22 FEBRUARY 2001

This article originally appeared in Children's Advocate newsmagazine, published by Action Alliance for Children.

My Life as a Game Piece:
Kids talk about their experiences with parents' divorce

In the Monopoly Game of Divorce, kids become the game pieces that are moved from square to square by adults dealing with issues of property, power, control, and money. Kids interviewed in Los Angeles from 11 years to 15 years old, of different ethnicities, from bargain Baltic Avenue to expensive Park Place shared similar feelings: They don't like being manipulated game pieces. Even though the split may have occurred 10 years ago, it has been the biggest single event in their lives and is still painful today. With the exception of a few who were told never to discuss it, most appreciated the chance to talk about divorce because they had no other place to do that.

During the interview, the kids were shown five silver game pieces: a wishbone, a telephone, a book/diary, a gun, and a lightbulb. Each of them was asked to pick which piece they most felt described their feelings about divorce, and explain why.

Chiva, an 11-year-old African American girl, said she most identified with the telephone game piece when her parents used her as the only way they could communicate with each other. They would say, "tell your mother this," and "tell your father that," she said. "I never got to really see my dad. He would come and pick me up, and when he left I would just cry. I never thought it was fair, the divorce. I have a friend from Finland that I talk to about the divorce. But there is nothing you can do to lessen the pain. They are just going to fight, and that's it. Kids like me have good ideas and opinions. I just wish they'd listen to us."

Jennifer, a 13-year-old Latina whose parents divorced when she was eight, chose the wishbone. She said at times she felt so pulled apart by both parents that she thought she would break. She said it was hard to know how she felt, and why she was acting out, even with the help of a psychiatrist. Going back and forth from person to person, she felt she had to constantly change depending on who she was with. She felt confused and numb a lot of the time. She also said she can't remember very much now and that seems to help the pain.

Ivan, a Caucasian boy of 14, got his wish when his parents got back together. But when they were separated, he said, "having to go to my dad's house sometimes and my mom's house sometimes was very confusing. During the divorce, my parents were good friends. They told me it was going to be all right, and that they weren't mad at each other. Even though I was old enough to understand (l0 years old) I still found I couldn't even do the simplest things, and I was forgetting all the time. I still remember how upside-down I felt."

Dorian, an 11-year-old Chinese American boy, also chose the wishbone. He said, "I don't have a lot of my stuff at my mom's house, like my bike. When I'm at my dad's, I don't have a lot of my school stuff for my homework. Yet the good thing about my parents being apart is that they became a lot nicer to me. They always told me it wasn't my fault. If I could have it my way, there would be no such thing as divorce. I'd also like the same materials I have at my Mom's house to be at my Dad's house, if it wasn't too expensive. I can't do school projects at Dad's house because there are no materials. I wish he would move closer instead of being in another state."

Ava, a thirteen-year-old, chose the diary game piece. She was not so much like a child to her mother, she said, as a confidante. "My mom is like my sister. We communicate. My father doesn't call. He's not always patient. I often feel punished by him because my mom and I are so close. Time is not the great healer like everyone says. Parents must help, I think."

One ten-year-old Caucasian boy, Aaron, wasn't too happy when his mother told him he was now "the man in the family." He feels his four older sisters have no respect for him because of his age, so it seems impossible to make his mother's wish come true.

Candace, a 12-year-old African American girl, said, "Nothing was hard for me during this divorce. I know that my father just walked out of my mother's life. My mother talked to me and told me it wasn't my fault, and that I could have done nothing to help. I understand my mother was getting NO support from him. The most important thing for parents to understand is not to fight in front of the children, or not fighting at all. Take it somewhere else. All I know is my mother is a lot in my life now. She doesn't look to my father for support."

Only one kid chose the gun game piece. Melissa, a 12-year-old Caucasian girl, said, "I don't like being with my parents at the same time. I don't like it when my parents say mean things about each other. Mostly they are fighters using me as their gun. Sometimes they are friends. But I know it is not for too long. I don't believe it when they tell me everything will be O.K."

The lightbulb game piece was chosen by Marissa, a 12-year-old Caucasian girl, who suggested that parents should not keep their children in the dark about the divorce, thinking they might save their children some pain. She said that they might not think the children understand, but they do, and it helps to know what to expect. Tadre, a twelve-year-old African American said he felt all alone, and no one helped him--someone could have helped by talking to him. He suggested that people show kids how words can be helpful and not just used for angry fighting.

Lindsay Spann is an eighth-grader at New Roads Middle School in Santa Monica and a writer for L.A. Youth.


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