The parents of Skapik, now 90, divorced in 1919 when she was only a tot. Yet, her parents were amicable with each other, never criticized or degraded each other to Skapik, and both happily remarried.
"For a long time, I thought people who didn’t have two sets of parents were nuts," Skapik recalls. "I see so much rancor among people nowadays. It bothers me, because it doesn’t need to be that way."
For children, few experiences are more painful than when their parents split, which fractures children’s sense of family, home, security and daily life as they know it, experts say. There’s no way around it: parents cannot take away inevitable pain and stress from a divorce, because it simply hurts.
"It’s a train wreck, and there’s no coming back from it, says Dr. John Carosso. He is a child psychologist in Greensburg, Westmoreland County. "It’s a disaster, and kids are devastated.
"Their fantasies of a happy family where everyone gets along are officially dashed," Carosso says. "It’s almost like a person died, and there’s a period of bereavement."
Parents can, however, make a huge difference in how well their children adjust to a divorce, experts say, and spare their children a lot of unnecessary extra pain, if the adults handle it well. Although divorce is too complicated an issue to have black-and-white answers, experts say the central rule is to view your future ex-husband or ex-wife as the parent of your child, regardless of his or her failures as a spouse, and the hurt feelings between you.
"They’re going to be bonded forever as parents of those children, so there is no real divorce in that sense," says Randall Sarteschi. He is a marriage and family therapist in New Kensington, Westmoreland County, and an adjunct faculty member at the Boyce campus of Community College of Allegheny County.
When you have children and get a divorce, like it or not, your relationship with your ex-spouse must become a cordial business partnership as much as possible, for the sake of the children.
"The parents really don’t become divorced," Sarteschi says. "They remain the co-owners of those children."
David Jones of Penn Township, Westmoreland County,says he suffered greatly when his parents divorced when he was 6. Jones, 59, says his father just said he was leaving, and left.
"I remember standing there, crying my eyes out," he says. "For a kid, that is very confusing and scary."
Jones says that he and his wife, Valerie, make sure that their children, David, 19; Crystal, 13; and Matthew, 6, have an intact and nurturing home.
"My kids mean everything to me," Jones says. "They’re the most precious gift a person can have."
Dr. Carla Weidman, a psychologist for the Child Development Unit at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in Oakland, says that the two most harmful things divorcing parents can do to their children is to be disrespectful toward each other — which tends to put kids in the middle — and to imply or say that the divorce is somehow the children’s fault.
Weidman recommends that parents give the opposite messages, and repeat them over and over again. They can explain to their children, for instance, that "sometimes when people grow up, they love each other very much, and sometimes that changes." Weidman recommends saying a parent’s love never will change,and the parents will continue involvement in the children’s lives.
Robert David, of Uniontown, Fayette County, practiced these principles when he got divorced about 25 years ago. He and his ex-wife, Doris, had an amicable split, and shared joint custody of their son, Robert, who was about 8 at the time.
"The main thing is … make sure the child does not believe it is his fault, and make sure the child realizes he is loved by both parents," says David, 59, who says his son adjusted fairly well.
When Mary Rinehart, of Avalon, divorced her husband, Al, many years ago, she made a special effort to get along with him for the sake of her son, Clay, who was 3 at the time.
"A child needs two parents; that was my feeling," says Rinehart, 66. "He had Clay on the weekends and any time he wanted to see him."
Diane Lynch, of Elizabeth, says she wished her divorce (she filed in 1999) would have gone more amicably. She says her ex-husband refused to speak to her, even though he had visitation rights, and it was hard on her two now-grown children. Lynch, 50, gives this advice: "I don’t care if you despise each other; at least, have some semblance of a conversation … for the kids’ sakes."
Christina McGhee, a divorce coach and parent educator from the Houston, Texas, area, says that divorcing parents, who might be devastated, need to manage their own emotions in front of their kids so they can create as positive an environment for the children as possible.
"If you talk to your kids, don’t be an emotional wreck," says McGhee, who runs a Web site called http://www.divorceandchildren.com/. "Don’t fall apart in front of your kids; that’s going to really shake children’s sense of security."
Parents, however, should not be too hard on themselves about the emotional impact of the divorce on children, she says. They only can do their best.
"There’s a lot of things about divorce you can’t fix or change for your kids," McGhee says. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your child is to just … support their feelings."
SOURCE: Pittsburgh Tribune Review