Children, young children as well as older ones, typically engage in magical thinking about getting their divorced parents back together. Bereavement counselors explain that a child's grief often extends into adulthood. There have been countless longitudinal studies about how children of divorce cope long after their parents' split. Even those who may see their parents as better off living apart may cling to that glimmer of hope the nuclear family will be whole again.
A child who is consumed with guilt that she or he may have been the cause of the break-up will be more inclined to fix what's broken. Joan had been a tough teenager. Her parents ended their marriage when she was sixteen. She was convinced her parents still loved one another. When she learned her mother had breast cancer, Joan called her father and encouraged him to take the initiative - find doctors and research treatments. Her ploy worked. With Dad back on the scene, her anxious and depressed mother fell back into the old pattern of relying on her former husband even though she was in a committed relationship. Ultimately, Joan's parents got back together and the boyfriend was cast aside.
Of course, while there are those like Joan who are ecstatic because Mom or Dad will finally get it right, there are all those kids who will be jealous, uneasy, and guardedly optimistic about remarriage. And who can blame them if they've lived with disaster? The last thing in the world they'd want is a re-match.
Children who assume responsibility for the parent they perceive as the victim may fall into the role of match-maker. One of my students in my composition class outlined her ambition to line up dates for her recently divorced dad. "My mother no longer lives with us," she noted. "My dad is really terrific. He works all day and comes home and takes care of us kids. I would like my father to meet a really nice woman. He deserves the best after the way my mother treated him." (When she asked if I knew anyone, I was sorely tempted to come up with candidates.)
Kids want what's best for their parents, especially when they see how lonely they are. I've known single-again women who've been badgered to start dating again. One friend's daughter created and posted her profile on an online dating site, and, for months, without her knowledge, conducted a marketing campaign!
And, in closing, I love the story told to me by one of the grandmothers I interviewed for my book who praised her ten-year-old grandson for her daughter's new-found happiness.
I knew Doris was struggling whether or not to marry Cliff. It was my grandson who pushed her into finally saying yes. Gregory wanted to be like all the other kids. He desperately wanted a father who stuck around. (His own dad was a deadbeat he rarely if ever saw or heard from.) I'll never forget the day my grandson called and yelled, 'Grandma, Guess what? We're getting married.' I was so happy for my grandson. I burst into tears. All along, Gregory and Cliff had been cooking up the proposal even if it was Cliff who got down on his knees.
It's good to remember that it's not only the single-again Mom or Dad who is looking for happiness; so are the children of divorce. They may be so eager they are willing to play match-maker or marriage-fixer.