Thirteen-year-old Elizabeth DeGori's parents have been divorced for as long as she can remember. "It's not so bad," she says. "But I only get to see my dad about once or twice a year."
The hardest part about having divorced parents, she says, is that she's had to move around a lot. "I've had to change schools six or seven times," Elizabeth told JS. "It was hard sometimes to make friends."
Elizabeth's situation isn't unusual. Each year in the U.S., more than one million marriages break up. About 40 percent of children in the U.S. will see their parents divorce.
Divorce is one of the toughest things kids ever have to face. It usually means seeing much less of one parent. It also may mean moving to a new house, changing schools, and losing touch with family and friends. It often means living on less money, too. All these changes can make kids feel sad, angry, frightened, and alone.
Some children never get over their parents' divorce. In a study of 131 children of divorce, psychologist Judith Wallerstein found that most entered adulthood as "worried, underachieving, lonely, and sometimes angry young men and women." Wallerstein believes that even if parents are unhappily married, they should stay together for their children's sake.
But most Americans do not agree with her. A Time/CNN poll found that 62 percent of adults believe that parents should get a divorce if their marriage isn't working.
Many experts believe that children of divorce can and do grow up to live healthy, happy lives. "Kids need to realize that divorce isn't the end of the world for them or their family," says Joyce Pedro-Carroll, a child psychologist.
How can you survive your parents' divorce? Here are some tips to help make it easier.
Don't Blame Yourself
Experts say the first thing kids need to know is that their parents' divorce is not their fault. It's really important for kids to understand that no one can make anyone do anything," says Gail Gross, a parenting expert. "People do what they feel they must."
Jesse Osterman, an 8th-grader, says he felt responsible when his parents split up six years ago. "I was really upset," he says. "I thought maybe they were getting a divorce because I didn't clean my room or something."
But now that he is older, Jesse realizes that his parents' divorce wasn't his fault. "Now I can see that it was never the perfect relationship," he says.
Divorce can make kids feel as if their lives are spinning out of control. "A lot of kids may feel tempted to give in to feeling powerless," says Pedro-Carroll. "But they do have control over their lives."
One thing kids can do to take control of their lives is get organized. When kids must move between their parents' houses a lot, they should make sure they have everything they need at both houses. "I tell kids to carry a box with all their special stuff," says Mary Lamia, a child psychologist. "It almost becomes like a home."
Kids should create a calendar to carry with them so that parents can keep up with their schedule. Having a list of everyone's phone number in case something changes is also essential. "It's a lot of responsibility," says Kate Kelly, a parenting expert. "But it will make kids feel so much better."
Don't Get in the Middle
Keeping a good relationship with both parents after a divorce isn't always easy, especially if one parent moves far away. It's even harder if divorced parents don't get along.
Sometimes one parent may say bad things about the other parent. Some parents may even use their children to find out information about the other parent.
If that happens, kids need to speak up and tell their parents that they don't want to get involved. "Kids need to feel like it's OK to love both their parents," says Pedro-Carroll.
Jesse says he doesn't feel caught in the middle, but he does get angry when his parents argue. "I just think it's stupid," he says. "But they know I don't like to hear it, so they don't usually argue in front of me."
Negotiate With Stepparents
Most children of divorce will have to deal with a stepparent. Seventy percent of divorced mothers and 80 percent of divorced fathers, remarry within three to five years.
Having a new authority figure can be hard for kids to handle. But it's important to give a new stepparent a chance. Who knows? A stepparent may turn out to be a really nice person.
"If you're having problems with a stepparent, try to compromise without getting defensive or blaming anyone," advises Sal Severe, a school counselor. "Things do get better with time."
Both of Elizabeth DeGori's parents have remarried. Now she has one stepsister, three half brothers, and two half sisters. "At first, I didn't like my stepfather telling me what to do," she says. "But now it's OK. The best part about having two families is that I get twice as many presents on my birthday and at Christmas."
Talk to Someone
It can be hard for kids to open up and talk about their parents' divorce. But keeping worries and fears bottled up can create serious problems. "I see so many kids whose grades start slipping because they're worried about what's going on at home, and they just can't talk about it," says teacher Stacy Black.
Isaiah Knight, 10, admits that he's had trouble talking about his parents' divorce. When his teacher asked the class to write 10 reasons why divorced parents should or shouldn't get back together, he couldn't do it.
"I just didn't know what to write," Isaiah says. "I'd like for my parents to be together so we could afford to have nicer things. But I know they don't want to get back together. They don't really like to talk."
Experts say that the most important thing kids can do to survive a divorce is talk to their parents about their feelings. If parents don't know how their kids are feeling, they can't do anything to help them.
"Kids should set aside a special time to talk to their parents," says Robin Goodman, a child psychologist. "By keeping communication lines open, kids and parents can work together to make things better."
Sometimes when kids are feeling really awful, it can help to talk to someone outside the situation, such as a trusted adult, a teacher, or a support group. "Kids need a safe place to talk about both their parents," says Goodman. "They need to know it's OK to be angry or sad or frustrated."
Stay True to Yourself
Finally, kids should keep doing what makes them happy, whether it's sports, music, or a hobby. "Even though your world is turned upside down, you still have control over your life," says Pedro-Carroll.
Elizabeth makes sure to keep up her grades in school, even though she has more responsibilities at home now. "I'm on the honor roll," she says. "I'm the best pre-algebra student in the 7th grade."
Elizabeth says that what has helped the most is realizing that both her parents still love her, even though they don't live together. "My mother tells me that I'm the best thing that's ever happened to her," she says. "And that makes me really happy."
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|Title Annotation:||kids' perspectives|
|Date:||Apr 23, 2001|
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