Cut the Baby in Half: How to Teach Your Child to Honor, or Dishonor, Your Ex-Spouse
It wasn’t until my divorce that I discovered how many healthy words suddenly grow that tumorous prefix of ‘ex’. There are not only ex-wives and ex-husbands, but ex-uncles and ex-aunts, ex-churches and ex-homes, ex-bank accounts and ex-family pictures, ex-dogs and ex-friends. Almost every aspect of life is put on the chopping block, and what once was whole, is sliced and diced into his and hers. And all too often, in the flurry of all this butchering, the perfect icon of the one-flesh union of husband and wife—their child—is divided as well.
Solomon’s fame for wisdom was established, when, in order to discover who the true mother of a boy was, he ordered the child cut in two with a sword. The false mother, stirred by selfishness, hissed, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him!” But the true mother, terrified by love, implored the king to “give [the other woman] the living child, and by no means kill him.” The responses of these two parents, one evoked by love, and one by selfishness, is illustrative of what happens in the hearts of moms and dads who find themselves in the throes of divorce. I don’t mean that one parent embodies the true, loving mother in Solomon’s court and the other embodies the false, selfish mother. Rather, both these mothers take up residence in the hearts of divorced parents, moms and dads alike. An ongoing struggle ensues between good and evil, loving versus selfish parenting. And when evil triumphs, the child is torn in two.
Even as the church rightly laments the carnage that divorce has inflicted upon society, especially upon children, and works to strengthen marriages and families that remain intact, we are still called upon to minister to the divorced, including mothers and fathers who must now ”co-parent” with an ex-spouse. That is a tremendous challenge, often leading to disagreements that can easily escalate into bitter fights. As a parent who’s undergone divorce, I’ve experienced this firsthand. It seems to me that, as the church and her pastors bring the Word of God to bear upon divorced parents, they ought to include in their counsel a healthy dose of teaching about the Fourth Commandment, and how, even ex-spouses are enjoined by God to honor one another as mother and father, especially in the presence of their children.
For ”honor your father and your mother” is not only a command directed toward children; it is a divine call for everyone to honor the vocation of parents and other authorities. Because children tend to imitate their parents, the less moms and dads honor the office, the less their kids will. What often happens in divorce situations is that one or both parents point out their ex-spouse’s flaws, drag out the “dirty laundry” of the past, belittle their former spouse, and, in short, do everything conceivable to teach their child how to dishonor his father or mother. Sadly, this is sometimes done quite deliberately, in an effort to turn the child against his other parent. The mother or father who engages in such selfish actions is doing nothing less than grabbing Solomon’s sword and cutting his child in two—the child who, by his very nature, wants nothing more than to love and be loved by both his parents, whether they are married or not.
There are few experiences in life that bring out as much human ugliness as does divorce. All hateful, vindictive, petty, lying, and otherwise selfish actions and words have a good chance of rising to the surface. If you are going through a divorce, you need a trusted friend to talk to who has a lot of time and patience, at least some compassion, and enough wisdom and honesty to tell you when you’re acting stupid and irrational (because, at times, you will). But when you’re talking with your children, especially about your ex-spouse, inspect each word before you let it exit your mouth, checking to see if it is medicine or poison, if it supports honor or dishonor.
And while you’re at it, pray to the Father above to give you some of the same wisdom he granted Solomon, to discern within your own heart whether you are acting as a true, loving parent or a false, selfish one. If any sword is drawn, let it be used to sever in two every word that would harm your child, your beloved son or daughter, who never asked to be put in a position of suffering through the break-up of his parents.