Divorce and Children – Answering Kids’ Common Questions

When their parents are getting divorced children will have a whole range of emotions. They might feel bewildered, sad, angry and afraid. Teenagers can be very impacted by their parents splitting up but they have one thing in their favour. They are old enough to have the understanding and the language skill to ask the important questions about how their lives are going to be affected? This is assuming they want to talk and ask questions. In reality they could withdraw and seek out the company of their friends more while their parents work out the details of the new living arrangements.

But what about younger children? They might not fully understand how the new living arrangements will affect them and may have lots of concerns, even if things have been explained to them by both parents.

Questions Children Ask Divorcing Parents

Some of the common questions children might ask when their parents are divorcing are the following:

  • Is daddy still going to be my daddy? They might be very afraid at the beginning that the parent who moves out, often the dad if kids are young, may not be their parent any longer. There may be a fantasy that once he moves out he is no longer their dad as they can only associate dad with someone who lives at home. Is he going to forget me/us?
  • Will he still play soccer with me, take me to the beach, come to school events? The children could be very attached to the parent who is leaving and may fear that they will no longer be involved in their lives as they are still grappling with what the idea of divorce really means
  • Will they still love me, will they forget about me? Younger children could believe the notion of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. There could be real worry about being abandoned
  • Can I go and visit daddy at his new place, can I sleep over and take Woofy the dog too?
  • Mum when we go and visit daddy are you going to come too?
  • Are we still going to see Nan and Pop? These would be the parents of the party that has moved out.

These would most likely be questions from children at primary school age. These might get asked in the beginning stages even if things have been explained to them. They might need to hear the explanations several times, together with lots of reassurance, before they feel more comfortable about what is happening in their young world.

If parents are sensitive to their children’s needs at this time then their initial fears should subside.

However further down the line different kinds of questions may become important. Here I am referring to when the divorce has taken place and the new living arrangements and parenting plans are in place. Often at this time it is probable that either one or both parents may enter into new relationships. While this is healthy and appropriate, if sufficient time has passed since the separation, this scenario beings about it’s own set of issues. Here younger children might find it a bit easier to meet new partners and possibly their children. If this is done gradually and everyone gets on it could even be fun, new play mates. Plus seeing their parent happy in the new relationship which is always good for kids.

Parental Divorce and Teenagers

However teenagers and older children may find this much harder. While they might not object to a parent having a new love interest, they might also want to have nothing to do with them. They might have no desire to meet them for quite some time and certainly do not want to meet the new partners’ children. Adolescents and young adults are busy attending to their own love lives and often prefer to have little information about new partners on the scene. Parents need to respect this without any pressure to ‘do the right thing’ or be ‘polite’.

I know of many people with kids in their twenties who wait at least a year or more before thinking about introducing new partners to their children.

Communication is the Key

Fundamentally children of all ages will worry about some aspects of their parent’s divorce and how it will affect them. As with most sensitive topics in relationships, communication is the key. Let your children tell you what they think, allow them their anger if necessary and be as emotionally available as you can.

I do not necessarily believe that children of divorcing parents need to go for psychotherapy unless the situation has escalated out of control. If the approaches described above have not happened in any shape or form, then you will have traumatised children who will very likely need therapy. By this stage you might have a child who has been quite damaged so professional help is a must.

To avoid causing pain to your kids try to be as kind and forgiving to yourself as you can. This was not part of your grand plan when you got married. The more you are able to deal rationally with this enormous change, the more you you will be able to support your kids through to the other side, peace, security and loving, responsible co-parenting.

When Sibling Rivalry Turns Into Adult Envy

Sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy are difficult issues to deal with for parents. To some degree these situations are normal and, with sensitivity, can be managed with siblings growing out of these unhelpful emotions. It becomes far more of a problem if this continues and manifests later on into serious adult envy.

If you are reading this then maybe you feel you are in this unhappy situation. Sibling envy between adults has the potential to disrupt the entire family, can spill over into extended family (if the extended family are close) and can adversely affect the adult siblings’ own nuclear families.

This scenario is one that is often played out in movies, TV series and novels. Often the final outcomes, in the story, can be devastating. One even sees this played out in real life in the media.

Example of Sibling Rivalry Turned to Adult Envy

The best way to chart the journey from sibling rivalry to sibling jealousy to adult envy is by way of a case example. This is an entirely fictitious story but I am sure that certain elements of the story might resonate with my readers.

Bill and Pat got married in their twenties. They had been together since their last year of high school. They wanted to marry young and have children young. They believed they could manage this as they had supportive parents on both sides who lived close by and could assist with the babies.

Bill had trained as a carpenter and was working for a company that made beautiful bedroom furniture out of pine wood. It had a ‘cottagey feel’ to it and was selling really well in the retail stores. Bill loved his work and took great pride in his craftsmanship. His ultimate dream was to open up his own business producing a similar kind of furniture, but to expand to include more than just pieces for the bedroom. He dearly wished for a son who could hopefully join him in this future business one day.

Pat had an admin background but had decided that once she had children she wanted to be a stay at home mum and take care of her family. Bill wanted only two children but Pat was open to the idea of a third.

They were both delighted when Pat gave birth to a healthy baby boy, John, two years after they got married. Bill was ‘over the moon’. He now had his son who would one day be his business partner!

Less than two years later Pat gave birth to another baby boy, Peter. She was delighted, but Bill was secretly disappointed. He really wanted a girl this time. What is starting to emerge thus far is that Bill had very fixed ideas about the way their lives were to be lived. He was in fact quite controlling and Pat preferred to keep the peace and agree with him in order to avoid conflict.

Bill showed a lot less interest in Peter. By now John was a toddler and very active. Bill spent a lot of his free time playing with him and showing him things in his workshop at home. Pat was left to look after Peter on her own and often felt lonely. 

As the boys grew up this pattern continued. The family did not spend a lot of time together, all four of them. Rather the pattern of Bill and John vs Pat and Peter continued as the boys went through school. John never missed out on love from his mother and consequently was a confident and social child and adolescent. He achieved good grades at school and by the time he finished high school he was looking forward to training as a carpenter, just like Dad.

Peter, on the other hand, had a difficult time at school. He was shy, did not play sport and did not do as well as his brother academically. He was very much a loner and Pat was continually worrying about him. He spent hours alone in his room reading or playing computer games. Also and, most significant, more and more he started to resent his brother. He was jealous and envious of John and very resentful of all the attention John received from Dad.

During Peter’s high school years he spent a lot of time with the school counsellor and by the time he finished school he was on anti-depressant medication. Pat was consumed with worry and by this stage the marital relationship had deteriorated badly.

Where was Bill at this point? Very busy setting up his new business and ready to realise his dream. He was already receiving orders for his fine furniture and was eagerly waiting for the time when his eldest and favourite son would join him in the exciting venture. By now his relationship with Peter was very strained. He was always criticising him about being lazy and not showing any drive to succeed at anything.

So, the years went by and the business made a great success. John got married and too had two sons, so more boys for the business according to Bill. Meantime Peter was not thriving. He was still living at home, barely spoke to his father and felt a strong hatred for his eldest brother. He felt there was something wrong with him and the same feelings of sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy were still there from childhood. Pat was miserable too and the marriage was virtually non-existent in spite of them living in the same house. John lived with his wife and family close by.

One night something in Peter snapped. He had had enough. He was tired of suffering, he was tired of being consumed by hatred and envy. In the early hours of the morning when everyone was asleep, he doused the workshop, which housed his father’s entire business, with petrol and set it alight. Being a wood business it burned very quickly and was destroyed. Before he could even see the extent of the damage, he took all his medication from all the years of being at doctors, ran to remote area and took his own life.

This story illustrates the fact that issues that may seem unimportant with siblings can escalate and develop into serious problems in later life. Sometimes problems that do not have simple or, in fact, any solutions. The only option is to sever all contact with the adult siblings and their families. This is more common than many would imagine. Both in my professional and personal experience I have met many many people who do not speak to any members of their immediate family. The different parties involved are scattered all over the country. There is resentment and often hatred in these troubled families and cousins never get to know each other or share special occasions.

Then when the parents die, the fangs often come out in how the estate is distributed. The only winners here are the lawyers.

Equally Love Your Children

The message again is very simple. Love each and every one of your children equally, find value in each where ever you can. Before deciding to have children be sure that yours is a relationship that is able to make the necessary adjustments and sacrifices that are part and parcel of child rearing.

And, lastly, your child’s life does not belong to you. Let them decide the course they want to take and give encouragement and affirmation as often as possible. Anything else is not good enough parenting.

Sibling Rivalry, Why It Happens?

Sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy is to some degree normal and healthy. Learning to co-exist with siblings can teach children some valuable lessons about relationships in the greater world outside of the home.

Many parents will report that when the second baby came along there was an increase in negative behaviour from the first child. If this is well managed by the parents, ie that the older child gets some special attention, as well as the consistent attention they were used to, the situation will often calm down after a couple of months.

Sibling rivalry and jealousy becomes a problem when it shows itself at a later stage, either in primary or high school. If this is not addressed adequately at this point, it could escalate and lead to more serious problems later in life with one or all siblings.

Showing More Attention To One Child

There can be many reasons why siblings will compete against each other to a degree which is problematic. The first thought that comes to mind is that sometimes one or both parents overtly show more attention to one child. They might not even realise they are doing this. This could be because the child is a high achiever in one area which results in lots of affirmation from parents. Also, this situation could lead to more time being spent with this child, especially if parents have to transport them to the activity, eg a certain sport.

The other child or children then get less of the parents time but maybe also less attention. It is very hard when one sibling is talented and the rest are somewhat average. It becomes a real challenge for parents to find value in each child and be consistent in affirming this. Every kid is good at something, our job as parents is to value this, even if the skill is something less obvious.

Another scenario that can cause jealousy and resentment is when there is a child with special needs in the family. They may have a chronic illness or some other disability so naturally a greater proportion of parental time is taken up with this child. The healthy children, who might in fact be thriving, can feel very jealous and angry towards the special child. This can often be a very real and difficult situation in a family.

Give Each Child What They Uniquely Need

The message here is that parents need to be aware of the differing needs of their children and try to ensure giving each child what they uniquely need. So sometimes different rules and norms for different children in a family are appropriate. Just like clients in a psychotherapy practice, each child needs something different.

It is parents who elect to bring children into their world and it is the parents who are responsible for the emotional tone in the home. If the family is a relatively functional one, and the parents present as a united front, you will most likely find less rivalry and jealousy. If the parent’s relationship is volatile then it is really hard to find the emotional space to consider the effects on the children or to give each child the attention they deserve.

Ask For Help

So what is the answer if sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy is destroying harmony in the home? Simply, ask for help! Sometimes it can be as easy as approaching the school counsellor. If this is not an option you might need to seek help privately.

At Zetland Psychotherapy this issue would be thoroughly assessed in order to understand the different elements of the problem. This could involve sessions with the parents, maybe separate sessions with the children or perhaps family therapy where the whole family attends the session.

It is important to try to address these issues as soon as possible. To grow up alienated from your siblings is to miss out on the wonderful relationships that become part of your extended family in adulthood.  Ideally families should try to remain connected as children grow up and parents age. The joy of feeling part of a loving and supportive family can never be over rated. Healthy families form the cornerstone of a healthy society.