With special effort, divorce CAN work
Saanich News February 2004
Paul Beckow M.Sc. R.P.C.
Individual, Couple, and Family Counsellor
My husband and I have decided to divorce and I am very worried about the impact on our three children. Can kids be okay in divorce?
Certainly, children can be okay coming out of divorce. Fortunately, as divorce is common enough today.
Presently, in Canada, over 40 % of marriages end in divorce. In any school classroom these days, you’ll find children from split, single, or blended families. Many children talk of having “two moms and two dads,” “being at Dad’s for the weekend,” “playing with my step-brother’s play station,” etc. And they are okay. I see lots of children doing just fine with their parents’ divorce.
“Can kids be okay?” may not be the important question here. Let’s consider this question: What do children need in order to be okay when their parents divorce? Simply put, here’s what children need and want:
- Children need to know that the divorce had nothing to do with them, that it is not their fault.
- Children want to know that no one parent is wrong and that they don’t have to choose sides between their parents.
- Children need to know that both parents love them, that they are, and will remain, noticed, unique, and important to both parents.
- Children want to know that they will still have their relationship with their Mom and Dad in a consistent reliable structure (contact) and that they can access both their parents if they wish to.
- Children want to know each of their parents are, and will be, okay, and that each parent has some good will, even cares about, the other’s well being.
That’s all, Deborah. To take care of your children through divorce means to take care of these things. Period.
Does it sound easy? Well, it’s not. Divorce is a huge challenge for both parents. Why ?
Because divorce contains difficult and painful feelings.
When a couple dissolve their marriage there is often hurt, protection, uncertainty, blame, differences. Furthermore, everything is now divided in two, split in half. So each parent is losing quite enough. On both sides, there is fear and anxiety of losing more - with lots to be settled together.
Then a new problem appears. Many divorcing parents enter the legal process.
Now everything gets even more raw and difficult. A court case can be a very lengthy, painful, and expensive process. Divorcing couples are swept up in the recriminations of the “for me to win, you must lose” posturing of the judicial system. As in any “battle”, couples complete this process hurt, embittered, and hostile. Then, from this wounded place they enter the new future they share as parents of their children. This seems so crazy to me! And happens all too frequently.
What is missing? Two things. The first is - integrity.
What is integrity? Wholeness. Related to separation and divorce, integrity means honoring the commitment that the new decisions and the process of divorce work for everyone. And it is very difficult to maintain integrity when you are feeling angry, vulnerable or fearful, as if your very survival is at stake.
So it’s a tough job. It requires a special kind of maturity - a maturity that begins with a genuine acceptance of the reality of divorce, and then includes a commitment to let go of hurt, protections, and bitterness. And that can be difficult challenging work.
In my practice I have seen some divorced couples who are doing a really good job of it. They are successfully creating a new kind of partnership together. And it is totally inspiring. It takes a special kind of courage, a unique kind of integrity. I salute parents who find ways to do this.
The second thing that is missing for a divorcing couple is a system of support focused on the whole family.
There is much to attend to: settling terms of custody, visiting etc., dividing possessions and assets, communicating to the children, identifying their responses and special needs, addressing those needs, meeting as a family to have all be heard, arriving at an understanding and acceptance of the new conditions. Then everyone in the family begins to find their way through the changes as they become real. And parents begin to oversee how the children deal with these changes and adjust over time.
This is a time when both parents are called upon for unique new skills and learning. It is a time when a family can use the support of trained, experienced, professionals to join them and support them in the commitment that everyone in the family is okay – that everyone feels listened to, taken care of, clear and ready to take on the new family arrangements for the future.
It may seem strange to say that divorce can work. Yet with a commitment to integrity, and with real and practical support to the parents, children can have the experience of being taken care of. Divorce can work.
I believe that is a battle worth fighting.
Paul Beckow is a trained individual, marriage, and family therapist with over 20 years experience. If you have a relationship and/or family concern, write to him c/o Victoria Family Institute, 4046 Century Rd., Victoria B.C., V8X 2E4, e-mail him at pbeckowLETSTALK@shaw.ca or call 721-2477, or go to Paulbeckow.com.
For personal or couple counselling, for more information, or to register for a course - please contact Paul Beckow at The Victoria Family Institute.