Kids and Divorce, Part II
In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I have worked with
children of all ages for over twenty years. Usually parents drag
their kids into my office complaining of a litany of bad behaviors,
ranging from not cleaning up their rooms, to getting bad grades,
hitting their siblings, or worse, stealing, fighting or doing drugs.
I work with parents to change their children's behavior. It is
very helpful for the parents to know their children's experiences.
This is Part II of a two part article series. Please read Part I
before reading this.
In my office, kids generally are not happy about the divorce.
Maybe this is a sampling problem, because when parents bring their
children to a child psychologist, obviously there are problems.
Perhaps I do not see kids who are more adaptive or parents who,
after the separation and/or divorce, work well together. What I
see is that for so many children, divorce is a catastrophe. Children
cannot believe it and frequently go into a kind of shock. From where
they sit, theirs is (or was) a good family. They love both Mom and
Dad and do not or cannot believe that there is no more love between
them. Kids have predictable reactions to the "D" word, like panic,
then protest. Most of the time, they do not want it to happen.
On the other hand, when divorce is imminent because the marriage
is a disaster, children might have an easier time understanding why
parents are separating. Kids understand there are bad things that
occur in families, like when a parent is abusive to anyone in the
family, not just to the other adult. Sometimes one parent is troubled
by addiction and bankrupts the family, or creates extreme poverty.
Sometimes one of the parents ends up in the legal system because of
criminal behavior, hence "went to a relative's house for awhile," which
again, might throw the family into financial turmoil. Sooner or later,
most children will rebel against a dictator or tyrannical parent. When
these conditions occur, it makes sense to children that the "better"
parent might or should rescue them from the "bad vibes" or intolerable
conditions. No one wants to walk on eggshells, circumnavigate a blowup,
witness fighting and violence or endure intense hostility. In these
circumstances, children often want out as much as their parents.
However, even though a divorce is bad, most children do not want it
to happen to their family. Alas, we all know "divorce happens," and
when it does, the parents can cushion the blow and process the event much
better if they are informed about what the child needs. It is
especially important that the separating and/or divorcing parents keep
their wits about them, especially before letting the kids know, and then
minimally work together, if nothing more than to spare the children the
brunt of the likely sequelae.