To the Other Parent,
A father is seeking help via an online support group. His ex left with their young child and is blocking all efforts of this father to maintain contact with their child. In just two paragraphs, this father expresses palpable emotions of fear and speaks words of sheer panic at the possibility of losing his child. Sadly, this is not an isolated case. The experience of this parent is the inspiration for this letter to the Other Parent.
When one parent states they want a divorce, a common question from the other parent is “what about the children?” Thinking about how divorce will impact your child is a valid concern. This is true for most parents.
A common theme across all culture, genders, races and SES (socio-economic status) is parents want what is best for their child. Due to numerous FB pages, legislation, sites and support groups addressing parental concerns in custody, divorce, and especially high-conflict cases, we may surmise an exception to this social rule.
To the Other Parent, this is how your actions come into play.
To a child, divorce is much more than a legal matter; this is their entire world being ripped apart and thrown on the ground in pieces. Children of all ages are aware of the actions and events in their family, especially when things are turned upside down. Each age group faces different challenges as indicated in their responses which can help us to understand where they are at with their perception of divorce.
Perception of Divorce Among Children:
This age group is pre-verbal and we need to rely on data. Parents and family members are encouraged to look at the vast research addressing the important topics, including the father/child and mother/child relationship and information supporting overnights with both parents. A child having a relationship with both parents is paramount.
Some parents may think young children do not understand what is happening. These responses show that there is a keen sense of awareness with their surroundings and what is happening in and to their family. Here are the words of some children in this age group surrounding their perception of divorce:
“Divorce has lots of anger and it causes hurt.”
“They don’t like each other.”
“This is all very confusing. I am soooo confused.”
“Yelling together at each other.”
“When I think of you and Daddy not living together, I feel so sad. I do not understand why you got divorced. Sometimes I dream about Dad being sad, about not having you around. I wish that you didn’t get a divorce.”
This age has the emotional capacity to deal with everything, yet they are still quite limited. They may feel anger at one or both parents or choose sides. This is how some children in this age range describe their perception of divorce:
“Divorce is really confusing to kids. Everybody thinks the kid understands and knows what’s happening, but I’d say just remember that kids don’t know and they don’t understand and they get confused because no one explains anything.” Boy, 9.
“I am afraid that my parents will forget about me when they start a new life.” Girl, 10.
A therapist asking a third grader what he wanted adults to know, if divorce makes a child feel lonely; he looked at the therapist with sad eyes, hung his head and said softly, “Yes. That’s what I was trying to say. I just didn’t know how to say it.”
“They didn’t really say they were splitting up, but I could just see it coming because they were always fighting”, “Then, one day, when I got home from school, my dad and all his stuff was gone. I felt like they left me all by myself.” Girl, 9.
“Divorce is like a thousand knives being thrown at one’s heart or a slow, painful ride through Horror Mountain.” Girl, 12
Adolescents are more aware of adult problems and may accept the burden of emotional and money issues. Here are the words from some adolescents describing their perception of divorce/separation:
“I don’t know why my mom and dad ever got married”, “I used to think I was adopted because there was no way they could have stopped fighting long enough to have me!”
“The constant feeling of being ripped away from the people you love by the people who love you.”
“Mom and Dad expect me to ‘adjust,’ but the home I once knew is gone. Why can’t they cut me some slack?”
“It makes us feel sad, and we don’t like that feeling, because you make us feel like wanting to run away or something. It’s very hard on our heart.”
“I understand why you separate from my father, but do not separate from us.” Boy, 16.
Perception of Divorce Among College Age Children
Going away to college is always a fun and exciting time. For one 18-year-old, the best part of this adventure is finally having a place to call home.
“When I went away to college, I was soooo relieved. I finally had a home to call my home. No more going between houses. No more having to remember each thing I would need when going to one parent’s home from my other parent’s. I no longer had to deal with communicating between my parents who were unable to be civil to one another. Finally, I had one address. All my belongings were in one place. For the first time since the divorce I felt like I had a real home.” Male, 18.
Some of these responses indicate your child may not fully understand the divorce or separation. Seemingly, there is a theme of confusion and feelings of being left behind.
To the Other Parent, please know you are one of the parents. If your child enjoyed a loving relationship with both parents before the custody, divorce, or high conflict began, your child should maintain the caring, loving, and supportive relationship after the fact. Children are the innocent victims of divorce and separation. A relationship with both parents is a child’s right and not a parental decision.
P.S. The best parent is both parents
A Shared Parenting Advocate