Divorced Parents Must Help Kids Express Their Feelings
No matter how it is handled, children view divorce through traumatized eyes.
At the very least, a divorce is confusing and unsettling. The two people whom the child most depended on for love and support no longer love each other. The child may feel betrayed, resentful, distrustful. If his parents can leave each other, he may wonder (however consciously) if they could leave him. If one speaks bitterly of the other, the child himself might feel treacherous. To join forces with one is to betray another; it might also mean a betrayal of oneself. Treachery is a source of guilt and shame, not to mention confusion.
The child may also feel as if he is the cause of the divorce. It's the nature, the privilege, and sometimes the burden of the child to be both sensitive and self-centered. I still consider myself fairly close to the crib: I go to nice restaurants solely to be waited on and catered to.
If that's the case, a responsible adult may need to grieve with them. Parents may need to explain that though they are separating, they are and always will remain the child's parents. No, we will not reunite, but we will always remain your parents. Parents can make the child feel more stable and secure by remaining attentive, difficult as it may be, during the separation and divorce. Many children do feel as if its their fault; a responsible adult needs to help them understand that it's not, that it has nothing to do with them.
I use the phrase "responsible adult" and "parent" almost interchangeably, but I must confess that I think it's difficult for a child to experience his parents' divorance without counseling.
Even the so-called amicable divorces, sometimes masterpieces of denial, may leave the child confused and insecure. He may wonder whether or not he's crazy. My parents separate, he tells himself, yet show no emotion over it. I see neither tears nor anger nor frustration. Yet I grieve. I'm sad. I'm angry. Since my parents do not grieve, are my feelings somehow inappropriate?
Of course not. Well-intentioned as they undoubtedly are, his parents could learn a few lessons from him: He is sad and upset because he loves his parents, because he cares about his family.
It is a shame that his feelings have become distorted, but the only way he can resolve his confusion, discover how much he cares and feel positive about himself is if he expresses them.
As with all the children of divorce, he needs acceptance, understanding, and attention.