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The other day, someone asked me…
Why children will smile next to a parent who has repeatedly hurt them and behaved badly? They were voicing their obvious confusion.
I understood their logical take on the otherwise illogical topic of a love turned messy.
As a child of divorce, I know certain truths.
If you had seen me out and about with my dad you would not discern in actuality he had left me when I was five-years-old and barely returned. I smiled next to him despite the fact he had chosen alcohol over our family. What else is a child to do? We have just two parents. And even the ones who disappoint us and potentially threaten to destroy us – we still love.
Not in the way we love our healthy parent. The one who always chose us above all else.
But in a childlike, for better for worse, these are my people kinda way.
We don’t want to remember or be reminded this parent failed to choose us first, repeatedly. We want in that limited time together to hold onto the time before that. When they had magically fooled us into believing we were the center of their worlds.
It is painful to watch my children experience memories that I myself can recount.
Even more painful to know my choices brought this forward in their lives.
I now find myself revisiting the childhood truths of divorce. Trying to understand them from an adult perspective and not just my youthful view so I can help my children navigate the same waters.
7 Truths of the Children of Divorce:
1. Children of Divorce Will Keep Smiling:
At home, children may verbally act out in the form of tantrums and disrespectfulness. After all, the safest place in their world just became the most uncertain.
Divorce is a lot for children to process even when adults try to do it well.
The pain of a child can also be emotionally distributed in numerous non-verbal ways. It may be falling grades, missing practice, withdrawal and more. A small child may not know how to express their pain and an older child may choose not to. These negative side effects can occur even if children are in counseling.
However, aside from all the verbal and non-verbal indicators of distress, many children will continue to smile.
A teacher or coach may not notice the extent of their pain. They will go along to get along as best they can during one of the most trying times of their young lives.
Divorce is impossible on adults so imagine the burden it presents to children.
Exactly, why adults should focus on a healthy and timely resolution because as a parent, children must come first in divorce.
2. Children of Divorce Will Worry:
One of the most unfortunate outcomes of divorce is children feel the need to assume the role of parenting the parent.
Part of this will be a need to make sure they can still count on the parent and part will be a need to rescue.
They might begin to ask routine questions more often, such as, “How are you doing?” “You okay?” Or make loving promises such as, “I will take care of you one day.” “I will buy you a house one day” “I will never leave you.”
It’s so important to diminish and quiet their worries. To remind them they are children and you are the adult and you do not need to be taken care of. Even if the divorce is brutal and the situation is extreme, reinforce their ability to remain a child by saying something such as, “I may not have everything figured out yet, but I soon will so you do not need to worry about me. It’s my job to worry about you.”
Explain that this is a temporary hiccup in their otherwise secure world.
That it is normal to feel sad while experiencing a loss and it will pass and things will get better.
3. Children of Divorce Absolutely Know the Truth:
All children need and want to love both of their parents.
They also instinctively trust both parents.
Unfortunately, some parents will attempt to ‘use and confuse’ their own children in order to exercise their spousal anger. Sadly, this will work in some cases. After all, before the divorce, more than likely, the child could trust this parent to protect them. This horrible game of emotional ping pong may actually work.
Ultimately, children are much smarter than adults give them credit for and they figure it out.
Likewise, if one parent behaved badly during the marriage and/or divorce (above and beyond the aforementioned spousal alienation) the children lived it. They fully understand which parent they consistently could count on, was predictable and made their world safe.
We teach children from a young age to treat others well.
They understand when a mother and father fail to do the same.
4. Children of Divorce Won’t Necessarily Take on the Parent That Disappointed Them:
A child of divorce will stand next to the parent who has disappointed, mistreated and hurt them and adults will be none the wiser.
Out in public, they will look happy rather than sad when with this parent.
This happens for several reasons.
-They may have been disillusioned so many times the child realizes it isn’t worth taking on the parent.
-They have witnessed their other parent trying to get this parent’s attention for years to no avail so they know it’s futile.
-They realize if this parent is a difficult personality, an addict, an abuser etc. it is not someone they are willing to confront.
-They are loving and caring and more of an enabler to the misbehaving parent wanting to still hope for the best in them.
-They simply no longer have any type of deep attachment to the parent and do not care enough to be upset anymore.
The children never wanted to be put in a position of conflict, to begin with. If they could, they would have run away from it.
Clearly, it makes sense, the majority of the time they will avoid any more of it.
5. Children of Divorce Have a Great Sense of Right and Wrong:
As in all other terrible experiences in life, some good does bubble to the top.
Children of divorce have a strong sense of right and wrong.
A bad situation was addressed and therefore, they understand people acted to take them out of the wrong environment and make their world right.
They then witness the aftermath, good and bad, further reinforcing how they will and won’t want to treat another human being in the future.
In addition, many grew up with a perceived injustice. A parent who treated either their other parent and/or them badly or whose bad behavior hurt them over and over again.
This intensifies a strong feeling of what is right and what is wrong.
6. Children of Divorce Are Intensely Loyal:
Fortunately, there are some divorces where both parents did a decidedly great job of being wonderful examples. In this case, the child remains loyal to both.
On the other hand, children of divorce often develop a great loyalty to the one parent they felt they could always depend upon.
The one who repeatedly put them first as parents should.
Not the parent who had an affair or drank too much, left repeatedly, and so on.
Loyalty is a terrific quality; however, in this case, it stems from one parent being unable to demonstrate the type of mature, selfless and accountable behavior children deserve and demand.
This is not entirely black and white. Many good parents make mistakes and behave badly and go on to correct them.
A lack of loyalty for one parent and extreme loyalty for another is not the result of parental imperfection.
It is the result of years of repeatedly bad behavior, experience, abandonment, etc.
And that one parent is not just a mother or a father to the child of divorce. The one parent who they genuinely feel unconditionally loved by morphs into both parents and takes on the role of mother and father.
7. Children of Divorce Do Not Want to Make the Same Mistakes:
Children of divorce must go to counseling. In truth, many families even with married parents should go to counseling.
Our family of origin is the original blueprint for our lives.
We will either set out into the world to attempt to correct the mistakes of our youth or repeat them.
The difference of children with married parents and divorced parents is the children of divorce have an elevated awareness of their parent’s mistakes.
Children of divorce need the counseling and tools to avoid the negative patterns in their parent’s relationship.
If anyone deserves this it is the children who have already experienced this heartache in their youth.
They do not need to feel the pain and regret a second time as adults.
Our children get lost in our choices, both good and bad.
What we decide as young and somewhat relationship clueless individuals moves forward with our children.
Even for someone like me, who believed I was wise enough to avoid my mother’s mistakes. I repeated them in a different fashion but I did repeat them.
Fortunately, my mother taught me God was guiding me all along. I have never had anything more than some short-term hurt and anger at my father never any long-term bitterness.
And of course, the decidedly daughterly judgments my mom, the parent who never left me – never deserved.
I never felt sorry for myself.
I wasn’t a child of divorce.
I was a child of God.
And God knew well the plans he had for my parents which would ultimately involve me.
And now I remind myself God knows well the plans he has for my children despite their mother wishing she had been wiser.
(Photo courtesy of Pexels)
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