They may have sad faces on the screen, but
when these children of divorce offer advice to the adults in their
lives, it also is a way to help any parent and child in the thick of a
In a do's-and-don'ts guide for divorcing couples called Don't Divorce Me! Kids' Rules for Parents on Divorce,
HBO's half-hour documentary tells it from the kids' point of view. It
debuts Thursday(6:30 p.m. ET/PT) and will be repeated several times
The messages are
very real: "Tell me it's not my fault," "Don't put me in the middle,"
and "Don't take your anger out on me." Child psychologists and divorce
experts who were not involved with the documentary say kids have
definite feelings about how the separation has affected them, but often
parents' don't hear or heed the messages.
VIDEO: Clip of 'Don't Divorce Me!'
don't listen to kids enough," says Lisa Green, a psychology professor
at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, who also is in private
Cathy Chestler, 46, of
Lake Bluff, Ill., says she was 7 when her parents divorced. She says
those messages from kids ring true.
"I was the oldest, so I was put in the middle. I was the person who gave
Mom the child support checks from Dad. I was the messenger," Chestler
says. "When I got divorced, I vowed never to do that."
Chestler, the mother of two college students, also understands the parents' perspective.
"When parents get divorced, it is so overwhelming for the
parent," she says. "Where am I going to live? The whole court process.
The money to pay the lawyer. You lose sight of the kids in that because
you're so emotionally wrapped up in your own divorce."
In 2009, Chestler co-founded DivorceCommunications.com, an
encrypted, fee-based website that lets divorced parents exchange
information, pay child-related expenses, download receipts and keep
track of financial transactions and child visitation without direct
The documentary, filmed last year, introduces more than two dozen kids whose common thread is divorce.
Among them are Grace Goss, 12, a seventh-grader in New York
City. Her advice to parents: "When you're traveling from house to
house, make sure it's very easy and you help your kids get all the stuff
they need. We have a spot in the closet and anything that has to go to
my Dad's house gets put in the closet so it's totally easy to go back
"We split school breaks
and holidays. For Halloween and Easter, it's whoever has (us.) For
Christmas and Thanksgiving, we switch off and on. We wake up at one
house and then later go to the other house. All the breaks are split up
evenly. It works out really well. You know ahead who has what break and
it's much more organized."
Erin Delaney, who turns 12 next month, is a seventh-grader in Greenbelt, Md.:
advice: Parents should "spend a lot of time with the kids and do their
best to make sure the kids know it's not their fault. I personally did
not think it was my fault, but I know people who have. At least two or
three of my friends had parents get divorced and at least one of them
thought it was their fault."
Psychologist Green also has some advice direct from the kids.
"One of the biggest things I hear is 'Don't make me choose, ' "
Green says. "It can be as large as which one they want to live with or
as small as which one comes to the parent-teacher conference."
She cautions that parents need to respect their kids' belongings: "Their stuff is their stuff."
"If they get a birthday present, they should be able to take
it to both houses," she says. "A lot of times, parents make them take
off clothes they bought because they don't want those clothes going to
the other parent's house. Once a child gets clothes or toys, it's the
kid's. Parents shouldn't say 'You cannot take your iPod to Dad's house
because it will get ruined.' "
Child psychologist Ben Garber of Nashua, N.H., says that in most
divorces, kids don't require counseling. It's the 10%-20% that he terms
"high conflict" that end up in his office. Garber, author of the 2008
book Keeping Kids Out of the Middle, says it's not just the divorce but
rather "long-term exposure to this polarizing dynamic" that can harm
kids when parents divorce.
impacts their ability to succeed academically and occupationally," he
says. "In particular, it impacts their ability to make and maintain
healthy adult relationships."
Carissa Carmichael, 10, a fifth-grader in the Cleveland suburb of
Independence, Ohio says she and her two brothers are adjusting to their
parents' divorce, which became final in July. Although they weren't part
of the HBO program, she does have some advice for parents.
"Don't tell them a bunch of things about the divorce at
once," she says. "Don't just blurt it out and expect them to handle it
all right and not start crying. It takes at least a week to try to get
used to it."