It’s December, and Sally and Jim have decided to get a divorce. They have also decided to tell their 9 year old daughter, Charlotte, together…as a team…so that neither parent will look as though they are to blame. Naturally they don’t want to tell Charlotte until AFTER Christmas, so at the beginning of January, they sit down with her and explain, ever so civilly that Mommy and Daddy still love YOU, but that they need to live apart. It goes like this:
Parents: “Charlotte, Mommy and Daddy have been very unhappy together over the past year, and we simply cannot continue to live together. But please know that we still love YOU and nothing will change for you”.
Really? Nothing will change? Not exactly accurate….EVERYTHING will change for Charlotte. In fact, the floor just dropped out from underneath Charlotte, and her world is spinning before her eyes. Then, as she goes to bed that night, she won’t sleep…she will wonder what SHE did to cause this. Certainly, she says to herself, this is totally her fault. Maybe if she had made her bed when asked…maybe she should have eaten the vegetables.
But, Charlotte will stay silent as to what she believes to be true. This is entirely her fault, she says to herself.
Charlotte has heard her parents arguing every day for many months. She never knew what the arguments were about. There was just a lot of screaming. But now she knows it was all about her. And every day now, she is getting more sad. I will try to be perfect, she says to herself…
But, Daddy moves out on Sunday. He takes a few things, just the basics, and moves into a small apartment nearby. One bedroom, with a couch. Daddy tells Charlotte that she can come and visit with him, and stay. He will take the couch, and she can have the bedroom. Charlotte is excited to stay with her dad, but when she is about to go visit, she sees her mom get sad. Charlotte wants to please her mom, so when she gets back home to mom’s house, she tells mom that she had a horrible time, and that she doesn’t like dad very much. For an instant Charlotte sees her mom’s eyes dance with happiness, and she knows now how to make her mom happy.
She tries the same thing with dad, and again Charlotte sees her dad’s eyes dance with happiness when she says she hates being at mom’s house.
Mom and Dad don’t compare notes…now the “civil” divorce is anything but civil, and they are barely speaking to each other. Now, they are fighting over custody of Charlotte. And the reality is that nobody is really looking into what Charlotte needs. “What about me,” Charlotte thinks, when she’s not thinking of how to make each parent happy.
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