Divorce

Divorce is a confusing, painful and devastating event for children. One of the most important elements for a child’s well-being is a sense of stability, safety — that he can count on his life remaining safe, stable and predictable and benign. A divorce tears that idea asunder. If the unity of a family is not a constant, then, everything else can shift and change. Any horrible thing can happen at any time. That produces great anxiety in children. If people can stop loving each other, then Mommy and Daddy can stop loving them and, then, what would they do? If Daddy leaves the house, maybe Mommy will leave next —- and, then what —-? When things go badly in the world, children often blame themselves. They turn the anger on themselves and feel “bad” and shameful and powerless. They can’t stop the divorce. They can’t put the family back together again. They’re powerless. This anxiety and powerlessness can be with them for the rest of their lives and can express itself in numerous ways including a deep mistrust of intimacy.

What can parents do? They can try very hard not to get a divorce — to go to couples’ counseling or a couples’ group or both — to recognize that relationships are hard work and deserve time and attention and commitment
– to take a vacation alone together — to spend time together — to ask advice and help from knowledgeable intelligent friends and family — to do everything they can think of before pursuing the divorce option.

If divorce becomes absolutely necessary then, there are important rules to be observed:
1) Children must never be put in the middle. Unfortunately parents often
use children as weapons. When children are put in the middle, they are
torn and confused. Which ever way they turn, they are being disloyal to
someone and that makes them anxious and angry and adds to the trauma.
2) Children have to be prepared. Early on in the proceedings, they have to
be offered a benign, honest explanation but without negative details and
without blame.
3) Questions and comments need to be invited and answered thoroughly.
4) They need to be assured continuously that this is not their fault and that
it’s not their job to fix it.
5) They need to be reassured continuously that their parents will continue
to love them and continue to be parents.
6) This is a time when both parents have to be as lovable and available as
possible.
7) Parents have to manage their feelings and behave towards each other
with politeness and civility. All this has to be consistent and repeated
regularly since coming to terms with such a difficult occurrence is an
ongoing long term process.

It’s not uncommon for people to make light of this situation and talk about “children’s resilience” —- Children can move through trauma but not easily, not quickly and they need the love and support of their family, their school and their community.