Sometimes the clearest indicator of a family’s dysfunction is, unfortunately, illness in its children. Like the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, it’s the children who are most susceptible to the toxicity of family addiction and dysfunction. Hurt people hurt people, and literally scare the life out of little kids.
If going through a divorce is, for adults, like surviving a heart attack, I think for children it must be like surviving a heart attack every month for the next ten years or so, with intermittent pains – and the expectation of them – for the duration.
So my girlfriend-helping-a-girlfriend-going-through-divorce advice is this: take care of yourself, for sure. Surround yourself with sane, functional people who love you. But if you are a mom, your biggest job is guiding your children through this heartache so you do not add to THEIR pain. This means being an adult when you most want to act like a child and lash out, when you want to go back to sleep or forget about soccer practice or hit the drive through, or, perhaps, hit the bottle.
As the mom, you are an adult with some understanding of what’s going on. The children
With all the news about concussions: the long-term impact, cumulative impact, risk versus reward in letting kids play football and crash into each other versus experiencing teamwork, hard work, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, I believe we, as parents and people who love children, need to think about another type of concussion, one different than the crashing of heads in football helmets, or the smacking of the frontal lobe as a soccer ball is headered by a teenaged Mia Hamm wannabe.
Please consider, if you will, the emotional concussion.
If parents, sporting equipment companies, school systems, pediatricians, neuroscientists, researchers, journalists, and others in this debate would think about the emotional concussions suffered by children in homes run by addiction, abuse, and dysfunction, I believe we could help many more children.
I am talking about the one-in-four school-aged kids who live in homes run by alcohol and drugs. If you add in the children living in homes run by some other type of dysfunction – addictions to food, sex, pornography, spending, gossip, religion, and control, plus those who live in homes where there is physical, emotional, sexual, or spiritual abuse (though addiction, neglect, and other forms of abuse go hand-in-hand) the percentage of children affected goes way up.
The life-in-dysfunction emotional concussion is a day-in-day-out brain bludgeoning by stress-induced hormones of adrenaline and cortisol. It wires developing brains for flight, fight or freeze. It can set people up to pass on the family legacy of dysfunction.
These ongoing emotional concussions set up a cascade of disasters, from trouble in school to teen pregnancies; from bullying to cutting; from bad choices to multiple divorces and continuous drama and upset. Unfortunately, for these children, there’s no coach or trainer on the sideline holding up three