I am a child of divorce, although I’m not divorced as an adult. Still, becoming a parent has given me the chance to reflect on a lot of hurts I have from childhood, starting way back from when my parents divorced when I was 10.
The real kicker is that I know almost all parents hope not to get divorced, and if they find themselves in that situation, they most likely worry how it’s going to affect their children. But many times, kids like myself try to cover up how they really feel inside so that they don’t get hurt in the chaos. As a result, I have many, many unresolved issues that I’ve been holding on to for decades that are just now coming to the surface.
I’m saying all this because it’s important to know that if your child is acting “fine” in a divorce, then they probably aren’t. And many times, even the most obvious things are left unsaid because they seem so obvious. But really, these obvious things should be said to your kid again and again and again until you are 100% sure they believe it. Trust me on this one.
1. It’s not your fault.
This seems really cliché, straight from Good Will Hunting, but keep it at the top of your list. As Dr. Phil says, kids have an uncanny knack for figuring out how a divorce is their fault. As illogical as it seems, I’m still struggling with this as an adult.
2. There’s nothing wrong with you.
Taking it one step further, a kid may feel like they were “bad” or unlovable, and that’s why a parent left. Come to think of it, this is important to say to any child of divorce—even if a divorce happens after kids leave the house.
3. You don’t have to be perfect.
I was convinced that if I never did anything wrong again, my parents would keep loving me, even after divorce. Today, it’s really hard to shake that perfectionist mentality, and I hate it.
4. You’re not alone.
If you’ve never been a child of divorce, you may not know what this feels like. But when one parent moves out of the house, kids may automatically feel alone and isolated—I know I did.
5. You’re safe.
Similar to #4, moving into a different home after divorce, away from my dad, left me with a lot of fears about feeling safe in my own home. To add insult to injury, we also had a minor break-in right after my parents divorced when I was in middle school, making me feel even more afraid of something terrible happening to my family.
6. Your thoughts still matter.
If a parent brings a new spouse or significant other into the picture, this point is really, really important. With a “new parent” in the mix, it’s easy for kids to feel like they’re old news and their thoughts aren’t important anymore.
7. I will always put you first.
Parents need to voice this to their kids in a divorce time and again because divorce quickly gets complicated. Even if a divorce was five, 10, or 15 years ago, kids need to know that they are their parent’s top priority so that they feel safe—at least, that would have helped me.
8. You aren’t like me.
Children of divorce may shy away from commitment because they never want to experience rejection first-hand again. It helps when a parent can admit their faults and tell their kid in a constructive way—just because I got divorced doesn’t mean you will.
9. I still care about Mom/Dad.
This may be a hard one for many parents to say, but no kid wants to feel like they’re in the middle in a divorce. Obviously, it’s never recommended to badmouth the other parent, but it would have helped me feel more secure if my dad wasn’t constantly bashing my mom after the fact.
10. I’m never going to divorce you.
This is a weird thing to say to a kid, but it must be said. Parents, don’t underestimate how much your child will internalize your divorce, no matter how amicable it may be. As a kid, I just wanted to know that my parents were never going to cut me out of their lives like they did each other. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
(photo: Getty Images)