For Better, For Worse: A Guide To Surviving Divorce For Preteens And Their Families

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9780689819452: For Better, For Worse: A Guide To Surviving Divorce For Preteens And Their Families
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Provides readers with a helpful guide to coping with the sudden separation of the family and the reality of divorce through first-hand narratives by kids who have experienced it.

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About the Author:

Janet Bode is the author of more than a dozen books for children, teenagers, and adults. Many of her books have been selected as American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults, ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, and New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age. She specialized in writing down-to-earth, problem-solving books about issues confronting today's teens and preteens, such as eating disorders, sibling problems, peer pressure, teen pregnancy, and juvenile crime. Ultimately these are books of hope: Problems have solutions, and readers learn that what worked for others can work for them. A frequent speaker in schools, libraries, conferences, and on radio and television, Janet lived in New York City. She passed away in December 1999.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: Overview and Kid's-eye View

Divorce is messy. So is remarriage. One family ends and new ones grow. To make sense of these changes, many students say that what helps most is to talk about them -- and then listen to advice from others in similar situations.

Talk about what troubles you and the emotions you feel. Listen to how your friends deal with them. Talk about your hopes for the future. Listen to others' dreams and see what might feel right for you.

The voices set off below come from one of the discussions held by middle school students helping with this book. They touch on different experiences and emotions that may sound so familiar it's as if you're overhearing your own life story.

Sometimes, though, these life-changing events happen when you're too little to remember. You never hear Mom and Dad's speech on why they're going separate ways, who will live where, and how often -- if ever -- you'll see the one saying, "Good-bye, I'm leaving."

You are now bigger. Though you may have no old memories, your family complications continue, and they're as painful as those experienced by kids whose parents have divorced or remarried as recently as today.


Alice, age twelve:

My parents separated when I was three. What I remember was no more screaming. Now I'm older. Mom says my dad won't divorce her because he still loves her. He doesn't come see us. He doesn't support us. Strange, huh? I never want to get married.


Christopher, age ten:

When I was five, my parents separated. They said, "It's not that we don't like each other. We just don't love each other anymore." Then they looked at me and said, "So how do you feel?" To this day I don't know what they expected me to answer.


THE FAMILY SCRIPT

Get a sheet of paper and on it write Divorce/Remarriage. Now fill the blank page with words that describe how these events make you feel. Maybe you'll put down hurt, mad, sad, confused, ignored. All these are normal reactions. What you might not know is why. There are two connected reasons.

To understand one reason, you have to understand something you could call the family script. Think of your life as a continuously running TV show. All programs have a script, and each family member is cast in one particular role. In the beginning let's say there's a mom and a dad, then along you come and, a little later, a sister or a brother.

For the show to succeed, for the family to run smoothly, all the actors have to perform their assigned role. And you have to stick to the family script. Imagine, though, what happens when a key actor, your mom or dad, quits the program. The script's been tossed out and no one is sure how to perform a new part.

You might have had clues that this change would happen. Maybe there've been upsetting nighttime fights, a silent anger filled with tension, or one parent simply vanishing. During that time you pretended everything was fine. In reality, these events make everyone feel off balance.


Venitia, age twelve:

Just before my parents split up, my dad told my mom she bought too much food. He said, "Your mother should be starved to death." Then he dumped everything on the kitchen floor. Next he came with a U-Haul truck while she was at work. He emptied the house and broke all the mirrors to give her bad luck.


Ben, age eleven:

When it first happened to me, my parents said, "Who do you want to live with?" I was small. I said, "Mom." Now that I'm older, Mom's always asking, "Do you want to go live with your dad?" I feel if I say yes, she'll be mad at me. I hate when parents put you on the spot that way.


EXPLOSIONS

Because each family script is like a TV show, the way you act often depends on the way the other family members act and how each of them plays his or her role. When a divorce explodes in the heart of your family, everybody is wounded. Some members -- even a parent -- hurt so much that they feel they're dying. Emotionally they shut down.

Some respond to the first explosion by setting off others. You scream at your mom, your sister, your best friend. You quit caring about school, you shoplift, you cut yourself on purpose. It doesn't matter how exactly you react, one thing is clear: Separation, parents moving out, parents dating, divorce, and remarriage change a family script forever.


Jessica, age twelve:

You can be obnoxious with your parents' dates. Or if you really want to test them, ask for an expensive present. If you get one, it means they like both your parent and you.


Ben, age eleven:

What I care about is my parents dating. My mom says, "If you don't like the person, I'll get rid of him." But that's not how things have worked out.


Alice, age twelve:

We moved from a house to an apartment. Through the walls I can hear my mom and her latest boyfriend having sex. I hate it.


With all these changes you cannot expect your family to be calm. Parents feel guilty. You feel ignored. You or a sibling tries to fill the space left by the now-missing member. An older brother might act like Dad. If the mom moves out, maybe a sister takes on that role. You hope to play those parts plus your regular one, something that's almost impossible.

What you need is a new balance. What you often want is to get back what you lost. No matter how good or how troubled your family has been, it's what you know. And what you know brings you a certain comfort.


DEATH OF A FAMILY

Here is the second reason why divorce and remarriage bring on an exhaustion of emotions: A divorce often feels like the death of a family. You go through the same emotions that come when any loved one dies. You feel shocked numb. Even if you're not surprised, you can't believe it is happening.

You worry you caused this. If only you hadn't picked on your brother, if only you had cleaned your room, if only...You bargain with your parents. You'll be good, you promise. You haven't yet learned that the divorce is not your fault.

You decide your parents are changing their minds; they are not divorcing. This is called denial, and in some ways it can help. It gives you a chance to catch your breath, sort out your life, and begin to make sense of what's occurring around you.

You get depressed and tired. Too many emotions pull your energy down. For some of you, the separation goes on and on. For others, you feel like your life went from living with married parents to living with divorced parents and a zillion complications overnight.

There are as many variations as there are families. A parent leaves emotionally but is still in the neighborhood or even the house. A parent vanishes never to reappear. A parent is already in love with someone new. The fights diminish. The fights increase. The topics are old. The topics are new. Money. Custody. Transportation arrangements for your travel back and forth between two homes. Routines no longer exist. Life seems to have no order. The adults you've relied on seem to have turned into...? You're not even sure.


Peter, age eleven:

My parents are talking divorce and I'm thinking, Is it something I did? What happens now? Who do I live with? Will we still live together or will we separate? So many questions with no answers.


Kynda, age eleven:

When I was four, my father left my mother, my one-year-old brother, and me. My mom was sad and depressed. She'd lie on her bed crying. She'd forget to make dinner and I didn't know why.


Samantha, age ten:

With my parents, my mom was cheating on my dad. She'd say she was going to the park to feed the ducks. This guy would be there. He'd bring his kids, too. Even when I didn't know exactly who he was, I did bad stuff to him; like when my mom did his laundry, I cut a hole in his sock.


Heather, age nine:

My parents said, "Because we love you so much, we have joint custody." Now I'm growing up with two keys around my neck, Mom's house and Dad's. When I go home to empty houses, I feel lonely, not loved.


PUBLIC RECOGNITION

You're just a kid.

Of course it's tough trying to make sense of all this. One of your parents or both want you to accept something you most often don't want to accept. One of them may be fighting the change as hard as you.

Acceptance of a divorce is like acceptance of a death. It is the final stage. But when a loved one dies, there's public recognition. There's a ceremony. Relatives and friends comfort you. You're suffering a loss. You are supposed to be upset and grieve. You're supposed to feel as if you've been run over by a truck.

Half the marriages in America end in divorce. Yet, when there is one -- the death of a family -- no one still quite knows what to say or how to act. No one knows to expect all these emotions. And the range of feelings doesn't come in exact time periods: You're in shock for a month, then you move on to bargaining, denial, and so on. To make matters tougher, all these stages can happen at once. No one tells you you're not crazy. Experiencing these emotions is normal.


Venitia, age twelve:

With my family, first the fights were about child support. Since my dad wished my mom were dead, he didn't want to give us any money. If we asked, he said, "That's all you guys want from me." Now my mom's remarried, and any money from Dad is out of the question.


Samantha, age ten:

My dad complains, but he still pays. What upsets me, though, is he won't develop a real relationship with me.


Jessica, age twelve:

I see my dad about once a year. I ask him to spend Christmas with me. He ignores it. I ask him to come watch my drill team competition. He tells me he can't because of Lent. He's not even religious.


Christopher, age ten:

My parents only talk because they have to, like if my dad forgets the child support. December, oops, he didn't send it. That starts the war. Are you gonna to pay? Nope. Boom!


Maybe during the divorce what you hear from your mom or dad is, "Don't worry. Soon everything will be back to normal." But the truth is your family has to create a new normal. From the old family a new one -- or two -- will be born. Just when you think your life has calmed down, a parent announces, "I'm getting married." Now you have a whole new cast of characters added to your original family script, which brings you back to the beginning.

SPLIT-REMARRIED-RECONSTITUTED-BLENDED-ACCORDION FAMILIES

Every day about 1,300 new stepfamilies form. Call them split families, remarried families, reconstituted families, blended families, even accordion families, expanding and contracting with his kids, her kids, and their kids.

No matter what the name, it's tricky being a member. Think of the characters from South Park combining with the characters from Dawson's Creek. What would these two family scripts have in common? They look at life through two different points of view. Mush them together and you have a ready-made stage on which battles can rage.

Once more, adults want you to accept a series of changes: share your life, share your room, share your privacy with a bunch of weirdo strangers. Are they crazy? You're way cool, and overnight Kenny, some freaky kid who drops dead every episode, is your stepbrother?

Or maybe they are kids you know from school. It doesn't mean you have anything more in common. In fact, you haven't liked them since you first met in second grade. And you're supposed to feel close to stepsiblings you didn't even choose?

Then another announcement -- a new baby, your half sibling -- and the complications increase. You may feel you have less and less importance in your parent's life. For some of you, too, this isn't the first time or possibly the last time that one or both of your parents will try to live happily ever after.


Zane, age twelve:

My father doesn't call often, and he puts my stepmother and stepsisters ahead of me. I feel he doesn't love me. I understand the emotional roller coaster, the wanting to be loved, the thoughts of suicide just to find a way to deal with problems. Somehow, when you are upset about a divorce, your everyday problems seem to be linked to it.


Kevin, age eleven:

My mom's married again. Sometimes I call him Dad. When I get mad at him, I call him by his first name.


David, age twelve:

Craig, my stepfather, handles the discipline. My mom stands by and watches. Moms let the stepdads take over the rules because they don't want to lose them and go through another divorce.


Ben, age eleven:

My stepmother plays favorites. My dad says it's because her kids don't come over a lot. When they do, she treats them special.


Kevin, age eleven:

My stepsister and I used to boss each other around. She thinks she's smarter because I'm younger. Now we get along better.


Venitia, age twelve:

Since my mom married Jason, I'm kind of scared of him. Every time I walk by he goes, "Here comes the pain in the..." My mom says, "Oh, he's kidding around."


Everything in your life is out of balance. One day your mom's the boss. The next day along comes this replacement, a stepparent. Or you were the youngest, the sweet baby. You were treated as if you were special. You liked your role. You didn't even think about it. Then suddenly there's a younger stepsibling and you're stuck in the middle. Changes upon changes can cause problems for everyone.

But, then again, they don't have to.


Dana, age twelve:

My second dad adopted me, so in a lot of ways that divorce was harder than the first. Now I'm twelve. My mom has been happily married for two years. I don't talk to my dad that adopted me anymore, but I wish I did. I'm fine, though, with the stepdad I have now, as long as my mom is happy.


Matt, age twelve:

A good thing about divorce is freedom. Not just for the parents, but also you. The two parents make two sets of rules. Some rules you agree with, most you don't. Usually in that situation you can pick favorites.

Another good thing is meeting new people. You meet your dad's new girlfriend and your mom's new boyfriend. The oddest times are accepting stepparents. Being the child, you will probably have little control over who your parents choose. So you might hate them or you might like them.

I think the nice part of having stepparents is all the new things they bring into your world. My parents are divorced. I don't think they should get back together. Mom is happy. Dad is happy. Nothing needs to be changed.


Ben, age eleven:

You can't just forget how divorce feels. You can't just forget how remarriage changes things. Your feelings build up inside. You should find a bunch of different ways to cope. Like, I showed up today for this book meeting. I talked about my problems. I'm glad I did. I feel better.

Text copyright © 2001 by Janet Bode

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