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Built around young people's own words rather than a preachy adult voice, young readers gain a kind of peer support group. Adult readers gain insights from kids' observations. Visually interesting to a young reader with lots of graphic designs.
"Full of great advice for kids, and parents too. In many ways, it's a peer support group in print." Elizabeth McGonagle, school social worker, founder of Banana Splits, NY.
"A great book of ideas, written from the expertise of kids who've experienced divorce. One-of-a-kind." Linda Sartori, teacher and editor of Kids' Express newsletter, CO.
"In this very readable book, Dr. Gayle Kimball provides the facts about parental divorce to kids from kids. content, language, and style mkae this an important book for young people." Judith L. Bauersfeld, Ph.D., past president of the Stepfamily Association of America, AZ.
"An outstanding and much needed resource for kids going through a divorce. Also for teachers, counselors, and parents. I loved it." Sue Klavans Simring, D.S.W., Co-director, Family Solutions, NJ.
"Kids talking to kids about the ways they coped with their parents' divorce is a terrific concept. A wonderful book that gives practical and helpful advice that provides children of divorce the emotional help and hope they deserve." David Levey, President, Children's Rights Council, Washington, D.C.
"A wonderful list of techniques, especially about helping kids (and adults) be more verbal. A useful description of the normal porcesses and response to change." Judy Osborne, Stepfamily Associates, MA.
""Uses words that little kids in third grade wouldn't understand, but otherwise helpful and a great book." Andrea, age 12.
Chris was protective of his parents during the separation: "I really didn't talk too much to other people. I thought my problems shouldn't be theirs. I just did things to keep my mind off the situation." Now, his mom doesn't like to talk about the divorce and changes the subject when it comes up, but his stepmother is encouraging him to talk with her and his dad. He used to think that having a talk meant he'd done something wrong, but "now its starting to mean something good. I usually don't like to talk, but when I do, it makes me feel better."
He's changing about talking to friends, too: "I used to think why would people want to hear about my problems, they'd think I was weird. Now, with more people having divorces, there are kids at school that I talk to about our parents being divorced. About half my friends' parents are divorced."
Simply saying how you feel is the first step in surviving divorce (or any other emotional challenge). Brian Holderman is a teacher who leads divorce support groups through his church. He reports that a lot of his elementary school students, "have trouble pinpointing the feelings so they become numb. Stored anger and depression can form into stomach aches, head aches, etc." He emphasizes the importance of writing in a journal and seeing a counselor to learn the language of expressing feelings. +Do you think Luke and Chris might be numbing their feelings of sadness and anger? Do you think boys have less encouragement to reveal their feelings because they are supposed to be tough?
Mr. Holderman teaches his students that there are different degrees of feelings; such as irritation/anger/rage are different intensities of feeling mad. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out that feeling so tired you just want to lie on your bed and look at the ceiling is depression. He also finds that boys are more likely to outwardly express their anger than girls, so being male or female also has an impact on how we get our feelings out.
School counselor Tony Nethercott agrees that his elementary school students often don't know how they're feeling or realize they're blaming themselves for the divorce. He teaches them that its OK to have all kinds of feelings, as long as you don't take them out on your little brother or sister or hurt people. Kids he sees range from being in denial to wanting to kill the world. Some start fighting in school without realizing why.
It helps some of his students to take out their anger on a four foot purple lion in his office; they throw it, beat it, jump on it, or they may do this with a puppet who represents a brother or sister, for example. He finds that some young people can write things in their journal they can't say, a very helpful tool for expressing feelings. Giving caring attention to his students works wonders, even if they just play a game together.
Don didn't have someone like Mr. Nethercott to help him sort out his feelings. When he was 15, they kicked out their abusive father/husband. Instead of working through his anger, he distracted himself by breaking the law. He tells us.
I wouldn't accept any help. Me and my sister went to a counselor a couple of times, but we didn't want anybody else poking around in our business. I wasn't ready to share. I'm real stubborn. I didn't want anybody to know my weaknesses. I took a lot of my frustrations out by stealing. I got a rush off of it and it helped me forget my regular life.
But it didn't help. I quit when I was 17 because I learned some lessons the hard way. I talked to some wise people, to counselors. I realized I felt bad about myself, I had low self-esteem. Counseling only works if you're ready for it. I can be so stubborn. I decided to focus on school and work, to start obeying the law, and put my powers into other things.
1. What do you do when you are feeling angry? Sad? Depressed? Afraid? 2. Who do you tell about your feelings? 3. Have you put souvenirs of happy memories in your journal yet? 4. What happens if you don't express your deep feelings? 5. How do you think you would express anger and sadness if you were the other sex?
Here's how young people feel when their parents separate (listed in the order of the most common feelings), with examples of their comments. Some people were too young to remember the divorce, but the large majority of our experts had negative feelings about the divorce. 1. Upset, hurt, shocked, crushed, devastated, stunned. "I felt my heart was physically breaking." "It hurt because I needed both of them to be there for me." 2. Sad. "I cried forever." 3. Angry and deserted. "I felt they were doing this to me." "I was afraid I wouldn't see my dad again." " I spent the next 10 years worrying that I would loose my mom, but now it seems normal." 4. Glad because it stopped their fighting (or being around a parent addicted to alcohol or drugs). "It's better because I can speak my mind without getting thrown across the room or backhanded by my drunk father." 5. Surprised and confused. "I never saw them argue. I thought everything was fine." "I did not understand for a couple of years, so of course I wanted them back together." 6. Guilty. "I thought I was bad and that my dad didn't want to spend time with us any more." "I used to think it was something I did."
+Which of these feelings do you share? Figuring this out can be easier said than done. Some young people didn't let themselves feel because it's unpleasant, they didn't know how, or they didn't feel their parents could handle it. These are typical comments: "I kept my emotions inside by not talking about it." "I repressed my feelings for a year, like a calm before a big storm, but you know something major is going to happen and life will never be the same." "I thought it didn't affect me, but I found out it did." "I blocked out memories of parts of my life from five to twelve." "If you don't talk about it, you won't be able to deal with it and might live in a fantasy world for a while (like I think I did)." "Instead of talking about my feelings, I got stomach aches." "I got into fights at school a lot. Now I think it was my anger about the divorce." "Tell kids they should talk to someone. I didn't want to sound like I was whining, but now I know it's brave to say what you feel and it gets rid of the idea you could have stopped the divorce."
Don't be like an ostrich that sticks its head in the sand to avoid danger, as you leave your rear exposed. Unconscious feelings can run your life in a way you may not like. The solution is to face them, let yourself feel them, and allow the healing process to start. If you don't, you'll attract people to repeat the pattern you're familiar with and haven't completed. This may not be enjoyable. Counselor Steve Flowers points out that if you carry a skunk around long enough, you end up smelling like one.
For example, a person with an alcoholic parent may learn a certain pattern of behavior and repeat it by being attracted to alcoholic partners until he learns a healthier way of relating. Or someone who stuffs her anger may be attracted to people who act out their anger in dramatic ways. Similarly, people watch soap operas or sports to try and fulfill their longing for romance or victory, instead of creating romance or adventure in their own lives. Just because we ignore our feelings doesn't mean they don't have a powerful effect, like a car whose driver is asleep at the wheel isn't aware the car is moving until a crash occurs.
A 23-year-old whose parents divorced when she was two years old explains:
Although I was so young, I know it affected me in countless ways. My mom tells me about when I was four and we passed a church wedding. I asked a million questions and then woke up crying in the middle of the night. It happened again when I was nine and found their wedding album in the attic. But both my parents are way better matched with their current spouses.It may not be easy to identify feelings, buried deep in the unconscious mind. Like an iceberg, the biggest part isn't visible to your conscious mind. The unconscious is not just a passive storehouse for memories, but an active one. It doesn't use the language of words, but of symbols, stories, and pictures. It works through feelings, solving problems. The most direct link from the unconscious to the conscious mind is dreams. You dream every night and can probably learn to remember them if you feel it is important.
To give you an example of how the unconscious mind works, I had a series of dreams, over several months, in which I was asked to teach math, a nightmare for me. In different dreams I struggled with teaching math. Finally, at the end of the series of dreams many months later, I said NO. The principal accepted my decision. My unconscious mind was practicing being assertive. The conscious mind would have used logic, saying, "I need to learn to say no to unreasonable requests," but my unconscious mind practiced in a drama to arrive at the same conclusion.
+If you remember any dreams, write them in your journal. It saves lots of time in therapy if you discuss your dreams with your counselor, parents, or friend. They probably won't make any sense at first, but they will after you discover patterns and learn the meaning of the stories your unconscious mind uses.
After a month or so, read your dream journal and see what repeats. The most common dreams are about anxiety, so be prepared to see these. Examples are being chased, or put in jail, or arriving at a test after everyone has left. For me, it's going skiing and forgetting my skis and teaching and forgetting my notes. Other common dreams are about wishes, like dreaming about food when you're hungry. What are the most vivid dreams you remember?
Another good way to see what you feel is to create movie-like scenes with little objects on sand or dirt. Some therapists have these sand trays in their offices or you could make your own simply by arranging miniature toys and natural objects like stones. Don't think much; just arrange things. See what drama you make up and what this reflects about your present family relationships.
We usually need a therapist to help figure out what we've created because it's hard to see something we're close to. (A therapist who read this wants me to add that sand tray is a form of therapy that requires training, it's not just something to pick up and do. Brent, age 18, points out that friends and other trusted people can often help, too.) This activity is usually designed for young children, but any age can learn from it, as most adults don't know a lot about their unconscious mind. I've enjoyed doing this with a friend at the beach and comparing what we built.
Drawing and painting are other ways to encourage your unconscious mind to let you know what's going on in there. Please stop reading now and draw your family members. Don't judge your abilities as an artist and ask your deeper self to speak for you: " If you think, then your true feelings may not come out." Think about who you draw rather than how you draw. Use crayons, colored pencils, or paint, so you can include the feelings represented by colors. Red, for example, might indicate anger, while gray might indicate sadness. Include yourself in the drawing. Write in your journal what clues your drawing showed you about how you are feeling now.
How do you feel about the connections between the people in your art. Who's big? Who's little? Who's close? Who's far apart? Who is nearer to whom? Who is up and who is down? What kinds of expressions do they have on their faces? Where are they looking? What are they doing? Who is missing, or in profile, or is drawn with missing body parts? Are the colors dark or bright?
It's interesting to have other people your age do the same drawing exercise and share with each other. A support group for young people whose parents are divorcing is very helpful; your personal counselor, a school counselor, a clergy person, or a youth agency like a YWCA or YMCA might be able to find this kind of group for you, as described in the next chapter.
1. How have your feelings changed since you first learned about your parents' separation? 2. What do your dreams, drawings, and fantasies tell you about what your unconscious mind is working on now? 3. What was the most fun thing you did this year? 4. What country would you most like to visit? 5. What's the most fun trip you've ever taken? 7