From “Healing the Hurt, Restoring the Hope” by Suzy Yehl Marta:

Here, at a glance, is a list of how normal responses to loss compare with troubled ones.

Normal
Decreased ability to function, apathy
Loss of appetite
Restless sleep
Irritable, crabby
Stomachaches, headaches
Shock
Decline in grades

Troubled
Isolation, withdrawal, depression
Change in eating habits, eating disorder
Refuses to sleep alone, nightmares
Physical aggression, violence
Psychosomatic illness, accident-prone
Total denial of loss event
Drops out of school or is expelled

If you know a child who is showing any of these troubled responses, seek professional counsel. These are major cries for help and should not be ignored. With a lot of love, patience, and support, children can work through the process of grief and on to healing.

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.

One thing I would like to do with this blog is give people an opportunity to share their stories with us. Some have done this through the comments on other posts, but I would like to devote a page to this so they are all in one place. Children of divorce all have very unique experiences, depending on the age we were, what events took place, what siblings we had (if any), etc. If you would like to share your story with us, please e-mail your story to me at mindyrichmond (at) comcast (dot) net and I will post it to our “Your Stories” page. I will keep it entirely anonymous unless you request otherwise.

Thank you!

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.

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?

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