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Discussing Separated and Divorced Families

"We find ourselves in a culture filled with separation and divorce. If children can freely love their parents, they can freely develop themselves."

Throughout my teaching career, I've noticed an increasing number of children in my classes who come from separated or divorced families. Many of these children seem to want to conceal this fact. I sense that they feel bitter because their fathers don't live with them, and society stigmatizes their families as "incomplete", adding to their suffering. Out of loyalty to their families, they avoid discussing their situation, thereby hindering communication between home and school, as well as with their friends, perpetuating the separation.

Having spent many years separated and subsequently divorced, I often pondered what it means to live in a "culture of separation". How can we ensure that children thrive in such circumstances?

Life during separation can be tough. In order to make separation more bearable for adults and children alike, I base my approach on the following concepts in every class session and during parent-teacher meetings. I've even printed these concepts out and distributed them to some mothers as a record of our discussions.

1. A family is never truly torn apart just because the romantic relationship between parents ends. Parents are always parents, consciously or unconsciously, and their relationship remains as such until the end. You are a part of this relationship, regardless of whether your parents get along. Thinking this way can truly make you feel better. 

2. Every child has the right to love both their father and mother and to learn from them. As long as children are young, parents should decide for them what is best for them.

3. The conflicts between parents have nothing to do with you. If your father or mother asks you to take sides or intervene in their relationship, even if it's just by not telling your mom that you still love your dad or not admitting that you only love your mom, it helps. As you grow older, you'll come to understand that it's perfectly fine to forever remain their child, and it's liberating not to carry the burden of resolving their separation or divorce struggles by yourself. This is the most challenging part, and children often only achieve it in adulthood. 

After the mothers of the students in the class have seen these concepts during parent-teacher nights or when I am at work, they often engage in deep reflection. They want their children to feel free, so I suggest to them: "I have a way for your child to feel free. Sometimes, like during dinner, say to your child, 'Seeing you sitting in front of me, so healthy and vibrant, makes me think of your dad. I still love the him in you,' and leave it at that, without adding, 'even though he hurt me', even if that is true."

I also ask them to consider that although their children may outwardly appear to take their side, inwardly they may support their father, even if he's drinking, unfair to his spouse, or even in prison. In such cases, children often side with the weaker party. 

However, if children can freely love their parents, they can freely develop themselves.

Extracted from “When We Are Together” by Marianne Franke-Gricksch

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