After the “I dos” of marriage comes the “I don’ts” many weren’t expecting! After a wedding, it seems like the start of something big, and beautiful but marriage can be far from that. Like any relationship it takes work. But the diligent work doesn’t get done half the time for various reasons. Thus, many in America are divorced and its effects are felt on the little people who don’t have a say in the decision.
For the third year in a row, divorce rates have dropped. That is the good news, the bad news is we still had, in 2016, a 40-50% divorce rate in America. With second time marriages, it is much higher. It is interesting to know, we use to have the highest divorce rate of all the nations and have dropped in our standing! However, this still leave so many children in broken homes in our country. 23% are living with single mothers and most of the rest in blended families. It is estimated by U.S. Consensus Bureau in 2016 there are 73.7 million children affected and living in divorced homes in some type of different home situation than the nuclear family.
The effects of divorce on children is overwhelming profound anxiety. Much more in-depth effects is available on Focus on the Family’s website. Parents are supposed to be problem solvers and a safety net for children. Divorce is change, failure, loss and a fear of conflict meaning no stability again.
A few weeks ago, while swimming in our pool at our Clubhouse I noticed two young girls swimming in the shallow end. They turned out to be 8 years old and 10 years old when they swam over and introduced themselves to me. They asked if they could talk to me. I was surprised by the question and told them sure. I then asked who they were there with and why would they want to talk to an adult, me, when they can play in the pool. The answer stunned me. They wanted to just talk.
The older child, 10, explained she was there with her grandmother, whom she pointed out laying in a chair by the pool texting on her cellphone. They enjoy coming over to the grandmother’s house together, one was a friend of the other. The 10 year old went on to say that her parents were divorced and her friend repeated this about her home also. They both went on to tell me, in very unemotional voice that they don’t get much of a chance to talk to adults. They thought I looked like someone who would talk and listen to them. I told them I was a grandma too and they were very excited. By now, I had their undivided attention, whether I wanted it or not.
I explained to them I came from a divorce home too and understood it can be hard to adjust. It takes time. The 10 year old (I am intentionally leaving out names) shocked me with her next comments. She said that it had been a couple years now since her parents divorced. Her father left the area and now never has any contact with her. She said “I will probably never see my real dad again.” Her mother had a new boyfriend again and she didn’t even know his name but he was living with them. I questioned why she didn’t know his name. She said it is not worth worrying about, he will leave sooner or later like all the others. They get along, they fight and then they break up so I try not to care about any new boyfriends, besides they really don’t care much about me.” The 8 year old said, basically the same thing. I asked the girls how are you feeling about all this change in their life?
Listen to the response: “It doesn’t bother me anymore, we are used to it. See, we figured it out. People get married to have kids and then get divorced. So a lot of kids don’t really have a mom anddad anymore. I wish I was one that did. Mine moved far away, to get away from us I guess.” The 8 year old looked at the 10 year old and said “I never get much attention anymore, my mom is too busy with her latest boyfriend. It has changed so much.” Her older friend, her mentor, assured her that this was normal. “Don’t feel bad, it is life,” she said. She explained to her friend that the time was over for both her parents to care about her, she was practically grown now and in school. She likes meeting new men and then bringing them home to live with her. She said that is why friends are so good for us. She then looked at her friend who looked quite sad, and said “Try to learn to accept it. It really is okay, it won’t change just because you are sad.”
I was silent for a few moments, unsure what to say. No one wants to add more confusion into a child’s life so I simply said you are valued and loved children for being children, never ever forget that. I suggested they talk to their parents but was met with, we tried, and she never has time for us anymore. It really is okay, we are fine, the older one proclaimed with a smile, but alittle on the forced side. Underneath, below the surface, was the adult sadness in both girls’ eyes.
This is simply two girls, a sampling of the millions of children living in broken homes in America. But it clearly shows that, when getting divorced, do not make the mistake of divorcing your children’s needs. Your children were created, not by choice, and should have a right to getting attention and love. This conversation was much deeper below the surface.
Parents are role models, they will follow the patterns you establish. Don’t invite other partners into your home without explaining to your children who they are and giving them a few chances to catch their breath, especially if you are bringing in people like a revolving door. This affects children for life, decreasing their chances of having a successful happy, fulfilled marriage. They think this is the norm, not the exception and will not take commitment seriously. Because yours didn’t work, don’t condemn them to failure.
But, I think the biggest lesson I learned and was reminded of in my own life is the importance of talking to your children. Open communication lines, by the way, goes in two directions. You use interpersonal communication skills to talk to them and then allow them, make the time, the biological parent! Listen, not just to what your kids say but what they do and how they do it. Try to keep both parents an active part or some small part of their lives. Failing grades, health issues or restless sleeping are all signs of maladjustment. Seek a therapist for both your child and you if there are issues and don’t just leave it to chance. They are worth more than that.
There is nothing worse than feeling, like these girls went on to tell me, an old tire, long forgotten and pulled off the car when the divorce happened. They felt, as many do, there really was no purpose for them in their parents’ life anymore. They deserve more love, attention and respect than that. Freedom from a bad marriage comes at a cost. Don’t make your children the ones that have to pay the heaviest price.