Divorced families are as common place today as the two parent family. As a result, parents might not realize how much this change in family structure affects their children. Judith Wallerstein, PhD, who created a 25-year study on the effects of divorce on the children has stated, “Divorce is a life-transforming experience” for parents and especially the children involved. This can be a scary thought for the many parents who are currently dealing with this challenging transition. What can parents do to lessen the negative effects divorce has on their little ones?
1. Do not speak badly of the other parent. It can be extremely difficult to hear one’s children express their disappointment, anger and other strong emotions and not want to agree and perhaps chime in with the parent’s own thoughts and feelings. In addition, the situation of the divorce could be that one parent has hurt the other parent and the parent who is the victim has legitimate reasons to be angry. The children share DNA with both parents, love them and often take the criticism of their mother or father as directed at them. They become protective of both parents. The parent that is so angry at the other parent does not share genetics with this person, may no longer be in love with him or her, and no longer will have a intimate relationship with the soon-to-be or ex-spouse. The child does. This cannot be generalized to situations of abuse or other criminal activity where the parent hears something that must be addressed. It is also important that parents don't try to get children to take sides. When children takes the side of one parent over another they end up only hurting themselves due to the love they have for both parents and the conflict this creates for them.
2. Do not fight in front of the children. Many divorcing or divorced parents are so angry at the other parent that it is difficult for them to keep their feelings inside. Children do not need to be involved in the details of the divorce or how one parent feels about the other. Since parents are human it is likely that there will be some arguments where children are present but parents should use willpower to handle this without children around. As in all parenting, it is important that parents think about what they say in front of their children and whether it will help their children or hurt them. This of course becomes even more challenging during and after a divorce.
3. Empathize with childrens’ feelings. When children express their strong emotions about possibly missing the other parent or perhaps not wanting to see him or her, the parent who is present can express empathy and hear their child’s feelings with out jumping to judge or agree. Statements such as “I know you miss Daddy, that is so hard” or “You are so sad that Mommy didn’t call when she said she would” don’t mean you are agreeing. The child feels heard and doesn’t feel the need to hide their true feelings for fear it will set his or her parent off into more anger toward the other parent. Showing empathy for children can serve to keep the lines of communication open between parent and child. Then if something inappropriate happens that one parent needs to know about the other parent’s home, the child may feel comfortable being open about it. It will also serve to build a healthy relationship between parent and child as it does in most parenting situations in and outside of divorce.
4. Get care for yourself. Divorce is very challenging for parents for many reasons. Parents may have to take on more of the daily duties, manage financial issues, deal with different parenting strategies at the two homes, hear their children be upset often when missing the other parent or when they have to spend time with the other parent and so on. Don’t expect to get emotional support from your children. Either seek professional support or spend time with a friend, family member or clergy member that can allow you to express your feelings and help you work on your self-care and ability to parent productively.
It must be emphasized that divorce is a difficult challenge for parents. One that can be complicated, overwhelming, exhausting, and disheartening. Children do not have the skills or brain development to handle this undertaking and find it a very confusing time. Focusing on their best interest and what will allow them to feel safe, loved, and self-confident should be every parent’s goal.
For more information on ways to improve relationships with your children, parent coaching, workshops and classes, contact Julia at email@example.com. Like Elevated Parenting at www.facebook.com/ElevatedParenting.