Ex-spouse questions divorce

Q: Should I consider remarrying my ex-spouse for the sake of our child? We recently got divorced, but over the past few weeks I’ve become increasingly concerned about the impact of this family breakup upon our preschooler. As the dust settles, I wonder if maybe we could have made a better go of it.

Jim: Divorce often involves plenty of anger and bitterness. If your ex-spouse has no desire to continue the relationship, there probably isn’t much that can be done to change this.

However, if you are both willing to lay those feelings aside and move beyond the hurts and resentments of the past, there’s a chance you could put your relationship back together again. You’re correct in thinking this would be in your child’s best interests.

When separation or divorce occurs, it’s common for each of the spouses to focus on the changes the other party needs to make, rather than engaging in the frank self-evaluation that is always necessary for genuine growth and healing. Are you aware of ways that you may have contributed to the breakup of your marriage? Examine yourself honestly to see clearly into your own intentions, motives and blind spots. A divorce recovery class, possibly at a local church, can be very helpful in this regard.

If your former spouse is willing to undergo the same rigorous process of self-examination, the time may eventually arrive when the two of you are ready to seek counseling together. At that point, you can begin to take some definite steps toward restoring your marriage. This will take time, patience, and a great deal of wisdom and discernment. But I believe your efforts can be successful if both of you are prepared to do the hard work required.

Our staff counselors would be happy to help. Call 1-800-232-6459 or visit FocusOnTheFamily.com.

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Q: How can we help our 4-year-old overcome her fears about going to sleep in the dark? We’ve tried everything — an established bedtime, a night-light in the bedroom, books, prayers, songs — but nothing seems to help.

Danny Huerta, vice president, Parenting and Youth: My kids were also scared of the dark when they were young; it’s fairly common for small children. Their imaginations are developing quickly and they can have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality. Your daughter is probably going through a phase and will outgrow it in time.

First, ask yourself if there have been any recent changes at home or preschool that could have precipitated the fear. Then ask your daughter what she sees, and what looks, sounds or feels scary to her — and what would help her feel safe. Help her train her imagination to think of fun, creative stories that have some excitement and end well. If she sees a monster in her mind, have her draw it the next day and dress it up to make it funny and friendly. Give the critter a name and make up goofy stories about it.

If this isn’t working after a week or two, try other methods. A night-light in the room or hall is great, but make sure it doesn’t cast any scary shadows on the wall. My daughter loved having several stuffed animals strategically placed on guard, including one special “bedtime buddy.” My son enjoyed listening to soothing music just before falling asleep. Each child is different, so what may work for one may not work for the other; you’ll need to be creative. The goal is to help channel the youngster’s imagination that can quickly be controlled by fear.

Finally, teach your daughter simple ways to talk to God if she wakes up in the night. He cares deeply for her.

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Q: My wife and I are expecting our first child. I’m excited to be a dad, but also intimidated. My father wasn’t a good role model, so I feel pretty clueless about this whole parenting thing. Can you help?

Jim: Author Kent Nerburn once said, “It is much easier to become a father than to be one.” Maybe that’s one of the reasons why so many dads feel overwhelmed.

It’s easy for dads to feel like they’re in over their heads. When your 6-month-old baby starts wailing, you can’t make him stop. When your son is failing algebra, you can’t make him pass. If your daughter gets bullied, you can’t just make all of her hurt feelings disappear. It’s much slower, subtle work.

All of which, of course, can make fatherhood so frustrating. In our professional lives, dads frequently hold the reins and make things happen. But parenting often strips fathers of that control. Fatherhood isn’t like being a mechanic, as much as we might want it to be. We can’t fix things with the simple turn of a socket wrench. Even worse, sometimes we don’t know if what we’re doing is even working.

Being a successful dad starts by learning your role. Don’t try to force your kids down a certain path in life. You have to walk alongside and encourage them in their journey. It’s a process that takes a lot more patience, time and commitment than many men are used to.

But at its heart, fatherhood is a relationship. So, remember, gently coaching your kids is the essence of what you’re aiming for. Be a coach, cheerleader and champion of your child. For plenty of parenting tips and advice, go to FocusOnTheFamily.com.

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Q: How can I tell whether or not my child is actually addicted to video and computer games? He spends a lot of time gaming, but it’s hard to know whether it’s really that serious of a problem.

Danny Huerta, vice president, Parenting and Youth: When it comes to addictive behavior of any kind, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Researchers at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, studied hundreds of video-game-addiction cases. They found that addicted gamers’ lives are always significantly disrupted by the games.

That’s what you want to watch out for: disruption. Several symptoms of addiction can help indicate if your son’s gaming has become something more than just a hobby. These include:

• A lack of balance, and inability to stop the activity.

• Isolation, neglecting or lying to family and friends.

• Problems with school or a job.

• Weight gain, back issues, carpal tunnel syndrome.

• Irritability, defending the use of video games at all costs.

• Ignoring personal hygiene.

• Changes or disturbances in sleep patterns.

If you notice such signs, get tougher about time limits and actively monitor screen time. It’s easier to enforce boundaries if the gaming console or computer is centrally located in your home — keep it out of the bedroom. If your son is losing sleep, or his grades are slipping, you may need to get rid of the equipment entirely.

Admittedly, these conversations are not easy. If your son is clearly obsessed with the game and acts out with severe hostility when unable to play, you may need to seek professional assistance. Our staff counselors can help with a brief consultation and a referral to a local therapist; call 1-800-232-6459 for more information.

Counseling can uncover underlying problems that may be contributing to an addiction. However, in most cases, gaming can be controlled with consistent enforcement of limits. The goal is teaching your son decision-making and balance in life, not making him happy. Setting limits is loving, even when there’s some conflict involved.

— Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program.

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