July 2006


I’m halfway through reading “Second Chances” by Judith Wallerstein and what I’m noticing so far is that there is a wealth of research and insight on families where the kids end up living with the mother following a divorce, but not the other way around. The book implies that many of the effects on children is profoundly related to the limited contact with or complete absence of the father. I’m just curious how the effects are different when the father is the custodial parent and the children have limited contact with the mother.

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.”

Courtesy of Kids In the Middle:

Do…

  • Allow children to openly express their own feelings.
  • Listen to your children and validate their feelings.
  • Let children know about changes such as visitation, moving, new school, etc.
  • Reassure your children that the divorce was not their fault.
  • Emphasize the finality of the divorce.
  • Spend quality time with each child.
  • Be consistent with rules, expectations and discipline.
  • Protect your child from parental conflict.
  • Provide a safe and stable environment.
  • Don’t…

  • Assess blame. Children shouldn’t be taking sides.
  • Talk negatively about the other parent.
  • Overburden your children with emotional or financial concerns.
  • Use children as message carriers to the other parent.
  • Make your child your confidant – remain the adult and parent.
  • Allow your children to put themselves in the middle of adult conflicts.
  • Discourage your child’s desire to have a relationship with the other parent or step-parent.
  • Is Remarriage A Step in the Right Direction?
    by Ron L. Deal
    Originally published by Single Parent Family magazine, December, 2000.

    In this article, Deal recommends that single parents consider the following factors before making the decision to remarry.

    1. Don’t begin the journey unless you’ve done your homework, counted the cost, and are willing to persevere until you reach the ‘Promised Land’.
    2. Make sure you’re not still haunted by the ghost of marriage past.
    3. Realize that a parent’s relationship with their children will be an intimacy barrier to the new marriage.
    4. Understand that cooking a stepfamily takes time.
    5. Accept the fact that remarriage is a gain for the adults and a loss for the kids.
    6. Dating is important but true stepfamily relationships start with the wedding.
    7. Discuss and develop a plan for your parenting roles.
    8. Develop a working relationship with your ex-spouse.
    9. Loyalties, left unattended, will divide and conquer a stepfamily.
    10. Consider the potential for sexual pressures within the home.

    Of course he expands on each of these, so I recommend reading the entire article if you have the time. I found it refreshing to find someone with a realistic perspective on stepfamilies. It’s never as easy as people want you to believe.

    Found out tonight that another friend has filed for divorce. I am in complete shock. This is a couple that I have always compared my husband and myself to. Married many years, been through a lot but have always pulled through. They seemed so happy the last time I saw them. They have two children.

    I have now come to a disturbing realization. All this reading and discussion about children of divorce up to this point has been about my generation. Our parents divorced when we were children. We grew up. The questions have been How are we now? How has it affected us? I’ve been pushing to find how I can learn from my generation’s experience in order to help children of divorce in the future. I don’t feel like I’ve learned enough yet, but I figured I had time. There are so few children in my circle of influence. I know there are many children out there who need help but it wasn’t real to me until tonight. Tonight it hit home. My generation are the parents now. Our children are the next generation of divorce victims.

    As you progress through adulthood, first it seems everyone is getting married. Then it seems everyone is having children. Is this the next stage? Get married, have children, get divorced? Then what’s next? The second and third weddings? The new babies with the new spouses? I am not ready for this. It’s one thing to see your parents going through all of this but I was somehow in denial that perhaps our generation would follow in their footsteps. No, I am not ready for this. I am not ready to watch my friends go through painful divorces and I’m not ready to see their children hurting and confused and I am certainly not ready to attend second weddings. Maybe I’m going too far with this, but maybe I’m not. Maybe I’m just finally waking up to the depth of the effects divorce has had on all of our lives.

    I found an excellent write up regarding step-parents: http://www.parentalalienation.com/stepparents.htm

    We need to be patient with children who are adjusting to a new step-parent. Don’t expect them to welcome the new parent with open arms. The natural parent has had time to grow to love the new spouse (obviously) but the child may have not. For the new couple the marriage is a joyous time, a new start for the divorced parent. But for the child it can be a very confusing time with a mix of positive and negative emotions.

    My parents both remarried a few years after their divorce. I grew up living with my dad and stepmom. The adjustment to that remarriage seemed much more difficult than the adjustment after the divorce, but I was only 6 at the time of the divorce and only three years passed before my dad remarried.

    Growing up, I had a rocky relationship with my stepmom. It has improved as I have matured and grown into adulthood, but it’s still a source of discomfort for me. It still often bothers me to see my father show my stepmom affection. Deep in my heart I have that longing to see him that way with my mother. I suppose I will never fully shed that longing. Don’t think I’m delusional, I don’t hold onto the hope that my parents will one day reunite. I know that is never going to be a possibility. But I do believe it’s natural to wonder how it would be if they were still together and the divorce had never happened.

    What do you think about remarriage? Step-parents? Did either of your parents remarry? How did you feel about it then? How do you feel about it now? Was it a positive change for your family or a negative one?

    ICCD 2006

    I would love to be at this conference right now! This is the first I’ve heard of it and it sounds like a great thing. Maybe some year I’ll be able to go :)

    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.

    I met a woman today who is currently going through a divorce. She was married for 21 years and has two teenagers. We talked for a bit about the divorce itself… the relationship she had with her husband, the problems, the causes of the breakdown in the marriage. Then I asked her how the kids were taking it. She said they were taking it well. The marriage had been in decline for sometime and the kids were old enough to understand and see what was going on. Not a high-conflict divorce, more silence and tension than anything. The kids didn’t seem to be surprised when they were told of the divorce. And she made a point to mention that there were several intact, healthy marriages in the family, so the kids know what one looks like. I’m not sure why she mentioned that, but it seemed to me that that thought gives her hope that they will have a chance at having lasting marriages in the future. I hope so.

    What I wonder is this? How well are the kids really taking it? No doubt they are cautious to reveal to their parents how they really feel. I know I was (still am in some ways). As kids we were brought to counselors to work out our issues, but I was still hesitant. After all, who hired those counselors? I could never feel confident that something I said wouldn’t get back to my parents. And counseling was so intense.

    Parents, if you are going through a divorce or are divorced already, be realistic about what your kids are going through. The family structure they have known their entire lives has come to an end. Divorce is extremely common, but that doesn’t lessen the effects. Acknowledge that they are hurting, validate their feelings. Chances are they won’t feel comfortable sharing their deepest hurts and feelings with you, so make sure they have someone else to go to for support, someone who is neutral and unbiased and can be trusted. Children are very sensitive to the pain you are going through and will often go to great lengths to try and ease your pain, including stuffing their feelings and pretending they are okay with the changes.

    We know divorce happens. It sucks. The effects can be profound and lasting. With some love, care, and patience I believe we can cause the positive effects to outweight the bad.

    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.