Talking About Divorce

– By Sharon Ashton and Raksha Dave-Gates (Counselling Psychologists)

The primary task of every civilization is to teach the young men to be fathers. – Margaret Mead

Our celebrations of Father’s Day this month and of Mother’s Day in May are evidence of the high value that our society places on the importance of family. When wescan the racks of greeting cards for these two occasions, we see examples of what it means in our culture to be a good parent. We each have our own values shaped by our childhood experiences and observations throughout life of many different family styles. Whether we select cards with messages that are flowery OR funny, we do so with the hope that the words will evoke pleasurable memories and loving feelings not just for ourselves but for the recipient as well.

Just as wecarefully choose the language of cards that we purchase, we can use our words to help parents and their children adjust more easily to the dramatic changes theyface as a result of separation or divorce. We know that in Alberta about 40% of marriages end in divorce at some point before the thirtieth anniversary (2003 Stats Can). Note that this rather high statistic does not include common-law unions that dissolve. We urgently need to develop sensitive language that willsupport the emotional health of families facing this change. If you are in the process of separation or divorce, pay careful attention to the language you us ein your private self-talk too. You’ll find that when you monitor your language, you are able to positively affect your attitude. By nurturing yourself in this way, you will rebuild your family and heal more quickly.

Whether you are a divorced parent or you are in conversation about a family of divorce, you may be using common phrases without awareness of their potential to undermine the confidence and self-worth of children and adults from these families. For example, feel the shift from negative to positive sentiment as you say “Thechildren’s mother/father left them” followed by, “They are a family”. Or try saying, “the marriage broke up/failed”, then substitute with “the marriage ended”. By referring to the “children’s father or their mother” instead ofusing labels like “ex-wife” or “ex-husband” you will support a shift to focusing on the enduring parental status and away from old coupleship roles and the painful emotions associated with those roles. Later, when your emotional divorce is complete, you will be able to use words like “my former husband” or“my first wife” without producing painful emotion. Finally, if we think of children as now having two homes, rather than living in one and “visiting” the other, we begin to build a sense of constancy and a new meaning of family.

As MargaretMead suggests, positive parenting skills are vitally important to ensure thesurvival of any civilization. Good parenting is intentional and requires awillingness to learn and change. We recommend Mom’s House, Dad’s House: Making Two Homes for Your Child by Ricci as a resource for those facing thedifficulties and challenges of divorce or separation. The book is also ahelpful resource for anyone who would like to improve their skills in supporting families who are dealing with change.