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The Boys and Girls Book About Divorce


kamurj

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Excerpted from
The Boys and Girls Book About Divorce
By Richard A. Gardner, M.D.

My name is Dr. Richard Gardner. I am a child psychiatrist. For those of you who don't know what that is, a child psychiatrist is a special kind of doctor who tries to help children who have troubles and worries.

Some of the children I see in my office have problems because their parents are divorced. These children often feel better about their worries after they learn from me some important things about their thoughts and feelings. I also talk with them about other things they can do to help themselves feel better.

In addition, these children have taught me many things about what they think and feel and what they can do to help themselves. I've written this book so that other children of divorced parents can be helped by the things these children and I have learned together.

I'd like to tell you a few things before we start talking about divorce. When something happens that's sad and painful, usually the best thing for you to do is to try to find out exactly what the trouble is. Then it is easier for you to decide what to do to help yourself feel better. Some children don't do this. Instead, they make believe that nothing's wrong, or they try to hide their sadness. When they do this, they are not trying to help themselves, and so their problems usually are not solved, and they may even get worse. It's much better to know the truth about your problems than to hide from them, even though the truth can often be frightening or painful. When you know the truth, you can often do something about your troubles. If you hide from the truth, you can do nothing about your problems, and so things usually get worse.

Some children do this with the problems they have about their parents' divorce. If such children were to stop hiding from their troubles and start trying to do something about them, they'd most often feel better about things. If you've been doing this, row's the time to stop!

In this book I give children advice about some of the things they can do. Many children whose parents are divorced are very unhappy, but they don't think that there's anything that they can do about their troubles. This is not so. In this book I'll tell you about some of the ways you can help yourself. I'll talk about many of the usual problems which the children of divorced parents have. Some will be like the ones you have, others will not. After each problem has been discussed, I tell you what things you can do to help yourself if you have that problem.

I'll talk about many problems. Don't try to read too much at once. If you like, look in the Table of Contents for the sections or chapters that interest you most, and read them first. Treat this book like in encyclopedia. You don't have to read the chapters in order. Read each part carefully and make sure you understand everything that's said. If you don't understand something, ask one of your parents to explain it to you. Don't be ashamed to ask the same question over and over again if you don't understand something. Most parents will be happy to explain things as many times as are needed to make them clear. Some children find it better to read this book along with a parent In fact, I suggest that you discuss with your parents the things you read in this book as much as possible.

If you read this book carefully, think about the things I have said, and try to do the things I have suggested, I think you'll feel better about your problems.

A Few Things You Should Know About Divorce

Hobso.vs choice. First I'd like to tell you about a man named Thomas Hobson. Thomas Hobson lived in England about four hundred years ago. At that time, there were no cars, so people rode around on horses. Mr. Hobson owned a large number of horses which he kept in a stable, and when people wanted horses, they'd rent them from him. Since people often spent a lot of time trying to decide which horse they wanted, Mr. Hobson made a new rule one day. This rule was that if you wanted a horse, you either had to take the one that was first in line or you got no horse at all. If you didn't like the horse that was first in line, your choke was between a horse you didn't like and no horse at all. This became known as "Hobson's choice." So today when someone has to choose between something he doesn't like and nothing at all, it's said that he has a Hobson's choice.

People who are unhappy about their marriage also have a Hobson's choice. They must choose between a bad marriage and no marriage at all. Some people stay in the unhappy marriage, and some decide to have no marriage at all. Those who stay in the bad marriage often continue to fight and to be unhappy. Those who decide to get a divorce are usually sad and lonely at least for a time.

Most often parents are very sad about getting a divorce because they know how much it will hurt their children. But they are often in so much pain themselves, because of the terrible problems of the marriage, that they feel that they must get a divorce anyway. They do not wish to hurt their children, but they must think of their own feelings as well.

The child usually has no say in the matter. He must do what his parents decide. If a child were allowed to make the choice between an unhappy marriage with all its problems and a divorce with all its loneliness, most children would choose the unhappy marriage. This might not be the best choice. Often a child is better off when his parents get divorced than when they remain together and fight a lot

What I have just said is very important. Psychiatrists have found that children who live in homes where the mother and father do not get along well get very upset and are likely to have many troubles and problems. Children whose parents get divorced often have fewer problems of this kind. Of course, it is best to live in a home where both parents are happy. But if this is not possible, you may be better off in a divorced home than in one where there is much fighting and un-happiness. Also when your parents are divorced, they can each try to find someone they can be happy with.

Then you may have a happy home after all. Some parents arc very unhappy in their marriage but don't get divorced because they think it would be worse for their children if they did so. This can be a mistake, for, as I have said, children are often better off when there's a divorce than when they have to live in an unhappy home.

Feelings children have after the divorce

Some children are surprised to find that after the divorce things are quiet in the house for the first time in their lives. It seems funny to say, but a child may have more time with his father after the divorce than he had when his father lived with him. Mothers and fathers often seem happier and are less fussy after a divorce.

There are some children, however, who are very, very sad right after the divorce. They may not wish to eat; they have trouble sleeping; they lose interest in playing and in their schoolwork, and they just mope around all the time. They may spend much of their time thinking of all the things they once did with their fathers.

They miss their fathers very much, and they keep wishing that their parents would get married again. They may cry a lot, and they may even feel ashamed because they cry. There is no reason to be ashamed about crying after your parents' divorce. Each time you cry, you feel a little better about things. It's better to "get it off your chest," as the old saying goes. Most children who are unhappy this way gradually feel better as time goes on, and they get used to living without their fathers. That's a very important thing to remember: As time passes, the painful feelings about the divorce hurt less and less. It also makes a child feel better if he knows that his mother may someday marry again. If such a child makes friends with others, both of his own age and older, it can help make up for the loss of his father.

But some children spend most of their time hoping their parents will get back together even though their parents have told them many times that they won't marry again. As long as these children do this, they remain sad. When they finally stop hoping for something that cannot happen and start making up for the loss of their father by making friends with others, they begin to feel better.

Who's To Blame?

The words "blame" and "fault" are often heard when there's a divorce in the family. Parents sometimes blame each other for the divorce, or they may blame the children, or sometimes each member of the family blames himself. In this chapter, I'm going to tell you about the different kinds of blame so that it will be clear to you when people really are at fault and when they are not.

Your Parents Did Not Get Divorced Because You Were Bad

Sometimes a child thinks that his parents have gotten a divorce because he was bad. This is not the reason parents get divorced. They get divorced because they are unhappy with one another, and they no longer want to live together. It's not because their children have been bad.

Most often those who think that their parents got divorced because they were bad children are not even bad. Of course, like most children they do bad things once in a while. But they usually think their parents got divorced because they did certain things which were bad. This is not so. The divorce had nothing to do with the times that they were bad. These children sometimes think that if they try very, very hard to be very, very good, their parents will marry again. I have never seen this happen. Since the divorce had nothing to do with the children's being bad, their being good cannot make their parents many again.

If you're one of the children who think like this, ask your parents whether they got divorced because you were bad. I'm sure they'll tell you that badness had nothing to do with it However, once in a while, a parent will tell a child that he did get divorced because the child was bad. If one of your parents says such a thing to you, do not believe it If he says this, it usually means he has problems or troubles of his own that make it hard for him to see things the way they really are.

Children who think that their parents got divorced because they have been bad are often very sad about it. They may spend a lot of time thinking about how bad they were and trying to think of ways to be good so that their parents will marry again. Often these children do not spend much time with their friends and do not pay attention to their schoolwork.

Some children believe that the divorce was their fault because this makes them feel they can control the situation. Let me explain to you what I mean by this. As long as a child believes that he has caused his parents* divorce, it Is easy for him to believe that he has the power to get his parents back together again. Believing it was his fault his parents got divorced gives the child a feeling of control over his parents' lives which he really doesn't have. By blaming himself for his parents' divorce in this way, he gives himself the hope that he will be able to get than to marry one another again.

Ifs best for children who think like this to stop trying to find ways to get their parents together again, to accept the fact that they will not get married again, and to realize that there's nothing they can do about it It's something the children cannot control. There are many things in life which we cannot control, and a parent's divorce is one of them. Children must learn to accept this. Once they accept this fact, they must then try to make up for their loneliness by doing things with their friends, their classmates, and other people.

Parents' Accidents and Mistakes

Sometimes children think that the sadness and loneliness which resulted from their parents' divorce is the fault of one or both of their parents. In a way, it is the parents' fault, but most often they really do not wish to hurt their children, even though they have. I can make this clearer from the examples that follow.

This boy is working with his father in his father's tool shop. By accident, the father hits his son's finger with a hammer. The boy's finger hurts and feels sore. The father is very upset and says he is sorry, and the boy forgives him. Soon the boy's finger feels better, and they continue working.

Even though the boy's father hurt him by mistake, the father was to blame for the sore finger, and he felt very sad about having hurt his son.

This boy is also working with his father. His father gets angry at him and on purpose hits him on the finger with a hammer. This boy's finger also gets sore. The father does not say he is sorry. The boy does not forgive him. Instead, he stops working with his father in the shop for the rest of the day.

Now, both boys got sore fingers because their fathers hit them with a hammer. One boy's father hit him by accident and the other on purpose. In a way, both boys' sore fingers are their fathers' faults, but the father who did it by accident is far less to blame than the father who did it on purpose.

Because of their mistakes, divorced parents very often hurt their children. Usually the parents think it was a mistake that they got married. They are sorry that their children have been hurt because of this mistake. This makes them very sad, but, like the man who accidentally hurt his son's finger, there is nothing they can do about it now.

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