Barrington H. Brennen
Dear Barrington Brennen, I am going through divorce and my
children are right in the middle of it. My friends are telling me to stay with
my husband at least for the children’s sake. They feel that the divorce will
do great harm to them. How can I stay when my husband has terribly abused me and
the children both emotionally and physically for more than ten years. He has
also threatened to kill me at least three times. My oldest child who is twelve
is suffering greatly from all the pain. Are my friends right? Should I really
Answer: Last week, I presented some ways in which abusive fathers
and mothers affect their children’s lives. I also mentioned that divorce may
be the beginning of healing for abused children and spouses. The truth is that
both abuse and divorce are devastating to children’s lives. Psychologist
Wallerstein believes that many people who experience divorce as children have
trouble establishing satisfying lives and stable relationships as adults.
According to Wallerstein, "this is because children of divorce are
frequently depleted rather than nurtured by their upbringing." However, the
upheaval children experience is usually temporary if parents do not continue the
"fights" but find ways of easing the effects of divorce on their
Here are several things parents can do to ease the effects of divorce on
their children. 1) Make sure the children know they are not the cause of the
divorce and that the divorce doesn’t mean that parents don’t love them. 2)
Make sure the information is clear about what sort of arrangements are going to
be made and what’s going to happen. 3) Answer questions children have, giving
clear and honest answers. 4) Take the children’s lead. Give as much
information the children need to know and can understand. 5) Take post-divorce
therapy (counseling) if the divorce has affected the parenting of the children.
Divorce-related life changes which may affect children also include household
moves; loss of friends; a new school; a strange, sometimes poorer and more
A more serious situation would be that children feel rejected by their
parents. This would occur when parents cannot provide the affection, attention,
and discipline because they are absorbed in and drained by their own problems.
It is important that parents do not talk to their children about plans for
divorce until it is certain that the divorce will take place. Do not drag your
children into disputes that may look threatening to the marriage, but may not
really lead to divorce.
Unfortunately, many divorces and separations in the Bahamas are a result of
dishonesty and sexual infidelity of a spouse. Sometimes the spouse lives with
another partner although they are still married, creating a very difficult
situation for the children. Often children are caught in the middle between the
"lover" and their own parents. Children are forced to make value judgments
and decisions that are frustrating and difficult to understand. Children are
forced to watch immoral acts and manipulative events. They are often kept up
late at night because of the unreasonable sleeping arrangements and often are
not able to complete homework or other school assignments. This type of behavior
is very unfortunate and devastating to the children. It reveals the
inconsiderate and selfish attitude of the parents or parent involved. This
usually happens when parents are driven by their own hormones, sexual appetite,
and selfish desires.
David Write, associate professor of family studies at Kansas State
University, states that: "If two parents are really dedicated to the
quality of life for their children and they are really focused on the needs of
the children, they may divorce and do an excellent job co-parenting subsequent
to a divorce. In that case the effects of the divorce on the children might be
minimal. On the other hand, you may have parents who for various reasons are
caught up in their own struggles and not able to attend to the needs of
children. They may not even divorce at all, leaving more negative effects on the
children than in the case when parents divorce."
If parents divorce as friends and not as enemies, then that will certainly
ease the effects of divorce on the children. How can a husband and wife in a
bitter marriage end in a friendly divorce? This is certainly difficult, but it
is possible. This is more important when children are involved. A friendly
divorce is possible when both partners: 1) Deal with their anger toward each
other. Seek professional counseling to help during this challenging time in
their lives. 2) Agree to let the past be the past. (Since they are divorcing
there is no gain in always digging up the past. They should move on with their
lives.) 3) Humble themselves and forgive each other. Forgiveness is more
important for the one who is forgiving than the one who is being forgiven.
Unless a person can release the one who has hurt him from judgments, healing
will not take place. The anger will turn into bitterness, which may lead to
severer stress that may cause physical and psychological illnesses. What is so
ironical about this is that the one who has caused the pain may forget about the
problem and go on living her/his life while the victim remains in the deep pit
of self-pity, anger, and frustration. 4) Be willing to admit the mistakes made
and be open to change or adjust for future mental and social well-being. 5)
Admit that cooperation, civil behavior, and attitude after the marriage are very
important for the emotional, spiritual, and social health of the children.
Ongoing fights and bitterness will certainly damage the lives of growing
children. Although parents are not living together, children may still know when
the battles are raging.
It is important that all married couples realize that divorce itself is
painful; therefore, one who is considering divorce must take the steps of
planning for children and the future very, seriously.