Kids and Divorce

February 12th, 2013 posted by Jill Curtis

Child with tear running down face It is sad, but still a fact, that our children are being touched by the shadow of divorce. Even if they are not among the growing number of families split apart by divorce, they will be influenced indirectly. They will know children whose parents divorce. They will know of children who do not live with both parents, and children who spend time with either mother or father, or who no longer see the other parent. Also, they read the papers, and they watch TV and so are aware that these things happen in the adult world. So, unfortunately, children today live with the uncertainty of family breakups. The fear of this happening may cause many a nightmare or daytime anxiety in the mistaken belief that if they are naughty or difficult, then their Mom or dad may go away, too. Children can be very tuned into their parents moods, but they can often jump to the wrong conclusions. Couples who have been having a discussion or heated debate can be silenced by hearing a small voice asking “Are you and Dad getting a divorce?” When researching for my books on family relationships, I heard from Jean who had experienced such a situation. She told me that her daughter Polly, aged 11, started to slip back in her school work and was obviously very unhappy. Eventually, Jean was able to persuade her daughter to say what was bothering her. Jean was amazed to hear that Polly thought her parents were divorcing. In Jean’s own words: “I was totally shocked. Nothing could be further from the truth.” Jean went on to explain: “What was happening was this. My husband had been offered a very good promotion at work which would entail us moving to the other side of the country. We were excited, but didn’t want Polly to know until it was 100% certain. Poor Polly.” Yes, poor Polly, and poor ‘other’ children who either misconstrue what is going on between their parents, or are painfully aware of their parent’s unhappiness, and who so often correctly fear the worst. Perhaps one of the most significant lessons we can teach our children is that it is important for every family to discuss, and maybe even disagree over, some issues. If a family as a whole can share the feeling that questions can be asked, and that reasonable answers will be given, there is less chance that a child may struggle on his or her own with the fear that ‘something is up’ but not knowing what that ‘something’ is. The on us is on us, as parents, to be straight with our children, and if there is a family crisis they need to know, in an age appropriate way, a little of what is going on. Children do pick up on the atmosphere at home, and it can be a mistaken belief that we protect the children by keeping them in the dark. Often this can be a way of the adults avoiding facing a painful situation by convincing themselves that the children are not aware of anything untoward happening. All families go through difficult patches at times, and it is as well to be aware that the children are not oblivious to this. I spoke with adults who were children when their parents divorced, and almost without exception they remembered the strained atmosphere and feeling of impending doom which they were unable to understand. All children believe they are the center of the universe, and it therefore follows that they believed that they were the cause of the unhappiness in the home. When eventually the situation was out in the open, they told me that they almost always they felt torn between their parents. Even if it is accepted that it was the fault of one parent, we need to remember that to a child Mom is Mom and dad is dad. So the next time one of your children tells you of the breakup of a family of one of their friends, remember they may be looking to you for some reassurance that your own family is okay. Children are more clued up than we often acknowledge and we must take it upon ourselves to ensure that they feel safe. If they do have to be told of a family breakup be sure to listen to their questions, both spoken and unspoken, and to remember that children — like all of us — can deal best with a situation when we have the facts in front of them and know what is happening in our lives. Sadly, today, the words ‘kids’ and ‘divorce’ too often go together.

Jill Curtis (2 Posts)

Jill Curtis is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and author of ‘Where's Daddy? Separation and Your Child' and also ‘Making and Breaking Families - The Way Ahead for Parents and their Children'. Visit her new website, FamilyOnwards.

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