As a divorce researcher, it’s my belief that children of divorce are entitled to certain rights. That’s not to say that children raised in intact families don’t have rights – it’s just that I believe children of divorce deserve special consideration. Divorce is a game changer in a child’s life and brings all kinds of challenges including psychological, physical, financial, and emotional that can linger into adulthood if not kept in check.
In fact, my research on children of divorce spans a few decades and draws on the interviews of hundreds of adult children of divorce. Truth be told, I’m impressed with the wisdom of participants in my studies who are struggling to understand the impact of divorce on their lives so they won’t be as likely to repeat the past.
By the way, I’m not advocating that children of divorce adopt a victim mentality. I believe that all individuals are responsible for their own behavior and happiness. However, children of divorce often live for many years in situations where they are exposed to far too much conflict, stress, and loss. They often navigate living in the two worlds of divorced parents; and often adjust to living with stepparents and stepsiblings soon after their parents split up.
10 Rights of Children of Divorce:
- The right to be protected from their parents’ anger toward their other parent. They deserve a life that is free from listening to their parents bad-mouth each other. Children of divorce don’t want to hear about the ways their parent(s) misbehaved, were unfaithful, or initiated the divorce. Children of divorce, of all ages, may experience guilt feelings if they aren’t able to love and be close to both of their parents. Elizabeth Marquardt cautions us that some children of divorce grow up too fast and become “little adults”.
- The right to know and be told explicitly that their parents’ divorce was not their fault. They could not have prevented it, and there is nothing they can do to” fix it.”
- The right to honesty and integrity. Even lying to them about small things can breed mistrust so do not lie or deceive your child in any way. However, maintain good boundaries and be careful not to share too much information about your divorce or factors leading up to it.
- The right to be kept informed about important schedule changes that impact their life and to have a say in them whenever possible. After divorce, children adjust better if they have a fairly predictable schedule that they can count on.
- The right to love and be loved by both of his/her parents and stepparents without feeling the quilt or disapproval of either of their parents. For instance, if he/she decides to show open affection to a stepparent, they don’t deserve to feel bad about this and should be able to choose who they show affection towards or avoid contact with.
- The right to express their feelings (both positive and negative); and to have parents who listen and validate them. There are a lot of emotions associated with dealing with parental divorce and children need to feel that their parents can provide a safe harbor for them to be themselves and express a wide range of emotional reactions which may come and go into adulthood.
- The right to not have to choose one parent over another. With few exceptions, children of divorce are prone to experiencing divided loyalties. This means they believe that if they are close to one parent, they are being disloyal to another. As a result, it’s important for parents to encourage him/her to spend time with the other parent and to show some enthusiasm for their activities and relationship with them.
- The right to have some say about what parent they spend time with without worrying about offending the other parent. Children of divorce should never be made to feel guilty about who they spend time with. As a parent, you need to understand that when a child expresses love or affection for their other parent, it doesn’t diminish their love for you.
- The right to spend time with their friends even if it interferes with the parenting plan. As I said earlier, children are not “little adults’ and they benefit from social time with peers to foster their social and emotional development. As a result, parents need to encourage their kids to have plenty of downtime and outings with peers – even if it interferes with their time with one or both of their parents.
- The right to be a kid and to enjoy his/her status as such! Divorce expert Rosalind Sedacca writes, “Let them be kids. Never burden them with adult responsibilities or communication. Seek out other families who have experienced divorce as part of a new network. This can provide support and new friends for you as well as your children.”
Although divorce affects a child’s world in impactful ways, there are many things that parents can do – individually and collectively – to help them navigate this major change in their life in positive and healthy ways. For instance, children of all ages sense when their parents are collaborating and this will mean the world to them if you can pull this off most of the time. Being raised by cooperative co-parents will help kids feel calmer and to have fewer divided loyalties. Never bad-mouth your ex in front of your children or make disparaging comments about them such as “he never pays child support on time,” or “what was she thinking marrying someone who is ten years younger than them.”
After divorce, it’s your responsibility to stop the blame game and recognize that divorce forever pits children (even as adults) between their parents’ two disparate worlds. Children of divorce experience many emotions such as sadness and fear that can be nurtured and healed by parents making an effort to focus on the child’s emotions. It takes practice and skill to encourage resilience in your children by adopting a forgiving mindset as well as faith and optimism for the future.
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