In almost all of the divorce literature, you will come across something that goes like this:
“Children of divorce often think that the divorce was their fault.”
This was not my experience. I never consciously thought that my parents divorce was my fault. So I have doubted that idea. I think, instead, that this idea doesn’t go far enough. It is an attempt to describe something, but it is inadequate.
It is not so much that the child blames himself, it is that he feels a deep sense of rejection, cannot understand the rejection, and cannot articulate it. Each parent has embraced the half of the child that represents himself or herself. But simultaneously, they have rejected the half of the child that represents the other parent. It is profoundly confusing to be simultaneously accepted and rejected. It is like living in a hall of mirrors without being told it is a hall of mirrors.
Here is a diagram I created in Word to try and explain what I see and feel.
I’m trying to show how the child’s life is being stretched in two directions. In a normal situation, the parents’ lives and interests are more closely bound up with the life of the child. After a divorce, the child becomes pulled in two distinct directions, and these directions become more and more distinct as time goes on. On the mother’s side, she accepts the side of the oval (the life of the child) that corresponds to her life and interests, but rejects the side of the oval (the life of the child) the corresponds to the father’s life and interests. The same is true for the father but reversed.
When parents divorce, the child spends time with each parent without the other there. The parents are saying, in effect, “I want my freedom so badly that I am willing to be apart from you for half your life.” That is rejection. Related to this is the rejection of the child’s other side of the family: in-laws become personae non gratae practically overnight. This means that the child has family that his flesh-and-blood parent no longer has. The hall of mirrors gets bigger.
I think this explains why some parents engage in “parental alienation.” They don’t want to be with the other parent, and they don’t want to be apart from their kids at all. In order to achieve this goal, they believe that they can emotionally separate the child from the other parent and that parent’s family without harming the child. Given that it is now viewed as child abuse, this is probably the strategy of somebody who is mentally or emotionally impaired.
I do not think kids of divorce are wondering, “Is the divorce my fault?” I think they are feeling a deeper question: “Why did my parents reject me and my family?” If what I’m saying is true then this means that important aspects of our culture and family law system are based on lies and need to change. For example, our notion of “freedom” currently supports kids being stretched into two halves as I’ve described here. Also, the divorce industry (and other industries that thrive on separating kids from their family trees) is founded on the idea that “kids are resilient.” This is another way of saying that it is perfectly fine to tear somebody’s life into two pieces, since:
- They’ll just somehow “get over it”
- They won’t care
- They will be so thrilled with their parents’ happiness that they’ll sublimate their own
- They are automatons who don’t have their own happiness; they only have their parents’ happiness
How is that wound healed? I still do not know, but it cannot be healed by pretending it is not there.