I wish I had some cute story, some enlightening moment, or unique experience to share from this week. The first couple weeks of school have been easy for me as a counselor; they usually are as the honeymoon phase is expected for at least the first couple weeks. And so, I don’t have a lot of friendship conflicts or unexpected tragedies so far (knock on wood) but there is a persistent nagging theme among the kids I have seen so far, however: divorce.
At both schools, I have had many students come to see me about their family. It’s their parents living separately and bouncing from 2 difference living spaces that’s really tearing at these kids. There is a sadness and unrest that they can’t put into words. And, although they know that other kids have divorced families, they feel so alone and different.
I’m not here to advocate for parents staying together because sometimes the fighting is more dysfunctional and hurtful for all involved. Children living in tension-filled homes are anxious and unable to reach their full potential. And, of course, abusive relationships are seriously damaging and traumatic for children to witness. However, I also think divorce is something not to be taken lightly.
I know many children whose parents have been divorced for years, even, and still have unresolved feelings and issues with it. It makes many kids depressed. These first couple weeks of school, I have listened to many students whose parents are not newly separated but they are still working out the complications of the divorce. It’s not easy on kids, and a friend who is divorced once put things in perspective as to why.
She was mandated to attend a class, I believe, led by a judge following her divorce hearing. She once told me a little about it. The judge directly told these divorcees that they should not speak unkindly about their ex-spouse because to their child, it’s like they are speaking unkindly about them directly. It’s personal.
Kids feel torn. Kids are half their mother and half their father, if they grew up living with both parents. So, no matter if one parent has been nicer, more loving or more responsible, the child still feels it personally. The child can’t help but take it personally as an attack on their character even though the child is innocent. Speaking ugly about one of their parents is an insult to the child, even if they have a poor example for a parent.
I see it a lot. A child struggles with their identity and confidence even if it’s their parent who did something wrong. Since children are still dependent on their parents, they haven’t developed their own separate identity. So, parents shouldn’t insult their ex-spouse as it will feel like an insult to their child. Children living with combative, bitter divorced parents will struggle to find their own place in the world. It’s complicated.
I haven’t lived in, and I’m not judging. I wouldn’t say divorce itself is a ‘bad’ thing either. But, I do know that divorce can be really painful for children and there are some ways to make it less so.
- Do not share too much information with children. Being honest is good but don’t be too honest and tell children all the grimy details about what led to the divorce. It’s too much, and unnecessary.
- Don’t trash-talk the ex. This must take a lot of self-control assuming there was hurt along the way. But, talking negatively about a child’s parent will hurt and confuse them.
- Include and invite both parents to events. Kids want both parents there for their recital, game, or open house.
- Get along for the kids. Kids are so happy if their mom and dad are getting along. It makes all the difference in the world even after the divorce.
- Make a set schedule and stick to it. Even if kids have two great homes, it is still hard to bounce back and forth. Knowing what to expect makes the transition easier.
- Ask them kids how they feel because they may not share openly without prompting. They may be sad, angry, confused, and hurt. Parents don’t have to fix these feelings. Acknowledging feelings goes a long way to healing.
- Don’t get their hopes up by talking about the possibility of getting back together. Talk about confusing. This can be a real let-down.
- Let them talk to someone outside the family. Find a therapist or even the little ole’ school counselor like me! It’s cool how even within one session together, a child may go from rating their family at a ‘0’ and then ending by saying a ‘6’. The act of just getting things off their chest relieves a lot of pent up hurt.
- Think about their feelings but also be in touch with your own. During a divorce, there must be a lot of painful, depressed feelings that kids notice. Show kids how to take care of themselves by modeling how to deal!
I am no expert, but I have to speak up for the kids who don’t have the words to express the above. These are observations that have been made when kids are in pain. There are many loving parents who choose to do what’s right for themselves and their children, while acting very intentionally. I have friends who are wonderful parents who did the above and have thriving children. Children of divorced parents can be just as successful, confident, and happy as the next child if they work though the above. I’ve seen it! I want that for all kids, and I know parents want that too. It just takes some extra, conscientious work. We can all help the healing if we know someone big or small in pain.