Beyond Talk: Helping Kids Deal with Divorce

046From the moment he’d arrived home from school, my eight-year-old son had been exhibiting signs of deep discomfort-grouchiness, defiance, then outright sobbing because “I shouldn’t have spent my whole Toys R Us gift card on that stupid toy.”

I did the parental math: How many hours of sleep had he gotten last night? Ten. How long since he had eaten? Half an hour. Ruling out exhaustion and low blood sugar, I sat on the couch where he had thrown himself into a heap of despair. “Buddy,” I said, “I have a feeling this isn’t really about the ‘stupid toy.'”

He lifted his head, his eyes squinched shut, “It’s just that . . . ” an avalanche of divorce-related, too-big-for-a-little-kid worries tumbled out of his mouth.

I listened.

I hugged him.

I said the things the books tell me to say: “This is hard, isn’t it?” “It’s not your fault.” “Mama and I love you, and we will always take care of you.” “How about I hold you while you cry all the sad out?”

Eventually, he wrung out all the tears then he asked if he could get an Xbox.

We moved on. Well, he moved on.

I continued reflecting on his behavior pattern, his out and out rebellion over anything that nudges him even a tiny bit out of his comfort zone. It’s not my kid’s typical M.O. It’s what he does when he’s carrying too much emotional weight.

“It’s not your fault” and “We will always take care of you”-those phrases don’t have the leverage necessary to lift that weight. The fact is, this kid-and I’m sure many other kids experiencing their parents’ divorce-doesn’t appear to be worried about the divorce being his fault or about Mom and Mama’s ability to take care of him; he’s worried about taking care of us. Going through the divorce process, whether it is amicable or needs to be fought through attorneys such as Peters and may, will always be jarring, especially with kids in tow.

An empathic kid who has received a lot of positive feedback for “filling people’s hearts up with love” and for his “healing hands” (seriously-the kid has a knack for working kinks out of shoulder muscles), my son takes identity from being able to make people feel better. No matter how many times we have reassured him, throughout this divorce process (which, thankfully, was handled calmly with the help of a professional like the divorce lawyer in Arlington Heights), that we do not need him to take care of us, he’s going to try to do exactly that. So rather than simply telling him he doesn’t need to, I decided to meet him where he lives and give him a tool to help.

At bedtime tonight, as I was tucking his stuffed owl into his arms, I whispered in his ear, “You know something? I think you are a healer. You use your hands and your words to make people feel better. Does that sound right to you?”

He nodded his head against the pillow.

“Right, and it’s really special to be a healer, isn’t it? Doesn’t it feel powerful to help people feel good?”

He whispered, “Yes.”

“But being a healer can be hard, too, right? I mean, like, if there’s someone you really want to heal, but that someone isn’t with you, that feels hard right?”

“Really hard,” he said.

“Do you want to know a trick for healing people who are not with you?” I asked.

“Yes,” he nodded.

“Okay, I want you to close your eyes and imagine a beautiful, warm, golden-white light. Just picture it in your mind. Can you see it?”

“Yes,” he said, his eyes closed, his face serene.

“Now think about the way you feel when your heart is filled up with love, like you’re hugging someone you love absolutely to bits. Got it?”

“Got it,” he said, a small smile turning up his lips.

“Okay, now imagine that the golden light is full of love, and anyone who it touches will feel that love, too. Can you try that?” I asked.

“Yep,” he said.

“Okay, now think of a person you want to heal, and imagine wrapping that person up in the golden-white light, until her heart fills up with love. Do you think you can do that?”

“I’m doing it right now,” he said, hugging his owl a little tighter.

“So if you’re ever worried about someone and you want to send that person some healing, this is how you can do it. Does that make sense?” I ask, kissing his forehead.

“I think it’s working, Mom,” he whispered.

“Buddy,” I said, “I’m sure it is.”


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  1. Clare Masson says:

    I can’t believe I haven’t commented on this. First of all, kudos! This is hard stuff and it is so so so so so important that we are fully there for our kids and able to hear what they have trouble saying.

    I think my kids is younger than yours (she is 4, was 2 when we separated). But what I have told her that seemed to resonate was that Daddy and I couldn’t find a way to cooperate with one another and so we couldn’t stay married, but that we both love her and will always be part of her life. The cooperation thing worked real well, especially when she was 3. I have even (proudly) heard her tell it to other people. “Mommy and Daddy couldn’t cooperate. So now he lives in Chile. And that is alright.”

  2. As a psychology / sociology student (2/3 way through degree), and with my own Queer family, I’m often forced to reflect on the heteronormativity of the texts and theorists. Also on the conservative spirituality of my upbringing and its morphing into who I am today. This post just drips, think honey, with considered, thoughtful, practical, love. Somehow this is what’s important in life, and I suspect the most difficult thing to translate into research. Articles like this guide me in my own queer journey. Thank you.


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