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Divorce — the storm that devastates and keeps on devastating

 
 

39761419 - young couple is arguing to loud alongside their child

When divorce became a trend in the early 1970s, we were told that children were resilient. If Mom and Dad were happy after the divorce, the kids would be okay. Over the years, however, we have learned that divorce affects children’s lives in deep, intense ways. Divorce is a storm that devastates the child’s family and the child’s life.

Dr. Judith Wallerstein, a divorce researcher who has done the only longitudinal study on children of divorce, a 25-year investigation involving 131 children ages 3 to 18 years old, writes in The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, A 25 Year Landmark Study that “[d]ivorce is a life-transforming experience. After divorce, childhood is different. Adolescence is different. Adulthood—with the decision to marry or not and have children or not—is different. Whether the final outcome is good or bad, the whole trajectory of an individual’s life is profoundly altered by the divorce experience.”

What kids say about how divorce affects them

Dale Hudson in his article “How Divorce Really Affects Children” tells us that most parents who divorce are in denial about how their divorce affects their kids. Here are a few of Hudson’s points.

  •      Only 14% of children were able to be honest with their parents about how upset they felt.
  •      39% said they hid their feelings from their parents because they didn’t want to upset their parents.
  •      20% felt there was no point in telling their parents because their parents were too wrapped up in themselves.
  •      1 in 12 felt forced to look after a parent during the divorce.
  •      35% said that one of their parents tried to turn them against the other parent.

What is even more interesting to me is what the parents had to say in Hudson’s article.

  •      Only 5% of parents realized their children blamed themselves for the split.
  •      10% thought their kids were “relieved” that the parent left their partner.
  •      Only 10% realized their child had seen them fighting—three times less than the true figure.
  •      8% admitted they had tried to turn their child against the other parent—almost four times less than the rate reported by the children.
  •      77% of separated couples thought their kids coped well—but only 18% of children were happy their parents were no longer together.

These are only a few of the issues kids face during divorce. Hopefully, I’ve given enough for you to realize that divorce has the ability to devastate kids as much as a horrific storm that devastates everything in its path.

How divorce keeps on devastating

After the divorce, the devastation can continue when siblings must visit the other parent or even when the parents share custody, and things seem to calm down. Let’s look at some situations.

  •      If the son looks and sounds like the dad, the mother might distance herself from the son simply because he reminds her of the ex-husband.
  •      If the mom was abused, she might actually come to fear her son as he grows into his teen years.
  •      As the daughter becomes a teen, she might use some of the same facial expressions as her mother or talk like the mother. The father may take out his anger at the mom on   the budding teenage daughter.
  •      The father might give extra favor to his oldest son. His firstborn son may remind him of the wedded bliss he experienced at the beginning of the marriage. After the divorce, the dad might give the firstborn boy all of his attention and love and leave the daughter or other sons out of the picture.
  •      Although there might not have been any signs of mistreatment during the marriage, the father, while lavishing attention on the oldest child, may mistreat the other siblings after the marriage ends.

These incidents could cause a young boy to grow up leery of women. Or the teenage girl might look to a teenage boy for comfort and physical attention. A girl’s self-esteem may be damaged during a divorce when her dad rejects her because she reminds him of his ex-wife. A teenage boy might turn to drugs or alcohol, trying to heal the mother’s wounds from being rejected by the father after the divorce.

The storm of remarriage uproots lives

If one parent remarries, the storm can continue to wreak havoc on the child. “When a single mom marries a single dad, lives collide!” is how Heather Hetchler, a stepmom coach, puts it. Just like in a hurricane whose winds uproot everything in its path, a remarriage causes lives to be uprooted, thrown around, tumbled together, and in the end leaves damage in its wake.

The child feels abandoned

Recently, at a SOS (Sisterhood of Stepmoms) Conference, Hetchler explained one of the reasons children can suffer so much in the stepfamily when the mom remarries: “Kids might think their mom doesn’t love them any longer when she takes the new husband’s last name.” All of a sudden, the child feels abandoned by the mom. This serves to further aggravate the child’s situation. The storm strikes another blow.

Responsibility versus love

Heather also told the group, “Biological parents see kids through the lens of love. A stepparent sees the kids through the lens of responsibility.” I experienced this firsthand several years ago when I ran a therapeutic summer camp program.

We had a newly formed stepparent situation. The mom brought a son and daughter into the marriage, while the stepdad brought two sons. All were close to the same age. One morning, the mom’s son Josh was brought to the program by his birth father. About an hour later, the mom brought in the stepsiblings. Josh was standing in the back of the room when the stepbrothers arrived. All of a sudden, Josh’s face turned red, he balled up his hands, and he said through clenched teeth, “He has on my brand-new shirt! That’s my new shirt that my dad bought me. I was saving it for a special trip my dad and I are planning. I haven’t even worn it yet.”

The mom tried to explain that the stepbrother didn’t have a clean shirt to wear, so she had grabbed one of Josh’s shirts. The mom’s lens of responsibility overshadowed her son’s need for love and understanding from her.

Birth order confusion

Then there is the birth order. A child who was the youngest in one family is now a middle child in the stepfamily. Or the oldest child in the family before the new marriage is now one of the younger children in the family. While mom and stepdad are madly in the love, the kids are trying to figure out where they fit or if they do fit. Another gust of wind blows lives out of order.

Discipline

Discipline situations in a stepfamily can be tough. In a workshop at the SOS Conference, Hetchler brought up a very interesting scenario that makes one stop and think about how these kids view life. She said a child might think, “The worst thing that ever happened to me is that my mom left me. No amount of punishment or consequences you can give me will hurt as much as my own mom leaving me!”

A lot of empathy and understanding need to be brought to this type of situation.

God is in control

No matter the devastation, the loss, or the hurt, God can still be in control. As children’s leaders, we constantly need to remind the kids caught in the storm of divorce of this. In the story in Mark 4:35–41, the disciples are caught in a storm at sea. If you remember, Jesus is asleep when the storm arises. The disciples wake Him and call to Him saying, “Lord! Please save us.” What does Jesus do? He calms the storm, just as Jesus can calm the storm of divorce.

In DC4K (DivorceCare for Kids), we tell the kids to hold onto Psalm 32:7a (NLB): “You are my hiding place from every storm of life.” The children can grasp that concept, and years later, they will still remember that promise.

 

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Want to learn more about how to start a DivorceCare for Kids group for the hurting children in your community? Click here.

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4 thoughts on “Divorce — the storm that devastates and keeps on devastating

  1. Linda, thank you for this excellent article. I have an additional training session for all SafeKeepers involved in our first ever DC4K Session tomorrow. I intend to reference it in sharing the plan for our Dry Run and Orientation sessions upcoming in the next couple weeks. While they may have family members who have been divorced, none of them have been. I can’t stress enough the devastation that my family has suffered, but this article will help. Thanks again, and keep up the wonderful mission work of helping us to help the hurting kids in our town.

    • Shirley, thank you for commenting. I love that you are going to use this article to help train your DC4K Safekeepers. Go for it and use any of the articles here in the blog for training, research etc. And feel free to pass them along to the leaders in other children’s ministries at your church, school or child care. 🙂

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