As I sat on the floor with my favorite after-school snack and juice, I watched TV mindlessly. My 10-year-old mind wandered until the image of a mom and dad flashed on the TV screen. They were explaining to their kids that daddy is moving to a new home and they would stay with mommy. But, they could come and visit dad on vacations and holidays. They called it “divorce”.
I remember thinking that this was awful, but it would never happen to me and my little brother. Six months later, it did. I was confused and scared. But unlike the family on the TV program, my brother and I did not get to stay in the same home we were raised in. We did not get to go to the same school anymore. We did not get to play with our friends anymore, or go to the neighborhood park.
Why? Because mom was going to go to Reno, Nevada to get a divorce that wouldn’t take long. And my little five-year-old brother and I would go to another state to stay with grandma and grandpa. So, along with everything that gave my brother and me a sense of stability and security, both our mom and dad would be ripped out of our lives as well.
But, not to worry, I was told. It would only be for six weeks to get what’s called a “quickie” divorce. Unfortunately, mom and dad couldn’t settle arguments over money, the house, and something called “alimony”. Six weeks turned into six months, so we enrolled in a new school, tried to make new friends, and tried to adapt to new rules that our new temporary parents, known as grandma and grandpa, instilled in us.
During our time with grandma and grandpa, I got sick and had to go to the hospital to have an operation. I thought it was strange that my mom wasn’t going to be there. I remember being frightened and the only thing that would comfort me was my security blanket. As we left for the hospital, I remembered to bring my blanket. The same blanket that took me to this magical, enchanted place of security, safety, and a warm, soft cuddly feeling that told me everything was going to be OK. We looked all over for it, but it was nowhere to be found. The thought of going to a cold, scary hospital room without my blanket made me feel even more alone than I already felt.
Then, out of nowhere, my little five-year-old brother ran over to me in his little clumsy orthopedic shoes with his security blanket clenched in his peanut butter-covered hands. “Here, Shan, you can have mine. I don’t need it – really!” In that moment, he gave me something he will never fully comprehend… the gift of unconditional and sacrificial love that touched me to the core of my soul. I will never forget what my sweet five-year-old brother – who I thought was the cutest little boy ever – did for me!
I was released from the hospital with a clean bill of health, and eventually my brother and I went to live with mom in yet another state, which was pretty far away from where dad now lived. We settled in to our new life with new schools, friends, and routines. We would take vacations with dad and visit his side of the family, which we no longer did since the divorce.
My purpose in sharing this story is to help divorcing parents understand what goes on in the mind of a child experiencing divorce. It’s so easy to get caught up in your world that’s falling apart, that we adults are not as aware as we would like to be of the impact on the children.
If you are in need of a gentle reminder, here is what I learned from having experienced going through a divorce as a child:
Be aware that your kid(s) are already experiencing major changes in their lives, too. Any additional changes that can possibly be avoided will help from compounding the trauma.
Recognize that although your kid(s) is a little person, they still have the capability of experiencing deeply negative emotions like fear, anxiety, panic, and stress. Keep their emotions on your radar by encouraging conversations about how they are feeling.
Allow your love for your kid(s) to take supremacy over your anger and resentment towards your ex-spouse. When you diminish the value of your ex, you diminish your child’s value, because they are a part of your ex.
Involve as much of a support system as possible like family, friends, co-workers, and other important people in their lives. But never under-estimate the irreplaceable influence that only a parent can give.
Respect and encourage a deeper relationship that may develop among siblings during such a difficult transition.
Don’t assume that just because you are learning to no longer need your ex that your kid(s) don’t need them either. If you can stay in the same proximity for the kid’s sake, do so.
Realize that just because you may choose to divorce the ex-in-laws, it doesn't mean it’s healthy for the children.
Shan White, a certified life coach, helps women heal themselves from the trauma of divorce by putting their lives back together piece by piece.