A Child’s Perspective on Divorce
Every week I see children in my office who are affected by divorce. They sit on my couch or bean bag and try to make sense of their new reality. Conflicting emotions of sadness, anger, anxiety and even relief swim in their head as they seek answers to their questions. During the initial stages of the divorce, it is common for children to be anxious about the unknown, such as when they will be with mom or with dad and how they will celebrate the holidays. But over time their concerns usually abate. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, between 75 percent and 80 percent of children learn how to manage their feelings about the divorce and adjust well to their new circumstances.
So what happens to the other 20 percent to 25 percent of children? Why don’t they grieve the loss of their intact family and then accept their new lives? And what can parents do to help these children?
The answers are simple, but they are not simply followed. Children who have difficulty with divorce remain feeling emotionally unsettled. Fortunately, there are many actions parents can take to help their children of any age adjust to a divorce. As a starting point, parents can offer stability in their schedules without any last minute changes. A new routine must be established for children to feel a returned sense of security.
A harder but necessary parenting skill is to keep children out of their conflicts. Children have the right to love both parents regardless of what has happened. By showing respect and positive regard for the other parent, even when they are upset, children feel secure in themselves and secure in their relationship with each parent. When parents put aside their issues to show a united front to their children, children have a much easier time dealing with the changes in their day-to-day lives. Parents who recognize the importance of the other parent to their children are giving their children the most precious gift they can offer during a divorce.
Parents who have a hard time with keeping routines and keeping children out of the middle often have children who do not adjust well to divorce. Every time a child sees one parent show anger toward the other, it lowers the child’s self-esteem. Each time a child transports a message from one parent to another, he or she is put in the middle and made part of the conflict. And every time children are made to feel guilty for being happy to see the other parent, they lose the precious feeling of happiness.
If you are going through a divorce, you are probably thinking “easier said than done.” How can I let go of anger and hurt when it is so raw? How can I communicate effectively with my ex now if we couldn’t while we were married? Finding the best answers to the above questions is crucial, for you will be connected to your ex-spouse throughout your children’s lives.
Fortunately, there are many resources available to children of divorce and their parents. The most natural support – talking to family, friends and clergy – can be extremely helpful. Your local libraries, bookstores and online stores have many helpful books such as Cooperative Parenting and Divorce by Susan Blyth Boyan and Ann Marie Termini. Additionally, seeking professional help from therapists, lawyers, mediators and financial neutrals can help adults get past roadblocks. Newer ideas such as creating your own collaborative divorce team can be an excellent alternative to a litigated divorce where co-parenting is discussed in detail as part of the divorce agreements ( www.collaborativepracticega.com for more information).
Any combination of the above resources will support parents as they adjust to their new realities. And once parents feel more stable, their children will benefit from that feeling as well.
JF&CS is offering a workshop entitled "Co-Parenting 101: How to Keep Your Children the Focus Before, During & After Your Divorce" on Sunday, November 13, 2011 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Congregation Etz Chaim (1190 Indian Hills Parkway, Marietta). Elisheva Funk, LCSW, will facilitate the session.The cost is $10 per person and RSVPs can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org.