Recently, on the site where the book has a lot of faces, a friend of mine posted about his progress on his pending divorce and how it is affecting his preteen child. As I mulled over his post and responded to him that I would listen to whatever he wanted to say, I began to think about what divorce really is from my own, personal perspective.
Divorce, in my opinion, is an event that represents the finality of the decision that one or both sides have decided that they can no longer handle the status quo and are willing to change it at any cost. This is not to say that divorce is always a bad thing; sometimes it is the absolute best or only option. It just means that it is making a very weighty decision that will have irreversible consequences both on the parties involved and their children.
I think about how my divorce scarred me personally. I can’t say that our marriage was good the entire time, nor was it the worst thing I’d ever witnessed. It was, like most other marriages, wrought with good and bad together. However, when we separated, it wasn’t to end the marriage, it was for us to relocate. I moved ahead to find work while my wife was to sell the house and prepare the family for the move. After a couple of months, she told me that she was not moving with me but was moving in with a man she had been cultivating a relationship with online and that she wanted a divorce. I tried to talk her out of it as I did not want one and I wanted to stay married. However, she was adamant that she wanted out, so we separated for good. We divorced six years later.
The kids were hurt in ways that I couldn’t have foreseen due to circumstances that were beyond mine or their control. My youngest, who was 14 at the time, was hurt the most as his life never settled until he turned 18 and legally able to make his own decisions. I couldn’t help him; no one could. He is forever changed and carries the scars of it all as a reminder that people can and will betray you. No child should ever have to experience that type of betrayal. It was absolutely brutal to watch him struggle knowing that there was just nothing that I could do to help him as, since he was my stepson, I had no legal standing to try and take over his life and offer him stability. Thankfully, he is a strong young man and he has done alright for himself but he is still most definitely emotionally scarred. I expect that he will never truly outlive it.
So, in my experience, it’s not only the parties involved who suffer, but the kids are the ones paying the bill for the parents’ inability to solve their problems. It sucks, and I know divorce is not always something that can be avoided, but it is true nonetheless. I can’t help but hurt for my friend’s kids. I have seen what happens firsthand and it’s not something that I would wish on my worst enemy. The only thing I can do is implore my peers to really think the situation through before they act on something so serious that has such wide-ranging implications. It’s not going to solve much but it’s all I got for the parents who are considering it.
As far as the kids go, there are a few things I learned that may help someone who is going through a messy divorce:
Whatever you do, do not trash the other parent in front of your children.
While it is tempting and you may feel the urge to get in a jab, remember that your children are a product of both of you. They have a need to know that you love each other because if you hate the other parent, you hate 50% of your child. They may be just as angry at the other parent as you but trashing them is not going to help anything. In fact, it will only make fresh wounds hurt more and old ones fester. It is to be avoided at all costs.
Swallow your tears and let the children vent.They have feelings too.
They also don’t have the maturity or life experience to know what they are and what to do about them. They need an adult, one who loves them and understands them, to listen to their side. It will be necessary to hold back on many things you’d like to tell them in order to let them speak freely about their issues, but it is the only way I know of to get it out in the open so that you CAN help them. It is easy to become self-absorbed and dismiss the children’s feelings (guilty of this one myself) but remember that they are still depending on you for guidance, even more so now that their world is crumbling around them through no fault of their own.
Focus on how you can make their life better.
This isn’t to say that you should give in to their every whim and fancy. In fact, that would be among the worst things to do. It means that the children’s support system and structure are undergoing violent changes and they need you to reinforce that discipline, virtue, and morality still matter when it seems like they no longer do. The children, even if they say they do, do not understand why things are happening and likely they will not until it’s all over and they’ve grown up a bit. Don’t seek to make them understand you, seek to make them understand that you still love them and be the parent they desperately need.
Never give up.