If you’re a parent dealing with a separation or divorce, we know how complicated life can be. Such an emotionally-charged life-changing event has its personal challenges, and juggling finances and parenting at the same time can lead us to act in ways we never believed we were capable of. Sometimes we are surprised at our resilience and ability to tackle the changes with rational clarity. Yet sometimes our emotional responses – anger, sadness and chilled indifference to our former half – have a greater impact on those we love. Our children.
In creating a messaging app that uses artificial intelligence to help separated parents communicate more effectively, I’ve met so many people who wanted to share their own experiences, not as a parent but from when they were a child. How they wished there was something like Divvito ‘back then’. These stories, combined with countless interviews we’ve conducted with separated parents, some who were oblivious to how their conflict affected their children, led us to create Kids Feel Too. Kids Feel Too was a campaign that asked adults to share their story as a child growing up with separated parents. We struck a nerve. We were overwhelmed with the honesty in their responses, which all shared a similar thread of feeling unwanted and unheard.
The below stories are a compilation of experiences shared from children of separated parents. Hear their voice.
Divorce from a teenager’s perspective
My parents’ divorce came as a shock. I didn’t want to deal with it during high school. I felt so alone and scared, and wished I had someone to speak to about what was happening. I didn’t agree with their decisions, but my voice was never heard, as if I wasn’t old enough to speak my mind and for it to be respected. I was in this weird limbo, where I felt I was old enough to decide who I wanted to live with but couldn’t choose without hurting my parents.
I got to spend time with both of my parents. They both kept in close communication with me while at the other parent’s home, and at times it felt like having a split family could work, that we could all get along. But eventually it turned bad. It was really difficult and hurtful. I’m sure my parents didn’t mean it, but they became so emotional and said such awful things. Every spiteful word pierced my heart with such force that I would feel sick, angry and helpless. Moving between parents was draining. As soon as I was at one house it was a big issue if I ever forgot anything and had to go back to the other house.
A divorce isn’t just between the parents, it’s between the whole family. Children can understand and feel the ongoing tension, and it impacts us when there isn’t harmony. I think my parents didn’t understand that I felt pressure to take sides if an issue couldn’t be resolved through proper communication. I could see the initial cracks, which led to ongoing arguments. That’s something I will always remember.
The toxicity of everything is still fresh in my mind. Even though I was old enough to know better, I still felt like it was my fault. My fault in that they stayed together too long. I know things will get better, it just takes time. I’m learning to love my parents as individuals rather than a couple.
If I could give advice to parents who have separated, consider your children’s wellbeing in all separation decisions and every interaction you have. Otherwise they just feel like worthless pawns in a game that no-one wins.
If I could give advice to children going through their parents separation now, your parents do love and care about you, they’re just distracted and caught up in their emotions. You’ve been put in an impossible situation, stuck in the middle of your parent’s fighting. Don’t feel guilty in any way. Just do what benefits you, makes you happy and makes you feel safe. It will get better with time.
Divorce from a young child’s perspective
I felt unloved, hopeless, lost, confused. It was difficult to see my friends with parents that were happy together and mine couldn’t even be in the same room. My parents divorce forced me to deal with major life changes as a little kid. I was constantly packing, or in the middle of their fighting and always had this sense of displacement. They were often caught up in their own problems with each other and I wasn’t prioritised, constantly surrounded by anger that I didn’t know how to process at such a young age. I hated having to be thrown back and forth between houses, different parenting styles, and watching each parent’s romantic relationships.
Kids notice things; they’re smarter than they look. I wish my parents had explained what was happening and why they were separating. I just felt like a possession being used against each other, like a weapon. I felt guilty for choosing to spend more time with one instead of the other. I hated when they would criticise one another in front of me. I felt a responsibility to be the middleman and mediator and I think, because of this, I didn’t get an upbringing that was balanced or a fair representation of what a family should be.
While seeing my parents despise each other was hard, what hurt the most was when they moved on and had children with other people. The love they would shower on their new kids seemed infinite and I felt we became an inconvenience, part of their ‘old’ life they were eager to forget.
If I could give advice to separated parents today, I would say no matter how angry you are, bite your tongue. Don’t fight in front of your children, and don’t talk poorly of the other parent. When you move on and find a new relationship, treat all of your children the same and spend quality time with each of them. Your job is to provide unconditional love, strength, support and guidance while their whole world is flipped upside down for years to come.
The divorce taught me to make the most of my time with each parent, that it wasn’t my fault and that things do get better with time. I don’t feel guilty about their separation anymore, because, even though it was a brutal experience, it hurt a whole lot more when they were constantly fighting while together. I think the most important thing kids of today going through a separation need to understand is that sometimes people just don’t get along, and that is 100% not your fault. You don’t have to be the mediator for your parents, and you have to tell them how you feel without fear of hurting their feelings. If you can’t talk to your parents directly, reach out to a relative or family friend that you feel safe with, and ask them to be your voice, your advocate. Also, talk to other kids who have gone through the same thing, it makes it so much easier. You’ll get through this.