What can you do to make the transition of divorce as safe and loving as possible for your kids? From a child of divorce’s point of view, here is the story of nine-year-old Kate and how she finally got her parents to listen to her needs.
Kate’s parents have been undergoing a bitter divorce brought on by her mother’s affair with a co-worker. Kate learned that her parents were splitting up when her father, Darren, told her that her mother, Sarah, had cheated. Kate had always looked forward to bedtime, when Darren read her a children’s book, but this changed when story time turned into an opportunity for Darren to vent about his problems with Sarah. Sarah is consumed with guilt over the affair, and anger at Darren for sharing inappropriate details with Kate. She refuses to respond to his e-mails and texts, instead using Kate to deliver messages to her father.
Both parents continue one-upping each other in a cascade of bad behavior: arguing in front of Kate; arriving late at drop-offs to interfere with the other parent’s plans; refusing to stick to the visitation schedule; and ratcheting up the tension so Kate begins to dread birthday parties, soccer games, and school events.
Attempts at family therapy are thwarted because Sarah and Darren cannot be in the same room together without fighting. Kate desperately wants to talk to her parents about the effect the divorce and their child custody wrangling are having on her, but the prospect is so overwhelming that it makes her sick to her stomach. Lying awake in bed one night, she decides to e-mail her parents a letter; this way she’ll be able to express her feelings without worrying about their reaction.
Dear Mom and Dad:
I’m writing this because you guys fight so much that you don’t listen to me. I can’t concentrate in school because my stomach hurts and sometimes I wake up at night because of bad dreams. I miss Mom when I’m at Dad’s house and I miss Dad when I’m at Mom’s house and I’m never sure when I’m going to see you guys because you keep changing the schedule and all of it is making me nuts!! I wish you didn’t have to get divorced, but if you’re gonna go ahead and do it, then I think there should be some rules.
- Equal time at both houses. Right now I never know when I’m gonna see either one of you, you keep changing the schedule. I love you both and I wanna spend the same amount of time with each of you. I think it makes sense to stay one week with Mom and then one week with Dad, otherwise it’s too much going back and forth and it gives me a headache. Also, I want a calendar so I can mark off which days I’m with each of you, can you get me a calendar?
- No fighting. You guys fight all the time! I hear you on the phone, you fight when you drop me off at the other house, you gave each other mean looks at my parent-teacher conference. You always tell me to be nice to people, but you’re not even nice to each other! Your fighting scares me and gives me headaches. I’m always worried what’s gonna happen when you’re together. I want you both at my birthday party next month, so you have to try to get along.
- No bad-mouthing. You both tell me bad things about the other person. Why do you do that? I don’t know who to believe and I don’t wanna take sides. I wanna have a happy childhood but I can’t do that if you’re always talking about the awful things each of you did. I think maybe you both need some therapy to learn to control yourselves.
- Stop making me be the messenger. I hate having to give messages to each of you, or when you give me doctor bills or the child support check to give to each other. Whenever I do that, you just get mad and then you start telling me all the things the other person is doing wrong, and it makes my stomach hurt. You guys have to start talking to each other, and leave me out of it!
- Tell me it’s not my fault. Sometimes I think maybe I did something to make you get divorced. Because I don’t understand how you could love me and decided to break up our family. I have enough to handle with school and soccer and piano lessons and everything, so it would really help me if you could just tell me I’m not the reason you got divorced.
P.S. Could I get a kitten for each house? Please?
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