Most parents normally, without bickering and arguing, communicate and cooperate in raising their children. However, some children witness bad-mothing and foul behaviour of one parent towards another and/or vice versa. The worst possible 'scenario' is when one parent tries to turn the child against another parent.
Both parents and children can have various feelings during a divorce. Children often have vague feelings that they do not know how to formulate, some have mood swings so that they may feel happy one moment and then very sad or angry the next moment. Some may have mixed feelings loving their parents and being angry at them or sad about the divorce. Sometimes it may be difficult for them to recognise their feelings, express them and/or share them with other people. All this can be difficult and confusing for children. It is important to know that all feelings and reactions (the familiar and the new ones) which occur during or after a divorce, are usual and expected. Sometimes it helps to express and share feelings with other important persons in your life. You can do it in various ways – talk, write a letter (and decide whether and when to give it), draw a picture or just cry and/or hug someone.
When parents are in divorce, it is normal that you have various more or less strong feelings. You may feel sad and/or confused for some time. You may be angry and/or feel hurt. You may have various feelings simultaneously, and you may not feel any changes for some time.
In the text which follows, we will describe the most common feelings which occur in children and youth whose parents are divorcing. You may recognise some of them, and some of them may be totally unfamiliar to you. You may feel something which is not written here. Then you can write it down, it will be your contribution.
Shock occurring with the divorce is especially strong and frequent feeling in children and youth. It has seemed to them that their parents’ marriage is good and without major problems. They may find it hard to believe that their parents are really going to get divorced. They may have heard that parents sometimes shouted at each other and argued, but they have never thought that their parents would really get divorced. When something so difficult and unexpected, something so painful happens, usual reaction is a shock and disbelief that it is really happening. You may have intense and mixed feelings of anger, sadness, insecurity and confusion. You may wish to cry, shout, kick something or run away. You may just stand in place and feel nothing. The state of a shock is most often short-lived.
At the moment when children first learn that their parents are getting divorced, it is very common that they are angry at their parents for having decided so, because they could not come to terms, or because parents have hurt and disappointed them. They may think that it is not ‘fair’ and wonder why nobody has asked them about that and how their parents could make the decision without them. When they start living with only one parent, children may be angry because they believe that the other parent has abandoned or betrayed them.
Anger is a common healthy feeling each of as experiences sometimes. It is all right to be angry and show your anger, as long as you do it in a way which does not hurt and/or harm others. Some children keep their anger within and suppress it, accumulating it. They do it for various reasons. Sometimes they do it in order not to hurt their parents, and sometimes because it is not allowed in their family to be angry and to show anger. They may think that the feeling is inappropriate and that they should not feel so. Likewise, they sometimes do not know what they are feeling and what to do with such feelings.
The trouble with suppressing and accumulating feelings within, including anger, is that it can be harmful for your health. If we are holding our feelings within for a long period of time, and not letting them out when they occur, they somehow surface out. Sometimes it is in the form of a head-ache, stomach-ache, sleeping disorders, nightmares and similar, and sometimes in the form of violent and unexpected behaviour. Anger being a strong and harsh feeling, when suppressed, it accumulates more and more, and when there is no more place within, it can suddenly and unexpectedly erupt in the same strong and harsh way and at the wrong moment. We must never hit or hurt someone, not even with words spoken in anger and fury. It is important to express anger in an appropriate way which does not hurt either other people or ourselves.
Some children express anger in a violent and aggressive way, offend and hurt others, whether with words, slamming or pushing. Violent behaviour is usually followed by shouting, calling names, pushing, provocations, fights and similar. Sometimes such harsh reactions occur because children have not expressed some other feelings, expressing everything through anger instead.
If you do not have sufficient information about what is happening in your family, you may feel confused. Apart from not understanding changes in your parents’ behaviour and their decision to get divorced, confusion can be reinforced by your feeling of insecurity and uncertainty about what happens after the divorce.
These feelings are also very usual, because all new situations can be confusing, and we may feel insecure, even scared. It is very useful and important to remind yourself that every new situation after some time becomes familiar, thus becoming less confusing. Parents and adults know answers to some of the questions bothering you. Ask them. Although we may not know how some new situation may influence on our lives and what may happen, we should know that, whatever it is, someday we will get used to it.
Anxiety is a strong and unpleasant feeling of worrying and inner tension. It may manifest as a strange feeling in your stomach, or mild fear and worry about what is going to happen.
Sometimes children feel that their parents are forcing them to choose sides, i.e. to choose one parent and discard the other. That can cause the feeling of anxiety, too. Your parents may ask you which parent you want to live with, or they may say it is all the same to them, that you should decide. Such parents’ behaviour burdens children. Adults should make decisions. However, children often do not know that parents should not ask them such questions or tell them such things.
Children need both parents’ love, they love both their mum and dad at the same time. If they have to choose one of them, they may feel worried, tense and anxious for several reasons. They may be worried because, if they say that they, e.g. want to live with their mum, they might hurt and sadden their dad. They may think that the parent they have not chosen could get angry at them, abandon them and never want to see them again. They may believe that a parent will love them only if they say they want to live with him or her. They may think about how one parent feel while they are with another. Children love both parents. If they have to choose one, they feel as if they are going to betray the other. All this is too difficult for children, so they should never be asked to make such decisions.
If one or both parents ask you who you want to live with, tell them that you do not want to make such decisions and that it is adults’ and not children’s duty. If they proceed, tell the school psychologist or some other adult with whom you want to talk about it.
If anxiety, i.e. worrying about various issues, which is bothering you persists, if you cannot be attentive at school, or if you cannot learn because it is always on your mind, ask close adults for help (older brother or sister, aunt, grandma, grandpa, etc.), or ask a professional (school psychologist, educator, or your class master). They are there just for that reason, it is their duty to help you.
Many children believe that their parents will reconcile and live together again. That is why they sometimes put special efforts and behave in a way they think will couple their parents together again. They please each of their parents, obey, often hiding what is bothering them in order not to burden their parents. They hope to repair their parents relationship, which will lead to their reconciliation. Hope occurs when we strongly desire something to happen, or when we find it difficult to believe something is happening and accept something sad and difficult like parental divorce.
You should know that your parents made the decision to get divorced after they had talked about it and that after the talk they decided that for them and for you it was best to get divorced. When parents tell children that they have finally decided to get divorced, then it means that they have really decided to get divorced for good. Clearly, nobody can know what will happen in the future, but at the moment, their words are true and they really think so.
It is very usual that feelings of hope and desire for their parents to reconcile and couple up again occur in children. It is all right to wish. However, the wish does not mean that it will really happen. Also, if there is a hope for reconciliation, children can do nothing to ‘make right’ or change adults’ decision. Children and their behaviour have never been the cause of discord and adults’ issues, in the first place.
Regardless of the fact that parents will not live together any more, you have to know that your most important emotional needs will always be satisfied. It means that both parents will love you as much as before. One of the parents, or both in turns, will still prepare your favourite dish, help you with your homework, pamper you, play with you, talk with you and do all those interesting things you used to do. In other words, your relationship with both parents will continue. All the difference is that one of them will live at another place. Parental love and care for their children do not stop after a divorce.
Children often feel sadness after their parents divorce. There are many reasons for sadness after divorce. That is why sadness is a healthy and expected reaction to a divorce. For example, it may be a sadness occurring because of the loss of the old way of life. You may be sad for the loss of all those good moments in the future, which you would spend together with your family. You may miss the parent who you do not live with, and even the parent who you live with, because s/he has to work more now, or is very sad about the divorce, too. If you move into another flat, you may feel sad because you are not in the same school or you do not spent time with the same friends.
There are many reasons why you may be sad. It is important to know that sadness is a natural feeling and that it is all right to feel sad. It is all right to cry and/or tell others that you are sad. It is all right to show your parents that their divorce is difficult for you. It is difficult for them, too. Remember: it is very important to mourn, i.e. let your sadness out of yourself. It may take the form of crying, talking to others, walks and reflection, drawing or writing about what has happened. If you do not let it out, sadness will accumulate within and press on heavily and will always remind you that it is still there. If you let it out little by little, it will abate in time, and there will be more space in you for new things and joy because of good changes which have happened and entered into your life. Imagine a balloon full of air which is not well tied and has a small hole leaking air slowly. As time passes by, the most of the air will leak out. It applies to your sadness, too. The small hole to leak sadness may be all these things we mentioned, and you may yourself discover some new ones. That way your sadness will in time be easier than it is now.
Many children of divorcing parents think they are guilty and responsible for their parents’ divorce. They think that their behaviour, school success or teasing their brother or sister have led to their parents’ high conflict and, eventually, a divorce. However, none of these is true. Divorce is related only to parents’ issues and decisions. Although you may have heard your parents quarrelling about something you have done, such things are not the cause of their divorce. There are many things they quarrel about, because they cannot possibly agree and talk calmly. Your disobedient behaviour or poor school record may not be the source of their joy, but they do not affect their good or bad relationship. You can do nothing to prevent their discord and quarrelling, neither should you try to do it. Adults must take care not to argue in front of their children and to protect them from their own problems. Remember that parents divorce because they cannot live together any more, or they do not love each other any more, or they cannot agree about too many things.
Some children feel a big relief after their parents divorce, especially those children who have repeatedly listened and witnessed their parents arguing, if they have felt bad with constant tension at home, or if they repeatedly watched their parents scuffle. Sometimes one of the parents has alcohol abuse problems and behaves badly when drunk. It happens that one parent offends and physically abuses the other parent, and sometimes the child becomes the victim of parents’ physical violence. In these cases a divorce and leaving the aggressive or problematic parent can be a big relief. Nevertheless, sadness may occur because the end of bad moments means the end of the good ones (if there were any). The feeling of relief in children is often followed by a feeling of guilt and betrayal because of the relief. If you have been experiencing bad moments and the decision about parental divorce caused your feeling of relief, and even a little joy, it is all right to feel so. It is natural to feel good when bad times are behind you, because now you are looking forward to good times which are to follow.