You never hear how divorce effects children from the second family. There is a lot of information on how divorce effects the children of the divorced family but what about the new family? Does anyone realize that the effects of the first divorce are far-reaching and continue to affect families affiliated with the children whose parents are divorced? I learned first hand how my divorce from my daughter‘s father was still effecting my family and it wasn’t my daughter who was struggling but my son who was from a new relationship.
When my ex-husband and I divorced, my daughter was 20 months old. While initially, she was affected by our divorce, as she got older, her memories of us being a family faded and her memories of her father and I have always been as divorced parents. When she was six, I got pregnant with my son and while his father and I chose not to marry, we’ve lived together since he was born so all he has ever known was a two parent home. As he got older and became more aware of our family dynamic, I noticed early how he was effected by his sister leaving for her weekend and summer visits to her fathers home.
The first time he noticeably reacted to her absence was when he was a year old and she’d been gone for her summer visit. He was very mobile so we kept her bedroom door shut but what no one realized is that by keeping her room closed, he thought she was locked in the room and one night he walked by her room and knocked on the door. We laughed and told him she wasn’t there but of course he didn’t understand . As he learned to talk and understand that “Sissy” was leaving for the weekend, he would question where she was and try and understand this every other weekend phenomena of his sister leaving him but it was a struggle.
By age three, he reacted to her leaving by crying and constantly asking–“Where’s Sissy?” or confirming what we told him about her whereabouts by saying– “Sissy’s at Renzo’s?” (his name for her father). There was constant discussion of where his sister was because he just didn’t understand. He didn’t understand that I used to be married to another man and he was confused that he and his sister had different fathers. It was at this point that I really started to understand how my actions were affecting not only the child of divorce but the child who loved the child of divorce.
When he turned four it was obvious that he had abandonment issues. He had anxiety about her leaving and he would leave the room so that we couldn’t see the tears in his eyes. Talking to her on the phone made him sad and when she left for her six week visit with her father, he acquired an eating disorder. Yes I said a four year old had an eating disorder and the disorder was he wouldn’t eat! Everyone told me that it was a phase he was going through and that it would blow over but no matter how they tried to convince me that everything would be alright, the stress of trying to make him eat anything other than cereal was wearing on the entire family.
I even had a breakdown when he was crying about his sister being gone and I flashed and told him to basically “suck it up!” I got so upset I started to cry and it was at that moment that I saw how the fallout from my divorce had reached all the way to my new family. It hadn’t crossed my mind to worry about how he might feel because honestly, my focus was on my daughter. She was the one whose family had been broken up and she had never complained so him having such visible reactions to my daughter’s situation was alarming.
I began to recognize that his “eating disorder”was his way of maintaining some semblance of control in his life. I had watched my 20 month old daughter have a similar reaction when she and I moved and she had to start staying with her great-grandparents while I worked but she transitioned easier than he did. He was and still is very adverse to change and it wasn’t until he went to pre-school and began to have his own life outside of the home that he finally calmed down.
Being around other children helped him and slowly he let go of his “eating disorder”. By the time his sister went away for her summer visit, he was so engulfed in his pre-school “social life” and his impending year as a Kindergartner that he was able to let go and have fun. One year later, he has made great strides in overcoming his abandonment issues and he has taken control of his own social calendar by setting up outings with his grandparents by and for himself.
Raising my son has taught me that the effects of divorce are continuous no matter the affiliation the child has with the divorcing parents. I have learned that a broken family is a broken family and it is paramount that people realize that decisions made today will most certainly effect the generations of tomorrow.