Fred Rogers talks about
Divorce and Separation
"When the gusty winds blow and shake our lives, if we know that there are people who care about us, we may bend with the wind—but we won’t break.”
Divorce is sad and painful. During a separation or divorce, children often feel as if their family is “broken.” They might even worry that "Since my parents stopped loving each other, they might stop loving me." Divorce changes families in many ways. But it’s still possible for children to feel secure, safe, and loved, even when their parents don’t live together.
“Who will take care of me?”
Since young children are naturally ego-centric (which comes from our human need to survive), they want to know, "Who will take care of me?" When children see their parents upset and overwhelmed by divorce, they often feel it's up to them to be the caregivers in the family. What a heavy burden that can be! It's reassuring for children to hear that grownups will continue to take care of them and will continue to take care of themselves, as well.
“It’s all my fault…”
One of the most common reactions to parents separating and divorcing is that children believe it's their fault. In fact, they often wonder if divorce might be a kind of punishment for times when they were "bad." They need to hear very clearly from adults that all children misbehave once in a while, and that divorce doesn't happen because of children's misbehaving. Divorce is a problem among adults.
Sometimes children feel they're to blame for the divorce because they’ve had fantasies about getting rid of one of their parents. How scary it can be for them to discover that their wish has come true! We need to let children know that wishes don't make things come true -- not good things or bad things.
Some children in a divorced family think that it’s up to them to get their parents back together again. It's important to remind them that they didn't make the divorce happen and that they can’t bring their parents back together either -- not by wishing, not by being "a perfect child," not even by being a "perfectly unruly child." It's only the parents who can make a decision about such an adult thing as a divorce.
Children’s Right to Feel
Divorce is about loss -- loss of the family as the child has known it, sometimes even the loss of a familiar home. Often deep sadness and anger accompany such a loss. One thing we can always give our children is the right to feel -- the right to feel sadness, anger, and pain. We can also do our best in giving them the security of knowing that they still have a family and adults in their life who will care for them and love them. …
Parents’ Needs and Feelings
When there's a separation or divorce, parents can be hurt and angry, too. Many parents talk about feeling overwhelmed by the new responsibilities of being a single parent, guilty about what the divorce will do to their children, and most of all, feeling like they have been a terrible failure. But just because a marriage has failed doesn't mean that a husband and wife are failures. Divorced people can still be loving and lovable, in many ways.
Take Care of Yourself
It's very hard to have energy for the everyday needs of your child when you yourself are feeling hurt, upset and unloved. One of the first ways to help your child is to offer some help to yourself. Try not to be too judgmental or demanding of yourself. Some people try to go through the hard times of divorce with a constant "stiff upper lip." Pretending that pain, anger, and sadness aren't there doesn't fool anyone. If you're having a hard day, you can let your children know it and assure them that they're not the cause. Feeling the pain and finding healthy ways to deal with our feelings are important parts of healing for adults as well as for children.
You know your child. If you sense that you or your child needs extra help, look for an appropriate counselor or support group. Some people think that needing professional help is a sign of weakness. Not so! It's usually strong people and emotionally healthy people who are able to seek and accept help when they need it. What’s more, everybody needs help sometimes. Anything that encourages you to remember that you are a lovable and loving person is worth your time and energy.
Divorce changes families in many ways. But a mother and father who don't live together can still cherish their children and help them feel secure, safe, and loved.
This article is excerpted from “The Mister Rogers Parenting Book” the last book Fred Rogers worked on before his death in 2003. In this book he wanted to support parents in their most important work of parenting and to help them better understand their young children. As he wrote in the introduction to the book:
“.. if we can bring our children understanding, comfort, and hopefulness when they need this kind of support, then they are more likely to grow into adults who can find these resources within themselves later on.”