From Denial to Awareness
By Sherri Mills
What would you do if, suddenly, ALL you believe to be true and normal in your life disappears? Puftt! Gone! Never to return or to be the same again. That is what happens to children in divorce.
You will learn this and more as you read the letters in Children of Divorce: Hear Our Stories. Those letters will shatter our society’s “Happy Talk Myths” described in the previous chapter. Nothing is more powerful – or heart wrenching – than hearing the words of survivors themselves, from age 6 to 65, as they tell of their experiences. The statement “my childhood ended the day my parents decided to divorce” echoes loud and clear through their lives.
This book gives children of divorce a place to be heard. A safe place to let family, friends, and others know what their lives are like behind the mask of “I’m fine.” And a place to end the cycle of denial about divorce’s lasting trauma on innocents caught in the crossfire.
Why did I provide this sounding board?
Early on I was one of those in denial, one who believed society’s myth “They are young, they will get over it.” I am passionate about families staying together for the sake of the children – and have written two previous books* directed at couples thinking about divorce. I knew children had no say in the matter and were hurt by divorce, but I didn’t realize how deeply divorce affected everything in their lives forever.
As I researched my other books, I asked a lot of questions. I began to hear different answers from the children than I did from the parents. Different realities, in other words.
My research took me to noted Clinical Psychologist and Family Therapist Dr. Liz Hale. She called divorce “emotional suicide” for the children. She affirmed my belief that a “good enough” marriage is better than divorce for all parties concerned.
I’ve followed multiple generations of hundreds of families. Parents. Grandparents. Children. And their children. Over and over I’ve seen the real-life consequences of decisions made by men and women in their marriages – and, all too often, in their divorces.
I’ve heard all sides of the arguments, all the down-and-dirty results. It’s my business to listen to people. No, I’m not a counselor or psychologist though I’ve spent decades researching family issues. I’m a hairdresser and for almost 50 years clients have indeed safely shared their innermost lives with me.
Before I go any further, I want everyone to know that I have never been against divorces that obviously need to happen. Two of my children are divorced. There are many reasons for couples to part ways, abuse is one of them. I recently helped an abused wife exit her situation. I learned more than anyone would want to know. As painful as it is to look into the shell-shocked faces of children of divorce, seeing the terrified children who have been living with abuse is much worse.
I am on a crusade to save marriages (families and children) that can and should be kept from falling off of the cliff of divorce. I want to raise awareness in couples, not cause them more pain and guilt.
In both my previous books, I’ve written about the long-lasting effects of divorce on the lives of those innocents caught in the middle, the children.
Now it’s time to hear directly from them. I’ve collected** letters and poems from children of divorce – from youths to adults. I’ve added two interviews of children too young to write. I have removed names and modified identifying details to maintain anonymity of each person who trusted in me and my books and so generously shared their experiences.
Unless you yourself are a child of divorce, the letters in this book may shock and will distress you. These survivors become experts at outwardly hiding their pain, confusion, and betrayal. Here they bare their hearts.
Teachers and neighbors as well as extended family members can gain important insight from what these boys, girls, men, and women share in this book.
And, to children of divorce who read this, I hope you can find some comfort in the letters of others. Sadly, you are not alone.
HERE IS MY PLEA
A phrase I have heard too often is, “Well, no wonder those children are (fill in the blank) in trouble/ bad in school/ won’t listen/ act weird. Their parents are divorced.”
I want us all to change that to a caring attitude: “Those children have had their hearts ripped from their chest. For the rest of my time with them I want to let them know that I understand. I realize they will hate a parent one minute and love them to death the next. I understand that their lives are turned upside down and they need compassion and love.”
If I am a teacher, I won’t automatically label them and put them in a “problem child” box. I will realize that their mind is so busy thinking about the absent parent or secrets they have to keep that it might be impossible for them to listen. I will realize that the reason they are not involved in extracurricular activities is, through no fault of their own, that they are never in one place long enough to make it to all the practices. I will try to make up for that in other ways.
If I am a parent, I will work at never speaking speak ill of their other parent. (That parent is part of their DNA and if that parent is bad, in the children’s mind that automatically makes them bad). I will not use them as a crutch for my feelings of helplessness. I will be aware that before the divorce is final, the children will be going through just as much turmoil as I am and I MUST be compassionate and concerned for their welfare above my own.
If I am a relative, I won’t expect them to act like they used to or to be the person they used to be. I will accept the new person, realizing they are wonderful as they are. I will not talk negatively of their other parent or family.
If I am from a family that has never experienced divorce (from an “intact family”), I too will read this book. I admit that I and my children live in an entirely different world than that of children of divorce. These letters help demystify their other reality.
As the compiler of this book, I hope that the world of intact families becomes more common rather than rare. We often interact. In the “After Words” I have suggestions on how to make children of divorce feel more understood and welcome by society. The pain they suffer doesn’t have to be so severe. If we would all recognized their situation, their lives could be easier.
Thank you beyond words to the children of divorce who shared your lives so courageously with me and the readers of this book. I hope other children of divorce take heart in your example and speak out, spreading the knowledge and shattering the myths.
– Sherri Mills
* Books by Sherri Mills: Marriage 101 for Men: why taking out the trash is a turn on (2013); and, I Almost Divorced my Husband, but I Went on Strike Instead (2011).
** See the “After Words” for suggestions from various professionals on what we all can do to improve the outcome for the growing number of children of divorce. Go to the appendix to learn how I gathered these stories and poems in this book.