Even under the best of circumstances, divorce can be a traumatic experience for a child. It was a huge insight for me when I first realized that young children’s stories about giants are really about their experiences with huge adults, especially their parents. Even if a raging adult is not directing that emotion at a small child, it can be terrifying to that child.
For example, this anecdote of two parents having an animated conversation about the new baby they are expecting into their lives as their four year old son observes in the background. Lamenting what to do, and looking for options, since they don’t have enough room for the new baby, they talk about the need to find a new house to move into. Finally their son enters the conversation with, “It’s no use! He’ll just find us anyway!”
The uncertainty of what will happen when a family breaks apart is hard enough on adults, but for children, who have no power in the matter, it can be very frightening. Children asked to complete common proverbs, when only the first part is given, often come up with startling responses – as the six year old did who said, “Home is where the …. house is.”
Children often have incredible common sense. You never know where their mind may go, as the seven year old who quipped, “It would be terrible if the Red Cross Bloodmobile got into an accident” then said, “…No, wait… That would be good because if anybody needed it the blood would be right there!”
Parents can help children through rough times by assuring them everything will work out okay. Maybe not the same way the ten year old girl who confided in her parents that when her little brother asked her what happens when we die, and she told him, “We get buried under a bunch of dirt and worms eat our bodies.” She went on to say, “I guess I should have told him the truth – that most of us go the Hell and burn forever, but I didn’t want to upset him.” Sometimes it is difficult to sugar coat the truth – or even know the truth, for that matter.
In fact, many of the proverbs created by children arguably make better sense than the originals:
“Strike while the… The bug is close.”
“If you lie down with pigs…
You’ll smell funny in the morning.”
“It’s better to be safe than… Punch a fifth grader.”
“A miss is as good as a… Mr.”
Do you remember when you were a child, and occupied that space in the family? If so, you may appreciate where this child was coming from…
“Children should be seen and not… Spanked or grounded.”
In short, divorce can be harmful to all family members. When you find yourself considering this, it is imperative to find a process that offers the best possibility of managing these uncertainties.
The thing about uncertainty is that we need to engage with it in a productive way. Uncertainty creates anxiety, and that is a condition we want to resolve. Managed uncertainty creates possibilities that really can help all of the participants find resolution that serves the collective best interests.
To not be effectively engaged can leave us in the dark. And, as one bright young mind opined –
“When the blind leadeth the blind….
Get out of the way.”