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.
We’ve all heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I do believe in that statement however, sometimes it just takes you. For the past 15 months, I have been unemployed and re-learning how to be a “Stay at Home Mom“. I say re-learning because staying at home with your children full-time takes a completely different mindset and I had to learn how to do simple things like, pick your kid up after school (I forgot the early pick-up day more than once…don’t judge me) and making sure the youngest one had a lunch, you know easy stuff. It’s funny I seemed to be more organized when I was working than when I was at home with nothing but time to think about but them!
When I was working, I had a great village to help me raise my kid(s). When my ex-husband and I first split, I hadn’t worked since my daughter was born 18 months prior so when I had to make the switch from SAHM to Working Mom, I was fortunate enough to have her great-grandparents takeover for me during the day and my mother pick her up for me after she finished her workday. This set up went on for a year and a half and then she went on to pre-school and then school and my mother continued to facilitate the pick-up.
When my son was born, my mother had just retired (she was not expecting to become the SAHGranny) and she took over for me when I had to go back to work. She handled certain Doctor appointments and she kept my daughter when she was sick and unable to go to school. She worked full-time and I worked full-time and then came home and continued to work my parenting job. I always felt bad about the amount of time that I spent away from them and at times, they looked to my mother more than they did me but there was nothing that could be done…we had to eat!
When I found myself unemployed for the first time in 10 years, the adjustment period was interesting. They had to get used to me and I had to get used to them and there were times when we all wanted to run away from each other. As we all became adjusted to being around each other… all the time, I realized how wonderful it had been for them to have the time they had with their grandparents, but me losing my job came right on time because what they really needed was me.
As we learned how to interact with each other on a full-time basis, I learned how important it is to just have your parents be there for you and just be parents. Growing up, my mother was a teacher so summers were free and we had her for two months straight. While it probably drove her crazy, we benefited from having her be there and do simple things like make our lunches or just spend time going to the Library together. Until you’ve missed out on something as simple as making dinner for your kids, you don’t know how inadequate one can feel as a parent and since I hadn’t had the opportunity to just be a parent since 2001, in some respects, my kids suffered.
This time off has given my family the opportunity to really be a family. My son now knows what it is like to have your mother be your primary caregiver and my daughter can be involved in extra-curricular activities and have me be her chauffer/cheerleader. None of this would have happened if I was giving my everything to a company rather than my children and I now have the ability to say I have raised my children instead of relying completely on the village.