“Can she cope? How is separation affecting her? Will she become cold and withdrawn? Please I need your help. What should I do?”
I am a 34-year-old woman with a 12-year-old daughter. I separated from her dad and it seems to be affecting her. Her dad has a 10-year-old from another relationship and all of us were living together. It has been a year since we last saw each other. Wanting to know how my daughter was feeling, I casually asked her if she misses her brother.
Her answer shocked me and this is why I am writing you. My daughter said: “I don’t miss people, they come and go.” Hearing that answer from my 12-year-old, cut my heart and questions began to fly. Is she so hurt by the separation? Can she cope? How is separation affecting her? Will she become cold and withdrawn? Please I need your help. What should I do?
My heart goes out to your adorable and innocent 12-year-old. Children are affected by their parent’s divorce or separation in different ways.
Divorce leaves an indelible mark on kids, no matter what age they may be. Based on how the parents act following the divorce, the children can be affected seriously. The trauma of the initial shock will lessen, but the choices that parents make and the memories of the time that immediately follows the divorce will stay with their kids forever. Parents have many choices to make during this period, many of which will invariably have an effect on their kids. If parents put their children’s needs in the forefront of every decision they make, they can make the overall effect of the divorce on their kids less agonizing.
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Mind you, the divorce or separation brings with it major changes in the dynamics of the home especially with the financial structure that existed prior.
Suddenly, the children notice a drop in their financial status as one-parent struggles with just the basics. This can be really hard for children as they cannot understand why they no longer go to summer camp.
Parental separation/divorce is associated with academic difficulties, including lower grades and prematurely dropping out of school, and greater disruptive behaviors (e.g. being oppositional with authority figures, getting into fights, stealing, and using and abusing alcohol and illegal drugs). Children and adolescents who experience the divorce of their parents also have higher rates of depressed mood, lower self-esteem, and emotional distress.
So your daughter is probably going through some type of emotional distress. From her response to you, one might deduce that she is struggling to cope with her feelings. Your daughter seems to have developed a coping mechanism of withdrawal to avoid being hurt. You should speak to her pediatrician for referral to see an expert. You should continue speaking to your daughter and explaining to her the reason why dad and her brother had to leave. Do not bad-mouth or blame dad, instead focus on rebuilding your home and your strength.
■ Dr. NJ