My parents divorced when I was seven years old. The amazing thing is that I remember it—all of it.
I remember feeling confused about why, all of a sudden, my father, my brother, and I were moving in with my grandparents.
I remember feeling nervous when it was my turn to testify in court. I even remember what I was wearing that day.
I remember the awkward weekend visitations with my mother, who I was never close to even as a child.
I remember one of those weekends especially, because the police came to my mother’s house in the middle of the night in order to take my brother and me back to my father.
I remember feeling relieved when the judge awarded my father custody of my brother and me.
Like I said, I remember everything.
But mostly I remember the fear.
That kind of uncertainty can overwhelm a kid—Where do I live today? Where will I live tomorrow? Who is responsible for me?
And it was all underlined by the knowledge that I had absolutely no control over the answers to any of these questions.
People think that kids don’t understand these feelings—that they are so unaware of what is happening around them that are blissfully unaffected by the problems of adults. But don’t be fooled. Kids are smart and intuitive; they know when there is turmoil in their universe.
Last week I watched a movie called What Maisie Knew. It’s about a little girl named Maisie whose parents are getting a divorce, and the whole movie is seen from Maisie’s perspective. As the story progresses, we—the viewers—become increasingly concerned for Maisie’s well-being as we understand that her parents are both far too selfish to concern themselves with their daughter while they are dealing with their own problems.
When the movie was over, I realized that the filmmakers had done something brilliant—they had created an experience for the audience that would simulate what it feels like to be a child in that situation. There were moments while watching the movie that I felt real waves of anxiety. I realized later that I was reliving my own childhood experiences through this film. I felt Maisie’s fear and sadness, and it created a real response within me.
I know lots of people who have lots of different opinions about how kids should be parented. They have opinions about nutrition, opinions about how much to shelter kids from outside influences, opinions about how kids should be educated, opinions about how children should be disciplined. They think they are right, and every other parent is wrong.
While there are so many different philosophies of parenting and strong opinions about differing points of view, I’d like to think we can all agree on one thing: All kids should have a place in the world where they feel safe.
This is why Maisie seems so fragile in the film—she has no safe place. At best, she is an instrument of control and manipulation being wielded by one parent against the other. At worst, she is forgotten entirely. There is no safe place for a child who is subjected to this kind of daily life.
The movie forced me to confront some of my darkest childhood memories, but it also convicted me as a parent. Do my kids feel secure? I hope they do, and I know that my wife and I do everything we can to ensure this. However, the film reminded me that I should never take this for granted. It’s too important. The stakes are too high.
My pledge as a father is that I will do everything I can to make my children feel safe and loved when they are with me. Regardless of what else is happening in their world or in mine, they will never wonder if I love them and will know that I will give them a safe place to sleep every night.
This is why adoption is such a beautiful thing. It is a pledge to the adopted child that says, You will always have a safe place, and you will always be loved.
May we be these kinds of parents—mothers and fathers who do not burden our kids with fear and uncertainty, who provide a place of safety in the midst of even the harshest of storms.
What do you think? What kinds of situations do you think cause kids to feel fear and uncertainty?