“My parents are divorcing .. .. how can I fix this” .. #TheFixIt mentality kids have when parents separate

When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled.  ~ Swahili saying


In an emotional intelligence session I had a few months back with teenagers, parent’s divorce / seperation was a high intense topic the teens raised. We allowed them time to vent and talk about how they feel about things, we also allowed them to share their experiences and offer each other advice, before me & a facilitator chirped in to guide them on how to handle these situations.

Its been interesting that a majority of the time, when parents fight, children often go through the following emotions or thoughts:

  • Maybe they are fighting because of me, I must try harder to be a good child so that they stay together
  • What can I do to ensure my parents stay together
  • Who will I choose to stay with in order to not hurt the other parent
  • What can I do to fix this
  • Maybe I shouldn’t have told my Mom about that lady I saw with daddy, this is my fault
  • Have they stopped loving me, why cant they stay together for my sake
  • What can I do to make them love each other again

In our communities, black community, children are often no addressed when major life events happen. Often the thinking is “we dont discuss adult things with kids, its none of their business”, but strangely enough when all the fight happen often the kids are around listening to every word, analysing every word and internalising the words to try find some meaning of what maybe be happening. So they become custodians of these words spoken in anger and they keep them so close to their even way after the grownups have forgotten. Even here few parents address the aftermaths of things with kids. “They are young what to they know about grown up stuff”.

A boy once met in one of the school I give talks at came to me after a talk and he said to me

“Maam, my dad passed away a few months ago, but before he died I saw him & my Mom fighting. I couldn’t do anything. Then after a few months after that fight he had a stroke & passed away. My Mom is always angry now and is always shouting at us, my younger sister is behaving strange and I am also always angry and I am failing at school. I dont know what to do”

If you read in between the lines you will realise that this boy is partly blaming himself for the death .. “if I had intervened that day they were fighting .. maybe my dad would have been alive today”

So kids always get absorbed in their parents relationships and to not talk to them or explain things in a way they will understand creates more insecurity in them, that they find ways to play out. Either they will draw from life or go through life angry, bitter and resentful. They can not fix things, its not their role to do and in fact the separation of parents might be a blessing in disguise for them, as they will get a chance to see their parents happier with less fights and verbal abuse for them to witness.

So my advice is talk to kids, find out what their thoughts and fears are about how things are playing out; so that you can answer some of their questions and soften some of the fears and most importantly that they may understand none of it is their fault.

December Holidays

When my own parents separated I truly ended up not liking the holidays because I almost felt guilty about where we should go and who to spend time with. It seems that no matter what we do we were choosing sides. My mother was a great sport in this as she would try make this as light as possible for us and recommend that we go spend time with our father, but yet I still felt bad for leaving her alone on Christmas day. So we would at times spend a part of Christmas with her & a part of the day with dad, until we later got used to it. I would cook for both homes and split the food in half so that all homes had the same cooked meal and none felt left out.

Truly the best to be done is not be tense about things, don’t bad mouth each or make the kids feel an extra guilt by saying things to them that would make them feel they are choosing sides. As long as there are kids involved, parents must be civil and decide what will be of their best interest. Because families and situations are not the same, its truly best to find out what the kids would want that is reasonable and explain to them if some of their requests are truly impossible and offer alternative that will help them accept the situation and still not be resentful of everyone involved.

I guess what I am saying is: there was a time when kids were not spoken to, that time is over. Communication is important as it helps the child to gain clarity and acceptance quicker.

*P.S. I am not an expert in this field, just advising on capacity of having listened to conversation with teenagers*

written by Nomveliso kaMbanga kaNguta, also knows as a Teen Coach ❤

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