ARTICLES - divorce

Divorce Hurts Kids - 1/21/2013

Amy joked, or at least attempted to make it sound that way, when she said, “Why can’t I stay here with you?” It was said in playful fashion and probably intended to mitigate the emotions she felt.  But later, when her suitcase was being packed, she began to sob. “Dad, why do I have to go home? Please keep me.”

Mike’s heart felt like it was going to break in two. He didn’t know what to do, but he knew what he had to do, because the divorce decree said she was to be returned by 5:00 Sunday evening. He knew very well how vitriolic and unforgiving a person his ex-wife could be, and he felt guilty for  delivering his child up for that hurt. But what could he do? His hands were tied, legally. Inside, he hated his ex, but sometimes he questioned whether he should have divorced at all. He frequently thought, “Maybe I should have stayed until Amy was at least sixteen. Then she could fend for herself.”  But it was too late. He was divorced and during sane times, the last thing in the world he wanted was to go back and live with his ex. Nevertheless, his guilt was always there and the more Amy sobbed, the more he looked into her tear-filled eyes, the worse he felt. His thought was, “Does this have to be a bi-product of divorce?”

Joyce hated the weekends her son was gone. During those times, she had no idea what transpired between Josh , his father, his newly-acquired stepmother and her two children. She suspected he’d be living on the edge of an active volcano, because “the lava started flowing from the moment he picked Josh up.” “What do you mean, he has to go to tutoring tomorrow? Why did you make the appointment during my time? Why couldn’t you arrange tutoring during your time? You see him twice as much as I do, so I’m not taking him.” No matter how much she attempted to defend  herself, to say “The tutor said it was the only time she had available”, he couldn’t, or wouldn’t  understand, or stop his tirade.

Josh wanted to be with dad, but the price he paid was that he had to be with this new woman, who was very different from his mother; much more controlling and far more black-and-white. Worst of all, he couldn’t  spend time alone with his dad. She always insisted that one or both of her kids tag along, and any attention his father showed him made her angry. But it wasn’t much better at home.

Two years following his parents’ divorce, his mother still hadn’t started dating. As a result, Josh felt the need to serve as her primary source of emotional support.  It was a feeling she strongly fostered. For example, on his father’s weekends, she repeatedly found reason to call her son, causing him to be stressed over her welfare.  To compound the problem, the more she called, the angrier his father became, usually ending with him hanging up on her. In the end, both parents suffered, but the true victim was Josh.

It’s an ugly picture. Mother was overly emotionally involved and far too protective of her son. Father was an emotionally explosive wuss, who had found it difficult to stand up to his wife throughout their marriage and, years later, still harbored resentment toward her. He now finds himself caught up in the same trap with a new wife. His anger is the same, but now he only  directs it toward his ex-spouse. It’s easier than looking at himself and realizing that, no matter who he is married to, he needs to grow a backbone.

In every divorce situation, the people I’m most concerned about are the children. They generally wind up being the victims in divorces they often feel they contributed to, because the arguments revolved around them. Even further, they then feel responsible for fixing or soothing the emotional pain experienced by their parents.  Needless to say, that’s an impossible task, which also causes them to further feel a failure. There is no easy answer for this problem. The only medicine is therapy and time, and/or their parents growing up, which, in most instances, is an unlikely  possibility.

You might think that adults, no matter how hurt or angry they are at one another, would alter their behavior, at least for the sake of their children, but they rarely do. Instead, they engage in emotional battles that neither wins and which always cripples their kids. Additionally, they spend countless dollars on family law attorneys, mediators, therapists and counselors, who live off of their controversy. For me, the money  would have served them and their children far better if it had been placed in trust for educational, health or business purposes.

I could go on forever, relating stories regarding the pain experienced by children of divorce as a result of their parents’ wounded egos, but it would only result in putting extra nails in a coffin.

If you’re reading this, you must know that divorce hurts kids.  But I’d like to add that divorced parents who are emotionally healthy can make this upsetting, negative experience as pain free as possible.  Not by staying together in a dysfunctional marriage, but by fixing themselves. I hate divorce, but I do not feel that divorces should never take place, or that you should stay together solely for your kids. Sometimes, I believe divorce can be a healthy alternative to living with two dysfunctional people who expose their children to years of a hostile, conflictual, emotionally unhealthy relationship. One which only provides a role model for a new generation of dysfunctional marriages.  

What I want you to take with you after reading this is that divorce hurts children. That’s a given. Therefore, if you’re going to get a divorce, you have to behave in such a way that you minimize the amount of pain and suffering your children will experience because of your behavior. How? By fixing you. Don’t waste time or emotions blaming your ex. Instead, become a loving, understanding, caring, accepting parent to your children, by setting limits and boundaries, being consistent and stable, and acting the way you wish your parents had treated you, or the way you hope your ex-spouse will treat your children in the future.

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