I was sitting in church when the Pastor did a demonstration to show how divorce rips apart a marriage. The reality has never been lost on me. I always saw divorce as a decision between a husband and his wife. Divorce and the child, was never a part of my deliberations until I faced my own divorce.
I recall talking to a friend about my upcoming separation and pending divorce. She was the one who opened my eyes to the need to have a conversation with my children. She even suggested some things that I should be careful to discuss with them.
It was only then that I began to realize that drastic changes would come into their lives.
Divorce brings insecurity
No child happily welcomes the breakup and divorce of their parents. Once they have become accustomed to their parents living together, and understand the concept of monogamy, they also expect that their parents would live together for the remainder of their lives.
The news that daddy and mummy can no longer tolerate each other, or no longer love each other is shattering to the young mind. Even for some adult children, such news is unbelievable because it destroys the ideal of their parents that they had developed in their own minds.
Questions begin to arise, because they want to make sense of the situation. Unfortunately, in most cases, neither parent is willing to truthfully answer those questions. To do so would be to reveal to the child that their parents have been living a lie for a great portion of their lives. So instead of acknowledging that the queries of the child is legitimate, they skirt the truth, which further confuses the child.
When I finally accepted that my ex and I could no longer safely live together, I wanted her to leave. I wanted my children to stay with me but I didn’t want to force them to do so. I called them together and explained the situation as best as I could and gave them the choice; I leave, and they stay with their mother or she leave, and they stay with me. Sadly and disappointingly for me, they chose the former.
One of them explained that they did not want to live without their mother. He reminded me that I had lived with my mother to adulthood and still had her close by. “Why should we have to live without our mother”, he asked? He had a good point and I did not dispute it. So I left.
The insecurity set in and even though they pretended that all was well whenever I visited, I could sense that there was that underlying fear that was never voiced. Instead, the boys began fighting each other – not often but enough for me to become concerned. My daughter began sleeping full time by her grandparents.
Looking back now, I can see that my decision and departure, negatively affected them.
There’s a sense of anger
Academically, grades suffer also as the child is forced to grapple with the fact that when he/she returns home, one parent would not be there.
Some children internalize this but also lashes out at others in different ways. They may get into fights with their peers and even with their siblings. At times, it extends to one or both of the parents. Under such circumstances, it is important that the parents and guardians – grandparents, teachers, uncles, aunties – recognize what is going and lovingly guide the child.
Communication plays a very important role now, as the child should be allowed and encouraged to respectfully say what he is experiencing. While the change in behavior and the expression of anger can be understood, it should not be condoned. If it is, a character trait will be developed that fosters this anger and allows the child to think that he has a right to be angry at anything and anyone he pleases. This will result in an angry adult who makes life difficult for himself and others.
So when bouts of anger is expressed in whatever way, the child should be encouraged to describe his feelings and the thoughts behind them. If the thoughts are valid/true, then they should be acknowledged as such and the child taught how to respond to that truth. However, when the thoughts are false, the child should be led to recognize this, and guided to the truth of the situation.
Recognizing the truth will help the child – and at times the parents – to better deal with the situation. It is important that the child be taught that anger is not the solution to the situation that he faces. If he does get angry, then he should not act on his anger but seek to think out the situation instead. There is hardly ever a time when we act during or out of anger and do good things.
Many acts, done in anger lead to the hurting of others, even loved ones, and at times, of the angry person. Regrets follow and recriminations, but the act is already done. Much sorrow and lengthy apologies may be extended but nothing can take back the deed done nor the words spoken.
“Be ye angry and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” Ephesians 4:26
Care should be taken to observe your children and help them very early when you notice unwelcome behaviors developing. The circumstance should not be used as an excuse for the growth of bad character traits.
Some children blame themselves
To help your children away from self blaming, it is important that once the decision for separation and divorce has been made, that it be lovingly discussed with them.
Children are usually able to sense when things are not going well with their parents. They may say nothing, but that does not mean that the tension or absence of love in the home is lost on them. Especially if the parents choose to use them as pawns in their game of spite.
When it was time for me to leave, I got my children together and told them about the decision that had been taken. I explained to them that they had done nothing to contribute to my decision to leave, that this was strictly about their mother and I no longer being able to live peacefully, faithfully and lovingly with each other. I assured them that I loved them and that I would always be there for them.
God has preserved me to do so thus far.
They said that they understood. There was no crying nor begging me to stay. They seemed content and accepting of the situation. Now I see that it was just resignation. They had accepted that there was nothing that they could do to alter it. I am not aware that any of them blamed themselves, but I know of other situations where the child thought that it was his fault that resulted in his parents breakup.
That reassurance therefore, is very important to the well-being of the child. Not that it would remove the pain, but it may ease it somewhat.
Prepare them for the change
In my experience, when I am prepared for something, I handle it much better than when I am taken by surprise. I don’t know that there are many surprises that I enjoy.
Preparation is important and in this case, I dare say critical for the child. Before the separation is enacted, the child or children should be told that it is going to happen and why. This should be done even if both partners are receiving counseling. Even under such conditions, the outcome is most time clear, unless there is a sudden change of heart.
It is much better that they be prepared for a separation and divorce that never comes, than to awake one morning or come home one evening and find that one parent is missing. I would also suggest that this be a joint conversation, even if there are feelings of hurt and betrayal between parents.
It makes it so much harder when one parent just disappears and the other is left to handle that difficult task of breaking such unwelcome news to the children.
When it is being done, none of the parents should be attempting to score points with the children over the other parent. So avoid statements like “this is what she wants, I would like us to stay together”, or “your father no longer wants to live with us as a family”. Yes, you may hit the ‘home run’ but you would have done harm to the psyche of your child.
And yes, you would have diminished the stature of the other parent in the child’s mind, but this will later come back to haunt you in different ways.
In all things have the child’s welfare uppermost in your mind. It would also help you to more easily deal with one of the fallout of separation and divorce – co parenting.
Do you blame them
Sadly, some parents blame their children for the breakup of their marriage and or relationship. I recall chatting with one father who told me that if his daughter, and subsequent children were not born, he and his wife would still be together.
In my mind, nonsense. But as he went on to explain further, I was able to understand his perspective. I do not agree with it, but I understand it. He didn’t want any children based on pass experience. I have no problem with that, it was his choice. But if you do not want children, then do not have unprotected sex.
Even so, the child or children did not ask to be born and if you believe the Scriptures, as I do, then you would know that children are a gift from God. He is the life giver. You did what was needed to bring them here, so you have an obligation to take care of the heavenly gift. Therefore, you have to put self aside and work for the welfare of that innocent treasure.
Blaming the child only adds to the stress that he will experience at your absence. In addition, there was nothing, is nothing that he could do about his presence here. That was all up to you. So if you have to blame, blame yourself, and that in itself is not healthy. Self blame that does not lead to improvement is harmful to you and all those that you associate with.
Instead, give copious reassurances to the child/children that you love them and, by deed, show it too. Always let them know that they are absolutely important to you, even if you move on to another partner. And let your partner know just how important your children are to you so that there will be no power struggle between them for your attention and affection.
If you had begun another relationship that was part of the cause of the breakup/divorce, do not be surprised if the children do not take kindly to your new partner. Most likely they would be blaming them for all that happened. Here you have to be patient and let love outweigh their disappointment. Remember, like all of us, they are trying to find a reason for the destruction of something they thought would last forever.
So when they blame, even blame you, be patient, understanding and loving. You, however, have no right to blame them.
Make the best of it
Divorce is never a nice experience, for anyone. There is a tearing apart that takes a long time to heal. For some people, it never does. Divorce and the child is never compatible. While the couple suffers one kind of pain, the child goes through another range of emotional and psychological adjustments.
Without help, it is possible that they can be scarred for life. These scars often lead to malformed adults. Some refuse to get married. Others live with anger bubbling at the surface of their minds all the time.
Trust is destroyed and there is always a search for security which can lead to them choosing the wrong kind of company in the hope of discovering it there. Most times, they still don’t find it.
It is thus very important that we prepare for marriage and be very careful in the choice of a spouse. The ideal is to stay together for life. When that cannot be sustained, then we have to ensure that our children are rightly prepared for the traumatic change that divorce would bring to their lives.
To properly do so, the divorcees must be prepared too.
Remember though, that God says that He “hates divorce”. So don’t make it your first choice. Resort to it when all else fails. Consider its effect on the child. Make the best of it.
What is your experience on this topic? Feel free to share with us your perspective and experience in the space provided for comments. I look forward to hearing from you.