I have worked with many many families treading the various paths of divorce. There are many phases to this process and they are often played out in the therapy sessions: the couple is thinking about divorce or one party of a couple wants the divorce, they separate but remain in the same home, one moves out, they tell the kids, sometimes there are re-marriages, step-parents, new babies etc. There is no one way to do divorce; each family is unique in their process and yet, so very similar all in the same breath.
I worked with an 8th grader several years ago whose parents got divorced when she was three. She had recently had her Bat Mitzvah and shortly afterwards became depressed, withdrawn and began therapy with me. One of the things that she was most sad about was taking the family photographs during her Bat Mitzvah. She was torn and saddened by the fact that she didn't have a "family" picture of her nuclear family. By this time there was a step-mother and step-siblings and my client was grieving the loss of her notion of the ideal family.
I met with a sixteen year old girl just this week who has lived with her dad for years and had visitation with her mom. She is currently reassessing her living situation, thinking about spending more time at her mom's, but isn't sure what will be best. In between her tears she said "I wish they would just decide and tell me where to go, so I don't have to make the decision". She feels pressure to please both parents and is struggling to figure how to find her voice and do what is best for her. I listened, watched her wipe her tears and tried to empower her to be true to herself and her needs and not feel that she has to continue to take care of the adults, but learn to take care of herself.
I am glad that I can be there for these kids, my clients. It is always beneficial for children and adolescents to have an adult separate from their parents with whom they can talk and share on an intimate level. Often a teacher, another relative , a sports coach or a therapist are the adults that kids go to to unload their feelings and concerns. For kids in divorced families, it is even more essential that they have unbiased adults who can listen. They need an adult to be able to confide in, someone they feel is not on mom's or dad's side, an adult who they don't have to protect or censor their feelings from and someone that can hear them without any hidden agendas like custody issues or personal wounds.
Kids are resilient. Divorce can be complicated and difficult, and yet with good support and parents putting the kids' needs before their own hurt and resentment, their children can thrive socially, emotionally and academically.