The Henderson Gleaner

Support group helps children deal with divorce

By JUDY JENKINS Gleaner staff
June 9, 2002
The Henderson Gleanor

"Dear God, please put your arms around me and hug me tight until this divorce is over and I'm happy again."

Those words could well be uttered by hundreds of Henderson County adults each year, but it's a much younger group that routinely says this prayer. It's spoken on Monday evenings at Zion Baptist Church during the church's KidShare Divorce Support Group series of meetings.

Since Zion Baptist started the free series for children of all religious denominations in September, 2000, it has completed four of the series that last from 8-13 weeks each. Some youngsters have gone through the classes twice.

It began as a church outreach program to meet a community need, and is intended to help youngsters ages 6 through 12 deal with their often complex and confused feelings and adjust to their dramatically changed world.

The series is taught by bank sales employee Sandy Potter, who is divorced and the mother of two grown sons. "If someone who wasn't divorced tried to teach this group, I don't think it would work," said Potter, who volunteers her time. "This way, we're all on the same playing field."

During each 90-minute session (6:30-8 p.m.) she's assisted by Debbie and Steve Hollowell, who have also been through previous marriage and divorce.

"Divorce is going to affect children no matter what," Potter said. "Anybody who says it's not is lying."

She said that when she and her ex-husband divorced in 1984 they made every attempt to put their children first and that helped a great deal. But divorce still had an impact on her sons, she said, and it has an impact on every child in a variety of ways.

When she asks children to talk about the emotions they are experiencing as a result of divorce, she hears about fear, sadness, loneliness, guilt and anger. One child said, "It makes me feel sad when my dad talks bad about my mom."

When Potter asks them to demonstrate through role-playing what they're going through, one boy had other children pull hard on each of his outstretched arms. That, he said, is what he feels like - as if his parents are both tugging on him and he's being pulled apart.

While Potter will talk about generalities regarding the class, she never divulges anything that would identify a child to outsiders and she stresses to the children the importance of confidentiality. They are never to relate outside the meeting room what any other child says, and all of the children sign a confidentiality pledge.

At the start of each series, Potter usually opens a puzzle box and dumps the pieces onto a table and asks the kids, "Is this how your life feels now? All in pieces? Nothing fits?"

"That really gets them to talking," she said, adding that since the program began only one child has refrained from speaking during the initial meeting. By the second session, that youngster was opening up to her peers.

The class uses a variety of materials, including a divorce handbook for children published by the American Bar Association and a KidShare workbook published by LifeWay Press in Nashville.

Potter is candid with the children, and admits to them "that adults make stupid mistakes sometimes. I've told them that I've done some pretty dumb stuff."

And they talk to her about the changes divorce has wrought in their lives. Some had to move from the homes they previously occupied and into smaller quarters where they now share rooms with siblings.

One older child told the group that her father had recently remarried, and she felt he didn't love her anymore or have room for her in his life.

Another youngster had pressured her mother into promising that she would never remarry. "I asked if that was really fair," Potter said. Some children have told her they're afraid that when they grow up and marry they'll also wind up divorced.

Two children related that their parents had divorced, remarried each other, and then divorced again.

They often indicate to Potter their strong need to make their parents happy, and she lets them know that while their sentiments are admirable, a child shouldn't have to be responsible for a parent's happiness.

The sessions are learning experiences for all of them, Potter said. "One little guy who is so wise said, 'Your heart has to really thaw out, doesn't it?'"

Those who are divorcing or divorced and would like for their children to attend a support group series may call Zion Baptist, 826-4952 to register them. A new series starts when there is ample registration.