In the United States, half of all marriages end in divorce. Most first-time divorces occur when couples are in their 30s. This means that a lot of children are caught in the crossfire when their parents divorce. That is, in fact, why I chose the title, Caught in the Crossfire: Children of Divorce, for the book I wrote in 1986. In 1992, the divorce rate was still 50% and the book was retitled, Children of Divorce: Helping Kids When Their Parents are Apart, and given a new cover. Today, the divorce rate is still 50% and the book is still in print, presumably because so many children are still being impacted by the divorce of their parents.
When I began to explore the topic of children and divorce, I decided to ask the experts—the kids themselves—how they had been affected by their parents’ divorce. I learned a lot from viewing parental breakup through their eyes:
“What upsets me most about my parents’ divorce is the hurt that you get down deep.” ~ Candace, age 8
“I think that divorce is terrible and that parents shouldn’t be able to do it.” ~ Ben, age 10
“I wish my mother would understand that it’s hard on us kids and not just her.” ~ Anna, age 17
“I think that divorce is the most emotionally painful situation a child can go through. I will never put my kids through a divorce if I can help it.” ~ Carol, teenager, age unknown
When parents are divorcing, they are in the midst of their own crisis, which makes it harder for them to parent their children who are in crisis, too. So I wrote Children of Divorce, not for divorcing parents, but for those outside the family who want to reach out to children whose parents are divorcing: neighbors, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, Sunday school teachers, nannies, etc. My goal was to help these helpers understand what kids go through when parents divorce. This varies by age, and there are separate chapters for babies and toddlers, preschoolers, five-to-eight-year-olds, preteens, and teens. The remaining chapters deal with children’s academic, spiritual, and relationship struggles, and what adults outside the family can do to help.
The book was a labor of love from start to finish. I felt the pain of both the parents and the kids, and sometimes their stories brought tears to my eyes while I sat at my writing desk. If there was one thing I was grateful for, and entirely certain of, it was that my child would never be one of those kids, the children of divorce I was writing about.
How wrong I was.
Just a few years later, incredibly, ironically, the unthinkable happened. Divorce blindsided me; I never saw it coming. In its wake, I was emotionally devastated and inconsolable. Life as I knew it was going through a shredder, and I had a precious little boy to take care of, a child who was now one of those kids. Both my son and I needed time to grieve and regain our balance. One good thing about having written a book about children and divorce was that I knew some of the “first aid” that needed to be administered. I remembered that…
* Children need assurance that divorce is not their fault. It is important to tell them, “Divorce is a grownup problem and only grownups can cause it.”
* Children need to know that they still are, and will always be, dearly loved by both parents.
* After divorce, to spare children additional stress, the rule of thumb is: keep as much as possible the same for as long as possible.
I wrote Children of Divorce with great empathy and a sincere desire to help kids weather the storm of parental divorce. But I wrote it, of course, from the perspective of a journalist, not a mom who had held the hand of a child experiencing the breakup of his or her family. Now, years later, people sometimes ask me if I would write a different book today, in hindsight. The answer, of course, is “Yes.” Will I ever write that book? Probably not. My heart tells me that it’s best to view this now very personal topic only in the rearview mirror of my life.