One of the things that many children fear is their parents getting a divorce. Very young children really don’t understand quite yet, they will be raised into a blended family environment that they think is normal. But it is the kids after they turn about 4 or 5, start to become more aware of continuity in their world.
Unfortunately, in many parts of society today, particularly in the United States it seems, marriage is just a higher form of dating and if it’s not working out and just get a quickie divorce. The notion that kids are resilient and divorce really does not affect them seems to have been popularized in the 70s and 80s, but there is a tremendous body of research about the actual impact on kids of divorce, that cannot be ignored. Of course, I am not saying that all couples should stay together at all costs, I myself have also been divorced. Fortunately for us no kids were involved and sometimes divorce is truly the better option. But it should be the last resort, not the first choice.
One of the things that can help kids be resilient through divorce is their friends. What sometimes makes divorce even harder is that not only are the parents separated and the house is divided, or sometimes even sold with the child forced to move, they are many times removed from their friends, at least temporarily during certain visitations with the other parent, and sometimes permanently. Again, there is a whole other body of research on the importance of social structures. One of the few times we’ve intervened in a school process was when our daughter was randomly assigned to a different classroom while her entire, previously established peer group, ended up in separated from her.
I was once asked what is the biggest change I noticed in my life after I started having kids. The answer is: life is no longer about just you. Whether you are going through a divorce, a job change or any thing else like just running to Starbucks to get a quick cup of coffee, there are other little lives now rely on you but you must take into consideration.
Trista Sutter, the first bachelorette on the ABC reality series is also a child of divorce. However she talks about in her book, Happily Ever After: The Life-changing Power of a Grateful Heart that she developed a deeper appreciation for friends when her parents went through a divorce (Sutter 124). She still believes in the power of friendships to this day.
“My friends give me something my family can’t. They are my trusted therapists, pick-me-ups, and sounding boards who have usually been able to empathize with my struggles and successes best because most of them are the same point in life that I am. They keep me company on the phone with my house is empty, share wise council about birthday-party and outfit planning, offer to pick up the kids from school if I have the flu, and remind me of what really matters when life gets a rough patch.” (Sutter 124).
There is a side lesson that Trista mentions (127), when she talks about her son who went away to camp one day but came back that night, heartbroken because no one would play with him. She suggested that he could make new friends. His face lit up and within a day he was already making new friends and enjoying himself (Sutter 128). This just goes to show you that sometimes with kids the simplest solution is sometimes the best. I know I would likely have went into some sort of in-depth psychological explanation on the dynamics of friendships, Clicks and human interaction.
My wife and I faced a similar problem with a similar simple solution at Christmas time a few years ago. Every year, as this holiday would come around we would sit down and debate who needed to stay on the Christmas card list and needed to come off (don’t pretend you don’t do the same thing at your house!) The problem was really one of time — we did not have enough of it so we would sit there, weighing friendships and family relationships, discussing whether we received a card from them in the previous year, and doing our best to make judgment calls about who comes and who goes.
Finally, one year we just decided not to worry about it. Our default became “send them a card this year.” The friendship is more valuable than the extra 3 minutes of time it takes to get one ready to send. Sometimes people are dealing with other things and just don’t have time to get their Christmas cards out, some people are just not Christmas card people, and sometimes, maybe we have dropped off their list but this might get them to put us back on. We actually read all of the Christmas cards we get and all of the Christmas newsletters. We enjoy seeing the pictures of people’s kids, and I like seeing pictures of the entire family so I can secretly compare who I still look better than and who is looking better than me so I can now begin to resent them and life itself.
Not only do we sit around the kitchen table opening the cards, reading them and then passing them to family members, (of course my two youngest kids immediately shake out the card to see if cash falls out — what they don’t know is I beat them to it, but even the following year we will look at last years cards once again. Even with Facebook and everything else it is our way with connecting with our friends.
Sutter, Trista. Happily Ever After: The Life-changing Power of a Grateful Heart. Boston: Da Capo, MA. Print.