by: Patricia Bubash, M.Ed.
"Kids are resilient, my kids will be ok!” How many times did I hear these words from a parent going through a divorce or newly divorced?
How easily these parents voiced those words. How, unprepared were they for the emotions, behaviors that often erupted from the same children they predicted would be "ok.”
Disruptive, negative, inappropriate behaviors acted out by children who had never been a problem! Not always did this situation happen, but, more often than not, it did. Children who, previously, had no behavioral issues in school, no academic problems, socialization was good, all round good kids, were now creating havoc, disruption for the unprepared parent.This misbehaving child living under their roof must have, mysteriously, been replaced with somebody else's child! "This isn't my kid. He doesn't curse his teachers. She doesn't fail all her subjects or he has never done drugs. What is going on?” This is when my open door policy became the most utilized facility in the school. In my role as counselor, I was the sounding board. Parents never anticipating reactions of such intensity from their children found my door, needing to figure out what was going on with a previously "perfect child." Ahh, remember their "resilient" child who would be fine with the life changing decision, divorce, made by their parents?
I reflected back to these former parent/student conversations when I received an email asking me if I wanted to participate in The International Child Centered Month. The request came from the creator of the Child Centered Divorce Network, Rosalind Sedacca, CCT. January is the target month for providing parents with a wealth of resources for helping their children through divorce (also, help for the parent). January, the month when the highest number of divorces occur, will be recognized as International Child Centered Divorce month.
Among my responsibilities as a school counselor was the charge to facilitate small group sessions for children of divorce, separation or death. Typically, the children participating in my groups were children of divorce. In my role as facilitator I needed to assure my young students that what we talked about in group was between us. I needed to develop their trust. In securing their trust I found them willing to open up to express the anguish, confusion, hurt, and anger they might be feeling. They could express their negative feelings, and be assured that it was okay to be angry, sad, disappointed-any emotion was acceptable in group. Once we established a safe atmosphere for letting it “all out,” we could make some progress. These children always seemed so relieved to find that there were "other" kids who felt as they did. Having a safe place with peers gave them a chance to "air" all the emotions going on without feeling guilty or disloyal for talking "bad" about mom or dad or both- a place to grieve and to feel that things, would, indeed, eventually, be okay.
With a variety of activities, discussions, drawing, books, even DVD's, we talked through the changes happening in their families. We talked about what might happen down the road: one or both parents might remarry; step siblings could be part of a new family composition or even a move to a new home. Given the opportunity to talk openly, my students were very forthright. In their opinion, their world had been turned upside down. Everything was changing. Typically, they did not see one parent on a daily basis any longer- some parents had moved out of town. Many times beloved grandparents were no longer visited. Their world had become one of unknowns. Hope was not an emotion coming forth from these little groups, rather, worry for what was going to happen, the future as a child of divorce.
My goal was to get these dear, young children in my care to talk freely, sharing all these emotions, and then we could proceed on to “hopeful" situations, discuss how situations change and how some changes can be good, working towards a positive. Not only do the adults of divorce need encouragement, but so do their children. Resilient, yes, children can be. They, also, share the same emotions as the adults who care for them. The difference is in the roles; children have to rely on their parents for stability, for security, for major life decisions. Children do not have a voice in the decision made by their parents to divorce which can be emotionally traumatic for them. Parents are in control. A parent going through a divorce is not always the same parent who had been in charge before- often, mom or dad is struggling with the change, stressed, worried. They are not always emotionally available to assure the children that, "yes, this is a difficult time, but we will get through it.” The MOST important, MOST important words for children to hear from their parents are, “mom and dad may not be together anymore, but we STILL love you, and always will.” Children often think they are the cause of a parent leaving. During a divorce and after, more than ever, children need the assurance of the love of each parent.
I have always encouraged family meetings, but in the life changing situation of divorce, I say, "make time.” I strongly encourage parents to involve their children in some form of counseling, either through school or outside professional counseling. Sharing with peers, hearing similar stories from other children, lets them know they are not alone, that change can be for the best in some situations. In this type of setting of talking and sharing, these children will have a greater chance of becoming resilient. They will acquire hope for the future that no longer has both parents living with them, but they will know that it will, indeed, be “ok.”
I encourage all parents who read this article to take the time to look at the www.childcentereddivorce.com and utilize the wealth of materials provided. Did I mention FREE, materials? I, also, suggest reading my blog on my website: www.successfulsecondmarriages.org and the submission of my article, "You May Be in Love but Your Children Aren't!”
Patricia Bubash received her M.Ed. in Counseling from the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Working with students and families has been her true calling for over thirty years. For more than twenty years she has presented workshops at the community college on a variety of topics relating to parenting issues, self-esteem and issues relative to divorce. Patricia is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Missouri and, a Stephen Minister. She submits a variety of articles related to relationships, marriage and divorce to several internet sites, and, frequently, is interviewed on internet radio stations. Volunteerism, writing and family are most significant in her life. Patricia writes for DivorceSupportCenter.com, HopeAfterDivorce.org, CupidPulse.com, and FamilyShare.com. Follow Patricia at www.successfulsecondmarriages.org, FB at http://www.facebook.com/patriciathecounselor and http://patriciathecounselor.wordpress.com/.