Divorce has become a fact of life in our time. One-third of the nation's children will experience its effects before they reach eighteen. This statistic is overwhelming especially when one considers the effect divorce has on the lives of these children not only at present, but in the future when they become wives, husbands and parents.
A study done by Dr. Wallerstein of the University of California indicated that the children of divorce vowed that it would not happen to them. In addition to the normal tasks of growing up, many of these children have had to deal with anger against one or both parents, with guilt because they felt something they had done caused the divorce, with feelings of rejection and concerns about being unloved and perhaps unlovable. They did not want this to happen to their children.
Studies show, however, that it is difficult to break the cycle and that many children of divorce repeat the experiences of their parents. The children of today have the additional fear of divorce in their own families because it is so prevalent in the families of their peers.
It is unrealistic to expect that people living in close quarters will not have conflicts.
The problem is compounded by the fact that children learn by modeling their parents. Children are very observant. If they cannot observe in their family how to communicate, how to resolve conflict, how to negotiate, how to be concerned for the good of the other, how to encourage, and how to be a responsible spouse and parent, then they will lack these skills when they get married.
The role of responsible parent and spouse needs to be modeled and taught.
There are many ways in which parents can model responsible behavior.
First one should start with oneself. Many times we say, "Things would be better, if only he (or she) would change." The fact of the matter is that we cannot change anybody else, we can only change ourselves. When we respond differently, however, others tend to change in response to us.
One way to start with ourselves is to be more encouraging. Instead of pointing out to our spouses and our children what they have done wrong, say what they have done right. The Talmud has a wonderful sentence which, if kept in mind should help us control all of our actions: "The Highest Wisdom is Kindness." Most of us want everyone to be kind to us but this also has to be modeled for others to see in us. It is especially important for children to see this in their parents. Wives and husbands who are kind to each other are teaching their children by example.
Again, by their example, parents can also teach children how to resolve conflicts. It is unrealistic to expect that people living in close quarters will not have conflicts.
Parents who hide them from their children are passing up a golden opportunity. Children need to be reassured that conflicts do not mean that their parents no longer love one another or that they are on the verge of divorce because they disagree. Disagreements should be resolved fairly and need not end in long term bitterness or divorce . Learning how to negotiate disagreements is an important skill for children to develop. If parents do not know how to do this because they were never taught, they should find out how, either through education, reading or counseling.
It is never too late to begin to modify one's behavior to become a good model for children. We all make mistakes but they should not be considered failures unless we fail to learn from them. Also, dwelling on the past is a waste of time and energy. The past may have been unhappy but it is unchangeable. It is in our power to change the future especially if we keep in mind: "The Highest Wisdom Is Kindness." I encourage you to begin now.
First published in 1988