Divorce is painful for everyone involved, including the children. Kids are resilient, but they are dealing with some heavy emotions, thoughts, and questions. Unfortunately, many children cannot or will not express how they feel about their parents’ divorce, even if asked. In our conversations and research, we’ve found similar themes in what kids might tell their parents. Here are a few:
1. Tell the truth–but don’t overshare.
This is a delicate balance to keep. We don’t want to be kept in the dark about things that affect us, like visitation schedules, vacations, or our living arrangements. At the same time, we don’t need to know the sordid details about your arguments, infidelity, or mistakes. Give us age-appropriate information but tell us the truth.
2. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
If you say we are going out for pizza, then take us. If you promise a vacation to the beach, then book that condo. We are struggling to trust you because the divorce turned our world upside down. Keeping your word is what will help establish trust in our world. Even if it is following through on discipline.
3. Don’t put us in the middle.
Communicate directly with each other so we are not stuck as some go-between buffer. Don’t make us choose between parents. That is an emotional burden we are way too young to carry. And please don’t say mean things about our other parent or stepparent when we are with you. It makes us uncomfortable, and we get mad at you for putting us in the middle. Accept that we love both parents and we do not want to take sides.
4. We want both parents in our lives.
Even when we roll our eyes or act embarrassed that you are at our games, plays, band competitions, and activities, we love and need support from both of you. We look for you in the crowd even when we act nonchalant. You don’t need to sit together or even talk to each other (although we’d like that), but please put aside your differences temporarily so you can both stay involved in our lives.
5. We have lots of questions.
We may not know how to ask them, or we might be too afraid to mention them. Or we don’t know who to ask. But trust us–we have a ton of questions. Here are a few:
- Why are you getting divorced?
- Why can’t you get along?
- Was it my fault?
- Where will I live?
- Will I have to change schools?
- Will I have to move?
- Which parent will I live with?
- Where will I go to church?
- Who else knows what’s going on?
6. We are not okay.
Even when we say we are. This is especially true of us preteens and teens who are trying to become independent. We may act like your divorce doesn’t bother us, but we are hurting on the inside. The good news is you might get us to open up if we are doing an activity or a sport. That way, we don’t have to look at you eyeball-to-eyeball. Car rides can be optimal for deeper conversations, too.
7. We are grieving.
We had zero control over our parents’ divorce, but it turned our lives upside down. The home we knew is gone. Some of us have never lived in a different house or neighborhood. Many of us are experiencing significant loss for the first time. Give us space to grieve at our own pace. Don’t rush us to “get over it.”
8. Remind us that it wasn’t our fault.
Even if you explain the reasons for the divorce, we may blame ourselves anyway, especially if we heard you arguing about us. We may believe something like, “If I didn’t ________ (get a bad grade, lose my temper, etc.), my parents would still be together.” We need you to tell us over and over that we did not cause your divorce.
9. Keep reassuring us.
We need encouragement. We need hope. We need to know God is in control. With so many thoughts and feelings racing around in our minds and hearts, it may be difficult to remember the good things you tell us. Please remind us that we can do difficult things. That you love us. That we will get through this. That God cares about every aspect of our lives. Send text messages. Leave notes in our lunches. Write verses on our bathroom mirror. Whatever it takes to communicate, we need to hear it often.
10. We need structure and consistency.
Remember, our lives have undergone major upheaval. We need stability and predictability. Decide on a visitation schedule and keep to it as much as possible. Keep your work hours consistent. Even simple things like praying at meals or creating family game nights can give us a sense of structure.
Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We as kids need you to have our backs. We know divorce is painful for you and you have a lot going on. But as kids, we don’t have the same cognitive or emotional capacity or maturity to deal with what we are feeling. Sometimes we need you to set aside your own emotions and trauma and help us deal with ours.
Scott and Vanessa Martindale
Founders of Blended Kingdom Families