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What Divorce Means to Children

Divorce is not an isolated event.  Dissolving a marriage is a lengthy process, not so much in terms of the law, but in terms of the emotional realities.  Time is longer for children than for adults.  If you’re only six, two years represents a third of your life.  If you’re thirty, it represents a much smaller fraction of your life.  If you think divorce is a big event in your life, consider your children.  The trauma they experience is magnified a hundred times.

You shouldn’t be surprised then, when your children oppose the divorce.  With rare exceptions, they will.  It doesn’t matter whether or not your marriage is a bleak affair.  Children do not want to lose  a parent.

The first great conflict in every infant’s life is the one between trust and mistrust.  If a child is cared for and held and talked to, and if his cries receive a response, he will begin to achieve a sense of security that will undergird everything else that happens in his life thereafter. To be impaired at this level is to be virtually cut off from life.

Divorce and its attendant trauma shake a child’s sense of trust and security as almost nothing else can. Parents need to be particularly sensitive to this critical element, and to do everything within their power to reassure their children and to assist them through the trauma of divorce.

In addition, children are readily bewildered because of their limited ability to conceptualize things.  They think in concrete terms.  It does little good, for example, to say that his or her grandparents live on a farm.  A child has to be taken to a farm and shown, firsthand, what it is like.

It is essential that you take your children to inspect your newly departed spouse’s new quarters. If you are the scorned wife of a man who has left you for another woman (or vice versa) this will be extraordinarily difficult. You are simultaneously furious at the betrayal and powerless to do anything about it. The children may be, in your tormented mind, the only vehicle at your disposal with which to punish him (or her). So, you are inclined to adduce more or less reasonable-sounding arguments to show why the children ought not to have anything to do with their other parent. And they certainly should never set foot in that den of iniquity he is living now — right?  Wrong. Children don’t know what a divorce means. They have to be shown everything. They have to be taken to see the absent parent’s new quarters. Only what they are already familiar with may be talked about. Everything else has to be shown.

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