you for help.

Single parents need for you to care, empathize, and offer help

First of all, single parents in this kind of situation need to know that you care. I hear from hundreds of single parents, and the one big complaint is they don’t think anyone at their church cares about their problems.

Even if you have never been divorced, didn’t have divorced parents, or have no history with divorce, divorcing people still need your empathy. They want you to try and understand what they are experiencing. To them, understanding is more than saying, “I’m praying for you.” While we know prayer works, so many times single parents feel like it is just something you say to get them off your back.

While they appreciate prayer, if they ask about a specific situation, they really want you to suggest some practical solutions, and most of all, they need encouragement and hope. If you do say you’ll be praying for them, then check in with them later to see how things are going. This speaks loudly that you really do care.

That said, here’s an example of how you might respond to this question. I simply modified my actual response, putting in the words of someone who hasn’t experienced divorce.

My answer and suggestions

First of all, let me say that I don’t understand everything you’re dealing with. And I have no idea how difficult this must be for you. But I appreciate you trusting me with what you’re going through. I suspect that it’s probably difficult for others who haven’t experienced divorce to comprehend all of the issues you have explained to me. That’s why I remind people who are experiencing a unique trial that people don’t know what they don’t know. So stop trying to make everyone understand. It is useless and it drains you.

If you haven’t been through DivorceCare, I strongly recommend that you find one near you. These meetings will help you tremendously in that you connect with others in similar situations. Plus, the people facilitating DivorceCare really do understand what you are experiencing. They care.

There isn’t much you can do about your children being in this environment. However, there is a lot you can do to combat the effects.

Get your kids for visitation any time you can.

  •      Offer to watch the kids for your ex if she has appointments or meetings.
  •      Take a day of vacation when the kids are out of school, and bring them to your home.
  •      Take them to church with you.
  •      Love on them.
  •      Support them in everything they do, whether it’s sports, scouts, concerts, spelling contests, etc.
  •      Raise them the way the Lord expects of you when you have them, even if it’s only every other weekend.
  •      Do not talk negatively about their mother to them. She is their mother, and they are half her and half you.
  •      Let them always see the best side of you.
  •      Model Christian principles to them, and that means in actions, habits, and words.
  •      Set up a time to do daily devotions when they are with you.

You can’t control what goes on in their mother’s home. When your kids are older, they will choose their own path. Hopefully they will see her mistakes and moral indiscretions. They probably already realize her life is in constant chaos, and if you promote a calm and stress-free environment in your home, they will see and want that for their own lives.

I know as a parent you want to protect your children. That is God’s design for us as parents. When a divorce happens, it is not natural or in God’s design for marriages. But it happens. We are all sinners, and God understands that. So live your life as Christ would have you.

Most kids from divorced homes, especially those who live in constant chaos, do not do well in school. If you can get them in a DC4K group, it will help them immensely. It takes kids years to heal from a divorce. It is like an open wound, and when one of the parents is manipulative, it feels like someone is continually pouring salt into the wound. They can heal, but it will take longer. It will help if their parents are not fighting and backbiting each other.

I hope this has helped. I wish I could say, “Do this and this, and all will be fine,” but divorce just isn’t that simple. But you can do it, and your kids can survive.

  •      Keep the door of conversation open at all times.
  •      Send cards for every occasion.
  •      As they get older, text them continuously.
  •      Stay involved in their schoolwork.
  •      Set up a separate parent-teacher conference for yourself with their teachers. Their mother can have her own conference. Your goal isn’t to tell
    the teachers what their mother is like, but to find out how the kids are doing in
         school and how you can be of assistance to the teachers.
  •      Go to all school meetings, concerts, etc.

What would you say

So, that’s how I’d respond. Now, if a single dad or mom came to you with the question, “What do I do about my kids who live with their emotionally unhealthy other parent?” what would you say?


2 thoughts on “How do I help a single dad whose kids live with their emotionally unhealthy mother?

  1. Thank you, Linda…this is a great article. In Divorce Care, I’ve listened to numerous dads saying the same thing. I basically give three suggestions: ” 1.) Avoid reaction – 2.) Be a godly father (not a pal), steady and safe – 3.) Never speak poorly of mom…offer to pray for her with the kids.”

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