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“That first year,” she says, “I was just there, making sure everybody had food in their bellies and clean clothes. But most days I didn’t feel like I had the energy or even the know-how to handle being an involved parent. Life gets thrown upside down when you are going through something like this.
“Having to raise four kids on myown and re-immerse myself in the workplace at the same time was tough. I was great at scheduling playdates, and I knew what shows were on Nickelodeon and Disney Jr. at what time, but trying to juggle work and kids—not having time for the things that ‘good’ moms do—was a really hard change for me.
“Being a single parent is a whole different world than when I could have all the hours the kids were in school every day to organize my life,” Jeannie says. “And now you have zero time like that, or for things like being as involved at your kid’s school as you’d like to be.”
When Jeannie’s marriage ended, she had been out of the workforce for nearly a decade, having become a stay- at-home mom as her kids came along. During those years, her husband’s job took them through five cross-country moves—from Illinois to Texas to Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, back to Texas, and then to Massachusetts—all in nine years.
“The moves were an adventure,” Jeannie says, “and I don’t regret them.” But on the verge of the next move, the couple separated, and Jeannie brought her kids—each born in a different state—back to the Midwest to be near family in Illinois.
With four children, who now range in age from five to thirteen, Jeannie’s demanding job as a special education teacher made it hard for her be the mom she wanted to be.
“My work was physically and emotionally draining,” she says. “Then trying to come home and be Mom was exhausting. I was just going through the motions day after day.”
When she sought help from a counselor, Jeannie says, “it was good to have someone to talk to, but I was missing the spiritual component in my life.”
Her counselor recommended that she check out Wheaton Bible Church. When Jeannie visited the church website, she learned about the Monday-night support groups for families, including DivorceCare, the Single Parenting group, and the Caring for Kids program, for children from preschool age through high school. One evening in January 2014, Jeannie and her kids came for the first time.
“We immediately felt connected,” Jeannie recalls. “I felt like the part of my life that was missing was coming back. Since we started coming here, I’ve seen my family built back up again, and I’ve realized what I really need to focus on.”
Even the family dinner that begins each Monday evening marked a positive change for Jeannie and her kids. “Following the divorce, we were rarely sitting down together to eat a meal,” Jeannie says. “Too often it was more or less, ‘Here’s a bowl of cereal.’ It was just survival mode. So coming on Monday nights and sitting down for the dinner that had been prepared for us brought our family together.
“Every week we look forward to it,” Jeannie adds. “There’s never been a week that any of the kids said they didn’t want to go.”
As the weeks progressed and different topics were discussed during the children’s group times, repressed memories and painful feelings began to come out into the open, and the kids have been able to talk with their mom about the things that had been troubling them.
Jeannie’s oldest daughter was really quiet at first, but over time she started opening up. At the end of one session, she shared the journal she had been keeping week by week.
“In that journal she was able to write about things that she had been thinking—things that were bothering her,” Jeannie said. “Sharing that journal opened a line of communication between us, and a connection. Even though she’s ‘Mama’s girl,’ she had written things in that journal that she had never verbally expressed before. What a great tool that journal was.”
Over time, all the children were able to talk with their mom about feelings she’d been unaware of—things she had no idea they’d experienced because of the divorce.
It wasn’t just the kids who found help and healing on Monday nights. In addition to the valuable conversations and the support Jeannie experienced as part of the group, she also was helped by the topics they covered from week to week. “We learned about things like how to relate to your ex, how to multitask, and how not to feel guilty for not being able to do all you wish you could do.”
“DivorceCare was great,” Jeannie says, “especially talking with others going through the same things—people who were in the thick of it like you. Knowing that divorce isn’t what God intended for me, I definitely found it healing to be able to talk through a lot of that with others.”
Along with the practical help and support she received, the spiritual dimension of DivorceCare was especially valuable for Jeannie. “Personally, I don’t know where I’d be in my walk with God,” she says, “if it hadn’t been for that group and the community and sense of family we experienced here on Monday nights.
“The group leaders are just real angels,” she adds. “I don’t think they will ever realize all they’ve done to help us.”
There was also significant spiritual growth taking place in the lives of Jeannie’s children, particularly her oldest, Ryan. One evening, when the leader of his small group asked him if he had ever accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior, Ryan said he wasn’t sure. So right then and there he prayed and became a follower of Jesus Christ.
After being part of the DivorceCare group for a number of months, Jeannie joined the single-parents group as her kids continued in Caring for Kids. “Our single-parents group,” she said, “is just like a family—even getting together with our kids once or twice a month at somebody’s house. We’ve become such a tight-knit group.”
Another practical lesson Jeannie learned from the group was not to be so hard on herself. “It’s okay that I have a pile of laundry at home,” she says. “That perfectionism that I have within me— I have to let it go a little bit. We need to learn to laugh at certain aspects of our lives instead of getting hung up on them when things aren’t just right. That’s okay.”
When asked whether she’d recommend the program to others—knowing the time and effort it takes for a busy single mom or dad to spend every Monday evening at church—Jeannie had an immediate response.
“I can attest to the fact that my life is busy,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of free time or down time. But it is worth every effort to make that time in your week for you and your kids. It’s just so powerful what can be done in those times.
“And the routine of it,” she adds, “coming every Monday—we look forward to it as an experience we can share as a family. You may not get to sit down together every other night of the week, but now that I’ve become aware of how important that is, things in our family have changed.
“That first year, I was in such a fog that I wasn’t even really paying attention to the fact that we were hardly ever having meals together or praying together. But Monday nights have put that in place for us again. And I’ve been able to relate that to life at home. Now we try to eat together at home at least once or twice a week—sitting together as a family and talking about God and praying together. Spiritually, I feel like we’ve all grown so much.
“For anybody who is going through a divorce,” Jeannie says, “I would just tell them they need to make the time and effort, because it can really, really help. The truth is that these groups have given me my family back. They can give you back your family, too.”