Divorce and Separation in the USA

A global perspective of the human effects of separation and divorce

Author: Fiona McAuslan

Was this my Husband’s Child?

I am not sure how it happened but I know exactly how I felt. Numb, sick, my world shattered. How did this face of a little girl on my phone take my breath away? How did it get there? What were these words underneath? I stood in the park, still holding the handle of my buggy but not aware of my own children. Only aware of this face, these words and this new knowledge “Hello, I am Jane. I am your children’s half sister”.

The funny thing is that I believed her. Why did I believe her. This was out the blue. My husband didn’t have time to have another child. I would have known….she only looked 3 years old. We were married for 8 years with two children, 6 and 4. Both older that this one, Jane. That meant the unthinkable. I wasn’t thinking. I couldn’t think. Should I think? What did I do now?

Was this Divorce? My husband had this other child and there was a mother. A woman my husband was in a relationship with. She had my number. This photo was in my phone for a reason. A text sent by a woman I didn’t know who knew me and wanted me to know. Wanted my children not to be the only ones. My husband had three children. Not two. Two families not one.

I turned the buggy towards home. No feeding the ducks today. I had questions to ask and I hoped to god that there were answers other than the ones now swirling around my mind.

My Parents Moved On, but I Didn’t.

I was 15 when my mum and dad split up. They told me that they had not been happy for years. They said that life had been difficult for them and now they knew the best thing was to live their own lives. They wanted me to be happy for them. It was not my fault, after all, but just one of those things.

The only thing was that I had been happy. Life had been fine. Mum, Dad, my two sisters and the dog. We were a family. A normal, every day sort of family. But, none of it was real for my parents. They were unhappy and wanted it to change…….but I didn’t! My family was my family. I remember. It was good and I hated my parents for taking everything away.

I looked at mum with her new partner. I was supposed to like him. At what point in all of this was I meant to care for a stranger who now was supposed to care for me, simply because he goes out with my mum? I love mum but I wish she wouldn’t keep pushing her new “happy home” on me. Was this now my happy family…no way. The more mum asks me to like this man the angrier I get. Please leave me alone. Don’t ask me to want this future. Don’t tell me that its better now. I am a cuckoo in the next.

I need time. I need my dad to talk to me about why this happened. Why I am the only one to miss how things were. I don’t know what to think. I will be off to College soon. Maybe I will concentrate on that. Who knows.

Talking to Your Children About Your Divorce

At some point during separation and divorce, your feelings can boil over. You may be feel a sense of betrayal—that your spouse failed you in some deep and important ways. You might feel, a deep sadness at the loss of a partner or at the loss of a future you had envisioned. You might be anxious even fearful about the future, trying to living arrangements, finances, and parenting plans. Often, when these feelings well up, you simply can’t hold them back. You might shout at your spouse, cry to yourself, talk with friends or family members, seek counseling.

You blame your spouse for everything you’re going through. If he or she had been more loving, responsible, truthful, then…. If your spouse had spent more time with you and with the children….If she or he hadn’t gambled away the family’s money…. If weren’t for the drinking, there would still be enough money… If he or she hadn’t had affairs and betrayed you… It’s all her/his fault.

Divorce brings up all these messy, angry, bitter feelings and you need to talk to someone about what happened, the impact on you, and your concern for the future. At these times, good friends and family members can provide a sounding board, listening to you and offering advice. As adults, they can hear your troubles without taking on responsibility for fixing them.

But, your children can’t do that. They have no power to influence what you and your spouse do any more than they had the power to influence your behavior during the marriage. Telling your children that their other parent is horrible person creates a terrible dilemma for your kids. They desperately want to make things better—for themselves and for you. They may want to do something, show you how much they care. But, what can they really do? They certainly can’t change the past, and they can’t affect the decisions that you and your spouse will make. Putting them in this position by sharing your feelings about your spouse, their mother or father, is confusing, scary and can make them feel anxious or stressed.

And, to show loyalty to you means they have to reject their other parent. You are asking them to take sides. You are asking them to limit or even abandon their relationship with the other parent. You are asking them to do this because you are bitter, anxious, frustrated and angry.

Your feelings for the other parent have no place in a conversation with your children. You should NEVER tell them why you and your spouse are divorcing—that’s got nothing to do with them. They were not involved, and they sure can’t fix anything. So, talking with them about conflict with your spouse is just selfish. And, it’s hurting your kids.

This is what your children need to hear:
– We are not happy together anymore and have decided to live apart.
– The separation is permanent.
– We are still your mom and dad and will take care of you.
– What happened between us is not your fault.
– Nothing will ever change the fact that we both love you.
– We are still your parents and will decide a future plan for our family.
– You can tell us what you think and make suggestions, but your dad/mom and I will make the decisions about the future for our family.

What’s it Like for the Children

As mediators, we listen to parents discuss their children and encourage them to collaborate as parents. It is easy to  wonder what the children are like. What do they hope for? How do they see their future? Do they know how much their parents love them, despite of all that is going on? When parents each argue about who loves the kids more, or who understands them more, its easy to wonder what would the children’s take on this be?

Occasionally we mediators meet the children and it is always a pleasure. Invariably, children ask how their parents are. They want to know that they are all right. Is dad lonely? Is mummy going to be okay? Children may be in the middle of the hurt and anger of the divorce but they still love their parents. They want them both to be alright.

Kids want to get on with their lives. They want to be the subject of their own lives and not the objects of the divorce. They talk about school, their friends and what they like doing. They are funny and sad, busy and lively. All the things kids should be…..yet, their world is changing. Life will never be quite the same. They will be navigating between the two people they love most in the world.

So much of divorce is about the past, the end of the relationship, but when you meet the children you see the future. You see the best reason for finding a way forward.

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