Affirming a Child’s Self-Love in a “Different-Functional” Family

Co-Authored by Vanessa Van Petten and Lori B. Hilliard

By Vanessa Van Petten, youthologist and teen author of the parenting book “You’re Grounded!,” manages, a parenting blog written by 119 teen writers, ages 12-20 to help parents and adults get an honest and open view into the world and mind of youth. Van Petten’s work and blog have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Teen Vogue, CNN, Fox News, Real Housewives of Orange County and much more! She won the Moms Choice Award in 2009 and her work is read by over 300,000 adults.

When my mom and dad told me they were getting a divorce I did not know what the word meant. When my dad moved out and I got a second bedroom I realized it was more than just a new word.

As a child of divorce, there are a few tips I would love to stress to parents going through this difficult period.

1) Make sure you dispel the stereotypes kids have about divorce. I remember that I quickly learned that divorce was a nasty word that meant horrible things for my parents, family and future. When sitting down with your kids, please try to explain to them that divorce can be a positive force, a way to start over and rebuild a family.

2) Talk to people around your family. It was really hard for me, as a child, to explain to teachers, our favorite delivery guy, the nurse at the doctors office that my parents got divorce. I had to bear the brunt of their shock and then their awkward responses. I do not think you should send out a card announcement, but letting people in your kid’s life know before your child has to is important.

3) Keep an open mind to the pace. The few months and years after the divorce I was still making new patterns at each house. I think parents sometimes forget that we have two lives happening if we are switching. If one parent is keeping custody, make sure you are growing with them. Maybe your weekly date is getting breakfast together, as they get older make sure your ritual includes homework or sports time too, so they feel like you are growing and changing with them. Sometimes the non-live-in parent gets the “old-stogey-parent” rap because what you do together never changes.

Kids are resilient–be loving and you will come through together!

By: Lori Hilliard, single mother of four children, author of ‘Sending Love, My “Different-Functional” Family’, founder of Aspenwood Publishing. ‘Sending Love, My “Different-Functional” Family” is currently ranked #3 on for children’s books on divorce.

One day someone asked me if my divorced family was dysfunctional. I answered that we are not “DYSfunctional”, we are only “DIFFERENT-functional”.

I grew up in a “traditional” home. Maybe the word traditional is outdated, but that is the only way to describe my upbringing. It took me going through a divorce to hear the word “core belief” for the very first time. As I took a look at my core beliefs, I could only look at what I would be teaching and influencing my children in regards to their core beliefs. I believe that the way a child is parented forms their core belief. Nothing in this world is more important than that.

For the first time in my life, going through a divorce evoked a notion of shame in my personal belief system. There it was. At times I can’t really tell you if the emotion was entirely guilt or shame. John Bradshaw, author of ‘Bradshaw on: The Family’, offers this explanation: “Guilt says I’ve done something wrong, shame says there is something wrong with me. Guilt says I’ve made a mistake; shame says I am a mistake. Guilt says what I did was not good; shame says I am no good. The difference is distinct and profound”.

I wrote my children’s book on divorce as a way to hopefully dispel any chance of shame or guilt in my children’s lives. I wanted them to know that they are LOVE, that they were created in LOVE and that they are still LOVED like crazy. A marriage that did not work, would not be the crisis in which my children would be cut off from their true selves.

I have fielded many questions and comments about defining a ‘“DIFFERENT”-functional’ family. Somewhere and somehow about two years following my divorce…….in my gut grew a solid determination. That determination is my definition: “I am NOT going down, and I AM NOT taking anyone with me!”. I wish that same motto for all families in today’s world. Sending love……

Additional articles by Vanessa Van Petten for parents who want more to read:

4 Everyday Tips From A Child of Divorce

Here I talk about my experiences growing up in a divorced family and what parents can do to make their kids lives a little bit easier.

6 Unique Strategies for Divorced Families Here I give some new and unheard of tips for divorced and single parents.

Divorce: Articles for divorced families and parents


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