Looking at my daughter’s brand new swollen eye from a collision course with her sturdy doll house, I think back to my first shiner, at almost the same age, that was born from a bump with a seventies oak coffee table.  The bumps we get and the faint scars they leave behind start mapping out our histories.  I think about the way my mom or my grandpa would swoop me up and console me with scraped knees, goose eggs, and fingers slammed in car doors, and I wonder at the miraculous healing it offered my broken wings.

 

It’s ingrained in us, as parents as children, to give that affection and to receive it.  So much so, that when it lacks in our childhood, we do self destructive things in order to create some sort of empathy within someone, anyone, that will reach out and make it all ok.  Children of abuse, (I hate that term, because it sounds as if they were born to suffer,) and children of divorce struggle greatly throughout the remainder of their lives for the consoling of a loving set of parents.  The concept of a warm and loving “home,” is so foreign and exotic, that these children go to extremes to find it…anywhere they can.

 

- “Sex between young teens and older individuals increases with the number of famiy disadvantages...[The teens] lived in a family structure other than one headed by two biological or adoptive parents”...(1)

           

- “Children of divorce are twice as likely to drop out of school as those from intact homes, three times as apt to have a baby out of wedlock, five-fold more likely to be in poverty and 12 times more apt to be incarcerated.” (2)

 

-  Judith Wallerstein followed 100 children of divorce for 25 years after parental divorce. Only 60 of the 100, now aged 27-43, had ever married vs. 84 percent of those from intact families. And 25 of the 60 had already divorced, leaving only a third who built lasting marriages. (2)

 

-  Babies who spend nights at the different homes of separated or divorced
parents have problems making secure attachments to their parents. ...(3)

 

-  Children from divorced families are more likely to have academic problems. They are more likely to be aggressive and get in trouble with school authorities or the police. These children are more likely to have low self-esteem and feel depressed. (4)

 

It’s so important to be parents that are aware of our pasts.  Although we may have experienced a deep loss of that parent/child relationship, we have a chance to “start over” with our own kids.  I’ve met three kinds of emotionally wounded people: 

 

“The Fighters” They are those that sweep their sadness under the rug, and shrug it off.  “It was no big deal.  Everyone’s parents divorced.  I’m not special.”  And they go on in life with a wall protecting them from ever being hurt again, but also protecting themselves from feeling the experience of true love and vulnerability.  They hope you don’t notice they’re always an inch from crying…

 

“The Weepers” They are those that live in the past.  They dwell in their old wounds, hoping to glean any sort of empathy they can in the present.  They accept that they will always be victims of what happened to them long ago.  And they hope you notice them…

 

“The Realists” These are the true realists, not pessimists hiding in sheep’s clothing.  These are those that have accepted that bad things happened to them.  And yes, they know, they were really bad.  These are those that have mourned for the childhood they never got and will never have, but they glory in the everyday opportunity they have to impress a positive impact on their surroundings.  Sometimes they have bad days and feel as if they slipped back to their old habits of self destruction or depression.  Sometimes they meet someone who’s going through what they went through and they are able to help them with empathy, a kind word and a smile.  They look at their children with the tenderness of a shepherd and the watchful eye of a bear.  They are fierce and kind and loyal to those that have helped them get through the valley of darkness.  These are who I aim to be.

 

Wherever you may be on your journey through life, parenting can bring up a lot of feelings that you may have thought were long gone.  It’s ok to feel as if you’re going two steps sideways and one step falling on your face.  I think we all do as parents.  Just know that you don’t have to go through things alone.  If you haven’t reached out yet, it’s not too late.  The wonderful thing about parenting is, it gives us strength to do things we wouldn’t normally do.  So, if you wouldn’t be caught dead in a sexual abuse therapy circle before you had kids, maybe now, looking at your little ones, you may feel the tug towards healing those old wounds.

 

Parenting makes me so painfully aware of my limitations, and the needs of my daughter.  Sometimes she just needs a hug.  Sometimes she just needs to cry.  Sometimes, she thinks she just needs ice cream.  I’m learning a lot from that little girl.  It’s ok to ask for help, it’s ok to cry, just because, and sometimes it’s even ok to have ice cream.

 

 (1)  "Sex Between Young Teens and Older Individuals: A Demographic Portrait"  By Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D., Kristin Moore, Ph.D., Janet Liechty, M.S.W., Erum Ikramullah, and Sarah Cottingham
Child Trends Research Brief
September 2005; Publication #2005-07

 

(2)  McManus: Ethics & Religion Sept. 14, 2004 Column #1,203 Advance for Sept.18, 2004 Mutual Consent Divorce Reform by Michael J. McManus. Cited in a posting from Smart Marriages Listserv on Sept. 15, 2004.

 

(3)  Divorce damages infants too
Health24.com - Cape Town,South Africa

 

(4)  Divorce and Children:
An Interview with Robert Hughes, Jr, PhD

http://www.athealth.com/consumer/disorders/childrendivorce.html