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Children’s Journey with Divorce

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Feelings of Anger

“My brother and I tried to bring our parents back together, but we failed. I still feel angry that my mother moved out of the house”. These were the poignant words of an 8-year-old boy, whose disappointment and sadness were evident as he recounted his family situation to our social worker at our Children-in-Between programme. This reminded our social worker of another divorced family, whose 10-year-old son was so consumed by hurt and anger at his parents’ separation, that he began to hate his mother – and repeatedly asked her to end her life by jumping out of the window – if she would not reconcile with his father.

Feelings of Grief

An 11-year-old girl recounted that she used to cry a lot when she first got to know of her parents’ divorce, but no longer cares these days, after realising that there is nothing she can do about it. While she spoke with a stoic expression; it was clear that she was still burdened with lots of hurt. For another child, the pain had gone so deep that she was diagnosed with depression at the tender age of just 12 years old. While it has been eight years since her parents were divorced, she remains on medication to cope with her depression.

Feelings of Disbelief

“I miss doing things as a family, like going to the beach together. Why can’t our family be together again?” A 7-year-old boy expressed his longing to return to how things used to be. His mother shared that the boy had looked at all the happy faces captured in past family pictures, before exclaiming in disillusionment that the happy times they shared were all “a lie”. Another 8-year-old boy was terrified that all his happy memories with his mother would be lost, as his father had given him very limited access to his mother after their divorce.

Feelings of Brokenness

Being a child of a “broken family” is how some children view themselves after their parents’ divorce. Regardless of their age, it is a dreadful thought to them. The anguish on the faces of both a 7-year-old child and a 17-year-old youth was observed by a counsellor. The older youth had been encouraging their mother for years to file for a divorce with her father, due to the family violence she witnessed. However, when the divorce was finalised, the youth broke down as the reality of her parents’ separation set in. She and her younger sibling felt intense shame. She later shared that she did not know how to tell her future in-laws that she came from a broken family.

Putting it All Together

Children from divorced homes often have to grapple with different emotions arising from their parents’ divorce. For some, their distress is exhibited through angry outbursts, while other children may fall into depression. While some are more forthcoming in talking about their feelings, others may become withdrawn as they suppress their emotions to cope with the pain. Without adequate support, children may develop lifelong issues with trusting others and develop low self-esteem and confidence.

When divorce happens, parents are often so consumed with their own pain, and embroiled in the divorce proceedings, that their children’s emotions can be overlooked. To help children navigate through the challenging divorce transition, it is vital that they know they are free to express their emotions, to feel understood and supported, and that they matter.

Parents should not be quick to ask their children not to feel sad and be strong. Parents have a duty to monitor how well their children are coping with the divorce, and to provide them with adequate counselling support from trained professionals, especially when their children’s psychological and emotional well-being may be severely impacted.  There are proven ways that children can learn to cope with their emotions in a healthy manner and become more resilient over time. Finally, it is crucial that every child is assured of their parents’ continual love and support for them, that they are not alone in their difficult journey.

Written by: Counsellors at Healing Hearts@Fei Yue, Divorce Support Specialist Centre