Thursday, October 23, 2014

Suffer the Little Ones

When I was writing a single parent’s column I found myself usually targeting the parents as the focus of my articles.  Divorce certainly takes its toll on the parents, but the impact to the children can be just as devastating if not more.  They remind me of crime victims who did nothing to bring about their tragedy but suffer the consequences regardless.  I am naturally drawn to children.  Their innocence-- their big inquisitive eyes-- their jubilation over simple things, are just some of the qualities I can’t turn away from.  Growing up in rural Virginia my sister and I were introduced to children dealing with divorce at an early age.  My mother was the one person in the community everyone turned to for help with their children when there was a crisis.  So, my sister and I grew up hardly ever alone in the house.  There were cousins and neighbors children that stayed with us at one time or another in a constant stream.  I didn’t understand much about why they acted a little different than me at the time.  It really didn’t hit me hard until later in life when I began to see some of the same traits in my children when their mother and I went through a divorce.

I think one of the big mistakes adults make is we try and figure out what children are thinking or feeling without asking them.  There are two age groups that I think every adult should talk to as much as possible, the elderly and the young.  We should talk to the elderly to learn as much from them as possible and preserve the history they hold in their hearts and minds.  We should talk to children to see life from an unbiased perspective and learn from them as well.

I realize that divorce is not running rampant like a lone wolf in the United States.  It’s affecting the lives of people all over the world, especially children. In 1993, social scientist Nicholas Zill reported that children of divorced parents are, regardless of their economic circumstances, twice as likely as others to have poor relationships with their parents, drop out of high school and receive psychological help.  Zill made the following statement: "Many people were saying single-parent families are just different, not necessarily worse or better, and the factors that link kids to problems have to do with poverty. But my research didn't support that explanation."
Quoted in the Los Angeles Times, 5/27/96, page A16.

The one recurring sentiment that I find among children of divorce is guilt.  Children will often hold themselves responsible for mommy and daddy not being together anymore.  We often see this played out in movies but it never really hits home until you actually see it in a child’s eyes.  There are feelings of desperation and alienation from peers.  Older children often become bitter and angry over their parent’s decision to divorce.  And let’s face it, in this American fast food microwave want it yesterday culture we live in, more people than ever are getting divorced and not always for the most noble of reasons.  Children have a reason to question and to be bitter.  They were given no choice, no vote in their future.  Just as Zill pointed out, when it comes to divorce, higher economic status means nothing, except perhaps a more expensive psychologist.

So what’s the moral here?  Let me offer three L’s I think you should embrace when working with children of divorce.  Listen to what children have to say-- Learn from what they have to say-- and finally Love them unequivocally.  Ultimately, children are resilient little beings who can adapt to a number of situations if they know they are loved

Until next time...


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