Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood. What draws children to read fairy tales?
Authors from the Grimm Brothers on down play on a child’s deep-seated fear of abandonment to connect to their reader. Will the hero come to the rescue–or will the child perish? Alone.
When parents divorce, a child’s fear of being abandoned is powerfully confirmed. Psychologist and researcher Judith Wallerstein followed a group of divorcing families every five years from 18 months to 20 years post-divorce. To her surprise she found that, though parents had moved on, the children still felt the loss of divorce every day–even 20 years out.
She explains, “The kids [in my study]. . .remembered. . .their sense that they had indeed been abandoned by both parents, that their nightmare [of abandonment] had come true. . . .It’s not that parents love their children less or worry less about them. It’s that they are fully engaged in rebuilding their lives–economically, socially, and sexually. Parents’ and their children’s needs are often out of sync for many years after the break-up.” Judith Wallerstein: Forget the Notion Divorce Won’t Hurt Kids. It Will.” Biography 1 (1997): 79-81.
So–how can parents avoid the fairy tale?
- Consciously determine to get in sync with your children’s needs. Record a time on your calendar or an alert on the cell phone, “Spend 15 minutes listening to each child tell about their day.” Ask about their friends and interests; their struggles and joys.
- Engage in their activities. Cheer games. Attend plays. Make it easy for the other parent to attend, too.
- Support their school. Meet the teachers. Help with homework. Stock all the school supplies for completing homework–even if your house isn’t the primary residence. Nothing says security like a ready protractor. The effort to anticipate needs and provide speaks volumes to children.
As parents intentionally connect with their children–day after day–they overcome their children’s fear of abandonment with a tangible experience of presence and care. Instead of a fairy tale, they get security and joy.