Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

The Effects Of Divorce On Children

January 2009 - 29

I would NEVER, EVER, do anything to harm my daughters.

I realize that judgment will always reign over understanding when it comes to dealing with a decision on filing for divorce.  Especially when children are involved.  And although the ages of any child of a divorcing family may vary in their response, the hurt the child experiences is the same.

One of the first things I was taught in church was the 10 Commandments, one of which, “love mother and father.”  And the great thing that is supposed to happen, regardless of a commandment, is receiving a child’s never-ending love, whether it is a single parent situation, two parent situation, or multiple parents.

But there are two instances of comments that upset me, one which shows ignorance, and the other, selfishness.

The first comment, “haven’t they been through enough already?”  This question is usually directed at the fact that my daughters are adopted.  Regardless of domestic or international adoption, adopted children definitely have had to experience the loss of their parents, or perhaps the break up of their family.  That is true.  And only time will tell in their future, if their mother and I provide them with enough as they grow older, to understand their lives.  Of course, add in all the other drama that has existed in our household with all the Emergency Room visits I have had, and the children have witnessed, our daughters have been through a lot.  But one thing is certain, in spite of the divorce situation, I love them.  Their mother loves them.  And both daughters love us unconditionally.  Therefore, it is going to be how my estranged wife and I deal with the divorce, and the expectations, that will determine if that love continues to be unconditional or not.

The second comment, “you should have tried harder.”  We kept the problems of our marriage inside our home.  And inside our home, were only the four of us.  But as the problems grew, so did the tension, the alienation, unfavorable reactions, and eventually resentment.  The environment that was developing would have been awful enough for a childless marriage to endure, but to have two small children witness the daily struggles and tension between their parents, was unfair enough to subject them to.  But to stay together with a spouse, just because a friend just “can’t imagine” us getting divorced made no sense, and definitely was not in the best interest of the children.

We tried counseling on at least two occasions, fairly long term.  But the counseling was not enough just dealing with healing us as a couple, but unable to deal with personal baggage and compounding issues as well.  We would confide in family and a couple of mutual friends, but no one would seem to have a solution.  But the tension became more of an issue when I was confronted one evening by my oldest daughter, following a berating by their mother, “Daddy, why does Mommy yell at you so much?,” that then I realized just how bad the environment was affecting our daughters.

Please understand, we had more than relationship issues.  Those were only an effect of the root cause, and number one reason why couples get divorced, money.  But the last year of our “marriage”, and hard for me to believe, was the most difficult struggle we faced to endure, and over the prior seven years, we had been through a lot.  There just did not seem any chance to get ourselves to do what was necessary to correct our issues.

That environment was hard enough on our children to be exposed to.  And we did our best to protect them from the issues we faced.  But we both knew it was not enough.

Over the next ten months following my filing for divorce, we both followed our attorneys’ advice, to remain inside the home, so that neither of us could accuse the other parent of abandoning their children.  Seems like a silly thing for either of us to accuse each other as we clearly love our daughters, just not each other any more.  Yet the seed of distrust had been planted, and so, just as in the movie “War Of The Roses,” we remained living in the house with each other.  I made recommendations to my estranged wife as to alternatives, that would not increase our expenses, and in spite of giving my word not to pursue abandonment, we both dug our heals in, and were going to stay in the house together, until the divorce was resolved.

Now for those who say, “we should have tried harder,” that time period would have been great to attempt that.  But instead, what happened only made things worse.  Interference by those outside the home were making it impossible for any reconciliation by the constant harassment and threats, all under the guise of “free speech.”  But clearly the intent was to make sure we did not save our marriage.  Inside the house, that behavior only made things more difficult.  Alienation is one thing, but isolation is another.  For nearly ten months, I slept in a spare room, actually, I stayed there, when I was not at work, or out and about on business.  I showered at work, and I rarely ate in the home.  I allowed their mother to roam freely around the house without any interference or confrontation, while I remained confined in this room.  This is what the children saw day after day.  There was no improvement in the relationship between she and I.  It only got worse.

You tell me, how much harder should we have tried?  How much more should the children have endured?

Today, we are both dating.  I cannot speak for my estranged wife, but I know that I have no intention of ever getting married again.  But the important thing, is that our children like both individuals we are now involved with.  And this is very important.  Because they are witnessing their parents being happy again.  This is something that they have not seen in a long time.  Sure, we are not happy with each other, but around our children, we are happy again.

There is an expression, “husbands and wives get divorced, not children from parents.”  And I have always emphasized that no matter what happens between a husband and a wife, they will forever have the responsibility of co-parenting their children, forever.  And for many, it is easier said than done.  And I have seen some of the biggest parental rivalries co-exist in some of the most dire circumstances that give me hope that some day, some how, common sense and  reason will allow and nurture the co-parenting roles.

There are still some very difficult days ahead as the divorce process continues.  And each day, our daughters grow older, and more aware of what is happening.  But since the day that we have been officially separated, we have both been in control of ourselves for what our daughters see and hear about the divorce itself.  From my end, I have shown the girls that they still have both their Mother and Father.  I have shown them that they have a home with their Mother, and a home with me.  I have done what I can to build the same foundation with them, as when I adopted them.  They will never hear me speak ill of their Mother, no matter what comes from the other side at me.

Every day is a struggle to move forward, but I can no longer waste energy on whether the situation is “fair” or “tried harder.”  Both of us, as parents are trying to move forward.  For myself, that means continuing to find a way to support my children as soon as that opportunity arises.  I have promised my daughters, that I will make things better for them.  I know what it takes to get through a difficult situation having survived cancer, a near fatal heart episode, and two other near fatalities.  One thing is for certain, I do not give up.  I do not know how.

I love my daughters, and they love me, and no one, NO ONE can ever take that away from me.

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