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Around Our Town...Family

What About the Kids?

12/01/2005 - During a major holiday season, we don't like to think about things that are sad or unpleasant. However, for families who have been torn apart by divorce, these issues don't go away or take a holiday vacation. In fact, the pain experienced usually intensifies during this "joyful" time – when everything is turned upside down and the focus becomes custody issues, visitation (not just for parents but for extended families), disappointment, sadness, conflict and additional stress. It's not that families can't adjust and do fairly well during the holidays even if there is a divorce, but the truth is that many do not get through this time very well for a variety of reasons. In this article, I will be exploring some of the findings related to children of divorce. It is important to keep in mind that the holidays can complicate the issues, intensify any sadness or pain, and create chaos for parents and children as they try to navigate through sometimes very emotionally difficult circumstances.

I have often had couples who are experiencing marital distress ask me if they should stay together for the children. The answer is much more complex than a simple "yes" or "no". If we are talking about a conflicted couple who are both willing to be unselfish and work at improving communication and the quality of the marital relationship, of course the answer is "yes". If there is any kind of abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, or verbal), protection is the primary goal for the partner and the children. At a minimum, there should be a separation until the abusive behavior is eliminated. As we consider the answer to this question, it is important to remember that children are victims of their parents' inability to resolve issues and children need to be the top priority in considering how to deal with divorce. According to Tom Whiteman, who has authored several books related to divorce (including Innocent Victims: Helping Children Through the Trauma of Divorce) and has developed some excellent divorce recovery resources, research indicates that "all children are negatively affected at the time of a divorce. They go through two to five years of emotional turmoil including the classic stages of grieving and heightened insecurity." Whiteman reports that after 5 years from the initial breakup, children demonstrate three levels of severity in terms of emotional adjustment:

1. 34% of children of divorce appear to be fully

recovered and emotionally well-adjusted.

2. The next 29% are in the category of being "moderately adjusted". These children have probably worked through the initial grief responses but continue to struggle emotionally even though they outwardly seem to be doing fine. Insecurity manifests itself differently in each child. Girls tend to seek approval by getting too involved too quickly in opposite-sex relationships or they may avoid close relationships and commitment at all costs. Boys, on the other hand, tend to be underachievers in school and work. They also might have difficulty making decisions regarding their future and continue to "drift" for quite some time. These "mid-range" reactions can last up to 20 years following the separation and divorce of parents.

3. The final 37% of the children of divorce never seem to get over the initial emotional trauma. They are chronically unhappy with their lives, depressed, or angry. These are the children we tend to see in the counseling office. They are more likely to get into legal trouble, develop addictions, and struggle with relationships.

I really don't want to put a guilt trip on any readers who have experienced divorce. There are situations that make divorce inevitable. I am saying to those who are considering divorce without thinking about the damage to children, please proceed with caution! Maybe you love your spouse but aren't "in love with him or her" – you are looking for your "soul mate" (we hear this a lot in marital therapy). Think about recapturing the romance and rebuilding the relationship instead of abandoning your family. If you have already divorced, please do everything within your power to keep your kids out of the middle of marital conflict. Don't use them as leverage. Don't keep them from a relationship with the other parent as a way to get revenge. Don't expose them to adult issues or use them as a confidante. Do protect them from an abusive parent – taking legal action if necessary. If you decide to date, don't expose your children to another person until there is a commitment. They do not need to ride the emotional roller coaster of dating relationships with you. Your children are gifts to you – to cherish, nurture and protect. Don't destroy their sense of security unless it is absolutely necessary. It is my prayer that you and your families will have happy and healthy holidays.

Comments or suggestions for future

topics? Mailing address:

The Healing Place,

Highland Park

Community Church

411 S. Walsh,

Casper, Wyoming 82601

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