Articles


“Family ties, happy days” – Survey says: Teens and young adults prefer spending time with family!

“They’re my foundation,” says Kristiana St. John, 17, of Queens in New York. “My mom tells me that even if I do something stupid, she’s still going to love me no matter what. Just knowing that makes me feel very happy and blessed.”

Spending time with family is so important, especially in the wake of a divorce. Divorce shakes the family foundation to the core, so it is imperative that parents remain focused on their relationships with their children. Parents need to make sure their kids know that even though the family dynamic is changing, they are still loved unconditionally. Keep those lines of communication open and spend lots of quality time together!

In her article, Troubled relationships don’t have to end in tears, Katrina Tweedie cites some excellent points about dealing with divorce when children are involved.

“The potential for conflict is huge when feelings are still so raw, so put decisions about money or even where the children will ultimately live on hold until things have settled down.”

“Also, never underestimate your children’s capacity to understand and be fascinated by what’s going on.”

“Parents, even of young children, would do well to pay attention to their thoughts and give them some space to grieve.”

“Negotiating a truce is essential when children are involved but for many couples, suspending hostilities long enough to discuss their children’s future can be a challenge.”

Family mediation is one way to tackle this challenge, and one couple interviewed shares their experience and how mediation has helped them to communicate. This is so important because even though the marriage roles end after divorce, the parenting roles do not.

“People complain that divorce isn’t fast enough but when children are involved, it is vital that divorces be amicable which may require a conciliation process which will slow things down further.”

Sending the kids back to school can be a stressful time, and even more so when the parents are divorced or separated. Be sure to decide ahead of time who will be responsible for what. Keep calendars in each of the parent’s homes and one in the child’s backpack to keep everyone organized. It’s important to not rely on the children for the passing of information and to keep them and their teachers out of the middle of any disputes.

Back-to-school tough for children of divorce

Adding this to my “books to read” list….

My Father Married Your Mother – Candid essays compiled on stepfamilies

The 26 essays in “My Father Married Your Mother” tackle the subject of stepfamilies from all directions… One thing that all the essays have in common is that they are brutally honest.

“I wanted them to only be honest because I thought the collection would only work if these were honest stories. To me the problem was that there was such deception about the experience of being in a stepfamily. People didn’t really want to talk about some of the deep feelings they have because they were not socially acceptable,” Burt says.

… Another common thread in the book is the theme of loss. “Every stepfamily is borne on the back of a loss. A child has lost a parent. Whether it’s through divorce or death or abandonment, there is a major loss that needs to be acknowledged,” Burt says.

Coping Strategies for Blended Families by Debbie Wilburn

What Children of Divorce Really Think and how you can help by Angela Elwell Hunt

Some excerpts:

“I wonder if my mom or dad ever really loved each other. Isn’t love supposed to last forever?”

Go through old photo albums and dig out those wedding pictures. It’s important for kids of all ages to know they were wanted and enjoyed. Reassure the child there were happy times, that his or her father or mother both had strong and decent qualities the other loved.

“Mom and Dad expect me to ‘adjust,’ but the home I once knew is gone. Why can’t they just cut me some slack?”

Kids, by definition, lack maturity. They don’t know how to “be angry and not sin” (Eph. 4:26, Psa. 4:4, NKJV). Many times they can’t even verbalize why or at whom they’re angry.

Let kids know anger is natural—we can’t control our feelings. But we can control our actions and talk about what’s hurt us and our reactions. Ask direct questions: “Are you angry because your father can’t see you this weekend? Are you angry because you think your mother’s spending too much time at work?” By analyzing what they’re feeling, children can begin to recognize and master that powerful emotion.

“My parents divorced, so I’ll never get married. Love and marriage just don’t work.”

Sensitive to their maturity level, be honest with kids about why the divorce happened. Many parents shrug off their kids’ curiosity with “You’re too young to understand.”

But children of divorce need to know so they can keep from making those same mistakes and breaking those commitments. Be encouraging, hopeful, and strong when you talk to children about their future marriage partners. Tell them to wait and trust God’s timing, and reassure them that you’re praying now for the person they’ll one day marry.

Elizabeth Marquardt reports on sessions held at the International Conference on Children and Divorce. I have long felt that remarriage can be just as (if not more) difficult for the children as divorce, and the following excerpt does a great job of explaining one of the reasons why.

Claire Cartwright of the University of Auckland presented moving qualitative interviews with young adults who grew up in stepfamilies and, based on those interviews and other research, made several recommendations for clinical practice. The most striking, and one I couldn’t agree with more, is that parents in stepfamilies need to be told that the parent-child relationship is as important as the couple relationship. Sound obvious? It’s not. She and Scott Browning, a family therapist in Chestnut Hill PA (who gave out copies of his very helpful, brief paper, “Treating Stepfamilies: Alternatives to Traditional Family Therapy,” email him at scobrown (at) chc.edu for a copy) noted that traditional family therapy emphasizes the couple relationship first. In an intact family it makes sense — the mom and dad are often absorbed in the kids and their work and they need to be reminded to priortize their own relationship for everybody’s sake. But in a stepfamily, the kids need tremendous reassurance that they’re not losing their mom or dad to the new marriage. When you tell a stepchild that “the couple relationship comes first” (or, as Cartwright noted, one father’s probably well-intended but all-wrong words to his daughter: “I love your stepmom more than you,”) you reinforce their fears and further jeopardize the chances of the family’s success.

There is definitely a lack of research in this area. My hope is that researchers continue to press on and that it would lead to greater awareness and understanding. Therapists especially need to know what approaches to take when treating divorced and step families, because they come with very different issues and dynamics than intact families.

Following is a short piece I wrote for a local Christian newsletter in June of 2004.

Child of Divorce

Malachi 2:13-16
“Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh & spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth.”

634 Turwill Lane. It’s the one with the white birch tree in front. This is where my family ended. At the tender age of 6, my family was destroyed by divorce. From that point on my siblings grew up living two different lives, one with our mom and one with our dad. I am sitting in front of the house where it all started, but I know I can’t go back.

After twenty years of being pressured by society to just accept it and move on, I am finally allowing myself to FEEL something about my parents’ divorce. I have been overwhelmed with a flood of emotions lately. I wish that my parents had fought harder to hold together the family they chose to create. I wish it so that I would not have grown up with conflicting values or segmented family memories. I wish it so that I would not be so afraid to trust others. I wish it so that I didn’t strive so hard to be perfect in order to gain some sense of stability. And I wish it so I would not run away when things got hard. I wish they would have fought harder to win one more battle in the war Satan has declared on marriage and family.

It has surprised me to learn how devastating divorce actually is for the children involved. Our society, churches included, seem to sugarcoat the short and long-term effects of divorce. I hear it referred to as a “fresh start” for the spouses involved, but for the children it is a painful destruction of stability. When the parents remarry they call it a “blended family,” but for the children it is an unnatural arrangement and a constant reminder of the brokenness of their original, God-given family.

What God is teaching me in my own life is that broken marriages result in broken children. He is showing me my brokenness and bringing my hurt and pain to the surface. Some days the emotions are too overwhelming, but I hand them over to God because I know he is with me every step of the way. With one issue at a time, I am growing and healing from the inside out. Through all this I have hope because I know he is filling me with his Spirit in order to make me whole again. I believe we are all broken people for one reason or another. I also believe that God can make us whole again. Give him your brokenness, your pain, your fears. Let him do the rest.

“O let him have the things that hold you, and his Spirit like a dove will descend upon your life and make you whole.”

From the Family Class Blog:

The Effects of Divorce On Children, Part One

The Effects of Divorce On Children, Part Two

I was particularly interested in this paragraph from part two (emphasis mine):

In her book Between Two Worlds, Elizabeth Marquardt states that “a ‘good divorce’ compares poorly even to an unhappy marriage, so long as that marriage is low-conflict.” A national survey taken shows that 2/3 of divorces result from low-conflict marriages; another shows that 86% of low-conflict couples who decided to stick it out found that their marriages were much stronger and happier five years later, but above all, they were still married (Waite and Gallagher The Case for Marriage, pages 145-148). If these low-conflict couples stayed together and worked out their problems, statistically they have an outstanding chance that their marriages will last and become better with time.

Marquardt’s book has sparked a lot of discussion about the damaging effects of divorces from low-conflict marriages. I haven’t read her book yet but am eager to. I just need to finish the one I’m working on, which is “Second Chances” by Judith Wallerstein. I often wonder how different things would be if they had never passed the no-fault divorce law. That law makes divorce more accessible for those low-conflict marriages and I believe as a result struggling couples often see divorce as an “easy out.” It’s when the smoke clears that we all see that is far from the truth.

Following is a post from my personal blog. I thought it might be helpful to post here as well since this is what this new blog is all about…

I just read this article, “No good divorce: The children’s perspective”. It’s an interview with Elizabeth Marquardt, the author of “Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce” and I’m ready to go out and read the book.

This is a subject that is very close to my heart. In some way I have always felt that my parents’ divorce didn’t affect me all that much. When I read “Generation Ex” by Jen Abbas, I realized that wasn’t true. In the process of reading that book, my feelings of confusion and loss were validated and I was able to find a lot of healing.

Since then I have thought a great deal about the lack of support for children of divorce. Do a google search for divorce counseling for children and you’ll find a slew of websites, but all of them are written for the parents. We need some child advocates here. Parents can do a lot to help support their children through a divorce, but very often its not enough. One reason is simply because the parents are going through a heart-wrenching time. Divorce ain’t easy. A second reason is because these kids need someone to talk to about what they are going through, and they don’t always feel comfortable talking to Mom and Dad because it hits too close to home. How do you be completely honest about your pain and anger with the people who are causing it? I was 6 when my parents divorced, and it hurt like hell. I was mad at them both, but I never told them because they were already hurting so much and I didn’t want to add to their pain and guilt. Add to that the pressure from society. When I was a child I felt like I just needed to act normal. Everyone seemed to turn the other way, pretend it didn’t really happen or that it wasn’t a big deal. I was so afraid of expressing my feelings because I didn’t want people to think I was overreacting. Yet even with that restraint I still cried a lot. (One of the best things my mom taught me is that it’s okay to cry.)

It’s so different the way children are treated if a loved one dies. Their pain is acknowledged for what it is, they are embraced. Children of divorce are grieving just as well, but because divorce has become so common I think we underestimate what they are going through. They experience pain, anger, confusion, denial, frustration, sadness, and they need to know that it’s okay to feel the way they feel. In essence they are grieving the loss of their family. We need to let them grieve.

I want to start an advocacy center for children of divorce. I know it’s needed. Convincing people it’s needed may be a challenge. Funding it will definitely be a challenge. I need to network, I need to make a plan. This blog is the first step.