This information has been drawn from the experience of the developers of the SMILE program and other professionals in the field of divorce. It was written and compiled by Lorraine Osthaus Randolph, Director of Family Counseling at the Oakland County Friend of the Court, in consultation with the SMILE program developers and Friend of the Court staff.
Because each divorce and family situation is unique, readers are encouraged to consult other services available to divorced parents and their children. These include psychological services, legal services, support groups, emergency services, court mediation services, conflict resolution and mediation agencies, and books or articles relating to divorce.
Why is SMILE important...
Divorce is a process over which children have no control (and should not become its victims). When parents are under stress, it is harder to be in touch with their children's pain and anguish. It takes time, effort and planning on the part of parents to be able to provide for children's needs. In the crisis of divorce, parents may put their children on hold while they attend to adult problems first.
Divorce Brings Change...
The more parents know about divorce, the better they are able to cope with the changes and help their children adjust.
Divorce is Painful...
Children feel hurt and helpless when parents divorce. They are emotionally attached to both parents, and most children want their parents to stay together. When divorce occurs, children, as well as parents, go through a grieving process that engenders feelings of disbelief, anger, sadness and depression.
Parents experience hurt and helplessness from what happened during the marriage, events that occurred at the time of separation and the divorce process. Divorce is an extremely difficult time and parents tend to blame each other for problems. They sometimes do and say terrible things to each other and are unaware of the negative impact their behavior has on children.
Legal aspects of divorce are easier to deal with than the emotional upheaval of divorce and the feelings that arise from the death of a relationship. Anger, disappointment, hurt, grief and a desire for revenge are some normal reactions. Emotional turmoil can interfere with the mom and dad roles even though the husband and wife roles have ended.
How Children Come Through Divorce...
It is due in large measure to the parents' relationship after the divorce and the parents' relationships with their children. Parents' attitudes and actions make a big difference in how children adjust to the divorce.
When children are asked what they want to see happen after divorce, they tend to answer that they would like their parents back together again. When parents are asked the same question, most respond that they want nothing to do with their former spouse.
Children are devastated by divorce and feel powerless. Typically, they experience tremendous loss and pain. They have been dependent on both parents, and the props have been knocked out from under them. They feel disbelief that the family will no longer exist as they have known it. Many are anxious, angry, sad, depressed, and confused about what is happening. They feel abandoned, and they suffer a drop in self-esteem.
Just when children need them most, many newly divorced parents need time for themselves to regain a sense of balance and personal well-being.
Children need relationships with both parents after divorce, and parents must do what they can to promote those relationships. Children desperately need parental cooperation. Parents can learn to get along after divorce and share responsibilities for their children even if they did not get along as husband and wife.