For some kids, one bonus of having divorced parents is that they now have two Christmases, with twice as many gifts. But the disadvantages far outnumber the benefits, they say.
Chris Delaney, 17, said the hardest part about his parents’ divorce 12 years ago was not living with both parents. “Not being able to see your whole family together,” he recalled.
Some children feel they must choose sides, and others just miss the parent they don’t live with.
“I’m with my dad all the time, so I don’t really get to know my mom as much anymore. Like I only get to see her maybe every two months or so,” said Ethan Briggeman, 15.
Couples divorce for a wide variety of reasons, with poor communication being the most common. In 40 percent, children are involved. Marion County parents who petition for divorce need to go to a Children Cope with Divorce class. According to social worker and educator Gayla Pitts, not only is it ordered by the court, but it will help them deal with their own emotions as well.
“No matter how agreeable the decision was to divorce, it’s not without some emotional consequences. People are going to feel the loss of their friendship, of their marriage,” said Pitts, who started the program 19 years ago.
Telling children about a decision to divorce is another hurdle. Typically, younger kids are easier, says Pitts. “Little children, toddlers, babies don’t know what’s going on. They just need to know that their needs are going to be taken care of day in, day out.”
That was the case for Ethan, who was 2 when his parents split. “I was pretty much used to it right off the bat,” he said. “I’m just now accepting it. I know it’s happened, nothing else I can do about it.”
Chris was 5 years old when his parents divorced. “I was young, so I wasn’t involved in the divorce as much as my older brothers and sisters.”
Divorce brings a lot of heartbreak, but it can have some positive effects.
“You get to kind of know your parents a little more. You get to know their emotional side more. They don’t hide as much stuff from you,” said Ethan.
Remarriage, too, brings another set of joys and aggravations. New siblings might be a blessing or a curse. Same with a stepparent.
Marty Murphy had three kids when he met his second wife, who had four, including Chris. Jeanne Bergquist had three children when she married a man with two daughters. Both said that their blended households worked well, even from the start.
“Our family backgrounds are the same, my wife’s and mine, so I think we probably were a lot alike in the way we viewed things and the way our families acted, so it wasn’t a big stretch for them to welcome in somebody new,” recalled Murphy, whose kids had played sports with his wife’s kids.
Bergquist, too, had known her husband and his children for years before they married, which may have eased their transition. However, “I think that a transition like that is always a challenge for kids, but I think if everyone is on the same page and does it together, then it makes the transition a little bit easier and makes everyone feel that they have a voice,” she said.
Still, there are some adjustments even with the best intentions. Ethan said he resisted his stepmother because he still hoped his parents might reconcile.
“At first I wasn’t really OK with it because I was still hoping there might be a chance that they would get back together, but now I’m fine with it,” he said.
Murphy and Bergquist agreed that scheduling visits with the other parents can be challenging, but the key is to be flexible and open – and not to come on too strong.
“I think my relationship with them is pretty good. I understand that they have a father who’s still active in their lives and whom they talk to, so I don’t try to take the place of their dad. I just try to be there to help them where I can,” said Murphy.
Bergquist appreciates that her stepkids’ biological mother has a different parenting approach than she does. “Their mother actually is a little bit stricter than I am,” she said. “I’m more laidback and easygoing. We have them every other weekend, so I really don’t try to parent, I just try to be a role model and be there for them.”
Murphy, too, agrees that discipline should be left to the birth parent.
“I discipline the Murphy kids and she disciplines the Delaney kids,” Murphy said. “If they were my natural children, I would probably be more involved in their discipline.”
Overall, these stepparents and children are happy with their extended families.
“My mom’s happy and he’s nice,” said Chris.
“I love being surrounded by all the kids,” Bergquist said. “We go on family trips, we have family game night and we do a lot of things together. When they bring friends along and we have eight, nine kids, I love it.”
Contributing to this story are reporters Sam Hansen, 12, and Eliana Martinez, 12.
Copyright 2011 Y-Press