Divorce: Catastrophe for Kids? Part
1 of 3
By Harlan Jacobsen
Have you ruined your children's lives when you get divorced? A recent
survey of 18,244 single parent home students found that such single parent
children were almost twice as likely to drop out of school and are eight
times as likely to be expelled. Another survey found that boys with no
father at home were four times as likely to drop out of school, and six
times as likely to have a juvenile court experience and eight times more
likely to be institutionalized.
The root problem may not be exactly as the surveys personnel concluded.
First of all, in my opinion, parents with problem children are more likely
to divorce. Often the discord in the marriage relationship is over discipline
of the children. So the delinquent child may not be the result of the
divorce, quite the other way around. The divorce may, in fact, be because
of the delinquent child or over disagreement over methods of discipline.
This moves more delinquent children over to the 'broken home' side.
The second matter is income. One Study showed income in two?parent homes
is over double that of single parent homes. The economically deprived
child is more likely to feel he needs to go to work to get things his
family and himself are being denied, and hence be more likely to drop
out of school. He may be much more likely to steal to bring filling his
needs up to the standards of his peers, hence, more juvenile court appearances,
Dr. Ferson in a San Francisco survey found that at age 24 children of
single parent homes were more self?reliant and succeeding in life better
than those from the traditional two parent homes. Down the Pike your children
are going to be okay according to Ferson's study.
Dr. Ferson states it is unacceptable to the media to run statistics that
show children winding up better. For example, he said a study in New York
that said 26% of divorced children were worse in school because of the
divorce. The press did not run the other part of the same survey that
showed 28% of the children were doing better in school as a result of
the divorce. Only the negative statistic appeared. The surveys quoted
in the start of this article did not even bother to check how many were
doing far better in school as a result of the divorce.
Our observation is that those parents that are adjusting well to the divorce
have children that are adjusting well to the divorce. Basically a mirror??particularly
of the custodial parent.
We say concentrate on getting the parents in a 'good place' and the children
will not be far behind. If the parents are a mess as a result of the divorce
so are the children generally. Children are able to bounce with calamities;
normally it is the parents who go ' splat.'
Children go through almost the same pain and process as the divorced
parents. The parents say to the children 'are you upset; you didn't get
divorced!' Yet the children feel as divorced as the parents, going through
most of the same emotional stages over a loss. Yet their support system
of people greatly diminishes at a difficult time. The custodial parent
is out scratching to make ends meet financially and has less time to spend
with the child. Both parents are so tied up in their own emotional needs
as a result of the divorce, they fail to assist their children through
an emotionally trying experience.
The relative network and contact is greatly diminished as a result of
the divorce. Outside activities are diminished (such as going to camp
in the summer) are reduced because of the financial pinch of divorce.
One of the basic needs of a child is to be able to talk about what is
happening to them. Yet the parents get so upset and are so hyper about
their own divorce reaction, the child feels he or she cannot safely talk
about his or her own feelings without upsetting or overburdening a parent
already near the breaking point.
The result is bottled up and pops out as other symptoms. We have discovered
that many parents going through divorce cannot read and absorb anything
from a book at certain stages of divorce. A child goes through the same
stages and your child may be also so involved in processing the divorce
that nothing comes off of or is retained off a printed page. This stage
does not last usually for more than a few weeks, (it may start anytime
up to three months after Divorce) yet if you are a student, it can be
devastating to your grades.
Another basic need of children is recognition and attention. Extra recognition
and attention will help a child cope with any traumatic life adjustments.
Yet, just at a very trying time (parent's divorce) they lose much of the
attention they had.
Transactional Analysis people (T.A.) call these units of attention 'strokes'.
Two children of the same divorcing parents may not fare equally well because
Let us say, for example, one child (usually the boy) was getting 80% of
his attention and good feelings about himself from his father, 10% from
his mother, and 10% from others. The daughter was getting 50% from her
mother, 20% from the father, and 30% from others. The father's leaving
creates a great deficiency, particularly when the boy's mother (who should
be giving him extra attention) stops giving even her usual attention because
of her own needs of the divorce process.
Since the child needs strokes (attention) to survive, he will try unusually
good behavior. If that does not get the badly needed attention, again,
usually because the parents are all tied up in their own emotional mess,
the child will discover he gets the needed attention by bad or weird behavior
(acting up). If this keeps up, the child becomes conditioned to bad behavior.
To keep your divorce from having an adverse affect on your children, we
have found doing the following will get them back to normal or even better
1. Get your own act together (Most important!).
2. Let the children know positively??
a. They did not cause the divorce in any way. It is not their fault.
b. There was nothing they could have done to have kept you together.
c. There is nothing they can do to put you back together.
d. They should not try or feel required to take over the missing parent's
role or job? they should continue just being 'kids.'
e. They are going to have to make some 'standard of living' adjustments.
f. Their parents will never divorce them; parental love is different than
husband/wife love??and always continues.
3. Personally give them more attention, especially for doing good things.
Try to make little notice (ignore) of bad things (do not reward bad) with
4. Get an aunt, uncle, big sister, big brother, or anyone such as Boy
Scout leaders, etc. to give them attention and a chance to 'talk out'
what is going on in their lives.
5. Set definite rules for them to live by. This is like guard rails on
a bridge. You seldom run into them but knowing they're there makes it
easier to cross.
6. Expand their responsibilities and the size of their restrictions as
rapidly as they show they can handle the responsibility and freedom.
7. Explain that when you start going out and dating that you have needs
just like kids do. They need to be with other kids to play and you need
time to be with other adults to play. They have certain times to be with
other kids; this section of time is set aside for you to be with other
8. Explain that a new person in your life shares an adult love that has
nothing to do with your loving your children any less. They are not competing??two
different things. Plus they gain a new adult in their life, too.
9. They should know that when newly divorced, you are going to be upset
a lot and not act the way you should all the time. They need to be asked
to be more tolerant and understanding because it all gets better.
go to part 2
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