The Children’s Perspective on Divorce
Divorce imposes heroic demands on the spouses going through it, but the parent who can see the world as his or her children, gains a very sobering insight into the trauma a divorce works in the lives of those who really have no say in the matter. This vantage point can be invaluable because it gives a parent some perspective on how the child is interpreting or absorbing the change.
Young children feel the changes that are going on around them in their world, and depending upon the age of a child, their world can be very small. They are aware of the changes that are taking place between their parents and how they react to each other. They also see how these changes are affecting the way they live. Later, when the parents separate, they are disturbed by not being able to be with both parents on a daily basis. They often are dissatisfied with shared custody or visitation schedules and are insecure in their environment.
The spectrum of children’s reactions to divorce is broad, as these recollections suggest:
"No one could make all of this go away."
A child who just wishes the sea of trouble around him would become still, may be at the edge of desperation.
"Why doesn’t my mommy want to be here with all of us?"
"I don’t understand why I go to my daddy’s on the weekends."
"I can’t remember ever seeing my parents together."
"I remember always feeling as though it was all my fault, and I would cry myself to sleep a lot."
"I think they still hate each other."
"My parents have always been fair with me. Even though they were divorced, they were both always there for me. I love them for that."
"I have grown up to be a very secure person. Both of my parents have always been there for me, and they both make time to talk to me together if that is what I need."
Children are honest about what they see and experience, and they are able to describe how they perceive what is going on around them. Initially, children do wish that their parents were still together, but as time goes by, they will accept the divorce.
Common Questions and Answers
Q. What is the worst thing a parent can do for a child in a divorce?
A. Possibly the worst experience a child can suffer in a divorce happens when warring parents fight about him or her in a drawn out custody battle. Not only will the parents come out of the experience with a lasting hatred of each other, they will also subject a child to a tug of war that can pull him or her to pieces, mentally and emotionally.
Q. What is the best thing a parent can do for a child in a divorce?
A. Walking the talk. A parent who is there when a child needs him -- who shows his love by loving -- does more for a child than one who tries to buy a child’s love with gifts or one who offsets guilt by letting the child run free.
Q. What must divorcing parents avoid?
A. Parents must not speak poorly of each other in the presence of their children. Children, particularly younger ones, may take this as a prompt to take sides. A child does not see his father or mother as husband or wife sees a spouse. A child sees a parent as an just that; one of a kind and not replaceable.
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PARENTING CLASSES -- In some jurisdictions, parenting classes for the parents of minors are now required as a preliminary to divorce. The classes teach parents how to minimize the negative effects of divorce on their children and serve to restate parental responsibilities in the context of divorce. They are not an eleventh-hour attempt at marriage counseling.
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