Childhood trauma from divorce - The SHARE Magazine

by Pauline Bain | article – Oct 21 SHARE Magazine

The title of a 2019 article, Marriage gets cold shoulder, caught my attention. As I continued to read, I realized that Corey Robinson, a Jamaica Gleaner staff reporter was referring to data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) which was presented by the Director-General, Carol Coy. The data revealed that there was a steady decline in the number of marriage ceremonies and an increase in divorces in Jamaica between 2015 and 2018. I am aware of similar trends in other countries.

As an associate counselling psychologist, who specializes in working with children, I immediately thought of several of my young clients. I recalled stories of the pain, trials, and trauma many of them report when their parents separate or divorce. In my experience, when parents decide to separate or divorce there is very little that I as a counsellor can do to change that decision. I usually wish I could help these parents see how devastating their decision will be to their child or children. This is because the consequences of divorce are immediate and may last for a lifetime. The pain may be less as the years pass but it almost never goes completely.

So, who is minding the children when parents separate or divorce? Ideally, the same parents should do so, provided that they develop a healthy system of co-parenting. Counselling can help them to do this. If this does not happen, children are left feeling insecure, unloved, and unsafe. In some situations, children have been aware of violent arguments, physical fights, and constant quarrels between their parents late into the night. Some children have reported having to cover their heads with pillows to block the noise. Others have cried themselves to sleep over and over. Still, others have rushed into their parents’ room and begged them to stop or go see a counsellor. Many children have difficulty understanding and talking about the changes they experience. In an effort to get attention and help, they begin to behave differently. Some regress while others grow up fast and take on adult roles.

Observant caregivers of children under four years of age may notice any or all of the following behaviour changes: they eat too much or too little, they sit by themselves and stop interacting with the other children or they begin to hit other children or speak harshly to others. They may sit and stare or cry and throw tantrums. Some who are potty trained may revert to wetting and soiling their underwear. They may request to be fed instead of eating independently.  In my practice, I have noticed more violence in children’s play or the stories in their play may convey themes of conflict. 

School-aged children and adolescents may be angry and defiant. They may also devise schemes and ways of getting their parents together. As reported to me, their greatest wish is to have happy parents, who love and talk to each other peacefully. In over twenty years of practice, I can only recall that there were children from two families who said that they were happy that their parents were not together.

If you are a parent who has separated or divorced, and you are thinking that the content of this article is unsympathetic or discouraging, please don’t despair. There is life and hope after separation and divorce. There is so much that you can do and you can definitely trust God to help you.

So, how can you mind your children after separation or divorce? Continue to love them unconditionally, even when you don’t like their other parent and you have decided to separate from the person. Teach them self-love and self-care skills. Assure them that they did nothing wrong to cause the separation or divorce. Seek support for the children and yourself from informed and reliable persons: a supportive relative, a trusted friend, a community-based worker, a teacher, a pastor, or a counsellor. Above all, as co-parents, make the effort to talk to each other and make a workable and practical plan to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of your children. Finally, pray always, your Heavenly Father is at hand.

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