Communicating To Kids About Divorce Essay, Research Paper
A young child sits on his bed with tears rolling down his face.
His mother and father stare at him with a distraught look on their face.
The little boy asks, “If parents stop being married, can they decide not
to be a mommy or a daddy anymore?” His mother leans over and gives the
little boy a hug and replies, “Your daddy and I just can’t live together
anymore, we still love you and we will always be your mommy and daddy.”
This question, along with many others, are very common for young children
to ask when they are told that their parents are going to get divorced.
How does one reply to such a question? Looking into those big, tear filled
eyes, it can be hard to explain. The explanation that this mother gave was
filled with love and compassion. Many parents to comfort children while
explaining divorce use doublespeak and jargon. Doublespeak is language
that makes the bad seem good, and the negative appear positive (William
Lutz, “The World of Doublespeak.” 188). There are many ways that parents
can explain to their children that they are getting divorced.
Children usually know when their parents aren’t happy and may feel
confused about the situation. Barb Clark, a divorce counselor and
psychologist, suggests different ways to communicate to your children about
divorce. She recommends that children need to be told about the divorce
before it happens (Divorce: Telling the Children.
http://web.tusco.net/pfcs/prog%2033.htm). However, many parents fail to
tell their children that a divorce is in the near future. For instance,
John Lewis and his wife Phylis decided to get a divorce after several years
of marriage. Their son Brian was 14 years of age at the time of this
decision. Phylis one night packed her bags and left the house, without any
explanation to her son about her leaving. The next morning, John sat Brian
down and explained that they were getting a divorce. Although Brian was at
a mature age, it still didn’t make sense to him and he was very
disappointed. Could this have been because it happened all so suddenly
with out pre-warning?
Brian happened to be at a more developed stage in his life when
this event occurred, however, some children are at a very young age and a
parent’s choice of words are important while explaining divorce. M. Gary
Neuman, therapist and author of “Are You Getting Divorced,” explains that
depending on your child’s age, detail should be minimal. He says that when
children are between three and four years old, simply telling them that
divorce is a grown-up thing that mommies and daddies do when they make each
other sad for a long time, and decide not to live in the same house anymore
could be enough (88). Being a child of divorce myself, recollection of how
it was communicated to me is not all that clear because I was at the very
young age of three years old. However, after interviewing my parents,
their approach was similar to M. Gary Neuman’s advice. They sat me down
and proceeded in telling me, “Daddy was going to live in a different house
than you and mommie because we can’t live together anymore.” This
statement seemed to be clear and understood. Instead of saying, for
instance, “We are getting divorced and you are going to have to live with
only one of us,” they made the divorce sound more comforting by essentially
coming down to my level. This is an example of doublespeak.
After children understand that their parents are going to be
divorce, many of them begin to ask questions. A common question asked is,
“If your parents don’t live together anymore, do you still have a family?”
M. Gary Nueman suggests that, when dealing with these sort of questions
always revert back to the fact that the child will be loved just as much as
the child was when the parents were married. He also recommends explaining
that there are many kinds of families. This may be confusing for the child
to understand at first, however, explaining that a “family” isn’t always
the mom, dad, and children, it is also the grandparents and cousins that
don’t live with you, but are still very important members of the family
Even after the child asks questions, the child may not be clear on
what was just described to them. The child may not understand or the child
may be confused. Cheryl Cocks and George Cocks were married for seventeen
years. George traveled frequently and when he was home there was turmoil.
Finally, the couple decided to separate. After returning home one trip,
George stayed with a friend and only came home to visit his children.
When explaining to their four children (ages 17, 15, 12, and 8) that they
were going to live in separate houses, all four children were still
confused and didn’t understand what was going on. The children would ask
questions like, “Where is dad?” and “Are you two getting a divorce?” This
is a prime example of not being clear with children. The children had no
idea what is going on, regardless of their age. All they knew was that dad
wasn’t living at home anymore. Barb Clark advises telling children more
than once, with words that they understand.
Both parents sitting down together is also an essential part of
telling the child that the parents are divorcing. Rebecca Rubens was 19
years old when her parents divorced. Each parent told her separately and
was negative towards the other parent. This made Rebecca feel as if she
was being put in the middle and as if she was also, in a way, getting a
divorce from them. She was confused and frustrated about the situation and
didn’t know how to deal with it. Barb Clark, author of “Divorce: Telling
the Children,” implies that it is extremely important for both parents to
set aside any anger towards each other and explain the situation to the
child together. This will make the child more easily comprehend what is
going to happen instead of feeling involved. This will also eliminate
similar feelings that Rebecca felt after she was told about the divorce.
Explaining to children that the divorce is final is very important,
because many children spend a lot of time hoping their parents will get
back together. In every situation that has been illustrated previously,
none of the parents made it clear to the children that the divorce was
final. Brian was never told in detail what would happen and later was
still confused about his parents and whether they ever are coming back
together. My mother always hoped that one day they would get back together
therefore didn’t explain to us that the divorce was final. For the next
few years, I hoped that one day I would have both parents together again.
Cheryl and George never discussed with their children about divorce let
alone that it was final. Their youngest still hopes that they will be a
family again. Rebecca’s parents are still in the process of getting the
divorce, and her mother still can’t believe that it is going to happen to
her marriage, therefore Rebecca is still in hopes of a commitment between
her parents. In all of these cases, children are hoping for something that
is not going to happen.
According to a Parents November 1998 article, fifty-three percent
of couples who get divorced have children affecting about one million new
kids a year. This is a sad statistic, but true. These children are being
greatly affected by the divorce alone. Parents need to realize this and
take into consideration how to make the divorce process easier on their
children. The first step in making the divorce transition easier on the
child is effective communication between the parent and the child.