If only I had been better, maybe they wouldn’t have broken up. Maybe, if I’m really good, they will stop fighting and get back together. Mom said she hates him, but I don’t. I really miss him, even if he does dumb stuff sometimes. What if one day Mom decides I do too many dumb things and doesn’t love me anymore? I feel so sad and my tummy hurts. I don’t tell Mom. I don’t want to make her more sad or mad or both. I don’t think she would understand. My family is broken. I feel broken.
Divorce is hard on everyone involved, especially the children. Some children feel like they didn’t get a choice in the matter but have to deal with the hurt; other children might feel responsible for their parents’ divorce. Every family and every child is different, but there are often common themes for children of divorce. It helps if you know where your child might be coming from and what to look for so you can help them through this painful time.
It is common for a child who has gone through some major disruption in their life to have difficulty adjusting. This is usually shown through actions, instead of them telling you how they feel. It often can come up through having an upset stomach or headaches. It can also be shown through increased anger and aggression or seeming more depressed or anxious. This is their way of telling you they are having difficulty coping with the change.
Young children have a limited outlook and often feel that they are the center of the world. They might feel responsible when something big happens in their life. Small children often think that they are somehow to blame for their parents divorce. Maybe they think that if they were better behaved their parents would be together. We know that divorce is between the adults and is not the child’s fault, but that can be difficult for the child to grasp. This leads to feelings of guilt and sadness which makes coping with the change even harder.
It is important that you communicate with them on a level they understand. Tell them an appropriate amount of information without burdening them with details that upset you but that they really don’t need to know. When divorced parents speak ill of each other, it is confusing for the child because they love both parents and want to believe both parents. Much of their identity is in their family, and when you speak ill or one of their parents it hurts them and confuses them.
Encourage them to talk about how it makes them feel and why they feel that way. If you feel like they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to you about it, have a close relative they have a relationship with check in with them. A counselor may be able to get them to speak more honestly about their feelings and work through this while learning healthy coping skills.
STEPHANIE DUCKWORTH is a licensed clinical manager at the H Group and is a contributing member of the Southern Illinois Behavioral Health Team.