Extensive research suggests that for children of divorce, what is most damaging is the experience of their parents fighting; how children adjust and fare after a divorce is closely linked to how their parents get along with each other.
Those children whose parents are civil and demonstrate good faith towards one another are much more likely to have an easier time with the divorce, and move forward with their lives. When parents continue to have conflict, the children may experience a variety of difficult emotions. Among the many feelings they may experience are fear, sadness, depression, feelings of helplessness, anger, and hopelessness. As children mature into adolescence, these difficult feelings often lead to acting out behaviors, among them poor grades and underachievement, eating disorders, law violations, drug abuse, and promiscuity.
Kids know that their divorcing parents don’t get along and probably don’t like each other. Knowing that often leaves them feeling as if they must choose between one parent or another. For the child, having to make that choice is a no win proposition. If they show any connection or affection towards one parent, they’re left feeling as if they’re betraying the other parent, and anguish over having to “choose” one parent over another.
Protect Your Children's Emotional Well-Being During Divorce
The following are some ways to think about your children’s emotional well-being:
- They only have one father and one mother, and having a relationship with each is important to them.
- They are half of each of you, so anything negative expressed about the other parent is a negative statement about them.
Often parents with the best of intentions for their children unknowingly bring them into their divorce.
The following are some tips for keeping your kids out of the middle:
- Do not make any negative comments about the other parent
- Do not confide in your child
- Avoid having your child relay messages to the other parent
- Do not seek information from your child about the other parent
- When they return from a visit with the other parent, allow them to tell you what they want to about the time, and give them permission not to discuss it at all.
Make yourself available to your child; listen to them and pay close attention to their moods and disposition. Put their needs above your own, and let them know you’re there for them. Maintain as much structure and continuity in their lives as possible. Whenever possible and appropriate, offer choices to give them a sense of control over some aspects of their lives.
Remind yourself of the following:
- My child has only one childhood.
- My child had no control over this divorce, but is greatly impacted by it.
- Any conflict between us will feel like an attack on them and will hurt them.
- My child is not capable of taking care of either parent.
- My child has the right to have a close and meaningful relationship with both parents.
About the Author : Barbra Danin
Barbra has worked with individual adults and children, as well as with couples and families for more than 20 years. She holds a dual degree in Marriage & Family Therapy and in Clinical Art Therapy, and has practiced in hospitals, clinics, schools and the Family Court of St. Louis County. Barbra incorporates art therapy into treatment when appropriate, providing a non-verbal approach to understanding and expressing thoughts and feelings.