I've just come across a new book, Broken Circle: Children of Divorce and Separation. It's a product of The Broken Circle project, which gives voice to young adults talking about how their parents' divorce or separation impacted their lives -- then and now. In the words of its creator and photographer Karen Klein, "It offers a powerful, succinct testament as to how young people navigate these complex emotional seas." Karen discovered that "this population has poignant, often painful and illuminating observations to share: personal life experience that may help others."
This book has value for divorcing and divorced parents as well as children of divorce. It gives them content to contemplate and discuss with other family members as well as divorce professionals. It can open doors to new insights, observations and the unraveling of feelings often left dormant or unexpressed.
However, its value does not stop there. The Broken Circle book should be in the office of every attorney, mediator, divorce coach, therapist, educator and clergy who serves the divorcing or divorced population. I encourage them to share these stories, use impactful quotes from the text, and invite clients to look into the eyes of the participating young adults captured so well on these pages. By using this book as a resource, divorce professionals can more quickly and powerfully enlighten and inform those who most need to understand the impact of divorce on children.
The candor in the book is striking. Jessie says, "... the thing that has affected me the most is the amount of lying and deceit that came out of it. I've had a hard time forgiving my parents for the aftermath and how the whole situation turned out."
Sarah shares, "I was forced into adulthood at a young age and made several attempts to have any relationship with my father. I called it quits at age twelve. My spirit became lighter once I let go of him. I realized that I couldn't make him be the father I needed him to be."
"Divorce showed me reality," says Josh. "Every child dreams of having the perfect family, but that ideal never comes to fruition; I had the perfect model in my mind, but lived the actual situation. It was a hard thing for me to accept that the perfect family I so desperately yearned for would never come to reality."
Anna confesses, "Due to this, I believe I will never be able to marry and that I will never be able to find a love that is strong enough for me to throw aside my insecurities and hesitation to trust someone fully and completely. I will always and forever be on my guard."
Andrew confides, "My own relationships have directly suffered from this because I latch so quickly onto someone."
For Mary the impact has been deep and powerful. "I've spent so long hiding everything I fell and everything I am, and making up lies to make it look like I'm normal, and putting up a front of who I think I should be, that in all honesty, I don't know who the hell I really am."
For many in the book there are positive insights, as well. Ricardo shares, "Having separated parents has helped me to be independent, see different points of view." And Megan notes, "I guess the divorce gave me more hope for women and how strong they can be. I always aim to be a strong as my mother in life and relationships of all kinds."
It's essential for children coping with divorce to have a voice and express it, whether we like their message or not. We cannot always please our children when divorce becomes a reality, but we do need to hear and acknowledge their feelings. We also need to be acutely aware of the consequences of every decision we make before, during and long after divorce -- giving serious attention to its effects on the children we love.
In many cases, your children won't express their feelings for fear of hurting themselves, you or their other parent. Too often they are forced to grow up prematurely, giving up the innocence of childhood for the stark reality of adult drama. However, this is not an inevitable outcome of divorce. The emotional impact on your children depends greatly on how you handle the divorce, the attitude of both parents and the messages you convey -- both directly and indirectly. Ask yourself the challenging question: Do I love my children more than I hate my ex? If you do, then make decisions that are child-focused, seeing the divorce from their world-view and providing comfort, compassion and an open mind when they vent, act out, retreat within or in other ways reflect their sorrow, pain and utter helplessness when caught in circumstances beyond their control.
Let the poignant messages from the Broken Circle project and book be a catalyst toward renewed motivation for all divorce professionals. We must strive even harder to reach out to divorcing parents about how their divorce can affect their children, not only today, but for years to come. I pray that all parents coping with divorce heed these messages and work on healing their wounds without using their children as pawns or prods in the process. When you understand the consequences of divorce gone wrong, you don't want your own children to become its innocent and emotionally distraught victims.