My son describes his life immediately prior to and after the divorce as walking on a narrow bridge across the sea. The tides -- his parents' moods, needs, and desires, and the tensions and conflicts between them -- threatened to pull him down and drown him on either side. My daughter describes it as being put on trial in a foreign country where she knew neither the laws nor the language. Both children needed to become exquisitely aware of what each of their parents was feeling, how each of us would react to things said or done, in order to protect themselves from feeling emotionally swamped or from being barred from a desired activity, such as guitar lessons or a trip to the beach. As a result, they became highly intuitive observers of others' emotions and superb diplomats, able to soothe the most fraught situations.
...In 1988, Joseph Guttmann conducted a study demonstrating that when teachers and counselors are told that the child they are watching on videotape is from a divorced family, they see the child as having significant problems. If they are told that the child comes from a traditional home, they find the same behavior by the same child unproblematic. Children on the receiving end of this bias end up being treated by parents, teachers, and others as "problem children," when in fact they are perfectly normal. If we believe that children are damaged, we force them to respond -- often in negative ways -- to this depiction of themselves.
...When businessmen travel, they receive guides to the basic rules of behavior in each culture they visit. Children do not. They must figure it out themselves, and frequently the adults in their lives deny that such a problem even exists.
...Many post–divorce families have been paralyzed by parents' negative assumptions about divorce and their feelings of guilt. It is not that they are wrong to believe that divorce has been a painful experience: Divorce is difficult for most, if not all, children. The problem is that these parents sometimes forget what their children need. For in many ways, children in divorced families need the same things as children in every other kind of family: love, structure, consistent and reasonable boundaries, and for their parents to believe that they are not damaged individuals.
Earlier this week, I left a comment at Boundless urging a remembrance that we serve a God of redemption. There are two sides to this coin. On the one side, we need people who approach divorce cavalierly to understand that this is going to affect any children involved, that there is no way to divorce "right" so that children escape unscathed. On the other side, we need people who see us as hopeless because of our parents' divorce to realize that we are in fact not hopeless, that we are individuals who have experienced a difficult situation. Some of us will flounder, some of us will triumph. Yes, there is a hurdle, but it is not insurmountable.
I'm reminded of Paul's words in the Bible: "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (2 Cor 4:8-9)