By Hara Wachholder
At the young age of two, I became quite the traveler. Well . . . not in the way you might think. I did not have extra miles sitting on a card to travel around the country. My traveling consisted of venturing several times a month between two cities about twenty minutes apart. What sounds like an easy trip between neighboring towns felt like a journey that never seemed to end.
I am the adult daughter of divorced parents. While I now have the ability to decide who to visit, I was not given this privilege until the age of seventeen or eighteen. Instead, I would bounce back and forth like a ping pong ball between my parents’ homes for over fifteen years. Just as I would start to get comfortable somewhere, I would have to pack my bag and start all over again.
I am not going to sugar-coat this. Being the child of divorced parents can be traumatizing. Parents tend to argue over who will get to have their child for birthdays and holidays as well as for spring, summer, and winter break. Plus, there is the issue of different parenting styles and different rules in each of the households. Children are often caught in the middle witnessing the arguments or at least sensing the tension if they are not directly involved. Trust me when I say that children know a lot more than they may let on. On a personal note, I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so I chose to continue to shuffle back and forth between my parents without speaking up for myself. There are many children out there that have also selected this path.
This is why I have chosen to share my perspective as a child of divorce. There are so many thoughts and feelings that swirl through the mind and heart of a child. No child can prepare themselves for what is to come, and this is my point to all of the divorcing or divorced parents out there. Yes, I know you are hurting; however, you still have the crucial job of raising your children and supporting them before, during, and after this difficult process. We, the children of divorced or divorcing parents, often feel like collateral damage, a pawn being dangled or a prize to be won.
I want you to think about this as you put together a structured plan for your children or begin the very overwhelming process of fighting for custody. This is a huge transition and not an easy one. This is not about maintaining control or “winning” in the outcome. This is about taking the time to understand the needs and concerns of your children.
During the holiday season, there can be added pressures. For instance, parents may feel it is necessary to create the illusion that everything is “picture perfect” and are waiting until after the holidays to drop the bomb of the divorce. There might be some parents who choose to try to keep everything the same, including past holiday traditions to avoid upsetting anyone. There are also the parents who feel that they have to overcompensate now that they are alone. Or we have the parents that want to compete with their former spouse to provide the children with better gifts or more exciting holiday plans like a week-long cruise to the Caribbean.
Of course, in the eyes of a child, the thought of double the gifts can be quite appealing. However, double the gifts does not mean that it will cancel out the fact that their lives are changing. If, as you are reading this article, you realize that you have been guilty of the aforementioned examples, it is important to remember that the holiday season would be a great time to establish new traditions that meet the needs of your new family dynamic as well as focus on creating a more positive environment for yourself and your children. That would be a very meaningful gift to give this year. As the saying goes, “Stay in your lane!” Focus on your relationship with your child and make new memories rather than making this a competition.
Speaking of holiday gifts, I have the pleasure of announcing the release of my new book. My Parents Are Getting a Divorce . . . I Wonder What Will Happen to Me is an interactive discussion book written by yours truly and my mother, Karen Kaye. As a mother-daughter team of therapists with personal and professional experience with divorce, we wanted to provide a bridge of understanding between parents and their children. Our book creates a safe space for children to share their innermost thoughts and feelings while also teaching healthy coping skills for children to empower themselves during a chaotic and confusing time in their lives. The goal is to take children out of the middle and provide them with a voice as well as the tools that will allow them to grow into healthy, balanced individuals.
For more information or to purchase my labor of love, visit www.imstillmebook.com.
Hara Wachholder, LMHC is a licensed mental health counselor with the State of Florida and received her master’s degree in counseling from Nova Southeastern University. It was after the resolution of the long-winded custody battle between her parents that Hara recognized her calling to help others going through the same struggle. Hara Wachholder is currently the clinical director for a family therapy center located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.