Children Surviving Divorce
by David Mandel
Polio, Tuberculosis, Cancer – each word elicits stark images of masses yearning for a better day. And for each, better days would come. Sanitariums closed in the early 20th Century, Iron Lungs were mothballed in the mid- 20th Century, and today, Cancer research is extending life and the quality of life for millions worldwide.
It may appear jarring to include divorce in the same body of discussion. After all, personal suffering from a life-threatening medical condition can be greatly traumatic and immediately consequential.Nevertheless, emotional trauma has proven to equate with physical trauma as research in recent battlefield conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown.
Children in this generation of high conflict divorce suffer greatly emotionally due to their parents’ selfish feud and will require significantly more support than any pharmaceutical can prescribe.
Consider two scenarios.
A 35 year-old father of three children seeks my advice. He and his wife have decided to divorce. He would like to discuss a path that will cause the least amount of disruption and emotional upheaval for his children. I laud him and his wife for their unselfishness and parenting maturity. We explore various options that include their three children in their decision, and discuss the choices that are in the best interest of their children.
Contrast this with a divorcing couple with three children who, too, seek advice. The husband is busy maligning his wife’s inability to parent, while she is lamenting his emotional abuse and intolerance of her personal choices. She is holding her six-month baby in her arms while they angrily verbally confront each other in the office. Their rancor is not lost on the baby, nor forgotten, though he hasn’t yet learned to speak. His receptor skills are well formed. Sometime later, both couples divorce.
The former are parents who continue to focus on their children.
The latter continue to focus on themselves.
A classic definition of Munchausen by Proxy is a parent inflicting physical pain or psychological trauma on their child to draw attention to themselves.
We are not proposing a molly coddle approach to divorce.
Basic attachment theory postulates that the earliest physical and emotional relationships between mother and child are life forming. Family bonds are formed in great part at the dinner table. Children and adolescents learn the basics of good and bad choices first from parents, before friends’ influences reign. Most significantly, children learn at home the respect that mommies and daddies have for each other, and how best to resolve a conflict.
How these children will rise from divorce will greatly influence their own future marriage. It will shape the likelihood of their offspring being classified as children or grandchildren of a strong marriage, an amicable divorce or a bitter divorce.
Walk into any shul, daycare center, Yeshiva or camp and you are likely to see one or many children of divorce. This has become part of the norm. There are couples that cannot and should not stay married. The question is how they go about divorce.
If these children are from a high-conflict divorce, battle-scarred by their parents’ never-ending conflict, then we are growing a generation of traumatized children that may consider such behavior a new normal. Can anyone accept this? Certainly the parents of these children should not, nor our community. There is no greater investment – emotional, spiritual, physical or financial than the investment in children. No stock or real estate portfolio, no manufacturing or tech business, no time at the gym or on a world-class vacation can equal every couple’s greatest gift – their child.
Jewish community foci from the beginning of time has always been on children and family, Pru Urvu. And every decade has garnered a name, from the Great Depression to the Me Generation to the Millennials. Can it be that in the Jewish Community, divorce has become so commonplace that we may be witnessing a future term – a Generation of Children of Divorce?
We are witnessing a generation of Jewish children learning about divorce alongside their three R’s and new technology.
Rabbis, Educators, Community Leaders and the community at large are being faced with the challenging task of how best to sensitively respond to those affected by divorce.
What responsibility do we have to our future generation?
The answer is in US – in all of us.
It is this new reality and calling that has been the raison d’etre to OHEL’s new “Rising from Divorce” video which additionally includes numerous program initiatives such as support groups for children of divorce, teacher and Rabbinic training.
But it is much more than just a video. It is a call for community-wide action and engagement – understanding the specific roles that the wider community, Rabbis, community leaders, and educators can play to help ensure that both parents of divorce, and children of divorce can thrive.
They say it takes a village. Indeed, this is a calling of our community. To engage all members of our community as comrades in arms, advocating for the welfare of our families.
David Mandel is the CEO of OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services