Divorce, Children, and the altered sense of Being…

I recently read a great book by Andrew Root titled The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as Loss of Being.

The subtitle pretty much tells it all and the “all” I am referring to is the crux of the issue with divorce and children- divorce is an ontological issue for a child.

Divorce, no matter how “good” it is, no matter how “well” it is handled, and no matter how much “happier” the parents are now, ends up affecting the ontological understanding, the sense of Being, of the child.

Although divorces can be handled “well” in regards to such things as  custody arrangements and how the parents get along, the fact remains that a portion of the child’s sense of self, as defined by place and position within the family of origin, is lost.

The child is now confronted with creating a different sense of self that must be constructed from the ending of the primary arrangement that originally created the child (union of mother and father).  The forging of new self in relation to place and position within the family is not to be taken lightly.

For the child, the issue is not whether the parents still love him or her.   The child may actually be quite secure in this.  The issue is much greater.  The issue becomes “Who am I?” as the child negotiates separation in the most physical and psychological forms- two homes, perhaps two sets of siblings, two ways of “being” in these two environments, two sets of expectations.

Reassurances of love and security do not rectify this sense of loss in the child.  What does help is the acknowledgment of this loss and the parallel confusion with self and belonging. When these are not addressed, the child is placed in  a position which far exceeds his or her ability to simply “be and belong”.

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2 thoughts on “Divorce, Children, and the altered sense of Being…

  1. Although I have not heard it put quite so succinctly before, I think that all parents hover around this concept, although they may never really see it and understand so clearly as you have laid it out here. To me, this sounds like the root of where this concept of “divorced-parent-guilty-syndrome” orginates from. Parents sense this loss, but can’t define it; they feel guilty and become lenient and accepting of the normally non-acceptable behavior because they attribute it to the loss they can sense which further fuels the guilt. (and the cycle continues)

    In my particular situation, where the children are now able to live with both divorced parents under one roof and regain some of what was lost, we have seen some recovery and their ability to recover their “place” and therefore their sense of self. It is still complicated by my position in the family and the addition of a half brother on their mother’s side. These also put a strain on their sense of self and place within the family structure because that family structure is not exactly what it was pre-divorce thanks the presence of yours truly and their new little brother. Interestingly enough, any child experiencing a new family addition or the inclusion of extended family (grandparents, etc.) that impacts the family structure would likely experience something similar; especially with many families pulling together in the face of tough economic times.

    Fascinating post!!

    • I really enjoyed your response. I had not thought that parental guilt may be preventing the acknowledgment of loss. I remember speaking to my husband about a book on stepparenting and how everyone in the situation had some grief to deal with. He told me that that was a “depressing” way to look at it. Depressing, perhaps, but true. I love how you point out that any change in living environment can affect a child’s sense of self. It is not only divorce, and we need to remember that and help children within this dynamic. Thanks again!

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