Children and Divorce: And Now For Some Really Depressing News

I awoke early Tuesday morning with my throat so swollen and sore I couldn’t swallow, mucous streaming from nearly every orifice above my shoulders. I could not utter a sound that was even recognizable as speech.  My daughter felt much the same.  I knew I needed to call in a sub.  Two days later, most of it spent sleeping and reading (I certainly had no energy for anything else and the reading was pushing my limits), I think I might be well enough to return to work tomorrow.  The book I managed to devour between naps was, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, by Wallerstein, Lewis, & Blakeslee.  I’m warning you.  It isn’t a cheery read.  In fact, I had tears streaming down my cheeks at points.

wallersteinbookimage I stumbled across this little find at my local book exchange.  I’m always up for reading some research (yeah, I’m kind of nerdy like that), especially about families of divorce, stepfamilies and how all of this impacts children. (Maybe because it is just a little close to home for me?)  This one billed itself as a landmark study because it was the only one that tracked children of divorce from the time their parents split up until they reached full adulthood. It was a 25-year-study. Since I work with kids and their parents many of them divorced and re-married, and since I myself am the child of divorce as are my own children, I thought this might be an interesting read.  It was indeed interesting, but it was not cheery. Wallerstein’s findings are sobering, relevant, deeply saddening, and yet more hopeful than one would expect.

I would recommend that anyone considering divorce, in the process of divorce, or now in the post-divorce family read this book.  I wish I’d read it 4 years ago.  It would have helped me support my children more effectively through the divorce process. Of course, to be honest, I was so stressed and fragmented (as many who undergo divorce are) that I’m not sure I’d have read it.  Which just underscores a significant aspect of this research.  The book also details children’s perspectives of parenting plans, remarriage, step-parents and life after divorce.

The most salient point of Wallerstein’s study, for me, is that no matter when the divorce occurs, no matter what the reason for the divorce, and regardless how amicable or not the divorce is, risk factors for children significantly increase while protective factors that were in place when the marriage was intact are diminished. I don’t think this is new news for any of us, but Wallerstein was able to get behind the eyes of the children in this study and reveal how that reality impacts and shapes children of divorce. She (Wallerstein) does not draw from this conclusion that divorce should never happen.  The author does conclude that we’ve just not been aware of the impact divorce has on children from the child’s perspective until now.  Maybe now, we can begin thinking more about divorce from the perspective of not just what works for the parents, but what works for the children throughout all their developmental levels. Wallerstein goes on to mention that the debilitating impact of divorce is often not evident until children reach adulthood and begin to enter into relationships and marriages of their own.  In other words, divorce has lasting effects on children, no matter how good things appear on the outside. (Personally, I suspect most of us parents know this. We just feel uncertain as to how to deal with this reality.)  These are just a few of the highlights I’ve gleaned and tried to summarize, and which were significant to me as I devoured her over 330 page book.  Oh, and the book does include specifics about the research design and the statistical results of study for those who are interested.

As for me, it was impossible for me to read this book casually without some serious personal introspection.  I am, after all, the mother of four children, all of whom experienced divorce, two of them when they were in elementary school and two of them when they were in preschool.  This book forced me to look at myself and my parenting since the divorce.  I’m asking myself questions because, if I’m to be the best support for my children that I can (and diminished parenting is cited by Wallerstein as one of the biggest perils of divorce), then I must take inventory. 

j0410095 Some of the questions I’m grappling with are:

  • Given that children often tend to either act out or stuff their feelings behind an ultra compliant approach, how are my children really doing?
  • Am I giving my children opportunities to express their fears and their anger (and yes they have both) about the divorce?
  • Am I taking the necessary time to parent them or am I so preoccupied with survival and keeping the family afloat that I am unintentionally neglecting their very real emotional needs.
  • Are any of my children taking on the parenting role?  What am I doing to reinforce this if it is happening?
  • How do I balance the stresses and demands of my adult world, the needs I have for adult love and companionship, with my children’s needs for protection, comfort, care and emotional connection with me…and…when do I get any rest?  (I say that last a little bit tongue in cheek, but fatigue is a big stressor and leads to illness as I’ve learned of late.)

And there are more questions lurking within. 

I’m really not depressed and I’m not beating myself up as a parent after reading this study, but, like the veil being lifted, I certainly see some areas I need to work on for my children’s sake.  I also see some areas that I’ve done well, which is reassuring. It has certainly given me a great deal to consider regarding my parenting, dating as a single parent and, if it ever arises, the idea of remarriage. We grow a little at a time all throughout our lives.  This book just revealed some areas that I think I need to check up on.

As I re-read this post, I realize I’ve only shared the down side aspects of the research.  There is much cause for hope and encouragement as the result of Wallerstein’s work.  I don’t want to be a spoiler, so you’ll just have to read it for yourself. 

Time For Change

There are whole years for which I hope I’ll never be cross-examined, for I could not give an alibi.  ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960

Another New Year’s Eve

clocks-med When you look back on 2009, what single word would you use to describe your year?  Was it a year of triumph, of joy, of wealth or misfortune?  Was it a year of stability or change?  Was it a year of loss, grief and pain?  Was it a year of peace and tranquility? Is it a  year you are glad to have lived or is the year for you already reminiscent of heartache, failure, struggle or regret?  Is there, if you were to consider it, a theme to your year?

Another year has come, tarried awhile, and is on the verge of bidding us all adieu.  This year no doubt brought its share of surprises, joys, disappointments, challenges and successes.  As I consider 2009 as a whole, I’d have to say that one word above all describes it best.  For me, that word is disappointment.  This, of all years, in my recent history, has been most disappointing for me.  Sure, there’ve been successes and some high spots and things are looking up overall. I’m incredibly grateful for all that, but just like a painting that has some red, some yellow, but is painted with mostly blue, I’d have to say 2009 was painted with mostly disappointments and false starts. 

58600_4561 I’m not going to take the time to review my resolutions from last year.  I’m certain I kept none of them though I got started on a few.  They’ll probably all be on my list again this year.  I do think, however, that I’m going to try something different this year.  Instead of developing a list of things I’d like to accomplish in my life, because there will always be those things I hope to do and most of them are ongoing items anyway, I think I will focus on becoming.  Instead of pondering what I need to do this year, I am going to stop with all the emphasis on "doing" and reflect more upon the person I should be.

Better, even, than this, I think I will just focus!  Most of my problem this year, seems to be that I got distracted from my priorities by things that were not priorities, yet I somehow convinced myself to make them so.

Some things have transpired this year, and even this week that indicate to me that I have a bit of internal work to do.  I’ve gotten distracted again.  I need to take time to reassess my own priorities.  Maybe you can relate. 

Personal Inventory

Have you ever gotten to that place in life where you were just uneasy with your life? Things are not horrible, but they aren’t quite what you know they could be?  You know you need to be doing things differently but instead you’ve been making excuses? Maybe it is that weight loss program you wanted to start but you keep making excuses as to why you can’t exercise now, or why you haven’t planned for healthy meals. Maybe you’ve continually said you wanted to do this or that but something always comes up and you are no closer to starting it than before.  What is all that about? After considering that question, have you then gotten to the place where you finally are simply tired enough of the status quo and the excuses that you say, "Enough.  It is time for me to change"?

Note, I did not say time for things to change.  I said time for me to change. 

Because it isn’t the things I am doing necessarily that are the issue and really most of the things in my life won’t change dramatically over the next year.  It is the me that I am being that is problematic.  I am my own worst enemy. I am the one who must face my own internal music, listen to the tempo, try to figure out the score, find the beat and play my life according to that.  Anything else will only end up with me, at this time next year, writing about more disappointment.

New Year’s Resolutions

Now, I must also mention, since all this sounds so dismal that 2009, for me was not a bad year. It was actually a very good year in many, many ways.  There are just areas, nagging little pockets of progress I’d hoped to have made in certain really significant areas that I did not. So with that, I will probably review my list of resolutions, but instead of writing a list that looks like this:

1.  Get in shape

2.  Learn to cook healthy meals that look good and are edible.

3. Read more. 

My list will instead focus on the kind of person I’d like to work on becoming, but this is much more difficult to pin down and specify.  It also demands some prerequisite contemplation about what my own priorities are, what my goals are, what I see my purpose in this world as being (and, no, I don’t see it as being all about me, but how am I fulfilling whatever role I believe I’m to be doing on this earth), and in what ways am I already doing whatever-it-is well and were can I refocus my thinking, adjust my time management, or change my perspective? It might very well prove to be an interesting journey, at least for me and those who are closest to me. 

I hope you will consider, if you haven’t already done so, at the start of this New Year, taking your own personal inventory and beginning your own inward journey.

Happy New Year!

The Wild Mind

Time is the coin of your life.  It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent.  Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.  ~Carl Sandburg

Don’t let time take control of your destiny. Let your destiny take control of your time. ~Ulrick Ricardo Milord