In writing my book this year I have had the privilege of interviewing families about their own experience of divorce and what is has meant for them. Earlier this year I spoke with Nicole of her experience of her parents’ divorce when she was a child. Nicole then sent me the comments below which I think summarise beautifully how many kids must feel during their parents’ divorce.
As a child, you put all of your hope and faith into your parents. You’re taught to believe that your parents’ love for you is unfaltering, and that they will always do what’s best for you. While this may be true, going through your parents’ divorce can be an earth-shattering experience, where you find yourself questioning everything you believe. Fortunately for me, I had a solid Christian upbringing to ground my faith in. I instead spent most of the ordeal of my parents’ divorce making a mental list of things that I would, and would not, do if I were the parent in their situation. After ten years, I’ve managed to organize my mental list into three main categories, per se.
1. Communication. Contrary to popular belief, human beings are not mind-readers. However, a child will also more than likely notice tension between their parents. So to those parents who want to “shield their child from the truth”- please do your children a favour and tell them what’s going on. In saying that, it’s not necessary to fill them in on all the gory details. Sometimes a simple explanation and some reassurance of your continued love for them is all they need.
2. Privacy. A marriage is a private relationship, between a husband and wife. In the same way, a divorce should also be kept private, save for some professional advice if necessary. I am by no means saying that you shouldn’t reach out for support from family and friends. However, there is never any need to tell every Tom, Dick and Harry why you’re getting divorced. If you’re wondering why, the reasoning is simple. Firstly, it can be humiliating for both partners to have the most private details of their marriage circulating the community. Secondly, and probably more importantly, you run the risk of your children hearing about their own family problems (perhaps in more detail than you’d like) from someone other than their own parents. It can be devastating for them.
3. Respect. A divorce is, more often than not, a very contentious experience. Both parents will probably feel that they are “right”, and that they are the victim. There is no need to share this with your children. It is understandable if parents are not on amicable terms with one another, but talking about one another in a degrading (and downright rude) way in front of your children never helps. By doing so, you place them right in the middle of your conflict, you pit them against either parent, and you also give them permission to repeat the things that you’ve said to others. As a side note to respecting one another, remember that your children are never your spies, and you should not be using them as a means of information about your ex-partner.
Divorce is not always the ideal environment for children, and should be avoided where possible. Where it can’t be avoided, however, there is always potential for a smooth transition for parents and children- the experience does not have to be as negative as the stories you hear. The most important thing to remember is that children are very impressionable, and the way that they perceive relationships and marriages can have significant implications for them later on in their own lives. Do not let them lose hope in the possibility of a happy marriage, and the best way to do that is to show them that love still exists in your relationship with them- even if it doesn’t with your spouse.