Parenting During Divorce

  

My guest today is Sherrey Meyer, a Portland-based writer and book reviewer, sometimes proofreader and beta reader. Her insightful essay addresses a key theme in A Fitting Place — how to manage the expectations of children during a divorce.

 Parenting During Divorce

talking to teen daughter webmdParenting sounds simple when reading the dictionary definition. Most sources define parenting as the “rearing of children” or as simple as “ the act or process of becoming a parent.” In most instances, it is not as easy as these definitions imply.

Specifically, let’s think about the parent faced with divorce and the impact on children involved. During divorce, emotions rise and conversations become heated. Children are innocent bystanders witnessing these emotional changes and exchanges unless the parent or parents make every effort to control them.

Depending on the age of children, parents are encouraged to keep communications open. Honest responses to questions will help keep them and you healthy during this time of change.

A personal note here may be helpful. My divorce occurred when my son was a little past his first birthday, too young to pick up much from conversations or emotions.  However, when my husband and his first wife began the process of separation and divorce, their children were six and five, a daughter and son, respectively. They told the children very little about what was happening and why. The basics were all they received, i.e. they were moving to an apartment with Mom, and Dad would stay at the house and be with them as much as possible.  

Fast forward a few years and suddenly his children didn’t understand my presence in their lives, nor did my son understand his presence in my life.  We made a mistake with all three children. Wrapped up in loving each other and rejoicing over what we had found, we gave no thought to sharing what was happening. Nor did we explain that we were getting married and why.

All in all, three adults managed to confuse three children over simple matters of fact that could have kept all relationships healthy and thriving. 

In Mary’s novel-in-progress, A Fitting Place, the protagonist, Lindsey, has an adolescent daughter who has questions about the changes taking place in her mother’s life and how they impact her life, home and relationships. What Mary’s characters are playing out for us is the perfect scenario where parents take a non-inclusive attitude toward their daughter.

For example, bright and savvy 11-year old Zoey witnesses an odd behavior in her dad. It’s  Sunday morning, a time she always spends with her dad, her best pal, over breakfast. During their shared time, Dad gets a call. He looks at his cell phone, and puts it back in his pocket.

Daughter dearest goes home and tells Mom about the call. Mom questions what’s so funny about that, and Zoey responds with, “Have you ever known Dad not to take a call? Do you think it was his mistress?”

Lindsey pooh-pooh’s her daughter’s question.  When the marriage does break up, and no one tells her about her father’s affair, Zoey begins to assume the break-up of the marriage is somehow her fault.

Let’s give our children credit. In today’s world, they are smarter and savvier at an earlier age. They are able to put together the pieces of any human puzzle, noodle over the solution for a couple of days and then bring it up in casual conversation.

Never should we minimize a child’s ability to hear, see and understand conceptually what adults might expect to fly past those ears and eyes and mind.

Whatever your situation may be, there are benefits to your children in discussing changes in their family:

  • Honesty: We expect our children to be honest with us. Should we be anything less with them? In sharing honestly what is occurring in the family, children will gain an understanding that even difficult things can be shared with their family.
  • Trust: Discussing a difficult time or situation with your child gives him/her a sense of being trusted by you. In turn, your child may turn to you when he/she is going through a difficult time.
  • Love: In sharing with your child these difficult times, he/she will feel more loved than if they sense they are being shut out of all communication.

We should not overlook that even with the telling of your story, there is no guarantee that there will not be repercussions. Children may understand what you’re sharing and yet feel anger toward you for upsetting things for them. Behaviors may change, and attitudes never before seen may blossom.

Still, the best path is the right path – honesty, trust, communication, and above all expressions of love and security.

 

sherrey2013_2Sherrey, who spends much of her time as a wife, mother, grandma and great-grandma, is actively working on a memoir and several short essays. 

Sherrey is the author of “The Crumb Gatherer” (in Jonna Ivin’s anthology, “Loving for Crumbs”) and “The Unexpected” (in “Fall: Women’s Stories and Poems for the Season of Wisdom and Gratitude”), edited by Debra Landwehr Engle and Diane Glass)   

She maintains two blog sites:

Healing by Writing, devoted to memoir writing, and  Found Between the Covers, offering reviews of books that Sherry has enjoyed.

 

 

Comments

  1. Mary, thank you for inviting me here to share my thoughts on parenting through divorce. I’m especially interested in your series and themes in your novel. I can’t wait to read your finished product!

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Sherrey … I am so pleased at your enthusiasm for these discussions … talking with you has greatly expanded my own thinking, and I look forward to your next contribution!

  2. Very sage advice, Sherrey, simple but sage boiling down to respecting your children enough to be honest, then stick around to answer the inevitable questions that will arise. Parents have to be willing to see beyond their own needs to do this. It’s amazing how much we learn whenwe face these challenges. My children were 18 mo and 3 yrs old when I divorced their father. My initial reaction was to protect them by not saying much but when my 3 year old daughter, in response to me telling her Daddy was moving out said “Is that because Daddy is mean to you , Mommy?” I knew not only that I had made the right decision but that I needed to”come clean.”

    Thank you for an insightful post, Sherrey and thank you Mary for featuring Sherrey.

  3. Kathy, thank you for taking the time to stop by and share your thoughts. Your daughter certainly underscores the fact that little ears hear more than we ever believe they do! As adults, we need to remember the values we attempt to teach and our children and live by them ourselves. 🙂

  4. Our son was 10 when my husband and I divorced. Even though I’d always tried to establish an environment of open communication with my son, we did not share openly why this divorce was happening. Thirty years later, we’re living with the consequences of not being open and honest at that time. Wish I’d had your guidance then, Sherrey!

  5. Thanks, Kathleen … it’s been a privilege to have Sherrey’s insights here!

  6. Carol … I know this is a tough situation, but as Sherrey points out, even if you do the “right” thing, it doesn’t always produce the right result. You do the best you can at the time!

  7. Carol, the saying goes that hindsight is much better than foresight, and we all have our regrets over things we didn’t do. Bob and I have talked many times about how we ignored our three children at the time we married and how none of them knew the truth of their parents’ divorces. We too are reaping some of what we didn’t plant. This all goes to show that we continue to learn as we grow, even if it’s too late for that past experience. Think what we can pass on to others from our experience and gained knowledge. Thanks so much for joining the discussion.

  8. Good advice. Thoughtful piece. However, all the honesty, trust, and love in the world may not be enough to overcome what for some children is their first personal loss/tragedy in life.
    Unfortunately when parents are going through a divorce, they are self-focused rather than on their children. The parents are often confused, upset, playing the blame game, returning to single life, etc. which leaves their children’s world like a boat without a rudder in a storm. They are forced to lead the semblance of a normal life e.g. going to school, studying – often in new surroundings – while caught in the vortex of their parents’ divorce. Then comes the remarriage – a very trying experience for most.
    I should know. My parents divorced when I was ten – a scandal-ridden one that also divorced me from my home, country, father, school, and friends. My mother told me why and that made the pain worse.
    When I was divorced, my eight-year old son got fat, resentful, angry, and hurt. Didn’t help that he knew why – he had lost a major component in his life and he blamed me. It was the opposite with my younger son who was a happy little fellow.
    To me, this proved how parental divorce can have a major effect on some children while others accept it.

  9. Pennie … Your perspective is so interesting. My experience suggests that if a child does not know why, they can take on an undue burden of responsibility for the parent’s abandonment. And it also leads me to believe that children will blame one parent or the other without much basis in fact. But what I hear you saying that knowing “why” make not help. Is the way it is presented to the child? Is it the (ambiguous) emotional undertone of the explanation. Is it that the child is unable to understand adult complexities? A whole new avenue of exploration. Thank you.

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