By Layla Hansen (with help from Dad)
The holidays are a hard season in families. They can be especially hard for children who have divorced parents – especially during a pandemic!
Unfortunately, in my (David) personal and professional life, I have seen an uptick in marriages that are struggling during this year. We can talk about the reasons another time – but I am more concerned about the children.
I sat down with my own daughter, and talked to her about her experience as a child with divorced parents (her mother and I have been divorced for most of Layla’s life). In particular, I asked her what advice she would give to children whose parents are getting divorced.
Whether you have a child and are divorced are separated, know a child in that situation, or are a child going through it, I commend to you these words of wisdom from a child with divorced parents.
It’s Not Your Fault
“It’s not your fault that your parents divorced.”
This was an immediate response and the number one piece of advice.
If you are a child of divorced parents, inscribe this on your heart: It is not your fault.
Often, getting a divorce will let them be better parents to you – because they will be happier.
Parents: Making sure your child knows this is not their fault is your number one priority.
You Can Only Control You
“You are not in charge of your parents’ emotions or how they feel.”
Your parents are going to experience the full range of emotions as they divorce. Anger, sadness, jealousy, grief, frustration, and more. Those emotions have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them.
Your job, beloved child, is to make good choices. How your parents react to that will often be shaped by the day they had or their relationship with your other parent.
Parents: It is not your child’s job to make you happy or make you feel good about your choices (repeat that to yourself as many times as you need to for ti to sink in). They are dealing with their own grief, sadness, and confusion. Be the adult.
Your Stuff Is Your Stuff
“Your stuff is your stuff.”
Your clothes, toys, personal items are yours. Take them from one house to the other as you wish.
There will be special things – family gifts, sentimental items – that one parent wants to keep at their house. Those are different. But the everyday items belong to you, not one house or the other.
Parents: Be clear about the things that have sentimental value that you want to keep under your roof. Otherwise, give your child the freedom to decide what to do with their possessions.
Say How You Feel
“Your parents are both there to listen.”
It is easy to feel like we need to keep our emotions to ourselves. It is normal to feel like we should not rock the boat.
But your parents want to know how you feel. They are there to help. Your parents are on your team.
If you don’t share how you feel, it can actually make you feel worse. It can lead to tantrums and explosions of feelings.
Parents: This means you have to listen. Let your child feel how they feel. It is not about you.
Get Used to Transitions
“Get used to car rides.”
Having two homes means moving between them. In our family, it means lots of car rides. We have learned to make the most of those car rides – having great conversations and exploring music together – but it is still a lot of transition.
Transition can be hard. It means moving from one thing to another. Be gentle with yourself, and give yourself time to adjust.
Parents: Give your child space to transition. Expect a little moodiness and emotions at those times, and give them time to adjust to the new environment every time.
“It’s ok to act differently with each parent.”
Your parents are different, and each home is different. There may be a step-parent at one and not the other, or siblings at one and not the other. Also, your parents have different personalities – it makes sense that you interact differently with each of them.
Figure out what feels most natural and true to yourself. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be the “same” with both parents.
Parents: Give your child permission to figure out who they are in relationship with you, without the other parent in the house.
There definitely challenges to living in two homes.
The back and forth. Figuring out schedules with both parents, and also with friends. And more.
But there are also advantages – two birthdays anyone? How about celebrating Christmas twice! Sweet.
If divorced parents are able to work together, it helps to smooth out the rough places.
Most importantly when both parents and any step-parents put the well-being of the children first, we can experience an expansive form of family, in which everyone can flourish.