One of the great things about having a cabin 4 hours away is that Nan & I have all that time up and back to discuss, plan, and dream. This week’s discussion was on adjusting to changes in family, whether the result of a break-up, separation, divorce or death.
When this happens (other than death) we often refer to them as broken families. And then when new families are put together we call them step-families or blended families. I am thinking that I would like to refer to them differently. The terms “dis” integrated and “re” integrated” seem better descriptions to me of what happens. In this context to disintegrate is to lose wholeness, not to disappear. We are no longer a whole family.
When a family breaks apart because of the sin of divorce (there is always sin present on one or both sides) the wholeness of the family is destroyed. Children will feel hurt and scared and even sometimes at fault. The security they felt will no longer exist in the same way as before. Even if the adult relationship was more temporary, if the kids bonded to the non-biological adult partner, there will be a ripping apart when the relationship ends. This is the disintegration side of this equation.
What always follows this change is a period of grief for all concerned and it should not be rushed. Probably the most destructive for children is when a new relationship is formed by a biological parent before they are finished going through the grief process of losing daily physical access to both of their parents.
I have sat with adults who were devastated because their custodial parent had serial relationships, often one starting before the other one ended. This is one reason we emphasize that dating anyone until a divorce is final is strictly forbidden. And we also do not want to see any married person have someone on the “back burner” whether in thought or actuality. Neither of those scenarios is God honoring.
In the case of death, being able to grieve before forming a new relationship is obvious, but a separation or divorce is a “living death”. The feelings are often more ambiguous. There can be more guilt or regret. It is emotionally risky to form a new relationship too quickly.
When the grieving has been given its space to go where it wants to go, healing can take place. Then we can think of the future. And if that future includes a new relationship, the process of reintegration can begin. Once the dating adults decide that they have a strong chance of moving forward, members of the new potential family can be introduced to one another. This begins the progression of getting acquainted and exploring the possibility of life together.
When this process of reintegration is done carefully, there is a minimum of trauma. When done haphazardly, the pain can last for years, if not a lifetime. I don’t know if you might be facing a disintegration or reintegration, or are in the pain of grieving. Regardless of where you are, take your time and be wise. Know that you are loved.