Q: My husband recently left me and moved in with another woman. My children are confused because their dad has been lying to them about where he's living and the reasons for our separation. What should I tell them?
Jim: I'm very sorry to hear about your situation. Even though I can understand your desire to protect your kids' innocence, it's important to be honest with them about what's going on. Be as forthright as you can be while taking their age and maturity into account.
I suggest you sit down with your kids and, using age-appropriate language, explain that Mom and Dad haven't been getting along and that Dad has made some bad choices that are hurting the family. Definitely resist the temptation to bad-mouth your spouse, because you don't want to alienate him even further from the kids. If they ask about the other woman, give them a straightforward answer and explain that it makes you very sad that their father has moved in with her.
Most importantly, reassure your children of your love. Emphasize that you understand how painful this situation is for them. Encourage them to be open about their sadness and anger, but don't allow them to engage in aggressive or destructive behavior. Writing and journaling are good emotional outlets for older kids. Younger children sometimes find it helpful to express their feelings by drawing pictures.
Focus on the Family exists to help people in your situation, so I invite you to contact our counselors for more specific insights. They'll provide a free consultation and can also refer you to a qualified professional in your area who can help you and your kids navigate this difficult time. The number to call is 855-771-HELP (4357).
Q: One of my parenting struggles is that I tend to let misbehavior and disobedience go unchallenged. I know this doesn't help my kids in the long run; how can I change?
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting & Youth: There are four basic parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and neglectful. Studies consistently show that authoritative parenting is the most effective and beneficial style for kids. Researchers have discovered that authoritative parenting can lead to fewer behavioral, mental, social and emotional issues in children. It can also yield academic and relational benefits.
Authoritative parenting involves high levels of warmth, responsiveness and sensitivity accompanied by limits and expectations. A practical starting point and template can be found in the 7 Traits of Effective Parenting: adaptability, respect, intentionality, steadfast love, boundaries, forgiveness and gratitude.
To become a more authoritative parent, consider focusing on these three areas:
1. Yourself. Do you need to create more boundaries for yourself (and your kids)? Take inventory of what you're doing well and where you might need improvement. Give your list to someone you trust who can weigh in with their own observations while encouraging you as you try to make improvements.
2. Your child(ren). What do your children need to learn emotionally, mentally, socially? Get involved in what interests them. Your children want a relationship with you and need your wise, intentional direction. Work on modeling wisdom and true humility, along with respect, love and gratitude.
3. Your family. Ultimately, we all carve out time for the things that are most important to us — so make your family a priority. Take time to connect and develop the kind of memories you want for your family. Strengthen relationships through grace and forgiveness.
To read more about the 7 Traits of Effective Parenting and how they can help transform the way you raise your kids, visit FocusOnTheFamily.com/7traits.
Jim 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. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.