Many of us come from families in which our parents have gotten divorced. Children of divorced parents experience mental, emotional, and even physical strain that weighs heavy on them, not only in the early stages of divorce but also in various ways for the rest of their lives. While divorce is common these days, this does not lessen the hurt, sadness, anger, and confusion that children in these situations feel.
In my experience, here is what kids of divorce want their parents to know:
- Tell the truth. – Divorce catches many children off-guard. They may have no idea that divorce could or will happen to them. Once parents split up, children feel like their whole world has turned upside-down and are then unsure what, if anything, they can depend on. This is not the time to hide the truth or sugar coat any challenging situation. Kids can handle the truth. They just need to know it and know it upfront. Parents should tell their children if they have a new significant other, if they are moving, if they need surgery, or anything important to their lives, even if they know it’s something that may make the children unhappy. Don’t wait too long to tell children the truth. It hurts more when they find out their parent was keeping something from them or if they hear it from someone else.
- Do what you say. – If you say it, then do it. Don’t make a promise that you can’t keep. If you say that you’ll take your children to the zoo on Saturday, do it. If at anytime, you are unsure that you will be able to keep a commitment to your children, do not commit to it. It’s better for a child to understand that you’re not able to commit to taking them to dinner than having them lose trust in you if you cancel the date.
- They want you to want to be there for them. – In divorced families, children go through a myriad of emotions and act on them in various ways. Sometimes they may be grumpy or angry or standoffish. They may even say that they don’t want you around or to show up at a special event. In most cases, this is really not how they feel deep down inside. They want you to WANT to be there for them, and they want you to SHOW it. If your child is moody or non-communicative, keep reaching out to them. Show them that you want to be in their lives. Use any communication method available (text, email, social media, etc.) to connect. You may not receive immediate results or reciprocation, but more than likely your child will come around. Kids of divorce can be very forlorn and detest that their parents “put” them in this crappy situation, and thus, they expect their parents to go above and beyond to reach out to them. What they will need to learn as they grow up is that they cannot blame anyone for how they react to a situation and that they can make the most of any life experience, but that is a topic for another post.
- Don’t argue. – One of the things that causes anxiety in children of divorce is their parents arguing or the threat of parents being at odds with each other. Even if parents do not have blow out arguments with each other, negative comments about the other is distressing to children. I can remember being physically on edge with an upset stomach when my dad was on his way to pick us up from my mom’s house, even though they never got into an argument in front of us. The threat of discord was unnerving for me. Kids know when parents are unhappy with each other. Parents, do your best to keep parental disagreement away from the children in this family dynamic.
- If your parents are not divorced or separated, acknowledge that you don’t understand what your children are going through. – One of the most comforting statements my mom has always said to me and my sister was that she does not know what we are going through, as children of divorce, and she never will. Her parents were married until they both passed away. Unless you experience being a child of divorced parents, you don’t know what it feels like. You really have no idea. My parents separated when I was 17 years old and divorced when I was 18. As an older child, I realized that there’s a huge difference in empathizing or interacting with children in divorced families than really being one of those children. As I mentioned above, divorce is so prevalent in our society that I didn’t think twice when I learned that a friend’s parents were divorced. It was as common as common could be. But when it actually happened to me, I realized that common doesn’t really explain anything.
- Check out #GrowingUpWithDivorcedParents. – For more lighthearted insight on what it’s like as a child of divorce, search the hashtag #GrowingUpWithDivorcedParents on Twitter. It results in a lot of funny, but true, accounts of living with divorced parents. For a summary of some of the best tweets, read The Huffington Post’s “21 Tweets That Are All Too Real If You Grew Up With Divorce.”
Divorce is rough on the entire family. The above points are my perspective on being a child of divorced parents. Do you have any other points to share? We would love to hear them, and provide this platform to help divorced families move forward with peace and understanding.