This week, I'm featuring a guest blogger on Throwback Thursday. I'm reposting because this is such a relevant subject for many of you. This post originally appeared in 2013.
Today, I'm happy to welcome guest blogger, and writing colleague, Lisa Lawmaster Hess. Lisa spent years as a school counselor and shares about a special group she ran for kids dealing with divorce. As many of you have children facing these issues, I asked Lisa to write a guest post for me. Please see her bio below for info about her book, Diverse Divorce.
When I was a school counselor, one of my favorite small groups to run was my group for children of divorce. Early on, I used a literal definition to identify potential group members, but it didn't take me long to discover that children of divorce don't define themselves in legal terms, or even in adult terms.
Children who joined these groups were united more by their sense of loss than any specific, adult-centric rules about what constitutes divorce. While I certainly had children whose parents met the legal definition of "divorced" or "separated" in these groups, I had just as many group members who'd lost a significant adult to the breakup of a relationship that did not include marriage. Some of these children had never met one of their parents -- usually their father, for obvious reasons -- while others had lost contact because their parents or parental figures were incarcerated, disinterested or simply gone.
Parental figures weren't limited to biological mothers and fathers. They were boyfriends, girlfriends, aunts, uncles, stepparents and grandparents as well. I had some children in my group who'd never experienced a marriage that stayed together; their parents were divorced or never married, as were grandparents, aunts and uncles. These children of broken relationships had many concerns in common, and often struggled with the same issues again when a new paramour or stepparent left, unable to sustain the romantic relationship, let alone be a parental role model.
Please understand -- I'm not trying to redefine marriage or family -- just saying that children look at parental loss differently. For my kids, the “who” was less important than the “what.” Someone they loved was gone, and they were hurting. There was a hole in their lives where a grown-up had been and they felt as though they were the only ones in the world who felt the way they were feeling.
Depressed? Don't be. Remember how I said these groups were among my favorite ones to run? That's because the support these children provided for each other was unrivaled. Once they got over their astonishment ("you mean someone else feels this way, too?"), they bonded. They shared. They asked questions that were both surface and probing out of genuine interest and a desire to help, and many formed friendships within the group that extended beyond our meetings and into the real world of classroom and playground.
And these kids never ceased to amaze me. They shared openly (more openly than some of their parents would have liked, I’m sure), respected the privacy rule that was the group’s foundation, and formed bonds that allowed them to help one another in a way no one else could. In the safety of my office, they laughed, cried, built pillow forts, chided each other and sympathized. I will never forget the meeting where one eleven-year-old looked at another (who was proudly recounting how she went out of her way to make her father's girlfriend unhappy) and said, "Don't you want your father to be happy?"
"Of course I do," the second one replied.
"Then why are you so mean to his girlfriend?"
One refrain I heard over and over from my group members was that before they came to the group, they never knew that anyone else felt the same way they did. And it was precisely that shared experience, that mutual sense of loss that made the privacy rule redundant. These kids didn't share each others' secrets, not only because they didn't want anyone sharing theirs, but because to do so would be a betrayal.
United by the common thread of loss, these kids used that thread to build a web of resilience, one I hope will sustain them in future relationships. I know that during the time they spent in my room, they learned to sustain themselves and one another, and many days, their infectious compassion sustained me as well. We had a great deal of fun discussing a subject that was not so much fun, and I hope the connections they made taught them a little bit about respect and relationships so that as they climb out of the web of elementary school, they know not only what to look for in a friendship, and by extension, a romantic relationship.
Lisa Lawmaster Hess is a transplanted Jersey girl who spent 27 years as an elementary school counselor, and is now trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. Her current roles as wife, mother, author and instructor/speaker keep her both busy and happy.
Lisa is the author of Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce, both inspired by her interactions with her students. Her first novel, Casting the First Stone, was released in 2014 and is available in paperback and on Kindle.
An organizational work-in-progress, Lisa enjoys teaching and speaking on unique ways to get organized, and is at work on a book on that topic. She continues to write articles and novels as well.