Children of divorce are being parented by (former) children of divorce at record levels these days. Those of us whose parents pioneered the art of tearing their marriage asunder taught us a lot about what works and what doesn't. Now our children should be the beneficiaries of our wisdom, right? Those of us who came from "broken homes" know how hard it can be, and we know all the ways parents can make it easier, more humane, even positive. So, I think it's time we set up some ground rules. In that spirit, I offer a Bill of Rights for our children.
1. You have the right to your feelings – all of them, whenever they come, whatever they are.
2. You have the right to be listened to, heard, understood and taken seriously.
3. You have the right to be stunned, shaken to your core, to be in disbelief.
4. You have the right to feel betrayed and to feel the foundation of everything you thought to be true is shaking beneath you.
5. You will probably see one parent thrive and another one suffer for a while. You have the right to find that appalling and confusing.
6. You may be called 'selfish' if you express your feelings. You have the right to be 'selfish.'
7. You have the right to feel it's unfair that one parent seems to move on quickly, easily finding a new love, a new life, without looking back. That hurts. You have every right to feel hurt and angry by that and to tell your fast-moving parent to slow down.
8. You have the right to ask questions and to have them answered honestly and appropriately by your parents.
9. You have the right to be treated with respect, to be told the truth, to be included in the process.
10. You have the right to expect fair and equal treatment for yourself and your siblings and any step-siblings that enter or are born into your "blended" family.
11. You have the right to sometimes feel like an outsider in your own family.
12. You have the right to expect your parents to behave honorably, to put your interests first, and to keep you informed.
13. You have the right to ask for help and to get it.
14. You have the right to give everyone the silent treatment.
15. You have the right to express your anger and pain and feelings of helplessness.
16. You have the right to be in control of some things – probably not the ones you want to control, though. And you have the right to be angry and sad about that.
17. You have the right not to be blamed for your feelings. Or for anything.
18. You have the right to know it was not your fault, even if you have been difficult and not on your best behavior. Parents don't get divorced because their kids aren't on their best behavior.
19. You have the right not to want to meet Dad's new girlfriend even if he's super ready for you to do so.
20. You have the right not to be ready to move to new, post-divorce phases even if your parents say 'it's time to move on.'
21. You have the right to feel really, really weirded out and incredibly sad seeing your mom or dad parenting somebody else's kids!
22. You have the right to feel jealousy.
23. You have the right to wish your old life back, even if it was, if you're really honest, stressful, negative and sad.
24. You have the right to confide in friends and to seek their support.
25. You have the right to keep your feelings to yourself.
26. You have the right to do your own informal survey of other divorced families to see what plans and arrangements work best for them.
27. You have the right to resources – books, websites, articles, support groups – about divorce that are appropriate to your age and emotional maturity.
28. You have the right to be emotionally immature.
29. You have the right to tell your parents your feelings about issues of custody, moving, dating, blending families, changing schools, vacation schedules and anything else you have feelings about.
30. You have the right to worry about your future without anybody telling you "it's going to be fine….the adults are going to work it all out, just do your homework."
31. You have the right to be dissatisfied with answers adults give you.
32. You have the right to actively participate in the discussions and choices being made about your future.
33. You have the right to be unconditionally loved by your parents, who really are trying to do their best and who love you very, very much.