Children Tell a Moving Tale

We all know that few things are as painful as a divorce; but that pain can become even more intense for a child whose parent relocates. Only now are we beginning to understand that children separated from a parent are subjected to a whole range of new issues and challenges. Studies tell us that these children may harbor more hostility, receive less financial support, and may even suffer poor health.

The following quotes are from children, ages 6 to 18, from a variety of economic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds, who participated in a focus group sponsored by the Family Law Section of the State Bar of Texas. A psychologist posed neutral questions to the children about their feelings regarding a parent’s relocation.

Some of the children’s answers surprised us. In some cases, relocation may yield positive results. Nevertheless, a parent’s decision to relocate should never be made lightly. When it comes to divorce and relocation, children live it, breathe it, and remember it.

Reasons for the move

“She told me that she didn’t want to be anywhere close to my dad because of the way he sometimes treated her when they were married—like he would yell at her for no reason and she just didn’t want to live near him.”

* * *

“He couldn’t get a good job down here, and he wanted to be with his family…but he wanted to stay close to us.”

* * *

“Well, like they really don’t like each other and, like they don’t even talk on the phone. Like I have to talk for them. And like I get angry that she won’t talk to him or be seen with him.”

* * *

“I think she is trying to get as far away from him as she can.”

About Visitation

“I live with somebody that I know, and visit with somebody that I really don’t know.”

The journey

“I have to travel five hours plus an hour and a half in the car and then another half hour when we get down here to Texas.”

* * *

“The first time I was by myself. The first time I got real homesick, I guess, and the whole time I was down there, I was just throwing up and stuff.”

* * *

“I like it because I get to meet new people and sometimes I can talk to them. But I don’t like it because I’m really afraid of heights.” [flying]

* * *

“[We] use a lot of money on it. Like for an airplane, it costs, like, $100. And for gas, you’re using up a lot of gas.”

* * *

“Sometimes I fly. Sometimes I drive. But I hate driving and I hate flying because my ears pop.”

Adjusting to relocation

“I kind of miss being with my mom when I’m there and when I’m at my house, I kind of miss being with him. So it’s kind of weird.”

* * *

“Most of the weekends I spent being with my grandmother or some of my family and then to go into only seeing them a few times a year is kind of hard.”

* * *

“It’s just hard because I only see him two or three weeks in a year.”

* * *

“When I’m around my mom, I have to act a certain way or she’ll get mad at me. When I’m around my dad, I have to act a different way or he’ll get mad at me.”

* * *

“I think that they shouldn’t get mad at me because for what I feel.”

How do you love somebody? (When you never had the chance to know them?)

“It has affected me because I can’t see my parents whenever I want to.”

* * *

“You miss him because, you know, he’s your father; but, on the other hand, you know you’ve grown to live without him. You know, you’ve learned to cope with it.”

* * *

“I mean you love him because he’s your dad, but you can’t love him for who he is himself because you don’t know him in that way.”

* * *

“I just feel that we need more bonding time and stuff—so I should go to his house more often.”

* * *

“How do you love someone that you never had the chance to know?”

Twice the love (If parents could live near each other.)

“If my parents lived closer together, then it would be way better for me and my sister.”

* * *

“I think it would be kind of neat to have two family members living in a different place on the same street.”

* * *

“Because he would probably pick me up after school, he would probably spend more time with me and he would probably feel more comfortable around me.”

* * *

“We would get to know each other better, and he could see what I can do on the stage at school.”

* * *

“I would love to have him in my life. I have always missed that and wished he was around.”

* * *

“Well, I mean you have twice the love right there from your mom and your dad. You don’t have to wait to see your dad. You don’t have to wait to see your mom.”

If I had a say (About whether a parent should relocate.)

“Well, I think we should have had a say in whether we wanted our parents to move apart or not.”

* * *

“I know how hard it was growing up without my father being there and I wouldn’t want to put my child through what I’ve been through.”

* * *

“I know almost nothing about my dad and, you know, I missed out on a lot growing up because he wasn’t there and that’s not fair. It’s really not.”

* * *

“He can’t come and see my baseball games or anything at school. It’s basically like having someone not there.”

Post-relocation Parenting Tips

Following are suggestions for parents to help children cope with relocation.

> Communicate. Encourage your child to speak openly about the move. Assure your child that it is possible to continue close contact with both parents.

> Stay involved. Work together as parents to stay involved in the child’s daily life. It is important for the parent who has moved away to visit the child’s school and attend significant sporting and social events.

> Maintain contact. Regular phone calls, letters, and e-mails help children cope. The goal is to allow your child to develop independent lines of communication with the parent who no longer lives in the same city.

> Include extended family. When a parent relocates, the child often loses touch with members of the extended family, such as grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Keep the extended family involved and remind children about all the people who love them.

> Ensure safe travel. Travel can be scary for children. Teach your child how to be safe. Get to know your child’s travel routine and find ways to make it fun.

> Give permission. Let your child know that it’s normal and okay to miss the relocated parent—and that missing the other parent is not being disloyal to you. Remember, your child is “part mom” and “part dad” and needs both of you to remain well-adjusted and happy.

—M.J.M.

Mary Johanna McCurley practices family law and is a principal with McCurley, Orsinger, McCurley, Nelson & Downing L.L.P. in Dallas. This article includes excerpts from the videotape “Divorce & Relocation: Families at a Distance.” © Family Law Section of the State Bar of Texas. Reprinted with permission. All Rights Reserved. To find out more or purchase the videotape, go to www.sbotfam.org.

Published in Family Advocate, Volume 28, No. 4, Spring 2006. © 2006 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.

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