10 Mistakes Parents make when they Divorce – Keeping the Kids Out of Your Divorce
1. Battle in Front of the Children. Even in the best circumstances, divorce is a difficult transition for children. However, parents can psychologically damage their children when they screamand/or argue in their presence. When children witness their parents abusing each other, they are overwhelmed by feelings that can range from fear to guilt. They are too young to maturely evaluate what their parents are doing to each other, and will thus become victims of parental infighting. It is also harmful for children to hear their parents arguing with each other over the phone. Even
thought they can hear only one side of the conversation, the effects are the
same. At this point in their life, both parents need to strive for stability and
safety for their children.
2. Using Children as Messengers. Parents who will not, or can not, communicate with each other should not use their children to bear this parental burden. Children worry about how the “message” will be received and often feel responsible for its effects. In addition, the message itself may provide information that really is inappropriate for them to know. In a similar vein, it is harmful for parents to use their children to spy on each other, thus placing them in a position where they will lose if they comply! Parents need to communicate directly with each other and remove the child from this uncomfortable situation.
3. Putting Children in Parental Roles. Although the statements that “now he is the man of the house or isn’t she mommy’s little helper” may be viewed as complementary, they can lead to long-term problems. Children may believe that they need to assume responsibility for taking care of a parent or the household. Parents may put the child in the position of meeting their emotional needs by discussing personal issues or treating them as their absent partner. It is difficult to imagine any negative effect when these
children appear very responsible, well-behaved, and mature beyond their age. But that is the point, it is just appearance.
Childhood is the time to develop a healthy identity, and this self-knowledge is gained in a nurturing environment where responsibilities are age-appropriate. Forcing children to bear adult responsibilities can create a distorted identity with areas of emotional emptiness, leading to later difficulties in setting boundaries, relating to peers, and forming intimate relationships.
4. Disrupting the usual Support System for the Children. Children not only gain support and security from their parents, but also from friends, extended family, school, church, and from outside activities such as athletic programs. Children who are taken away from all their sources of support, nurture, and joy face additional trauma that may be overwhelming, especially in light of what they are already facing at home. Parents should make every effort to let these other areas of support continue to nurture
and encourage their children, enlisting relatives from both sides of the family help the child maintain a sense of security and emotional support.
5. Becoming the “Disney” Parent. All parents like to see their children happy, but divorced parents are often motivated by guilt and/or the desire to be the child’s favorite. But this may lead parents to stop being parents, and to trade long-term maturity for short-term fun. “I only have them for the weekend” becomes an excuse to replace rules and responsibilities with entertainment and gifts. In their immaturity, children can encourage this lack of parenting by equating the parent whom they have the most fun with as the parent whom they love the most. This situation, however, does not equip them for the reality that life is about following rules and assuming responsibilities. Consequently, it is important to remember that children need the direction and guidance of their parent and not another playmate.
6. Date in front of children the first year after divorce. Both parents and children need time for the transition to a “single parent” home to become more comfortable. Divorce causes a loss of emotional security in children, and it is important for them to become emotionally strong before they face the prospect of having new significant adults in their life, never knowing how long they will remain. Parent dating also hinders the development of healthy routines at a critical time in the life of the children. Dating soon after a divorce will also more likely result in the children viewing the date as a threat – robbing them of needed time with their parent. When it is time to date, the parent should discuss the issue with their child beforehand, and if the relationship starts to become serious, the parent should look for activities that would involve the child, too.
7. Make promises you can’t keep. Because children are emotionally vulnerable after a divorce, they are more likely to view a broken promise as a reflection of how much they are valued as opposed to it just being due to a mistake by an over-extended parent.
8. Make child feel one parent is the “good” parent and the other the “bad” parent. The “good parent” – “bad parent” mistake puts undue pressure on children to choose sides. Generally, children want to be loved by both parents and it is important for their adjustment to love and be close to both their parents.
9. Have different rules at each house. Reestablishing stability in the lives of the children is critical, as divorce gives children the feeling that their world is spinning out of control. Parents who agree to provide consistent rules and expectations for their children will help rebuild their security.
10. Discuss money matters with the child. Generally, divorce creates financial strain for both parties, and this can naturally lead to comments that may unintentionally communicate worry and fear to the children. Children may then feel guilty for asking for even basic items such as school supplies or clothing, or they make take on the burden of seeking someway for them to provide for the family.