Globe and Mail

In the aftermath of a divorce

The Globe and Mail
Friday, October 1, 1999

Hanna McDonough, a clinical social worker at the Clarke Division of Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, is the co-author (with Christina Bartha) of Putting Children First: A Guide for Parents Breaking Up,published last month by University of Toronto Press. She spoke with The Globe and Mail about divorce and its effects on children.

On what children really wonder after a divorce:

" 'Aren't I good enough for my dad to want to live with me?' They don't think the parents want to leave each other. They feel that they themselves are left. They feel inadequate and abandoned."

On children's attachment to their original family:

"It is the foundation of their sense of well-being. The family is the foundation of their identity. They have a feeling of life and death about being close to them. The child's worst fear is about losing connection to a parent."

On parental emotions:

"Both go through an extended grieving process that starts with denial, then anger, then protest, then disintegration and depression and then finally reintegration. To get from the physical divorce to the emotional divorce takes two years. Most people marry for better and for worse. They expect and hope for permanence and for their spouse to make them happy. When that doesn't happen, people feel betrayed and hurt. It starts to create doubt in themselves: 'Am I not lovable? Am I not capable of love?' "

On protecting the children:

"What matters most for the child's well-being is that they have unconflicted closeness to both parents. What causes children to feel disturbed is when they are in the position of feeling, 'If I love my mommy, I will hurt my daddy,' and 'If I love my daddy, I will hurt my mommy.' "

On being adult:

"It takes maturity to conduct a marriage and it takes huge maturity to conduct a good divorce, to actually control the primitive feelings that come up, to manage them in a civilized way and to protect the children from your own anger and disappointment. And I'm amazed at how well people do."

On children coping:

"If they are allowed unconflicted closeness to each parent and if they are allowed to speak about their grief and their pain as they go through it, they will get over it."

Hanna McDonough will be moderating the discussion forum on the Family Matters page on The Globe and Mail's Web site.

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