How long is a “minute” for the child of divorce?


1 Minute


For children of divorce, a minute can feel like an eternity, or it can zip by at lightning speed. Their perception of time’s passage is colored by the events in their lives—visitation with the other parent or the pain of a particular situation.

Why? Let me paint a picture for you.

A typical conversation in the house of an eight-year-old boy on a Friday night might go something like this:

Mom, when is Dad getting here? I thought you said he’d be here at 6 o’clock. It’s 5:59, and I don’t see his car coming down the street.

The mom knows her ex is usually late, so she tries to pull her son away from the window by changing the subject.

Your dad will be here in a few minutes. Come away from the door, and tell me how school was today. You didn’t tell me how you did on your spelling test.

The son has one thing on his mind, and that’s when will Dad be here. At exactly 5:59, he starts the countdown: 59, 58, 57, and on he goes. For this child, a minute is an extremely long time.

Have you ever just sat and watched a minute go by on a digital clock? If you don’t want to get out of bed on a cold morning, that minute goes by pretty fast. But if you are waiting for that hot chocolate-chip cookie to be done, that minute goes by so s-l-o-w-l-y. It’s as if there are five minutes wrapped into that one minute you are waiting.

Many children of divorce are time conscious throughout their childhood. They are this way because their entire life revolves around the clock. They have the some of the same issues as kids in two-parent, married homes. They have to get up on a certain time, go to bed at a certain time, and catch the bus for school at a certain time. You know the drill.

For a child of divorce, though, even this mundane schedule of getting up and going to bed and catching the school bus has more time constraints that accompany it. On the second and fourth week of the month, the child might

  • Go to bed at 8 p.m.
  • Get up at 6 a.m.
  • Catch the bus at 7 a.m. for the long bus ride to school.

During the first and third weeks of the month, the child might have a very different schedule. At the other house which is closer to the school, the child might

  • Not go to bed until 9 or 9:30 p.m.
  • Not have to catch the bus and so sleep in until 8 a.m.
  • Walk to school with friends at 8:30 a.m.

For many children, it is as if they live two completely separate lives—one with their mom and one with their dad. In the beginning of a divorce situation, this can be a very confusing time. As church workers, you might hear from a parent that the child doesn’t like visiting the other parent. But when you talk to the child, you hear about how much fun he had with his dad last week.

Children naturally try to protect both parents. They may know that their mom gets very lonely when they leave to go to their dad’s, so they learn not to say too much about what goes on at their dad’s. They protect to their dad by not sharing too many details about life with their mom.

There are several reasons the eight-year-old boy is counting down the seconds as he waits for his dad’s car to pull in the driveway.

  • The boy may be worried that if he is not standing in the doorway when his dad drives up, he will disappoint his dad.
  • Perhaps in the past, the dad has gotten angry because the child wasn’t ready to go, and the boy doesn’t want to start his time with an angry dad, so he is extra vigilant about being ready to go.
  • He might be so eager to see his father that he doesn’t want to waste one minute of his short visitation time with him.
  • The other reason he might be counting down the seconds is because it is hard for him to say goodbye to his mom. Long hugs, bunches of kisses, and quick instructions about brushing your teeth just make it too hard to leave.

How long is a minute? Only the child of divorce getting ready to make the switch from one home to the other can tell you.

This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on April 24, 2014.


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