When people ask me where I grew up, I often reply with a smile: “On the I-25 freeway!” One of the most common effects of divorce on children is a lot of time in the car. I lived in one city with my mom and visited my dad every other weekend in another. I look back and remember good times with both of my parents. However, I also remember how hard it was for me when they argued “through me” about child support, paying for camp, and where I would spend Christmas. I also remember one of them constantly bad-mouthing the other.
Over the years, I’ve worked with teens and adult children of divorce who were raised in two homes. Many times, they literally wanted to shout, “Stop putting me in the middle!” Unfortunately, few kids have the courage or ability to speak up and verbalize the effects of divorce on children. So here are 10 things kids of divorce want to say.
1. Don’t say mean things about my other parent. I want to love you both!
2. When you criticize my other parent, it makes me angry at you.
3. Don’t make me pick who I want to spend time with—that’s not fair. Don’t keep track of my time like I’m on the clock. It can’t always be even.
4. Handle your financial conversations in private. I don’t want to hear about it and I don’t want to be your messenger.
5. Don’t use money to win my love. Be a stable and loving parent and I will love you no matter who has the “most” money.
6. Don’t keep me from seeing the other parent. If you do, I’ll grow up to resent you.
7. Get a counselor to help you with your problems. I need you to be strong and stable for my well-being. I don’t want to hear about your dating and your problems at work or how much we are struggling financially. Talk to someone else. I need you to be my parent and mentor and lead me in the way you want me to grow up. Don’t make me be your parent.
8. The harder you make it on my other parent, the harder you are making it on me.
9. Laugh and smile. I want to enjoy my life, and your mood impacts my mood. Find a way to enjoy your life. I need to have fun and make enjoyable memories with you.
10. Don’t forget that I have a divided heart now. I live between two completely different houses, rules, traditions, and attitudes. Be patient with me when I forget things or need some time to adjust from house to house. Please buy me enough stuff so I don’t have to live out of a suitcase my whole life. If you want me to feel “at home” in both places, please set up a full home for me, even if I am only there a few days a month. Have toothbrushes, shoes, clothes, my favorite cereal, and cool décor in my room. These all help me feel welcome and at home in both homes. Don’t compete or argue about these things. Just help me not have to feel like a visitor when I am with either parent.
Parents: Thank you for taking the time to hear these words about the effects of divorce on children. These are the things kids wish they could say, but they can’t find the words or the courage to communicate to you. Do all you can to raise them in a way that celebrates the love of both parents and allows them to have a whole and healthy childhood, despite your divorce! Divorce ends the marriage, not the love between parent and child. Kids will thrive when you allow them to live freely between both mom and dad.
What areas of co-parenting are you ready to focus on?