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Note: If your parents are divorced and you would like to share your insight into what that experience was like from your point of view, please post your story. The child’s perspective is often very different than that of the adults involved. By telling your story, you can help other divorcing parents avoid mistakes. As always, only your first name will be used.

        Emily is a 22-year-old medical student. Her parents divorced when she was ten years old. Like most children, Emily has very specific memories of that difficult time. She remembers in vivid detail the event that precipitated her father moving out. She describes with poignancy the conflict of being caught up in a custody battle. Time, distance, and maturity have given her insight into much of what happened. Today, she is close with both parents, but there were years of difficulty. Dish-throwing and yelling were rationalized. Her mother told her, “Couples fight, it is normal.” So she withdrew from the fights without much concern.

       Now, she knows this behavior was not normal. She tends to shy away from conflict. She tries to accommodate and please as do many children who experience parental violence. Prior to her father’s leaving the house, there was an incident when the police were called. Afterwards, she ruminated about the incident. An attempt to rewrite history, to attach meaning to a single event, and to see it as the single cause of the divorce is fairly common for children.

       The most difficult aspect of the divorce was her mother’s bad-mouthing her father. She believed her mother when she said that her father was irresponsible with money. Emily acted like a little parent, worrying about his finances and trying to protect his feelings. When he moved away after the divorce, she was devastated by his absence, and fearful she would not see him again. She did visit him every vacation and holiday. Even though she enjoyed her time with him, this schedule was a struggle for Emily. Spending her vacation time with her father meant being away from her friends during “downtime.” She feels that impacted her skill at making friends. He moved many times and she did not develop friends at these second homes. Also, he acted more like a friend then a parent.

       When she considers how she grew from the experience, Emily feels the divorce made her more introspective and taught her to respect “how she works.” It also facilitated her really getting to know her parents as people. Her advice to parents going through divorce is to spend lots of time with their kids and never fight in front of them. Don’t even fight when they are in the house. Do everything you can to fix your marriage, but if it isn’t going to work, don’t think waiting until the children are older helps. It doesn’t. Don’t drag it out.

      While every child’s story of their parents’ deteriorating marriage is as unique as the individuals involved, many elements remain the same.  Be aware of how your own behavior will impact your children for many years to come.

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4 Comments

  1. Fred on the 31. May, 2010 remarked #

    Congratulations Donna,
    This is one subject that I was dealing with almost every day. The most important thing I would ASK of these children is to talk with someone. Start with both parents, as there really is two sides to every story, but also continue with trusted school teachers, social workers ( every school I know of has a program to deal with this), or religious leaders. We are lucky to be living in a time when there should be no downtime when helping kids dealing with divorce. Perhaps by having our children understand us better as people we can break the cycle of divorce and lead them to a more caring and happy life.

  2. Chip Mues on the 31. May, 2010 remarked #

    Donna,
    Great post! Very insightful. Thanks for coordinating the subject with your article we posted yesterday on the Ohio Family Law Blog! Here is a link to it:
    http://dld.bz/f6DV
    I will add a link to this blog article soon….Enjoy the rest of the holiday!
    Chip

  3. Nancy on the 02. Jun, 2010 remarked #

    I was 30 when my parents divorced. It was a seven year, no holds barred, blood on the floor divorce. Even though I was grown and married, my parents divorce was devastating. It doesn’t matter how old you are when it happens – it turns your world upside-down.

    My father disappeared because he felt I had “sided with my mother” and it took me 13 years to find him. My mother stopped speaking to me because she felt I had “sided with my father.”

    It took me years to develop new and healthy relationships with my parents.

    In retrospect, the best thing my parents ever did for their marriage was to get a divorce.

    What it did to their children, is of course, another story.

    • admin on the 02. Jun, 2010 remarked #

      Thanks for sharing your story. If your parents had fought less, would it have made it easier for you?

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