“Divorce can be one of the most traumatic experiences a child will have… Ask yourself, what do you want your child to be able to say about your divorce five years from now?”
As an instructor of positive coParenting classes, I use this question to challenge parents to be mindful of how their words and actions will impact their children. The reality is that there will come time when your kids are reflecting back on your divorce, remembering some of the things they heard you say and some of the things they saw you do.
In one of my classes, Lindsey* shared that her parents had separated when she was nine. She was the middle child of three with both her older and younger siblings being boys. She didn’t recall ever seeing her parents fight, in fact there was no interaction between them. “I don’t remember us really doing anything together in the house as a family. We didn’t eat or watch TV together. It was like there was me, my mom and brothers and, then there was my dad.”
One evening, Lindsey’s parents sat her and her brothers down to explain that they were going to be divorcing and all the changes that would be taking place. “I guess I should have known something was wrong, because we never sat at the table together.” They told Lindsey, she’d stay at her school, would continue in dance class and visit with grandma after church. It was never mentioned, and Lindsey never thought to ask, where she’d live. “I guess I really didn’t understand what divorce meant, because I thought we’d still live together.”
When she came home from school two days later, there was a moving truck in front of the house. Lindsey’s mom and dad were in the garage arguing about whether or not the life-size Barbie dollhouse would go. “That’s how I found out I was moving,” Lindsey said.
Once the truck was loaded, Lindsey, her mom and brothers got in car and drove off, leaving both her dollhouse and her dad behind. Her father never came out of the house.
Every day, Lindsey would ask her mom when they would be going home to see her dad. Every day for a week the answer was “when your dad calls.” About two weeks after the move, Lindsey’s dad called and asked to see the children the following weekend. “I literally counted the hours,” Lindsey told the class.
After school on Friday, Lindsey’s mom drove them to see her dad. “We pulled up to the house, I jumped onto the porch, opened the door and walked in. My dad seemed startled to see me walk through the door. Then he said, “You don’t live here anymore, so now you’re gonna have to knock.”
With that one comment, Lindsey’s father created for her an “I Remember When” moment. This is an experience she’ll remember in detail and that will stay with her forever. Not only will she remember every detail about what happened, but – most importantly – she’ll always remember exactly how she felt when she heard her dad say those words.
“That single comment has stayed with me forever… it’s like a tune I can’t get outta my head. Every time I think about it, I get that sick feeling in my stomach, just like I felt when he said the words.”
Divorce brings about a lot of changes. As you move on through the process of reconfiguring your child’s life, keep in mind that with every experience, every comment – you are creating your child’s “I remember when” memories… the stories they will remember forever.
At this time – more than ever – it’s important to…
- Choose your words wisely, especially when referring to your child’s other parent, their friends and family
- Watch your tone and your mannerism – your child isn’t just paying attention to what you say, but how you say it
- Be prepared to fix what you break – if you are careless with your words or non-verbals… address it with your child and apologize for how it made them feel.
Always remember, your child may never forget the words you spoke that hurt them. Never forget, your child will always remember the words you spoke that healed them.
Author Denise Banks-Wilson is an experienced divorce educator and family mediator with over ten years experience helping parents to navigate their children across the emotional minefield of divorce. As lead educator with the Parent Place of Springfield, she designed the Positive coParenting curricula for the court mandated parenting class and continues to serve as lead facilitator. Over 4,000 parents have attended her class since 2006. Denise received her certificate in divorce and family mediation from Northwestern University and has conducted over 250 mediations since 2012. She is the owner of Banks Mediation, LLC, a divorce and family mediation firm located in Maryville, Illinois. Denise is a member of the Association for Conflict Resolution, the Academy of Professional Family Mediators and currently serves as Treasurer for the Mediation Council of Illinois. http://www.banksmediation.com